Category: Retro Fix


Review by C.J. Bunce

The beginning of a new film references the scope of the success of the Muppets: In 1978 the Muppets were seen weekly by more than 235 million people in more than 102 countries, and Time Magazine called them “the most popular entertainment on Earth.”  Created by Jim Henson in 1955 and starring in Sesame Street, in feature films, and in animated films, the Muppets endure to this day.  Regularly returning on television and in movies, they continue to entertain and educate young and old alike.  Frank Oz, the creator and actor behind Sesame Street and The Muppet Show’s Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Cookie Monster, Grover, Animal, and Sam the Eagle, Aughra and Chamberlain in The Dark Crystal, and the performer and voice of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (and director of countless other films), has produced and directed a new film with four other original Muppet performers to recount the development–and fun–of working in their timeless fantasy world.

Feeling like an informal dinner party among old friends, but even more like the first hour of a 12-part series, Muppet Guys Talking–Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched, is a wonderful, cheery glimpse at life working with Jim Henson, who Emmy-winning performer Frank Oz says “wanted to make a better world.”  Originally premiering at last year’s South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, the film will be available for fans everywhere for the first time next week at MuppetGuysTalking.comFrank Oz brings together Emmy-winner Jerry Nelson, creator and performer of Count von Count, Snuffleupagus, Lew Zealand, Statler, Floyd, and Gobo Fraggle; Emmy-winner Dave Goelz, creator and performer of The Great Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, and Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal; Emmy-winner Fran Brill, creator and performer of Prairie Dawn, Zoe, Little Bird, Betty Lou, and The Land of Gorch’s Vazh; and Bill Barretta, BTVA Award-winning creator and performer of Pepe the King Prawn, Johnny Fiama, Bobo the Bear, and Big Mean Carl.  Along with providing insight into Muppet mastermind Jim Henson, the “Muppet Guys” provide some advice on creating characters that will be worthwhile to creators in many media, as well as offering a great peek into the job of performing with puppetry.  The most difficult part?  Yep, holding your arms over your head inside the Muppets for a very long time.

From John Denver and the Muppets Rocky Mountain Holiday.  You don’t see the dozen human performers underneath the ground working the Muppets and speaking their lines.

Oz and Goelz recount major difficulties in the craft, like building a hole in the ground around a bonfire with a propane tank near their heads, so they could stand and perform their characters sitting around a real campfire above, as filmed for the famous John Denver Rocky Mountain Holiday TV special and album.  They also discuss Henson performing the risky opening scene of The Muppet Movie, stuffed inside a tube submerged in a backlot, underwater stage swamp with a small TV monitor and his arms above his head to perform Kermit singing and playing banjo on “The Rainbow Connection.”  The discussions among these friends are fun to watch, and the viewers will feel like they are a part of the room.  And viewers can’t help but listen for the performers slipping in and out of various voices–like the sound of Grover and Cookie Monster from Oz a few times when he gets animated or is laughing.  The most valuable bits center around what seems to be a shared tool among the performers–Oz developed a thorough backstory for each of his characters that never makes it beyond his own mind, to assist with his performance (like method acting).

Other highlights include Dave Goelz recounting how he got into the business when he was a young aspiring puppeteer working an office job at Hewlett-Packard, Bill Barretta discussing his inspiration for the King Prawn character Pepe, Fran Brill discussing her fix for performing while not being as tall as the others, and Jerry Nelson coming up with the voice of Snuffleupagus and discussing the late performer Richie Hunt (who performed characters including Scooter, Beaker, Statler, Janice and Sweetums).  Sadly documentary contributor Jerry Nelson passed away before the premiere of the documentary at South by Southwest, and the show is dedicated to him.

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Apparently they don’t make it–at least in the first season–since a second season is already approved.  It’s the most classic piece of science fiction and adventure, coming to your PBS Masterpiece:  BBC’s latest adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel Around the World in 80 Days It’s David Tennant in the lead role as Phileas Fogg acting his most frenetically Doctor Whovian and passing to his fans the code word “companion” in its first trailer for the series.  It might be the most we’ve seen Tennant in this kind of rollicking role since his last turn as the 10th Doctor.  The production looks sharp, as we’d expect from the BBC, with costumes, trains, and set pieces quite up to snuff.

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One of the best subjects I have discussed with a celebrity was asking Peter Mayhew–the actor known for playing Chewbacca from Star Wars–to talk about working with the Muppets when he guest-starred on The Muppet Show with Mark Hamill as Luke and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO in January 1980.  Mayhew beamed as the memories flooded back and he described two incredible worlds he was immersed in–interacting with these great furry characters from television just as if they were real people, and looking down below them to see an entire separate world of creators sprawled across each other with their hands working in every direction like a giant work of magic.  Frank Oz, the actor and voice of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi, and the creator and actor behind Sesame Street and The Muppet Show’s Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Cookie Monster, Grover, Animal, and many more, has created a new documentary with five of the original Muppet performers to recount the creation of their timeless fantasy world.

Originally premiering at last year’s South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched, will be available for fans everywhere for the first time in March.  Emmy-winning performer Frank Oz, who also was co-director of The Dark Crystal and director of movies from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to HouseSitter, brings together Emmy-winner Jerry Nelson, creator and performer of Count von Count, Snuffleupagus, Lew Zealand, Statler, Gobo Fraggle, and the original Saturday Night Live character Scred; Emmy-winner Dave Goelz, creator and performer of The Great Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Waldorf/Robert Marley, and Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal; Emmy-winner Fran Brill, creator and performer of Prairie Dawn, Zoe, Little Bird, Betty Lou, and The Land of Gorch’s Vazh (and recurring Law and Order actress); and Bill Barretta, BTVA Award-winning creator and performer of Pepe the King Prawn, Johnny Fiama, Bobo the Bear, and Big Mean Carl.

Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson, the late Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and the late Richard Hunt, with Gonzo, Floyd, Kermit, Fozzie, and Scooter.

The performers of so many beloved characters discuss their individual approaches to creating memorable characters and the impact Jim Henson had on their lives and work.  This is all a great tie-in to the 35th anniversary return of The Dark Crystal to theaters next month (check out our preview here and the Fathom Events website here for more information on that event).  For a taste of some of the fun to be had in Muppet Guys Talking, check out the website for the show, MuppetGuysTalking.com, and these quick previews:

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Bueller?  Bueller?

If you think about it, who would have taken better advantage of staying home from school during a pandemic than Ferris Bueller?  (That’s some pretty good social distancing in the above museum image).  In advance of its 35th anniversary next year, the cast of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of many groups that have reunited for fans in such an unprecedented way this summer in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  These great panel discussion events are a good start at sharing some positive vibes right when everyone needs it.  It’s like a year long comic-con.  This Ferris reunion definitely belongs on the top shelf of what not to miss.  This event was part of Josh Gad’s Reunited Apart videos.  The upbeat actor hosts Ferris himself, Matthew Broderick, along with co-stars Alan Ruck (Cameron) with great COVID hair, Mia Sara (Sloane), Jennifer Grey (Jeanie), Cindy Pickett (Mom), Lyman Ward (Dad), and some charming bits from Ben Stein (Ferris’s econ teacher).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’ve been missing the David Tennant from Doctor Who–he regenerated 11 (!) years ago into Matt Smith–and series like Broadchurch and Good Omens don’t cut it, and you don’t like your Tennant fix as a nasty villain as in Jessica Jones, then your series has finally arrived.  BBC and PBS Masterpiece’s new adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1873 science fiction adventure Around the World in 80 Days isn’t your father’s or father’s father’s or father’s father’s father’s Jules Verne.  But it is very much Doctor Who.  It’s David Tennant in the lead role as Phileas Fogg acting his most emoting, put-upon, and frenetic Doctor Whovian.  It even has two companions to accompany him on his journey, a journey already booked for two seasons.

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It was only last year that television viewers got a great look at the potential of theatrical quality, direct-to-Netflix films, via the superb, Academy Award-winning, black and white drama Roma (reviewed here).  Will the next black and white movie produced by the Netflix studios fare similarly?  Mank stars genre actor Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz (if you don’t know “Mank’s” large body of work, you at least likely know of him through his grandson Ben Mankiewicz, host of Turner Classic Movies).  Herman’s fame came from writing scripts for film classics, including The Pride of the Yankees (and he was a contributing writer to The Wizard of Oz), and the off again on again critic’s pick for the best film of all time, Citizen Kane.

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Peter Mayhew, the actor known best for playing Chewbacca in all three Star Wars trilogies, passed away Tuesday, April 30, 2019, according to a message distributed by his family yesterday.

I was lucky to have gotten involved in the past 20 years with the convention circuit.  It allowed me to meet some interesting people, including the gentle and soft-spoken actor.  I saw him at five conventions over this time, and he was always that friendly gentleman you’d expect the man behind the furry suit to be.  My first encounter was shaking his hand at the opening of an early Planet Comicon show.  Unless you’re also 7 foot 3 inches tall, your hand was immediately lost in his King Kong-sized hand.  When I met him he was either late or early to the show and had no helper so I offered to help him set up his table.  His conversation getting ready for a line of fans eager to meet him was generous and warm.

I next saw him in that lull between the prequels and the current trilogy at San Diego Comic-Con in 2011, when nothing much was going on in the Star Wars universe and for all intents and purposes the movies were done for good.  Folks wrongly accuse San Diego Comic-Con of being too busy to have meaningful experiences with others, but I always have found the opposite true.  I spun around in one of the wide floor walkways to see Mr. Mayhew alone, leaning back in his chair, nobody around at all, just watching the attendees walk around, walking past him and not even realizing they’d passed by one of film’s greatest icons.  It seemed sad that he didn’t have the longest lines of all, but I also felt lucky to get that much more time to chat and get his autograph.  He wasn’t bothered by not being swarmed, just an older gent enjoying a day of people walking about.  But the limelight would return only three years later after George Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney and J.J. Abrams tapped Mr. Mayhew to return to the role literally billions have loved him for over the past 42 years.  And there he was again, back in the thick of it at the table read for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, only five years ago.  Over the past five years his health gradually left it more difficult for Mr. Mayhew to do appearances, but I would see him three more times, each time still showing up for fans with a smile, happy to take a photograph or sign whatever nostalgic keepsakes fans brought to share with him.

My favorite memory of Mr. Mayhew was asking him about his experience working with Jim Henson on The Muppet Show in the famous Star Wars episode that aired February 21, 1980.  He had been answering questions from the crowd at a Planet Comicon panel, questions he’d clearly answered hundreds of times before.  But he lit up when I mentioned the Muppets.  Watching the show as a nine-year-old, I found the episode to be the perfect, rare event (like the Holiday Special), with Mark Hamill being featured with R2-D2, C-3PO, and our favorite Wookiee, not just another guy in the suit but the real deal, Peter Mayhew, along with Kermit and friends.  When TV shows aired in 1980 you had your eyes glued to the screen, because the idea you’d ever be able to watch the episode again was still a pipe dream.  Mr. Mayhew said he hadn’t been asked about that episode before and it had been years since he even thought about it, but details all snapped back for him.  He remarked about the joy of working with Jim Henson and said he was amazed that the Muppets above the floor were real characters that could interact with him and Hamill as if they were as real, as if by magic, and yet he stepped back and looked down to see a dozen people underneath, intertwined and synchronized to make it all appear so seamless to the audience.  You can imagine what that giant, usually soft-spoken fellow looked like when he was excited about something.  And anyone who ever met him could attest to the twinkle in his eyes that was part of who he was, those same eyes that revealed plenty of the real Mr. Mayhew behind the Wookiee suit that made it onto film and became part of his famous character.

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Tomorrow October arrives at last!

Your annual list of scary, ghostly, spooky, creepy, slashery, and generally monstrous films is back.  The goal?  Not to miss your favorite Halloween movies in October, and maybe find some new favorites.  Below we’ve provided hundreds of movies scheduled to air–hundreds to choose from with a mix of classics and modern fare.  Syfy′s “31 Days of Halloween” is back (only the first 10 days of the month have been released so far), along with Freeform′s “31 Nights of Halloween.”  AMC has its “Fear Fest” again, and as with last year you can get caught up on The Walking Dead airing throughout the month.  Disney+ has the new Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales streaming beginning October 1.  Horror streaming service Shudder is… always… horror, although it has a “61 Days of Halloween” event for the season, which seems to reflect the worst of the back of the old video store horror wall.  Luckily TCM is also back with your favorite classics, and if you’ve subscribed to the free Peacock streaming service, you’re really in luck–check out our rundown of their big Halloween movies and shows here.  You’ll find this year all the usual suspects: Stephen King, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Michael Myers, Blumshouse, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Kruger.

New content out since the pandemic you might have missed includes this year’s Zack Snyder zombie flick Army of the Dead, also on Netflix the new movies There’s Someone Inside the House, and No One Gets Out Alive, Disney Plus’s new Muppet movie Muppets Haunted Mansion, newer series Alice in Borderland and the similar, soon to be reviewed Squid Game, new Australian supernatural series The Gloaming and Glitch, the fantastic, murky Swamp Thing (free on the CW app), the fun supernatural Truth Seekers and the current Syfy series SurrealEstate, and highlights from prior year dark tales like Love and Monsters, the remake of Hitchcock’s Gothic tale Rebecca, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Ratched, the brilliant zombie series Kingdom, the monster-filled October Faction, or The Babysitter, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and Enola Holmes on Netflix, The Vast of Night on Amazon, Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island on Starz and Vudu and Blumhouse’s Happy Death Day and sci-fi/horror sequel Happy Death Day 2U, Freaky, and 2019’s Ready or Not all on Vudu.  If you missed 2018’s Halloween movie with Jamie Lee Curtis, or Get Out, find them streaming on Vudu and other services (and you can catch all the past entries in the Halloween series on AMC), plus the sequel to the 2018 HalloweenHalloween Kills–will be coming straight to Peacock on October 16.  Don’t forget classic horror series on Netflix like iZombie, Haven, and Grimm, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer on various platforms.  Also, if you missed Netflix’s latest seasons of Stranger Things or Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, now’s a great time to catch up, with season 4 of Stranger Things coming next year.

All month long on streaming services and premium channels like Netflix and Starz you can watch horror movies including Shaun of the Dead, Jaws, Rear Window, The Lost Boys, The Boy, Cloverfield, Coraline, Van Helsing, John Carpenter’s The Thing, They Live, and Ghosts of Mars, Young Frankenstein, Resident Evil, House at the End of the Street, Zombieland, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, Sleepy Hollow, Hollow Man, The Craft, and many more, plus series like The Twilight Zone, Ash vs. Evil Dead, Requiem, Bates Motel, and The Frankenstein Chronicles.  1979’s When a Stranger Calls is on Amazon Prime.  Everything you see in AMC’s listings are offered via their on-demand services, so you should be able to watch those whenever you’d like.  If all else fails, you can find your favorite ghost story or other horror classic on Vudu and Amazon Prime, where you can buy or rent our recommendations like The Fog (both versions, with the original on Amazon Prime), Crimson Peak, Attack the Block, The Birds, Let Me In, The Others, Winchester, The Watcher in the Woods, The Woman in Black, The Woman in White, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Ring, and the great family classic, Charles Schulz’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  Need even more recommendations?  Check our borg lists of past recommendations here–Halloween doesn’t arrive each year until we’ve watched The Watcher in the Woods and Silver Bullet.

So take notes and put your watch list into your DVR now so you don’t miss anything, especially useful for many of the marathons, which still frequently air in reverse order (?!).  We’ve bolded some of our recommendations.  All times listed are Central Time:

Friday, October 1, 2021

6:00 a.m. – King Kong (1933), TCM
8:00 a.m. – Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, AMC
8:00 a.m. – The Most Dangerous Game (1932), TCM
9:15 a.m. – The Vampire Bat (1933), TCM
10:00 a.m. – The Crooked Man, Syfy
10:30 a.m. – Pet Sematary, AMC
10:30 a.m. – The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, TCM
12:00 p.m. – Shut In, Syfy
12:30 p.m. – The Crazies, AMC
12:45 a.m. – White Zombie (1932), TCM
2:00 p.m. – Leprechaun 4 in Space, Syfy
2:00 p.m. – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932), TCM
3:00 p.m. – Friday the 13th, AMC
3:45 a.m. – Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), TCM
4:00 p.m. – The Addams Family (1991), Freeform
4:00 p.m. – Leprechaun 2, Syfy
5:00 p.m. – John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), AMC
5:15 p.m. – Doctor X (1932), TCM
6:00 p.m. – Addams Family Values, Freeform
6:45 p.m. – Freaks (1932), TCM
7:00 p.m. – Halloween 2 (1981), AMC
8:00 p.m. – Tyler Perry’s Boo 2: A Madea Halloween, Syfy
8:00 p.m. – Hocus Pocus, Freeform
10:00 p.m. – Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, AMC
10:02 p.m. – Leprechaun in the Hood, Syfy

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fans of the 1978-1990 television series All Creatures Great and Small may think it’s… unthinkable… to remake such a solid adaptation of James Herriot’s landmark series of books.  And yet here we are in 2020 with a brilliantly good, cleverly funny adaptation worthy of the source material and every bit as good as the earlier successful series.  The first season is currently airing on PBS Masterpiece, and also available for streaming online.  The autobiographical stories follow the exploits of a young veterinarian, James Herriot, in 1940s Yorkshire as he gets his footing in a rural office in a tiny town where the people are more difficult than his challenges treating the local animal life.  This is one of the greatest examples of uplifting, heart-warming drama and British humor and–possibly a surprise to those outside of England–a study in a wide range of dialects and personalities in a single village.  The small cast is perfect, and it features some actors you’re likely to be familiar with from other genre shows.  Even better, the new All Creatures Great and Small, UK Channel 5’s highest-rated drama ever, has been confirmed for a second season.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You’re first thoughts of Orson Welles probably reflect him addressing a crowd as Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane (long hailed as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, film of all time), or from his astonishing use of radio in his live performance adapting H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds.  Beyond that, he’s well known as the ultimate Renaissance man and artiste of the 20th century, as a screenwriter, playwright, director, producer, and actor.  As unearthed in a new hardcover exhibition of artwork released by his estate, Orson Welles’ artistry didn’t end with the visions he left on film.  Orson Welles Portfolio: Sketches and Drawings from the Welles Estate, compiled by Simon Braund, shows Welles as a professional, hands-on, art designer by any definition, integral to the detailed look of his many plays and films.  His work demonstrates an early understanding of set design and storyboarding, and a career-spanning prowess for illustrating costume designs rendered as deftly as the best Hollywood costumer designers.

Now eighty years after his famous radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, Welles’ fans and a new generation of film enthusiasts can learn more about the mind of the man through 300 images.  Through interviews and reprints of an extensive library of everything from a stunning, museum worthy rendering of Don Quixote to mere scribbles that come to life, evincing an artist well ahead of his time.  His youngest daughter, Beatrice, tells of her relationship with her father, and discusses a vast collection of original personalized Christmas cards featuring Santa Claus, a favorite, recurring creative pursuit for a man who might be the most talked about auteur of his day.  And his caricatures show his hand and eye could convey a complex feeling with only a few strokes.

Orson Welles Portfolio arrives in advance of a new documentary on the subject, The Eyes of Orson Welles, an Irish production slated to open in limited release in the U.S. today, but not currently listed in theaters or via streaming platforms outside the UK.  I’ve included the trailer for the documentary below.  The film uses many of the same pieces of artwork from the book and searches for meaning and understanding through the efforts of filmmaker Mark Cousins.

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