Ah, the holidays. A time for family togetherness, the warm embrace of friends, and crippling awkwardness.
With nearly every artist who has access to a microphone and some jingle bells deciding to put out a Christmas album, the sheer glut of holiday music makes it inevitable that we'll have some clunkers. Or, if they're not complete clunkers, that they'll leave us scratching our heads over a lyric or two. Here are ten of our most favorite awkward holiday songs.
*N Sync — "Under My Tree"
"Bring along the mistletoeKeep the music nice and lowI'll show you how good it could be.I wish that Santa could be here to seeIt's beautiful under my tree"
No word yet on whether or not Santa likes to watch.
Michael Bublé — "Santa Baby"
Bublé must have run out of Christmas standards to cover, because his version of the slinky Eartha Kitt classic is just confusing. This song is about flirting with Santa. Take that away and it's just a grown man begging for presents. "Santa buddy?" No.
Dolly Parton — "Hard Candy Christmas"
Awkward mostly because it's just so depressing, The hookers' tale of woe from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is actually a pretty fantastic song. But we wouldn't recommend it for your party playlist.
Olivia Newton John and John Travolta — "I Think You Might Like It"
Danny and Sandy reunited to bring us a cheese-covered holiday duet album, and this one's the kicker. Olivia and John sing about "doing a little dance," "making love all night" and then watching It's a Wonderful Life and crying. And then someone's drunk mother makes an appearance? It's thoroughly unexplainable.
Lady Gaga featuring Space Cowboy — "Christmas Tree"
What is it with pop stars singing about getting it on under Christmas trees? Do people do this? Aren't there pine needles jabbing into you? Where do you put the presents?
Liza Minnelli and Alan Cumming — "Baby, It's Cold Outside"
Clearly, one of the more inspired versions of this predatory Christmas song. Halfway through, the parts flip and Liza is pursuing Alan. Still creepy, but at least it's equal opportunity creepy.
Weather Girls — "Dear Santa (Bring Me a Man This Christmas)"
We have no problem with the sentiment — get yours, girls — but really, it's just a slightly holiday-ed up version of "It's Raining Men."
Girls Aloud — "Not Tonight, Santa"
I have a headache. Why don't you go play your XBox?
Clarence Carter — "Back Door Santa"
Justin Bieber featuring Mariah Carey — "All I Want for Christmas Is You (Superfestive!)"
Oh, but this time it's superfestive? This is the real life version of Billy Mack's "Christmas Is All Around." A cash grab in musical form.
It's easy to be cynical about holiday movies or even the holidays themselves. Rise of the Guardians simply won't let you though even if you don't partake in Christmas or Easter. Without getting too highfalutin the stars of Guardians have more in common with pagan myths than the craven cash-grabs we associate with Judeo-Christian holidays. What's more North (aka Santa voiced by Alec Baldwin) and Bunny (as in Easter voiced by Hugh Jackman) are joined by more universal figures like Tooth (as in Fairy voiced by Isla Fisher) the Sandman Jack Frost (Chris Pine) and Pitch (aka the Boogeyman voiced by Jude Law). Overseeing it all is the silent Man in the Moon who gives the Guardians their directions.
Jack Frost wants to be believed in and seen by children as much as he wants to understand where he came from. When he's called to help the Guardians protect the world from Pitch he's hesitant to join but the possibility of being believed in and recovering his memories is too great to pass up. When Pitch succeeds in giving boys and girls bad dreams they stop believing in the Guardians which in turn threatens their existence. Nothing is worse than not being believed in. They also get some help from one open-minded little dude named Jamie (Dakota Goyo) who is a big believer in the unknown. (A little detour in the story with Jamie's little sister is freaking adorable.)
The characters are fabulous and no small part of what makes the movie work. Based on The Guardians of Childhood books by William Joyce and adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire (who wrote the excellent Rabbit Hole) Guardians stands out because the story isn't wedded to any one mythology. North is a big Russian with tattooed forearms and his real helpers are yetis — yet another mythic creature. Bunny is more of a wild hare with an Aussie attitude and his inner sanctum is lush and green calling to mind the fertility rituals originally associated with spring. Tooth is a fantastic hummingbird woman who has an army of beautiful tiny hummingbird ladies who travel around the world to collect lost teeth. The teeth contain memories so they're treasured by Tooth and her Baby Teeth as her helpers are called. Sandy is silent and communicates through symbols that appear over his head formed from his own sand; he's funny but also laid-back as you'd want the creature doling out dreams to be. Jack Frost is a mischievous cute young guy with anime hair who loves snowball fights and snow days and Pitch is a sour Brit who sends out awful but beautiful black stallions made of sparkly dust to put fear in the hearts of children.
It's a visually stunning experience making full use of 3D; famous cinematographer Roger Deakins acted as a visual consultant as he did on animated films like WALL*E How to Train Your Dragon and Rango. Alexandre Desplat's score is evocative without being overbearing or manipulative. The writing is funny without being too self-referential and the only pop culture reference I caught was to Crocodile Dundee. Frankly it's hard to find fault with Rise of the Guardians. Maybe they could have included Hanukkah Harry?
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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S2E17: The after-school special variety of Glee is back with a vengeance. When they released footage of Sue Sylvester and her legion of doom earlier this week, I thought maybe we were on the right track to get back to the show we originally fell in love with, but alas we were not. The show also squandered another golden opportunity to use its unlikely good luck charm, Gwyneth Paltrow. As much as I hate Goop.com, I have to admit, the few episodes she’s been on had a little more punch and were just way more fun. Sadly, that reign has ended. Gwynny's was one of the worst parts of the entire episode.
But it’s not all her fault. I blame the episode itself. They eschewed any semblance of a reasonable plot and what we were left with was a Gleetastic variety show for no one and a PSA about cyber heckling celebrities and TV shows. Yeah, we hear you Ryan Murphy. You can’t take the fact that people are bashing your show. How about you produce better episodes and then maybe we’ll stop.
“Brittany was the only one we could get on short notice. We bribed her with dots.” –Artie
So, out of nowhere Artie, Mike, Tina and Brittany are part of the academic decathlon and they’re in more need of funding than the glee club. (The only thing I loved about this was that Artie clinched the title because they had a category called “White Rappers.” I guess all that painful rapping was worth it. Well, almost. What kind of academic decathlon tests your knowledge of Vanilla Ice and Eminem?) Naturally, because he’s still stuck in 1992, Mr. Schue thinks they can raise the funds for both the glee club and the academic team selling taffy. I’m sorry, but that alone is insane. Even out-of-touch elementary school teachers know that’s not going to work.
Anyway, they finally come to the conclusion that the taffy idea sucks and Holly convinces Schue to hold a benefit in its place. It’s called a “Night of Neglect” because the glee club and the academic team are so neglected. Boo hoo. This is the first time any of them have gotten a slushie in the face in a long while (and yeah, it was finally Santana), but this whole boo-hoo act just isn’t working for me. It’s probably because they’ve spent so much time allowing the show to be aware of how much of a pop culture behemoth it is, that when they want sympathy, no one cares.
“You’re hunky and I’m what they call predatory gay.” –Sandy
And the award for squandered opportunity goes to: Sue Sylvester’s Legion of Doom. Sue has lost most of her bite. She’s almost become annoying at this point, but with this legion I thought she just might be back. Just maybe. I was wrong. All the potential was completely squandered. Sue had this nebulous, sprawling plan that I guess is ongoing, but that involved the coach from Vocal Adrenaline seducing Holly Holliday. Mega fail. It also involved former glee coach, Sandy Ryerson, enlisting a few hecklers to make the gleeks cry at their benefit concert. Also mega fail. She's also got Terry Schuester in the mix, but we're still not sure why.
She does succeed in one accidental way. Sunshine Corazon makes an unexpected appearance. For some reason that makes no sense whatsoever, she wants to perform in New Directions’ show and she offers up her 600 twitter followers as bait. She sings “All By Myself” and yes, the girl has an amazing voice. But it makes no sense that she was in the episode and she’s pretty cardboard when it comes to dialogue. (Then again, part of that was because the dialogue was poorly written.) Sue spills the beans about the gleeks’ idiotic plan to add Sunshine to their show and the Vocal Adrenaline coach quickly removes her from the lineup. Boom, the benefit is rendered pointless because no one is buying tickets.
“You just got poked. Poked by the dagger.” –Sandy
So despite the fact that no one is coming, the glee club puts on the show anyway. Can I just point out that they are the most well-funded glee club with zero funds in their account ever? When my dance team put on a benefit in high school, we had to use a boom box and costumes from the 5 dollar store. That is what it’s like to be a school club in dire straights, not hiring a gospel choir to sing behind Mercedes. Anyway, they perform numbers by “neglected” artists, except that only one could maybe be called neglected, and that’s Lykke Li. It might have been a cool performance, but the hecklers yell over the whole thing and it’s just plain awful. We see Mike Chang dance to Jack Johnson, which was really fantastic, but once again completely ignored the premise.
In the meantime, Mercedes has decided she wants to get more attention and more solos and Lauren Zices turns her into an over-the-top demanding diva and she ends up refusing to perform in the show. While Rachel turns her bipolar switch back to sweet and convinces Mercedes to perform, Holly takes the stage and attempts Adele’s “Turning Tables.” Yes, one of the most critically acclaimed and most talked about artists is definitely neglected. Not. Also, as I thought, Gwyneth can’t cut it for this one. Adele’s a tall order for a Glee cover.
Finally, Mercedes gets up there and sings Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way” fantastically. (But sorry, Aretha Franklin is not neglected by any stretch of the imagination.) So fantastically, in fact that Sandy Ryerson stops heckling and decides to donate the entire amount the two clubs need from his medical marijuana sales. Was he selling it to these writers? This is the most haphazard plot we’ve seen on here in a while.
“I am both awesome and unavailable at the same time.” –Holly
Well, since Schue and Holly are dating we have to run a little update on that front. We all knew it wouldn’t last – probably because Matthew Morrison spilled the beans that it wouldn’t earlier this week – but this was Holly’s last episode. While the Vocal Adreneline coach’s seduction doesn’t work, she sees that Schue is still in love with Emma and takes a job in other town as a French teacher. Oh, by the way, Emma is suddenly single and very interested in Will. I know Will and Emma are supposed to end up together. They’re the Ross and Rachel of Glee, but come on. Could you tease us a little bit longer? That’s been a problem this whole season. They’ve got seasons and seasons of conflict that they’ve already brought up and solved in two episodes. They don’t give us time to worry and feel and pine before these romantic or otherwise emotional issues are solved.
In fact, I went back and watched the first season of Glee last week, and I think that’s one of the major reasons this season has descended into madness. They’re churning out plotlines like they’re pulling them out of a giant hat filled with slivers of paper scrawled with ideas. Chill out for a second, guys. The romantic plot between Kurt and Blaine could have been huge. This plot between Will and Emma should be huge. Even the romantic plot between Santana and Brittany could have been huge. They constantly squander these opportunities by wrapping them up before anyone can feel anything. Slow down, smell the roses, and take a little more care and maybe, just maybe we could have a little more of that Glee we used to love.