Mini-Reviews: Office Christmas Party, Nocturnal Animals, and La La Land

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. This time, it’s more of a mixed than it was last time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Office Christmas Party

Directors: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

Writers: Justin Malen, Laura Solon, and Dan Mazer

Cast: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, Courtney B. Vance, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Sam Richardson, Karan Soni, Jamie Chung, Abbey Lee, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Jillian Bell.

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 the hand…

 

Tis the season for Christmas films, and what better film than an office Christmas party movie where things go wrong, right? While Office Christmas Party does have some saving moment scattered throughout, the film falls flat on a lot of areas, which is a shame considering the pretty good cast the film fills out.

Office Christmas Party follows a tech company, Zenotech, that is threaten to be shut down by the company CEO Carol (Aniston). However, her brother Clay (Miller), who happens to have had the branch inherited to him by his father, intends to keeping the branch alive at any means. Along with his CTO Josh (Bateman) and programmer Tracy (Munn), Clay thinks they can save the branch by signing a big wig in Walter Davis (B. Vance). Carol seeing it as impossible gives them two days to get it done. Seeing their hopes slips, they decide to throw a massive office Christmas party to impressive him, get the deal and save the branch. Of course, things get out of hand.

The idea of an office Christmas party going crazy isn’t all the exciting, but you would think with a great cast like this, they would be able to conjure something worthwhile and better than average. Unfortunately, the film barely does that and fails to really connect to most of the core characters.

T.J. Miller plays pretty much the same character he’s done before, while Jason Bateman plays the straight-laced character and Kate McKinnon, who plays the head of HR, is a wacky and out-there character that has one big moment to shine. Jennifer Aniston playing the cut-throat CEO seems to a perfect fit for her. The rest of the cast have their moments to shine, but when the film takes time to focus on the main three characters in their respected stories, it fails to get us invested in them.

Bateman’s character goes through a divorce at the beginning of the film, but we don’t really see him affected by it or see his ex-wife. Olivia Munn’s character has her own arc that only serves the plot when it needs to, and there’s an interesting plot point with Jillian Bell that comes out of left field, but doesn’t really go anywhere. Also, seeing Courtney B. Vance break loose is a sight to see.

All in all, Office Christmas Party does have some great laughs scattered throughout, but the film doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.

Office Christmas Party

3 out of 5

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Nocturnal Animals

Director: Tom Ford

Writer: Tom Ford

Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Karl Glusman, Michael Sheen, and Laura Linney

Synopsis: An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.

 

Based on the novel by Austin Wright and directed by former designer Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals follows Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is an art dealer, who is not happy with her life, suddenly gets a package from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The package contains a novel he wrote called Nocturnal Animals, which he dedicated to her – and something he once called her. Susan begins to read the book, seeing the lead character of Tony, as Edward, and follows a family driving through middle of nowhere Texas that end up getting attacked by three individuals lead by Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Tony manages to get away as his wife and daughter (played by Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber) are kidnapped and gets help from Officer Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon).

During all this, Susan also starts getting flashbacks of former her life with Edward as her current husband (Armie Hammer) is away on business. There we see how her marriage failed, and we get enthralled in a haunting, tense thriller drama from beginning to end.

It’s not hard to see the parallels between the real-life story of Susan and Edward’s novel, and flows together rather nicely once everything picks up. However, there are some things that get lost in the shuffle. Even though the film is about Amy Adams’ Susan and Edward’s novel, it would have been nice to see more of Armie Hammer’s character fleshed out instead of just being Susan’s husband – they only shared about three scenes together. There is another character that random pops up and is never mentioned ever again, but for the sake of keeping my non-spoiler tag I won’t mention it here.

Despite some of the flaws, Nocturnal Animals is held together by the cast and the gripping novel plotline. Amy Adams is always reliable, and seeing her as this somewhat broken character is something she handles very well. Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is mostly that of Tony, but watching Tony’s story is arguably the best part of the film. That being said, that also works as a bit of a negative. The fact that the story within a story works more and is more interesting than the “real” story is a bit of a shame, but that could be just me. Going back to the cast, Michael Shannon also continues his string of reliable and great characters with Andes, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson fines a great line of sadistic redneck and playing dumb.

All in all, Nocturnal Animals has all the elements to keep the film entertaining and keep you invested, but most of it relies on the story within the story. It’s not a bad thing overall, but when it parallels to Susan’s story it takes you out just a bit.

Nocturnal Animals

4 out of 5

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La La Land

Director: Damien Chazelle

Writer: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, Callie Hernandez, Jessica Rothe, Sonoya Mizuno, Finn Wittrock, and J.K. Simmons

Synopsis: A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

 

Damien Chazelle made waves with his last feature film, Whiplash, so people were really looking forward to what he had in store with La La Land. Turns out, it was another great story with great leads, an amazing score, awesome set-pieces and more importantly, a very old timey Hollywood feel.

The film follows Mia (Emma Stone), a struggling actress trying to keep her head above water, and works as a barista on the Warner Bros. studio backlot. She keeps meeting Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist with dreams of his own: he wants to open his own club. The two eventually end up together and what follows is their relationship as it goes through ups and downs in Hollywood.

La La Land takes a bit to find its tempo – I’m not even sorry for the bad music pun – but once it does, the film instantly becomes a whole new animal. The film does fall into musical territory, just so you know, but the soundtrack and music by Justin Hurwitz works so well that you’ll be nodding your head and trying to sing along with the music. You combine that with the great looking set-designs and you’ll fully embrace the vivid colorful world La La Land brings to the table.

It also helps that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are – once again – great as the leads. The two obviously have great chemistry together (this is the third film together), and their leads are likeable dreamers that fall for each other in a nontraditional way, which was nice to see, and seeing their relationship smoothly transition is what makes us emotionally invested in their story from beginning to end. Also, each of them have their own story arcs that don’t need the other to hang get involved in any real way. Mia struggles with her acting on her own, and Sebastian needs to decide on he wants to move forward with his passion. Both storylines feel real, and once we see the resolution it makes sense why they would choose what they do.

All in all, La La Land is a film that feels like an old timey Hollywood film that pays huge homage to the musicals of old, but also enough to set itself apart and pave its own way. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling carry the film from beginning to end, but it’s the music with the sets – or in many cases, real-life locations – and cinematography that makes the film work on multiple levels. Do yourself a favor and go watch La La Land as soon as you can.

La La Land

4.5 out of 5

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‘Poltergeist’ Review

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Dir: Gil Kenan

Writer(s): David Lindsay-Abaire, Steven Spielberg (story)

Cast: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett, Kennedi Clements, Jane Adams, Nicholas Braun, Susan Heyward, and Jared Harris

Synopsis: A family whose suburban home is haunted by evil forces must come together to rescue their youngest daughter after the apparitions take her captive.

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

Before I got into what I think of the movie, let me start by saying this, and this something I have always said to pretty much anyone that listens: I don’t mind remakes/reboots. The original movie will always be there. The day that remakes/reboots comes out and Hollywood decides to burn all original copes of the original movies so we can never see them is the day we can start bitching and moaning that remakes shouldn’t happen. My only thing about remakes/reboots is that they at least try to do their own thing with it, but at least keep some of the spirit or charm of the original if it’s possible. Did we need a remake/reboot of Poltergeist? Probably not, but it is here, so deal with it. Also, I will not compare this to the original movie, I don’t really do that in my reviews and never will. I’m judging this movie for what it is, and not what it was and turned into.

 

Poltergeist follows a family five in the Bowen family; the recently out of work father, Eric (Rockwell), the stay-at-home struggling mom Amy (DeWitt), the teenager Kendra (Sharbino), the youngest Madison (Clements) and the scared of many things and middle child Griffin (Catlett). They move into their new house, which they can barely afford but as soon as they move in, both Griffin and Madison start to encounter strange happenings around the house.

 

Eventually, Eric and Amy find out that the land the house is built on was built on top of a cemetery, but by then it is obviously too late. The spirits target Madison, because she is still innocent enough to not know they are really evil and lure her into her closet and to the other side. On the other side, Kendra and Griffin get attacked as well before their parents come home and find out that Madison is missing. They find out that Madison isn’t really missing of course and instead has crossed somewhere they can’t reach her.

 

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Amy and Eric don’t to the police since Eric says “who will believe us?” and Amy goes to Dr. Brooke Powell (Adams), a professor and expert on Paranormal Research. Powell helps the family with her two assistants Sophie (Heyward) and Boyd (Braun), but when they find out that they are a bit out of their league they get Carrigan Burke, a famous TV host of a show called Haunted House Cleaners. Burke tells the family that they need to work together in order to bring Madison home back safe.

 

Poltergeist has no problem going into the strange occurrences very early on. So much so that one of things I have a bit of problem with is the pacing. Writer David Lindsay-Abaire has things move pretty quickly, but not too quickly that we don’t get a feel for the characters. It’s rather odd. We do get a good sense of the characters that we end up liking the family for the most part, but things move a bit quickly that we are almost forced to care about them too. We want to see Madison returned and the family is especially broken up about and leads to a pretty dramatic scene lead by Sam Rockwell’s Eric when he first meets Jared Harris’ Carrigan Burke. However, the big thing is the family is quick to think that it is a supernatural occurrence. Eric does play the skeptical one of the family, but the love for his daughter and wanting her back takes over. I’m not saying that’s a good reason to overlook the family’s acceptance that her daughter was taken away by evil spirits, but they could have played it out a little more.

 

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The surprising thing about Poltergeist is its sense of humor. Seriously, the movie and characters have a great sense of humor and Rockwell leads the charge with witty one-liners and the attitude of being the “cool dad.” But there is some more injected humor later on in the movie, that isn’t so much out of place, but actually fits with Harris’ Burke.

 

The cast does well with what they’re given. Rockwell, Harris, and the youngest cast members Kyle Catlett and Kenndi Clements get the most work out of the movie. Sharbino’s Kendra has her moment but otherwise sits out the heavy action. Jane Adams’ Dr. Powell and Nicholas Braun’s Boyd also share a couple great moments, with Braun getting probably the best scare/tension scene in the movie, but Susan Heyward is really the one that gets the short end of the stick as Sophie as she really does almost nothing in the movie. Jared Harris could easily be a favorite, if it wasn’t for Rockwell’s good performance. Harris is having fun with his role and it shows, and thankfully, goes against type of this kind of character.

 

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The scares are okay. The majority of them are jump scares and only a few are actually effective. For the most part, Poltergeist works better as a creepy/haunted house movie as an opposed to a flat-out horror movie. My only real mention to the original movie is there are some callbacks to the original that fans will recognize.

 

All in all, Poltergeist has some fun moments and has a surprisingly great sense of humor. What makes it work is the cast and the few effective scares. It isn’t perfect, but it isn’t that bad either.

 

Poltergeist

3 out of 5