Tag Archives: Christmas

Movie Review: ‘Office Christmas Party’

office-christmas-party

You do know about the T.J. Miller Uber kerfuffle, right? To recap, after a heated exchange involving Donald Trump, the “Silicon Valley” star allegedly slapped his driver. There’s nothing like a big red cup of Starbucks product placement (prominently held in the hand of Jason Bateman for the first few minutes) to take you out of the movie unless every time you see Miller on the screen, you start thinking about Uber drivers being manhandled. The good news is that watching “Office Christmas Party,” even with Uber drivers on the brain, pays off. At first, Miller does not seem up to it as he delivers his lines in the first segments with self-conscious snark. But the dude makes up for it.

OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY

OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY

Come for the laughs and stay to enjoy two heavy hitters, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston, who make this comedy stuff look so easy. While the actual movie they are in has its fair share of clunker gags, Bateman and Aniston own their characters and command razor-sharp chops. A weak early scene with Miller lamenting the misunderstood needs of bald men is saved by a perfectly-timed answer by Bateman: “Hair?” Miller says over a dozen words. Nothing. Bateman says one word. Comedy gold. It’s that simple. I’m not led to think about Donald Trump or Uber drivers being terrorized. I’m only enjoying pure comedy gold. The same with Aniston. In a somewhat similar set-up, Aniston’s character asks a simple question to Vanessa Bayer’s character who proceeds to chew the scenery. Aniston, now irritated, asks the question again in a tone that demands a quick answer. Bayer answers. Very funny performances from both of them.

Now, as for the plot, the whole shebang hinges on Miller’s character throwing this incredible office party that will save the company, save jobs, and make America really really great again. Okay, not necessarily that last part. Anyway, there’s more. Aniston and Miller are brother and sister in the movie. The two run the family business. Actually, Aniston runs it and Miller gets to act a fool at the Chicago branch office. But, if Miller can just get his act together this once, and this is where the office party comes in, everything could turn out great. Maybe even America could turn great again. Who knows. In fact, a good part of the plot rests on the action of the character played by Olivia Munn who shines as a tech genius. Another good reason to see this movie. In fact, there are quite a lot of moving parts to this movie and it works remarkably well considering unnecessarily bad humor and some rather maudlin subplots.

If only they had trimmed some of the frat house humor, this might merit another star for those keeping score at home. Otherwise, don’t sweat the weak spots. And we come full circle with the character of Lonny played by Fortune Feimster. She actually plays the role of a Uber driver! In the backseat is not Miller. No, instead, it’s Aniston who is none too patient with her chatty driver. Another good example of some good laughs.

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Santa Has a Shadow: KRAMPUS

Krampus movie

The shadow brings balance to the light. And so it is even for Santa Claus. When was the last time you saw a really good Christmas horror movie? Well, now we have “Krampus,” the movie. And as writer/director Michael Dougherty makes clear in the interview below, the dark side to Christmas isn’t new. Consider, for instance, the chilling Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol,” or the noirish Frank Capra classic, “It’s a Wondefrul Life.” Below is footage from the KRAMPUS premiere with writer/director/producer Michael Dougherty, writer/producer Zach Shields and writer Todd Casey:

Krampus is the one-man cleanup crew for all the naughty boys and girls. Seems like Santa couldn’t be in charge of everything. Maybe he had no choice. The origins of Krampus go further back than Santa Claus. By the 17th century, folklore had teamed up Krampus and Santa. Perhaps we’ve made a mistake to separate these two for American tastes. Then again, for the purposes of this movie, we want Krampus to work alone.

While I would never begrudge anyone’s enjoyment of a traditional family comedy this season, we need its polar opposite: typical family gathering but with bloody horror. Oh sure, and a touch of comedy. “Krampus” stars Toni Collette, Adam Scott, David Koechner, and Conchata Ferrell. Writer/director Michael Dougherty has contributed to the screenplays for “X-Men 2,” “Urban Legends: Bloody Mary” and “Superman Returns” before directing his debut, “Trick ‘r Treat” in 2007.

KRAMPUS release date in the U.S. is this Friday, December 4, 2015.

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Movie Review: THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY

the-secret-life-of-walter-mitty-ben-stiller-2013

There’s a very cool, even flawless, indie movie, inside of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” This is a major motion picture, so the beautiful moments in this film must allow for the tentpole to go up and lure in the biggest audience. The CGI effects are great but they can get carried away as in one extended scene involving Walter Mitty and his boss duking it out, moving as if powered by jets, down midtown Manhattan. CGI is notorious for providing mixed results or downright duds in the humor department. There’s also a crowd pleaser daydream sequence involving a parody of “Benjamin Button” that, while funny, is jarring in its being out of place. But not to worry because, at its heart, this is a movie full of exquisite comedic timing, led by Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty, the ultimate daydreamer, and Kristen Wig as Cheryl Melhoff, his coworker and the object of his affection.

The secret to this movie’s success is in all its fine understated moments. There are many of them. And they’re very funny and touching. Those first opening shots of Walter at the subway platform on the phone with a rep from eHarmony are some of the best moments of comedy you’ll find anywhere. Audiences have already seen them in trailers and laugh each time they see them. And when they see them again in the movie, they laugh that hearty laugh from anticipating something they know to be good. By the time we reach the conflict between Walter and his boss, Ted Hendricks (played by Adam Scott), the plot has tightened up and has to ride out some unfunny edge. Mitty has been a longtime employee at Life Magazine. But the venerable magazine has reached its last print issue. The cover will be graced by a photo from its most legendary photographer, the mysterious Sean O’Connell (played by Sean Penn). That is if Mitty can find the missing negative.

At this point, once the chase is on to find the missing negative, the movie is entering its most dangerous territory, predictability. Based on James Thurber’s classic short story, the script by Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness) leans heavily in the feel good camp but there are ways to have your cake and eat it too. Cake, now that I mention it, plays an important role in this movie. It’s Walter’s mom, played by Shirley MacLaine, that makes the best pineapple upside-down cake in the world. It’s so good that it can charm Afghan warlords. If that sounds like a plot out of an old Flintstones cartoon, that would be a fair assessment. But as syrupy as this hero’s journey can get, the actors can ride out those rough spots. Stiller and Wig together carry this comedy in for a safe and funny landing.

As with any worthwhile comedy, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has a meaningful core, once you pare away the big budget excess. Stiller is compelling as a man trying to find himself. On his journey of self-discovery, he must track down a larger-than-life enigma in order to find the answers he seeks. If Stiller and company had wanted to edit down their way to a more precise expression of what Walter Mitty meant to them, they could have done it. For a movie that takes a more substantial route with a somewhat similar plot, you’ll want to check out Steeve Coogan and Judi Dench in “Philomena.” But that’s comparing apples to oranges. Mr. Coogan made exactly the sort of movie he was after. And Mr. Stiller made exactly the sort of movie he was after.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty goes into wide release on Christmas Day.

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THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914

1914 Christmas Truce

The Christmas Truce of 1914 is a moment in time that is an object lesson for us all.

The First World War (1914-1918) was six months in when a push for a cease-fire for Christmas took hold mainly between the German and English infantry. The men stepped out of their trenches and met the enemy on the No Man’s Land fields. And they discovered that this war, fought in the trenches was, indeed, fueled by entrenched hatred.

The fires were constantly stoked by each side’s propaganda machine. Entrenched hatred, whether on the battlefield or wherever, is a powerful force not easily overcome. And yet, the Germans and the British, on that Christmas of 1914, found common ground.

How many of us can find common ground? It is such a fundamental question applicable in a myriad of ways. Why don’t we try harder to find common ground? Is it because we don’t feel compelled enough to do so? Do we prefer to inflict pain and destruction? Too often, we want to maintain our position at all costs and find it difficult, if not impossible, to compromise. This can be in matters small and petty all the way up to matters of life and death.

The solution to many, if not all conflicts, is to step back: find perspective, see the big picture, do not take one’s self too seriously, and act in what is truly the best interest of us all. These are words but, for each of us, in our own lives, they can become acts of peace, love and understanding.

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