Pomo Picks

Pop Culture Worth Your Time: Thanksgiving Classics, Wintry Westerns, and More

The content in our queues, from a disintegrating Barney to McCabe & Mrs. Miller

By Portland Monthly Staff November 26, 2020

A Thanksgiving balm: at the very least, you're not being ripped apart on live TV. 

The holidays are always stressful, and there's nothing like a worsening, uncontained pandemic to intensify the bad vibes. We sincerely hope you'll be staying home with your small bubble to wolf down mashed potatoes and watch the worst Peanuts special this year. We will be. But we'll also be stuffing our queues full of beautiful, delicious content to help pass the time a little more pleasantly.

As we write this, queer Hulu romcom The Happiest Season, Disney+'s Taylor Swift folklore film, and Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square have just dropped, and we have no idea how good/enjoyably awful any of them are, but all three seem like safe bets. Here's the stuff we have seen, though, from Planes, Trains and Automobiles to a memorably brutal Macy's Parade mishap.

Barney Disintegrating at the 1997 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

OK, so straight-up: Thanksgiving 2020 is likely not going to be our finest. But you know who was having an even worse year in 1997? Barney the Purple Dinosaur. While trucking along in the Macy's Parade, the winds picked up and ol' Barney began to thrash. His poor handlers were laying on the ground trying to stop him from carrying them all away to Oz, and then it happened. Poor Purple Dino ripped apart in front of all the children while the crowd made noises surely taped for future sitcom audience reaction tracks. I'm not a grinch and I take no pleasure in Barney's unfortunate demise, but I will say when everything is going to hell around you, this video is a good reminder for me that at least I'm not being ripped apart live on national TV. —Eden Dawn, style editor

How To with John Wilson 

Have you ever wondered how to make small talk, how to put up scaffolding, or how to improve your memory? Look no further than How To with John Wilson, an instructional comedy docuseries that debuted on HBO this fall. Filmmaker John Wilson spent years in New York City gathering hundreds of hours of footage that capture those bizarre moments of daily city life. Wilson is an awkward, endearing narrator in the vein of Nathan Fielder of Nathan For You (who’s also one of the show's executive producers), putting on an air of nervousness and uncertainty and occasionally losing his train of thought when filming a cute dog walking by.
The timing of narration and visuals is impeccable. “Most of us don’t speak up when we’re dissatisfied,” he says, zooming in on a man getting his hair cut into a terrible fauxhawk. “Sometimes, things just begin to accumulate until you can’t really imagine an alternative,” he says as a woman, sitting on a park bench feeding pigeons, is covered head to toe with birds. They’re the kinds of weird, everyday sights I’d normally see on my public transport commute and tell my coworkers about once arriving at the office—but in the absence of all those pleasant normalities, How To with John Wilson makes a hilarious substitute. —Katherine Chew Hamilton, food editor

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

November is many things to many people—for me, it is an annual opportunity to spend my life savings on half-off Criterion blu rays at Barnes & Noble. This year, the Criterion sale lined up with a personal Robert Altman kick, and so on Monday I returned from the promised land of the Lloyd Center with a copy of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Altman's legendary 1971 "anti-Western," in hand. I knew I would love it, and I did, but I didn't know what a wintry spell it cast or how visibly it influenced First Cow, a movie I talk about so often I have been given the unofficial title "First Cow editor." 

Set in Washington State and shot in British Columbia, it (like First Cow) concerns early settlers of the Northwest who try their hands at industry and suffocate under its thumb. Altman's movie casts Warren Beatty as a showy-but-bumbling gambler and Julie Christie as his savvy business partner (the title's ampersand conspicuously nods to their professional, rather than romantic, relationship) who open a brothel in the nascent town of Presbyterian Church. The soundtrack consists exclusively of mournful Leonard Cohen tunes, and Altman's penchant for twisting ordinary life into grand, overwhelming statements on The Way We Live is on full display—the silent, snowy, devastating finale is as potent as anything I've ever seen. It's not exactly uplifting, but it's a gorgeous way to welcome in the season, and a haunting reminder of the forces that have always separated us from ourselves and one another. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

The holiday season has a deep archive of movies to draw from, but few of them are so laser-focused on Thanksgiving as Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987, streaming on AMC and widely rentable). In a year when turkey day travel should be off the table for most citizens—major side eye here—let John Hughes’s comedy classic about the horrors of making it home in time for dinner stand in for IRL reunions. One blemish on this otherwise perfect film: the homophobia of the "those aren’t pillows" scene. It’s skippable. —Marty Patail, editor in chief
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