Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Retro Movie Review: Die Hard (1988 – R – 131 minutes)

The debate over whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie has long ago been rendered moot – it’s absolutely a Christmas movie, and in my family’s house, it’s our favorite Christmas movie. Now, there are others to enjoy (Elf, Trading Places, Jingle All The Way), but this is the one we watch every year.  In my opinion, it’s also the greatest action movie ever made.

Released in 1988, the movie was based on the 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp – which itself was a sequel to his 1966 novel, The Detective.  The Detective was actually made into a 1968 hit movie starring Frank Sinatra. 

Joe Leland was the private detective introduced in that story, who then in the sequel “Nothing Lasts Forever” visited the forty-story office headquarters of the Klaxon Oil Corporation in L.A. on Christmas Eve where his daughter Stephanie Gennaro worked. While there, German terrorists take over the skyscraper, and Leland he has to take them out one at a time to rescue his daughter and the other employees.  Barefoot and aided only by LAPD Sergeant Al Powell, he fights off the terrorists.

In the movie, on Christmas Eve, New York police officer John McClane arrives in Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his wife and kids. His wife has moved out to L.A. months prior, having been offered a great job at the Nakatomi Corporation in their brand-new still-being-constructed skyscraper headquarters.  This move caused them to be slightly estranged, and they are both hoping they can reconcile some of their differences while he’s visiting. 

McClane is picked up at the hotel by limo-driver Argyle, who gives him some quick information about the company, and agrees to wait in the building parking garage until McClane lets him know if he’ll need a hotel or not.  McClane goes up to one of the top floors - where the company is holding their Christmas party – they are the only people left in the building.  McClane freshens up in Holly’s office after meeting her boss Joseph Takagi, and her co-worker Harry Ellis – one of the most 80s douche-iest guys ever put to film.  Holly goes to give a speech to the coworkers, leaving John alone in her office. While there, German terrorists, led by the frightening Hans Gruber, break into the building and take everyone in the party hostage. McClane escapes, and heads to a different floor in the building, attempting to build a plan.

After he pulls a fire alarm, he defeats one of the terrorists, and begins to build a tally of how many of them there are. He steals a walkie-talkie, and uses it to call for help. After at first believing McClane to be a Christmas Eve prankster, the police send Sergeant Al Powell to the scene.  He realizes the threat is real and so calls for additional backup.

Eventually, the area outside the building fills up with LAPD, and SWAT – while McClane goes through the building, attempting to take out one terrorist at a time to rescue Holly and the other hostages.  We learn from Hans Gruber, the head of the terrorists, that their true plan is to distract the law enforcement with the hostages while they steal the millions of dollars in bearer bonds that are in the company safe.

Eventually, McClane takes out just about everyone, while the majority of the law enforcement outside proves to be somewhat useless – including FBI Special Agents Johnson and Johnson (no relation). Watch again for the one storming SWAT officer who runs into a difficult rose bush.  

In fact, they play right into Gruber’s hands as the shut down the power and send in armed helicopters.  Only Sergeant Powell is really there to support McClane and keep him appraised of what is happening outside.

It’s a very simple story – regular guy versus big time bad guys to save his lady, but for some reason – it works.  The climax is unbelievably satisfying when (spoiler alert) Gruber falls to his death from the skyscraper, McClane rescues Holly, Powell defends them from Karl, and Argyle shows up just in time to drive Holly and John home for Christmas.
Because Christmas features so heavily into the plot (it’s the reason he’s there in L.A., it’s the reason the holiday party is happening, it’s the reason Hans and crew choose to rob Nakatomi at that time) it makes sense to consider this a Christmas movie.  Directed by action specialist John McTiernan (who also did 80s action spectacle Predator) the movie is fast-paced, easy to follow, and action heavy.  And of course, since it’s from 1988, it has one PTS.  What I really love about it is the care taken in crafting the movie.  Nothing is wasted – every moment of exposition and ‘set-up’ in the beginning of the movie comes back into play later on.  From McClane being told by the guy on the plane to make “fists with your toes” when you arrive to Argyle dragging relationship details out of McClane, to Takagi mentioning how the top floors of the building are not yet done – everything comes back into use.  Even the story Powell tells McClane about being given a desk job plays into the final sequence.  A lot of movies can be described as exposition heavy, but this is one that will teach you how to use every single moment –exposition or otherwise - to enhance the story.

The cast is absolute action movie perfection
  • Bruce Willis was still shooting the TV comedy Moonlighting when production began. He shot Die Hard at night and Moonlighting during the day. His exhaustion actually resulted in the script being adjusted to give some of the supporting characters more screen time – which is part of what makes this movie a classic.  Willis is better in this movie than he is in almost anything else (except for maybe Fifth Element, which is really just future McClane) and he does have an ‘everyman’ quality that makes this movie more fun than if it had been one of the other larger than life action stars of the day.  He’s quotable and relatable as a cop who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and tries to do the right thing.  

  • The movie really does belong to Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber.  Slickly charming and brilliantly evil, he steals every single scene he is in and set the bar exceptionally high for every other action villain to come after.  No one comes close – except maybe for Jeremy Irons in Die Hard 3.  He’s so polished and suave, you can understand why someone so regular and blue collar as McClane drives him a bit crazy.  And yes – he did a short fall onto a mat for the fall at the end, and they dropped him on “two” after telling him they would drop him on “three” – so that iconic look he gives is, in fact, genuine surprise.

  • Reginald VelJohnson plays Sergeant Al Powell, in a long line of his career of comforting cops.  He’s the only one who is one McClane’s side, who believes in him and tries to support him – all while only communicating with him via walkie-talkie.  They connect so completely due to the fantastic performance by VelJohnson, that the moment at the end of the movie where McClane finally gets to meet Powell in person will often bring me to tears. Also – check out the price of gas at the station when Powell is first introduced buying twinkies (yes, this movie is the reason you know the ingredients of Twinkies “Yellow dye no. 5!”) - $.74.

  • Paul Gleason plays Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson – and basically is the same role that he perfected in Breakfast Club and Trading Places.  He’s a government stooge, there to try to steal the glory.  His ineptitude, which is pointed out perfectly by VelJohnson, is the source of much of the humor in this movie.  “I think they’re shooting at the lights!”

  • Bonnie Bedelia plays Holly Gennaro McClane.  She’s pretty great for a 80s action movie lady – she’s not nearly as helpless as some of them, and she tries her best to stand up to Hans and his crew when they shoot her boss.  Once she realizes that John is loose in the building and trying to eliminate the hostages, she hides that he is her husband, so as to not be turned into a weapon to be used against him.  However, once the tool of a news reporter reveals her family – Hans swiftly collects her as his own private hostage.

  • Speaking of the tool of a news reporter, William Atherton plays Richard Thornburg, the pompous 80s tool that he perfected in Ghostbusters and other movies.  He will do anything to get a big story, including threatening Holly’s nanny with deportation to get the kids on the news and reveal that she and John are married.  Her final encounter with him where she punches him in the face is very satisfying!

  • Hart Bochner plays the epitome of 80s excess (“hookers and blow!”) in this movie, Harry Ellis.  He’s just the absolute worst from his first appearance, doing cocaine in Holly’s office, then bragging about the Rolex they gave her (the payoff on that is huge), then deciding he can negotiate with the terrorists.  Cocaine is a hell of a drug.  He’s the reason Hans finds out John’s name, but either through delusion or intelligence (I’m going with delusion), he doesn’t reveal Holly’s connection to John – Thornburg takes care of that.

  • James Shigeta plays Joseph Takagi who welcomes McClane to the party, and then attempts to refuse to give Hans the password to the vault, so Hans kills him.  He’s not around very long, but the scene where Hans goes through the crowd looking for him, listing off his various accomplishments is such a tense sequence enhanced by Shigeta’s stillness and quietly contained panic.

  • Defected Russian ballet dancer Alexander Godunov plays Karl – the number two terrorist.  He’s quickly established as a bit of a hot-head and brother to one of the other terrorists.  After learning McClane killed his brother, he starts to push back against Hans’s leadership, caring more about his own personal vendetta than Hans’s goal.  He’s an exceptional counterpoint to McClane – all European efficiency to McClane’s American reckless enthusiasm.

  • De’voreaux White, who was also on Head of The Class, plays limo driver Argyle.  He basically spends the night partying in the limo in the parking garage, but then begins monitoring the situation on the CB radio once he becomes aware of what is happening.  This allows him to have a huge hero moment at the end of the movie to eliminate Theo.

  • Clarence Gilyard Jr. – from Walker, Texas Ranger – plays Theo, easily the most annoying member of Hans’s crew.  But, like he says, they didn’t bring him along for his sparkling personality.  He’s basically the hacker of the crew, before hackers on the crew were a thing.

  • All the terrorists are pretty fun - but special shout out to actor/stuntman Al Leong (Genghis from Bill&Ted) who has a moment with a Crunch bar that really enhances the comedy in a tense scene.

Overall, the movie is just wonderful, simple, straightforward, fun, and action-packed.  It's probably the best use of Beethoven's Ode to Joy.  It’s so iconic that it promptly became the way to describe the countless rip-offs that came afterwards (“it’s Die Hard on a boat!”  “It’s Die Hard on a train!” – and those are just the Under Siege movies!).  And, since the Nakatomi Plaza Building is actually the Fox Plaza Building, be sure to visit it the next time you are in L.A; 2121 Avenue of the Stars.  When they shot the movie, the top floors were still under construction so that they could use real explosions on the top few floors.  This Christmas, gather your family around (okay, not little ones – it is rated R), and enjoy the best Christmas movie ever.

10 out of 10 – perfection.  Quotable perfection.  “This is Agent Johnson…no, the other one.”  “If this is what Christmas is like, I got to be around for New Years!”

Here's the LAMBcast review where I was lucky enough to join fellow LAMB members to discuss the movie! o   https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/lambcast/episodes/2017-12-06T15_40_44-08_00

Bonus - ScreenJunkies Honest Trailer - 

Bonus - Making Of Special!  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (PG13 – 134 minutes)

I am a huge Star Wars fan – since 1977 when I saw the first Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) in the theater.  Okay – Since I was only 7 months old at the time – my parents took me, and maybe I don’t remember it – but I’m told I behaved very well.  The movie was a fun and action-filled space opera that spanned two sequels, three prequels, an entire expanded universe of books, comics, and games – and most recently, in December of last year, another sequel.

This is the first ‘non-saga’ movie in the official Star Wars universe, meaning that it does not get an “Episode” number.  Although it is tempting to think of it as Episode 3.95. It’s a stand-alone story.  The way I have been describing it to casual fans is that in the original movie Princess Leia is trying to get the stolen Death Star plans back to the Rebel Alliance while evading Imperial pursuit, and this is the story of how she got those plans in the first place.

I tried not to get my hopes up, just in case it couldn’t deliver on all the hype – but the first few trailers were excellent.  Add into that the fact of Forest Whitaker playing a character from the animated Clone Wars series, and you had the potential for an incredible movie.  I’m pleased to say, I think it delivers.

Rogue One starts on a desolate planet as we are introduced to Jyn Erso, a young girl living with her parents, in what seems to be hiding.  An imperial shuttle lands, and Orson Krennic – an imperial ‘director’ (not sure where that ranking falls in the scope of things but it’s clearly lower than ‘moff’) – and his private guard unit (that's why they're in black and not normal looking Stormtroopers) comes to collect Galen Orso, Jyn’s father.  He tells Galen that production has stalled, and they need his engineering skills.  Galen attempts to protest, but they kill his wife and take him – Jyn runs.

Jyn is found by Saw Gerrera, and we later learn that he raised her, but the next time we encounter her, she’s in lockup on what I could call an Imperial labor camp-type deal?  We are introduced to Rebel Captain Cassian Andor as he meets with an informant and learns that a former Imperial pilot has defected, with a message of great importance from Galen Erso.  Cassian is weighed down by the guilt of the horrible things he has done in the name of the rebellion, for what he believes to be the greater good – but we’re not told much more about that.   In any case, the defector is headed to Saw Gerrera.  So – Cassian and his droid, K-2SO, break Jyn out, in the hopes of using her to get an audience with Saw.  K-2SO is a reprogrammed Imperial Intelligence Droid, and I’m sure the story of how he came to be partnered with Cassian is interesting, but we’re not told much more about that.

They head to Jedha, a planet under Imperial occupation.  The Imperials are looting an ancient Jedi temple for the Khyber crystals (I guess they help to power the Death Star?).  While Cassian and Jyn search for a way to get in touch with Saw, they meet Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus, who are apparently former temple guardians, and now seem to just spend time hanging around in the marketplace.  Chirrut is blind, and he and Baze seem to have a close bond, and while we know they used to be temple guardians, we are not told much more about that.

Together, they all get collected by Saw’s gang of dissidents or terrorists – depending on your point of view – either way, he’s too extreme for the Rebel Alliance, so has been combating the Empire on his own – but we’re not told much more about that.  Jyn reunites with Saw, and the rest of the new crew encounters Bodhi, the defected pilot, who has the message from Galen, and feels a great debt of gratitude to Galen for something he did, but we’re not told much more about that. Jyn does get to see the message from her father.  Essentially – he’s completed building the Death Star for the Empire, but he’s built in a fail-safe.  There is an exhaust port about two meters wide (the size of a womp rat) and if you can get a torpedo down there, he has ensured that the entire station will explode.  In order to find this port, the message tells them they will need to get the plans for the Death Star.

As this is happening, Krennic is having a bit of a power dispute with Grand Moff Tarkin, who has shown up to take over the Death Star from Krennic, because he knows a leak came out of Galen Erso’s facility. Krennic, incredulous, heads to the facility to confront Galen – but not before Tarkin orders the Death Star to Jedha, to destroy only Jedha City.
Our newly assembled group of heroes gets off the planet just in time, and they also head to Galen’s facility – since Bodhi came from there, and Jyn didn’t grab a copy of the message, so really – no one will believe them.  Alliance commander General Draven tells Cassian to execute Galen when they get there, not wanting to take any chances about letting Imperials go free.  Once Draven loses contact with Cassian, he sends a fleet to take out the facility anyway.

Everyone arrives at about the same time – Crennic shoots all of Galen’s engineers, and is about to shoot Galen just as Cassian has a change of heart and is not going to shoot him, but then of course – Draven’s fleet of X-Wings all show up and destroy the base anyway – killing Galen in the process, but leaving him alive just enough that he and Jyn can have a tearful reunion.  The base is blowing up, so our heroes head back to the Rebel base on Yavin 4. 

Here, we get just a bit of the politics as Mon Mothma and Jyn try to convince the rebel alliance to let Jyn go to Scarif (which is where all the big time Imperials plans are kept) and get the Death Star plans so that they can use them to destroy the Death Star. However, there’s a lot of argument against it and some of the Senators are a little afraid of the pushback from the Emperor in the Senate, but we’re not told much more about that.  It’s decided that Jyn will not be allowed to go – She is therefore, going anyway – I mean, she has this new group of friends who are all set for adventure, plus a group of rebels who believe in her and want to help – so, about 20 of them head off in their stolen imperial shuttle to Scarif, using the code to sneak through a really awesome planet shield.
What follows is an absolutely incredible action sequence where Jyn, Cassian and K2SO break into the base to find the plans and Bodhi, Chirrut and Baze (and the random guys) create a distraction outside.  Once word gets out that a rebel group is on Scarif – Draven and his pilots as well as Mon Calamari general Merrick bring almost the entire Rebel Fleet to the space above Scarif to break down the shield and ensure the transmission of the plans can get out. 

Now – this is not really a spoiler, because Episode IV begins with Leia stashing the plans in R2-D2 as her ship is boarded by Vader and Stormtroopers – this movie ends with Vader chasing rebel troops who get the plans to Leia.  It’s the process that makes that happen that is truly amazing.

Directed by Gareth Edwards, a self-described Star Wars superfan who claims to have seen the original between 500 and 600 times, this movie feels like it’s made by a fan. You’ll notice I kept saying we’re not really told much more about that – that’s either a good thing or a bad thing.  I would have loved more backstory on the characters, who they are and why they are where they are.  And I love the politics of the story, so I would have loved more of that; however, that is not really the point of this movie.  The point of this movie is the heist to steal the plans.  The assembling of the crew feels a little Seven Samurai, Magnificent Seven or even Ocean’s Eleven.  Yes, all the characters are interesting, and yes, more backstory on them would have been great – but honestly it’s not necessary, and everyone did a good job of giving you just enough of a taste of their character so that you understood them and found them interesting, but weren’t bored by extensive backstory or exposition while they carried out the mission of this movie.

I love the fact that the entire premise of Galen building in a trap fixes the whole issue in Episode IV of why a station of that size would have such a major weakness.  The movie looks amazing – not really a surprise, since Edwards’s Godzilla movie looked incredible.  The scope and cinematography are stunning.  Most of the effects are practical, and a lot of the movie – the Rebel Base and the rebels themselves in particular – felt like they were directly out of 1977, and the same era as the first film. The action sequences are astounding, the space battles epic, and there is one Darth Vader sequence that is worth the price of admission alone. The cast is absolutely perfect.

  • Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso, a completely capable action hero who is carrying a bit of a grudge having lost her parents young and being abandoned by Saw. She’s no-nonsense, bitter, and angry – but encountering her father again after all that time gives her the power of hope (hope is a major theme in this) and pushes her to do whatever she can to fight against the tyranny of the empire.

  • Diego Luna plays Cassian Andor, and he’s a great action hero as well.  I certainly was interested in his dark background, and having done many questionable things in the past in the name of the greater good (he does kill the unarmed informant for almost no reason), but he did a fantastic job of seeming haunted, but very hopeful once Jyn provides him a new path to follow.

  • Alan Tudyk did the voice and performance capture for K-2SO, and I won’t even lie to you – I was prepared to be annoyed with K2, the same as I was with BB8 last year, but dammit if I wasn’t completely wrong again. Where BB8 was adorable and charming, K2 is glum and straightforward. He’s powerful in battle, but also a little sarcastic about the entire situation.  He was just the right tone for this movie, and his final scene in the movie was very powerful.

  • Donnie Yen plays Chirrut Imwe, and I could honestly watch a solid two hours of just a blind Donnie Yen battling Stormtroopers.  He’s so wonderful in the action, but also wonderful in the character moments.  His non-verbals are just as strong, and it really made me want to know more about his character – again, just not enough time, and not key to this particular story.

  • Jiang Wen plays Baze Malbus, and here’s another character I wanted more on – why are he and Chirrut best friends? Why do they just hang around the temple? How did they meet? I want a whole movie on their previous life, meeting and then becoming temple guardians – I imagine that Chirrut’s blindness is a result of him doing something to save Baze’s life, which is why Baze is so devoted to him.  There’s no evidence of that whatsoever, just me adding in backstory!

  • Forest Whitaker plays Saw Gerrera, and if you’re familiar with Saw from the Clone Wars – you know that he and his sister Steela were leading a rebellion against the Separatists on Onderon.  Obi-Won, Anakin, and Ashoka helped train them, but were not allowed to get involved in their war itself.  Steela ended up dying, and the entire encounter is what started Ashoka to start questioning the Jedi Order.  Honestly, I would love to know what happened to him between then and now – because here, he’s missing a bunch of limbs, can barely breathe anymore, and seems mostly crazy!  But he still cares for Jyn, and does what he can to help her on her way. Also – his characters will be on Star Wars Rebels this spring, voiced by Forest Whitaker, so we will get to see more of his story!

  • Ben Medelsohn plays Orson Krennic, and is the perfect Imperial middle man.  Originally, I wanted to see Thrawn in that role, but the role is not powerful enough for him. Crennic is all about trying to climb that Imperial ladder – but keeps running into Tarkin holding him down. I did appreciate that he tried to go above Tarkin to Vader, but at this point, Vader was still somewhat answering to Tarkin.

  • Riz Ahmed plays Bodhi Rook, and again – a character I would have loved more backstory on – he’s completely devoted to Galen, and seems to have risked a great deal to escape with his message.  He’s perfect at panicked, and does a great job of stepping up when given the opportunity.

  • Mads Mikkelsen plays Galen Erso, and is elegant and determined.  Once he has no choice, he still does what he can to assist the rebels by building in his fail safe.

  • Jimmy Smits plays Bail Organa, just a bit – but it’s really nice to see him. There is a moment when he tells Mon Mothma he’ll send Leia to get Kenobi, then head back to Alderaan, and I said, “No, don’t go back there!”  Oh well.

  • Allistair Petrie plays General Draven, a by the book Alliance fighter who is willing to kill to meet their goals, but is swept up into Jyn’s fight by the end.

  • Genevieve O’Reilly plays Mon Mothma; and she also played her in Episode III where we got to see Bail and Mothma start the Rebellion with the assistance of Padme – except all those scenes were cut out.  They are really interesting, and would have added to the movie.  In any case, she’s struggling here to hold the new alliance together, and as much as she wants to back Jyn, can’t support her openly. 

Overall, I loved it.  There has been some hub-bub about the digital characters. Yes, most of the effects are practical, but, you’ll notice in the synopsis above I mentioned Tarkin several times, and Peter Cushing – the actor who played Tarkin – died in 1994.  He is however, in this movie.  Or, at least, a digital recreation of him is in this movie.  Now, human CGI is pretty good, but not flawless, and you can tell he’s not real, but they did a really good job.  I appreciated it immensely, I love Tarkin as a character, and was thrilled to see him back in this, pushing around his underlings and taking control of his station.  

The second digital addition was a 19 year old Carrie Fisher as the plans are handed to Leia at the end.  This one didn’t look quite as good, and since it’s the last shot of the movie – was a little jarring.  Honestly, I’m not sure this one was necessary. Since we saw her from the back, we could have ended on the plans being placed into her hand as she said her one line; we didn’t really need to see her face.  There is also a digital creature that looks space-octopus-ish that Saw says he’s using to see if Bodhi is telling the truth, but it might make him lose his mind. Well, he doesn’t lose his mind, and that scene had absolutely no bearing on anything else, rendering that one was completely useless.  So - of those three major digital components, truth-octopus = no; digi-Leia = no; digi-Tarkin = yes! Everything else I was one hundred percent on board!
I would also be remiss if I didn't mention how much I loved the fact that of the six main characters in this movie, not one of them is a white male.  It's a little thing that movies start to reflect their audiences, but - we've come a long way, and it's important to me to see that level of inclusivity in the cast.  

9 (really like a 9.75) out of 10 – losing a point for digi-Leia and the pointless truth octopus. Gained points for K2 being awesome, Chirrut being cool, and Baze being my favorite, and then gained extra bonus points for the Vader hallway bit.  Honestly - easily one of the most iconic Star Wars sequences ever, and what you've been wanting to see Vader do since the first time you saw Vader.  Go see it – then go see it again.

Bonus, cast interviews!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Movie review: Office Christmas Party (R- 105 minutes)

This is the second week in a row seeing Christmas-y movies for me – not that unusual for this time of year, but a bit unusual for me personally!  This one is definitely less family-friendly than Almost Christmas.

Office Christmas Party takes place over the course of about 24 hours in Chicago.  Josh Parker seems to be the CTO in a software tech company that is prepping to have their annual Christmas get-together in the office after work. He’s just had his divorce finalized, and is dealing with that on top of trying to get his boss Clay Vanstone – the branch manager – to be smart about what to get the employees for their holiday gifts/bonuses.  Clay took over the branch after his father died, and is more concerned about making sure the employees stay happy than doing any real work. 

The mood is ruined by the surprise visit of Carol Vanstone, the acting CEO of the company in the wake of their father’s passing. She’s currently trying to make sure it’s clear to everyone on the board that she can make the company profitable so that they will vote her in as permanent CEO.  She’s just closed down the Orlando branch, and drops by her brother’s branch to tell him to cut 40% of their staff in order to save money.  

Josh’s employee Tracey has a program that she is working on that pulls internet from anything generating power – which would be a huge moneymaker, but it’s not quite perfected yet – so it doesn’t impress Carol. However, they have a meeting with Walter Davis, a major buyer, that afternoon, and Carol agrees that if they can bring on his business – his 40 million dollar account – they can keep everyone and stay in business, so they really need to land the account.  And, she demands they cancel the Christmas party, as no excess spending will be allowed.

Clay, Josh, and Tracey meet with Walter, but he’s heard rumors of them closing branches and employees being unhappy, and that’s not the culture he wants to join with, so he declines. As a last ditch hope, they invite him to their Christmas party that evening to show him what a tight-knit and happy group of employees they have. This motivates the three to go all out with prepping and decorating the office to make the party as epic as possible.  Mary from H.R. tries to keep everyone in line while Clay goes big with d├ęcor and liquor.  Hijinks ensue, these include (but are not limited to), a Chicago Bull arriving, a live-animal nativity scene, an ice version of a slip-n-slide, naked people on the copies and then on the 3D printer, snow machines, crazed crowd dancing, and general all-around insanity.  It reminded me of one of those clubs that Steffan on SNL used to tell you about, it has everything.  

Of course, by the end of the evening (spoiler alert) the internet has gone down throughout the city, and Tracey fixes her program just in time to get internet to everyone, save the day and the company.

The movie is directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck who previously did the completely nonsensical Blades of Glory – a movie I love.  This one is also really fun.  Honestly, I wouldn’t have minded if it had gone a little further in some places and pulled it back in others. I’m not sure the directing mattered all that much, as the majority of the cast is strong improvisers, who really can play off one another indefinitely – or at least until one of them breaks.

  • Jason Bateman plays Josh Parker, and has really perfected his patented good guy stressed out by those around him persona.  He’s wonderful in this, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen him do before. No problem with that – this is what I want to see him doing.

  • Olivia Munn plays Tracey Hughes, and she and Josh have chemistry, and thought about starting up a relationship, and now that his divorce is final – the sparks begin again.  She’s pretty good in this a tech programmer who just needs the final piece of the puzzle to make her system work.

  • T.J. Miller plays Clay Vanstone, and really, he’s just playing T. J. Miller – so, if you’re a fan of his, you’ll love him in this. I loved that he genuinely cared about his employees and really wanted them happy.  In fact, it’s the reveal from his secretary to the others that he’s been paying for a lot from his own pockets that finally gets them to work together to save the company.

  • Jennifer Aniston plays Carol Vanstone, and again – a character she has perfected, the bitchy-boss.  At least she’s less crazy in this than in Horrible Bosses.  Also – I love the fact that when push comes to shove, she really does love her brother and will do what she can to help him.

  • Kate McKinnon plays Mary from H.R. and this is another of her oddball characters that provides some off-color hilarity to the party.  I enjoyed how she kept trying to keep the party H.R. approved until it finally goes too crazy.

  • Courtney B. Vance plays Walter Davis, who appears to be very conservative until he really cuts loose at the party – having the night of his life.

  • Rob Corddry plays Jeremy, and nothing new from him here – standard annoying dude in the office – but I did appreciate the development of the interplay between he and H.R.Mary.

  • Vanessa Bayer plays Allison, Clay’s assistant.  She’s trying to keep her wits about her as the party spirals more and more out of control and the co-worker she thought she was into turns out to be a weirdo.

  • Randall Park plays Fred, said weirdo.  He’s pleasantly normal until he cuts loose at the party, but them redeems himself afterwards – sort of.
  • Sam Richardson plays Joel, who says he has a ‘friend’ who can D.J. the party, who is actually just him. He’s hilarious and fun, and does a great job pumping up the crowd.

  • Karan Soni plays Nate, and you’ve seen him in a hundred commercials by this point.  Now he’s finally getting a larger role in a major movie. He’s a nice guy who has made up a fake girlfriend to impress his two employees.  That of course, backfires when he hires a hooker to come to the party and pretend to be his girlfriend.

  • Abbey Lee plays Savannah, the hooker slash cocaine dealer.  The party gets a little bit crazier when a pack of her cocaine accidentally gets loaded into the snow-maker machines and sprayed into Walter Davis’s face.

  • Jillian Bell plays Trina, Savannah’s pimp with aspirations to rob Clay. Bell is really funny, and does a great job in a role that could have been forgettable with anyone else in it.

  • Jamie Chung plays Meghan, an employee who helps things spiral out of control when she posts online that the bar is open and everyone in the city should come to the party.

  • Da’Vine Joy Randolph plays Carla, the security guard. She’s serious about her job, serious about security, and seriously considering shutting down the Starbucks on the corner that she believes brings in a ‘bad element.’  She steals most of the scenes she’s in.
  • Chicago Bulls player Jimmy Butler plays himself as a ‘celebrity’ guest at the party. Every time I’ve seen this guy I’ve been relatively impressed by his screen presence and comedy chops – so he’s definitely got an acting career in his back pocket when the basketball career is over.

Overall, the movie is hilarious, and yes, raunchy – it’s definitely a hard R, so don’t take the kids to this one. I particularly enjoyed all the employees coming together near the end to do what they could to help save the company and rescue Clay.  It's not original, and none of the actors are stretching at all, they're mostly staying safely inside their respective boxes.  But when their boxes are suited to this type of comedy - go with it. It's a bit of a mindless comedy, but every once in a while, that is exactly what you need. And of course, the best part is the outtakes over the end credits. This cast is so skilled at improvising, I would imagine there are tons of outtakes somewhere, so I wish there had been even more of them!

7 out of 10 – Gained points for overall hilarity – lost points for the bathroom orgies – yes plural.
Bonus – cast interviews…
Behinds the scenes fun...