Thursday, October 14, 2010

Phineas and Ferb: Very Perry Christmas

Written by Fantasma el Rey

It's Christmas come early with Phineas And Ferb: A Very Perry Christmas now available on DVD. Phineas And Ferb is a cartoon series that airs on the Disney Channel and by taking 2009's Christmas special and adding in other episodes that are Perry the Platypus-themed we have a very nice present that can be viewed all year round. Being jam-packed with bonus features only makes this DVD that much more of an awesome Christmas gift.

Talkative Phineas and seldom-speaking Ferb are stepbrothers who spend their summer vacation creating elaborate, imaginative, sometimes massive things and making the most of every day; the opening title sequence pretty much says it all. In the meantime their pet platypus Perry, who leads a double life as Secret Agent P, slips off to stop the Evil Dr. Doofensmirts from attempting some kind of evil scheme that always involves a “____-inator” of some sort.

All this happens each day while older sister Candice tries to bust them by getting mom to come home early and catch the boys red-handed. But she never does because somehow the day’s projects are always disposed of or neatly destroyed just as mom shows up like The Cat in the Hat. The brothers also somehow manage to get their neighborhood friends involved in the fun and adventure as well. Each episode usually features a catchy song or three with clever lyrics that describe what’s going on that day.

“That’s what the whole show is about” you say? Yes, yes it is. But creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, along with their team of writers and contributors, manage to make each episode funny, smart, and entertaining. The Disney Channel usually runs two episodes back to back.

With A Very Perry Christmas we have five episodes, one being the 34-minute holiday special “Phineas And Ferb’s Christmas Vacation.” In it, Agent P must stop Dr. Doof’s evil plot to make the whole city of Danville seem naughty so Santa will pass them by. But that plan backfires, as always, and the boys with help from two of Santa’s elves bring Christmas to the city. The boys even get to meet their hero, Santa Claus, by building him a massive rest area on top of their house Thrown into the usual formula fun are snow- and winter-based projects which include giant flying snowball angels, bed sleds, massive snowmen, the city decorated by wonderful gizmos and much more (just listen to the special reworked title song). Oh, and lets not forget Santa’s rest stop. Plus we can view our lovable friends all bundled up, singing songs with holiday tones and we get to see the gang open their gifts on Christmas day.

The other four, as mentioned above, are Perry themed. “Interview With A Platypus” has the boys making a device to translate what Perry is thinking. “Oh, There You Are Perry” finds Perry or rather Agent P, temporarily reassigned to a new evil genius. “Chez Platypus” has the boys build a trendy Platypus-themed restaurant. And “Perry Lays An Egg,” has the boys and Candice mistakenly believing that Perry has laid an egg.

The bonus features are very cool and include "Dr. D’s Jukebox-Inator;" which lets you cut to one of the Christmas songs; "Christmas Perry-oki" where you can play the movie and follow the bouncing Perry during songs; and a behind-the-scenes look at how the creators write a song. The highlights have to be bonus episode “Doof Side Of The Moon;” letters to Santa where Old St. Nick reveals what Phin, Ferb, and friends have asked for; and “Phineas And Ferb’s Virtual Fireplace. That’s right a new twist on the TV Yule log with a half an hour of an animated fireplace with the cartoons characters popping in from time to time to spread some Christmas cheer and laughter

A Very Perry Christmas is true joy for those who love the show and enjoy its wit, animation, and creatively simple songs. It has wonderful appeal for fans young and old.

Article first published as DVD Review: Phineas & Ferb: Very Perry Christmas on Blogcritics.

THE DARJEELING LIMITED - The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

Musgo has his favorite directors - the usuals really - Hitchcock, Kubrick, Malick, etc. While they all have different styles and work in different genres, they have one thing in common - they know how to tell a story. Texas-born, Wes Anderson is one that immediately appealed to me. With the release of Bottle Rocket in 1996, Wes came on the scene as more than just the typical indie director. There was an understanding of film techniques and ways to build a story around larger themes that separated him. The release of Rushmore and couple years later showed a continuing maturity. The 2001 release of The Royal Tenenbaums was a cumulation of lessons Anderson had learned over the previous couple films. The opening scene where we learn the characters and the history of the family is still one of my favorite initial scenes - few directors can set the themes for the film, establish characters and backstory in such a succinct manner.

Since The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes has continued his pace of a movie roughly every three years. In 2004 he released The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and in 2007 he veered slightly with The Darjeeling Limited - a film that, while having many thematic commonalities with his previous films, is a loving tribute to many of his influences. The depth of his stories and unique stories have made his previous films great additions to The Criterion Collection. It's never a stretch to examine his films on different levels and look back on them with the perspective of his following films. October has brought us The Criterion Collection release of The Darjeeling Limited for Musgo to examine.

The plot is the most limited of Anderson's works. It's the story of three brothers played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman who are getting together for the first time since their father's funeral to take a train through India to find their mother. The rich tradition of movies on trains is one of my favorites. While set in current time, traveling by train gives the movie an "out of time" feeling. The train is a superb metaphor for life - the different compartments of our life, all moving forward down the tracks. The train is symbolic of the feeling of powerlessness in the life of the boys- they are on the train having a cigarette and drink and watching the world pass by outside the windows. The train is taking them away from the death of their father and reuniting them with their estranged mother. But they are derailed a number of times - figuratively and literally. At one great point in the film, the train gets lost. Confused, the brothers ask how that can be since it's on tracks and they're told that they haven't been found yet.

The oldest brother, Francis, is played by Owen Wilson. He's been in all of Wes Anderson's film and I've come to view him as Wes' alter ego. And in many ways, he's the "director" of this trip. He's the one who has planned the journey - providing them with laminated itineraries with their days planned to the last detail. When we finally meet their mother - we see that all of his little idiosyncrasies are all the same as hers. He is very much the mother of the group. The character is covered in bandages from an accident throughout the film - symbolic of the suffering and pain due to his father's death. We later learn that it's from a suicide attempt - giving even more depth to his need for the spiritual journey.

The middle brother, Peter, is played by Adrien Brody. He holds the memories of the father. He was the one present at his father's death and keeps many of the father's possessions. The most telling symbol is that he has his father's glasses (never having changed the prescription) - he see's the world as his father did. The fact that Peter is about to become a father himself makes the connection even deeper. The most traditionally comedic scene of the film happens when Peter claims he was the father's favorite - causing a fight between Francis and Peter.

The film's themes that revolve around abandonment and death culminate around a scene that takes place right after the fight. They are left off the train because of the fight and forced to realize they might not complete their journey. On the way back to civilization, they see three boys (younger versions of themselves?) crossing a river. The boys' raft overturns in the river. The brothers are able to save two of the boys but the one that Peter holds on to ultimately drowns. Are we seeing this grief as Peter or through the eyes of the father? The death and funeral is a way for the boys to deal with their father's death that they couldn't at his funeral.

The youngest brother, Jack, is played by Jason Schwarzman. In the world of Wes Anderson films, Jason is the trickster. Jason's character, Jack is certainly the most subversive of the brothers. Jack is a writer and spends the trip not engaged in the spiritual journey but as an observer of it. He has an affair with a stewardess - but he's so distanced from her, he calls her "Sweet Lime" and is so caught up in seeing how she might fit into a story that he fails to realize how she needs his love. At each stop, Jack doesn't talk to his girlfriend, he listens to her answering machine.

It is right after the funeral for the young boy that the movie switches to a flashback scene. The scene is one of which Jack wrote a short story that he insists was not about the real events and characters. So in an interesting twist, the viewer is left wondering, are we seeing a true flashback or are we seeing it as viewed through the eyes of Jack? I lean towards it being right out of a short story. The scene with the three brothers on their way to their father's funeral, stopping to get their father's Porsche from the repair shop. The importance the brothers place on getting their father's prized possession causes them to miss the start of his funeral and it's there that they find that their mother isn't attending the funeral.

The catharsis of this scene leads the viewer back to the present and an emotional reunion with their mother who will abandon them again. But the importance of the journey wasn't getting to their mother - it was dealing with their father's death in their own way - finding their identity within the family dynamic. The relationship between siblings is at the heart of Bottle Rocket and especially The Royal Tenenbaums. The final scene ends with the boys running to catch another train - this time symbolically and literally abandoning all of their luggage to get on the train. This train has multiple cabins that represent the worlds of all the characters we've encountered along the way. But this time everyone is satisfied and spiritually at peace.

Like any good Criterion release - this one is loaded with features that help illuminate everything behind-the-scenes. This review is for the DVD version - on two discs. There's an audio commentary from Anderson,Schwartzman and cowriter Roman Coppola. You get the short film "Hotel Chevalier" which is a prequel of sorts that gives further backstory to Schwartzman's character as his ex-girlfriend shows up at his hotel room in Paris. I think pieces like this are important for the actor to know as backstory but as a viewer I don't think I missed anything by not seeing this first. The second disc includes a documentary, on-set footage, deleted and alternate takes, a discussion on the music of the film, and Wes' great American Express commercials.

There's so much to talk about with a Wes Anderson film. I feel like I don't have the true perspective on this film yet. Often, it takes the next movie to place the previous one in its place. He has released another film, Fantastic Mr. Fox but that didn't feel like part of his Wes-verse. The Darjeeling Limited is a timeless film that address the types of themes that will always appeal to viewers. It's a nice tribute to Indian directors like Satyajit Ray and a love letter to the beautiful country of India. But maybe the "limited" of the title is what holds me back - there's so much here, it's superior to most releases but I want this train to go off the tracks and get even more lost.