A Very Murray Christmas (2015)- Netflix
I’m a huge Bill Murray fan, but this hour-long special was more mediocre than merry. The whole thing plays out like a fever dream: Murray can’t film a live TV special at New York City’s Carlyle Hotel due to a snowstorm, so a bunch of random celebrities make cameos–some play themselves while others don’t–and sing Christmas songs. If you decide to check it out, skip the clunky transitions and just watch the performances. Highlights: Phoenix’s cover of the Beach Boys’ “Alone on Christmas Day” and George Clooney popping out from behind a Christmas tree during “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’.” NOT RECOMMENDED.
The Clock (1945)- TCM
In this World War II romance reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, a G.I. (Robert Walker) falls in love with a young woman (Judy Garland, in her first non-musical role) on a whirlwind two-day leave in New York City. After a meet-cute in Penn Station, they embark on a prime New York adventure, from visiting the Central Park Zoo and the Met to helping a kindly milkman (James Gleason) make his late-night deliveries, before jumping through several hoops to get married at city hall. The film is sweet, simple, and sometimes schmaltzy, but it doesn’t shy from the reality of a hasty wartime marriage. It also has one of the most realistic portrayals of the atmosphere of New York I’ve seen in a movie, despite being filmed entirely on the MGM lot in California. RECOMMENDED.
Trumbo (2015)– in theaters now
This biopic of blacklisted screenwriter and Communist Party member Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston, in a tremendous performance) is a simplistic account of the post-World War II “Red Scare” and the Hollywood blacklist. It’s a complicated chapter in U.S. history from which myths have been perpetuated and accepted at face value, and it’s clear whom the Trumbo filmmakers see as the heroes and villains. Despite the problematic misrepresentation of history in several significant areas (RogerEbert.com’s Godfrey Cheshire expands on this in his review), the film is still entertaining, with a classy period aesthetic, Old Hollywood Easter eggs, and a top-notch ensemble that includes Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, John Goodman, and Louis C.K. RECOMMENDED.