Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Goldbergs: "A Christmas Story"

Premiered December 9, 2015

"My mom got the Hanukkah she always wanted:Christmas!"
-Adam Goldberg

It's Christmas vacation 1980-something and the Goldbergs' matriarch Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey) is frustrated by her family's lack of interest in celebrating Hanukkah.

Her husband Murray (Jeff Garlin) and their kids Erica (Haley Orrantia), Barry (Troy Gentile) and Adam (Sean Giambrone) are disappointed Hanukkah presents become increasingly less interesting on each of the eight nights.

Erica gets school supplies for Hanukkah.
This in contrast to the "Christmas Wonderland" at the Kremp house across the street.  Virginia Kremp (Jennifer Irwin) and her kids are smiling and excited about Christmas.

This makes Beverly feel like she is "not good at family."  So she invents a new holiday which she calls "Super Hanukkah."  Instead of eight nights of gifts, they will save up presents, put them under a "Hanukkah Bush" and open all of them on one night...or one morning.

Since school is out, Adam and his older brother Barry pass time playing games and watching their favorite holiday film, A Christmas Story.  Adam gets upset when Barry would rather spend time with his girlfriend Lainey (AJ Michalka).

In order to get Barry to stay, Adam "double-dog dares" Barry to put his tongue on their freezing-cold tether ball pole.  When Barry stalls, Adam ups the ante and issues a triple-dog dare.  They both wind up frozen to the pole.

Murray finds himself getting (inadvertently) wrapped up in the spirit of the season.  The Kremps had hired a "Santa" to stop by their house and drop off gifts.  When that falls through, they ask Murray to play Santa.  He finds that strangers treat him nicer and give him free stuff when he wears the Santa suit.

Beverly's father Al (George Segal) is disgusted by the idea of Super Hanukkah and is also unhappy to see Murray in the Santa suit. He thinks his daughter's made-up holiday is an insult to their ancestors who made great sacrifices in order to carry on their Judaic traditions.  Al decides to dress up a character he calls "Hanu-Claus" in order to make Beverly and the others feel guilty.  This leads to an ugly argument between Beverly and Al.

The jar stores all the traditions Beverly has passed down to her children (it's empty).
Will Al ruin Beverly's new holiday?  Will Barry and Adam be recused from the frozen pole?

J.A. Morris says:

There isn't a lot of holiday programming that focuses on Hanukkah, so this episode of The Goldbergs is a welcome addition.

It's understandable that Beverly would feel envious of her neighbor's holiday celebration.  I also sympathized with Al when he felt like their family traditions were being disrespected.

It's not an accident that the title of this episode is "A Christmas Story."  We see the Goldberg boys watching the movie of the same name several times and of course the "tether ball pole" scene is a reenactment of Flick's encounter with a flagpole.  There are other references to A Christmas Story, but I won't spoil them.

George Segal sings a Hanukkah-themed version of "The Twelve Days Of Christmas" and accompanies himself on banjo.  It's worth noting that Segal is an accomplished banjo player and has released several albums.

"A Christmas Story" is a very funny episode that parodies a classic Christmas movie while featuring a great story about holidays and family traditions.

J.A. Morris's rating:

4 dreidels!

RigbyMel says:

As J.A. Morris points out above,  there is a distinct lack of Hanukkah TV programming, so it's nice to have this episode attempt to include both Hanukkah and Christmas.

I rather suspect that Beverly's feeling of "not being good at family" is universal whether one is Jewish, Christian or nothing in particular, especially during the holiday season when familial expectations seem to run especially high.  I also quite like that "A Christmas Story" does a good job of demonstrating that this is a feeling that can be pretty common.

I can see both sides of the Beverly vs. Al Haunkkah argument -- Christmas and Hanukkah are both holidays rooted in religious tradition, but the cultural permeation of Christmas into pretty much every aspect of life in the U.S. in December means it's also a secular holiday.   This leads to tensions from a strictly religious point of view and balancing that tension can be tricky.  I have known of other Jewish families who choose to fold secular Christmas into their festive season as well as Christians who choose to include menorahs in their holiday decorating, but I recognize that these choices might not work for all. 

I appreciated the references to the film A Christmas Story as well as to the 1980s SNL "Hanukkah Harry" sketches that were folded into the episode.   Nostalgia is an important part of the mid-winter festive season as it is practiced today regardless of religion -- and as The Goldbergs trades on 1980-something nostalgia year round, it feels natural in context.

Just like in A Christmas Story, the Kremps and Goldbers celebrate the holidays with "Chinese Turkey."
"A Christmas Story" is a fun and funny festive addition to your holiday viewing  -- especially if one grew up in the 1980s -- and is recommended.

RigbyMel's rating:


3 and a half dreidels.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Premiered November 2, 2018.

On a Christmas Eve in Victorian London, the Stahlbaum family is preparing to celebrate their first Christmas without their mother Marie.  Middle child Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is having an especially tough time getting through the holiday.

She receives an egg for Christmas that’s accompanied by a note from her mother.  It tells Clara that everything she will ever need is inside the egg.  Unfortunately, the egg is locked, and there appears to be no key.

Drosselmeyer takes a look at Clara's egg in his workshop

The family attends a Christmas party hosted by Clara’s godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman).   As per tradition,  the children at the party follow ribbons through Drosselmeyer’s mansion to locate their Christmas presents.   Clara’s ribbon leads her to a strange alternate world where she finds the key to her mother’s egg. 

Almost immediately,  a mouse steals the key and takes off.  With the help of a nutcracker soldier named Captain Phillip Hoffman (Jayden Fowora-Knight), Clara pursues the mouse and winds up in a palace.

She meets rulers of three realms who are at war with the Land Of Amusements, which is ruled by Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren).

The Sugar Plum Fairy (Kiera Knightley), regent of the Kingdom of Sweets,  hosts a ballet which tells the story of the creation of their world.

The Four Realms owe their existence to Clara’s mother’s invention of a device that made toys come to life.

Sugar Plum believes the key to defeating Mother Ginger’s forces is to make use of the device (which operates with the same key as the one for Clara’s egg) to turn toy soldiers into a real army.

However, Clara may not have the whole truth about the conflict!

Can Clara bring peace to the Four Realms and make it back to her world and her family?

J.A. Morris says:
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a beautiful looking film based on a classic Christmas story.  Mckenzie Foy is a likeable, talented lead and it’s nice to see a girl on the big screen who is interested in science.  The cast is full of big names who give solid (if not great) performances. 

However, there’s not a lot of substance to the movie and it felt like a lot of content was edited out.  This gives it the feeling of being both too long and not long enough at the same time.

Since this film was recently released and is still playing in some areas, I’m reluctant to reveal much more about it..

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is decent and it’s worth seeing once, but the movie isn’t likely to become a classic.

J.A. Morris’ rating:


2 and a half candy canes.

RigbyMel says: 

This movie is a visual feast with amazing colors, elaborate costuming and steampunk-ish design, but as J.A. Morris says, the Narnia-retread story with a feeling of being written by committee in a bad way is unfortunately not quite as fun as the visuals.

There is fun use of the musical source material throughout as well.    We get a lovely ballet performance to tell the story of the Four Realms featuring Misty Copeland with a cool life sized Victorian toy theater set design.

This sequence also includes a visual nod to the use of Tchaikovsky's music in Disney's Fantasia as we see a conductor mount a podium in front of an orchestra in silhouette.

So, although the movie is worth seeing on a big screen for the production design and solid performances by its cast,  but the lack of compelling story will keep it from becoming a perennial holiday classic.

RigbyMel's rating: 


2 and a half candy canes. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Friends: "The One Where Underdog Gets Away"

Premiered November 17, 1994.

It’s Thanksgiving week in mid-1990s Manhattan, and holiday plans are in process.
Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) needs money so she can go to Vail with her family and hopes to earn it from her job at the coffee shop.

Ross (David Schwimmer) and Monica (Courtney Cox) are upset when they learn their parents are spending Thanksgiving in Puerto Rico.  Monica volunteers to do her best to replicate the family Thanksgiving meal, promising to include “the lumps” in their mother’s mashed potato recipe.  

Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) plans to visit to her grandmother and her boyfriend for Thanksgiving, however,  they won’t be celebrating Thanksgiving until December because the boyfriend is “lunar.”  Monica invites Phoebe to her place for Thanksgiving dinner.

Actor Joey (Matt LeBlanc) has recently gotten a job as a poster model for a free clinic.  Unbeknownst to him, his image is being used on the poster about venereal disease.  His family now thinks he has VD so he’s on his own for the holiday, and he’s going to be at Monica’s as well.

Chandler (Matthew Perry) does not celebrate the occasion due to a Thanksgiving childhood trauma, and he he plans to have a “feast” of grilled cheese, tomato soup and Funions.

Thanksgiving expectations and tensions begin to mount.  Monica is getting frazzled about meal preparation, especially since everyone expects her to prepare potatoes for the meal in different styles (with lumps, whipped with peas & carrots, as tater tots, etc).

Rachel is thrilled to learn that her friends have taken up a collection to get her a plane ticket to Vail.

Then Chandler arrives with news that the Underdog balloon has “escaped” from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.  Everyone runs to the rooftop of the apartment building to witness Underdog’s unscheduled flight.

Unfortunately, Monica and Rachel miscommunicate about keys to the front door, and find themselves locked out of their apartment, which means that Monica’s feast is overcooking and Rachel’s plane ticket and baggage are inaccessible.  

Is Thanksgiving ruined?

RigbyMel says:

This is a solid Thanksgiving episode with many of the expected tropes that have come to be associated with turkey day TV including the requisite cooking disaster and time spent with friends and/or family and the attendant tensions holiday expectations bring.

There is a subplot involving Ross (my least favorite character on the show because he is awful and entitled and self-centered) spending some time with his pregnant ex-wife and competing with her girlfriend for the affections of their unborn baby.  This subplot and some of the jokes (like one about Joey wearing makeup for his modeling job) haven't aged particularly well in my estimation.

That being said, it's nice to see actual Macy's Thanksgiving parade footage from 1993 including the Underdog and Smokey Bear balloons.   The national TV broadcast of the Macy's parade makes it a Thanksgiving touchstone for people all across the US and watching old footage from the parade provides interesting views of various moments in pop culture.     The unexpectedness of Underdog's "escape" from the parade and Joey's modelling woes add zest to the proceedings.

If you're a fan of the show and want to enjoy some 1990s nostalgia over your Thanksgiving weekend, this episode is recommended, even if it's not quite a classic.

RigbyMel's rating:

3 pumpkin pies

J.A. Morris says:
"The One Where Underdog Gets Away" is a solid Thanksgiving episode. I've written here before about how the Macy's Parade is as important to Thanksgiving as pumpkin pie, turkey and candied yams. This episode is another example of the parade's importance. The Smokey Bear balloon made its last appearance in the 1993 edition of the parade, footage of which is shown here.

The only problem I have with this episode is Ross' subplot mentioned by Rigbymel. It has nothing do with Thanksgiving and feels phoned in from another episode (it's also not particularly funny).
I found myself identifying Monica.  I've been in scenarios where I felt like I was doing all the work to make others happy (as I imagine a lot of us have).  Her breakdown felt genuine, nice work by Courtney Cox.  As Phoebe and Chandler had the funniest lines in this episode.  

If you were a big fan of Friends, it will provide a nice trip back to the 90s where you can pay a holiday visit to your old TV "friends."  Hardcore fans of the Macy's Parade may also enjoy it.

J.A. Morris' rating:

2 and a half pumpkin pies.