Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Christmas 2015: December 15

White Christmas (1954)

The common misconception that the song “White Christmas” didn’t originate in “Holiday Inn” is probably because, a decade later, Paramount would make a movie that shared a title with the song. As popular as “Holiday Inn” was, “White Christmas” would outshine it at the box office, becoming the highest grossing film of 1954 by a large margin. Though usually paired with its predecessor, when the networks want to air a Bing Crosby-starring Christmas movie, this is usually the one they show. Does it rightfully overshadow the earlier film or is “White Christmas” the one that deserves to be overlooked?

While deployed in World War II, established singer/dancer Bob Wallace meets Phil Davis, an aspiring songwriter himself. After the war ends, the two become popular nightclub entertainers. Phil is determined to find the bachelor Bob a girlfriend. They meet an act of two singing sisters, Betty and Judy. Both men are immediately attracted to the singers. Through subterfuge, Phil and Bob ends up at the same secluded Vermont inn where the singers are performing over the holidays. Turns out, the place is owned by one of Phil and Bob’s commanding officer from the war. As Christmas approaches, the entertainers fall for each other and try to drum up business for the General’s floundering business.

“White Christmas” has a bit more plot then “Holiday Inn,” which is a benefit for the later film. However, it’s still mostly a movie build around musical numbers. Obviously, by setting the story in the world of entertainment, the film presents many occasions for singing and dancing. When the characters aren’t doing such, they’re usually trading banter. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye make a good team. Crosby plays the more professional, slightly jaded older man. Kaye plays up his nervous quality. When flirting with the female leads, he really gets to show off a likable, funny kind of jitters. Instead of having the two male leads fight over women, as in “Holiday Inn,” “White Christmas” smartly pairs each man off with a love interest. Rosemary Clooney as Betty is the more reasonable of the two while Vera-Ellen’s Judy is the more child-like. While you can figure out who’s going to end up with whom by the end, watching the cast play off each other makes for some decent fun.

Another big difference between 1942 and 1954 is color. “White Christmas” is shot in searing Technicolor and presented in Paramount’s extra-wide VistaVision format. The film takes full advantage of this, creating a number of very bright musical numbers. During an early montage, Crosby and Kaye perform an upbeat rendition of “Blue Skies” against a bright blue background. (Bing’s and Clooney’s own blue eyes are emphasized too.) The Minstrel Show montage has dancers in bright outfits swinging about a red stage, climaxing with Vera-Ellen in a yellow dress dancing. “Choreography” has back-up dancers in purple gowns join Kaye for a more experimental number across another brightly lit backdrop. Of these hyper-colorful numbers, a solo number by Clooney called “Love Didn’t Do Right By Me” is the best. She stands in a black gown on a pink stage, men in black suits moving around her still figure.

While all those numbers look great, none of those songs are especially memorable. The sequences focused mostly on the singing or dancing stick in the memorable longer. A duo between Ellen and Clooney, called “Sisters,” has become a minor classic. The sight of the two in their blue gowns, with accompanying fans, is unforgettable and the lyrics are catchy. “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” is an alright song but the dance Kaye and Ellen perform to it is fantastic, the two leaping across a dock. Later, the two perform another incredible dance to an instrumental version of “Holiday Inn’s” “Abraham.” (Thankfully, this movie skips the blackface.) “Count Your Blessing (Instead of Sheep)” is one of the few romantic ballads from this era that really works. “I Wish I Was Back in the Army” is a lot of fun as well, with smart ass lyrics and energetic music.

“White Christmas” is too long though, running two hours. By the time the climatic version of the titular song rolls around, the audience’s patience has run dry. “White Christmas” rolls around amicably enough for its first half. I suppose the story couldn’t have supported itself just with musical numbers. So some artificial conflict is engineered. Betsy gets annoyed with Bob for reasons I can’t even remember now, forcing a schism between the two. Phil and Judy set up a fake engagement as a convoluted way to goad the other couple into staying together. Naturally, Bing patches everything up before the end and Kaye and Ellen’s fake engagement becomes a real one. The movie also tags on some patriotism, with Crosby celebrating the general. It’s all rather trite and brings down the enjoyment factor of what was an entertaining movie beforehand.

When comparing “Holiday Inn” and “White Christmas,” the two come off as about equal. While the later film has a more solid script, the earlier picture is a little more sleek and fun. This one is a bit more Christmas-y too, which counts for something in December. I’m a bit more partial to 1942’s story just because I prefer Fred Astaire to Danny Kaye. Both movies have problems yet, when it comes to the songs and dances, both are impressive. [6/10]

Aqua Teen Hunger Force: The Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future

The show ended up running for way too long but, for those first few seasons, “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” was some great stoner-rific absurdist comedy. Take, for example, “The Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future,” one of the show’s all-time classic episodes. Carl’s peaceful morning is disrupted when a robot appears in his bed room, regaling him with bizarre Christmas stories. (Despite it being February.) Soon, Master Shake informs Carl that his swimming pool is full of blood, which the Cybernetic Ghost also verbosely explains. Eventually, Carl and the Aqua Teens find their own way to resolve the problem.

All though it’s set in February, this is still the proper “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” Christmas episode. The best sequences are devoted to the Cybernetic Ghost’s rambling stories about the bizarre origin of Christmas. Here, we discover that “thousands of years ago!,” a red Santa Ape would make toys from bones and poo, throwing them at predators and other apes. After a race of advanced elf Martians landed on the planet, the Santa Ape enslaved them to make his toys… Which were also thrown and defecated upon. Seeing Carl’s Christmas memory, which involves the eight year old eating carpet and working in some fume-filled factory, is one of the darkest laughs in the episode.

As amusing as these sequences are, the characterization of the Cybernetic Ghost is probably where the best laughs are. Matt Maiellaro’s halting speech, which is always echoed, makes dead-pan hilarity out of the weird, dumb dialogue he’s given. The Ghost mumbling confused, circular statements is hysterical. Such as “I am a robot!” or “Christmas still sucked.” This being “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” the story meanders in other odd directions. The episode concludes with Glenn Danzig, playing himself, buying Carl’s haunted, bleeding house for a million dollars. This spirals into Master Shake trying to convince the potty-mouthed rock star that their house is haunted as well.

Making the Aqua Teens the straight men to another character’s far more bizarre antics pays off extremely well. Meatwad’s confused re-cap of the Cybernetic Ghost’s story, which somehow concluded with a message about how babies are made, is especially amusing. The show creators were smart enough to realize how entertaining the Cybernetic Ghost’s antics where and would bring him back for several future episodes. The show isn’t for everyone. If you decried it as stupid and cheap, you wouldn’t be wrong. Yet this episode has become an annual bit of Christmas absurdity for me. [7/10]

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