by Brendan Foley

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick
 Happy holidays boys and girls (or boils and ghouls as The Cryptkeeper might say) and welcome to a special Christmas edition of Two Cents. We wanted to do something special for the season, so what better idea than a seasonal special?

When A Very Murray Christmas was announced, there was both rejoicing and confusion. American alternative comedy unicorn Bill Murray hosting a Christmas special was odd enough, but this Netflix-exclusive special would be co-written and directed by Sofia Coppola, a filmmaker known for films focused on the quiet hush of melancholy and loss. Irving Berlin she is not.

Would Murray and Coppola subvert the erstwhile Christmas special format and make something sadder and stranger than traditionally expected? Or would they subvert the audience’s expectations for subversion and deliver a classical holiday special of special guests, comedy bits, and musical numbers?

The answer, it turns out, is Yes. A Very Murray Christmas is both a throwback to the celebrity holiday specials of yesterday, and a continuation of Lost in Translation‘s explorations of late-in-life ennui and loneliness. Also Miley Cyrus is in it.

Is A Very Murray Christmas a new seasonal standby that we’ll re-watch each year alongside our sugar cookies and sugarplums (the fuck are sugarplums, I’ve never understood) or did all the tinsel and all the tunes add up to only an odd little oddity on Netflix? Find out below!

Did you get a chance to watch along with us this week? Want to recommend a great (or not so great) film for the whole gang to cover? Comment below or post on our Facebook or hit us up on Twitter!

Next Week’s Pick:
 With Christmas passed into Christmas Past, we look forward to New Year’s Eve and to the year beyond. It’s been a tough 2015 for many folks, here at Cinapse, here in America, and across the world. It’s easy to look at the world around us and see nothing but a dark tunnel growing dimmer the further we go along it.

But fuck that. Instead, let’s ring in the New Year with one of the great works of visionary fiction, a film that dared to ponder Humanity’s place in the cosmos, and to posit that maybe we belong there and will go even further.

To that end, next week’s Two Cents will be Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Love it or hate it, we want to know, so give it a watch (it is streaming on Netflix Instant) and give us a shout.

The Team

Elizabeth:This special serves mainly as an opportunity for Bill Murray to gather his pals around, but could have benefited from a stronger script. As it is, the show has barely a sketch of an idea tying it together. Writers are listed in the credits, but I don’t buy it. Murray & other cast members appear to be improvising, but only at 50% of their powers.

Basically, the Murray Christmas Special is like watching a bunch of celebrities sing karaoke, some better than others. Miley Cyrus channels Dolly Parton in a rendition of “Silent Night,” which is to say that she does not make it her own. French band Phoenix plays kitchen staff — of course, they perform a song as well.

The best musical moment, IMHO, is the version of “Fairy Tale of New York” sung by Jenny Lewis and others in the bar. It’s a perfect setting and fitting rendition of the rowdy Christmas song. Still, there’s no way that leads to this special becoming anything close to regular holiday viewing for me. (@elizs)

Frank:Its funny that the Christmas pick for this column should be A Very Murray Christmas since I had just previously written an editorial on the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special. While Murray’s tribute to the season doesn’t come close to reaching the level of insanity as the aforementioned piece of “entertainment”did, both do contain a truly “what did I just watch?” factor.

Straddling the line between dry humor and melancholic pensiveness, the plot of A Very Murray Christmas is a combination of the sad and the surreal, featuring many different characters, or caricatures, rather (played by various celebrities) who pop in, interact with Murray and his deadpan nature, agree that the holiday and the blizzard that has trapped them all are both horrible, before downing a drink. I can only guess that the whole thing was meant to be one big joke since every single attempt at a laugh during the one hour special fell flat.

As much of a downer as the actual plot was, the collection of musical numbers proved outstanding, with the highlight being Maya Rudolph’s powerful rendition of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”. Each one was truly fun to watch and provided a much-needed momentary break from the special’s overall gloominess. In that sense, A Very Murray Christmas is a lot like many people’s Christmases — surroundings filled with sad individuals you can’t wait to get away from, interspersed with enough genuine moments which makes a person see it through til the end. (@frankfilmgeek)

Liam:I can’t say if Bill Murray is as melancholic as he appears. I can accept it though, despite the fact that the idea of morose rich white men usually is not a charming one. Yet, Bill Murray somehow pulls me in. He is charming, he is funny, he is sad, he is an egotistical monster. Does he play a character of himself, or does he create a scenario where he can be himself, take the mask off, and not fear judgment?

If you came to this special thinking it would be just fun, just merry, just frivolous than you were disappointed. However, if you watched this and had no fun, found no humor, felt only sadness, then we are very different. I love wounded humor, it feels real. Look, Christmas is the yearly reminder that winter is stronger than hope. That consumerism can distract but it cannot save us. That even the most loving family can wound you deeply. Too often it is a reminder of all those who we are to selfish to see. It is when we tell a story of a God who cared so much that God came here, and then left never to return. (@liamrulz)

Brendan:Most Christmas special are unbearable for the way they try and cram holiday cheer down your throat, obliviously blaring obnoxious odes to mindless, empty ‘joy’. While Christmas is a joyous time, that joy is often counterbalanced by winter doldrums, feelings of loneliness, or, heck, simple exhaustion with spending so much time surrounded by family. The best Christmas stories are the ones that take ownership of both halves of this experience, that understand how joy and sadness intermix to enrich and define one another.

While not a wholly successful enterprise altogether, A Very Murray Christmas manages to get at something real and impactful about the holiday and how it affects people. Even though the special occasionally feels more like a prank or a long inside joke for a group of rich people, Sofia Coppola tempers the glibness with a real appreciation for those quiet moments of melancholy. The push-pull between a self-aware comedy special and bittersweet character study never quite evens out, but Coppola wrangles real moments of humane comedy and human drama out of her eclectic cast.

Really though, the whole endeavor is worth it just for George Clooney’s role in the ‘Santa Claus Wants Lovin’ number. That was…odd. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin:Honestly, I kinda wish I dug this one a bit more than I did. Bill Murray plays Bill Murray in a strangely sad Christmas Special in which he’s Bill Murray playing Bill Murray in a strangely sad Christmas Special. But a winter storm cuts the show short and traps Bill and friends within their hotel for a very odd, claustrophobic, and dimly lit night indoors. Weirdly, there’s a point at which the pretense of a story and its accompanying mood are dropped and everything goes into full show-stopper mode. It’s kind of cool to get to hear Bill croon a few numbers, and George Clooney’s appearance is goofy fun, but this isn’t a Christmas Special that’s likely to enter our annual rotation. (@VforVashaw)

Did you all get a chance to watch along with us? Share your thoughts with us here in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook!

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