After a long hiatus I’m bringing back the Best Thing posts. For “Eye of the Tiger” of all things. (Aye, but there’s a twist.) Maybe it’s because I watched nothing good. More than likely I was just distracted by the 27 other things I do every day. I need a “thing” intervention from Thoreau. Maybe I’ll actually finish Walden instead. On the other hand that would be yet another thing I’d have to do today. I’ll check back in after I finish reading the 8-book Women Crime Writers set. I’m almost finished with Vera Caspary’s Laura, which is fantastic by the way. I can’t say enough about this collection of novels. Definitely find a set if you can. But I was talking about the Best Thing I Watched not the Best Thing I Read. That’s an entirely different bl-g series. (Adds that to the list of things to do.) Without any further adieu, let’s bring the Best Thing beat back.
“Eye of the Tiger” on a Dot-Matrix Printer: The Best Thing I Watched This Week
I came across this video on the Interwebs yesterday courtesy of a Facebook group called the Gentlemen’s Guide to Midnight Cinema. The poster of this video, MIDIDesaster, has programmed his Dot-Matrix printer to recreate Survivor’s omnipresent anthem from Rocky. I don’t know how he does it. Or why he does it for that matter. But when I investigated further I found he’d also programmed his Dot-Matrix to play “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Buddy Holly” and a mess of other songs. This is the seedy underbelly of nostalgia. Old songs played on a completely outdated and entirely useless technology. Though I think there are still some rental car agencies that would disagree.
Dot-Matrix image generator Me.
For those of you youngsters that might be too young to recall the wonders of Dot-Matrix printing, here’s a little primer. The Dot-Matrix is an impact printer and functions much like typewriter, except the Dot-Matrix creates its characters (of unlimited variety and size limited only by the paper) with many individual dots. The dots are created by a tiny metal rods called a pins or wires. The Dot-Matrix is unique in its printing technology, as MIDIDesaster has shown, because it creates different tones and sounds when these pins strike the paper. Up to 48 pins can be used to form the characters of a line while the print head moves across the paper horizontally. The various combinations of these pins creates the different tones and sounds heard in the video. Okay. That’s enough explaining away the magic of Dot-Matrix technology. Here’s the video. MIDIDesaster’s “Eye of the Tiger.”
It might only be Monday, but I’m calling this race early. A) I’m too busy catching up on episodes of Bob’s Burgers to watch anything new on the tele and B) This is amazeballs. These two guys manage to rock as hard on cellos as Slash did on his guitar. Okay, almost rock as hard. But you can tell they’re rock stars. Just look at their cellos. I, of course, had to do a little bit of research on these Croatian fellows (Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser), known as 2Cellos, and it seems they’re quite popular and have records and tour and stuff. I’ve watched a handful of videos now and I have to say that this riff on GNf’R is easily their best stuff. It at least includes the most cello headbanging you’ll ever see in a two-minute video. And there’s something to be said for that.
2Cellos playing Welcome to the Jungle: The Best Thing I Watched This Week
Sidenote: Is it just me, or could these guys also be a pair of excellent Bond henchmen?
I don’t think I need to say too much more about this. I’ll just mention that they played this on the Ellen Degeneres show so there are a few million housewives that are more in the loop than I. (edit: apparently they also appeared on Glee at some point, but that begs the question if you appear on a television show after everyone stops watching it, do you actually appear at all?) Since I’m taking the rest of the week off from scouring the globe for “Best Things” I’ll just abandon ship without my usual assortment of hyperbole and rhetoric. As always, no need to thank me. You’re always welcome.
Bonus: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Sidesidenote: the image they’re currently cultivating is a half-step removed from John Corbett’s version of a Yanni character in Serendipity. He plays an oboe-like Indian/Pakistani/Bengali/Iranian instrument called the shehnai.
Every so often we happen across a movie or a television show that’s so far up our alley that we have to stop and question how we’d co-existed in the same world for so long without crossing paths. So that happened this week. I had been watching a movie last Sunday night. When the movie ended, I flipped back to my cable feed. On my television I found myself staring at a show I’d long heard about but never watched. Confession: I’d long since given up on animation offerings on major networks. “The networks” just don’t take the risks necessary to make animation truly essential. At this point in my life I don’t have time for anything that’s not essential. Five minutes of Bob’s Burgers had me hooked.
Bob’s Burgers: The Best Thing I Watched This Week
This was the particular episode in question:
Once the novelty of hearing the voice of Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) performing the doughy, middle-aged titular Bob wore off (not to mention the number of references/connections between Archer and Bob’s Burgers), I found myself enraptured, held in comedic bliss. The family owns/runs a greasy-spoon Burger joint but that setting only provides a backdrop for endless opportunity for riffing on the various personalities. The wiser-than-their-years children contribute most of the immediate laughs in juxtaposition with the languid, laid-back, even-tempered and thoroughly put-upon working-class Bob and his Jersey-ish wife Linda. The inimitable Kristen Schaal voices Louise, a perpetually bunny-eared pre-teen with isolated megalomaniac tendencies. Eugene Mirman (Flight of the Conchords, Archer) makes magic with Bob’s naturally dim son, Gene, who lives to provide the musical score to the family’s hijinx on a Casio DG-20. Set to electric mandolin. Okay, sorry… Flight of the Conchords reference. Gene’s keyboard is really good at sampling though. And then there’s the pubescent and sexually (perversely so) confused Tina (Dan Mintz) with a bizarre affection for horses. Bob’s Burgers is often perverse and a little bit crass, but a good-natured sincerity provides a baseline that grounds these characters as humans despite their crudely drawn animation and preposterous reactions to everyday events. There’s a bit of South Park, a touch of Archer’s banter and a heap of The Simpsons’ familial unit tucked into Bob’s DNA, but don’t let the similarities direct your judgment. Bob’s Burgers carves out its own unique slice of that animation pie.
Bob’s Burgers is available on Netflix Streaming and Hulu. Since I stumbled across this show on Sunday, not a day has gone by that I haven’t watched at least one episode. I can’t get enough. I’m off to see Mad Max: Fury Road tonight, but you can bet that I’m going to come home and queue up some more Bob’s Burgers to cleanse my palette. If I had to recommend a favorite episode from all of those that I’ve watched, I’m going to have to pick “Sheesh. Cab, Bob?” — the episode in which Bob starts driving a taxi and inadvertently becomes a pimp for a gaggle of transsexual prostitutes in order to pay for Tina’s 13th birthday party. Pure gold.
I haven’t ponied up for a BTIWTW post in a few weeks, but this week I was inspired to return to the typewriter by a treasure trove of “Best Things.” This collection will run the gamut of movies to talk shows to sports highlights to one specific movie trailer that I guarantee gave people of a certain age some serious feels. No more exposition. Let’s get on with the Things.
1. Rancho Deluxe
When you stumble across a little sleeper of a film that contends for a spot in your Top 100 movies of all time, it makes all the bad ones worthwhile. It’s why we keep going back to the well. It’s why we keep watching old movies that few people remember rather than falling back on old favorites. Old favorites are great. They’re the backbone of any movie collection, but they’re old and they’re favorites. When we watch them, expectations are met and cockles are warmed, but there’s nothing like the thrill of “discovering” a new love. That happened to me this week. I picked up Rancho Deluxe because the film stars a very young Jeff Bridges, Clifton James (Sheriff J.W. Pepper in Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun), Slim Pickens and Harry Dean Stanton along with a few other very recognizable faces.
Rancho Deluxe has all the makings of a cult film without any of the hyperbolic Internet ballyhoo. This is documented decadence of the traditional cinematic Western. Why doesn’t this film get its due hyperbolic praise? Maybe because the film lacks a specific genre. It’s part teen comedy, part satire, part Western dystopia viewed through nostalgia that still romanticizes the ideologies of the Old West.
Through the perspective of two young Montanta misfits (Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston), Rancho Deluxe views the West as a comedy of overidentified ways and means. The cattle farmers and ranchers living high on the hog from merely “showing bulls” and reveling in their pre-existing wealth. So bored that they’re hunting cattle rustlers because they’ve got no other way to fill their days. The youth growing up in this modern frontier without education or potential employment and tormenting the cattle barons “for sport.” There’s a brothel scene, pot smoking, very un-PC bits of dialogue (“Mexican Overdrive” = “neutral”), the old steer in the motel room gag and conversations filmed only in the reflection on the glass of a Pong video game machine.
I should start by saying that Roger Ebert hated Rancho Deluxe. Reading his review, I can’t help but think he overlooked the entire point of the film. Likewise for many other critics of the film in 1975. It’s possible everyone was just too close to the glory days of the classic cinematic Western. Maybe Rancho Deluxe was a little jokey to see the dose of wickedness behind the gags. Whatever the reason, I f’ing loved this film, though it begs for some restoration and a Blu-ray treatment. The current DVD is terribly muddy and hardly does the brilliant Big Sky landscapes justice. Should you want to give Rancho Deluxe the shot at being your newest favorite, the movie is available on YouTube. I’ll toss the embed below:
2. This Catch by Nolan Arenado
Any baseball fan will immediately compare this catch to Derek Jeter’s 2004 catch. This catch tops it. Arenado made this catch over his shoulder and running straight back from his position at 3B. Jeter’s catch is made legendary by the theatricality of his Greg Louganis into the seats. The angle of approach makes Arenado’s far more impressive, plus he almost doubles up the runner trying to advance. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the two. No contest. It’ll probably be the best catch you’ll see this year.
3. Ad-Rock on The Daily Show
The Mutual Admiration Society joined The Daily Show on Monday night when Beastie Boy Adam “Ad-Rock” Horowitz sat down for a chat with his fanboy Jon Stewart on Monday night. The two bromanced, talked vinyl, how Ad-Rock didn’t remember meeting Jon Stewart during his days at MTV (not sure he remembers much from those days at all) and then engaged in an admittedly cursory discussion of Horowitz’s movie appearance in While We’re Young. Stewart has always conveyed sincerity, but this talk with the equally sincere Ad-Rock reminds us that even stars are full-on stammering fanboys when confronted with their idols. They’re just more eloquent than the rest of us.
4. And then, yesterday, there was this f’ing thing.
Narration by Mark Hamill. The voice of Harrison Ford breaking through the fade to black just before the image of Han Solo and Chewbacca. More teases of the John Williams score. The goddamn teaser trailer made me teary eyed. A SUB-TWO-MINUTE TEASER TRAILER. Every time I watch the thing I run through all sorts of gooey feels. I never had any doubts that J.J. Abrams would be good for Star Wars, but he’s gone beyond expectations. J.J. Abrams has entered the dangerous territory of impossible expectations. These trailers and the quality of Star Wars: Rebels have awakened the obsessive 6-year-old boy who paused Return of the Jedi to count the Stormtroopers during the scene where Darth Vader arrives at the Death Star. I had to have all the Stormtroopers and Santa was going to bring them to me.
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’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.