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 ~ Sex Tape

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The Facts:

Synopsis: To spice up their marriage, a couple decides to make a sex tape. It seems like a great idea – until they discover that their most private video is no longer private.

Stars: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe 

Director: Jake Kasdan

Rated: R

Running Length: 94 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  I think most audiences would be forgiven if they heard the title of Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel’s new comedy and write it off as another inane foul-mouthed raunch fest, the kind of flick both actors have been involved with in the past; she in There’s Something About Mary and The Sweetest Thing, he in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  And, to some extent, they wouldn’t be wrong to assume that.  Sex Tape IS an inane foul-mouthed raunch fest but it’s also surprisingly sprightly, moving fast through 94 minutes that showcase the best, um, assets of its leads.

Not wasting any time, Sex Tape opens on mommy blogger Diaz (going for another hit in 2014 after April’s The Other Woman) fondly recalling her early years meeting, sleeping with, and marrying her college boyfriend (Segel, The Five-Year Engagement).  These early scenes are heavy on the sexcapades as Diaz and Segel (looking like plastic automatons after being digitally smoothed out to look decades younger/thinner) try out every position in the book as they discover each other and fall in love.

Surprise surprise, like the similar in style (but totally wretched) This is 40 the movie lets us know that getting older ain’t that fun, kids put a cramp in romance, and sex becomes something you schedule between PTA meetings and soccer practice.  What sets Sex Tape apart from Judd Apatow’s lame-o exploration of a mid-life relationship crisis is that the central couple decides to do something about it rather than complain to their friends how unhappy they are.

One night after a few drinks and a failed attempt at a roller-skating role-playing fantasy (showcasing that Diaz doesn’t need any digital help in the body-ody-ody department) they decide to film themselves going through every position in The Joy of Sex.  The next morning they’re hung-over and ready to get back to their kids and careers, largely forgetting their naughty filmmaking session.  Through some questionable and quickly explained away tech developments, their iPad filmed home movie gets sent to all the linked iPads in their network (Segel’s character likes to give away iPads as gifts…must be nice to be so cash solvent and Apple sponsored).  When a mysterious text reveals the gaffe, Segel and Diaz set out find the texter and to recover all the gifted iPads which houses their taped tryst just a click away.

I’m not sure a full 90 minutes was needed to tell this tale and obviously the filmmakers didn’t either because so much extra material is loaded in to pad the proceedings that the movie quickly loses its way once Diaz and Segel embark on their reconnaissance mission.  Along the way they pick up their best friends (the annoying duo of Rob Corddry, Warm Bodies & Ellie Kemper, 21 Jump Street), stop by for a lengthy con to get an iPad back from Diaz’s potential boss (a dreadfully miscast Rob Lowe, way too in on the joke), and break into the headquarters of an adult site with an owner brought to cameo-ed life by a one-time A-lister.

The entire film feels like it was made in someone’s backyard with many shots taking place in front of a green screen or standard set piece lifted from the Desperate Housewives backlot.  There’s also a fair amount of very long scenes for a comedy, I counted at least three scenes where the camera just cuts between Segel and Diaz bickering for minutes on end.  Even though the film mostly breezes by, these are the scenes you’ll be checking your watches in and wondering why director Jake Kasdan didn’t do something more creative.

What saves the film are Diaz and Segel’s willingness to play along with it all.  Both actors aren’t afraid to bare some skin and poke fun at themselves and what’s more, I actually believed they were this couple with these children living this life.  The sophomoric material is beneath everyone involved but it’s the commitment to it that makes the performances work so well.  I’m not sure which of the endings I liked the best (the film climaxes several times) but it ends on a pleasing note of sweetness that’s fairly rare for this genre of lewd comedies.

I’ve seen much worse comedies this year (Blended, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and the Typhoid Mary of summer, Tammy) and don’t have a problem suggesting Sex Tape for a matinee viewing based on performances that rise above the material.

The Silver Bullet ~ Sex Tape

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Synopsis: A married couple wakes up to discover that the sex tape they made the evening before has gone missing, leading to a frantic search for its whereabouts.

Release Date: July 25, 2014

Thoughts: Aside from it being a little more than mildly amusing that Cameron Diaz (The Other Woman) and Jason Segel (The Five Year Engagement) have graduated to roles as suburban parents, this very NSFW trailer for their summer romp Sex Tape looks like the type of raunchy fun both actors have excelled at in their careers. Diaz and Segel have made a few bids for more serious work, but this is clearly where their talent lies so this seems like a good fit for both of them. I’m a little over this type of ribald humor, feeling that it’s been done (and better) in other films but if a balance can be struck between foul-mouthed comedy and honestly hysterical moments this could be a much needed slam-dunk for the two actors.

Movie Review ~ The Way, Way Back

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Over the course of his summer break, a teenager comes into his own thanks in part to the friendship he strikes up with a manager at a local water park.

Stars: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph and Liam James, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry

Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 103 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: In the days and weeks since I caught a screening of The Way, Way Back I’ve taken in quite a few other films across the cinematic spectrum.  At the end of each film there was only one movie in my mind and it was The Way, Way Back.  While I tend to refrain from overselling a film (lest I lead my readers astray) when you have a picture of this quality you have to stand up and shout it out.

With all the reading I do on film and upcoming projects, this was a film I kept hearing good things about after a successful screening at the Sundance Film Festival.  When the trailer was released I was surprised at how much interesting material was packed in and that after all was said and done I still wanted to see more.  As a huge fan of 2011’s The Descendants, I was particularly curious to see what its Oscar winning screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash would devise for their follow-up to that quirky dramedy that packed a huge emotional punch.

For a film that could be seen as a mish-mash of genres from Meatballs-style summer shenanigans to family drama to coming of age heartbreak The Way, Way Back is for the most part quite focused.  That’s thanks in large part to the Faxon/Rash script that seems nicely trimmed of any excess fat and provides some wonderfully diverse actors to play against type in a manner that doesn’t seem forced.

We all know that Steve Carell can float between comedy (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) and drama (Dan in Real Life) but what he shows us here is that he can believably play a hard-edged two face with little to no redemptive features.   We see this right away when he quizzes the shy son (Liam James) of his girlfriend (Toni Collette, Muriel’s Wedding) to see how he’d rate himself on a scale of 1-10.  Prodding the teen to give an answer while the mom and Carell’s own teenager daughter doze in the car ride to their summer beach retreat, he gets the boy to give a response and then skillfully tears him down.

Arriving in a coastal Martha’s Vineyard-esque hamlet, the car isn’t even unpacked when boozy neighbor Allison Janney (…first do no harm) bursts out of her house to welcome the blended semi-family.  Janney should be nicknamed Old Reliable because she never fails in creating a memorable scene-stealer and this is no different.  If anything, Janney hopefully will get some major award recognition at the end of the year for a nuanced take on the stereotypical lush who can’t keep her opinions to herself.

As the boy silently skulks through the first few days where Carell continues to brow beat him in a way that no one seems to catch on to, he finally wanders into a local water park and meets the head lifeguard (Sam Rockwell, Iron Man 2) who winds up taking the boy under his wing.  Clearly starved for attention, the relationship that builds between Rockwell and James is sweetly winning because it comes with no strings or artifice.  Rockwell’s character may be a jokester but he can spot that this kid needs a friend and provides that for him – as well as opening his eyes to the fact that life is what you make of it not what someone tells you it should be.

Also co-directing, Faxon and Rash cast themselves in small roles that fit their personas and don’t seem like they are taking advantage of their power (I’m looking at you, M. Night Shyamalan).  Rounding out the cast are fine turns by Maya Rudolph as Rockwell’s superior that does her fair share of eye rolling, Amanda Peet and Rob Corddry (Warm Bodies, Pain & Gain) as friends of Carell, and AnnaSophia Robb as Janney’s daughter who catches the eye of our young lead.  Collette is, as ever, completely winning even though it’s frustrating to see how long she turns a blind eye to Carell’s attitude toward her son.

The film, though, belongs to Rockwell (fingers crossed an Oscar nomination is in store for him) and James as they navigate a summer filled with the right amount of fun in the sun, conversations about acceptance that ring true, and personal journeys that carry these characters upward and onward.  By the time the film reaches its conclusion it has won the audiences affection and wraps things up with a powerful final image that tells us everything we need to know about what happens next.

More than any movie in recent memory, I was sad to see The Way, Way Back come to an end.  These are characters I think many of us can identify with because as the film tagline deftly illustrates, “We’ve all been there.”  Yes, we’ve all been there and hopefully most of us have found our way back.

Movie Review ~ Pain & Gain

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A trio of bodybuilders in Florida get caught up in an extortion ring and a kidnapping scheme that goes terribly wrong.

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Tony Shalhoub, Bar Paly, Rebel Wilson, Ken Jeong, Yolanthe Cabau

Director: Michael Bay

Rated: R

Running Length: 129 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  If Pain & Gain demonstrates anything, it’s that director Michael Bay can do an awful lot with a tiny budget…if you consider 25 million dollars a tiny budget.  Unfortunately, even with a budget that’s about ¼ of the last Transformers movie, Bay shows himself again as a director that’s full of sound and fury but truly signifying nothing by delivering a rather unpleasant film that’s doesn’t shortchange the audience on flash, flesh, and felons.

Based on a true story, Pain & Gain is told in flashback by multiple narrators who pop in whenever the film deems it necessary to tell the tale of three Miami muscled gym rats that find themselves in a whole mess of trouble thanks to their own buffoonery and poor planning.  Their efforts to swindle a greasy client (Shaloub) out of his money and property is so out of this world crazy that the film has to keep telling us it’s a true story when it takes some fairly incredible turns. 

Directed with the reckless commercial sleaze that Bay is famous for, the film does look great with vibrant colors and slo-mo work that delivers several humorous sight gags.  The movie hums with adrenaline but has a strange hollowness to it, never really making it up the hill of better black comedies that didn’t need to resort to gross out gore/humor to keep the attention of its audience. 

Wahlberg (Ted, Contraband) is more jacked up and cracked out than ever before and it’s plain to see that he put in some extra time in the gym to prepare himself for the trainer turned criminal that’s the ringleader of this strange mix of people.  Wahlberg plays this guy so wound up that when he has some freak outs of rage they’re more funny than threatening – which is, I believe, what he’s going for. 

His two compatriots are Mackie (Man on a Ledge, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and Johnson (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) as fellow bodybuilders that have more going on in their right bicep than they do between their ears.  Mackie has a strange and extraneous side romance with Wilson (Pitch Perfect) who doesn’t have much to do but play on her dependable foul-mouthed shtick. 

It’s clear that Johnson is a box office favorite but he tries to go the extra mile here in the acting department and comes up short, never really getting to the heart of the dim-witted tool that writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely were going for.  Plus Johnson is at this point just one big muscle with eyes so it’s hard to take him seriously. 

When Harris (The Abyss, looking like a white raisin) shows up, he adds the kind of laid-back delivery that helps to balance the ADD-addled film and the characters within.  A retired private detectice, Harris gets looped into the mix by a patsy targeted by the men and tries in van to stop the eventually downfall he sees coming.  It’s the most level performance in the film and is a valued contribution.  Not a valued contribution is Jeong, once again turning in an awful “comedic” performance – how is this guy considered funny?

After a engaging but seedy first hour, the film takes on a darker tone and that’s when it transitioned from buzzy black comedy to an unhappy trek through tough territory as murder comes into play.  Blood is spilled, body parts are BBQ’d, and a few other appendages are damaged along the way as Bay steers his film into some unapologetically foul territory. 

Far from Bay’s best work (I’d still say that The Island is the most satisfying film he’s made), Pain & Gain suffers from an excess of style without any real support of substance.  Not a bad film if I’m being really honest, just one that didn’t need to be a brashly bold as it is.  Though it does have two sinewy legs to stand on, it starts to weaken as the time ticks by to the end of a very long 129 minutes.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Way, Way Back

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Synopsis: Over the course of his summer break, a teenager comes into his own thanks in part to the friendship he strikes up with one of the park’s managers.

Release Date:  July 5, 2013

Thoughts: Here’s a trailer that has pretty much everything you could ask for in a comedy: a great cast, the promise of laughs not shown in the trailer, and a set-up reminiscent of the easy-going summer comedies from the 80’s and 90’s.  What surprises me is that no mention is made that the film is the directional debut of the Oscar-winning screenwriters of The Descendants (Nat Faxon and Jim Rash).  I was a huge fan of the off-beat humor in that film so am very much looking forward to seeing what Faxon/Rash have cooked up for this summertime indie that could become a sleeper hit.

The Silver Bullet ~ Pain & Gain

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Synopsis: A trio of bodybuilders in Florida get caught up in an extortion ring and a kidnapping scheme that goes terribly wrong

Release Date:  April 26, 2013

Thoughts: First and foremost, this film is notable for being action picture director Michael Bay’s least expensive film since Bad Boys.  Aside from that, I’m not sure if this is going to convince any of his naysayers to jump on board after producing some fairly brain-dead entertainment courtesy of the Transformers franchise.  Also, though I have enjoyed Rebel Wilson in Pitch Perfect and What To Expect When You’re Expecting, I feel like she’s playing the same character time and time again.  Dwayne Johnson isn’t a bad actor…but I continue to question his choice of roles as he seems to go wherever the paycheck is.  While this could be a nice departure film for Bay, I’m not holding my breath he’s seen the error of his obnoxious directorial ways.

Movie Review ~ Warm Bodies

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After a zombie becomes involved with the girlfriend of one of his victims, their romance sets in motion a sequence of events that might transform the entire lifeless world.

Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, John Malkovich, Analeigh Tipton, Dave Franco

Director: Jonathan Levine

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 97 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Though it won’t be released until early February, fans of quirky romance films will want to make some space in their schedule for Warm Bodies.  It’s a unique love story that successfully brings together several different genres and themes to form a successful and quite entertaining winner of a picture.  There’s enough going on in the movie to satisfy the needs of most moviegoers.  If you’re looking for zombie action, there are brains to be eaten.  If you’re starved for a romance and can’t wait for Safe Haven or Beautiful Creatures, you’re in luck because the chemistry between our two leads is wonderful and flows freely from the screen. 

Adapted by director Levine (50/50) from a novel by Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies opens like many post-apocalyptic zombie films do…with legions of slow-moving undead milling about a deserted location (in this case, an airport).  We’re introduced to R (Hoult), a different kind of zombie that will be our engaging narrator and star for the next 97 minutes.  With a wry sense of humor to his narration, R remarks on his situation as a zombie and provides clever commentary on the state of the world. 

On a routine feeding, R happens to chomp down on someone close to Julie (Palmer) and when he catches her eye his undead heart doesn’t so much skip as beat as it does start to beat again.  Protecting Julie from his fellow zombies is a relatively easy task and removes unnecessary suspense from what happens next. You see, the connection R and Julie have over the next few days sparks something in the zombies of the world…a spark that could change the fate of everyone both living and dead. 

The movie is so centrally focused on R and Julie that without the right leads the movie would have been as ho-hum as they come.  Levine has aced his casting exam here by hiring two very good actors that fit together with their parts and each other so well.  Hoult in particular is one of the most endearing zombies you’re likely to meet and his performance is reason enough to see the film.  Looking alarmingly like a young Tom Cruise, Hoult captures the frustration going on inside R with genuine pathos without being as emo as his hair and outfit would suggest.  His leading lady is no slouch either with Palmer (a blonde doppelganger for Kristen Stewart…and a better actor too!) keeping pace with him by turning on her own blend of charm. 

Hoult and Palmer share much of their onscreen time together in an honest dance between two people that shouldn’t be in love but find themselves hopelessly headfirst in the thick of it.  Levine uses a diverse soundtrack to chart the course of their courtship…the music springs forth mostly from a record player and is occasionally sweetened by composers Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders. 

Supporting our two lovebirds is Malkovich as Palmer’s father who just happens to be the militant leader of an army that hunts down corpses just like R.  Tipton is a snazzy hoot as Palmer’s best friend as is a nicely restrained Corddry as R’s fellow zombie bud.

Even working with a smaller budget, there are a few nice effects here with the Bonies (zombies that have deteriorated to just bones) adding an extra bump of adrenaline to a few action sequences.  It’s actually in these moments where the movie feels the most flat…probably because the action can’t manage to be more entertaining than the one on one scenes between R and Julie.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll draw some parallels between this film and another classic tale (just look at the character names if you’re stumped) but try not to jump too far ahead of the film that’s in front of you.  With assured performances from Palmer and especially Hoult partnering nicely with Levine’s easy-going direction, Warm Bodies created a nice warm feeling in this viewer – it’s not going to change the face of the romance picture but it’s worthwhile, quality entertainment that I’m happy to recommend.

The Silver Bullet ~ Warm Bodies

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Synopsis: After a zombie becomes involved with the girlfriend of one of his victims, their romance sets in motion a sequence of events that might transform the entire lifeless world.

Release Date:  February 1, 2013

Thoughts: The resurgence of the zombie craze has inspired some interesting projects.  The gigantic popularity of TV’s The Walking Dead has given cable television another hit and 2013’s World War Z is hoping for summer blockbuster status.  Throwing the genre a bit on its ear, Warm Bodies looks like any other troubled teen romance…until you consider that one of the teens is a member of the undead.  What’s interesting about this film is the appearance that everyone is in on the joke-y nature of the premise…which could spell a lot of fun for audiences.  An appealing cast and promising director (Jonathan Levine did great work with 2011’s 50/50) are added bonuses.