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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 “X-Men: Apocalypse”

En Sabah Nur (Oscar Issac) has been alive for many lifetimes and is the leader of Egypt 5000 year ago. Born the first mutant and able to transfer his consciousness from one body to another, En Sabah Nur is being transferred into the body of a mutant with healing abilities which would likely make him nearly immortal when some of his guards turn against him and seal him within a pyramid buried deep underground. With the public finding out about mutants in the 1970’s, a cult has developed around the myth of En Sabah Nur. CIA operative Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) is investigating one of these cults in Cairo when she witnesses the awakening of En Sabah Nur but doesn’t realize what she sees. En Sabah Nur, seeing how the world has changed by absorbing information from a satellite TV connection, puts into motion a plan to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth and rule a world of only mutants. He recruits four followers giving their mutant abilities a boost. First is Storm (Alexandra Shipp) who is able to control the weather, next is Psylocke (Olivia Munn) who can project psychic energy in the form of a purple sword or whip, third is Angel (Warren Worthington III) who flies with wings of metal growing from his back and the last is Magneto (Michael Fassbender) with the ability to control metal and magnetic fields. En Sabah Nur detects the mind of Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) while he is using Cerebro to look for Magneto. Overwhelming Xavier, En Sabah Nur abducts him with a plan to use his psychic abilities to contact all living minds. Xavier’s students and fellow instructors Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), along with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) join forces to stop En Sabah Nur and his Four Horsemen from bringing about an apocalypse.

Perhaps it’s superhero burnout. Perhaps it’s the release of this film close to the vastly superior “Captain America: Civil War.” Maybe it’s just the quality of this film. Whatever the reason, “X-Men: Apocalypse” is a flat, uninvolving and somewhat repetitive mix of visually exciting CGI action and mind-numbing complications leading to a predictable ending and a post-credits scene that will only excite someone steeped in X-Men comics lore. I don’t hate “X-Men: Apocalypse” but I believe it could have been better.

My main issue with the film is it never involves the audience emotionally. Even when given a chance to with the death of a young mutant, it is tossed off like something meaningless. It never feels like there are real consequences to what happens in “X-Men: Apocalypse” as the ending is telegraphed by an early scene, showing us who will be responsible for the “good” mutants beating the “bad” mutants.

If you feel like that’s a spoiler you haven’t been paying much attention to the “X-Men” movies over the years. Director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg don’t stray too far from the formula that has been the staple of X-Men and other superhero movies. While the film does drop a few hints about what may come up in future installments (including that post-credits scene), it doesn’t really stretch the lore of these characters the way “X-Men: Days of Future Past” did. That film committed what many fans thought of as an unforgivable sin and completely reset the timeline of the movie universe. This film stays locked within the lines and acts like there are hot lava alligators lurking past the comfortable and expected edges. They are characters based on comic books. They can be and do ANYTHING! They aren’t constrained by time, physics, death or any other rule we normal humans can’t violate. They brought Professor Xavier back after we watched him die in the third X-Men movie and gave us absolutely NO explanation and we all collectively went “ok.” Play with these characters and stretch them in directions that aren’t straight from the moviemaking rule book. After all, (SPOILER ALERT) Marvel comics just made Captain America a HYDRA agent. If they can do that, you guys can give audiences some surprises when it comes to these films.

“X-Men Apocalypse” is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, action and destruction, sequences of violence and some suggestive images. Buildings are ripped from the ground and cars flung in the air but no loss of life is seen. One cameo appearance by an X-Men favorite leads to lots of dead bodies and some puddles of blood. Mystique is nearly choked to death. A woman and child are killed with a bow and arrow. There are other examples of mutant on mutant mayhem. I’m not exactly sure what the suggestive images are referring to as I don’t recall anything other than a couple of female costumes that might be considered such. Foul language is infrequent but there is one “F-Bomb.”

The story of “X-Men: Apocalypse” is rather convoluted but the idea behind the story is simple: Mutants are still feared and often abused or put on display by humans so En Sabah Nur uses mutants’ anger and fear to make them his soldiers. It seems fairly straightforward but for some reason Bryan Singer and the makers of the movie feel the need to throw in a great many complications, locations and action scenes to muddy the waters. “X-Men: Apocalypse” is an overwrought mess that needed to be reined in before it hit theatres.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” gets two stars out of five.

Love, music and more mutation hit screens this week. I’ll see and review at least one of these movies.

Me Before You—

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping—

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows—

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

Review of “Mortdecai”

Lord Charles Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) is an art dealer who doesn’t mind bending the rules and dealing with the underbelly of the fine art trade. Married to the lovely Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), Mortdecai is eight-million British pounds in debt with back taxes and must find a big payday within a few days. Meanwhile, a painting by Goya is being cleaned by a restorer when she is killed by an international terrorist named Emil Strago (Jonny Pasvolsky) who steals the painting. As he escapes, he is struck by a baseball bat and knocked unconscious. The painting is then stolen from Strago. Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor) of MI-5 approaches Mortdecai about helping find the painting. He is reluctant but agrees in exchange for a fee. Aiding Mortdecai in his investigation is his manservant Jock (Paul Bettany) who also serves as his bodyguard. Several leads are followed that put Mortdecai and Jock in peril as Strago is still looking for the painting as well as a Russian mobster named Romanov (Ulrich Thomsen). As they are running around the world, Johanna is using Martland’s affection for her to get information and conducting her own investigation. She talks with an elderly former British army officer who tells her the painting in question has a secret Swiss bank account number on the back. The account belongs to a high ranking Nazi official and could contain hundreds of millions of dollars. Mortdecai figures out the painting is actually a lost Goya that has been the stuff of art world legend for years. It is hidden under what can be seen on the surface and is only visible using UV light. Adding to the stress of the situation, Mortdecai has grown a mustache that Johanna hates. Every time she kisses him it makes her gag and he gags in sympathetic response. Between the debt, the gallivanting around the world, the threat of violence from several quarters and the mustache, the marriage of the Mortdecai’s is approaching collapse.

Just before I saw “Mortdecai” I checked its score on Rotten Tomatoes. At that time it had a 12% rotten rating. There are very few positive reviews of the film and those that are mildly positive have several reservations about the movie. Naturally, I entered the theatre prepared to have an awful time and then write a scathing review. As I exited, I wondered what all the vitriol was about. While it isn’t a spectacular success it isn’t the monumental pile of crap you might expect with such a low score. The real question is: What’s up with Johnny Depp’s career choices lately?

“Mortdecai” is a mess story wise. It jumps from location to location and introduces characters that then disappear for big chunks of time only to show up again for a few seconds then once again disappear. The movie is stuffed with characters and it makes it nearly impossible to keep up with who is who. Some streamlining of the story would have helped a great deal, allowing the plot some time to breathe and give us more time with the main players. As it is now, watching “Mortdecai” is akin to trying to read a book while jumping on a pogo stick. I think the script writers wanted to complicate the story to give it more of a feeling of a farce. Sadly, they lack the skills to juggle that many storylines simultaneously and the narrative suffers for it. While I have no evidence to support it, this movie has the feel of one that was being rewritten on the fly.

I can’t fault the cast for this as they are doing the best they can with what they are given. Depp once again buries himself into a character with a distinctive feature—his mustache. Depp excels in finding a hook into a character and coming to life once that makeup is applied. Mortdecai’s nervous tics, his grunts and groans of frustration, his air of superiority all probably started with the mustache. If the movie has a surprise performance, it is from Paul Bettany. Bettany often shines with comedic gold at various times in the film. His much put upon manservant is tolerant of all his master’s foibles, weaknesses, cowardice and poor skills with weapons that frequently get Jock injured in some way. Bettany drops in one liners and snide comments from time to time offering a glimpse into their relationship. Gwyneth Paltrow shows she can be funny in “Mortdecai.” The running gag about gagging is handled with skill by both her and Depp. Her conversations with Mortdecai, showing she is in charge in the relationship, often have a decent laugh embedded in the dialog. Paltrow’s performance is more about style than substance with her aristocratic air and decent British accent adding a layer of elegance that plays well against Depp’s mustachioed man-child.

The rest of the cast doesn’t come off nearly as well with Jeff Goldblum, Olivia Munn and Ewan McGregor all wasted in minor roles that are under written and under-utilized. McGregor gets the most screen time of the secondary players. His character is there mostly to move the plot along at certain times. Inspector Martland is also something of a metaphorical punching bag for Mortdecai as Martland was in love with Johanna in college and he thinks there may still be a chance of a relationship. Mortdecai likes rubbing his marriage to Johanna in his face while Johanna doesn’t mind using his puppy love as a way to get information. McGregor deserves a better character than this.

“Mortdecai” is rated R for sexual material and some language. The sexual material is mostly of the comic variety with no nudity. Foul language is scattered.

While “Mortdecai” has a decent number of laughs it doesn’t have enough given the goofiness of the story. The movie wants to be a farce in the style of the Pink Panther films (the ones with Peter Sellars, not Steve Martin) and the 1972 film “What’s Up, Doc?” with Barbara Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. It falls well short of the mark and would need a major retooling to approach those classics. Sadly, the movie is both a critical and financial flop, the third of Depp’s recent films to tank (following “The Lone Ranger” and “Transcendence”). The question of if this string of failures will hurt Depp’s career has been asked recently. Depp probably isn’t taking jobs because he needs the money but because he likes the project. He’s recently finished shooting a new film with Kevin Smith called “Yoga Hosers” and appeared in Smith’s last movie “Tusk.” Depp was the best thing about “Tusk” and will likely be the best thing about “Yoga Hosers.” Knowing Smith’s movies cost less to make than Depp’s usual salary tells me he takes on jobs that appeal to him. So, do three major flops in a row mean Depp’s career as a leading man is in trouble? I don’t think so. If he works on what he likes it won’t matter if they make a ton of money or not, and “Mortdecai” will not make anywhere near its $60-million budget. If you just love Johnny Depp and can’t imagine not seeing his film in the theatre then by all means go see it. If you think you can wait, watch it on Netflix or on DVD.

“Mortdecai” gets three stars out of five and that’s probably a bit generous.

Maybe the next movie I see will be better. I’ve got four to choose from.

Black or White—

Cake—

The Loft—

Project Almanac—

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