Runstedler’s DVD Pick of the Month: Saturday Night Fever

Magill wrote a fun piece on this film a couple years ago, but I really wanted to revisit Saturday Night Fever (undeniably one of my all-time favourites and my favourite musical) in the wake of the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements. Regrettably, it doesn’t hold up well with the times, and although I still love it, there were many cringe moments, even in the classic opening sequence where Tony’s walking through the streets with the paint cans and possibly harassing (?) some of the beautiful women who pass him by. John Travolta is at the peak of his powers here, the film has a killer Bee Gees soundtrack (also at the peak of their powers, although their pre-disco stuff is worth checking out too), the screenplay is riveting, subversive, and compelling, the dance scenes are the best ever (I always tried to mimic his dance moves when I was out dancing pre-pandemic) and I really identified with Tony Manero (for the most part). He works a dead end job, but he’s found something he’s good at (dancing), and he dreams of a world beyond his fairly boring neighbourhood. The discotheque offers him that gateway to something more, beyond his seemingly indifferent and out of touch family and his “friends,” a couple guys who literally act like animals (barking at the diner) and treat their friend Bobby (who is a bit of a loser but really needs a friend who cares) like crap and just use him for his car. And Tony can dance, and he knows it too! The story focuses on his trials to become something more, a chance to be great, against his family and friends, who seem to hold him back, and it does a great job of showing us how his weekends really epitomize who he wants to be and dreams of being, rather than the drudgery of the weekdays, where he works at a paint store. For me, Saturday Night Fever really stands out from the other musicals of its time for its raw, brutal energy and holds nothing back – it deals with rape, suicide (?), unwanted pregnancy, the death of a friend, unrequited love, gang fights, and dysfunctional family life, whereas Travolta’s other big musical Grease is fairly tame in comparison. Saturday Night Fever feels more adult and more real. But I think Saturday Night Fever has a problem with misogyny, homophobia, and racism, and it’s hard to talk about, but they are topics that need to be confronted and discussed. It was filmed in late ’70s New York City, and I imagine much of it tries to capture the gritty and disturbing aspects of the time and it also has different ideas on sex and gender back then, but its treatment of these topics is still troubling and problematic, even for its time and place.

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Castor’s Underrated Gems – Bat*21 (1988)

Bat*21 streaming: where to watch movie online?

The heedlessly invigorating Bat*21 is fundamentally a role-reversal prequel to Behind Enemy Lines with Gene Hackman evading enemies on the ground while Danny Glover is his audio guide back to safety. Although Lieutenant Colonel Iceal E. Hambleton (Hackman) was a consultant for the film, it never panegyrizes him with untoward hero-worship. The film doesn’t sputter over prolonged introduction to Hambleton before he is deployed into North Vietnam. After a round of golf, Hackman is reconnoitering ahead of a bombing strike when missiles penetrate his aircraft.

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Castor’s Underrated Gems – Villain (1971)

Once more into the frat of Cockney hooliganism, Villain is a pungently facinorous crime drama which loosens the reigns from Richard Burton. Burton was usually the staid rock of Gibraltar in films but, as Vic Dakin, he is a frothing, on-the-verge-of-conniption thug. And he is sinfully jolly in the role. Along with the diametric casting, another variation to the recipe is that Vic is a preening homosexual who will mutilate a snitch and dangle the carcass of a balcony before serving breakfast to his invalid “mum”.

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Castor’s Underrated Gems – Lone Star (1996)

Lone Star (1996 film) - Wikipedia

In one of the sporadic examples of Chris Cooper in the lead role, John Sayles embroiders a tapestry of the imperialistic town of Frontera, Texas, in which the Mexicans outnumber Caucasians and yet still travail under them in subservient serfdom. At a PTA meeting, the history behind the Mexican Independence origins circa the 1860’s are vehemently debated as redacting the truth if the textbooks are guidelines and not veracious absolution. The proposition of a new jail is more about fear-mongering political gamesmanship than garrisoning the neighborhood. At times, Sayles is closer to a civic pundit than a filmmaker and yet, Lone Star is a punctilious, torrid, neo-western medley of Sayles’ novelistic proclivities.

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Castor’s Underrated Gems – Holocaust 2000 (1977)

The Chosen (1977) - IMDb

Holocaust 2000 (a.k.a. The Chosen) is usually disregarded as an Omen rip-off but it is much more prescient about the biblical apocalypse via ripped-from-the-headlines topics like thermonuclear power, a technocracy and the United States tampering with Middle East affairs. For certain, the Ennio Morricone score poaches the Latin chants from Jerry Goldsmith. Other than those overlaps and the ironically named Angel (Simon Ward) being the hellspawn of Satan, Holocaust 2000 isn’t lockstep in formulaic imitation.

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Castor’s Underrated Gems – The President’s Analyst (1967)

The President's Analyst (1967) - IMDb

Psychotherapy was almost an anomaly in the late 60’s when holistic healing and astrology were paramount. Now, the profession of introspection is more pertinent. The fly-on-the-wall sessions between Sidney (James Coburn) and his patients are quite tantalizing and often feel like a breach of the confidentiality clause. In order to obviate litigation from the government, covert organizations are camouflaged as the Federal Bureau of Regulation (FBR) and the Central Enquiries Agency (CEA).

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Castor’s Underrated Gems – Sitting Target (1972)

Amazon.com: Sitting Target: Douglas Hickox, Oliver Reed, Jill St ...

In the eruptive, lurid Sitting Target, the inimitable Oliver Reed is an incretionary “animal in a cage” as Cockney convict Harry Lomart. He does push-ups from the pipes above his prison cell. Moreover, Harry is not an alpha male who will be cuckolded during his 15-year sentence. Edward Scaife’s ultrastylish cinematography partitions the reflections during an increasingly moribund conversation between Harry and his wife Pat (Jill St. John) like split-screen panels.

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Castor’s Underrated Gems – Replicant (2001)

Replicant (film) - Wikipedia

For a science-fiction gimmick dabbling in cloning and symbiotic mnemonic cortices, the most fatuous element is Van Damme’s Tommy Wiseau wig. The neonatal technology for cellular duplication is sketchy and preposterous. Is The Torch so notorious that the NSA would experiment with such a financially exorbitant gamble to pursue him? How can the replicant recollect the Torch’s home invasions via osmosis?

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Castor’s Underrated Gems – Darker Than Amber (1970)

Darker Than Amber movie poster

Firstly, this Travis McGee test run deserves better than an infuscate, pixelated VHS-rip DVD which was the only outlet to watch this humdinger. Walter Hill’s Extreme Prejudice and Trancers also suffered from similar transfer issues. The nighttime scenes are borderline indecipherable but the soundtrack isn’t terribly waterlogged thankfully. Beware, the DVD version that runs 91 minutes, it excises the film’s infamously dropsical scuffle and displays chopping editing for scene buttons.

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Castor’s Underrated Gems – Dark of the Sun (1968)

Dark of the Sun and Other Lot (MGM, 1968). Posters (2) (40" X 60 ...

Jacques Loussier’s progressive score tipples through the ear canals with mischievousness. A rescue-mission-as-subterfuge-for-a-treasure-trove framework is practically a porcine genre unto itself but it is the Simba Rebellion (as opposed to World War II Europe) as a backdrop and the central mercenaries that carve out the differences. Australian juggernaut Rod Taylor fraternizes seamlessly with Jim Brown who is less avaricious than his companion since he semi-sarcastically remarks that Africa is “his country”.

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