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Review of “Office Christmas Party”

I don’t know about you but where I work used to throw a very nice Christmas party. We would dress up, go to an off-site location, like a restaurant that closed for us or a ballroom, have a great spread of food, open bar, karaoke and prizes for employee of the year and gift cards for the staff would be passed out. It was quite a shindig that would be talked about for days after. Now things are a bit more laid back. We gather in a conference room at work, have a potluck lunch and play a few games for gift cards. There’s no bar, no catering and, much to my chagrin, no karaoke. I’m not complaining as we probably get far more of a holiday treat than most. Still, I miss the parties that sometimes got a little wild and how we would talk about “that” co-worker that passed out in his chair or puked on the dancefloor from too much holiday cheer. No matter how excessive our get-togethers became, they look like a Boy Scout Jamboree compared to the events in “Office Christmas Party.” While I think I would feel wholly out of place and very uncomfortable at such a massive drink-and-drug-fueled bacchanalia I did enjoy watching it in movie form.

The Chicago office of tech/server company Zenotech is managed by Clay (TJ Miller), son of the late company founder. His sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston) is the interim CEO which may be made permanent at the next board meeting. Clay and Carol have a strained relationship as he was coddled and protected by his father, allowing him to skate through school and life, while she worked hard and made herself into a smart and shrewd business executive. Chief Technical Officer for the Chicago office is Josh (Jason Bateman) who has just finalized his divorce. His immediate underling Tracey (Olivia Munn) thinks Josh plays it too safe and she has been working on a new method for wireless internet access that could revolutionize connectivity. Josh thinks the plan is far from ready. Carol storms into the office and calls a department head meeting where she announces layoffs of 40% of the staff, no bonuses and cancels the Christmas party. Clay and Josh tell her they are about to pitch a big server contract to Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) who handles tech purchases for a giant company. If they can land the contract Carol, who is leaving that night for London, agrees there won’t be any layoffs and bonuses will be paid. Clay, Josh and Tracey meet with Davis but he fears Zenotech is more concerned about the bottom line than its employees, citing the recent closing of another branch. Clay ensures Davis Zenotech is more like a family than a company and invites him to the office Christmas party despite it being cancelled by Carol. He agrees to come giving Clay, Josh and Tracey only five hours to throw together a massive blowout from scratch.

“Office Christmas Party” is a pretty typical R-rated raunchy comedy. There is some nudity, some drug use, some hidden attraction between a couple of characters that slowly is exposed, a quirky member of the staff that goes from being hated to being loved, family rifts are mended, etc. Looking at what makes up the story, the film is a convoluted and overstuffed mess. Judging it by how much I laughed, it’s a holiday miracle.

“Office Christmas Party” is filled with lots of funny people: TJ Miller, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Munn, Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Karan Soni, Matt Walsh and more. Some of these folks, namely Miller, were allowed to improvise on set extensively. A surprisingly high percentage of what stayed in the film works. It’s one of those rare comedies where the actors were allowed to just play and see what happens and it actually came out funny. There are a lot of laughs in “Office Christmas Party.” Many of them are cheap visual gags and tasteless sexual humor but funny is funny so who cares.

A surprising comedic performance is turned by Courtney B. Vance. Better known for his dramatic roles in a couple of the “Law & Order” series and most recently in “The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story,” for which he won an Emmy outstanding lead actor in a drama limited series, Vance starts out serious and straight-laced; but an encounter with a face full of cocaine accidently put through a snow blower releases the party animal within the character. It is a wildly different role for Vance and he performs it with abandon and glee. You actually feel his character is relieved to let loose and have fun for once. Granted, it ends somewhat badly for that character but still, Vance’s performance is so energetic it almost makes his injuries worth it.

Kate McKinnon also turns in another brilliant supporting performance as Mary, the head of human resources. Constantly reminding people about the risks they run for enjoying themselves too much at the party (including telling them they need to have any party sex off the work property and in the parking lot next door), McKinnon plays Mary like a volcano about to erupt. She wants to do the things she warns others not to but lacks the confidence and fears what her co-workers would think of her. She shouldn’t worry since none of them like her for her constant reminders about following proper office protocols and the dress code. McKinnon might be getting pigeonholed as the eccentric supporting player but she tears into this one with enormous gusto and fearlessness. I’m sure we’ll discover she is a brilliant dramatic actress one day but I do enjoy her performance here as the odd duck that finally finds her place.

The story of “Office Christmas Party” is overly complicated and takes a few odd turns while still being rather predictable. I won’t get too specific about the details but it seems to not be sure exactly how to get to the inevitable happy ending so it keeps throwing in complications for the main characters while juxtaposing it with the increasing insanity of the party. The ever increasing alcohol abuse, drug use and office casual sex reaches such an overload it isn’t realistically sustainable. I know it’s a movie and there wasn’t any actual substance abuse and rampant unsafe sex but there comes a point where its onscreen depiction exceeds the audiences’ ability to accept or believe it. The same can be said for the complications piled on complications that show up for our heroes. The speed with which they are solved also makes the weak and overloaded story that much more threadbare.

“Office Christmas Party” is rated R for drug use, crude sexual content, graphic nudity and language throughout. Pot and cocaine are shown being freely used in the latter half of the movie. Alcohol overindulgence is also a major part of the story. There are several brief views of topless women, a very brief view of male genitalia and an equally brief view of a couple having sex on a desk as well as many bare backsides of both sexes. Foul language is common throughout.

It may not become a family holiday tradition to watch the DVD of “Office Christmas Party,” but it is a fun way to kill a couple of hours if you want to take a break from holiday shopping in your local multiplex. The laughs are as free flowing as the alcohol at the party of the title. It isn’t for the easily offended and those that can’t take a joke at the expense of the holiday. If you have your big boy Santa hat on, this might be just the relief from the holiday hassle you are looking for.

“Office Christmas Party” gets five stars.

This week we get a visit from death, love and time plus we return to a galaxy far, far away. I’ll see and review at least one of the following and who am I kidding as we all know what I’m going to see:

Collateral Beauty—

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

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Review of “Ghostbusters”

Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig) is about to become a tenured professor at Columbia University when she is approached by Ed Mulgrave (Ed Begley, Jr.) the owner of a historic home in New York City. Gilbert co-authored a book on the paranormal with Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) Musgrave found on Amazon. He says the home he owns is haunted and wants Gilbert’s help to remove the spirits. Gilbert is shocked to be confronted by the book she disowned years ago and tracks down Yates at the small technical school where she works. Gilbert confronts her former friend and colleague about the book when she becomes aware of another person in the lab, engineer Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). Gilbert tells the two how she was approached by Musgrave with the book and they want to be taken to the home so they can investigate. In exchange, Yates says she’ll consider taking down the book. At the house, the three women encounter a ghost that spews slime all over Gilbert, renewing her belief and interest in the paranormal, while also getting her fired from Columbia. She decides to join Yates and Holtzmann in their hunt for proof of ghosts that can be brought into the laboratory and studied scientifically. Meanwhile, mass transit authority worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) has an encounter with a strange man named Rowan North (Neil Casey) who talks about the coming cataclysm. She writes him off as another kook but sees him on the security monitor jumping off the platform and walking down the track. She follows but sees a strange device that sparks then explodes. Immediately afterwards, she encounters a ghost. Tolan is able to find Gilbert and the others in their new headquarters located above a Chinese restaurant. She tells them what she saw and they go and investigate bringing along some equipment Holtzmann has created. They run into the same ghost that tries to attack them while they are almost run over by a train. Tolan, who has vast knowledge of New York City history, joins the team and along with Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), their frightfully dumb but handsome receptionist, and they become the Ghostbusters.

Not since the announcement of Ben Affleck as Batman has the publication of a cast been greeted with so much anger and hostility as when the rebooted female “Ghostbusters” became public. The cries of destroyed childhoods and worst idea ever were deafening. Director Paul Feig and his four new Ghostbusters were targeted for the kind of social media scorn usually reserved for people caught abusing puppies and kittens on video. The first trailer was one of the most disliked videos ever on YouTube. Without seeing one second of the movie, many commenters declared it the worst film in history. Now that it has come out I’m pleased to announce your childhood is safe because the movie isn’t a time machine that can go back to kill your parents and is actually a great deal of fun.

The ensemble cast is a collection of proven comedy pros mostly current or former cast members of Saturday Night Live. Wiig, McKinnon and Jones along with McCarthy prove more than capable of delivering the laughs with a script by director Paul Feig and writer Katie Dippold that gives them plenty to work with. McKinnon proves to be the biggest scene stealer with lines delivered in a way that invokes a sense of threat and menace while also being funny. She aggressively attacks her character and a great deal of the technobabble she is responsible for fearlessly. It is the kind of performance that would make her a breakout star if she wasn’t already popular from her run on SNL.

Chris Hemsworth’s Kevin is a deadpan delight as he plays a character that is almost too dumb to live. Hemsworth is a hidden comedic gem that is now exposed to the light of day with a performance that creates laughs with the simplest of actions. He steals the movie almost as often as McKinnon.

The movie moves at a lightning pace and spends very little time in any one location. This actually proves to be a bit of a detriment as the story isn’t terribly well developed. We are introduced to the main villain of the film and watch as he puts his plan in motion but we are left to guess what exactly led to his turn into a bad guy. He is treated poorly by those around him and I suppose that is meant to give us an idea of what his whole life has been like but it isn’t terribly clear. The rest of the characters also aren’t very well defined or unique other than Leslie Jones’ Patty. She is the “average person” in contrast to the educated eggheads. While each has their quirks, none of the Ghostbusters really is a well-established person. That is something that may need to be addressed in promised future installments in the series (stay to the very end of the credits for a clue as to what the next film might be about).

Visually, “Ghostbusters” is a dazzling film that more than makes up for shortcomings in the story. The ghosts are vibrant and probably better delineated than the main characters. The tools and weapons the
Ghostbusters use prove to be as dangerous to the users as to the ghosts. They also provide a great deal of visual flash and avenues for humor.

“Ghostbusters” is rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor. The Ghostbusters are attacked on numerous occasions by ghosts of various types. None of it is gory. We see a character thrown out a window. A possessed Ghostbuster tries to kill two others. A character electrocutes himself. The test of their weapons creates some peril. The crude humor is a fart joke. Foul language is nearly nonexistent.

Most of the surviving cast of the original 1984 film shows up in cameos. Even Harold Ramis who died in 2014 gets some screen time. This reboot realizes it has big shoes to fill and pays respect to its elders. This isn’t an attempt to turn your fondest memories into some kind of Title 9, equal opportunity statement. “Ghostbusters” is an effort to breathe new life into a franchise that hasn’t as much as twitched since “Ghostbusters II” in 1989. Aside from several aborted movie ideas and a video game with the original cast providing the voices this film series has been dead as a door nail. Getting in a huff because a very talented group of actors were selected and they all happen to be female is misogyny pure and simple. If you put your Twitter feed on blast and announced your hate for a movie without seeing a single frame you are an awful person that needs to take a hard look at yourself and start making some changes. Also you need to see this movie and realize what a moron you were.

“Ghostbusters” gets five stars.

This week, an animated sequel, some dark horror and the final frontier are all waiting for your attention. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Ice Age: Collision Course—

Lights Out—

Star Trek Beyond—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.