Office Christmas Party

By: Kevin Jordan

Jingle our bells.

ocp_poster

The best scene in a movie about an office Christmas party doesn’t actually occur at the party.  It happens in an airport lounge and is further evidence that Jennifer Aniston was horribly miscast for most of her career.  I’m not talking about starring in comedies, I’m talking about being cast as the good girl or heroine.  I get why it was done (Rachel from Friends), but it turns out she’s so much more fun to watch playing a villain, or at the very least, an anti-heroine.

For at least a few months (and maybe still going), Aniston was featured in a commercial for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, asking for help in fighting children’s cancer.  It’s a great cause and I love that she is helping with that effort.  In one shot, she’s literally holding two little girls with bald heads who are cancer survivors and your heart melts (as it should).  Try to remember that when you watch the airport lounge scene in this movie when (SPOILER ALERT) she confronts a little girl who ate Aniston’s Cinnabon by calling Santa to report the little girl, then tells the little girl “fuck you” while walking away.  Again, your heart melts a little bit.

And your little dog too.

And your little dog too.

While Aniston is doing her best to remind you that Horrible Bosses wasn’t a one-off for her, the rest of Office Christmas Party does it’s best to remind you that office Christmas parties used to happen and some might have even been fun.  I’m certain they didn’t happen like the one in this movie, but they used to happen when companies still cared about such things as employee morale.  For the record, I’ve worked for a major corporation for the past thirteen Christmases and there hasn’t been a Christmas/Holiday party thrown in the last ten.  Not that I mind all that much – they’re usually awkward and filled with people talking about work – but it’s the thought that counts.  Incidentally, the party in the movie starts off exactly like that.  My friend even commented that if we had an office Christmas party (we work for the same employer), that’s what it would be like.  This is both hilarious and depressing.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a plot beyond “out of control party,” this movie brings a surprisingly decent one.  Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller) is trying to save his employees’ jobs from his sister Carol’s (Aniston) cutbacks (she’s about to be CEO).  His idea is to throw a raging Christmas party to convince a prospective client, Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance), to sign a deal with them.  Clay enlists his CTO, Josh (Jason Bateman), and top programmer, Tracey (Olivia Munn), to help win over Walter by the end of the party.  Hijinks ensue due to alcohol, cocaine, and fear of getting fired, but I won’t ruin any of that for you.  Let’s just say that Vance gets to play against his traditional typecast of quiet lawyer and Miller plays up his traditional typecast of stoned funny man and both are fantastic.  Munn is also very good, making us forget about whatever she thought she was doing in X-Men: Apocalypse.  Even Kate McKinnon (playing the Human Resources lady) shines in some moments, though still has a lot of work to do level up to Miller, Bateman, and Aniston.

Let it all out Courtney. You earned it.

Let it all out Courtney. You earned it.

What I like the most about the movie is that the party never blots out the plot, but is used to good effect to move the plot forward or give a minor character a quick little spotlight and extra bit of comedy for the audience.  Yes, the plot does get a little absurd, even for this kind of movie, but it never stops being funny.  There are also plenty of fun set pieces (an Iron Throne being my favorite) that get wilder as the movie progresses.  It was like watching a modernized Bachelor Party, but with gender equality.

Winter is here.

Winter is here.

Like The Night Before last year, Office Christmas Party is a good comedy for the holiday season that delivers laughs throughout its entire running time.  Yes, there are some raunchy jokes and nudity and depictions of drug use, so if you are the type of person who thinks there is a war on Christmas and takes the holidays way too seriously, lighten up.  It’s not about you.  Stay home and be dead inside and the rest of us will enjoy another hilarious entry in the Christmas comedy genre.  And if that makes you mad, Jennifer Aniston has something to say to you.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and enjoy your company’s party (if it still exists).

Masterminds

By: Kevin Jordan

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

MASTERMINDS Teaser

I’ve made no secret of my disdain for Saturday Night Live alumni, its writers, or its producers.  I stopped watching the full show in college (we would watch the opening segment, then ignore it until Weekend Update when Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey were crushing it), then quit altogether due to a combination of Fey and Fallon leaving the show and the show becoming the least funny thing on television, which includes those animal commercials from Sarah McLachlan.  Perhaps my biggest problem with movies written for and by SNL people is that most of the jokes seem like they are either really long setups with little to no payoff or inside jokes between the cast and crew.  And we know this is likely to be the case because every one of their films include production notes or interviews describing all of the improvisation going on throughout production.  Just once, I’d like to see the screenplay for one of these films to see how much of it was flat out ignored because there is no way you will convince that every movie featuring Wiig wrote down that she should sing at some point during the film.

The good news is that I’m willing to give these people repeated chances to impress me rather than just being a curmudgeon.  Jason Sudeikis won me over after Horrible Bosses and We’re the Millers and is one of the main reasons why I decided to give Masterminds a chance.  Kristen Wiig is slowly improving in my book, as I may or may not have made a voodoo doll of her after Bridesmaids.  While she can’t carry a movie, she’s decent in supporting roles and delivers well when restrained by good writing and directing.  Toss in Zach Galifianakis and Owen Wilson and Masterminds seemed like it might have a chance with me.

There was a time when I'd be rooting for her to shoot herself.

There was a time when I’d be rooting for her to shoot herself.

More good news is that this movie does have some funny content.  The movie is based on the true story of a man named David Ghantt (Galifianakis), a Loomis Fargo employee, who (with several other people) decided to rob Loomis Fargo and got away with more than $17 million dollars, though all of them were eventually caught and most of the money recovered.  You should always beware of films claiming to be “based on a true story,” and this one is no different, but to its credit, the film keeps the major plot points intact (if you want to read about it, the wiki page is pretty good, as are many other search results).  My favorite factoid is that local residents came to refer to as “the hillbilly heist” and that’s where the film gets its real inspiration, though not the better parts of its comedy.  For me, the film got funny when unexpected things happened, which is basically the opposite of what happens on SNL.  Just to ruin one joke, Wiig takes a punch to the gut as she is standing next to a door and David is trying to open it from the other side.  And, no, it’s not just because Wiig got punched.

This is where the unexpected happens.

This is where the unexpected happens.

The bad news is this movie is very obviously SNL-inspired.  Or maybe that’s good news for those of you who forgot what good comedy looks and sounds like.  It features jokes that take way too long to develop, including walking meme, Kate McKinnon, playing David’s fiancé Jandice.  She delivers every line through clenched teeth and a sociopath’s smile and literally has nothing to do with the plot.  She is used as nothing more than an elaborate setup for a fight involving vagina cream (I am not making that up) and David’s crush, Kelly (Wiig).  What’s odd about this fight is that the two women have never met (at least that the audience is aware of), yet Jandice jumps her like a mountain lion when they meet at a department store.  It features gross-out gags (diarrhea in a pool, among others), one of which is far funnier in the outtakes than in finished film.  It features uncomfortable/awkward humor, including pre-wedding picture-posing by David and Jandice and a how-we-met story that makes you die a little inside.  In other words, it’s a great reminder of why I don’t watch SNL any more.

The ugly news is that the film features hammed up costumes, makeup effects, and accents (or lack thereof).  Of all of the true components to keep, the fact that the actual heist took place in 1997 is probably the last one that should have been kept.  Since the movie takes place in a North Carolina trailer park and Mexico, two places where time stopped mattering long ago, trying to be authentic with the visuals doesn’t add to the comedy, but does make you wonder when this movie really is taking place.  All of the sight jokes involving looks they go for fall flat, from David’s Lord Farquat haircut, to Steve (Owen Wilson) and Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) Chambers’ teeth and braces, to all of their bad clothing.  Considering I am the target audience for those jokes (I was in high school in 1997), I can definitively say that 1997 didn’t look that way.  And as for those accents, either do them or don’t do them.  Galifianakis’ and Sudeikis’ held steady, but Wiig’s went in and out, and Wilson didn’t even bother.  That’s the sign of a director who was hired basically as nothing more than a manager to make sure everyone showed up for work every day.

Our reasons for watching, despite their looks.

Our reasons for watching, despite their looks.

Despite all of that, the movie was better than I expected, especially considering it featured three-fourths of the cast of the Ghostbusters remake.  I found myself laughing at times and never thinking about how to get hair from the actors in order to make more voodoo dolls.  Galifianakis and Sudeikis make the movie worth watching and the film refrains from making Ghantt a total idiot (which would have ruined the movie outright).  It’s by no means good enough to make me want to sit through another SNL skit (let alone an entire episode), but it could have been a lot worse – it could have featured four-fourths of the cast of the Ghostbusters remake.

Rating: Ask for 4 dollars back.  I’d say it was slightly better than meh.

Ghostbusters (2016)

By: Kevin Jordan

A perfect shit storm.

gb poster

To quote Mrs. White from Clue, “I hated it sooo much, it, it, it…flames, flames, flames, on the side of my face, breathing, breathle…heaving breaths.”  It’s very possible that I overreacted to the Ghostbusters remake/reboot, but that quote accurately portrays my initial feelings of the Ghostbusters remake.  In fact, if I didn’t feel an obligation as part of the press to finish the movie, I would have walked out of the theater, which I have yet to do in my lifetime.  My friend even commented that he could feel the hate emanating from me as the movie wore on.  To be fair to the movie, I didn’t want to leave solely because the film was a wretched piece of crap (I’ve seen plenty of films like that and never left), but also because the majority of the audience was gleefully eating it up like a dog sometimes does its own feces.  So, unlike every reviewer I’ve read so far (even Richard Roeper, the one critic who trashed this movie), I’m not going to hold anything back.  You’ve been warned (and, yes, that means SPOILERS galore).

My friend and my wife both think I hated the movie in no small part because I wanted to hate the movie prior to even seeing it.  After stewing on it for a day, I think there is a lot of truth in that, though not the part about hating it.  It’s true that I went into the movie with expectations so low you’d have to dig a hole to find them and it’s also true that I wanted this movie to suck purely because remaking all-time classics is offensive to my movie-going soul (you’re next Ben-Hur) and Ghostbusters is most definitely a classic.  But, I didn’t go into the movie wanting to hate it – not even I am that spiteful.  It’s also true that I find Melissa McCarthy to be the least funniest human on the planet and this planet features people like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  I find her comedic timing terrible, her voice and delivery more irritating than what the offspring of Gilbert Gottfried and Fran Drescher would sound like, and her one note shtick of always playing a dickish character tiresome.  On top of all of that, Sony gave us arguably the worst movie trailer ever released, one that depicts a movie appearing to have all the intelligence of a wombat.  So…yeah, this movie had a mountain of work to do to please me.  Is that unfair?  Maybe.  But, with the exception of not being a Ghostbusters movie, Spy had all of the same elements (plus three really good actors not named Melissa McCarthy), even the same director/writer (Paul Feig), and I had the same level of bottom-scraping expectations for it as Ghostbusters.  Yet, I found Spy to be surprisingly decent, so at least you know I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong.  Ghostbusters just isn’t one of those times when I’m wrong.

I was wrong about you too.  You were good in The Martian.

I was wrong about you too. You were good in The Martian.

You should know that I went into the movie pre-annoyed due to miserable traffic causing us to be late to the screening.  We walked in just as the opening sequence was ending and sat down as the title splashed across the screen.  This did not put me into a forgiving kind of mood.  The next scene introduces us to Dr. Gilbert (Kristin Wiig) finishing up teaching a physics class when a man comes in to ask her for help with a ghost problem.  He asks her if she is the same person as the author of a ghost book and we spend the next minute or so cringing at her denying being the co-author, until finally giving up and admitting it.  This is not funny, especially when the joke serves the extra purpose of making the requester feel stupid.  This is the kind of humor I can’t stand because it’s lazy, unfunny, and drags on for far too long.  Don Kaye of Den of Geek sums it up perfectly in his review – “The improv may seem funny on the set, but on film it just meanders until someone finally decides to shut the camera off.”  Making it worse is that, throughout the film, the script calls for them to explain many of the jokes, even though every joke is mind-numbingly obvious (hell, most of the jokes are slapstick, sight gags).  Imagine going to a Gallagher show where he does nothing but smash watermelons for sixty-five minutes, then explains to you why it’s funny.  No it’s not, Gallagher.

While we’re on the subject of comedy, even in my growing hatred I laughed at a couple of lines in the movie, though all were complete throw-aways that had nothing to do with the plot or premise of the movie.  Chris Hemsworth, playing the impossibly stupid, but hunky secretary (he covers his eyes in “pain” due to loud sounds and removed the lenses from his glasses so he can scratch his eyes – neither of which was funny) delivers such gems as “an aquarium is just a submarine for fish” (I laughed because it completely random and delivered perfectly) and appears to be the only one having fun on the set.  Many reviewers accuse him of being terrible, but his character was terribly written and useless, so the fact he was having fun is a +1 in my book.  Wiig even yanked a laugh out of me the one time her dry wit was used properly – when being shown the firehouse (gratuitous cameo alert), the realtor says the rent is $21000 a month and Wiig immediately responds with “burn in hell.”  But overall, the comedy was just bad and it’s most likely because, as noted during interviews with the cast and director, Feig and the cast substitute well-written, smart, thought-out comedy with riffing and improv.  Kate McKinnon (playing ghostbuster Jillian Holtzman) is the worst offender of this, randomly and constantly doing weird things for no reason besides she can (at one point dancing with propane torches for the amusement of Gilbert), mugging for the camera and delivering her lines with a bizarre speech pattern that’s as off-putting as Samuel Jackson’s lisp in Kingsmen.  Holtzman is a walking photobomb rather than a fleshed out character and the movie suffers badly for it.

(If anyone was being over-hyped in this film it was McKinnon.  Not having watched Saturday Night Live in years, I had no idea who she was, nor Leslie Jones for that matter, so I had zero pre-conceived opinion of either of them.  Jones was fine at least.)

Anyway, getting back to the story, Gilbert confronts high school pal Abby Yates (McCarthy) about the book being available, that she doesn’t want to be associated with the paranormal, but ends up getting roped into investigating the ghost problem because the movie needs her to.  From Feig’s own mouth, this scene was a recreation of the original’s library scene to pay tribute and apparently by tribute he means puke on.  Literally.  This is the first example of dozens of scenes ripped off from the original movie (do not believe any reviewers that claim this movie isn’t a remake) none of which are even remotely clever.  Remember how Venkman tries to talk to the library ghost and keeps getting shushed, then the ghost freaks out at him because he won’t be quiet?  That’s good writing – actions that happen for a reason.  This time around, Gilbert introduces herself to the ghost and the ghost responds by puking on her (incidentally, this scene in the trailer is how I knew this movie was made for the lowest common denominator).  That’s called bad writing – actions that happen because you have to use up the fuel truck’s work of Gak you bought from Nickelodeon.  Like the bad comedy, things happen throughout the entire movie for no reason other than “eh, why the fuck not?”

I think the shrimp was bad. Bluuhh.

I think the shrimp was bad. Bluuhh.

Okay, so let me back up for a second here.  When we first meet Yates, she’s rude and bitchy to Gilbert and doesn’t give a shit about Gilbert’s life, including Gilbert getting fired after the ghost encounter, all because Gilbert had the audacity to pursue a different study.  How the hell are we supposed to sympathize with Yates?  What’s annoying is how easy it is to fix that – rather than make her an asshole right off the bat, make her at most nonchalant and at best excited at the chance to prove her work to Gilbert.  Is there a reason why Yates can’t be earnest besides McCarthy’s extremely limited range as an actor?  Anyway, the three of them decide to continue the research (Holtzman is Yates’ partner), but get booted from Yates’ college because the movie had gone more than thirty seconds without an homage (and including another horridly unfunny scene where the dean flips them the bird several different ways because improv!).  After the afore mentioned firehouse scene, the three end up renting the floor above a Chinese restaurant, hiring secretary Kevin (Hemsworth), and meeting Patty Tolan (Jones) who tells them about a subway ghost.  Patty insists on being part of the team and the gang agrees because fuck plot and character development.  They go investigate the subway tunnel ghost and we see them test out the proton packs for the first time.

Er...science and stuff.

Er…science and stuff.

By this time, you should be wondering what the hell this movie is about and why do they want to be Ghostbusters?  Well, they don’t.  They just want to catch a ghost to prove ghosts exist.  While doing this, they discover that someone is purposely letting ghosts out, but not before the next rip-off, er…homage scene.  A dragon ghost is loose at a rock concert and the venue manager calls them to…tell them about it, I think?  You see, they’ve been posting fliers around asking people to call them with ghost sightings (after an excruciatingly unfunny gag where the flier uses the same phrase for if you suspect a terrorist).  Nothing about catching and removing ghosts, just let them know.  Again, this happens because *jazz hands – homage*, not because it makes any sense.  It’s also a terribly rendered and executed scene with no subtlety whatsoever.  In other words, the exact opposite of the “we came, we saw, we kicked its ass” hotel sequence from the original that it fails to mimic.  But this flaming sack of dog shit has to keep burning, so on we go.

After catching the ghost, the first human cameo shows up in Bill Murray as a naysaying talking head on Fox news (yes, it’s actually Fox news in the movie).  This might have been okay had it been restricted to just a quick blurb on TV, but Murray then shows up at their door demanding to see the ghost.  To make matters worse, Murray is playing the part with open disdain that is far more directed at this movie’s existence than within the character’s role.  On one hand, I’m proud of him for sabotaging the movie, but I’m also disappointed in him for caving in and doing it all.  And, yes, the ignorant audience was howling in laughter and applause during his screen time, not realizing that Murray was dying inside.

Speaking of cameos, every cameo causes what little momentum exists to grind to a halt so the studio can congratulate itself on bringing the old gang back together while fallating the superfans in the audience with the most embarrassing and gratuitous display of fan service ever included in a film.  I’m not just talking about actor cameos; I’m talking about Mr. Stay Puft, Slimer, Slimer’s wife (WTF?!), the fire house, jumpsuits, and catch phrases.  The point of a cameo, especially in this movie, is to acknowledge the original by subtly nodding to the original.  Annie Potts gets the only worthy cameo, playing an irritated hotel desk clerk – that is clever.  The rest?  Not so much.  Murray’s was abysmal, as already described, Stay Puft is a possessed Macy’s Day parade balloon that is front and center in an attack in the climax, the jumpsuits are provided by Patti’s uncle’s funeral home (huh?) who, unsurprisingly, is Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver shows up in an end credits scene (redefining the term “shoehorning in”), but nothing is worse than Akyroyd appearing as a cab driver and, when Gilbert pleads with him to take them to Chinatown to fight ghosts, he says “I don’t drive this late night, I don’t go to Chinatown, and I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.”  Do you hear that sound?  That was your childhood getting kicked in the taint.

Here’s where the movie starts to get really bad.  Homeland security agents show up at their door and take them to see the mayor (Andy Garcia, who should be ashamed of himself) because, and I’m quoting here, “we’ve been monitoring this situation for quite some time.”  You have?  You’ve been monitoring three ghost hunters based on their three YouTube posts (boy do I wish I was making that up)?  Are you seriously suggesting that in a movie where “report terrorism” fliers are specifically called out that Homeland Security would give any kind of shit about ghosts?  Are my eyes bleeding right now?

At this point, the movie goes from awful to GGGGEECHHHHHH!  The team discovers the location of the villain’s hideout by, and I’m still not making this up, Gilbert marking locations of ghost sightings on a map (the epiphany comes when Patti calls out the intersection of 6th and 26th, among several others, but that intersection literally means nothing to any of us), drawing a big X (you know, as opposed to a star, or square, or cross), then blabbering about lay lines, something that wasn’t even hinted at until that very moment.  Look, I know I sometimes have lofty standards, but holy shit!  Did it not occur to anyone to just have them discuss lay lines in the lab at any point earlier in the movie?  McCarthy does nothing for almost the entire movie except test a proton pack and trip over the pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo she was forced to recite (even my friend acknowledged that she was noticeably struggling to deliver some of those lines); they couldn’t give her one little research project in which to yammer about lay lines?  I’d call this movie lazy, but that would be an insult to slackers everywhere.  Incidentally, this is where I was ready to walk out of the theater.  Instead, I chose to sit through the remainder of a movie that was trying to prove that there’s no limit to “reached a new low.”

Speaking of yammering, let’s finish this thing.  Here is how the rest of the movie plays out.  They confront the villain, Rowan (Neil Casey), and we’re told that his motivation for wanting to murder the entire human race with ghosts is that he was bullied (just kill me).  The ghost of Rowan possesses Yates, then Kevin, because the original movie also had two possessions (please kill me?) and Feig wasn’t going to not include an Exorcist head-spin reference (of all the bad acting in this movie, McCarthy’s possession was pathetic).  They go to the hotel that is the epicenter of the lay lines (is there anyone out there who still thinks this isn’t a remake?) where ghost Rowan has frozen a company of soldiers and cops into a Saturday Night Fever disco dance pose (kill me, please?).  Rowan transforms into an animated Ghostbusters logo (I couldn’t believe it either), then grows into a giant, dirty, sock-version of the logo-ghost and starts punching buildings.  The ghostbusters fight an army of ghosts pouring out of a blue whirlpool, trick Slimer into driving Ecto-1 (their car and, yes, that Slimer) into the pool because the car has a nuclear reactor on it (the Deus Ex Machina, which is latin for Paul Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold should die of gonorrhea and rot in hell for writing this), the pool changes from a ghost spewer to a ghost sucker, and I fantasized about punching every person in the audience who was still sucking on this shit popsicle and roaring in ecstasy.  Oh, and they defeat Rowan by shooting him in the dick, even acknowledging that they shot him there.  Seriously, a movie in which a months-long narrative of accusing people of sexism if they dared to dislike the movie solves its main conflict in the most sexist way possible.

Aim low ladies.

Aim low ladies.

(Side note: now that the sexism thing is out in the open, I have a couple questions based on swapping the genders of all the major characters, but changing nothing else.  One – how up in arms would the feminists be with the secretary being incredibly stupid and incredibly hot, as well as defeating the villain by shooting her in the boobs?  Two – how many critics would be giving it the negative reviews it deserves – just on technical merits alone – because they wouldn’t be afraid of being labelled as sexist?)

On top of all of that, there are other bad technical issues with the movie.  First and foremost are the cartoonish special effects.  Between the completely benign and unscary ghosts, the blue, green, and pink color palate, and the copious amounts of neon green slime, there is no way to defend this movie as keeping to the spirit of the original – at least in the original you believe the ghosts could be real.  Second is the lack of anything scary and any reviewer claiming this movie has anything even remotely scary is stunningly full of shit.  The original had the dogs, the bursting eggs, the tense hotel and library scenes, and the hands bursting through Dana Barrett’s chair and dragging her to the dog in the kitchen.  The new one has possessed balloons and a dance sequence.  When you throw in the bad dialogue, non-existent character development, crappy music that does not fit the movie, an uninspired and lackluster plot, ill-conceived and lazy (and sometimes embarrassing) cameos, and comedy that doesn’t play off the movie’s plot or premise beyond sliming, you get a shitty movie.

Does this look scary to you?

Does this look scary to you?

The worst thing about this movie is that it would be really easy to make a good Ghostbusters movie, regardless of the gender of the leads.  Off the top of my head, make it a sequel (as was claimed by the long-standing rumors in which the old garde mentors a new team), make parts of it scary, write it for adults also, cast better actors (basically, anybody not associated with SNL), and ditch all of the dumb cameos and scene retreads.  To top it all off, the movie even acknowledges that it’s terrible – at the end of the film, the four women are looking out over the city and one of them says “see, that wasn’t so terrible.”  Yes, it fucking was.

So, what do you think?  Did I overreact?  Did I provide enough evidence of how bad this movie was?  I feel like I did because I‘ve spent more than three thousand words describing in detail everything that was wrong with this putrid excuse for a movie.  And, for those of you who don’t think it’s fair to compare this movie with the original, of course it’s fair.  They shouldn’t have called it Ghostbusters if they didn’t want the comparison.  That, combined with everything else, makes this a perfect shit storm of cinema.

Rating:  Just, no.  This movie isn’t even the kind of bad that’s fun to go see as a joke.  Also, fuck this movie – I told you I wasn’t going to hold back.