REVIEW: Office Christmas Party

6 12 2016

As sad as it may be, if one movie from 2016 could serve as a (non-polemical) time capsule for what it was like to live in this year, that movie might be “Office Christmas Party.” From top to bottom, the film is chock full of time-specific references to technology: iCal, Uber, 3D printing, frustrating Wi-Fi. Imagine watching this in 30 years with your kids. They are likely going to ask a lot of questions about what certain terms mean.

But beyond the minutiae, very little about “Office Christmas Party” feels specifically tied to the year. Unlike television’s “The Office,” whose episodic structure dictated it ignore the ravages of time, cinema’s unique capability to provide a snapshot of a particular cultural moment has led to some invaluable representations of corporate America. Particularly in the wake of the 2008 recession, movies from “Up in the Air” to “The Company Men” to “The Internship” serve as documentation to the hopes and anxieties of the average blue-collar worker in their time.

The premise of the film seems to provide a great launchpad into some topical territory. Jennifer Aniston’s Carol Vanstone, a Miranda Priestly impersonation spiked with a Grinch attitude, rolls into the Chicago branch of her family business to announce a 40% reduction in employees and total cancellation of Christmas bonuses. There’s an initial wave of panic, anger and frustration from the managers in the office, especially from Carol’s entitled brother, branch manager Clay (T.J. Miller). But once that subsides, there’s no 2016-specific fuel to their actions, no sense of worry that the climate is unforgiving. “Office Christmas Party” could have been written at just about any time in the last 40 years and simply spruced up with current cultural products.

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REVIEW: Ghostbusters

12 07 2016

While watching Paul Feig’s take on “Ghostbusters” (splitting hairs over remake vs. reboot just doesn’t feel worth it), I often felt like I needed to keep a tally chart. In one column, the header would read “one for progress;” the other, “one for fan service.”

One for progress: women are scientific masterminds and ingenious problem solvers. Chris Hemsworth’s secretary Kevin fills the traditional role of the dumb blonde objectified by the protagonists (with aplomb, I might add). The human villain is a socially isolated white male with a bone to pick. Welcome to 2016.

One for fan service: these newfangled characters are locked into hitting most of the same plot beats as the original film. Better than today’s hackneyed franchise origin stories, I suppose. Welcome back to 1984.

One for progress: acknowledging the differences between 1984 and 2016. With the rise of the Internet, computer graphics and the larger conspiracy culture, the Ghostbusters and the paranormal apparitions they hunt would be all too easily laughed off today. Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold reimagine the team successfully in a world that is more incredulous than ever – yet also more terrified of the random and the unexplained.

One for fan service: just giving us the ghosts we already know anyways. Feig brings back all the most familiar ghosts from the Marshmallow Man to the green slime monster. The latter even gets a female companion. Neither the characters nor the effects used to bring them to life feel particularly new, exciting or terrifying. I cannot put myself in the shows of a 1984 moviegoer, but this 2016 viewer saw a whole lot of bright blue light beams that look a whole lot like the ones in basically every other action movie these days.

Quick break from the rhetorical device, in case you’re getting tired … One for I don’t know who: fart jokes and a lame “your mama” line. Really? Did they throw those in the mix just in case the “Ghostbusters” bros who made the film’s trailer the most disliked in YouTube history actually decided to show up?

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming!

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REVIEW: Sisters

16 12 2015

The pure bliss of simply seeing Tina Fey and Amy Poehler reunited on screen for something other than an awards ceremony makes “Sisters” worth the price of admission. These two comediennes feed off each other in a way that no other pair can match, and there is never a dull moment since their live wire energy can always produce sparks.

Whether the material they work with is as good as they are, however, is another matter. “Sisters” piles on the raunch and the craziness, which is slightly out of their usual wheelhouse of safe for network TV antics. Paula Pell’s script is a hard R, and those laughs come somewhat at the expense of genuine characters.

The duo’s last big screen outing, 2008’s “Baby Mama,” found that sweet spot of believable exaggeration for both women, stretching responsibility and irresponsibility to rational extremes. “Sisters” casts Poehler as the good egg of the siblings, the youngest child who strove to overachieve out of genuine compassion for others, and it’s almost like getting to watch her play Leslie Knope again.

Fey, on the other hand, throws everyone for a loop by playing the callous, selfish older sister. It proves surprising, even jarring, to watch scenes where she is not the smartest person in the room. Heck, sometimes it even seems like it throws her for a loop. Tossing out insults and profanities – rather than receiving such barbs from the “30 Rock” cast – is something she gradually grows into over the course of “Sisters.”

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