Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Two Christmas Movies, One Review

The Christmas season has provided great fodder to film makers over the years as every December "gifts" us with one or two of these themed movies.  Some turn into classics that you view every year on TV or DVD.  Others go into oblivion.  And still there are some which will exist mainly because they were smart enough to include the word "Christmas" in the title.

Take, for instance, the movie above...

So here's Len doing his part to promote Hollywood diversity during the holiday season.   Look what I saw.

Truth be told, I sought out "Almost Christmas" because the trailer reminded me of another film called "This Christmas" from 2007.  It was the tale of an extended African-American family gathering for Christmas with the usual dysfunctional drama.  I surprisingly found it quite charming and actually have put it into my annual holiday flick rotation.

So I see the ad for "Almost Christmas" and it even looks like the one for "This Christmas."   So I get sucked in.   And, again the surprise is on me.   I liked "Almost Christmas," too.


Okay, frankly, it is exactly the same movie.   While the "This Christmas" clan gathers on the south side of LA, the "Almost Christmas" tribe is based in Birmingham, Alabama.   But, trust me, there are few other differences.   In the first film, Loretta Devine was the matriarch.   In this one, Danny Glover is the patriarch celebrating his first Christmas with the missus.   An easy gender flip, but I could swear both Devine and Glover uttered the same lines.

Meanwhile, everything else matches up.

Feuding sisters.  Check.

Battles over decorations and food.  Check.

Philandering son-in-law (played here by the always welcome J.B. Smoove from my hometown of Mount Vernon, New York).  Check.

Token White participant in cast.  Check.

Big revelations at Christmas dinner table.  Check.

Catchy pop sound track.  Check.

Indeed, "Almost Christmas" is the same movie just with a little less charm.   In its place is a bit more slapstick.   And one major element.

Mo'Nique.   And who has seen her since she won her Oscar a few years back?   Well, she's in this and steals every scene she is in as Glover's smart ass sister-in-law.   She shows up like Auntie Mame with five suitcases crammed full of wigs and hair extensions.  Every line she has is biting and fun and you miss her when she's not on screen as much as she should be.   The producers must have figured that out because the closing credits are set against her bloopers which have some profanity that even I haven't heard.   

Normally, "Almost Christmas" would have been dismissed by yours truly as a complete imitation of a better film.   But, Mo'Nique saves the day and the movie's ultimate Len rating.

LEN'S RATING:  Three stars.
And just when you thought I was done with new Christmas movies in 2016, here comes another one down the chimney.  Like the typical holiday/dysfunctional family flick, there's a whole sub genre that takes the season and puts a stupid, gross spin on it all.  The anti-warm-feeling film.

For me, the best of that lot will always be "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," which gets into my holiday viewing rotation every year at this time. Now, do I think "Office Christmas Party" will get that same legacy?  Probably not.  

But I can tell you I laughed out loud.   A lot.

Okay, this is the kind of movie you need to go with that one special friend who is not shy about laughing at stupidity and grossness.   We all have somebody like that and I went to see this film with such a person.   You end up laughing because each other is laughing.   It becomes infectious.   And then the movie itself is artificially elevated to levels where it probably doesn't belong.

Oh, who the hell cares?   I enjoyed it.

The formula story here is as expected.  You have the mean boss, played with snark by Jennifer Aniston, who cancels the Christmas party because the company is going to financial ruin.  You have the dutiful manager, as essayed by Jason Bateman, who has the potential new client that will save the day.  The trick is that he needs to entertain that guy at an...wait for it...office Christmas party.  Luckily, Aniston is on her way out of town.   Of course, the writers then cue up the inevitable snowstorm that stops travel.  

You probably knew where this was going before I started writing this review.

I'm sure you've all gone to wild office Christmas parties and the one in this film and applies about seventy pounds of steroids.  You get exactly what you expect. Nudity on a copy machine.   Sex.   Lousy music with an even lousier DJ. Cocaine.  Drunkenness.   Hookers.  Guns.   Criminals.   The "F" bomb...many times.  It's exactly what you think you will get from this "Office Christmas Party."   

And I laughed out loud.  A lot.   If this is the stuff on your cinematic list from Santa, he delivers.

The best part about this film are some of the visuals which go unexplained in the background.  You might have to see this movie a second time to catch them all.

Meanwhile, all the performances by actors I know and don't know are spot-on. Suitably over-the-top for a movie that requires really no acting filters.  Besides the aforementioned Aniston and Bateman, you will also enjoy the work of Courtney B. Vance as the stuffy new client who lets loose in bizarre ways.  And Kate McKinnon from SNL is welcome as the prim and proper HR manager. Admittedly, every thing Kate plays comes off like an extension of her Hillary Clinton impression.  So, in essence, it's hilarious to watch Hillary in a bar full of prostitutes.  And, of course, there is the now requisite bunch of outtakes and bloopers that run behind the closing credits.   

Actually, for me, the one small scene between Aniston and a little girl who stole her cinnamon bun in an airport waiting area is one that I would watch over and over each Christmas.   Okay, I'm laughing just thinking about it again.

So, find that one special friend and go off the rails with "Office Christmas Party."   

And what a gift this was for you today.   Two movie reviews in one blog posting.  T'is the season.

LEN'S RATING:  Three stars.

Dinner last night:  Pasta with broccolini and sausage at Pappardella.

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