Guest Review: Office Christmas Party (2016)

guestpost

officechristmasparty

I haven’t been a huge fan of recent comedy films. There are a few I’ve enjoyed, but mostly they blur together in a mess of pop culture references, gross-out humor, and lazy sexual innuendo. This is exactly what I expected of Office Christmas Party, and that’s exactly what the movie delivered. However, there were a couple performances that made the film at least mildly entertaining.

Office Christmas Party follows a group of employees at a data storage company-specifically Josh (Jason Bateman), Tracey (Olivia Munn), and Clay (T.J. Miller), whose father started the company- in their effort to woo a potential client (Courtney B. Vance) to prevent their branch from being shut down. Their method: throw the most amazing office Christmas party, despite the strict instructions not to do so given by the company’s CEO- Clay’s sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston). As anyone who has seen the trailers would expect, the extravagant affair quickly devolves into a near-bacchanalian revel.

officechristmasparty_still1

One of my biggest issues with this movie was one that I’ve had with several comedies that have come out over the past few years: it dates itself. It makes pop culture references that might be funny when the movie comes out (and even that is debatable), but will be irrelevant within a year. At the beginning, a character shows Josh his family Christmas card, where he, his wife, and kids are dressed up as One Direction (aren’t they technically broken up now? Was the scene filmed before that happened?). During a meeting, a disgruntled employee complains about the internet’s obsession with Grumpy Cat (which I’m pretty sure stopped being a relevant meme at least two years ago). During a prayer, Clay asks God to let Prince and David Bowie know how important they were to everyone, referencing specific celebrity deaths that happened THIS YEAR. It’s a nice sentiment, and the shout-out earned a few chuckles from the audience, but even a year from now, this reference will have no context. Having so many jokes that rely so heavily on current pop culture means the humor will fall flat after a very short amount of time.

officechristmasparty_still2

My second biggest issue with this movie was Jason Bateman’s character. Not Jason himself-he’s a talented actor who performed well with what he was given-but his bland, middle-aged white guy with the same non-personality as countless other recent comedy; the straight man to the cast of wacky characters. Despite technically being the main character, he could have easily been removed from the film and we wouldn’t lose anything. This movie could have been a lot better if it focused more on Clay trying to run the branch and prove to his sister that he’s capable of being more than just a goofball. T.J. Miller seems capable of handling a bigger role; he was easily the highlight of the movie, and as hilarious as he is, he has a couple genuinely touching moments that show he’s able to do some serious acting. Kate McKinnon was another highlight as Mary, the socially awkward stick-in-the-mud H.R. representative; true, it feels like a character from an SNL skit, but her performance was still fantastic.

officechristmasparty_kate

I wouldn’t recommend seeing this in theaters, just because it is so forgettable. If you’re a fan of the cast, it might be worth checking it out on Netflix or whatever other streaming service it ends up on, but there’s no reason to catch it on the big screen.

laura_review


Have you seen ‘Office Christmas Party’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Zootopia (2016)

ZootopiaBnr

Ever since Pixar’s been making movies, I always thought that their stories are superior compared to Disney in that they appeal to adults as well as children. Well, Disney’s clearly been improving year after year. Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, Frozen, they all have pretty mature, thought-provoking themes with teachable moments for people of all ages. This time with Zootopia, its themes of overcoming prejudices feels as timely as ever, whilst still being an enjoyable ride from start to finish.

It starts out typical enough for a Disney movie. A smart and ambitious rabbit named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) dreams of becoming a police officer despite the fact that no bunnies ever did. Even her own parents didn’t initially believe she’s got what it takes and encourage her to follow her family tradition and be a carrot farmer in rural Bunnyburrow. Thankfully, Judy’s resolute enough to defy them and against all odds she does become a police officer. She’s an instantly likable character and right away I was invested in her journey.

Zootopia_judyhopps Zootopia_chiefbogo

The story pretty much begins on the first day Judy’s as an officer in Zootopia, a city filled with anthropomorphic animals. Though she’s relegated to parking duty by Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), somehow she ends up solving a crime. That leads to yet another mission to rescue a missing the husband of a female otter who’s been pleading with the police force to help her. Judy’s not only defied the odds that a rabbit can be a competent officer, but she’s proven to be a valuable asset to the force with her resourcefulness.

I love that Zootopia is NOT an animated musical that occasionally burst into songs. It even takes a little zing at Disney itself when Chief Bogo said to Judy ‘Life isn’t some cartoon musical where you sing a little song and all your insipid dreams magically come true. So let it go.’ Ha! The plot is more of an action mystery thriller that is as clever and quick-witted as the movie’s protagonist. The team of writers (at least seven of them credited on IMDb!) keep playing with my expectations throughout, cleverly weaving the themes of widely-held stereotypes and discrimination without taking away the fun of an animated adventure. Just when I thought the story is going one way, it turns out to be another. I love being surprised when watching movies, and this movie does that time and again, and I was left in awe every time.

Zootopia_judy_nickZootopia_sloth

The strength of Zootopia also lies in the chemistry of the two leads, Judy and the sly fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). Disney’s no stranger to putting together unlikely pairings and this latest one is as delightful as ever. They end up finding similarities in regards to defying stereotypes of their kind, and the developing bond between them is fun to watch. Some of the funny scenes in the trailer, i.e. the one with the Sloth, is still hilarious in the movie, but I think there are even more memorable scenes than that one.

There are interesting characters we meet throughout their journey, I especially love the scene with Mr. Big (Maurice LaMarche) and his introduction is a hoot! Elba’s voice is always a highlight in any movie and he’s memorable here too as Chief Bogo. Jenny Slate‘s Bellwether and Alan Tudyk‘s Duke Weaselton round up the excellent voice cast. Despite not having a big musical number, it does have a fun song Try Everything featuring Shakira, who also has a cameo as popstar Gazelle.

Zootopia_lilrodentia

Just what I expect from Disney with its $150mil budget, the cinematography is absolutely spectacular. The five boroughs of Zootopia are beautifully rendered, and each has a fitting name that describes its own unique characteristics: Savanna Central, Sahara Square, Tundratown, Little Rodentia and Rainforest District. The chase through all the different boroughs are a ton of fun that made me wish I had seen it on the big screen!

Kudos to the trio of directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush for creating such a fun, enjoyable ride of a movie that’s also smart AND has a big heart. This is another winner from Disney that I don’t mind watching again and again.

4halfReels


Have you seen ‘Zootopia’? Well, what did you think?
… 

Double Indie Film Reviews: Disconnect + Unfinished Song

This past week, I had the chance to watch a couple of indie films through MSPIFF and press screening. It would’ve been three films but the blizzard last Thursday kept me from going to the MUD screening. Yes it’s such a bummer but really, in the grand scheme of things, especially compared to what’s going on in other parts of the world, it’s really not that big a deal to miss a single movie, I’ll just catch it when it’s released in the cinema. In any case, here are my mini reviews I was fortunate to see:

Disconnect

DisconnectPosterA hard-working lawyer, attached to his cell phone, can’t find the time to communicate with his family. A couple is drawn into a dangerous situation when their secrets are exposed online. A widowed ex-cop struggles to raise a mischievous son who cyber-bullies a classmate. An ambitious journalist sees a career-making story in a teen that performs on an adult-only site. They are strangers, neighbors and colleagues and their stories collide in this riveting dramatic thriller about ordinary people struggling to connect in today’s wired world.

Right from the trailer, it’s easy to just regard this as a cautionary tale for the internet age, but as the story unfolds, it’s really about more than that. And at some point, we’ve either read about or even have a personal connection with the real life tragedies that happen to the characters in the film. Something that’s seemingly trivial like being constantly on one’s cell phone, something I definitely could relate to, can have dire consequences if it actually mean we’ve become ‘disconnected’ from the world and people around us. All three loosely-interconnected stories seem like something ripped from the headlines and director Henry Alex Rubin doesn’t pull any punches in showing the truly ugly side of humanity, the kind of hurt and tragedy that can happen when we think of everything as simply fun and frivolity. The most heart-breaking story involves the cyber-bullying by a couple of mindless teenagers posing as a female admirer on Facebook to trick a particularly forlorn fellow classmate. The eerie part is I was just reading about a teen driven to suicide for similar reasons just a day before I saw this film. You know that the ‘fun and games’ would not end well, but it still makes your skin crawl watching the situation culminating into that harrowing moment. A friend of mine warned me that this film contain a lot of nudity, which I sort of expected given the subject matter. I still question whether it’s necessary to portray teen nudity even if it’s integral to the story, but fortunately this film doesn’t dwell on it and the script did its part in conveying the painful message across. At times I feel that the buildup is a bit too drawn-out though, I think a more careful editing might’ve made this a more taut and efficient thriller.

Disconnect_Andrea_Jason

A couple of performances jump out at me right away, one is Andrea Riseborough who pulls a ‘Jessica Chastain’ on me as I had no idea who she was a few weeks ago and this week I happen to see two of her films playing two very different roles! Here she plays an ambitious reporter who runs a career-making story on teenage sex-cam prostitution who ended up being drawn to one of the male prostitute, Kyle (Max Thieriot, whom I have never heard before either but was quite good here). Oh it’s interesting to see designer Marc Jacobs playing the sex-cam pimp, I had no idea he’s got acting aspirations but I recognize him right away from the fashion magazines. The other standout performance is Jason Bateman in a rare serious role as the overworked father who’s trying to put the pieces together after almost losing his son. He’s believable as a dad who’s ravaged with guilt, but then became too obsessed with the case he risk of losing his whole family.

I also want to mention Frank Grillo who impressed me in Warrior as Joel Edgerton’s trainer. I find him to be a compelling but underrated actor, I wish he’d get more prominent role as he’s got quite a leading man charisma. Not overly impressed with Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgård as the married couple, I mean they’re ok but aren’t as memorable as the rest. This is quite a tough film to watch, in fact I feel drained at the end of the film as there’s barely any humor injected here to break up the intensity. But it’s one of those films that is definitely worth a watch as it makes you think about the seemingly-trivial things one does in life. As the tagline says: Real life is on the line, it certainly makes me appreciate those close to me and remind me not to take the time we have with them for granted.


4 out of 5 reels


Unfinished Song [Song for Marion]

Grumpy pensioner Arthur honors his recently deceased wife’s passion for performing by joining the unconventional local choir to which she used to belong, a process that helps him build bridges with his estranged son, James. SongForMarionPoster

I don’t know why they changed the title to Unfinished Song as it’s not as appealing as Song for Marion to me. The film is really about a ‘song’ for Marion, a terminally-ill woman who’s loved by the community choir class she attends to regularly. Now, her curmudgeon husband Arthur obliges in taking her to these classes but he never pretends to enjoy it. In fact, at some moment of the film, Arthur really struggles in simply enjoying life, such a contrast to his wife’s sunny disposition even in her darkest moments when her cancer came back and she only had weeks to live. The main draw of this film for me is the cast, especially Terrence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave as an elderly couple Arthur and Marion who love each other despite their major differences. It’s also nice to see an uplifting film amidst the mostly dark premise of the films I’ve signed up for at MSPIFF. There’s also something enchanting about seeing the lives of seniors, and the musical aspect reminds me a bit of Quartet with Maggie Smith as a retired opera singer. Though Marion is in the title, the film is really more about Arthur and how the last days of his wife’s life ends up being a life-transforming moment, in more ways than one. It’s never fully explained why Arthur is so grumpy, but Terrence Stamp seems fittingly-cast here as he has this inherently icy aura. He’s the kind of actor who’s amusing to watch even if you aren’t fond of the character he’s playing. I guess that’s what one would expect from an actor who’s famous for playing bad guys. Gemma Arterton takes a break from being a femme-fatale type and plays a sweet music teacher Elizabeth spends most of the time either with the young students at her school or with her more um, mature students in her spare time. Other than that, there’s no depth in her character however, the film never tells us why she has no friends her own age. There’s a friendship that develops between her and Arthur, but it seems rather forced at times despite the actors’ best effort. UnfinishedSong_Pics Now, I wish I could say I LOVE this film but I feel that the predictable premise is made worse by the overly emotionally-manipulative direction which prevents it from being truly engaging. I think the main issue is the script as director/writer Paul Andrew Williams obviously has a stellar cast at their disposal. The family dynamics between Arthur and his estranged son (Christopher Eccleston) isn’t as compellingly-handled as it could’ve been, either. That said, there are some tender and warm moments that end in a feel-good finale. The musical aspect is definitely amusing, and Mr. Stamp wowed me with his vocal chops in more than one occasions. I think this one is worth a rental if you’re a fan of the cast and you’re willing to tolerate the sentimental stuff. It’s moving enough to appreciate and enjoy, one thing for sure its heart is in the right place.


3 out of 5 reels

Thoughts on either one of these films/cast? I’d love to hear it in the comments!

Upcoming Project Spotlight: ‘Paul’

The Cast of Paul – clockwise from top left: Pegg/Frost, Weaver, Bateman, Rogen, Hader, Wiig & Lynch

Originally this was one of my most anticipated flicks of 2010, but it turns out this road trip comedy is delayed to 2011. Via Twitter, the prolific Twitterer Simon Pegg wrote this last February: Due to an extensive post production schedule you won’t be seeing our little desert caper any time soon. Rest assured it will be worth it.

Well, it does sound like it’ll be worth the wait. I’m a big fan of Simon Pegg/Nick Frost duo, and the storyline sounds like a hoot: Two British comic-book geeks traveling across the U.S. (to attend the San Diego Comic Con, no less) encounter an alien outside Area 51. As if the Pegg/Frost combo isn’t enough, looks like some of the top Hollywood comedians have joined the cast: Seth Rogen (as the voice of the alien), Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader and Jane Lynch. Oh, there’s also Sigourney Weaver! She might be known for kick-ass or dramatic roles, but she’s proven her comedic chops in the underrated sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest, as well as the TV pilot satire The TV Set. What a cast! I’m really excited to see Weaver and Bateman here, and Wiig and Hader are definitely the funniest SNL regulars of the current season.

First Look from the movie, photos courtesy of Collider.com

This project will mark the first time the two real-life buddies are working on the screenplay together, though Pegg is no stranger to screenwriting. Per IMDb, he also penned the script for Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Run, Fatboy, Run (I’d recommend all three of these fun comedies if you haven’t seen them).

Instead of Edgar Wright, who’s a frequent collaborator with Pegg/Frost, we’ve got Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland) at the helm. He’s also directed a few episodes of Arrested Development, which is probably how Jason Bateman comes in.

Check out this clip of Pegg and Frost introducing the story, cast and crew:

Nice tees, guys! It’s always fun to see them together again, I’m definitely looking forward to this next year. What about you, folks?

Conspicuous Trailer of the Week: The Switch

I first heard about this flick when I blogged about Jason Bateman last September when it was still called The Baster. Yeah, no doubt they went with a ‘safer’ title though it sounds so generic now (there are eight other movies with that exact title on IMDb!).
….
The plot: An unmarried 40-year-old woman (Kassie) turns to a turkey baster in order to become pregnant. Seven years later, she reunites with her best friend (Wally), who has been living with a secret: he replaced her preferred sperm sample with his own.
….
Hmmm, is it just me or this could very well be Jen’s own life story? It’s a terrible thing to say I know, but then again she looks like she’s playing herself here (what else is new). What is it about Jen that she keeps snatching my fave leading men: Clive Owen (
Derailed), Gerry Butler (The Bounty Hunter out tomorrow) and now Bateman. But you know what, the trailer made me laugh, mostly because of Bateman though, who’s probably the saving grace of the movie. In fact it looks more like his movie than Aniston’s.
….
The most amusing scenes are between Wally and Kassie’s cute munchkin (Thomas Robinson) who bears an uncanny resemblance to him – and perhaps share his neurotic problems. And check out the supporting cast: Jeff Goldblum (in a Judy Greer-type role as the ‘best friend’), Juliette Lewis, and Patrick Wilson.
….
….
The Switch
is released in theaters on August 20th. What do you think folks? Does this appeal to you in any way, shape or form?

It’s raining Bateman – Jason B is EVERYWHERE!

It’s been quite a lovely & warm September but today’s rainy weather with high only in the mid 50s definitely signals the end of Summer. Yup, tank-top weather is done, over, finito. Well at least there’s the beautiful foliage to look forward to, and then the brrrrrrr months will be here for the next five months!

Funnyman Jason B
Funnyman Jason B

What does the weather have anything to do with Jason Bateman? Well, nothing really, other than  it seems as if it’s been raining Bateman lately. You know the feeling when you suddenly notice an actor in just about everything you see or read? Well, as I read about movies a whole lot before actually seeing them, that’s how I feel about the former 80s child star. Not that it’s a bad thing. I’d certainly rather watch more of Bateman than say, Seth Rogen.

Just this year alone, he has done no less than FIVE movies: State of Play, Extract, Up in the Air, The Invention of Lying, and Couples Retreat. And this busy dude has already got three flicks in the works for 2010: Arrested Development movie, The Baster (with Jennifer Aniston, ugh!) and the recently announced Hancock sequel.

I’ve only seen one episode of Arrested Development, so I’m curious to see it as a feature film. Now, I’m not thrilled about the last two projects, I mean seriously, how many mediocre rom-coms can miss Aniston stomach? I for one cannot fathom how she managed to snatch some fetching leading men (Aaron Eckhart in Love Happens, and my fave Scot Gerry Butler in next year’s The Bounty) whilst simply extending her ‘Rachel Green’ persona in one pedestrian flick after another. As for Hancock, I can’t be bothered to see it given the unanimously abysmal reviews, but some have said Bateman’s probably the best thing in that flick (that’s saying a lot given the leading man is Will Smith!).

It’s been a long steady climb to stardom for Bateman, but after a series of small roles in TV and movies, he’s finally hit it big. He has Mitch Hurwitz — creator of Arrested Development — to thank for as that show was pretty much the key to his big break. This is what he told USA Today:

“Obviously, I couldn’t be more grateful. This is all I know how to do. If Arrested Development didn’t come along, I don’t know what I would be doing.”

I’m happy for him. Bateman is the kind of actor whose presence is always welcome in my book. He’s so darn likable — effortlessly so I might add — that he just lights up the screen no matter how small his role is. He is the comic relief even in serious flicks like The Kingdom and State of Play, even playing a slimeball in the latter, you still can’t help but like the guy. M. Carter astutely summed out his ‘nice guy’ quality in her Extract review: “At the center of all this is Bateman, who couldn’t play mean if his life depended on it. Too vulnerable and empathetic, that one. He’s so earnest a guy it’s impossible not to like him…” She elaborated a bit more in her comments section: “I’m not sure it’s possible to DISLIKE Jason Bateman — I mean, he has that kind of well-meaning Everyman quality that’s endearing. But I’d love to see him do something totally out of character, like play a villain or a murderer in something. It might not be believable, but I’m eager to see if he has range…”

Now, I like Bateman’s work but I agree wholeheartedly with her assessment. I think in a way perhaps he’s a bit like Aniston (gasp! I know, I know, how dare I?) in that even in a variety of roles, the essence of the characters he plays is pretty much the same. With that said, I respect him for his ability to select good quality projects to be in — which is something I cannot say about Jen, despite owning her own production company.

Thus, I haven’t given up hope that one day Bateman will surprise us with a killer role (literally or otherwise), but until then, I’m looking forward to see him in The Invention of Lying (Ricky Gervais is one shrewdly hilarious Brit, but I hope this will be better than Ghost Town); and even more so, the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost wacky sci-fi comedy Paul in which Bateman plays a special agent. I read about this last month, the story centers on two British comic-book geeks who are traveling across the U.S. and encounter an alien outside of Area 51. The real-life buddies Pegg and Frost co-wrote the script in their fourth collaboration on screen, in roles that are definitely tailor-made for them. As a fan of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, I’ll be adding this one to my Most Anticipated Flicks of 2010 list!

In any case, Mr. Bateman is definitely on a roll now and he wishes to stay there. As he told USA Today, he hopes for the type of career longevity enjoyed by Gene Hackman and Bill Murray. “This is a tough town to live in if you’re not relevant. I’m not making my decisions based on the fear of that. But there’s a reason people have a long career. And it’s because they’re doing respectful work. I really want to be in that group,” he said in the interview.

With such a good head on his shoulders, he should be able to manage that.

DVD Pick: The TV Set

The TV Set poster
The TV Set poster

With the workplace comedy Extract opening today, I somehow feel like bringing up this movie I saw quite a while ago. It’s got one of the most fitting and clever tagline: “A place where dreams are canceled.” The TV Set, as it’s aptly named, is a satire about the journey of a TV pilot as it goes through the grueling network process of casting and production before it finally airs. Coincidentally, it stars Jason Bateman’s sister, Justine, as David Duchovny’s wife.

As we’re gearing up for the Fall season with a bunch of new shows coming up, we’re hardly aware of all the drama that goes on behind the scenes—the cast reshuffling, pilot re-shooting, etc. So it’s fascinating to get a glimpse of that and the whole ordeal the creators have to jump through to get a show into our living room. It’s inevitable some of the new shows we’re seeing the ads for right now might not make it past Thanksgiving, and this movie kind of makes you think about TV in whole new way.

Duchovny, with his dry humor, is perfectly cast as Mike, an idealistic TV writer who’s working on his show that’s based on the aftermath of his brother’s suicide. His boss is the ruthless, tough-as-nails network honcho Lenny—played superbly by Sigourney Weaver—who insists on ‘cheering up’ the plot a bit as she deems that suicide is too depressing. She constantly pushes Mike’s buttons as the show is all about the bottom-line for her, not an instrument of creativity. British actor Ioan Gruffud plays a former BBC producer consulted to add some sophistication and class. He is pretty much caught in the middle as he strives to bring balance between the two opposing characters.

I don’t know how accurate the depiction of the situations and characters are, but they seemed pretty realistic to me and I could imagine them happening in real life. The dialogue between Lenny and Mike are ironically hilarious, they make you cringe and laugh at the same time. Anyone who’s a TV watcher would sympathize with Mike as we all want something original and different, alas, the writer is hardly the same person who holds the purse strings. It kind of make me wonder when I watch a particular show whether it’s the original vision of the writer(s) or the 12th rewrite or whatever, y’know. Is a particular actor the first choice or a replacement as a result of a pilot overhaul? Take CBS’s Three Rivers for example. British actress Julia Ormond (Legends of the Fall, Sabrina) was replaced by Alfred Woodard when her character didn’t test well. Similarly, none of the eye network’s Moonlight show original pilot cast survived, with the exception of lead actor Alex O’Loughlin. In The TV Set, there’s a scene in  about the audition process and how a lesser actor gets chosen over a talented one because the studio thinks he’d appeal to a broader audience and the writer/director just have to deal with it and make it work.

It’s an amusing movie with clever and funny dialogue from start to finish. The performances are solid overall, including Judy Greer who plays Mike’s manager. Her character here actually has more to chew on than her usual ‘sidekick’ role. I’m partial to Duchovny as he’s a talented and versatile actor but Sigourney is the scene stealer here with her deadpan humor as the ‘villain’ of the movie.

A couple of trivia for you courtesy of IMDB: Just like her role as television network president, Weaver’s father, Sylvester (“Pat”) Weaver, was for many years president of NBC. The writer and director of The TV Set Jake Kasdan, was a producer and writer on Freaks and Geeks, which aired on NBC (albeit many years after Pat Weaver’s retirement).

The Apple site has the trailer, but here’s a behind-the-scene clip with interviews with some of the cast: