Netflix Streaming is an ebb and flow of new and old titles. They come and go as Netflix pleases. It seems that lately, however, Netflix’s streaming options skew newer and newer and newer… which is why that every month I check Instant Watcher and filter new offerings by decade. I switch the sliders to 1900 – 1990, open up my Netflix window and start adding stuff to my queue. Maybe I get around to watching them before they disappear. Maybe I don’t.
Luckily, we have also have Twitter personalities like @bobfreelander (operator of the fantastic website Rupert Pupkin Speaks) who specializes in underseen and underappreciated films. Last week sometime he noted the addition of Teen Witch to the Netflix Streaming lineup and offered a hearty recommendation. Thursday I queued up Teen Witch.
This is Episode IV: A New Hope of The Best Thing.
The first scene is a Vaseline-scrubbed, slo-mo dream sequence. Flowing capes. Shadow silhouettes. Smoke machines. Neon everywhere. A killer 80’s jam.
…and yadda yadda yadda… I didn’t do any work during my daughters’ nap time.
I get it. I do. You (general, collective “you”) apparently don’t like Birdman. The Boyhood loss signaled the coming of the apocalypse. And Birdman is a blight on the history of all cinema. Hell, a blight on all of human history. The Trail of Tears. The Spanish Inquisition. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). I know this because I read stuff on the Interwebs.
A few articles I’ve read during this post-Oscar hangover:
Birdman vs. Boyhood or (Why We Love to Hate the Oscars)
And so it goes with the Academy Awards. Every year it’s the same tired old nonsense. Some movie or some actor always gets kicked in the teeth and we, the consumptive populace and guardians of all that is good and proper, hit the aforementioned Interwebs and the Twatter and we climb our pulpits and high horses and spew forth the TRUTH about Cinema (Capital C) and Art (Capital A). As if the Academy has ever…. ever ever ever… concerned themselves first and foremost with (A)rt or (C)inema. Those examples of (A)rt and (C)inema are often invited to the party, but sometimes their opinions are a little too progressive, a little too dangerous, a little too racy. By the end of the evening they’re just hanging out with Sarah Bunting by the stale crudités (Downton Abbey joke in the house!).
I play a lot of music in my house. I loathe silence. It’s both a character flaw and a persistent joy.
Since I’m home most days with the kids that equals a lot of time listening. That equals a lot of time exposing my children to the music I love, but also the music I hope they’ll eventually come to love as well. I hooked my elder daughter on The Cars, The Knack and Huey Lewis when she was 2. My wife introduced her to Adele and Foster the People’s first record (we don’t speak of that second one). She’s since expanded her playlist. I’m pretty sure, however, she could listen to Hall & Oates’ “Maneater” for 24 consecutive hours. The point is that my children listen almost entirely to the music that we curate for them. We don’t listen to modern Top 40, some exceptions apply. For example, my mom recently brought over a Radio Disney CD for them. I’m still trying to explain how a compact disc can also be a “radio” and why I can’t just play “Radio Disney” in the car or on my record player. I’d just succeeded in explaining the concept of the “radio” and now this comes along and throws wrench into the whole concept.
But now about my youngest. My 2yo (almost 3) has never shown the same affection for music or individual songs. She’s starting to identify specific music, but discrimination has never been her strongest trait. She learned how to operate the Hello Kitty CD player and spins tracks like a furious little DJ strung out on adrenaline (maybe cocaine, knowing her tendency to do that most dangerous activities imaginable). She swaps CDs without finishing more than 30 seconds of a song and bounces uncontrollably between swaps. I don’t know how she can hear anything other than the reverberations of her own brain. It’s like a squash court in there. She too has taken a liking to “the Radio Disney.” Or at least the first track. I accidentally let 90’s on 9 provide the soundtrack to a recent car ride. Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5” came on — the first track on that Radio Disney CD, albeit rewritten to refer to happy fun times with Disney characters instead of one-night stands with lady friends. She squeals. “the Radio Disney!’ I shake my head and thank the maker that I’d arrived at my destination before needing to explain the lyrical differences.
Now to the point of my story. I know… too much back story. You can deal with it.
I put on Toad the Wet Sprocket’s live album Welcome Home: Live at the Arlington Theater 1992. You may or may not know this, but I’m a die-hard Toad fan. I consider their 1994 record, Dulcinea, a desert-island essential. I’m that kind of crazy-serious about Toad. I don’t joke about Toad, goddammit.
I’m singing along to every damn word of that album and my 2yo comes bounding up to me, kinda dancing, kinda pretending to sing. My cockles warm like the Grinch’s tiny frozen heart. Have I raised a child that loves Toad the Wet Sprocket? I imagine all the concerts we’ll attend. Don’t stop touring, Toad! Don’t break up again, Toad! I’ve got a child to mold and treat to your underappreciated sonic gifts to the world!
Right about now I’m holding her in my arms and we’re bouncing around the living room to Toad’s kinda-sorta breakout MTV hit “Fall Down.”
And then she says to me, as plain and coherent as the day is long, “This sounds like Paw Patrol.”
Has anyone ever gone from elation to totally fucking crestfallen in a shorter amount of time than I did in that moment? In case you don’t know about Paw Patrol, it’s this kid’s show about a squad of community service dogs, each with their own specialties and a tricked-out vehicles. And they don’t f’ing form like Voltron. It’s dogs and trucks. That’s pretty much it. They solve problems like finding the mayor’s lost chicken. When I watch any amount of this show, my brain goes blank in the name of self-preservation. They watch this show at my parents’ house. I can’t complain. Paw Patrol means a night out for my wife and I. A necessary intelligence-sucking evil that maintains parental sanity. But now… BUT NOW… my 2yo just compared my beloved Toad the Wet Sprocket with the Paw Patrol theme song.
Toad the Wet Sprocket – “Fall Down”
Paw Patrol theme song
For now I will bide my time until she’s capable of understanding the depth with which this cuts. Then I will tell her. I might even make her apologize. Listen to three “Windmills” and atone for his past sins.
Sigh. But I won’t. Not really.
Even then in the moment of supreme shock and dismay, Toad being compared to Paw Patrol… I laughed and kissed her on the forehead. I’ve told the story to at least ten people with put-on dismay, because that is what’s expected of someone who takes music seriously. But even when these damn kids cause painful, brute-force self-inflicted facepalms, they’re still our most favorite people on the planet. They also have a way of putting our own tendencies toward wildly superficial histrionics in perfect perspective.
I’ve been doing this CinemaShame thing for a couple years now. If you haven’t seen some of my past posts about CinemaShame, this will get you up to full speed. An even shorter explanation is that each year you pick 12 movies you feel some sort of shame for not having watched. Movies you’ve been told to see dozens of times, the classics that just sit on your shelf and mock your 13th viewing of Police Academy 3. Over the course of the next 12 months, you watch all 12 and write up some thoughts. Or not. It’s laid back like that. The write-ups tend to be half the fun because you’re forced to consider how expectation shaped your enjoyment of the film. But moving along… welcome to Volume 4 of TBTIWTW – Saturday Night Fever.
I’d yet to start in on my Shame list for 2015, which can be viewed in all of its shameful glory here so I earmarked last Saturday for a viewing of Saturday Night Fever. Shameful, right? Never having seen John Travolta’s crowning, hip-shaking, disco-feverish achievement in all of cinema. Yet I have seen Disco Godfather, which is also a must-watch if you like hilariously earnest low-budget drug war/disco films… so that must count for something.
So Saturday Night Fever isn’t about disco fever. Not really.
Pretty much all I knew about Saturday Night Fever could be boiled down to the soundtrack (which, of course, I have on vinyl – doesn’t everybody?) and this one scene:
You know I work on my hair a long time and you hit it! He hits my hair!
How can you not love that scene? Top five dysfunctional family dinner table scene.
And then, of course, there’s all the groovy disco. To preface this scene, Travolta is cajoled into hitting the dance floor with the girl standing behind him in the clip and she turns out to be a total square (stiff?), so he ditches her and goes freelance disco demi-god on the expectant populace.
I wasn’t prepared, however, for the “turn” that Saturday Night Fever takes halfway through. My uninformed notions of the film considered Fever to be a movie of bell bottoms, sequins and fluff. Brooklyn flunkie makes good through dance with intermittent conversations about being poor and Italian to break up all the disco. Sure, that’s what makes Saturday Night Fever palatable and pure entertainment, but there’s a dark underbelly here that I didn’t expect.
Travolta’s character Tony never really makes good. He’s full of promise and all the potential in the world, but he realizes that he can’t actually make good with dance. He encounters an existential crisis. He’s not a child anymore. He’s working at a paint store (and being an exceptional employee), dancing on the weekends for fun and little golden trophies when his esteemed (worshipped?) brother quits his clergy position and falls from grace. And now Tony he realizes that he will never, ever get him out of Brooklyn and away from the emotional abuse of his home and family. He sees that those heroes and idols to which he looked up to were little more than false martyrs.
And then when Tony takes steps to change, to be better than his surroundings and those surrounding him, he fails. He slides back into his nurtured personality. Even if his “nature” is destined for bigger and better things, the person he’s become, the Tony Manero that’s been molded by Brooklyn through his eighteen years can’t escape the undertow that drags him down.
There’s a magnificent pair of scenes on the Brooklyn Bridge — the weekend destination for Tony and his friends. A place to screw around like delinquents and to dream of what lies beyond in the twinkling lights of the promised land, Manhattan. But that’s all it is to them — a dream. There’s nothing of reality mixed into their horseplay. The last of these scenes jump-starts Tony’s final realization of self. I won’t divulge the specifics because SPOILER ALERT! some serious shit goes down. The final, tragic event forces Tony to realize that maybe he and all his friends are just a Brooklyn fuckups. The difference between he and his friends, however, is that he’d still rather be a Brooklyn fuckup fucking up somewhere other than in the same old place, doing the same old shit…. he’d rather reach for that dream across the Brooklyn bridge.
Saturday Night Fever ends with a most conflicted and uncertain denouement. The viewer can choose optimism, if they choose. The viewer can also choose disappointment, and a return to the same troubles Tony wanted to escape. We know he’s a good person with good intentions, but director John Badham has left us with the sinking feeling that none of that will be enough to deliver this character fully from the past, the past that will forever drag him away from success… and back to Brooklyn… or even worse… a sequel.
Is this self-promotion? Kinda. Is it legit? Absolutely. So pipe down from the cheap seats — people down front pay good money for this kind of shit and they don’t want to have their experiences marred by assholes in the back.
This is Episode III of The Best Thing.
Some of you may know that I’ve been running a little James Bond project over at #Bond_age_ The James Bond Social Media Project. And by little, I mean it’s been going on for two years now and I’ve written 80,000 words about James Bond. I just ran the numbers today as I prepare the full-length blog-to-book manuscript and submission materials. One of the spin-off series that we’ve begun at #Bond_age_ is the #Bond_age_TV series. Two of our regular contributors (@GregMcCambley and @Krissy_Myers) have been selecting episodes from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Prisoner. They host a live tweets on Wednesdays and write up ingenious little notes about the series and its place in TV history.
This last Wednesday, Krissy began her series for The Prisoner. I’d watched a couple of episodes in the past to get an idea what it was all about, but I’d never focused on the series.
Despite the permanent “Patrick McGoohan is not amused” face, the series oozes humor and whimsy and is just deadpan hilarious. The Prisoner makes a perfect counterpoint to the less than deadpan spying done in Greg’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. series — which is equally fun and brilliant live tweet material.
It was this live tweet on Wednesday and the great fun had by all that forced me to name #Bond_age_TV The Best Thing I Watched This Week. I’m grateful for Krissy and Greg for putting their own blood, sweat and tears into the project. And I’m grateful for everyone that contributed to #Bond_age_ over the last two years. I’ve put a lot of work into this shindig and it’s immensely rewarding when others respond with enthusiasm and support.
The #Bond_age_ Live Tweet schedule can be found on the front page of www.thejamesbondsocialmediaproject.com. Stop by and see us and join the live twatter. It just might be the best thing you watch that week.The next #Bond_age_TV live tweet takes place on February 11th at 9pm EDT as Greg hosts another session of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Here’s the embed for the first episode of The Prisoner, if you’d like to start catching up on what you’ve missed.
Episode #2 of The Best Thing I Watched This Week. Shocking news. The series didn’t get canceled after one week. Phew. Since I figure you’re still catching up on last week’s assignment of the entire 24 episodes of The IT Crowd, I’ll make this one brief. Not that I planned such benevolence. It just worked out that way.
How often do conversations on late night talk sound rehearsed? Like the parties involved had scripted the entire thing just before coming out on set. Despite the “live” nature of late night talk shows, the chatter remains stilted and guarded, managed by PR reps and risk-averse network hooligans. Unless we’re talking about Craig Ferguson. I honestly believe he planned nothing during his entire brilliant run of wee-hour madness. But that’s part of what made his show so thrilling and earnest and wildly entertaining.
Last week on Jimmy Fallon, there occurred a moment between Nicole Kidman and Jimmy Fallon that appeared – at face value – to be entirely spontaneous. I suggest this because both Ms. Kidman and Mr. Fallon go flush with embarrassment. If you’ve seen this clip already (it’s been a viral sensation, or so I’ve read) you’re an overachiever and can take this “Best Thing” off. But this conversation that documents Jimmy’s inability to comprehend that Nicole might have wanted to get in his pants back when they were both free agents stood out to me as one of those honest, unscripted moments that we rarely witness anymore. Also, it’s nice to see that Nicole’s face can smile again. For some time there I was concerned about it’s apparent rigidity.
I will save this picture on the off chance that one day I can build my DREAM house and find this architect and this decorator and tell them to make me a dining room like this. I think it's one of the first formal dining rooms I've ever really liked.