Holiday Movie Marathon: A Very Murray Christmas


Title: A Very Murray Christmas
Release Date: December 4, 2015
Director: Sofia Coppola
Production Company: American Zoetrope
Summary/Review:

How time flies! I thought to myself that I should finally watch that highly-regarded Bill Murray special on Netflix that came out, was it last year? No, it was five years ago. Five Christmases based and I neglected to watch this hour-long special. Was it worth the wait? Maybe not, but it is mildly entertaining.

The premise is that Bill Murray (playing himself, or at least the version of himself he plays all the time) is hosting a celebrity-studded live Christmas special in New York. But a blizzard means no one else can participate in the show and Murray is distraught. After wrangling Chris Rock into an awkward duet of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” the power goes out and the show is canceled. Murray makes his way to the lounge where he basically starts a karaoke party with the other guests and staff stranded there (played by a bevy of celebrities including David Johansen, Jenny Lewis, Rashida Jones, Maya Rudolph, Jason Schwartzman, and the band Phoenix). Finally Murray passes out drunk and dreams of an elaborate stage show with Miley Cyrus and George Clooney as guests.

I went into this thinking it was a parody of corny old Christmas variety specials and about a third of the way realized that it’s a homage to corny old Christmas variety specials. Really, it’s almost entirely musical performances tied together by a meager storyline. Murray is surprisingly a great vocalist in his own right and sings well with all his guest talent. The humor of the show is light and really the only time I bust a gut was when George Clooney popped out from behind a tree to sing the chorus of “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’.”

Is it an all-time Christmas classic? Maybe not, but it was worth finally getting around to watching to get myself into the holiday spirit this year.


Rating:

Holiday Movie Marathon: How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)


Title: How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Release Date: December 18, 1966
Director: Chuck Jones | Ben Washam
Production Company: Cat in the Hat Productions | MGM Animation/Visual Arts
Summary/Review:

With all the remakes and the ever-growing Grinch Industrial Complex, it’s easy to forget how short and simple this original adaption of the Dr. Seuss’ book is. It does bring together some remarkable talent, including legendary cartoon director Chuck Jones. The animation is noticeably superior to A Charlie Brown Christmas of a year earlier. It also features the voice talents of Boris Karloff as the narrator and June Foray as Cindy Lou Who. And the golden voice of the awesomely-named Thurl Ravenscroft sings the original diss track, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” The Grinch of course is relatable to anyone who gets a bit grumpy about the commercialism and trappings of Christmas, so this show holds up well.

Rating: ****

Holiday Movie Marathon: Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977)


Title: Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas
Release Date: December 4, 1977
Director: Jim Henson
Production Company: Henson Associates
Summary/Review:

I’d heard about Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas when I was a child, but somehow I never caught it on tv and later in life I just couldn’t find. Being a lover of otters and Jim Henson, I’m glad that I finally was able to watch it this year. Henson and his associates created a charming Appalachian village populated with several down-home animals including the titular Emmet (Jerry Nelson) and his mother, Alice (Marilyn Sokol). In this “Gift of the Magi” inspired story, Emmet and Alice each hope to win the prize in a talent show so they can get one another the perfect gift. Emmet pokes a hole in his mother’s washtub to start the jug band, while Alice pawns Emmet’s tools to get fine clothing for her singing performance. It’s a sweet story with great music and fantastic set design and puppetry tricks that still hold up. I’m so glad I finally got to see this!

Rating: ****

Holiday Movie Marathon: A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)


Title: A Charlie Brown Christmas
Release Date: December 9, 1965
Director: Bill Melendez
Production Company: Lee Mendelson Films
Summary/Review:

It’s not the nostalgia talking, this show is really just great. This groundbreaking tv special deals with seasonal depression, crass consumerism, and even made aluminum Christmas trees go out of style. Add to that a banging jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. And it does all this in a story about kids putting on a Christmas play in limited animation by the Graphic Blandishment team.

Rating: *****

TV Review: The Mandalorian (2020)


Title: The Mandalorian
Release Date: 2020
Creator/Head Writer/Showrunner: Jon Favreau
Episodes: 8
Production Company:  Lucasfilm | Golem Productions
Summary/Review:

WARNING: LOTS OF SPOILERS HERE! DON’T READ IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THIS SEASON AND WANT TO BE SURPRISED.

The Mandalorian returns with Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) on a quest to reunite The Child (a.k.a. Baby Yoda) with the Jedi, assuming he can even find Jedi in the galaxy. Familiar faces from season 1 return to support The Mandalorian on his quest, including Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris), Cara Dune (Gina Carano), Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), and Migs Mayfield (Bill Burr).  But this season is also about tying in The Mandalorian with wider Star Wars lore, featuring the live action debut of the characters Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) and Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), as well as the return of Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison), now teamed with Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen).  The biggest character reveal, though, is reserved for the final moments of the season finale.

Each episode is still largely self-contained with the Manadalorian typically involved in carrying out a favor for someone in return for information that will help him on the quest.  Tantalizing details of the larger story trickle out but also there are some huge revelations through the season.  For example, we learn that “Baby Yoda” is actually named Grogu, and that he was a youngling who survived the Jedi Purge.

Pedro Pascal continues to provide some wonderful, nuanced acting in the lead role. His character learns a lot about his people and his beliefs this season and makes some dramatic choices out of his love for Grogu. The rest of the cast also remains uniformly brilliant, and I particularly like Bill Burr bringing a bit of morally ambiguous wisdom to his Space Boston character. The Mandalorian is a great mix of action, drama, mystery, and humor and remains the only show my whole family eagerly watches together.

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TV Review: Phineas and Ferb (2007-2020)


Title: Phineas and Ferb
Release Date: August 17, 2007 – June 12, 2015
Created By: Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh
Production Company: Disney Television Animation
Summary/Review:

You may wonder why I watched all four seasons of a children’s tv show. I will counter that it may be one of the best tv shows ever made. Clever humor, breaking the fourth wall, and catchy songs are just some of the features that appeal to both children and adults.

“Formulaic” is a word often used derisively when describing tv shows. Yet, Phineas and Ferb sticks to a formula for each episode and finds brilliance in subverting that formula. In every episode, the titular stepbrothers Phineas and Ferb make the most of their summer vacation by creating something outlandish and fantastic ranging from a city-wide roller coaster to a transporter to the moon. They are helped by their friends, the highly-capable scout Isabella, the nerdy Baljeet, and the bully Buford. Phineas and Ferb’s teenage sister is obsessed with busting the boys for their dangerous activities, doing everything she can to get the attention of their clueless mother.

Meanwhile, Phineas and Ferb’s pet platypus, Perry, is actually a secret agent for an organization called O.W.C.A (Organization Without a Cool Acronym). Each day he disappears to go fight the evil scientist Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, who builds elaborate machines called “Inators” in his attempt to become ruler of the Tri-State Area. Perry thwarts Doofenshmirtz’s plan in a way that inadvertently makes whatever the boys built that day disappear before Candace can get their mother to see it.

It may not seem like much when you read it, but somehow it remains hilarious over 222 episodes of the show. One thing I came to realize is that Candace, and to a lesser extent, Doofenshmirtz, are the protagonists of this show. They may be the “villains” but they are also very relatable.


Rating: *****


Title: Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension
Release Date: August 5, 2011
Director: Dan Povenmire and Robert F. Hughes
Production Company: Walt Disney Television Animation
Summary/Review:

This movie sees the cast travel to an alternate dimension where Doofenshmirtz has achieved his goal of ruling the Tri-State Area and thus creating a dystopian society. The movie is surprisingly dark as the usually affable Doofenshmirtz is seen as a cruel authoritarian with all that entails.


Rating: ***


Title: Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe
Release Date: August 28, 2020
Director: Bob Bowen
Production Company: Disney Television Animation
Summary/Review:

Released this summer, this movie kickstarted my family’s Phineas and Ferb binge-watch. It’s a clever sci-fi pastiche where Candace is abducted by aliens and her brothers, their friends and Doofenshmirtz must rescue her. It has some clever gags and great sing-a-long tunes.
Rating: ***1/2

TV Review: BoJack Horseman (2020)


Title: BoJack Horseman
Release Dates: 2020
Season: 6b
Number of Episodes: 8
Summary/Review:

BoJack Horseman reaches it’s series finale in a melancholy place.  This is on brand for BoJack Horseman, but it could’ve gone to a much darker place.  After all, BoJack could have killed himself and we came close to seeing that story.  A happy ending would’ve felt artificial, so the middle ground between the extremes that is depicted here is the right decision.

In the first half of season 6, BoJack went to rehab and begins to show steady progress.  In the second half opener, BoJack has settled in to teaching acting at Wesleyan University and is actually doing a good job of it.  But as much as we are pulling for BoJack, he has done some horrible things in his life that he has yet to grapple with.  In fact, his friends spend an episode making a list of the bad things he’s done on a white board.  His culpability in the death of Sarah Lynn ultimately comes out in public and leads him to rock bottom.

The penultimate episode “The View From Halfway Down” is the season’s experimental episode in the form of a near-death experiment where BoJack attends a dinner party with several characters who have already died including his mother, Sarah Lynn, and Herb Kazzaz.  It serves as both a reckoning for BoJack and a culmination of everything that has come before in the the tv series.

BoJack survives, of course, and the final episode ties off some loose ends.  BoJack’s story is clearly not over and he will likely face ups and downs in his future.  But BoJack Horseman, the series, is over because there are no longer any reason for the five main characters to be together.  Each of BoJack’s friends from the past six seasons have moved on, and more or less, are in a better place.  Mr. Peanutbutter continues to have tv success and seems to have overcome some of the neediness that has lead him to serial matrimony.  Todd has created a childcare center and moved into a house of his own with Maude.  Princess Carolyn’s hard work has paid off with success in career and life.  And Diane, while still struggling with depression, becomes a successful young adult book author and finds happiness with Guy.

The payoff of this series rewards having watched all six series and growing to care for the characters.  And now it would seem worthwhile to go back and rewatch the whole thing to catch the throughlines that brought us to this finale, as well as all the background gags.

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TV Review: The Mandalorian (2019)


Title: The Mandalorian
Release Date: 2019
Creator/Head Writer/Showrunner: Jon Favreau
Episodes: 8
Production Company:  Lucasfilm | Golem Productions
Summary/Review:

The Mandalorian is the flagship original TV series for the Disney+ streaming service, and the first live-action TV series to take place in the Star Wars universe. Set five years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the titular Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) is a bounty hunter and member of a sect who ritually make armor from Beskar steel and never remove their masks in the presence of others.

The Mandalorian derives it’s style from classic Western and samurai films.  I actually watched High Noon and Seven Samurai during this season, and was struck by the visual homages and even the similarity in music.  In this era of heavily serialized tv drama, The Mandalorian is refreshingly old-fashioned in it’s episodic nature, especially mid-season.  It reminds me of adventure tv series from the 70s and 80s, perhaps something produced by Glen A. Larson, or as I more facetiously noted, Here’s Boomer.

The Mandalorian was marketed as your basic show about an armored antihero kicking butt, basically aimed at the people who found The Last Jedi‘s questioning of the moral underpinning of the Star Wars story to be offensive. That was true for most of the first episode until it was revealed that the show is really about The Child, or as America’s sweetheart is more popularly known, “Baby Yoda.” The tiny, green puppet so thoroughly steals every seen they appear it in that I’ve taken to calling this The Baby Yoda Show.

Of course, let not undersell Pascal, who does a terrific job of acting while wearing a mask and saying very little.  The show is also full of a remarkable slate of guest actors including Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog (who I still can’t believe is in this show), Nick Nolte, Taika Waititi, Gina Carano, Amy Sedaris, Jake Cannavale, Bill Burr (who proves there is a Boston long ago and far away), Natalia Tena, Richard Ayoade, and Giancarlo Espisito.  With some regret, I have to admit that this is by leaps and bounds better than any other new Star Wars content released this year.  I look forward to Baby Yoda and his armored sidekick returning for another season.

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TV Review: The Imagineering Story (2019)


Title: The Imagineering Story
Release Date: 2019
Writer: Mark Catalena
Director: Leslie Iwerks
Production Company:  ABC Studios | Iwerks & Co.
Summary/Review:

This documentary focuses on the history of the people behind the Walt Disney theme parks.  Walt Disney Imagineering – originally WED Enterprises – was founded in 1952 as Walt Disney’s engineering division tasked with designing Disneyland.  This is an in-house production, so naturally there’s a promotional element to the series that toots Disney’s own horn.  But I am impressed that the show does acknowledge mistakes and setbacks in Imagineering history.

The director, Leslie Iwerks, is a third generation Disney employee.  Her grandfather Ub Iwerks worked with Walt in the early days and co-created Mickey Mouse while her father Don Iwerks was a technician and executive from the 1950s to 1980s.  Highlights of the series include interviews with prominent figures – both archival and for the show – such as Bob Gurr, Herb Ryman, X Atencio, Harriet Burns, Harper Goff, Marty Sklar, David Snyder, Blaine Gibson, Tom K. Morris, Kevin Rafferty, Peggie Fariss, Glenn Barker, and Katie Olson, Tony Baxter, Michael Eisner, Frank Wells, Eddie Sotto, Tim Delaney, Joe Rohde, Ali Rubenstein, and Kevin Rafferty.  Most of those names are men, but the series makes an admirable effort to acknowledge the role of women in Imagineering.  A powerful moment comes in an interview with Imagineer Kim Irvine when she talks about her mother Leota Toombs, an Imagineering designer who became famous as the model for Madame Leota in the Haunted Mansion.  Irvine talks about still being able to hear her mother’s voice every time she visits the attraction.

I felt that there was a lot of innovation and creativity in the early days of WED Enterprises that the years covered in the first two episodes could easily have been stretched out into three (or more) episodes.  That being said, the early Imagineers have appeared in many other “behind the scenes” programs about Disney Parks, so it is good that the newer generations are getting a lot of attention in this series.

Dan Heaton at the Tomorrow Society website has written comprehensive summaries and reviews of each episode that I’ve linked below and I recommended reading them should you be more interested in the topic.  Here are my short summaries of each episode:

  1. The Happiest Place on Earth” – (1952-1966) The creation and expansion of Disneyland during Walt Disney’s lifetime and Imagineering’s work at the 1964 World’s Fair.
  2. What Would Walt Do?” – (1967-1983) After Walt’s death, Roy Disney oversees the opening of the Walt Disney World resort in Florida, and Imagineers create EPCOT as a theme park rather than a city. Simultaneous with EPCOT, the first international park is open in Tokyo. The success of these big projects is overshadowed by the lack of future plans and mass layoffs.
  3. The Midas Touch” – (1984-1994) Michael Eisner and Frank Wells takeover as leaders of Disney and shake up the parks with attractions tied to hipper franchises unrelated to Disney, and open the Disney-MGM Studios.  The episode ends with the initial financial failure of Euro Disneyland and Well’s death in a helicopter crash.
  4. Hit or Miss” – (1995-2004) The Disney company attempts unprecedented expansion but the failure of Euro Disneyland also leads to cost-cutting and a decline in quality.  Successes include the Disney Cruise Line, Animal Kingdom, and Tokyo DisneySea, while Disney’s California, Walt Disney Studios Park and Hong Kong Disneyland are serious disappointments.
  5. A Carousel of Progress” – (2004-2016) Bob Iger takes over leadership of Disney.  Projects include rebuilding California Adventure with a Cars Land expansion, and improving the undersized parks in Paris and Hong Kong.  Imagineers also provide controversial overlays to fan favorites like Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and it’s a small world.
  6. “To Infinity and Beyond” -Building a new, culturally-appropriate Magic Kingdom in Shanghai takes up the first half of this episode.  The rest focuses on new, fully-immersive experiences in the American parks: Mission Breakout, Pandora, and Galaxy’s Edge.

TV Review: BoJack Horseman (2019)


Title: BoJack Horseman
Release Dates: 2019
Season: 6a
Number of Episodes: 8
Summary/Review:

BoJack Horseman returns for its final season, this time a split season of 16 episodes.  The first 8 episodes are up on Netflix NOW! with the rest due in January.  Unlike Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt which did a split final season that made me almost glad to see the series go, BoJack Horseman continues to be some of the most clever and thoughtful television I’ve ever seen.

BoJack continues to reside at an expensive rehab facility, generally progressing well, but anxious about returning to the outside world where he may fall into his old habits.  Mr. Peanutbutter, who inadvertently proposed to Pickles when he was supposed to tell her that he was cheating on her with Diane, finally comes clean. To restore his public persona, Princess Caroline creates a “Sad Dog” meme that makes Mr. Peanutbutter the face of clinical depression (even though he is not actually depressed).  Diane, meanwhile, moves to Chicago where she settles in with a new partner, and attempts to right a book of essays, but suffers severe writer’s block and depression. Princess Caroline struggles with balancing work with raising her prickly baby.  And Todd eventually falls into a job to which he seems a natural, as a nanny for Princess Caroline’s baby.

Some highlights of the season include an episode where guests at a surprise party attempt to hide while Mr. Peanutbutter and Pickles argue.  It’s a silly sitcom staple but it’s done so well over the course of an entire episode.   We also unexpectedly get some of Todd’s backstory when his stepfather arrives.  Then there’s the great moment when Mr. Peanutbutter finally gets his crossover episode with BoJack.

The season is moving toward something that if not a happy ending, then at least something more positive for our characters than we’ve seen before.  Then the devastating last episode hits. Brilliantly, none of the five main characters appear, but the episode is entirely carried by ancillary characters introduced over the years in overlapping stories.  They begin to uncover some of BoJack’s darkest moments we’ve seen over the course of  6 seasons that may completely unravel the unsteady progress he’s made.

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