Wednesday, December 28, 2016


Taraji P. Henson     Octavia Spencer     Janelle Monae     Kevin Costner     Kirsten Dunst     Jim Parsons     Mahershala Ali

       Heartbreaking, thrilling, suspenseful, funny—Hidden Figures embodies all these, including inspirational.  I’m sorry it has taken so long for the story about three heroic black mathematicians at NASA to be told to the mainstream.  But at least it’s out now for all to see at their local theaters.  The film is based on the book, Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly, who also served as one of the producers.  Shetterly won an Alfred P. Sloane Fellowship based on this work, and apparently, Levantine Films bought the film rights soon after she completed it (or maybe before, since her book is dated 2016).
         The film opens with little Katherine Harrison (Henson) demonstrating her mathematical genius to school officials when she was in the sixth grade.  Her teacher was determined that she would have educational opportunities that were appropriate for her.  Soon, we meet her as a grown-up on the road to work at NASA with her two friends, Dorothy (Spencer) and Mary (Monae).  They’re having car trouble, but since Dorothy is a mechanical as well as math genius, she fixes it.  After showing their work IDs to a stunned policeman who had stopped to investigate, he offers to escort them to work with red lights blinking so their delay won’t make them late. 
         Most of us simply have no idea about the countless indignities these women will have to face, from having to go to the restroom labeled “Colored Women” a half-mile away, to having pertinent information for their jobs hidden from them, to a separate coffee maker (so white people won’t have to touch it)…we could go on and on.  Throughout, the women are polite, patient, and kind (until pushed too far, then they react strongly, effectively, and appropriately).  The rationalization they are given for such treatment?  “That’s just the way it is.”
         Hidden Figures, to its credit, gets into the fears about the Soviets and the space race at the time, which shows up at NASA certainly, but also by the patrolman on the country road and by the children at school who have drills to get under their desks in case the Soviets attack the U.S.  President Kennedy is featured prominently in showing the pressure to be first in the space race, which dials up the pressure on NASA.  All this reinforces the importance of three black women in their previously unheard of roles.
         Henson, Spencer, and Monae are all standouts, but Henson shows special flair when she answers in an outburst why she disappears for 40 minutes at a time (the walk to the restroom) and why it’s crucial for her to receive updated information immediately.  She also shines when she’s perched on a ladder writing complicated formulas for problems that have perplexed a whole room full of mathematicians.  In the evening, she slides into being a loving, demonstrative mother to her three girls.  I loved Henson’s portrayal of her policewoman character in CBS TV’s “Person of Interest”, where she showed intelligence, canniness, and wit, just like she does here; but here, she’s in an elevated position finally being recognized for her worth.  Ah…..!

A story that should have been told long ago.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Denzel Washington     Viola Davis     Mykelti Williamson     Russell Hornsby     Jovan Adepo     Stephen Henderson

          This passionate tale about a black family’s experience at home and with the outside world is heart wrenching, enlightening, and funny.  The film is the third iteration of an August Wilson story, which was a multiple Tony Award-winning play, first on Broadway in 1987 then revived in 2010, and now a film directed by Denzel Washington.  He has played the role of the patriarch Troy in both plays and the film.  Viola Davis played Troy’s wife in the 2010 play and again in the current film. 
           Troy is a very authoritarian father with a past that would predict his adult personality—maternal abandonment and paternal abuse.  So Troy ran away from home when he was 14, and got involved in stealing.  Eventually, he ended up being tried and convicted for murder, serving 15 years in the penitentiary.  Soon after, he married and had a son, Lyons, but the marriage didn’t last, and the boy was brought up by his mother.  Lyons has a conflicted relationship with his father now.  Troy belittles Lyons’ playing in a band and not having regular employment, but grudgingly gives him money from time to time.
           When Troy met Rose (Davis), he had gained steady employment as a trash collector, and he attributes her with helping him make something of his life.  He reveres her, and she is a good foil for him, standing up to him occasionally, but mostly going along with whatever he wants.  Their love for one another is apparent, but they have a son Cory (Adepo), and Troy continues the father tradition in their family of providing little reinforcement but much instruction and criticism. 
         Cory is in high school and doing well in football, but his father wants him to work instead of playing sports and going to practice.  He even has a chance for a football scholarship for college.  But here is where the negatives of authoritarianism and “the father’s sins being visited upon the children” rear their ugly heads.  Troy tells Cory that he needs to learn a trade so he won’t have to be a trash collector.  Cory is enraged (potently expressed by Adepo) by his father’s forbidding him to play football, sensing that Troy doesn’t want him to have what Troy missed out on. 
       These relationships between Troy and his children illustrate the mistakes of an authoritarian, but it also shows up as a drawback in Troy’s marriage.  When he makes a major transgression, Rose lets him have it when he tries to explain how deprived he has been in sacrificing for his family.  “You talk about how much you give, but you take too!”  And her remarks emphasize his self-centeredness and his “bubble” in thinking he has been the only one wanting more in his life. 
          Eventually, the sins of the father are visited not only upon the sons but on the wife as well.  Rose must rescue him once again, not that he doesn’t also pay for his mistakes. He is now persona non grata at home, and he learns the bitter lesson and outcome of failing to foster his relationships with his children. 
       Fences is impressive in its portrayal of an American family in the 1950s, their challenges and issues, and part of their history that got them to this point in time.  It can’t quite overcome its “Broadway play” look, which is distracting at times, although this isn’t a major drawback.  The performances of Washington, Davis, Adepo and the screenplay (still imminently current) more than compensate for any downsides.
          A curious theme (to me) throughout this play/film is the theme of death.  It comes up from time to time, the song “I had a Dog Blue” (which dies) is sung, but Troy dismisses death out of hand.  He denies the eventuality of his own death, although after his own brush with it, the devil has become his adversary and we hear him challenging it right up to the end. 

Fences:  A way to keep things out and to keep things in.

GRADE:  B                        By Donna R. Copeland

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Michael Fassbender     Marion Cottiard     Jeremy Irons   
 Brendan Gleeson     Charlotte Rampling     Michael K. Williams     Ariane Labed   Michelle Lin 

         The original idea of the film came from the video game of the same name, but Director Justin Kurzel wanted writers to come up with a new story that would be less “game-ish” and more suited to cinema.  For this, he engaged writers Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper, and Bill Collage.  To see that action and game fans would not be disappointed in the visuals and special effects, he secured the help of Production Designer Andy Nicholson, Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, Musician Jed Kurzel, and a talented cast, as shown above.  In my view, he certainly succeeded in the visual and special effects and in the cast.
         The drawback of the production is a rather confusing story that jerks us around in time and space with a host of characters difficult to keep track of.  The first scenes are in 1492 in Andalucia, Spain, in which Aguilar de Nerha (Fassbender) is taking the oath of the Assassin’s Creed to protect an apple even unto death against the Templars, who had taken over Spain.  Switch to 1986 in Baja, California, where a young boy Cal is told by his father (Gleeson) to run and “keep in the shadows”, hiding from assassins out to kill him like they did his mother.  Thirty years later, we see the grown-up Cal (Fassbender) in prison for murder, being visited by a priest, and subsequently being executed and declared dead—when suddenly he is in Spain at Abstergo Industries associated with the Knights Templar Order. 
       He awakens to Dr. Sofia Rikkin (Cottiard) telling him that he will be participating in research with the aim of getting rid of his DNA associated with violence that passes through generations.  Yes, he is a descendant of Aguilar.  His charge is to go into “Animus” with virtual reality equipment designed to take him back in time (15th Century) and space (Spain) to wrest the apple from the Templars, who now possess it.  The apple’s seeds will then be used to rid the world of violence.  We watch this happen, and it is truly amazing to see Cal/Aguilar with his partner Maria (Labed) miraculously fighting off hordes of people standing in their way.  (I understand Fassbender and Labed did 95% of the fights themselves).  And Cal takes more than one trip into Animus trying to retrieve the apple.
         Of course, dark forces are at work.  It seems that Sofia’s father Alan, CEO of Abstergo has his own plans, and we see him talking with Templar Ellen Kaye (Rampling).  The plot thickens as the differences in aims between father and daughter become more apparent.  This adds an unnecessary layer to the drama that I think would have been better off omitting. 
        The strength of this film is actually the video game aspects (and I’m not a video game fan), and less so with the story that becomes weighed down with too many layers and complications.  And I’m not even mentioning the layer of current prisoners at the Abstergo Company who play a role in insurrection.
        Fassbender, Cottiard, Irons, Gleeson, and Rampling give the film a haunting, mythical quality that keeps the viewer engaged.  It’s too bad the story becomes so convoluted they are hung out to dry.

Action and intrigue, but with substance minimized.

Grade:  C+                        By Donna R. Copeland


Jennifer Lawrence     Chris Pratt     Michael Sheen     Laurence Fishburne     Andy Garcia

          The movie opens with the majestic golden space ship Avalon gliding through space with a canopy of stars all around and asteroids flying by.  We don’t know it yet, but it will be 90 years before its arrival on Homestead II, the planet waiting to be populated by the 5,000 passengers aboard who are seeking a new beginning in life.  They are all asleep in glass cocoons, “in hibernation”, until four months before the planned arrival.  But if this film makes one eminent point clear, it is how challenging it is to imagine and plan for all possible eventualities in a complex organization.
          It seems like every circumstance has been anticipated and planned for.  The ship is equipped with all replaceable parts, and computers solve just about every problem that arises.  There’s also a library with manuals seemingly covering every operation.  Ah, but something mysterious is about to take place:  One passenger is awakened 90 years too soon.
          Try to imagine waking up in a sleek, ultra-modern ship with absolutely no one around.  Voices of robots speak to you, but are obviously not programmed to answer the all-important question of “Why am I awake?”  Your memory is fine, and you well remember signing up for the journey, but gradually it dawns on you that you are way too early.  Fortunately, Jim Preston (Pratt) is a mechanical engineer who has the skills to explore the ship and figure out how to push the buttons that will provide food and other necessities.  But he has no idea why he is awake.
         Time goes by, and Jim’s one social salvation is the android bartender Arthur (Sheen)—always cheerful, chatty, and attentive—but still robotic, unlike the AI Ava in Ex Machina, who has the ability to reason.   So Jim gets very lonely, even desperate.  He gets curious about the other passengers and starts reading up on one, Aurora Lane (Lawrence).
        Norwegian director Morton Tyldum knows how to portray intrigue, as in his previous films, Headhunters and The Imitation Game.  Both are nuanced and pace the story well for thrillers, as he does in Passengers.  He, and in this case with writer Jon Spaihts, illustrates so well human reactions in confronting these kinds of dilemmas.  When Jim wakes up, we are there with him in his disorientation; when one character experiences extreme betrayal, we feel it; when there are progressive malfunctions on the ship, we’re mystified and on edge.
        All this is supported and enhanced by the noteworthy performance of the two lead actors, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.  He evinces befuddlement, abhorrent reaction, left-brain problem solving, boyishness, and tenderness in just the right degrees.  And Lawrence is a consummately skilled actress bringing wide dimension to every character she portrays.  She can be flirty, puzzled, or assertive in taking charge, and just as well show the thrusting pangs and anguish of having been betrayed or of deep emotional involvement. 
        It’s too bad that reviewers are giving away much of the plot that makes Passengers exciting.  I liked that we didn’t know the reason for Jim’s waking up early until two-thirds of the way through the story or how it came about that Aurora was awake.  Isn’t it ironic that studios confiscate phones before a screening to guard against divulging the plot, and then critics come out with key points on opening day or before? 
          This is a harrowing journey that puts us in a strange milieu where we wonder what we would do in similar circumstances.

A thrilling space adventure that shows humans forced to cope with unanticipated events.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Monday, December 19, 2016


Voices of:  Matthew McConaughey   Reese Witherspoon   Seth MacFarlane   Scarlett Johansson   John C. Reilly  
Nick Kroll   Nick Offerman   Leslie Jones   Jennifer Saunders   Rhea Perlman   
Jennifer Hudson   Tori Kelly   Taron Egerton   Garth Jennings   

       The show must go on.  Clever animation and a wealth of songs tell the story of Showman Buster Moon (McConaughey), a koala who has inherited a famous theater from his father, and he is desperately trying to keep it going.  But he has had a number of failed projects and is about to lose it to the bank when he has a great idea for a singing contest. 
          The screwball comedy in the efforts to make it happen include such things as Buster’s secretary Miss Crawley (Jennings) constantly losing her glass eye, which bounces around, landing on the computer keyboard, and making $1,000 into $100,000.  Buster doesn’t find out about this until much later, because as Miss Crawley was carrying a stack of the flyers announcing the contest to show Buster, the whole stack gets blown out the window and scattered by the wind.  Hundreds of flyers all get picked up by aspiring vocalists all around the city in need of cash.
        Sing is animated and all the characters are animals.  There are pigs, elephants, sheep, baboons, giraffes, and an alligator among others, but these are only the main players.  Rosita (Witherspoon) is a housewife pig with 25 kids and an absent-minded husband who takes her for granted.  She is tech-savvy, and creates an automated assembly line at home so she can get out of the house to compete.  Mike (MacFarlane) is a mouse with a Frank Sinatra voice who has a gambling problem, and hence has big brown bears chasing after him for cheating.  Ash (Johansson), a porcupine is part of a duo, but Buster only wants her to sing, wounding her narcissistic partner deeply.  When she gets really into her songs, quills have a tendency to fly out and get stuck in the audience.  Meena (Kelly) is an elephant with a voice, but she is so shy she clams up during a performance, which enrages her “stage-mother” father.  Included is Johnny (Egerton), a gorilla who has great talent for jazz piano, the only problem being that his gangster father wants him to continue to pull off jobs with him.
       When one disaster follows another, and it looks like all is lost, Buster engages the help of his friend Eddie (Reilly) the sheep, who comes from a wealthy family and has a nanna, Nana Noodleman (Hudson and Saunders) who used to perform in operas at Moon’s concert hall.  Buster wants her to sponsor the contest, so invites her to a rehearsal.  Disasters happen, involving all the contestants and those chasing after them, so that it’s doubtful Buster and his hall will survive.
       The primary theme of the film is that everyone involved must pull together to make the show go on, and that fundraising is always something to be dealt with.  Sometimes it also takes boosting the self-confidence of the performer, holding back parents pushing their children inappropriately, and then convincing other parents that their child has talent and needs to be encouraged.
       The film is a bit of a mish-mash in the beginning, and I wonder how many children can appreciate the plot, because it has a lot to do with the “business” of running a theater.  But when the contest and parent involvement begin to happen, the story gets more interesting and engaging.  Writer-director Garth Jennings has conceived of a picture that is ultimately engaging and has good information for children.  The production design by Eric Guillon and animation pull the audience in visually, and Toby Talbot’s music is a running delight throughout.

This is a fanciful animation about what is actually involved in show business.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Will Smith   Edward Norton   Kate Winslet   Michael Peña  
Helen Mirren   Keira Knightley   Jacob Latimore   Naomie Harris   Ann Dowd

          Whimsical movies with heart and soul make for fine holiday fare, and Collateral Beauty fits the bill, if the viewer doesn’t mind some attention given to death.  Collateral Beauty is more than whimsical; it illustrates how devastating the loss of a child can be for a parent.  Director David Frankel’s film, like Hope Springs, Marley and Me, and The Devil Wears Prada before it, makes insightful observations about the human condition in some of its variants (including issues of the three other main characters), mixed with good doses of plain humor, black humor, and pure fancy.  I found this movie hilarious at times, extremely moving to the point of tears at other times, and simply delightful, ultimately.  
         The problem at hand is that the head honcho of a business is going through an extended bereavement reaction (he stops coming to work at all), threatening the livelihood of his partner and business associates and employees.  Howard (Smith) has lost his daughter, so Whit (Norton) his partner, and colleagues Claire (Winslet) and Simon (Peña) try everything they can think of to help him function again, but nothing seems to work.  In desperation, Whit has a brilliant idea involving a private detective (Dowd) and three actors.  The actors will represent love, time, and death, the abstractions Howard has literally been writing letters to and dropping in the mailbox.
        Something like angels—but not quite—death (Mirren), love (Knightley), and time (Latimore) visit Howard at unexpected times, producing the letters he has written to them in which he claims that all have betrayed him.  The actors function something like therapists, addressing his comments like (to death) “You’re dead tissue that won’t decompose.”  And Howard reacts belligerently to all of them.  But he also lurks outside a bereavement group room, peering in the window and then walking away.   
          It’s clear that writer Allan Loeb and director David Frankel want us to think about life, time, and death in a different way; they can be serious and weighty, but just as well fanciful, truthful, and truly funny.  These are non-respecters of person; as the film points out, Whit, Claire, and Simon all have challenges, just like Howard does.            A strong cast, along with the script and direction, make this movie sing, boosted by the music of Theodore Shapiro.  A bonus is the trope of progressively falling dominoes signifying the vast reach of human connectedness.
         Collateral Beauty reminds me of Lars and the Real Girl in their sometimes serious, sometimes humorous depiction of human neuroses and the protagonists’ overcoming them with the support, understanding, and patience of family and friends.  The former is a little more absurd and artificial, especially the twist at the very end.

Not your typical Christmas tale, but warmly human and amusing.

Grade:  B                                By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Felicity Jones     Diego Luna     Mads Mikkelsen     Forest Whitaker     Donnie Yen  
Ben Mendelsohn     Riz Ahmed     Alan Tudyk     Jiang Wen     Valene Kane

          The story opens with an alarm that “He is coming!” and Jyn (Jones), her father Galen (Mikkelsen) and mother Lyra (Kane) already have a plan in place and rapidly begin to implement it.  “You know what to do”, Lyra tells Jyn who runs off to do just that.  “He” who is coming is Krennic (Mendelsohn) from the Galactic Empire, telling Galen that he must come and finish work on the Death Star, a weapon of mass destruction that he is claiming will bring world peace.  Galen certainly does not buy that, but feels compelled to follow orders because if he doesn’t do it, someone else will, and this way he’ll be able to maintain some control over the development.
        The family’s plan goes awry, and Galen is flown away while Jyn hides, but eventually she is found by Saw Gerrera (Whitaker), and kept in captivity for a time until she convinces rebel assassin Cassian (Luna) and a small band of rebels to go with her to find her father.  After Galen appears to her in a hologram with a message, she is influential in convincing a larger group of rebel forces to join together in rescuing him and proceed to follow the clues he has given her.
        Rogue One is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Star Wars franchise.  It’s meant to stand on its own as another story that takes place in the universe.  We still have the Galactic Empire with Darth Vader (voice of James Earl Jones) and the Death Star as forceful presences and a large rebellious group against it.  This conflict results in war between the two groups with space ships, air and ground armies, robots, and all the CGI effects characteristic of these productions.
      Devoted followers of the Star Wars films appear to like this production by Director Gareth Edwards, Lucasfilm and Disney Studios, although I doubt they will find much that is brand new or innovative.  Felicity Jones is charismatic as the young adult Jyn, and Diego Luna fitting as her fellow rebel Cassian.  Visual and sound effects keep up the excitement, aided by Michael Giacchino’s resounding score.  Dashes of humor are sprinkled throughout, such as the double entendre,  “Be careful not to choke on your aspirations”, as the ambitious man is coughing and choking.  The replacement droid for C-3PO, K-2SO, is highly entertaining, just as his predecessor was.

A stand-alone Star Wars production for devotees of the franchise.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Friday, December 9, 2016


Casey Affleck     Kyle Chandler     Michelle Williams     Lucas Hedges     Gretchen Mol

          Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me) is a master of film, as so brilliantly displayed here by script and direction, acting (Affleck, Hedges, Williams), cinematography (Jody Lee Lipes), editing (Jennifer Lame), and a soundtrack perfectly apt for every scene (Lesley Barber).  The movie unfolds organically, tracing the history of the acutely sensitive but emotionally closed off Lee Chandler (Affleck).  It’s not clear in the beginning, but when we get the full story of this man’s adult life, we feel like we know him—not so much by what he says and doesn’t say as what we learn of what he has gone through and the reactions to  
him of those around him.
           The man is already carrying around a huge burden, and although the family has been warned, his brother’s death is naturally shocking.  More shocking to Lee is that he is to be his nephew’s guardian, a role for which he is completely unprepared emotionally, but there is another issue.  He left Manchester under a cloud and doesn’t want to return; but his nephew Patrick (Hedges) is still in high school and understandably doesn’t want to move away to Lee’s town.  How this dilemma is resolved attests to Lonergan’s skill in honing in on real people and how they react to and solve problems; this is not a fairy tale.
        The film is an exquisite portrayal of a traumatized man trying to connect with other people, whether they are strangers, current associates, or from his past.  The boisterous, demonstrative scenes of him with his wife and children before the trauma are in stark contrast to his current way of relating, e.g., it took days and days before he could give his nephew a hug.  We see the absolutely torturous condition of someone not being able to confide in anyone else.  Lonergan gives us a picture of a man not only traumatized, but filled with guilt.  Once we get this full picture, the way in which he resolves his dilemma is completely understandable.  Without this understanding, we might judge him differently.
        Casey Affleck is clearly in the news about his performance here, and it is well deserved.  He must inhabit a character who shows little or no emotion, but conveys so much nonverbally to show us the deep rivers of emotion rushing through him.  Lee has erected defenses so strong, that certain provocations will bring a torrent of action, yet others who are more gentle will leave him unmoved outwardly with a sea of turmoil beneath.  Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams give fine supporting performances opposite Affleck, both reacting explosively to him but in different ways.  I was struck by Hedges’ portrayal of a teenager who in some ways is more mature than the adult in charge of him.
            Barber and Lipes provide music and cinematography that pair together inspiringly to convey the mood and temper of every scene.  The opening views of a serene, picturesque seaside in the beginning contrasts with what we will see later in the, sometimes ugly, events that will ensue.  Barber’s music will enhance whatever the scene is. 

Understanding can be both a ravishing and a melancholy experience.

Grade:  A                                                By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, December 8, 2016


Jessica Chastain     John Lithgow     Gugu Mbitha-Raw     Mark Stuhlberg     Mark Strong    Alison Pitt     Sam Waterston     Jake Lacy

          If you like exciting courtroom dramas that have key relevance for our time, you will love Miss Sloane and another captivating performance by Jessica Chastain.  Miss Sloane is a Washington lobbyist with the reputation of being the best in the city.  She is more than intellectually sharp and in speaking her mind, lets the facts roll off her tongue like automatic gunfire.  [Pun intended, as she is lobbying for a gun control law.]  She is unpredictable and usually many steps ahead of anyone else involved in an issue.  “Never be taken by surprise”, she says, and “play your trump card after they play theirs.”  (A demonstration of which she uses brilliantly in the final moments of the film.)  She teaches her six or so protégées maxims, tossing them out in rapid fire while working together on a project. 
          To the screenwriter Jonathan Parera’s credit, we get a bird’s eye view of the lobbying industry in Washington, D.C. and its corruptive influence on Congress members.  Along with Chastain’s portrayal of Sloane, this is the most valuable aspect of the film.  Viewing television coverage of the Lobbyist Jack Abramoff scandal in 2005 inspired Parera to write the script about lobbying. Independently, Chastain read Abramoff’s book in preparing for the role.  She also interviewed female lobbyists to guide her in portraying one of them.  The true-to-life quality of the film is likely a reflection of the Abramoff case and the additional research by Parera and Chastain. 
          Unfortunately, Director John Madden has chosen to use the ploy that seems to be a fad now in movie making, that of presenting events out of order in time.  Not only does this distract us from following a complex set of events and the import of Sloane’s rapid verbal output, it’s confusing for the viewer.  I was frustrated in not being able to process everything that is said by Sloane and her team.  Jumping around in time one has to spend a lot of attention on re-orienting.
         Supporting cast deserve recognition for the excellent roles they play in the drama.  Gugu Mbitha-Raw in particular, eloquently shows the sensitivity of her character on one hand and a sharp investigator on the other.  Mark Strong and Sam Waterston live up to their fine reputations by playing CEOs of lobbying groups, along with their staff members Mark Stuhlberg and Alison Pitt.  Jake Lacy is perfect as a studly character available to single women.
          Winning is the mantra in Miss Sloane, which we see as an all-important motivator for all the lobbyists, Sloane included.  Winning elections is key to survival for Congress members, hence their vulnerability to pressures coming from all sides.  But implicit in the story are questions about the costs sometimes involved in winning, whether that should always be a primary goal, and what happens to a person for whom that is a fundamental aim.

An exciting courtroom drama that has timely relevance.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Jason Bateman   Olivia Munn   T. J. Miller   Jennifer Anniston   Kate McKinnon   Courtney B. Vance   Rob Corddry

          This is a movie for people who like silliness and absurdity, who think heavy drinking, drugs and major destruction are funny—and there were certainly those present at the screening I attended.  The more outrageous the comment or behavior, the more they laughed.  So if this is your cup of tea, the way you relax during a stressful time of the year, then Office Christmas Party is for you.
         The father of Carol (Anniston) and Clay (Miller) left them his successful IT company, and Carol, Miss Goody-Two-Shoes in the family, runs it with an iron fist (no velvet glove).  Her biggest irritant is her brother Clay who was always favored by their father, despite his messing up and his sister being the much high achiever.  The situation right before Christmas is that Carol intends to lay off 40% of the employees in Clay’s branch because although they earned a profit, it wasn’t high enough for Carol.  And above all there would be no Christmas party and no end-of-year bonuses.
         Leave it to Hollywood to solve the problem with the biggest party blowout ever, one that will host a major athlete, as well as a potential billionaire partner.  Of course, it won’t go smoothly, and most of the story chronicles the mayhem and havoc that will ensue, ending up with the, nowadays required, car chase.  You will guess ahead of time how it will all turn out.
        The movie is so formulaic, not only will the viewer be able to figure out the conclusion, but from moment to moment, he/she will be able to anticipate what will happen next, given a stereotypical set-up.  The major flaw in the film is the script from six(!) writers drawn from who knows how many previous movies.  The direction (Josh Gordon and Will Speck), music (Theodore Shapiro), cinematography (Jeff Cutter), and acting are of reasonable quality; it’s just that with a story this lame and without any creativity whatsoever the whole show is doomed.
        If there is any weight to this picture at all, it is in its depiction of sibling rivalry and how parents might script out their children’s lives unfairly.  Unfortunately, the siblings are shown to be so one-dimensional, they become caricatures, and while change takes place, it’s not plausible from what came before.

This is a Christmas party you probably won’t want to go to.

Grade:  F                                    By Donna R. Copeland