Recommendations you can trust

Because if you can’t turn to a wildlife photographer that specializes in bugs and frogs to tell you what you should seek in entertainment, who can you turn to?

So topically, I’m perhaps cheating a little. I’ve been planning to feature some music here for a while, and just realized that I could springboard.

In case you have no internet at all, or perhaps you manage to avoid all of the typical trivial discussions that take place anywhere that permits a group input, this is the time of year when people start recommending the holiday movies that few ever think of as holiday movies; Die Hard has now come to the forefront since it has an underlying christmas time period, even though it has virtually nothing else to do with christmas. Well, except for:

“Ho.

Ho.

Ho.”

[I’ve mentioned this before. I think Stevie from Malcolm in the Middle had a faster delivery…]

And I will always recommend Hogfather, just because it’s not anywhere near as well known as it should be, but it’s safe to say that it’s a christmas movie even though absolutely none of the things that we associate with christmas can be found within. Except for rat skeletons.

Anyway, I don’t have many to add. The 1992 film Toys, with Robin Williams, both opens and closes with christmas, but takes place throughout an entire year. This is one that didn’t fare well, either in the theaters or with critics, which is a shame because it’s not bad at all – you just have to cope with a bit of surreality and whimsy in pursuit of its not-too-subtle message. Plus it’s far more likely to hold the attention of the kids than such ‘classics’ like Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life, both too schmaltzy as far as I’m concerned. And Toys produced a lovely holiday song (in fact, most of the soundtrack is solid) that has never gained enough traction: The Closing of the Year by Wendy & Lisa, featuring Seal. I’ve embedded the video below, but remain patient for the kick at about 90 seconds.

I was proud of myself when watching this movie in the theater – the opening version of this song has a bar of bells as the tempo increases (audible here, but greatly subdued in this mix) that reminded me of Mercy Street by Peter Gabriel. Turns out he was one of the musicians/composers on the soundtrack.

Yet all of that is not what I originally intended to feature. Instead, we have a movie that still completely mystifies me over why it never did far, far better, and it too takes place in the run up to christmas: 1941, Spielberg’s first shot at comedy released in 1979, with a plethora of actors (all doing a fine job) but focusing on Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi in the promos, almost completely snubbing Eddie Deezen for reasons unknown. I could point out a lot of things about this film, from all of the subtle nods to both other films and the real historical references of the time, to the fact that the sole character based on a real person is the only one with solid competence. I’ve heard many potential explanations regarding why this movie has rated so poorly. and none of them seem to hold water, especially when we’ve had, what, three Twilight and eight fucking American Pie movies? I mean, come the fuck on!

More notable, and the thing that I really intended to highlight (mentioned in the previous post regarding music,) is that the soundtrack was composed and conducted by none other than John Williams, and it shows – in fact, I rate his work here much higher than the Star Wars series because he not just captures, but greatly enhances the mood of the film, with his remarkable ability to express so much, so adeptly. Here, then, is a piece that has gone by a few different names, depending on the release, but most often The March from 1941, also the Main Title Theme and containing the melody that reappears throughout the film, often when Belushi’s Wild Bill Kelso was onscreen.

The March from 1941 – John Williams

There’s also a big band dance number that sets the background for a chase/fight/dance contest scene – yes, all three at once, and it’s the kind of thing that may escape the viewer’s conscious attention unless they make a special effort. I mean, they will certainly notice all of the action taking place, and the catchy music that it’s set to, but the idea that an elaborate chase and fight scene was choreographed around the piece of music, to take advantage of the trills and stings within, and still have perfect flow, is a spectacle of staging and editing that could only have taken days, but more likely weeks. And while the musical piece performed within is Williams’, it is very closely based on an existing song: Sing Sing Sing by Benny Goodman (and I link to that here so you can compare the versions directly.) Williams’ homage is below, provided with some misgivings, because the whole scene is something that I urge you to check out – the visual aspect is just as important.

Swing Swing Swing – John Williams

So if you haven’t seen it, find an opportunity to check out 1941; any film that features Toshir├┤ Mifune, Christopher Lee, and Slim Pickens in the same scene deserves some recognition at the very least. If you don’t like it, fine; let me know and I’ll take the blame and feel ashamed. Really. But if you don’t like the music, I’m afraid I’ll have to consider you mentally incompetent.

As a bit of trivia, 1941‘s opening scene not only lambastes Jaws (Spielberg’s own movie,) it features the exact same actress. Who still gets upstaged by Hiroshi Shimizu…

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