Showing posts with label what i'm watching. Show all posts
Showing posts with label what i'm watching. Show all posts

9.02.2018

springsteen on broadway: a performance of unrivaled intensity

In my most recent Listening to Joni post, I said that I write with my brain, but I listen to music with my heart. A few nights ago in New York City, my music heart broke in pieces, over and over again. I've seen a lot of theatre -- and quite a bit of Bruce Springsteen -- but I'd never experienced anything quite like this.

Springsteen on Broadway is one of the most intensely moving theatrical experiences I've ever had.

The show starts with humour, both Springsteen's typical self-deprecating humour, but also a satirical bragging -- the guy who has never held a job in his life, singing about the workingman, the guy who has never driven one block singing about cars: "That's how good I am." Sometimes the humour is just a facial expression and a hand gesture -- which plays perfectly for the tiny 900-seat house.

But the humour soon gives way to a raw intensity. Springsteen relieves the tension with the occasional laugh, but by that time, the audience is chuckling through the tears.

Speaking of audience, I have never sat in a quieter, more respectful crowd. It didn't hurt that before the show started, we were repeatedly warned: cameras, cell phones, talking, texting would not be tolerated. Disobey, and ushers will remove you from the theatre. These tickets were hard to come by -- who's going to risk it? It was also announced that at the conclusion of the show, the house lights would go on, and you may take photos then.

It worked. The crowd was silent and incredibly respectful while Bruce was talking and singing, applauded only between pieces -- then burst into near hysteria at the end of the show.

At my first Springsteen concert, in 1978, my long-awaited Thunder Road was ruined by a drunk asshole in the aisle screaming the lyrics at the top of his lungs. And who-knows-how-many more concert moments have been ruined by sing-alongs and clap-alongs. Not this night! A few people started clapping along with Dancing in the Dark, but it died after a few notes. (Read the beginning of this excellent review.)

The show is like a stripped-down version of Born to Run, Bruce's memoirs, and it follows the same arc: the discovery of rock and roll, the town, musical ambitions. Set pieces on his father, his mother, Clarence (Tenth Avenue Freeze Out), Patti (Brilliant Disguise, Tougher Than the Rest). Ron Kovic and Born in the USA. America's broken democracy and The Ghost of Tom Joad.

It is anything but a greatest-hits compilation. Many of the songs were interesting choices and often barely recognizable in new arrangements. Much of the speaking was almost spoken-word poetry, almost chanted, like an incantation -- words spinning the web that binds us to Bruce's music, and his life to ours. The review linked above compares the show to Lena Horne's The Lady and Her Music (which I saw -- twice! -- in 1981), and that's an excellent comparison. Call it a musical journey through the life and times of Bruce Springsteen. A portrait of the artist as best he can. Call it life is pain but still, we love.

Springsteen on Broadway is strictly for fans only. I can't imagine it would be very interesting to anyone not already interested in Springsteen's music and his life. I was also glad I had already read Born to Run before seeing it. The book lent context to many of the stories, so sometimes I felt we were hearing things unspoken.

I haven't read about the show yet, because I wanted to go in completely cold. I'm interested to know if Bruce worked with a director or editor on choosing the stories, editing them for performance, even the staging and movements back and forth between guitar and piano. If he created the whole thing himself, he is an even greater performer than I knew.

Springsteen fans know how intense Bruce can be, both his music and his stage presence. He is one of rock's great frontmen, and the only one who (appears to) close the gap between audience and performer, whose stage persona is a raw authenticity.* Now take that authenticity and channel it through intimate stories of love, pain, fear, trust, loss, and redemption, and do it in a small theatre, with an almost bare set and intimate lighting.

Bruce Springsteen and I go back a long way. Unlike the millions who claim to have known about Springsteen in the early 70s -- "I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen" -- I'll say with honesty that I first heard "Born to Run" on FM rock radio in 1975. I read the famous Time and Newsweek cover stories, and joined the ranks of music lovers waiting for the three-year silence to end.

I saw Bruce with the E Street Band for the first time in 1978, and many times since then. If I never see him perform again, I'll always be grateful to have ended on this note.

* Rock's other greatest frontmen are all brilliantly and famously pure artifice: David Byrne, David Bowie, and above all, Mick.

8.06.2018

mlb.tv, roku, and appletv: why is this so difficult?

If you're an app developer for MLB, or if you're with Roku or AppleTV, skip down to the final paragraphs!

Because Allan and I follow an out-of-town baseball team, we subscribe to MLB.TV, and have done so for ages. As much as I dislike pay-per-TV services, being able to watch any baseball game at any time, with either the home or away feed, is amazing.

Once we were able to do this by streaming, as opposed to through cable, the price went down and the quality went up. I've blogged many times about the wonder of the Roku streaming device, and how it solved so many issues for watching baseball, TV series, and movies.

Last year, I learned that the Canadian streaming service CraveTV offers lots of Showtime and HBO content. Thanks to exclusive licensing deals, Crave is not available on Roku; it only streams on AppleTV. (You can watch on a computer or mobile device, but we don't like that.) So in order to get the additional Showtime and HBO content, we bought an AppleTV device.

Lo and behold, AppleTV is now way better than Roku! When Roku first came out, it was widely agreed that it was the best streaming device on the market. Now fourth-generation AppleTV blows Roku away. The streaming quality is much better, the interface is easier, and it offers more premium content.

Here's where baseball comes in. MLB.TV on Roku lets users choose separate video and audio feeds. For many reasons, I prefer the NESN (Red Sox) TV feed with audio from the local Red Sox radio on WEEI. Roku lets you do this, and it syncs. (In the olden days, I would watch baseball on TV with the sound on mute, and keep the game on the radio. This was my preferred way to enjoy baseball, but the audio and video were completely out of sync.) So Roku did away with all that, and we've been in baseball heaven.

But now, with the 2018 season, the Roku MLB app is a total shambles. It stutters, freezes, and crashes constantly. We could barely make it through a half-inning without frustrating stops, starts, and reboots. And the definition is awful. It's like we're streaming some analog feed with a dial-up modem.

On AppleTV, MLB streams beautifully and in good-quality hi-def. However, the MLB app on AppleTV does not let you choose separate video and audio feeds. We can watch NESN with the NESN announcers, or listen to WEEI with no video at all, but we can't mix-and-match feeds.

Roku: Please fix your MLB.TV app!

AppleTV: Please get your MLB.TV app to have this capability!

MLB.TV: Please get your developers on this!

6.10.2018

we movie to canada: wmtc annual movie awards, 2017-18 edition

The list of movies I want to see gets longer and longer, as I watch more series and fewer films. Even so, the 2017-18 list is impressive.

First, the annual recap:
- Canadian musicians and comedians (2006-07 and 2007-08)
- my beverage of choice (2008-09)
- famous people who died during the past year (2009-10)
- where I'd like to be (2010-11)
- vegetables (2011-12) (I was out of ideas!)
- Big Life Events in a year full of Big Life Changes (2012-13)
- cheese (I'm getting desperate!) (2013-14)
- types of travels (2014-15)
famous people who died plus famous people who died, part 2 (2015-16),
and last year: the picket line (2016-17).

This year, we go meta with movie awards organized by movies. (Thanks to Allan for the idea.) I've made no attempt to survey all the movies I've seen and find the perfect headliner. I just found films that, for me, represent the level of the award.



Annie Hall

Woody Allen's 1977 classic is one of my favourite movies of all time. Inventive, meandering, emotionally vivid, authentically romantic, funny, sad, and sweet, this movie is a masterpiece. If you haven't seen it in many years, you may have forgotten how great it is. If you haven't seen it at all, don't let the Woody factor stop you. It's just too good to miss.

Annie Hall is simply perfect, and these movies and series are as good as anything you'll see.

I Am Not Your Negro
-- This documentary, narrated with the words of James Baldwin's unfinished memoir, is a gripping, clear-eyed look at the persistence of racism. It will make you angry and sad, and you must see it.

I, Daniel Blake
-- Director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty somehow manage to outdo themselves again. Takes a look at what budget cuts and privatized public services look like to the people who rely on them. This film -- not a documentary -- has the rare quality of feeling like you're actually watching someone's life. Recent events in Ontario make this an urgent must-see.

Boardwalk Empire S4-6
-- We left this amazing period drama after S4, but I went back to finish it, and was so glad I did. Devastating, heartbreaking, brilliant.

Bojack Horseman S4
-- What started out as a show-biz send-up has deepened into a moving exploration of the source of our psychic pain and the search for recovery, love, and self. Season 4 was heartbreaking, intense, and yet still funny.

Deadwood
-- This western period piece joins The Wire at the pinnacle of best series ever. The writing and acting are off-the-charts good. Parents, be sure your kids are asleep, lest teachers come calling about your child's language.

Episodes S4, S5
-- This show managed to stay relevant, cutting, and hilarious without ever becoming zany or mawkish. We couldn't stop laughing. Such a treat.

Free State of Jones
-- We socialists like to say "another world is possible". The Free State of Jones was one such world. An exciting historical drama, based on a true story, of a group of people who seceded from the Confederacy.

Moonlight
-- A moving, haunting, heartbreaking, profoundly personal story of a man in search of himself. If you missed it, it's best seen without prior description.

O.J.: Made in America
-- This documentary series unpacks the saga of O.J. Simpson to reveal a nexus of racism, misogyny, celebrity, media, violence, and the justice system. All your questions are answered by way of context. ESPN's "30 for 30" continues to amaze.

Silicon Valley S1-5
-- This send-up of the tech industry stays consistently smart and funny season after hilarious season.

The Witness
-- Her murder became synonymous with apathy, studied and discussed for decades. But who was Kitty Genovese, and what actually happened to her? This extraordinary, revelatory documentary follows Genovese's brother on his obsessive quest to uncover the truth.




Down By Law

A decade after falling in love with Diane Keaton and Annie Hall, I fell in love with Down by Law (1986), Jim Jarmusch's quirky road-trip-comedy starring Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Roberto Benigni. We saw it many times on VHS. It's a great film, but perhaps lacks just a little something that would make it a Category 5.

American Honey
-- America's forgotten youth, on a road trip of exploitation and adventure. Don't miss writer/director Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank, a movie with a similar vibe set in a UK housing project. (American Honey reminded me of Fish Tank, before I realized they were related.)

Arctic Defenders
-- A powerful documentary about the radical Aboriginal movement that led to the creation of the Nunavut territory. The film reveals important Canadian history and lessons for people's movements.

Danny Says
-- Meet Danny Fields, midwife to generations of music. Fans of Lou Reed, the Ramones, the Stooges -- fans of rock -- must see this documentary. Funny, sharp, and infused with a profound love of music.

Edge of Seventeen
-- This insightful, heart-squeezing, coming-of-age story perfectly captures the feeling of being a teen, being adrift, and deciding to carry on. Amazing performance by Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson, among others.

Embrace
-- Taryn Brumfitt travels the world to learn how women feel about their bodies, and why we're all rejecting ourselves. Powerful and well done.

End of the F***ing World S1
-- A dark comedy-drama about two teenage misfits with fucked-up families. Brilliant first season, now we'll see if it can hang on.

Endeavour S4
-- Still one of the smartest, stylish, and well-written detective shows I've seen. I liked Morse, and I loved Lewis, but this Morse prequel blows them both away.

Jessica Jones S1
-- This might be the darkest, most disturbing show I've ever seen. A exploration of obsessive control and abuse. And somehow also funny.

Lion
-- A gripping story of survival and quest. I expected sentimentality à la Slumdog Millionaire but was surprised to find real humanity. Very nearly in the top category.

Longmire S5-7
-- This hybrid western-detective show grew deeper and stronger with every season. Gripping, moving, thought-provoking, and fun.

Manchester by the Sea
-- Human beings struggling to come to terms with their mistakes, trying to find forgiveness and redemption. Direct, unsentimental, and moving.

Master of None S2
-- The first season of Aziz Ansari's show was good and funny, but S2 blows it away. Funny, sweet, romantic, searching -- and a brilliant use of the flexibility of the ad-free streaming format. Very nearly in the top category. I may have to watch it again.

Off the Rails
-- An amazing documentary about an amazing and unusual man -- a locally famous New Yorker -- and ultimately, the blindness of the bureaucracy that crushes him.

The Americans S1-5
-- Never mind the plot holes, what this show lacks in credibility it more than compensates with excitement and insight into human motivation. Totally addictive.

The Dressmaker
-- Is living well really the best revenge? This funny-sad comedy-drama-revenge-fantasy doesn't think so.

The Good Place S1
-- A smart, insightful, surprising comedy. Plus Kristen Bell! I don't know how they'll pull off S2, but I look forward to finding out.

Wallander S4
-- This has been one of my favourite detective shows, but the final season took me by surprise. The show comes to a fittingly sad conclusion.




Nebraska

I had a lot of trouble coming up with a movie to represent the three-spot -- a solid but unspectacular movie that would be famous enough for readers to recognize. I combed through the middle award on past we movie to canada posts and eventually settled on Nebraska, a solid film about family, relationships, and redemption. As always, the movies in this category were good, I was always glad I saw them, but they didn't make me run out and tell everyone to see them.

Almost Adults
-- Two young women trying to remain close friends as their lives grow apart. A lovely, funny, sweet, insightful film.

AWOL
-- A small-town drama and love-story, and a good look at the reality of women who have with few options falling in love each other.

Barney Miller
-- From the comedy-before-bed category, this golden oldie from my youth held up remarkably well. Quiet, low-key humour punctuated by occasionally cringe-worthy sexism.

Boom Bust Boom
-- Through animation, puppetry, music, and humour, Terry Jones tries to explain why capitalism sucks. Worth seeing.

Bones S6-12
-- This show stayed so good for so long. I'd watch another six seasons if I could. Great characters, great detective work; totally bingeable.

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary
-- It doesn't matter if you know John Coltrane's music or whether you know anything about jazz at all. Coltrane was a towering genius and a beautiful soul; the story of his life and times is simply amazing. This wasn't a perfect film, but it's well worth your time.

Dheepan
-- An immigrant story of poverty and survival, and a crime thriller, perfectly interwoven. Excellent film.

Do I Sound Gay?
-- What is the origin of the stereotypical "gay accent"? A gay man explores that question, and ends up looking at internalized oppression. A very solid doc.

Get Out
-- I enjoyed this twist on old-school horror, but also found it massively over-rated. Plus I saw the supposedly shocking reveal coming all the way. Still good.

Ghostbusters
-- Fun!

Hidden Figures
-- After all the hype, I didn't expect to like this, but it was irresistible. I haven't read the book yet, but apparently the movie was very accurate. Amazing, powerful history.

Hinterland
-- A dark detective show set in Wales. Kind of a Wallander wannabe, but if you like dark detective shows, this is a good one.

Jessica Jones S2
-- After a spectacular S1, there was nowhere to go but down, but it's still a very good show, full of excitement and surprises, and sprinkled with humour.

Joe Cocker: Mad Dog with Soul
-- A look into the rise, fall, and redemption of a great soul singer. Not a great film, but it was interesting, and inspired me to re-listen to Cocker's early music.

Love and Friendship
-- Whit Stillman's take on Jane Austen. I'm not an Austen fan, nor a fan of English period pieces, but this was funny and fun.

Luke Cage S1
-- Funny, exciting, and totally entertaining, with some social commentary woven in. Shot in New York, for real, with a true NYC vibe. Looking forward to more.

Mike Tyson Mysteries
-- Come on, are you watching these yet? What are you waiting for, they're only 10 minutes long! Ridiculous, hilarious, occasionally brilliant.

Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things
-- A look at the living simply movement, through the lives of several people who are intentionally living with less. This movie would have been better if the filmmakers had explored their own privilege in making these choices. But still, this is a decent and thought-provoking film.

Paterson
-- Jim Jarmusch's fantasy of what a working-class artist's life could be like. The more I thought about this movie, the less I liked it. This review on the Roger Ebert site pinpoints my problems. But I did enjoy it, and as fantasies go, you could do worse.

Suits S7
-- Now that the show's central conflicts have been resolved, we're left with a soap opera. But it's an appealing soap opera.

Sherlock S4
-- This show has lost the crazy edge it once had, but is still so compelling. Except the final episode which we hated.

Star Trek Beyond
-- Funny, clever, and very entertaining. Good female characters, good Simon Pegg for a change, and of course, finally an LGBT character. And yes, I am watching (and very much enjoying) Star Trek Discovery.

The Bob Newhart Show
-- Another low-key comedy from my youth. I was amazed at how perfectly this held up. It was truly laugh-out-loud funny, until the final season, which totally sucked.

The Mystery of Sleep
-- A solid science documentary that shows you how little we know.

We Regret to Inform You
-- A Canadian documentary that takes an unsentimental and unvarnished look at what it means to be physically disabled, while having a "productive" mind, in our world. Thank you NFB!




Inside Llewyn Davis

You'll notice I've switched to poster images. I can't find one image from this movie or the next that doesn't make me sneer. Inside Llewyn Davis isn't the worst movie I've ever seen, but it might have been the most over-rated. These movies won't kill you, but I'm sure you have something better to do. You must.

A Bigger Splash
-- All style, little substance. A movie about rich, beautiful, self-absorbed people. The air of danger and intrigue mentioned by many critics failed to make it into my living room.

Café Society
-- This Woody Allen film had some nice moments, and was lovely to look at, but whoever thought Jesse Eisenberg could play the lead must have lost a bet. His atrocious performance ruins whatever movie might have been there.

Cameraperson
-- This review on RogerEbert.com says that if you can make it through the first 20 minutes, all will be revealed. I could not. All I can tell you is that Kirsten Johnson shot a lot of footage about a lot of interesting things over her career, then apparently threw together a bunch of scraps and called it a movie.

Chewing Gum
-- This started out very funny. And then, omg, run away. Good for a few episodes, though.

Complete Unknown
-- Multiple false identities, a secret past, and unexplained tensions -- I really wanted to like this movie. It fell flat.

Fences
-- I'm so disappointed to put this in category 2! We saw the original play on Broadway a long time ago, and I'm a huge fan of playwright August Wilson. Sadly, the movie adaptation was stiff, stilted, cliched, and forgettable.

Intelligence
-- This Canadian spy drama based in Vancouver has some good points, but in an era when there are so many great series, don't waste your time on this.

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World
-- How awful to put a Werner Herzog documentary in this category. It's as if Herzog didn't know what to look for or ask about. A meandering mess.

Los Punks: We Are All We Have
-- A documentary about the backyard punk rock scene of South-Central and East Los Angeles. I love the idea of this music, and I so wanted to love the film. In the end, the movie shows you that this scene exists, but little else.

Maggie's Plan
-- A Woody Allen-inspired romantic comedy set (of course) in New York City. Part screwball comedy, part existential crisis, occasionally funny, mostly annoying.

People Places Things
-- See "Maggie's Plan". Why do I keep trying to watch romantic comedies, knowing I'll almost always be disappointed? I guess the answer is in that almost.

Riverdale
-- This campy teen drama is absolutely awful. But I can't stop watching it!

The Lobster
-- A clever idea, but not much of a movie. I understand our world privileges couples and families, but I have hard time seeing single people as persecuted.




Love, Actually

I hate this movie because it sucks. So do these.

Fargo S1
-- This might be the worst crime-detective-mystery show I've ever seen.

Miles Ahead
-- A giant string of jazz cliches that captures nothing of Miles. Perhaps Don Cheadle -- who wrote, directed, co-produced, and starred in the film -- should stick to acting, or perhaps the subject was just too difficult. Either way, a must to avoid.

Straight Outta Compton
-- A tour through every rap biopic cliche in existence, with all the misogyny whitewashed away.

Weiner-Dog
-- ‎Todd Solondz uses a passive-faced dog as a device to mock people who are already caricatures. I've liked many of Solondz's movies, but couldn't sit through this one.

1.27.2018

streaming update: we add appletv to the mix

We've added something new to our streaming capabilities: AppleTV. I never thought I'd own an Apple product, but one app made it irresistible: CraveTV.

Crave is a Canadian streaming service that has exclusive rights to HBO and Showtime content, shows that will never appear on Netflix. And Crave, in turn, has an exclusive deal with AppleTV. Researching this, I could see that Crave won't be available on Roku anytime soon, if ever.

So we bought AppleTV 4K, and it's great. We had been watching HBO and Showtime series through "other means," and now we can stop that. This is easier, not to mention legal. At $250 US, the AppleTV itself is not cheap, but to my mind, it's well worth it. Crave is only $8.00/month.

Like Roku, AppleTV's set-up is simple and takes less than a minute, the remote is super simple, and navigation is intuitive. The only thing AppleTV doesn't have, strangely, is a USB port. But we still have Roku for that; we can leave them both connected and easily switch back and forth.

I can't offer an actual side-by-side comparison of Roku and AppleTV, as our Roku model is old, and the AppleTV is the newest, fourth-generation model. When we first starting using Roku in 2012, the reviews of AppleTV were terrible. CNET and other trustworthy sources advised that Roku was the way to go. Now it's possible that the newest Roku works just as beautifully as the newest AppleTV. But unfortunately, it will not have CraveTV, and that's what I needed.

And just a reminder of what makes all this streaming possible: unlimited internet through TekSavvy.

10.14.2017

update: the gay cop on barney miller comes out, plus an adorable child sex worker

About a month ago, I wrote about an episode from the late 1970s-early 1980s sitcom "Barney Miller", in which the squad discovers that an officer from their precinct is gay. To my surprise, Officer Zatelli returned to Barney Miller -- and he came out, right there in the squad room.

That's Zatelli (Dino Natali)
on the right, blurting out: "I'm gay!"
In this follow-up episode, gay couple Marty and Mr. Driscoll return to the squad room after a long absence. Driscoll's ex-wife is trying to prevent him from seeing his son, and the couple comes to the 12th Precinct for help. When they find none, Driscoll collects his son anyway, and the ex-wife is pressing charges; Officer Zatelli happens to be there.

While the plot device bringing these characters together was a bit clunky and obvious, the episode, which aired one year after the first gay-cop episode, demonstrates a bit of social progress. When the mincing Marty makes a sarcastic comment about the squad room decor, his partner Driscoll says, "Can we stop perpetuating the stereotype for a moment and get on with this?" Wojo's homophobia is on display again, but this time it is even more isolated, as no one else has a problem. Even the plot line is progressive, acknowledging Driscoll as a loving and positive influence in his son's life.

And then it happens. When the ex-wife goes on bigoted rant about "those people" and their "degrading, unnatural lifestyle," Zatelli tries to ignore it, then suddenly blurts out, "I'm gay!" It was a funny and poignant episode. It marks Marty and Driscoll's final appearance on the show.

* * * *

In my earlier Barney Miller post, I mentioned that the show re-used actors for multiple characters. In Seasons 6, 7, and 8 (the final season), this became completely ridiculous. The same actors show up repeatedly, playing different complaining citizens and arrestees. A criminal from one episode even turns up as a new detective in the 12th, which -- with the "retirement" of Fish (Abe Vigoda), the disappearance of any female detective, and the death of actor Jack Soo -- had gotten a bit empty.

If you go to the "full cast" link on the Barney Miller imdb page, beginning with John Dullaghan, look how many times those actors were all used! In that entire list from Dullaghan down, all but a few recurring roles have multiple character names listed for each actor -- many as many as 5, 6, or 7 roles!

In a show that sometimes had recurring characters, this became downright confusing. I can't imagine a TV show doing this now.

* * * *

The Barney Miller marital rape episode was puzzling, but, as it turns out, not uniquely strange: how about an episode featuring a child prostitute, played for laughs?

In "Call Girl," from Season 6, young Tasha Zemrus plays Rhonda Haleck, a sex worker so young and innocent that when asked for her age, replies "Fifteen and a half." She is a bit tough and wise-cracking, but appears squeaky-clean, well dressed, and well fed, in a way that a teenage street-walker would not.

Young Rhonda, sex worker, getting schooled by
Sassy Black Prostitute, sitcom edition.
Rhonda lives at a group home, and Detective Dorsey (played by Paul Lieber, the above-mentioned sometimes criminal, sometimes detective) uncovers the odd "coincidence" that numerous underage residents of the home have been arrested on similar charges. He accuses the avuncular adult who runs the home of pimping, and vows to watch him closely. (You can watch the episode here.)

Yet despite this suspicious revelation, Rhonda is sent home with the older man, and everyone has a good laugh at her cute little jokes.

Can you imagine a sitcom today playing child prostitution for laughs? Sex workers are a regular part of Barney Miller. They are always clean, well-dressed, and sassy. Some readers may remember Mary Tyler Moore's character Mary Richards getting arrested with a bunch of sex workers. They were also clean, well-dressed, and sassy. I guess that was the 1970s sitcom version of prostitution, more Neil Simon than Charles Dickens.

9.24.2017

the strange case of the barney miller rape episode

Watching Barney Miller as my comedy-before-bed sleep aid, I was stunned and amazed by an episode called "Rape" -- Season 4, Episode 15.

A woman comes to the station house, agitated and distressed. Captain Miller, with his usual calm and professional demeanour, leads her to sit down. When he hears "rape," Barney says, "Oh boy" -- as in, oh my, this is serious. He says, "Do you think you can give us a description of the man?"

She pulls from her bag a photograph. There's a brief sight-gag, as the photograph is in a small frame. She says about the photo, "That man is an animal. A degenerate. That man is... my husband." The laugh track booms. Barney rolls his eyes and says, "Oh boy" -- as in "we have a fruitcake."

Barney: "Mrs. Lindsay, are you sure?"

Woman: "What do you mean, am I sure?"

Barney: "I mean, I know you're sure this is your husband. But-- Nick, would you get Mrs. Lindsay a cup of coffee?"

Another crime victim who happens to be in the station house at the time says, "Kind of weird, isn't it? Raped by her husband?"

The woman defends her case to the detectives, and for a while it seems like the show is a lesson about the legitimacy of marital rape -- that the audience is going to learn about marital rape along with the detectives of the 12th Precinct.

"I have some rights, don't I?"
Barney says, "Mrs. Lindsay, we're in kind of a gray area."

She replies through gritted teeth: "What's gray about it? I didn't want to, and he made me."

Eventually, Barney is persuaded to treat the incident as a crime. Detectives bring in the rapist-husband for questioning, and an assistant district attorney appears.

The ADA is a woman, and a feminist. The rapist-husband's defense lawyer acts as if he's never seen a female attorney before. Even Barney is surprised. In 1978 New York City, I don't think the presence of a female ADA would have been shocking.

The ADA says to the victim, "I want you to know we're going to do everything in our power to see that your rights as a human being are preserved."

The woman says with feeling, "That's all I want."

Barney tells the ADA that the law is unclear, and questions why she wants to treat this as a "test-case". The ADA stands strong, and the live audience applauds and cheers -- a little. Dietrich (Steve Landesberg) speculates to the husband that in the future, "Rape will be known as committing a Marvin Lindsay" -- a statement that acknowledges that rape has been committed.

Up to now I have found the episode creepy and uncomfortable, because I'm not sure whose point of view the show is condoning. Then it goes off the rails.

Barney appeals to the woman in one of his famous heart-to-hearts. These little chats -- usually used in minor, personal issues -- often persuade complainants to give the other person another chance. The woman, formerly so angry and self-assured that she marched into a police station, says to her husband, "You want to know how to treat a woman? Ask him," pointing to Barney. "Go ahead," she says to Barney, "tell him how to treat a woman."

Barney has a heart-to-heart with the husband. The couple reconciles. He's going to take her out to dinner and buy her flowers. Suddenly she doesn't care that she was forced to have sex against her will. She'll be more willing if he buys her dinner first. The end.

* * * *

The episode aired in 1978, when marital rape was still considered a "private matter" -- a "domestic disturbance", if that. Kind of makes your head explode, doesn't it? It was all in keeping with the legal view of women and children as property. By the way, this is why second-wave feminists said "the personal is political".

Barney Miller, the sitcom, is a man's world. In the first few seasons, there is a rotating spot used for a female police officer, played first by Linda Lavin. The female cops are always very emotional and highly strung, but they are also good detectives, and discrimination against them is often acknowledged. Those characters fade away after a few seasons, and never return. Barney's wife Liz, played by Barbara Barrie, also fades away. The recurring character of Bernice (usually Florence Stanley), Fish's wife, disappears when Fish (Abe Vigoda) retires. And other than that, female characters are either crime victims or criminals, and the female criminals are usually sex workers.

Looking online for references to this episode, I found this discussion on Democratic Underground, from February 2010. Some commenters claim the episode was groundbreaking, airing the issue of marital rape for the first time; others think it's fine except for the laugh track.

But it isn't just the laugh track, and it isn't just the eye-rolling. The worst part of the episode by far is the positive-outcome rape scenario. That's when a victim decides the rape was OK or not really rape -- in this case, because hubby promised to wine and dine her next time. (Incidentally, I expected to find a definition of "positive-outcome rape scenario" online, but did not. Maybe it's called something else now? TV Tropes calls it "when victim falls for rapist".)

A writer on Critics at Large examines the live audience's response, and sees the episode as a watershed -- and as feminist.
For the first half of the episode the fact that the husband is accused of rape is a laugh line, but the raucousness of the audience track is at odds with the script and characters who are responding more with questioning looks (and genuine questions of law) than comical disbelief. And by episode's end – even though the accuser herself has walked back her charge – the audience forcibly applauds the young female Assistant DA's personal conviction to push established legal boundaries forward.
The same writer references another Barney Miller episode that was strongly feminist, which (for me) makes the rape episode all the more strange.
An earlier episode exposes the same, disconcerting dichotomy. Even more restrained in its scripting, in season two's "Heat Wave" a wife (played by Janet Ward) comes to the 12th to report her husband's physical abuse and struggles visibly with signing the papers. The centrepiece of the episode is a comedic but psychologically nuanced monologue where she oscillates between loving memories of courtship and righteous anger and fear, leading to her walking out without signing – throughout all of which the 1975 audience laughs with distressing nonchalance. But in the final scene, after a long beat, the door opens again and with wordless determination she signs the paper that will send her husband to jail.
When the actor Ron Glass died, HuffPo ran a piece arguing that Barney Miller is largely a show about empathy. The value and the challenge of empathy is indeed a constant theme of Barney Miller -- and the writer points to the rape episode as a strange exception.
Barney Miller aired from 1975-1982, so the social mores of the time are obviously much different than they are today. You’ll occasionally see notable examples of this, like an episode where the detectives are flabbergasted at the idea of a woman accusing her husband of rape (marital rape was still not a crime for years after it was a plot point on Barney Miller). However, besides a few exceptions here and there (like the aforementioned marital rape plot, which paid some lip service to the fact that it was, indeed, an actual issue in some cases, but mostly treated the wife’s complaint as frivolous - the wife turned out to just want her husband to be more romantic during sex), the show somehow manages to not really seem all that out of date on most issues when you watch it today.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the ever-awesome TV Tropes puts it in perspective, listing the Barney Miller rape episode under both "Black Comedy Rape" and "Marital Rape License".

I'd be shocked if any sitcoms today used marital rape as a punchline. Wingnuts would say this is an example of censorship through political correctness. I'd say it's an example of the power of feminism to change our world.

9.19.2017

do workplace-based tv shows make people dissatisfied with their jobs?

I recently realized that I enjoy a lot of TV shows that are themed around a workplace. There are the comedies, like The Office and Brooklyn 9-9, and my favourite sitcoms of past generations, such as Barney Miller and Mary Tyler Moore, and a whole bunch of sitcoms I don't watch, such as Cheers. But there are also dramas like Bones, and Suits, and older shows like ER and several others from that era.

You can see why the workplace is ripe for use as a setting. It allows writers to bring a very diverse group of characters, with widely disparate backgrounds, strengths, and expectations, into a situation where they must work together, for better or worse. The diversity and the need to work together is believable, if often not truly realistic.

But inevitably, as the show continues, the workplace becomes a surrogate family. In both Bones and Suits, many characters have no other family, or have only a small scrap of family left, or are estranged from whatever family they have. Each backstory is credible in itself; finding so many of those stories in one place, not so much.

But at least the Bones writers put some thought into why these workmates become so close -- indeed, whey they are closer than most families. Yes, the characters work in a highly collaborative setting, where individual expertise is only valuable insofar as it serves the whole. And yes, in their work, they are constantly confronted with the fragility of life and the spectre of mortality. But even accounting for those factors, the preternatural intensity of the relationships only makes sense because the characters have no other families.

In a separate sphere, we know that feelings of physical inadequacy are often triggered by unrealistic images of youth and beauty promoted in all kinds of media. We know that many people become depressed around Christmas, New Years, and Valentines Day, when we are surrounded with unrealistic images of family, social life, and romance, respectively.

So I wonder, do people feel inadequate because their workplaces don't resemble these TV teams, not even a little? Do people feel inadequate because most of their relationships are less intense than the relationships on these TV teams? Do some people wish their workplace resembled these shows more? Do they seek to become inappropriately close to their workmates, because they believe this is possible, or even normal, in working life?

Postscript: The title of this post is Impudent Strumpetesque.

Post-postscript: I intentionally spelled New Years and Valentines Day without apostrophes. I want to start a trend.

9.17.2017

in which i answer the burning question, what will laura binge-watch next?

In response to my help me find a new series to binge-watch post, I got tons of answers both here and on Facebook. I'm keeping the list for future reference.

In the category of watching by myself during R&R downtime, I am starting with Hinterland, which has long been in my Netflix list. I've watched the first two episodes, and it's very much like Wallander, a good sign.

After Hinterland, the to-try list: Peaky Blinders, Shetland, Fringe, Bloodline, Wentworth, River. Also will try The Defenders, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. Intelligence sounds good, but two seasons and no conclusion is a dealbreaker. 

Possibles: Lost, Criminal Minds, Friday Night Lights. I was pretty adamant about not watching FNL years back, but now I might give it a chance. 

Will try both Man Seeking Woman and Letterkenny, but have to wait until either there's more episodes or the show ends. 

In the category of Allan and I watching together over the winter, which generally means the best shows and intense binge-watching and discussions: The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Americans, not necessarily in that order.

ancient tv history: a gay cop on barney miller

Watching my comedy-before-bed daily dose of Barney Miller last night, I was surprised and pleased to see an episode about a gay cop. This reminded me of this post -- turns out it was 10 years ago! -- about a gay character on Dallas. Both episodes aired in 1979.

Officer Zatelli, played by Dino Natali
At the time I blogged about the Dallas episode, I thought this might have been pretty cutting-edge. Now that I see a similar theme on a show from the same year, I wonder if it might have been more mainstream than I realize?

In the Barney Miller ep, Lieutenant Scanlon -- a sleazeball from Internal Affairs* -- receives an anonymous letter from an officer saying he is gay, and no one on the force knows, demonstrating that being gay is not incompatible with being a good cop. The letter writer identifies himself as being assigned to the 12th Precinct.

The detectives are all surprised, but shrug it off as not their business. Wojo, who earlier in the series was the most homophobic of the group, is the most uncomfortable, but in the end declares that it wouldn't matter to him if he learned that anyone on the team is gay. Wojciehowicz, played by Max Gail, is the character who grows and changes the most in the course of the show, starting out as a lughead ex-Marine, and ending up just south of Hawkeye Pierce.

Captain Barney Miller himself insists that a cop's sexual preference -- as it was called then -- is nobody's business, and his contempt for Scanlon grows even deeper, which is saying something.

Recurring gay character Marty,
played by Jack DeLeon (centre). 
The gay cop makes himself known to Miller: it's Zatelli, a "uniform" who has an occasional walk-on part, taking over mail delivery when the diminutive Levitt (Ron Carey) finally gets promoted to plainclothes.

Barney's principal reaction to Zatelli is one of burden: now the Captain is obligated to let his superiors know, and Zatelli will be made to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Barney challenges Zatelli to come out, but acknowledges that is untenable. In the end, Miller respects Zatelli's privacy, and tells Scanlon to go to hell.

This may have been a very good lesson for the 1979 sitcom audience, but I'm sure the widespread acceptance of a gay colleague in the NYPD is a tad unrealistic. According to "Brooklyn 9-9" backstory, Captain Holt -- most awesome gay sitcom character ever -- became the first openly gay police officer on the NYPD in 1987.

As I mentioned in a previous post about Barney Miller, there is a gay character on the early seasons of the show. He was played quite mincing and flouncy -- although out and proud. Officer Zatelli is closeted, of course, and does not "act gay".

* * * *

Repeat offender -- the actor, not the character.
Another funny observation about this show. The minor characters, who are usually either the victim of a crime, someone who committed a crime, or lawyers, are played by actors that make multiple appearances -- as different characters! So the same actor appears, but he's not a repeat offender. His character has a new name and has committed an entirely different crime. Because I'm watching one or two episodes every night, I remember the bit parts more than real-time audiences might have. But I wonder if audiences found this strange at the time?

The earliest sitcoms, like "The Honeymooners" and "The Burns & Allen Show"** always used a stable of actors to play a rotation of bit parts. But I would have thought that by the late 1970s, this was no longer done. Talk about breaking the fourth wall. Imagine if dentist Tim Whatley, Steve from Long Island, and the Lucy-obsessed TV Guide guy had all been played by the same actor!


* Internal Affairs is portrayed as devious, dishonest, and out to bust decent, hardworking cops.

** A pioneer of television comedy, and one of my all-time favourite shows. It's the godfather of Seinfeld.

9.10.2017

help me find a new series to binge-watch

I need a new series to binge-watch.

Requirements:
1. Must have a ton of episodes
2. Must have good characters and relationships
3. Nothing too scary
4. Nothing sweet or heartwarming
5. No zombies
6. Best if the series has already ended
7. Best if in English (when I'm exhausted, reading subtitles is not relaxing)

Have tried (more than once) but did not enjoy or gave up on:
- Star Trek: Voyager (I really wanted to like this!)
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
- Breaking Bad
- The Borgias
- Battlestar Galactica

Not interested:
- Game of Thrones
- Orange is the New Black

Have watched and loved:
- The Wire
- Justified
- The Good Wife
- Suits
- Boardwalk Empire (stopped after S4)
- The Fall
- Longmire
- Broadchurch (S1 only)
- Bones (just finished... so sad that it's over)
- Star Trek: The Next Generation
- Star Trek: The Original Series
- Xena: Warrior Princess (more than once!)
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Angel
- Farscape
- Veronica Mars
- Inspector Lewis / Lewis
- Inspector Morse
- Endeavour
- Wallander
- The Hour
- Murdoch Mysteries
- Prime Suspect (more like this please!)
- Monk
- Firefly
- Columbo
- Shameless UK (was in the middle of this when Netflix pulled the later seasons) (would like to start the whole series over) (not going to see the US version until I've finished this one)
- Bojack Horseman (waiting for the end of baseball season to devour S4)
- Detectorists
- Series Noire
- Master of None
- Sherlock (still have not seen S4, but will)

Have watched some of and liked, but not loved enough to continue:
- Marcella
- Scott & Bailey
- Luther
- Rectify
- Dicte
- The Killing
- Happy Valley
- The Bletchley Circle

For this post, I combined two separate categories of real life -- shows that Allan and I watch together, in between baseball seasons, and shows that I binge-watch on my own, in downtime when he's not home. The distinction is too difficult, or perhaps impossible, to explain.

Suggestions?

9.01.2017

harry hoo, nick yemana, and the persistence of racism on mainstream tv

My "comedy before bed" TV watching -- the habit of a lifetime, and the surest way for me to fall asleep -- has gone retro again.* I watched "Get Smart" end-to-end and am now making my way through "Barney Miller".

Harry Hoo, Dr. Yes, and "Craw, not Craw!"

Get Smart was a TV comedy conceived by funny men Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, and piloted by the amazing Leonard Stern. It's part James Bond spoof and part Inspector Clouseau. Don Adams stars as Maxwell Smart. It was to be the one and only part Adams ever played well, but boy was he good. Barbara Feldon as "99" and Ed Platt as The Chief were both brilliant, but their characters were purely straight men for Adams. Get Smart ran from 1965 to 1970. I watched at least the last few seasons as a kid, and have seen a few re-runs over the years. Watching it straight through, I laughed out loud through the entire series. It was completely ridiculous and completely hilarious.

Except for one giant cringe factor: racism. This wasn't about African Americans. Indeed, people of colour rarely appeared in Get Smart, and when they did, they were not in racist situations or portrayed with racist overtones. The racism in Get Smart was almost fully reserved for Asians.

Don Adams as Maxwell Smart and Joey Forman
as Harry Hoo. Prepare to cringe.
In the show's early seasons, Asian people were played by non-Asian actors with facial hair meant to be read as Asian, crude eye makeup, and heavily accented speech. Unlike the comic Russian and German characters who belonged to KAOS, the international organization of evil, Asian characters might be good or evil. Either way, they were never Asian.

As the seasons progressed, a few Asian actors appeared playing Asian characters. I don't know if this was in response to complaints, or if an Asian actor had some influence on the show's producers, or something else. But whatever the background of the actors, the stereotypes persisted.

One "good guy" Asian character in Get Smart was Harry Hoo, a parody of Charlie Chan, who was a fictional Chinese detective of books, radio, television, and movies. Except for a brief period at the show's inception, Charlie Chan was played by white actors. Harry Hoo was no different, played by a white comic character actor named Joey Forman. (The use of white actors to play people of colour has a long history on both the small and large screens, not something I can explore in this post.)

Everything about Get Smart is spoofy, so there are plenty of ridiculous stereotypes and anti-stereotypes to go around. It's part of the show's brand of comedy. But only Chinese characters are dressed in old-world costumes, their entrance always heralded by "Oriental"-sounding music, ringing gongs in their laundry shops, speaking in accents played for laughs. The jokes are beyond cringe-inducing.

Nick Yemana and the dinosaurs

"Barney Miller," which ran from 1975 to 1982, was another animal entirely. I watched this show regularly in its early years, often with my father.

Barney Miller was an ensemble-cast workplace comedy, so perhaps the comparison with the zany Get Smart is unfair. Barney Miller had no catchphrases, no physical comedy, and almost no cringey insensitivities. There is even a gay character -- a minor but recurring role -- who is out and proud, if mincing, and sometimes has a partner in tow. Jokes in those episodes revolve around the detectives' varying degrees of homophobia, not the gay men themselves. The eponymous Captain Miller, played by Hal Linden, treats the gay couple with respect, unphased, and it's from that character that the baseline is established.

In the run-down station house in which the show is set, against a backdrop of New York City's dire years of cutbacks, crime, and decay, the detectives of the 12th Precinct are a snapshot of ethnic New York. Whether the real NYPD was ever this diverse is another story. The detectives are a picture of diversity in background, lifestyle, and worldview.

Jack Soo as Nick Yemana.
Soo started his career entertaining
his neighbours in a Japanese internment camp.
Which brings me to Sergeant Nick Yemana, played with wonderful understatement by Jack Soo. Both character and actor were Japanese-American. (Soo died during the show's fifth season, a shocking loss for loyal viewers.)

Yemana's character and actions seldom involved his ethnic background, but he was frequently a target for characters who were racist but trying to act like they weren't. The show's Inspector Frank Luger (James Gregory) was especially uncomfortable with Yemana's Asianness -- but the joke was at Luger's expense. The Inspector was a relic of an earlier era, a dinosaur who didn't understand diversity. He'd make embarrassing attempts at a "soul" handshake with Detective Harris (played by Ron Glass, known to Firefly and Serenity fans) and spout fake Spanish at Puerto Rican characters. The characters are all decent and sympathetic figures; it's the bigotry itself that's the joke. I wrote about a similar dynamic in the TV show "M*A*S*H," where only idiots and cowards glorify war, or hate and fear the Koreans.

I did say "almost"

The bad ethnic jokes of Get Smart were almost entirely reserved for Asians, but not completely. In the first season, there's an episode called "Washington 4, Indians 3" featuring "Indians" -- feathers, teepees, an inability to use contractions -- the works. After all, this was Mel Brooks, a comedy writer from a generation that thought it was hilarious to have "Indians" or "Nips" use Yiddish phrases. But to the Get Smart writers' credit, the jokes focus on the stupidity of the war-happy Pentagon, and how we're all on stolen land in the first place.

The "almost" on Barney Miller is really strange. Rape jokes? Really? That warrants its own post.

* Old TV shows watched: Bewitched, MASH (pulled from Netflix when I was up to Season 9!), Get Smart, Barney Miller (currently watching). To come: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show. Those last four I'm watching on DVD.

7.08.2017

adventures in streaming: tubi, dick cavett, and the manster

The Roku streaming device gives you access to thousands of apps... most of which are completely useless.

That doesn't mean I don't love Roku. I do! But we use it almost exclusively to watch Netflix and the Red Sox, and to access downloaded files on the TV. We've also installed a few other apps, most of which we rarely or never touch: PBS, Democracy Now!, Google Play, National Film Board, a cooking channel or two. Sometimes I page through the available apps, install one, try it, then immediately remove it.

There are dozens of apps for movies and TV shows. Some are the streaming option you get when you already have a network or cable channel. Some have expensive monthly fees, others are expensive pay-per-view, and lots are free. If the description says "classic movies" read "public domain". Classic or contemporary, there may be one or two movies of interest, then a whole lot of filler.

One popular free movie app is Crackle, owned by Sony to stream their own content. I installed Crackle because it had one movie I wanted to see that I couldn't find anywhere else. We found the embedded advertising (which you can't skip) too intrusive, almost as bad as watching commercial television. I removed Crackle, but it wouldn't unsubscribe me, and I finally had to kill-file their emails. When I checked back recently, they no longer even have that one movie.

We recently had better luck with TubiTV. It's also free, and so far, the ads are only at the beginning, and it's not too annoying to wait through them (on mute, of course). So far Tubi has given us two gems.

One is the old Dick Cavett show. Cavett was known to be a thoughtful host who did lengthy, in-depth interviews, sometimes featuring one person for the entire show. He was also really into great music. There are performances by and/or interviews with Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, and others, an impressive list.

From the movie "Janis: Little Girl Blue," an excellent biopic of Janis Joplin that I saw on Netflix, I learned about her connection with Cavett. I was once obsessed with all things Janis Joplin, and still love and admire her, so I was excited to see her appearances on The Dick Cavett Show available on Tubi.



There are also interviews with famous writers, comedians, actors, athletes, politicians -- a wide swath of interesting people. Check out this episode list, it's pretty amazing.

Tubi also has a "Cult Favorites" category, on which I found my favourite B movie of all time: The Manster. I'm not especially knowledgeable about B movies, but I watched a lot of old movies when I was a kid, the good with the bad. (This is in the dark ages when we watched whatever the networks and weird local stations aired.) I've seen The Day the Earth Stood Still, Night of the Living Dead, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and all the other big B movies from that era, multiple times. My favourite is The Manster.



In The Manster, an American journalist goes to Japan to interview a scientist rumoured to be experimenting with youth serums. In his secret mountain laboratory, the scientist keeps various creatures locked in cages. (We later learn that one of the creatures used to be his wife.) Scientist secretly injects journalist, which causes a second head to grow out of his shoulder. The second head is evil and causes the transformed journalist to murder people.

After a manhunt, as the police close in on the two-headed journalist, the suspense builds to the shocking conclusion. With the manster standing behind a tree, we hear a giant tearing sound, like the world's biggest velcro strip being opened. Tearing, screaming, tearing, screaming... the monster rips apart from the man! Interestingly, both man and monster now have two arms and two legs. Police kill the murdering monster and the journalist is carried off on a stretcher.

There are also some riveting subplots, featuring the doctor and journalist drinking and carousing, the doctor's assistant falling in love with the journalist, and the journalist's wife trying to win him back from his new profligate life. The doctor's assistant ends up in a volcano, courtesy of the newly liberated monster.

I was so pleased to see The Manster on Tubi that we watched it straight through, something I haven't done since I was in my pre-teen years. It's a classic B movie combo of wild histrionics, meaningless cliches, giant plot holes, and bad lighting. But the real reason to watch are the awesome special effects. I swear you can see the strap that's holding the extra head on the actor's shoulder.




Before writing this post, I didn't even know The Manster was a famous B movie! I found it on many best-of lists. There's even an action figure.


4.16.2017

we movie to canada: wmtc annual movie awards, 2016-17 edition

I'm actually getting to the annual wmtc movie awards while the baseball season is still young -- a sign that I have a bit more time to myself, as our new local ticks along under the guidance of an awesome team.

First, the annual recap:
- Canadian musicians and comedians (2006-07 and 2007-08)
- my beverage of choice (2008-09)
- famous people who died during the past year (2009-10)
- where I'd like to be (2010-11)
- vegetables (2011-12) (I was out of ideas!)
- Big Life Events in a year full of Big Life Changes (2012-13)
- cheese (I'm getting desperate!) (2013-14)
- types of travels (2014-15)
and last year I reprised famous people who died, plus there is famous people who died, part 2.
the picket line

This year's theme was a no-brainer for me. In late 2015 and through 2016, I piloted my union through contract negotiations and a strike. It was the first strike for the Mississauga Library Workers, and the first strike against the City of Mississauga!

We were out for three weeks -- and we won. Along with what the strike did for our members, it was a year of enormous personal growth for me. Leading bargaining and the strike used all my experience, all my skills, all my strengths, and all my weaknesses, seemingly putting them all to the test, every single day.

And so, this year's "we movie to canada" theme: the picket line.



The General Strike

Workers from all fields and industries, union and nonunion, waged and unwaged, students and teachers, factory workers and miners, writers and artists, joining together to demonstrate our strength by withholding our collective labour. In February 1919, workers shut down the city of Seattle; a few months later, workers in Winnipeg did the same in their city. Did you know that workers in India staged the largest general strikes in history, first in 2013, then in 2016? (Why was this the most under-reported story of the decade?)

The General Strike is what I most want to see, and these films were the best I saw over the past year.

Diary of a Teenage Girl
-- Brave, honest, and risk-taking, this film reveals an authentic teenage life that may shock some, but rings unerringly true. Drugs, sex, negligent parents, opportunistic adults -- it's all there, as Minnie begins to author her own life. Moving and brilliant.

Mustang
-- In Turkey, five sisters are being raised by their repressive, over-protective uncle. Each girl in turn finds accommodation or escape, in ways that are increasingly sad and tragic. But one girl will not be tamed. Gripping, tragic, triumphant.

Bojack Horseman S3
-- Loneliness, self-doubt, and existential dread, plus endless animal puns and laugh-out-loud comedy. I'm starting to think it's the animal version of The Larry Sanders Show, which means it's one of the best things ever on television.

The Revenant
-- A gripping story of survival, and an authentic-seeming portrayal of the harsh, violent world of the frontier. Sometimes hard to watch, but I was riveted.

Where to Invade Next
-- Michael Moore's latest starts out as comedy, then slowly descends into darkness, perhaps the darkest Moore has ever attempted. I quibble with Moore on a couple of political points, but no matter. This film is great.

13th
-- On my nonfiction reading list is The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Alexander is featured in this documentary version, as powerful and disturbing a film as you are likely to see. Don't miss it.




The "Mill Girls"

The "Mill Girl" strikes -- first in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1834 and 1836, then the more famous "Bread and Roses" strike in nearby Lawrence in 1912 -- are some of my most beloved moments in labour history and women's history. The fighting spirit of the mill girls lives on in every woman who organizes and fights back.

These were considerably smaller in scope than the general strikes, but they were important, and they have always captured my imagination. These films weren't quite the pinnacle, but they were excellent.

Janis: Little Girl Blue
-- Finally, a movie about Janis Joplin that digs deep and doesn't exploit. Her life was both triumphant and very sad. The image of the rich and famous woman still seeking the approval of her hometown bullies will stay with me a long time. Saddest of all, Janis was expanding her range and her repertoire when she died. An excellent biopic.

I Smile Back
-- Sarah Silverman's performance as a self-destructive, borderline personality is absolutely gripping. The film offers no "overcoming obstacles" balm and no easy answers -- indeed, no answers at all. Disturbing in all the right ways.

The Wire, S5
-- This was a bit of a come-down after the pinnacle of S4. Compared to other seasons, S5 was a tad didactic and obvious. But in the end, it was The Wire -- unmatched.

Jimmy's Hall
-- Just another understated, brilliant film from the Ken Loach / Paul Laverty team. The joy of solidarity, the bitterness of the institutional crushing of dissent, plus the beauty and music of Ireland.

Carol
-- Todd Haynes has made a wonderful adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's semi-autobiographical novel The Price of Salt. Nonconformity, discovery, love, stifling choices, and a gorgeous period piece. Simply beautiful.

Brooklyn
-- 1950s small-town Ireland and immigrant Brooklyn. A lyrical love story, a beautiful period piece, an understated melodrama -- entirely wonderful.

Longmire S5
-- This show just keeps getting better. Now it's detective mystery meets western meets women's liberation.

Suits S1-6
-- Great writing, great acting, and characters that grow in credible and interesting ways. Takes a bit of time to kick in, but rewards you many times over. (I have only one quibble: women in law firms -- whether partners, associates, or assistants -- do not dress like models. A little less cleavage would have increased realism.)

Enquiring Minds: The Untold Story of the Man Behind the National Enquirer
-- A fascinating biopic of two men you've probably never heard of: Genoroso Pope and Gene Pope, Jr., plus Ric Burns and New York City. Did I say fascinating?

How I Met Your Mother, S9
-- I ended up absolutely loving this show. Barney is the comedy version of Suits character Harvey Specter. I might just watch the whole thing again.

The Fall, S3
-- When Season 2 ended with our hero holding the bloody body of her nemesis, I had no idea how the producers would squeeze out another season. That just shows my total lack of imagination. Season 3 was twisty, shocking -- and great.

Get Smart
-- My current comedy-before-bed is this classic from my childhood. A send-up of James Bond meets Inspector Clouseau. Corny but hilarious. Great for future-famous and uncredited guest stars, too.





CUPE 1989 Mississauga Library Workers Strike

Just your everyday, ordinary library workers, kicking ass for the working class. The strike was worthwhile, and these films are worth seeing.

Look Who's Back
-- What would happen if Hitler never died, and was reanimated in our current world? This film teases out all the implications. Very clever and very thought-provoking.

The Way, Way Back
-- A solid, sweet, unsentimental coming of age story.

Tab Hunter Confidential
-- What was it like to be marketed as a leading man but gay and deeply closeted, in 1950s Hollywood? A solid social history embedded in a biopic.

Trumbo
-- The Hollywood blacklist and a writer determined to defy it. Excellent performances and a good period piece.

The Big Short
-- At first this movie seems to be glorifying the villains of the subprime banking crisis, but that's just a ploy to reel you in.

Irrational Man
-- This dark Woody Allen film has some problems, but it's thought-provoking and a great conversation piece.

Anomalisa
-- Charlie Kaufman, existential crisis, and stop-motion animation. While it often seems (to me) that Kaufman is strange for strange's sake, this ends up being very interesting, even more thought-provoking than the Woody Allen movie above.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down a Dream
-- I have no idea why Peter Bogdanovich thought a movie about Tom Petty needed four hours. We watched in one-hour installments, and I made it through two. I really like old Heartbreakers music, and Tom Petty was a maverick in many ways. A decent film, and two hours is plenty.

A Grand Night In: The Story of Aardman
-- A fun romp through the history of Wallace and Grommet and various sheep.

Burnistoun
-- In our continuing search for good sketch comedy, we found this crazy Scottish show. Uneven but often really funny. We need subtitles!

Still Game
-- A raunchy, male, Scottish old-person show. Funny and poignant, and good for a few seasons.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
-- Scientology revealed. It is weirder and more horrifying than I ever imagined.

Finders Keepers
-- A man finds an old grill at an auction. Inside the grill: a human leg. This starts out as weird but comedic, but becomes an examination of class, drugs, lawsuits, and the illusion of celebrity. Really interesting.

Manson Family Vacation
-- A familiar movie trope -- the uptight, responsible adult and the immature, fuck-up sibling -- plus a road trip, with a Manson Family theme. A decent little film, and less predictable than one might expect.

Brooklyn 9-9, S3
-- Still really funny!

Morse
-- While recuperating after the strike, I watched the entire Morse series. It's slow-moving, but brilliant.

The Murdoch Mysteries, S10
-- Still watching! Still enjoying it.

Before the Flood
-- Leonardo DiCaprio's movie about climate change didn't go far enough for me, but it gets the word out in a solid way, even if the conclusions fall short.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
-- Completely crass, tasteless, and ridiculous, and usually very funny. The comparisons to Seinfeld are obvious, but this would be Jerry's crack-addicted, sex-offender distant cousin. I watched a few seasons before my US Netflix disappeared (again).

Bones, S1-5
-- After The Good Wife and Suits, this is my latest binge-watch. Good detective work, great characters, and has really deepened emotionally. Featuring great recurring roles for both Stephen Fry and Ryan O'Neal.

Marcella
-- A dark, twisty, sometimes confusing murder mystery, which owes a lot to Prime Suspect. Worth seeing if you're into that. Good for fans of The Fall, although nowhere near as good.

The Killing, S1
-- Parts of this were excellent, comparable to S1 of Broadchurch. But the plot holes, fercrissakes! Enjoyed one season but definitely not continuing.



Dear Valued Employee

So began a letter -- mid-strike -- from the library director to our members. Tone-deaf and clueless, it was a low point in labour relations!

The letter did contain a redeeming quality: it strengthened our solidarity. These movies are pretty awful, but they each contain some scrap of value.

American Hustle
-- This has all the markers of a film I should love, and I really wanted to love it. Instead, I found it stiff, bloated, and way too long, plus suffering from an intrusive soundtrack. It's better than a 2, but not quite a 3.

Everybody Wants Some!!
-- The long-awaited sequel to 1993's "Dazed and Confused" is really just a showcase of 1980 college "types".  There are some nice moments, but after all the hype, what a disappointment.

Breaking Bad
-- Everyone says this is a great series. I liked it at first, but quickly found it too non-believable, almost silly.

Ricki and the Flash
-- This was a perfectly serviceable redemption movie with some rock and roll thrown in. It has a great cast and avoids the worst of the many cliches inherent in the material. And then -- it falls off a cliff. The ending is so bad, so completely, cringingly awful, that it pulls the whole movie down the stupid hole with it. Absolutely, amazingly bad.

Born to be Blue
-- String together a bunch of jazz cliches, add Ethan Hawke. Hawke's presence saves this from the scrap heap.

Danny Collins
-- Not unlike Meryl Streep and Ethan Hawke in the two movies above, Al Pacino turns in a performance worth seeing. But yawn. Yet another movie where the main character is a self-centered boor, has been that way all his life and through 90% of the movie, then makes a miraculous transformation and is redeemed -- for no discernible reason.

The Tribe
-- Set in a home for deaf children, filmed with no dialogue or subtitles, this movie is dark, gripping, and very interesting -- for a while. Then it becomes impossible to figure out characters' motivations or what is going on. Cool idea, but it didn't work.

Green Room
-- We loved "Blue Ruin", this director's earlier film, so had high hopes for a taut, suspenseful thriller. Alas, this turned out to be a contrived locked-in-a-room-together horror flick.

The Martian
-- Shipwrecked sailor, forced to survive on ingenuity, guts, and humour -- a familiar tale translated into space. There were some nice moments, like when the whole world cheers together. But honestly, I was bored.

Twenty Feet from Stardom
-- This documentary about backup singers could have been great. There were a few fascinating glimpses into a world that is usually invisible. But so much of it is unfocused, meaningless, filler. There were some interesting tidbits, plus you get to hear an isolated track of Merry Clayton on "Gimme Shelter".

Star Trek: Voyager
-- This is the second time I've tried this series. The first time, I watched three episodes. This time I made it through eight. It's heavy on the nuts-and-bolts sci-fi, which I don't really like, and light on the emotional content, which I do. Well, I tried.




Precarious Work

There's nothing good about precarious work. These movies are a must to avoid.

Misconduct
-- Blackmail, corruption, bad writing, and bad acting.

This Must Be the Place
-- I really like Sean Penn, so I was completely surprised by his terrible performance in this movie. And yay, a character finds redemption and completely changes! For no reason! Yet again!

Entertainment
-- Only after seeing this movie did I learn that actor/comedian (?) Gregg Turkington has a stage persona called Neil Hamburger, and that this film was a vehicle for that unlikeable character. Maybe if you already know and understand the backstory, this film works? Assuming you are not interested in Turkington/Hamburger, it is just absolutely dreadful.

The Mindy Project, S3
-- I really liked S1 and S2, despite some clunkers. This was just unwatchable. Wow.

11.30.2016

what i'm watching: before the flood: good information but ultimately a weak message

Tonight we watched "Before the Flood", Leonardo DiCaprio's film about climate change, which I had heard such good things about.

It's well done, and is chock full of appropriately terrifying and depressing information. But in the end, the film delivers yet another "it's up to each of us" message, focusing on individual actions, rather than systemic solutions.

Early in the film, we hear that discussions of climate change used to focus on individual solutions -- change your light bulbs, bring your own coffee mug -- but now we know that's not enough. Yet in the end, the film concludes: "Consume differently: what you buy, what you eat, how you get your power." Vote for people who promise to do something.

After seeing miles of gray, dead coral reef, rainforest devastation in Indonesia, and the monstrosity of the tar sands, "consume differently" is an empty platitude. And how you get your power? Most of us have no choice about that.

Sure, eat less meat, carry your own coffee mug, take public transit, if the option exists in your area. You'll create less landfill, you'll make more conscious choices, and you might inspire others to do the same. Just don't think that you're making a dent in climate change. A dent? Not even a scratch.

"Before the Flood" might actually produce the opposite of its intended effect. Upon seeing this film, I think many or most viewers would feel that climate change is so huge, so widespread, and so advanced, that there is nothing we can do, so we should just live our lives, and try not to think about it. The optimistic NASA scientist interviewed towards the end of the film says that if we all stopped using fossil fuel, the earth will be able to heal. So if the impossible happens, we'll be OK? Not a lot of hope there.

Tar sands, fracking, palm oil production, deepwater drilling -- all of this is driven by profit and an economic system that demands so-called growth. In other words, the root cause is capitalism. It will never be more profitable to conserve and protect than it is to extract and destroy. So until our world is motivated by something other than profit, the destruction will not end.

The one thing that may achieve our goal is barely mentioned: massive, sustained protest. The kind of protest we are seeing right now in North Dakota, on a much larger scale. Because, as Mario Savio said, there is a time.
There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!


I thought of Mario Savio tonight. Although my heart and soul are against the gears, and always have been, I cannot say that I put my body upon the gears. I can only say I support the people who do, and I am ready to do so when the time comes.