In all the years of traditional Christmas movies, 'Holiday Inn' sorta stood out to me as a renowned Christmas classic that I've managed to overlook completely until now. A large reason for picking this title for a Christmas review is, indeed, to finally say that I've seen it.
I'll tell you right away that this wasn't entirely up my alley, and a particular, shall we say, uncomfortable musical number makes it incredibly dated in a pretty bad way. But before I get into things bear in mind that I can still respect the fact that there's a lot more to this film that makes it a classic in the eyes of many. Not the least of which is the music.
Fun fact for any newcomers, this one earned a Best Original Song Oscar, if you can believe it, 'White Christmas'. Y'know, the best selling single of all time according to Guinness? The one Christmas song you're 100% guaranteed to hear some version of around the holidays? And yes, the most popular version of the song is performed by Bing Crosby, who earned that Oscar with his performance. It's pretty well solidified in the history books.
Crooner Jim Hardy (Crosby) is crazy for a lovely singer and talented dancer, Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds). However, a suave dancer, and... friend?... to Jim, named Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire), recently brushed off by a devious vixen, Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale), cuts in and takes Linda out from under Jim's nose. As it all unfolds things get kinda complicated, but all in all, we're talking about a love triangle story unfolding with the setting as Jim's Holiday Inn - a supper club open for 15 holidays of the year.
Christmas is certainly the main focus here, but New Years, Lincoln's Birthday (*cringe*), Valentine's Day, Easter, the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and several more are represented as the year unfolds. As one could imagine, the biggest star of this movie is the music. There's plenty of original songs here, written by the film's producer, Irving Berlin. Most of them have that nice, classic atmosphere you could only get with a classic film from the 40's, with plenty of great song and dance numbers, and plenty of heart despite a few dated uncomfortable moments here and there.
As I mentioned before, this isn't entirely up my alley, but I fully respect what it is, and the fact that it's a beloved and perhaps traditional film for many. I'm certainly not here to give it a bad review of any sort, I'm just very particular about my musicals. I generally want some off the wall comedy ('Cannibal the Musical'), or dream-like stuff ('La La Land') going on, and all the normalish, realistic stuff I find kinda "meh". That was sadly the case for me here, but it just goes to show that we're all very different in tastes. If you love this, I'm not gonna argue its quality or hold it against you in any way... but c'mon people, the Lincoln's Birthday scene would not fly these days.
Anna and the Apocalypse
I can instantly give this movie plenty of credit for being what it is - a Christmas, comedy, horror, musical with zombies. I mean, for someone like me, that's a must-see. The trailer spoke to me with the tagline "'Shaun of the Dead' meets 'La La Land'", as I love both of those movies, and it wasn't hard to add this one to the list, knowing I'd take away more than the average person because I love the strange and unusual with a sense of humor. To top it all off, it's British comedy, which I tend to eat up.
Anna Shepherd (Ella Hunt) lives in the town of Little Haven, Scotland. On her way to becoming a secondary school graduate, she plans to travel for a year. Her Dad, Tony (Mark Benton), isn't a fan of this idea at all. Perhaps because he's also the school's janitor, and just wants something more for his daughter. In so many movies like this you have two characters fight, part ways, and try to find each other by the end of the movie. That's basically the relationship here between them.
Anna's best friend, John (Malcolm Cumming), is secretly in love with her, with the competition of a cocky jock type named Nick (Ben Wiggins). We kinda hate Nick for being "that guy", but damned if he doesn't have the best song of the film, 'Soldier at War'. More on that in a bit. Other friends, Chris (Christopher Leveaux) is having trouble with a school assignment, and Steph (Sarah Swire) is trying to get past the black and white ideas of our villain of this movie, Principal Savage (Paul Kaye), with her school paper articles. All are kinda facing their own thing, but the main focus is definitely the friend-in-love story between Anna and John.
As the film unfolds with its very humanistic story lines, a zombie apocalypse unfolds in the background, and before we know it, these kids are faced with more than just a few mild personal challenges. The group sings and dances their way through this musical comedy horror shindig, and by the end, I can openly admit that I had a lot of fun with this one, as I predicted. It's pretty well in my wheelhouse, but that doesn't mean it's just something I'd recommend to anyone.
Certain flaws this movie have include a few glaring things, one of which is having the whole zombie thing feel placed completely to the side and added in just because zombies sell. Really, they could have used anything as the threat. It feels more like a later episode of 'Walking Dead' when they manage to accept the zombies as a way of life. The difference being, in 'Walking Dead', lots of time went by before reaching that point. The film is definitely more about teen angst and things like that, using the zombies as the "more intense challenge".
Now, about the music. I feel very strange about it, because there's really only one song that stood out in regards to the zombie apocalypse (being 'Soldier at War'). This pushes it even further into the background, and the songs made for the movie mostly have some kind of deeper, double meaning. I can appreciate that, and I do enjoy most of the songs, but perhaps not for the reasons I'm supposed to. If you introduced someone to this soundtrack, it would be hard to narrow it down to 'Anna and the Apocalypse' based on its lyrical content. So, I think the songs are mostly pretty great, but as something non-movie related. My personal favorites being 'Turning My Life Around' and 'Human Voice', but again, based on lyrics much more than their relationship to the film.
While I say I had a lot of fun with this one, that's just me talking. Keep in mind that most of my favorite movies are pretty out there and imaginative, but don't necessarily speak to the masses. I couldn't see this becoming some kind of Christmas classic to watch annually (by the way, yes, there are some Christmas songs too. It's still a Christmas movie with a zombie apocalypse). But it is almost definitely something I'll be revisiting. I've seen better in the form of horror musicals ('Evil Dead' being the very best, even if it is stage), but it's still so out there that it can be a lot of fun if you allow it to be.