By Brian Lafferty
April 25, 2011 (San Diego) – Growing up I have witnessed firsthand a revolution in movie watching. My family went from having a VCR to a DVD player to a Blu-Ray Disc player in a span of twenty-five years. We went from renting movies from Blockbuster and Hollywood Video to Netflix.
Now there’s Netflix Watch Instantly. Unrolled in 2007, it began another revolution in home viewing. Today half of the movies I watch outside of screenings are viewed through my Roku Digital Video Player, which allows me to stream Instant Watch movies to my high definition television.
Netflix has added many titles over the last two years, more than I can keep up with. Starting today, I will highlight each Monday a film available to stream on Netflix.
A film need not be among the greatest to make this column. However, in order for a film to make it on the Streaming Pick of the Week, all of the following criteria must be met:
The movie must have good image quality. If a title has “ghosting,” “blotching,” or any major distracting effects, it won’t be included. I know there are people who don’t care but a lot of people do.
Most importantly, the film must be in its original aspect ratio. If the film was shot widescreen but is presented full screen, I won’t bother. If a film is wider than 1.85 (2.20, 2.35, etc.) but cropped so there aren’t any black bars on the top or bottom, I have zero interest.
The first Netflix Instant Watch Pick of the Week is Diner. Written and directed by Barry Levinson (his first film), it is about a group of college-age guys growing up in 1959 Baltimore. It stars Mickey Rourke in one of his star-making roles as the womanizing Boogie. Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Kevin Bacon, Tim Daly, and Paul Reiser round out the circle of friends. Ellen Barkin is Stern’s wife, who often is the fifth wheel.
There is no plot to Diner. Like George Lucas’ American Graffiti before it and Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused after it, the movie consists of events, many seemingly at random and often with little structure. This method succeeds because it creates a sense of the time in these men’s lives. It’s a time of uncertainty, a time when life is no longer about hanging out with your buddies.
There is an overall structure to the film, one that unifies the characters and their unrelated events. Screenwriter Levinson uses the movie’s theme of nostalgia as this canvas. The first half is filled with fun times. The guys often eat out at the local diner at the same booth. There, they engage in a lot of dialogue involving discussions about life, girls, and issues.
Unlike American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused, Levinson avoids romanticizing. It’s easy for people to look back on their childhoods and early adulthoods and remember mostly, if not only, the good times, from the music to hanging out with friends, to simply having fun.
What makes Diner so different from many coming-of-age movies, particularly those seen in period pieces, is that he isn’t afraid to explore the truth behind the nostalgia. Sure, the guys have fun. There are periods in my life when I’ve had a lot of fun. But invariably during those times, I’ve had struggles and downs. Soon the movie gets serious. From gambling problems, drinking problems, to pre-wedding jitters, Levinson uses his script and lens to explore the reality behind the romanticism.
What drew me in the most was Levinson’s dialogue. I loved hearing these guys speak. I wrote barely any notes because I didn’t want to miss a single banter, sentence, or word. The dialogue is alternately funny, real, jovial, serious, and witty.
Diner was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 1982. It faced tough competition that year; Gandhi won and E.T., An Officer and a Gentleman, and Tootsie were also nominated. Diner is a small film but it deserves a spot among the giants of 1982.