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: Deadpool

9 03 2016

Deadpool” begins with an opening credits sequence that lists each member of the creative team not as people but rather as their archetypes – along with plenty of gratuitous winks to star Ryan Reynolds and the celebrity culture at large. The montage more or less represents the film as a whole: clever but not ingenious, distinct but not original.

Reynolds struts around the film like he is the first person to don a superhero suit and not fit the mold of a straight-laced all-American macho man. The foul-mouthed average joe act was done in 2010’s “Kick-Ass,” and the relentless smart-ass routine has been beaten into the ground by Robert Downey, Jr. beginning with 2008’s “Iron Man.” There’s nothing particularly novel about the “merc with a mouth” (that stands for “mercenary,” apparently) although Tim Miller and his band of four credited screenwriters certainly try their best to convince audiences otherwise. The level of self-satisfaction and self-effacement proves irritating to a fault, though.

For all the Deadpool character tries to subvert the superhero cliches, his story sure plays out a lot like one. “Deadpool” is a garden variety origin story, from Wade Wilson’s humble beginnings to love interest (Morena Baccarin’s Vanessa) down to acquisition of special power and, ultimately, mastery of that gift. The film relies on formula as a narrative throughline so it can indulge in self-referentiality and humorous sideshow diversions. If “Deadpool” is a reaction to the banality of the genre, it does little to improve upon the recognizable flaws.

That also goes for the character of Deadpool, supposedly a more “progressive” superhero with his ambiguous sexuality. But he speaks with a higher voice. He totes around a pipe cleaner penis. He makes frequent Freudian slips about anatomy. For heavens’ sake, HE PLEASURES HIMSELF WITH A STUFFED PONY. This is not the introduction of a pansexual hero. “Deadpool” just repackages old prejudices and appeals to homophobic instincts by making any non-normative behavior from Wade into the butt of a joke. It’s comedy as con artistry. C+2stars