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JIM ROCKFORD, THE SOPRANOS AND ME
By Joe Brancatelli
October 27, 2011 -- So here's something that almost never happens on the road: I got a new plane the other day.
Not just new, mind you, but so new that it hadn't even been through the "chop shop," which is what airlines call the places where they install things like in-flight entertainment systems and other proprietary frills.
The new plane in question was a "next generation" Boeing 737-900 with Boeing's so-called Sky Interior. Although the aircraft was painted in the new United Airlines livery, it was on a Continental Airlines run, the late-night nonstop to Los Angeles from Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii.
The pilot was clearly impressed that he got a new bird to fly and said so on the public-address system. The flight attendants and I speculated on the number of "cycles" (takeoffs and landings) the aircraft had. "Can't be many," one of the FAs said as I pointed out that there weren't even scratches on the armrests yet. And while we weren't all that jazzed with the Sky Interior's vaguely disco mood lighting, it was hard not to admire the craftily crafted overhead bins, which made short work of those gigantic wheelie bags that travelers are addicted to.
As I said, this new plane hadn't been through Continental's internal conversion, so it didn't have at-seat monitors or in-flight entertainment system (IFE). Not that anyone, at least in the first-class cabin, cared too much. When informed that there was nothing to watch or to hear, most of the passengers fired up their laptops or tablets or Kindles and retreated into their own little transpacific world.
I was also prepared. I had two digitized theater bootlegs, one with Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch in last year's revival of A Little Night Music and one with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury in last year's other revival of A Little Night Music.
But I put my Sondheim fetish on hold this one time because I got to thinking about bringing our own entertainment on the road.
No one is using the pay-to-play stuff in hotel rooms anymore, hoteliers tell me, because we bring along our own movies and can get all the free porn we want on the Internet. (Don't let 'em tell you otherwise: About 80 percent of all in-room movie sales over the years has been porn.) And especially since the introduction of the iPad and competing tablets, I see fewer and fewer folks tapping into airline-supplied IFEs. Even LiveTV, the disruptive innovation pioneered by (and owned by) JetBlue Airways a decade ago, isn't the category-killer it used to be.
As it happens, I bought a new laptop this week, too. A sleek Toshiba Portege that weighs just three pounds, has a sharp screen and a hard drive capacious enough to hold lots of movies, TV and music. And here's what I've been thinking about storing on it for the next time I run into a plane so new that the IFE hasn't been installed yet.
BECAUSE I MISSED MOST OF THE SERIES…
I've been out of place and out of time and missed most of this year's baseball playoffs. So I crave some baseball and that means those cinematic bookends: The Natural and Field of Dreams. The former flick is Robert Redford's mystical, romantic 1984 adaptation of Bernard Malamud's novel. Directed by Barry Levinson, it follows an ill-starred player who fights for his moment in the baseball sun. By contrast, Field of Dreams is one fan's journey through despair and family strife, all against the ever-present background of baseball. The 1989 movie was adapted from a W.P. Kinsella novel and features James Earl Jones' tear-jerking soliloquy about the link between baseball and the American Experience. Who says there's no crying in baseball? That line, of course, is the classic utterance from A League of Their Own, the broadly accurate story of women's baseball during World War II. The 1992 Penny Marshall film has slick performances by Tom Hanks, Lori Petty, Rosie O'Donnell, Geena Davis and Madonna.
WAR. WHAT IT IS GOOD FOR? ABSOLUTELY NOTHIN'
With Veteran's (nee Armistice Day) just two weeks away, you can't help noticing that World War I seems more "timely" than ever. That's because the war was never finished and we live--and die--with its bloody consequences nearly a hundred years later. Unrest in the Balkans was the immediate cause of and is still the European loose end of the Great War. And all of the chaos in the Middle East is a direct result of the criminally inept political carve-up of the region after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. I've gobbled up The First World War, a breathtaking four-DVD primer on the watershed event of the 20th century. Based on the brilliant and exhaustive scholarship of Hew Strachan, who has emerged as the definitive authority on World War I, the 10-part, 8.5-hour series is absorbing, endlessly revelatory and, dare I say it, cracking good entertainment. The strength of this British-made 2003 documentary is neither its reams of archival footage nor its extensive use of primary source material. It is Strachan's approach, which eschews a blinkered concentration on the Western Front and focuses instead on the global geopolitical machinations.
THE DAY THE JOURNALIST CAUGHT FIRE
When we "celebrated" the tenth anniversary of JoeSentMe.com last month, a lot of you asked me what drives journalists to volunteer their time and talents to this odd operation. For me, it was a 1961 British sci-fi thriller called The Day the Earth Caught Fire. A riveting Cold War-arms race flick--the screenplay won the British Oscar--it follows a washed-up reporter (Edward Judd) and his sympathetic editor friend (Leo McKern) as they unravel the mystery of a sudden global environmental nightmare. I was nine years old when the movie made it across the pond in 1962 and I was seduced by the film's denouement: a shot of two front pages, one heralding the Earth's salvation, the other using what we ink-stained wretches call "end-of-the-world" type for its literal purpose. From that moment, I knew what I wanted to be: The guy who gets the story and, not totally coincidentally, the girl (Janet Munro). If JoeSentMe.com has helped ease your life on the road since 9/11, it's all because a nine-year-old saw a movie.
WOKE UP THIS MORNING...AND THE SOPRANOS WERE STILL EVIL
It's been--yikes!--more than four years since The Sopranos ended its six-season run on HBO and it's probably time to reassess what everyone believes is one of the two or three best American television programs ever made. I especially want to see if I can rediscover the "fun" that I missed after I realized the secret at the show's dark heart: Everyone lies to everyone--and themselves--and everyone does it all the time. The Sopranos remains a clear-eyed refutation of The Godfather, which asked you to believe that there was honor, if not honesty, among thieves. But we learned that from creator David Chase after the first two seasons, when Chase exorcised his own family demons by concentrating on Tony Soprano's relationship with his mother, Livia. So maybe I'll just load the first two years on my laptop.
ARE YOU A NUMBER? A FREE MAN? DID YOU WATCH THE AWFUL REMAKE?
AMC's dreadful and dreadfully pompous 2009 remake of Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner is now out on DVD. But you couldn't get me to watch that bit of drek again for all the upgrades to China. I will, however, load my laptop with McGoohan's 17-episode original series. Now 44 years old, the shows were startlingly original and demanded that you pay attention to a long list of political, social and cultural concerns. It was witty, clever and justifiably paranoid in its view of then-contemporary society. And know what? Virtually every moment is relevant today. McGoohan did not have set answers that you were supposed to divine. He was just asking questions and hoping to provoke great debate. Want my opinion on the show's key plot points? It doesn't matter whether No. 6 is John Drake, the secret agent McGoohan played on his earlier series. No. 1 is the evil person lurking inside each of us.
WHAT DAY--OR WHAT MOMENT--WOULD YOU CHOOSE?
The amazing 1963 Nat Cole song, "That Sunday, That Summer," has been rolling around in my head the last few days. Despite the vapid arrangement and treacly orchestrations, the song is truly different: It asks which moment in time you'd pick if you had to live one over and over for the rest of your life. Spookily enough, I then caught the tail end of Groundhog Day on the tube the other night. That 1993 film starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell is from a similar genre: Murray must relive one day over and over until he gets it (and himself) right. And that leads to 50 First Dates, a modestly successful 2004 film that asks a related question: What happens if you fall in love with a person who keeps living the same day over and over and she forgets you exist at the end of that day? The stars, Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, were better together in The Wedding Singer, but I'm thinking 50 First Dates and Groundhog Day will make for wonderful, complementary viewing on my next long haul.
ANYBODY OUT THERE WANNA SELL ME A 1975 FIREBIRD?
When I was buying my new laptop, Amazon.com sold me The Rockford Files. For some reason, the fifth season of my favorite TV show ever was selling for just $9.95 and I had to have it. (I have the first year, too). So those will be going on my laptop because a little of The Rockford Files always goes a long, long way toward making me feel better. James Garner's Rockford was the anti-hero who, when all was said and done, was more heroic and humane than anyone else. He cracked wise, ran scared, ducked the grand gestures and epic confrontations and sometimes crossed the legal line, but he was always true to his own internal code of fairness and decency. And there was that 1975 Firebird, which Garner personally chose as Rockford's car and eventually drove in most of the show's chase scenes. The Rockford Files had great writing, boffo guest stars and a terrific supporting cast, but the Firebird was the real co-star and Rockford's alter ego. Makes me wonder why I drive a 1999 Ford Escort…
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE…
I recently picked up the first four series of ITV's Doc Martin and, assuming Monday night's series five finale doesn't annoy me too much, I'll probably load them on my laptop. … I keep trying to finish The Big Lebowski without falling asleep, so I'll save that for a night flight somewhere. … Chuck starts its fifth and final season on NBC tomorrow night. The last two years were weak, but, wow, that second season was some fun TV. It always makes me smile. … And I'll always have some Sondheim. I found a copy of Evening Primrose, his one-off 1966 TV special. Haven't seen it yet. I'm waiting for a great flight on a day when I don't have much work to enjoy my first viewing.
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.