Monday, October 12, 2009

Fever Dog

Getting the flu is a great way to catch up on one's film watching. My selection of films tends to be somewhat eclectic when beset by a fever and a whoopin' cough, so here are some of the aesthetic highlights of the past few days:

THE DIE HARD TRILOGY


There is no film I have seen more often than the first Die Hard, which in my mind remains one of the top 10 Hollywood films ever made. It's completely and absolutely flawless in its execution. It is exciting, funny and has some of the most amazing special effects you'll ever see (they're the kind you don't really notice, which are the only special effects worth a damn). The philosopher Stanley Cavell has noted that Americans tend to trivialize much of their art, either denying its validity altogether or denigrating it to the status of "entertainment" (all good art is entertaining, but none of it is limited to that). It took a good while for the world to realize the aesthetic quality of film noir and the American Western and it is my sincere belief that Die Hardwill someday be hailed as an important work of American cinema. But that's material for a whole other blog.

BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS


A truly perfect Disney film, one which I prefer a great deal over the somewhat overrated Mary Poppins. The latter always seemed to prim and perfect for my tastes, and to tell the truth, a little creepy. Angela Lansbury with her bumbling missteps and failed plans is more my kind of hero, here playing an apprentice witch who wants to put her magical weight behind the British war effort. David Tomlinson also upstages his own performance in Poppins by a mile. The sequences where the actors interact with animated creatures were not to be outdone until Zemeckis made Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS


Terrible. But it was a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, and Crow robot got to sing "Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas," so it was all worth it.

MONSTER SQUAD


An appropriately cheesy 80's kiddie film that seems stupid even for the era and target audience. It does have great Stan Winston makeup and Richard Edlund special effects, and the script by Shane Black pays a wonderful homage to the Universal monster films of the 30's and 40's. The actors playing the monsters do a pretty good job too, for the most part, especially the fellow playing Frankenstein (or "Frank"). This is, in any case, only really recommended if you have a fever of 101, in which case it becomes quite entertaining. A half bottle of scotch might have the same positive effect on the viewing experience.

A MIGHTY WIND


One of the best Christopher Guest comedies so far, with a satire so spot-on that one needs to be at least somewhat familiar with the subject matter to get many of the references. Fortunately I had recently watched a documentary on Peter, Paul and Mary, which made this all the more hilarious. The songs are especially good, ranging from Guest and co. at their darkest sarcasm to some genuinely sweet and tender songs (provided by the legendary Mitch and Mickey).

NO DIRECTION HOME


Scorcese is one of the greatest American artists of all times. His insights into human nature and culture coupled with his aesthetic sensibility and mastery of his chosen medium are so astounding that many of his films are literally good for the spirit. Scorcese can make you see the world in a different light and this is among the greatest gifts an artist can offer to us. In this film he gives us a glimpse into the lifeworld of the great chameleon, the Coyote-trickster-god, the poet/prophet/trapeze artist Bob Dylan. The film recreates and represents a time and a place in American history with incredible use of collected clips and images from Dylan's early days in Duluth, Minnesota to his rising fame in New York culminating in his infamous Royal Albert Hall concert in '66. It is a film both important and beautiful, required watching for anyone interested in American history and culture and the transformative power of poetry and music.

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