IFC’s Portlandia is As Solid As Ever Now In Its Fourth Season

Courtesy:  IFC

Courtesy: IFC

When it first debuted on IFC almost four years ago in 2011, Portlandia was little more than an unknown sketch comedy show.  Now three years later, it has gone on to quite the unexpected success.  It has garnered itself a nomination for an Emmy award and even a Peabody award win; this despite the show still being largely a cult favorite.  Now with the recent release of the show’s fourth season on DVD, audiences that might still be unfamiliar with Portlandia will be able to see for themselves just what has made this little show that could a fan favorite for four seasons now.  The first and most obvious reason that Portlandia has garnered such a fan following over the course of its run is its writing.  The writing behind this show is the sort of writing that will impress any fan of The Kids in the Hall and The Upright Citizens Brigade.  Also worth noting of this season is the acting on the part of lead stars Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live) and Carrie Brownstein along with their co-stars and guest stars.  Speaking of the guest stars, the guest stars lined up for Season Four add their own comedic element that audiences will appreciate, rounding out the whole presentation.  All three factors together make the fourth season of IFC’s Portlandia a presentation that audiences new and not so new to the show will enjoy from start to finish.

The central point in the enjoyment of Portlandia Season Four is the show’s writing.  This season’s writing is a laugh riot.  Armisen and Brownstein take no prisoners with co-writer Jonathan Krisel throughout this season.  From social media to organized religion to horror movies, pet adoption agencies and so much more, nothing is off limits this season.  There’s even a spoof of the classic 1993 Robert Redford/Demi Moore drama Indecent Proposal in one episode.  The episode in question features none other than the star of HBO’s hit drama Boardwalk Empire, Steve Buscemi.  The pokes at all things pop culture alone make Season Four well worth the watch.  They’re just the tip of the proverbial iceberg in what makes this season’s writing work.  As with the series’ previous three seasons, each episode is split into multiple segments with one skit serving as the hub of each episode.  That hub is sandwiched by a group of other stand-alone sketches.  This aspect of the writing is likely thanks in large part to SNL head Lorne Michaels also playing a role in this series, too.  And it proves to work quite well surprisingly enough even here.

Directly related to the writing behind Portlandia’s fourth season is the acting on the part of the both Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein.  The characters that have become so familiar and beloved by fans throughout the show’s first three seasons are back once again.  And the way that Armisen and Brownstein handle their portrayals makes for more than its share of laughs.  Those that might not be so familiar with the duo’s brand of comedy might see the duo’s acting as being aimed at a very specific audience.  The reality is that their acting is meant entirely to poke fun at certain groups of people.  They do so by going completely over the top in their stereotypical presentation of said characters.  It works perfectly with the scripts in general to make each of the sketches even more of a laugh riot.  Armisen and Brownstein’s acting combines with the season’s writing to make each of this season even more entertaining, regardless of audiences’ familiarity with the series.

Both the writing and acting that went into the fourth season of Portlandia play their own part in the overall enjoyment of this cult hit series.  Adding even more enjoyment to the overall presentation that is the series’ fourth season is the inclusion of a who’s who of guest stars.  It has already been noted that Boardwalk Empire star Steve Buscemi is on board this season.  Joining him are the likes of Kirsten Dunst (Spiderman 1,23), Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic ParkIndependence DayHoly Man), and singer k.d. Lang among others.  Goldblum actually makes multiple appearances throughout this season’s sketches.  And Dunst opens the season in a hilarious episode that pokes fun at all of the really bad horror movies polluting theaters, store shelves and online retailers.  It is certain to leave any viewer laughing so hard that they cry.  k.d. Lang’s appearance later in the season is just as funny.  She appears in a skit about a group of lesbians on a nature retreat.  The retreat just happens to be led by an older man.  Needless to say that things turn rather interesting for him and Lang’s character.  These are just some of the laughs offered by the guest stars throughout Portlandia’s fourth season.  Audiences will find their own favorite moments when they pick up this season’s box set.

The guest stars tapped to appear in Portlandia’s fourth season make for plenty of laughs.  The same can be said of the acting both on their part and that of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein (as well as their cat mates).  And the writing in general makes a solid cornerstone on which rests the equally solid acting and A-list guest list.  All things considered, Porlandia Season 4 proves in the end to be a collection of episodes that anyone looking for a good laugh will enjoy.  It is available now in stores and online.  More information on Portlandia is available online at http://www.facebook.com/portlandia and http://www.ifc.com/portlandia.  More information on this and other releases from IFC is available online at http://www.facebook.com/IFC and http://ifc.com.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Mulan II A Good Stand-Alone Story

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Disney’s Mulan II is a far cry from the 1998 movie that wowed so many people.  Audiences and critics alike largely panned the movie upon its release nearly a decade after the original movie’s release.  A big part of the reason that the movie was panned was because in the time that had passed between movies, those involved in the creation of Mulan II had more than enough time to make a sequel that was just as impressive as the original.  But allegedly, only three years passed before this direct-to-DVD was released versus the roughly five to seven years that passed before Mulan was released to theaters.  Mulan had a lot going for it.  There’s no denying this.  But its sequel has its own merits, too.  Audiences need just see the merits in the movie as a stand-alone feature, rather than a sequel.

It has already been noted that one reason Mulan II passed was the ratio of time spent making the movie to the number of years spanning the release of Mulan and Mulan II.  That ratio is indirectly tied in to another potential reason for audiences’ reaction to the movie.  That secondary reason is that the movie was perhaps improperly marketed.  It was marketed as a sequel although it sits more as a stand-alone feature by comparison.  Audiences get in Mulan II the next chapter of sorts between Mulan and her love interest from Mulan, Captain Shang (voiced by B.D. Wong–Law & Order SVU).  Shang has, in the time between movies, become a General.  Audiences are left to believe that the threat from the previous story has been dealt with, as there’s even note late in the movie referencing the previous story.  Having dealt with that, Mulan and Shang must now learn about the ups and downs in the potential of life together.  So again, while this is a continuation of Mulan, it is also an entirely different story.  Had this story simply been given the Mulan title with an entirely separate subtitle, it might have been better received by audiences and critics considering its primary plot.  That’s not to say that this is a bad story.  Quite the opposite, actually.  This is an especially good watch each year during wedding season.  It serves as a reminder even to adult viewers about the power of love to overcome the differences that may come up between a couple whether in the earliest or late stages of life together.

The primary romantic plot element in Mulan II is a good juxtaposition to the storyline of Mulan.  Hua Mulan is still the strong, independent individual presented to audiences in Mulan.  This time around though, this story’s writers offer audiences her softer, more emotional side.  The story manages quite well, to balance the two sides, thus making her somewhat more believable as a character.  Being that Mulan was aimed largely at female audiences, it was only natural that a story about the relationship between Shang and Mulan followed.  If audiences take this into account, it might help to see past the primary issues of the movie being improperly marketed, especially after so much time had passed between each movie’s release. 

Having overcome the hurdle of Mulan II’s primary plot and marketing issues, audiences will find one more positive to Mulan II.  That second positive is the movie’s secondary plot.  The secondary plot, centered on Mulan’s sidekick, Mushu, presents the theme of friendship.  Not to reveal too much, but Mushu is the cause of everything that happens between Mulan and Shang.  In simple, viewers learn the lesson that being a true friend sometimes means making sacrifices that one might not want to make.  It’s a valuable lesson from which both kids and adults can learn.  The lesson taught in this secondary story makes Mulan II more enjoyable.  Making it even more valuable—even if it was unintentional—was a reference to Aladdin in Mushu’s reaction to a very positive discovery late in the story.  That discovery won’t be revealed here for the sake of those who haven’t seen it.  But anyone who has seen Aladdin will hopefully get the reference.  There is at least one other reference that audiences will get.  But that discovery will be left for those that have yet to see this not-so-sequel sequel.  It’s one more factor that makes Mulan II worth at least one watch.  It’s available in stores and online now as part of the new Mulan/Mulan II BD/DVD combo pack.  The new multi-disc combo pack can be ordered online direct from the Disney store at http://www.disneystore.com/mulan-15th-annniversary-blu-ray-and-dvd-combo-pack/mp/1331589/1000316/ and at the Disney DVD store at http://disneydvd.disney.go.com/mulan-two-movie.html

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Mulan Worth A Second Watch In New Multi-Disc Re-Issue

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

The history of Walt Disney Studios is rich with beloved adaptations of some of the most well known stories ever written and passed down from one generation to the next.  Among some of Disney’s most beloved tales are fairy tales the likes of: Snow White, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast.  These movies have become perhaps some of Disney’s most iconic big screen adaptations of classic literary tales.  They have become the cornerstone of Disney’s “Princess” genre over the course of the studio’s history.  As famed and beloved as Snow White, Cinderella, and Belle are to this day, audiences saw Disney take a chance on a new brand of Princess in 1992 with the release of Aladdin.  Princess Jasmine was much more independent and strong willed than Disney’s other princesses that audiences had come to know.  She would be the first of her brand for female audiences to look up to.  But it wouldn’t be another six years that audiences would see an equally strong and independent figure in Mulan.

The character presented in Disney’s Mulan is based on the ancient Chinese legend of Hua Mulan.  The story stays the same in its translation in that this Mulan also takes the place of her father in the Chinese army.  That’s where the similarities end.  But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  In comparison to the previously mentioned movies, what audiences get in Mulan is a female lead that is both independent and emotionally and physically strong.  She is a positive role model for young female audiences today, just as Merida is in the more recent Disney feature film, Brave.  Mulan, as a figure, proves that whether in China’s past or in the twenty-first century, women can do anything that men can do.  Sometimes they can do what men do even better.  What’s more even when her secret is revealed late in the movie, she doesn’t get pushy.  She simply remains a strong leader, instead of forcing her inner strength down the throats of her male counterparts.  This too is something from which young women can take away from Mulan.  It is good to be a strong person.  But being as good as the boys and men doesn’t mean pushing it in their faces and down their throats.

That Mulan serves as a positive role model is just one part of the success of the movie centered on her.  It is her strength and her dedication to her family that leads her to do what she does.  This seems somewhat inconsequential at first glance.  But in the bigger picture, her dedication to her family (and especially to her father) continues Disney’s long-running tradition of offering the theme of family first.  Mulan did what she did for her family.  And in the end, it was her own family that shoed its love and respect for her for having saved not just her father, but her entire nation.  This in itself serves a secondary theme.  That secondary theme is of strength in personal belief.  One person—male or female—can make huge difference whether it is on one person or a whole nation. It just takes belief in one’s own self.

The themes of family and self belief are wonderful for viewers of all ages.  The same can be said of Mulan serving as a positive role model for young female viewers.  Already, one can see how underrated this movie is in comparison to Disney’s other “princess” movies.  Audiences will also appreciate the movie’s writing.  There is more than enough physical comedy to make both male and female audiences laugh.  A prime example of this comes when Mulan first comes into the warriors’ camp and sees how they interact.  Her attempt to pass as one of them will leave any viewer laughing.  And early on when Mulan is learning how to be a “proper wife”, her lesson leads to a moment of great physical comedy that again the whole family will love.  They are just a tiny portion of the whole movie’s impressive writing.  Viewers that take the time to watch the entire movie will find many more funny moments for themselves. 

Just as important to the movie as its writing, and positive themes is the bonus features in the new Blu-ray/DVD multi-disc re-issue of Mulan/Mulan II.  Viewers that pick up the new Mulan/Mulan II multi-disc set from Disney will gain even more appreciation for both movies after watching the roughly fifteen bonus features spread across both movies.  Audiences learn in large part via the movies’ bonus features is the balance attained in partnering both hand drawn animation and digital (computer generated) “animation.”  The balance is so even that it’s nearly impossible to tell what is hand drawn and what is created digitally.  So what importance does this have, one might ask?  The answer is simple.  This is important in that it shows digital animation is not the do all, end all.  It is a tool, and should be used as such, rather than a replacement for hand drawn animation.  This is a discussion that has been raised in the bonus features of previous Disney re-issues.  In a time when so many studios are relying increasingly on digital animation, the discussion of how digital and hand drawn animation were merged to make this final product shows that it is possible to make a movement back toward hand drawn animation.  One can only hope that studios will take heed to this message.  Until or unless they do, audiences at least have Mulan as proof that the past and future of animation can be crossed.  That bridge, combined with everything else offered by this new re-issue, makes Mulan a work that while it may not be one of Disney’s most well known features is one that offers more than just what’s on the surface.  It’s a movie that’s worth more than just one watch.  And it’s available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online via the Disney store at http://www.disneystore.com/mulan-15th-annniversary-blu-ray-and-dvd-combo-pack/mp/1331589/1000316/ and via the Disney DVD store at http://disneydvd.disney.go.com/mulan-two-movie.html

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.