Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special

Premiered November 17, 2020

"In the temple on Kordoku, only on Life Day, but once a year, with a key to the galaxy's past, a Jedi's future becomes clear."
-from the ancient Jedi texts.

The First Order has been defeated and it's time for the heroes of the Resistance to celebrate Life Day, a holiday of friendship, family and connection.  Rey (Helen Sadler), Finn (Omar Benson Miller), Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and Poe Dameron (Jake Green) visit the planet Kashyyk for a Life Day party with Chewbacca and his family.  They're accopanied by their droids C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), BB-8 and D-O (Matthew Wood).  Everyone is looking forward to engaging in the traditional Life Day customs, which include playing party games, exchanging gifts and feasting on roasted tip-yip, which Rey has agreed to prepare.

Before the festivities begin, Rey puts Finn through a Jedi training session.  Finn is struggling and Rey believes it's due to her failures as a teacher.  She consults the ancient Jedi texts and learns that once a year, at the temple on Kordoku, "with a key to the galaxy's past, a Jedi's future becomes clear."  
Rey believes that this "key" will help her become a better teacher.  She departs for Kordoku, without roasting the tip-yip, much to her friends' disappointment.  Poe, however, is undaunted and vows to make their holiday celebration "the greatest Life Day party in the history of the galaxy!"

When Rey arrives at the temple, she finds a crystal and guesses it's the "key to the galaxy's past."  The crystal creates a "force gateway" that enables Rey to travel through time and space and it takes her to interactions between great Jedi masters and their apprentices throughout history.

Unfortunately, the crystal also takes Rey to the second Death Star, where she encounters Darth Vader (Ben Prendergast) and his master Emperor Palpatine (Trevor Devall)!  When Rey escapes, Vader follows her through the gateway and steals the crystal!  Rey chases him and their adventures take them to various points in time all over the galaxy.  

Back on Kashyyk, the Life Day party is NOT going well.  Rose and Finn send a "distress signal" to that is answered by their friends Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Jannah and Mas Canata (Grey Griffin), hoping they can save the party.

Will Rey survive the experience and become a better teacher?  Will the heroes' organize a successful Life Day celebration?  Or will Chewbacca and the other wookies go looking for arms to rip off?

J.A. Morris says:
Both of us have been big fans of Star Wars forever, so we were excited to watch this special.  It's both a love letter and a parody of the Star Wars movies and it also references classic Christmas specials...and the not-so-classic Star Wars Holiday Special, which introduced the wookie holiday Life Day.   

It's full of lightsaber duels, explosions and, yes, holiday sentiment.  There's also some physical comedy relating to wookies and tip-yip preparation.  Poe, Finn, Rose and Chewie are genuinely upset when Rey chooses to leave the Life Day celebration to seek the force gateway.  Poe's enthusiasm for celebrating the holiday is almost palpable.  Having Poe wear a Christmas-I mean, a Life Day sweater is also a nice touch!

I don't want to spoil the ending, but since this is a holiday special aimed at children, a happy holiday is had by all, Rey gains new insights about being a Jedi Master and everyone learns (dare I say it?) the "true meaning" of Life Day.  

The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special features a solid voice cast.  Helen Sadler carries much of the special as Rey.  Jake Green and Omar Benson Miller are good as Poe and Finn.  One of the coolest things about the special is that Kelly Marie Tran, Billy Dee Williams and Anthony Daniels reprise their characters from the movies.  That makes the special feel even more directly tied to the "real" Star Wars universe.  

Most of the Rankin-Bass holiday specials were narrated by a famous celebrity with a recognizable voice.  This special is narrated by Yoda (Tom Kane), who would've been considered a "famous celebrity" in the Star Wars universe.

It's worth noting that this is the first officially released TV or film content that takes place after The Rise Of Skywalker, the final chapter in the Skywalker Saga.  

If I have any problem with the special, it's due to my general uneasiness about watching anything Lego-related.  I just can't stop wondering why the characters have short, square legs and u-shaped hands.  Other than that, I enjoyed it.

The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is action-packed, funny and endearing.  It will be enjoyed by Star Wars fans of all ages and is recommended.  But my feelings about the anatomy of the LEGO versions of the characters prevents me from giving it my highest rating.

J.A. Morris' rating:
3 and a half lightsabers. 

RigbyMel says: 

The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is fast paced and funny in the manner of other animated Lego shows.  

I quite enjoyed the assorted references to other aspects of the Star Wars saga -- blue milk!  binary sunset! nefarious villains!  Luke Skywalker!  Rey!  Poe! Finn! Chewbacca!  Droids!  Max Rebo!  Baby Yoda!  Regular Yoda!   This Life Day tale has lots of appeal and I definitely appreciated call-backs to holiday specials of yore in the Rankin-Bass vein.   

Plus we get "Jingle Bells" sung in Huttese! 

I also like how the Emperor is played rather like a sleazy, snarky businessman and how Vader comes off as befuddled and a bit lost in his own story, since this is a far cry from how these two come off in the live action movies.  

My only real complaint is that the action becomes a little bit *too* madcap and frenetic.  Then again, this isn't intended to be a first foray into the Star Wars universe.  That being said, it could be hard for those not familiar with all aspects of Star Wars -- up to and including the disastrous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special -- to get a handle on all of the twists and turns. 

While traveling through time, Rey meets not one, but two Han Solos (both voiced by A.J. LoCascio)

All in all, The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is an affectionate and fun return to "a long time a go in a galaxy far, far away ..." and will be enjoyed by Star Wars fans young and old. 

RigbyMel's rating: 

3 lightsabers. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

3 Godfathers (1948)

Our 2021 edition of "Oscar Takes A Holiday" concludes with a review of 3 Godfathers.
This film features several Academy Award winners.

John Wayne won the Best Actor Oscar in 1969 for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in True Grit.

This film features Jane Darwell in a small role as Miss Florie.  

Darwell was a great character actress and she won an Oscar for playing Ma Joad in The Grapes Of Wrath.

Jane Darwell receives her Oscar.  At the time Supporting Actresses and Actor only got small plaques (seen in Darwell's left hand), not full Oscar statuettes.
John Ford directed 3 Godfathers and he won a record four Best Director Oscars, for The Informer, The Grapes Of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley and The Quiet Man.  Additionally, Ford won two Academy Awards for the WWII documentaries December 7 and The Battle Of Midway.  While Ford was famous for directing Western cowboy films, none of his Oscars were for Westerns.  

John Ford, with one of his Oscars.

Ben Johnson has a small (unnamed) role as a member of the posse that pursues the "3 godfathers." 

Johnson won the Academy Award for Best Supporting actor in 1972 for playing Sam the Lion in The Last Picture Show.

Now for our review:

A trio of small-time criminals named Bob Hightower (John Wayne), Pedro Encarnaci├│n Escalante (Pedro Armendariz), who answers to "Pete," and William Kearney (Harry Carey Jr.), AKA "The Abilene Kid," visit the town of Welcome, Arizona, planning to rob the local bank.  

The pass by the home of Buck Sweet (
Ward Bond) and his wife (Mae Marsh).  Mrs. Sweet mentions that they are preparing for a Christmas visit from her niece and her husband.  

The Sweets have a pleasant exchange with the trio, until Buck puts on his vest, which displays his U.S. Marshal badge.  This leads to a slight bit of tension, which leads Sweet to believe he may be seeing them soon in a more official capacity.  

After hitting the bank, the take off, but the Kid is shot and loses his horse and the loot.  Bob and Pete rescue him and take off into the desert, with Marshal Sweet in hot pursuit. Water is scarce in the desert, so Sweet shoots their water pouch, knowing it will limit their escape options.

Later, when Bob, Pete and the Kid visit a depot to get water, Sweet's posse gets there first and guards the water tank, making it inaccessible to the fugitives. 

The trio's search for water and safety leads them to a woman (Mildred Natwick) who is about to give birth.  Unbeknownst to Bob and friends, the woman is Buck Sweet's niece, who was on the way to visit the Sweets for Christmas. 

There is no water in sight because her husband (who has disappeared) dynamited the well, hoping it would get more water into it.  (The dynamite has the opposite effect, rendering the well useless.) Pete helps her give birth, while Pete and Kid  get her water from cacti.  She lives long enough to thank them and name her baby "Robert William Pedro Hightower" to honor all of them.  The new mother asks all three men to serve as godfathers to her son

The Kid picks up the woman's Bible and finds it opened to a page that talks about bringing newborn children to Jerusalem in order to present them to God.  They decide it's a sign from above and take the baby to New Jerusalem.  Kid says they're the modern equivalent of the three wise men from the Nativity story and they follow the star that will lead them to New Jerusalem.  

Meanwhile, Sweet and his posse continue to chase the three godfathers.  When they find the abandoned site where the baby was born, they presume the mother and her baby were killed by Bob and his gang.  Sweet also discovers that the water well has been blown up, which will result in future deaths and presumes that the fugitives are responsible for this as well.  Buck now wants Bob, Pedro and Kid killed for their (presumed) crimes!

Can Bob, Pedro and Kid survive long enough to get the baby to New Jerusalem?  

J.A. Morris says:
After hundreds of reviews, this is our first review of a Western movie or TV show.  

3 Godfathers is a good Western, with larger-than-life characters featured on both sides of the law.  John Wayne was already established as a major star and he plays a character similar to lots of his other characters.  That's okay, because Wayne was so good playing cowboys.  

Pedro Armendariz is equally good.  Pedro is a somewhat stereotypical "pistolero," but Armendariz delivers performance that imbues his character with humanity and kindness.  

Harry Carey, Jr. is believable as the in-over-his head Abilene Kid.

Ward Bond provides a good opponent to the godfathers as Buck Sweet.  There are some nice scenes where Buck and Bob play a game of chess trying guess where the other will go next.  

There's a little bit of back story about Harry Carey, Jr. and his father.  During the opening credits, we see this dedication:

The senior Carey worked with director John Ford on multiple films.  One of their collaborations was Marked Men, a 1919 silent adaptation of 3 Godfathers and Carey Sr. also appeared in a 1916 version of the same story.  So Jr.'s presence in the film adds a nice connection to the earlier versions.  

It's also worth noting that prominent character actor Guy Kibbee has a cameo as a judge near the end of the movie.

In addition to the actors, the other "star" of 3 Godfathers is its filming locations.  It was shot on location in California's Death Valley, which means we're treated to lots of breathtaking shots of mountains and deserts.  The dried-up salt lake scene is particularly memorable.  

If there's anything in 3 Godfathers that doesn't quite work, it's the ending.  It feels a bit too pat and tacked on.  However, it's not enough to ruin the rest of the film.  I'm hesitant to say more about the ending because I don't want to spoil it (even if the film was released more than 70 years ago!).  

3 Godfathers is an entertaining Christmas cowboy movie full of action, drama and holiday sentiment, but the ending prevents me from giving it a higher rating.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 candy canes.

RigbyMel says: 

Despite my dad being a big John Wayne fan, I had never seen this Western set at Christmastime.  3 Godfathers uses its Christmas setting to tell a tale of sacrifice and (possible) redemption for three not-quite as-wise-as-they-think men as they attempt to rescue a baby from certain death.  

I found myself being drawn in to the story because of appealing performances by all the actors involved (especially the three godfathers themselves) and quite enjoyed the chess-like back and forth between Hightower and Marshal Sweet as they try to outwit each other.  

There's also something kind of sweet about how the three hardened criminals become so attached to and protective of their infant charge.  Their early grappling with the unaccustomed tasks associated with infant care are endearing.  This is a trope in a lot of movies (think Three Men and a Baby for a more recent example), but it works well and the man vs. nature intensity of the Western setting adds dramatic tension.   

Baby "Robert William Pedro Hightower" was played (uncredited - in close-up shots) by baby Amelia Yelda

It's also worth noting the many parallels between this western and the original Nativity story, for example, the desert setting parallels the hot, dry climate the original New Testament tale. There are also elements of Mary and Joseph's flight into Egypt to save the infant Jesus that are reflected in the godfathers' flight towards New Jerusalem.   And although the poor woman who leaves the baby in our unlikely trio's care is never named in the film, I really, really want her to be called Mary.  

3 Godfathers was based on novel by Peter B. Kyne that has been adapted and filmed multiple times and I highly recommend checking out blog posts about the adaptations over on the fabulous blog Christmas TV History! 

A miracle in the desert? 

Mexican actor Pedro Armendariz (who plays Pedro aka Pete in this movie) was one of the best-known Latin American movie stars of the 1940s and 50s.  He won 2 Ariel Awards (the equivalent to the Oscars for Mexican cinema) for Best Actor in 1948 for La Perla and in 1953 for El Rebozo de Soledad and certainly gives a moving performance in 3 Godfathers. 

As J.A. Morris mentions above, the ending does come off as just a bit too pat and tonally off compared with the rest of the film (there's a "funny drunk" bit that is especially off-putting to my mind), but 3 Godfathers is a generally gripping and well-made classic Western film and is well worth a look should you have the time and inclination. 

RigbyMel's rating: 


3 and a half candy canes.