Movie Review ~ Office Christmas Party

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The Facts
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Synopsis: When his uptight CEO sister threatens to shut down his branch, the branch manager throws an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client and save the day, but the party gets way out of hand…

Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Vanessa Bayer, Jillian Bell, Jamie Chung, Rob Corddry, Abbey Lee, Kate McKinnon, T.J. Miller, Olivia Munn, Karan Soni, Courtney B. Vance, Matt Walsh, Da’Vine Joy Randolph

Director: Josh Gordon, Will Speck

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: In the new comedy Office Christmas Party, Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters) plays Mary, a Human Resources manager at a mid-range tech company that’s business in front and no party in the back.  When branch manager Clay (T.J. Miller, Daredevil) and CTO Josh (Jason Bateman, This Is Where I Leave You) want to throw a bad-ass Christmas party to impress a much-needed new client (Courtney B. Vance, Terminator Genisys), Mary’s HR violation antennae pop up and she tries her hardest to derail the frivolity before giving in and just having fun with it all.  Plenty of critics venturing out of their hovels to catch OCP will be Mary’s and implore you to stay home but ‘tis the season to be jolly and this critic thinks this Party is worth an HR write-up.

Look, Office Christmas Party isn’t the be-all, end-all of raucous, growth-stunted juvenile comedies but it has its fair share of laughs and rambles along for most of its 105-minute running time with an inordinate amount of goodwill.  Maybe because I saw it on a Monday with a busy week at my own 9-5 job staring me down, but I (usually so averse to ribald druggy humor) found myself entertained by Miller, Bateman, and co who have set out not to redefine the raunchy comedy but to give audiences who can’t stomach the sight of Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa 2 an alternative option.  Then again, stomaching Thornton in anything is a feat in and of itself.

When Clay’s CEO sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston, We’re the Millers, yet again reveling in a role with a mean streak) announces plans to reduce the workforce at her brother’s failing branch right before the holidays, Clay and Josh make a play to nab a high-profile client (Vance) by showing him how well their company rewards its employees.  Trouble is, most of their workforce is already disgruntled and apathetic in their antiseptic office so whatever Clay and Josh do it has to be big…really big.  Along with the head of technology (Olivia Munn, X-Men: Apocalypse), they pull out all the stops in a few hours to put on a boffo holiday gathering that quickly devolves into a Sodom and Gomorrah style bash complete with co-worker make-outs, drug- fueled stunts of stupidity, and a bevy of genitals photocopied on the office machine.  Sounds kinda nasty, right?  I have a real nose for the overly lewd and while I got a few good whiffs I never thought this tipped the scales into plain bad taste.

It’s a minor affair to be sure, written and directed without much originality…but it’s the performances that help to elevate this one slightly higher than its peers.  I’ve found that a little Miller goes a long way but even in his more ADD moments the actor never lets us forget his character it good natured and the kind of people pleasing boss we’d all like to buddy up to.  Bateman is at his most Jason Bateman-y here, again playing the straight man at the center of some very zany periphery performances.  Bateman’s dirty scene with an ice sculpture and egg nog lets the actor venture slightly out of his comfort zone and for that alone I appreciated it.  McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer (Despicable Me 2), Jillian Bell (22 Jump Street), Rob Corddry (Warm Bodies), Abbey Lee (The Neon Demon), and Karan Soni (Safety Not Guaranteed) are but a few of the party goers that make an impression.  Only Munn disappoints…I continue to be stumped at what makes Munn in any way appealing aside from the fact that she always seems to be happy with being just one of the guys.

While it isn’t the kind of movie you could see as a holiday outing sponsored by your work, Office Christmas Party is a decent choice for adults looking for an R-rated holiday romp.  Like most parties, it might end up being one you want to leave early but being the last one out the door won’t kill you either.

Movie Review ~ The Neon Demon

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.

Stars: Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Desmond Harrington, Alesandro Nivola

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: First 75 minutes: (7/10); Final 45 minutes (1/10); Overall (4/10)

Review: When I first caught the trailer for The Neon Demon, I thought it had a nice giallo look that reminded me of horror maestro Dario Argento. Giallo, for the horror-averse, is a 20th-century Italian film genre and giallo films are thrillers often with slasher, supernatural horror, or crime fiction elements. Awash with bright, bold colors and an overall vison that favored style over any shred of substance, these films can be seen as overly cornball now but were considered viscerally raw during their time of release. I went into The Neon Demon expecting a nice side dish to Argento’s classic 1977 film Suspiria, but wound up with sour stomach.

While the thought of indulging in any food that slithers, slimes, or swims gets my stomach roiling I think I have a steely tolerance for gore and general grotesqueness but The Neon Demon finally broke me. This is a film with a substantial ick factor aiming to shock more than awe, it practically begs you to disengage more and more as the minutes t(ick) by. And that’s too bad because I can’t remember another movie in recent memory that starts off so well before devolving into a gross display of nastiness.

Right off the bat the film introduces an uneasiness as the studio credits/logos appear with no sound (one genius audience member kept asking for “Sound, please?”) and the credits play over a color shifting texture set to a synth score. We’re at a photo shoot and young Jesse (Elle Fanning, Trumbo) is playing dead for the camera, bathed in blood and keeping her eyes fixed and breathing to a minimum. New to town, she’s befriended by make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone, Inherent Vice) who appears to be taking a parental interest in Jesse’s well-being but may have sinister intentions hidden away.

Ruby introduces Jesse to her model friends, Gigi (Bella Heathcote, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) and Sarah (Abbey Lee, Mad Max: Fury Road) who size up the fresh face as a serious threat to their already diminishing shelf life. Picked up by a prestigious modeling agency (led by Christina Hendricks, Zoolander 2 in a dandy of an all-too-brief cameo), favored by both a bad-boy photographer (Desmond Harrington, The Dark Knight Rises) and a famous designer (Alessandro Nivola, A Most Violent Year), and pursued by a seemingly benign acquaintance (Karl Glusman) before she knows it Jesse is the toast of the town in an other-wise gluten free industry.

These developments occupy the first half of the film and it creates genuine intrigue in the viewer as well as the characters. Who is this girl and where did she come from? Hints of a broken home and a dangerous past are only that, hints, mere morsels of information that lead down a rabbit hole. Once it leads you to the bottom, though, the ground hits hard and reality sets in. There’s blood letting (and drinking), necrophilia, cannibalism, and adolescent rape for the viewers that stick this one out (numerous people at my screening didn’t make it to the end credits).

It’s no secret that director Nicolas Winding Refn thrives on excess. Making a warm entrance with 2008’s Bronson (which introduced Tom Hardy to us) before releasing his big splash Drive in 2011, he fell mighty far with his follow-up Only God Forgives two years later and now The Neon Demon is his most difficult film to stomach yet. This one has an uncooked feel, bloody and tenderized without offering any heat. Some movies could make up for a lurid ending by knocking the beginning out of the park but even the fascinating opening stretch can’t save this one.

Winding Refn’s style (and name, his monogram appears over the beginning and end titles, showing up in the same frame as his actual film credit) is all over this one. He’s admitted to being color-blind which is why his palette is so vibrant and the film admittedly has a chic perfection to nearly every frame, but the script (co-written by Refn, Mary Laws, and Polly Stenham) is a schizophrenic mess. One moment it’s a wicked parable condemning the industry with its subversive commentary and the next it’s glorying the excess of young flesh and starved bodies. The graphic nudity feels exploitative and unnecessary, with Winding Refn lingering too long and too intently on his subjects.

Some sort of survival award must be given to the actors Winding Refn cast here. Fanning manages to come out the best, nicely using her blank stares and whisper of a voice to suggest innocence even when we start to suspect she’s been playing us all along. Lee and Heathcote are a nice pair of harpies, gnashing their teeth the higher Jesse rises and Lee in particular really sells an insanely disgusting moment near the conclusion. I’ve always loved Malone and feel sort of sorry for what she’s asked to do here, including an act so revolting I can’t bear to think about it let alone write about it. Then there’s Keanu Reeves (John Wick) as a manager of a seedy motel that shows up in one of Jesse’s twisted psycho-sexual nightmares only to act out an even more horrifying atrocity in reality.

Going back to Suspiria, I always loved its tagline: “The Only Thing More Terrifying Than The Last 12 Minutes Of This Film Are The First 92” and could apply a similar one to The Neon Demon: “The Only Thing More Disgusting Than The Last 5 Minutes Of This Film Are The Previous 112”.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Neon Demon

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Synopsis: When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.

Release Date: June 24, 2016

Thoughts: Here’s one thing you can never say about director Nicolas Winding Refn’s films…dull they ain’t. The Danish director made a name for himself stateside with 2011’s pulse-pounding Drive before following up with the chic but much-maligned Only God Forgives in 2013. He’s back with a new tale of excess, this time centering his lens on the fame hungry models that populate the Los Angeles hillsides. There’s more flair in this two-minute trailer than most movies can muster in 90 minutes and while I’ll always favor substance over style there are moments to be seen here that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Starring Elle Fanning (Trumbo), Jena Malone (Inherent Vice), Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows), Christina Hendricks (Zoolander 2), Abbey Lee (Mad Max: Fury Road) and Keanu Reeves (John Wick) and reminding me just a tad of Dario Argento’s horror masterpiece Suspiria, I’m looking forward to feeding The Neon Demon.