The West Wing remains my favorite of Aaron Sorkin’s creations on the big screen or small. It stands, especially in these times, as an idealistic vision of what government could and should be. It’s populated by wonderfully developed eccentric devoted public servants, each of which is so fully-realized and distinct from each other that they feel like old friends more than characters on the screen. This same treatment is extended to even minor characters and, in the show’s first two seasons, no minor character was as much fun as Mrs. Landingham (Kathryn Joosten), President Bartlet’s wonderfully cryptic and acerbic assistant, gatekeeper, and confidante.
In the show’s first Christmas episode, “In Excelsis Deo”, the show takes two characters, Mrs. Landingham and Richard Schiff’s Toby Ziegler, and has them deal with the ghosts of the Vietnam War while the rest of The White House prepares for Christmas festivities. The two stories come together in a stunningly powerful final scene for the episode: one of the best Christmas episodes in dramatic television.
All Clara (Mackenzie Foy) wants is a key – a one-of-a-kind key that will unlock a box that holds a priceless gift from her late mother. A golden thread, presented to her at godfather Drosselmeyer’s (Morgan Freeman) annual holiday party, leads her to the coveted key – which promptly disappears into a strange and mysterious parallel world. It’s there that Clara encounters a soldier named Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), a gang of mice and the regents who preside over three Realms: Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers and Land of Sweets. Clara and Phillip must brave the ominous Fourth Realm, home to the tyrant Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), to retrieve Clara’s key and hopefully return harmony to the unstable world.
Each Thursday we look at what is going to be coming out in theaters this weekend, show you the trailers for the big releases, predict the box office winner and just generally give you enough of a carrot to pull you through the rest of the work week. There are eight movies opening in limited or wide release over the Christmas weekend (most in limited to qualify for the Oscars), but you should have no trouble finding alternatives to Star Wars if you are traumatized, hopeless, and jaded (wow that got personal quickly….).
When I was a kid, and during my marriage before my wife passed, it was a RITUAL ABSOLUTE that we watched The Muppet Christmas Carol. Every family celebrates the holidays differently, and this is probably the only one the crossed over from my childhood to my adulthood….but I’m really glad it did. The Muppet Christmas Carol was made in 1992, three years after the tragic and untimely death of Muppet founder Jim Henson. Despite a dozen attempts to do other things with the core group of characters over the years under their stewardship at Disney, The Muppet Christmas Carol-to me-is the last thing that carried the Henson magic with it.
Not only is it a great Muppet film, it’s a fairly faithful (with pigs and frogs and whatever Gonzo is) adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Christmas masterpiece. It pushed the boundary, as all of Henson’s films did, of what was possible with puppets, and while it’s all-ages appropriate, both the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Future scared the willies out of me when I was a kid. I still find the floating doll face of Christmas Past creepy. But it has wonderful songs (my favorite obviously being Statler and Waldorf’s Marley Brothers duet), funny moments, and unlike a lot of the humans who find their way into Muppetland, Michael Caine put in an extremely good performance as Scrooge. It’s clever, joyous, a little weird, and endlessly inventive. That was the Henson magic. The magic that took a piece of felt and turned it into a universe of characters that would and will entertain and educate adults and children alike for decades. So if you’re wondering what to do on Christmas Eve as a family…you could do a lot worse for traditions than adopt my family’s.