Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Family is Celebrated in Brilliant ‘Coco’

Review of "Coco"
Grandma Abuelita and Miguel in Coco (Disney/Pixar)

 MOVIE REVIEW 

From toys, to bugs, to cars, to emotions, Pixar ventures in new territory once again with Coco. Directed by Lee Unkrich (who also came up with the idea for the story) and co-directed and co-written by Adrian Molina, Coco is about a 12-year-old boy, Miguel, who has a love for music but is forbidden by his family to play any instruments of even listen to music. As it turns out, this is because many years earlier, Miguel’s great great-grandfather was a musician who traveled a lot despite his wife’s pleas to stay home with his family. One day he never returned. Bitter, the wife forbade music from her household and took up shoe-making. She passed down her shoe-making skills and her family was taught to learn that music was something that would only lead to heartache.

Review of "Coco"
Miguel's "extended" family. (Disney/Pixar)
Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzales) lives with his family which includes his great-grandmother, Mama Coco, who was the daughter of Miguel’s great great-grandfather. Though she doesn’t say much, it is clear that the elderly woman still misses her “papa” a great deal even after all this. The story takes place during the time of the year when Mexican families prepare for the annual holiday of Dia De Muertos. During this season, families set up altars in their homes with photos of family members who have passed away. All of Miguel's family members who have passed away is represented on the altar except for his great great-grandfather whose image has been torn away from a photo that featured his wife and his daughter, Coco. It is their belief that one day of the year, people who have died can come back to their earthly homes to be with their families once again. Miguel has his own shrine for the deceased Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) “the most famous musician in the history of Mexico.”

Review of "Coco"
Miguel's best friend. (Disney/Pixar)
It is also during this time that Miguel is coming to a crossroads between wanting to honor his family’s wishes while also wanting to share his music with the world. When his family discovers that Miguel has been hiding a homemade guitar, they get upset and Grandma Abuelita (Renee Victor), who rules the family with an iron fist, comes unglued. Frustrated with his family’s lack of reasoning regarding music, Miguel begins to solve a family mystery that ends up giving him the opportunity to crossover to walk among the dead in hopes of finding his distant relative. While that might sound morbid, it really isn’t. And it is surprising that a film that contains so many skeleton characters isn’t remotely scary or creepy.

While wandering around the land of the dead, Miguel meets Hector Rivera (Gael Garcia Bernal) a skeleton who isn’t allowed to come back to his ancestral home because his photo is not on display in his family’s altar. He asks Miguel to bring home Hector’s photo so that he can return and Miguel obliges as long as Hector helps Miguel find his great great-grandfather. What follows is an amazing adventure that the boy will remember for a lifetime, provided he gets back to the land of the living before his 24-hour journey is over, which doesn’t seem that bad. People in the land of the dead seem know how to really live.

Review of "Coco"
Miguel with his idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Disney/Pixar)
Much like Disney’s Moana, Coco is steeped in rich tradition and while many families will applaud that Disney/Pixar is embracing different heritages and traditions. Before opening here in the states, Coco has been playing in Mexico and has become the highest-grossing film of all time in Mexico and it isn’t hard to see why. Coco features beautiful animation, rich characters, great storytelling and a storyline that despite the subject matter, is very easy to understand. Mexico traditions are explained without talking down to the audience. The movie is funny throughout. The movie’s themes about the importance of family, being true to yourself and reconciliation is spoken loud and clear. I suspect that that Coco will be the next Disney obsession of many youngsters next to Frozen. Which ironically, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, based on the characters from Frozen, will also be shown together with Coco. Unfortunately, the short was not available to critics to review.

Dan Stevens Shines as ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’

Review of "The Man Who Invented Christmas."
Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens and Christopher Plummer as Ebenezer Scrooge in The Man Who Invented Christmas (Bleeker Street)

 MOVIE REVIEW 

Based on the book of the same name by Les Standiford, The Who Invented Christmas is based on the life of Charles Dickens during his time writing the iconic A Christmas Carol. The film opens with Dicken’s trip to America where his popularity is close to rock star status. However, when he comes home back to England, he’s faced with the realization that he hasn’t written a “hit” story in some time. In fact, his last three books have flopped and his publishers aren’t all that eager to give him another chance. Meanwhile, his wife Kate (Morfydd Clark) is busy remodeling their home, bills are starting to pile up and Charles begins to wonder if he’ll ever be able to write again. In a moment of inspiration during October of 1843, Dickens (Dan Stevens) decides to self-publish his next book, about Christmas and ghosts, but he’ll need to do so within six weeks and it will have to be a hit or he’ll be sunk. No problem though, he has a bunch of friends to help him. Unfortunately, none of them are real.

Throughout this movie, you have to wonder if Dickens had a mental illness, suffered from ADHD or just a lack of sleep. He is shown to be a nice guy with strong moral convictions. However, he is also shown having a short temper and wide-sweeping mood swings. He tells his friend, John Forster (Justin Edwards) that when he writes, his characters come alive and help him write his stories. Sometimes all he needs is to hear a phrase (“Humbug”) or a name (Scrooge) and the character appears. The first to come to Dickens aide is Ebenezer (Christopher Plummer). I can’t think of a better actor to do the job than Plummer. The two have the most interesting conversations and soon there is a pounding on the door and Scrooge tells him that it’s the ghost of Jacob Marley (Donald Sumpter).

Review of "The Man Who Invented Christmas."
Scrooge, Dickens and few of their friends. (Bleeker Street)
But the story comes along slower than Dickens was expecting. To add to the stress, Charles receives a visit from his father and mother (Jonathan Pryce and Ger Ryan). Through flashbacks, we learn that Dickens' dad was hardly “father of the year” as he was always in search of a quick way to make a buck, but he had a good heart. Unfortunately, due to his dad’s mistakes, Charles’s life when he was younger was a lot tougher than it needed to be. Turns out though, it also helped him to write his story.

Even though this movie features some whimsical touches with Dickens arguing with own characters, they don’t come across as goofy or slapstick. Overall, this is sort of a quiet film. There’s no car crashes or explosions. Nobody dies. It’s just a story about a writer doing what he does best and Stevens, who has a played a few characters himself in recent years (aka the “Beast” from Beauty and the Beast), does a fantastic job. As to be expected, this story comes with its own happy ending that is just as joyous as A Christmas Carol.

How Not to Cook a Turkey - Video of the Day

 VIDEO OF THE DAY 

And now a turkey cooking safety message from Si and Jase (from Duck Dynasty) and State Farm Insurance.

This Day in Pop Culture for November 21

Tweety Bird was "born" on November 21, 1942.

Tweety Bird is Born

Tweety first appeared in the Warner Bros. short, A Tale of Two Kitties on this day in 1942. He was originally named Orson who looked much different than he does today. His name is actually a combination of the words “sweetie” and “tweet” and is said to have been based on Red Skelton’s character, “Mean Widdle Kid.” Tweety is actually older than Sylvester the cat who didn’t appear until Friz Freleng created him in 1945. Sylvester and Tweety worked together for the first time in 1947’s Tweetie Pie which also won the studio’s first Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons). The two been partners ever since appearing together in numerous movies (like Space Jam and Looney Tunes: Back in Action), TV series (like The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries and The Looney Tunes Show) and as recently as the 2014 short, Flash in the Pain with Wylie Coyote and the Road Runner.

Monday, November 20, 2017

'O Come All Ye Faithful' by Pentatonix - Video of the Day

 VIDEO OF THE DAY 

"O Come All Ye Faithful" by Pentatonix. Just wow.

This Day in Pop Culture for November 20

"A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" aired for the first time on November 20, 1973.

'A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving' Airs for the First Time

On this day in 1973, CBS aired A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special for the first time. It played every year on that network until 2000. In 2001, it moved to ABC.  The special was Charles Schulz’s tenth, but has risen to become one of the more popular ones. It was the first TV special to feature Snoopy’s fine feathered friend, Woodstock and Franklin, the first African American character in the series. While some praised Schulz for adding diversity to the cartoon, others pointed fault that Franklin had to sit by himself during dinner. He shouldn't feel too bad though. Lucy apparently wasn't even invited.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Batman Theme Song Gets an Update - Video of the Day

 VIDEO OF THE DAY 

While the animated Batman vs. Two-Face isn't as good as Batman: The Return of the Caped Crusaders where Adam West and Burt Ward reprised their roles in animated form, the music during the end credits is pretty amazing playing off the old old 1966 TV series theme song.

The Parable of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

The parable of "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving"
Peppermint Patty is less than pleased in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. (ABC)

 MUSINGS 

Although a tale about friends getting together for Thanksgiving, the Peanuts special, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, is really a metaphor about family relationships during the holiday. See if this sounds familiar:

Charlie Brown and his sister, Sally, are preparing to go to their grandmother’s home for dinner when Charlie gets a call from Peppermint Patty who has invited herself and two other friends, (Marcie and Franklin), to Charlie’s place for the holiday. Without getting a word in edgewise, Charlie finds himself hosting a Thanksgiving meal knowing nothing about cooking except how to fill a bowl with cold cereal and making toast. Which begs the question…where are the parents?

Disgraced by the public outburst, Charlie Brown excuses himself from the table without a word. After a brief moment of awkward silence, Marcie reminds Patty that Charlie Brown didn’t invite her, but she invited herself and her friends to event and that she hasn’t been a very good model of thankfulness.After a brief prayer from Linus the theologian and believer of Great Pumpkins, the meal is unveiled. But Peppermint Patty is shocked and then outraged by the display of food. “What’s this?” she bellows. “What blockhead cooked all this? What kind of a Thanksgiving dinner is this? Where’s the turkey, Chuck? Don’t you know anything about Thanksgiving dinners? Where’s the mashed potatoes? Where’s the cranberry sauce? Where’s the pumpkin pie?!” Oh, the humanity.