Sunday, December 18, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Miss Sloane and Office Christmas Party

There was a brief stretch of recent history between 2011 and 2014 where Jessica Chastain stood as one of the most accomplished actresses in the industry. During that time she tallied a pair of Oscar nominations and a Golden Globe win for her role in the Kathryn Bigelow's hunt for Bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty. Since then, it's fair to say that Chastain's chosen a few questionable roles. But with John Madden's political lobbying thriller, Miss Sloane, Chastain returns to her previous Oscar-caliber heights.

Elizabeth Sloane (Chastain) is the most desirable lobbyist in our nation's capital. And when an influential gun rights supporter seeks her services to sway the female public opinion surrounding an upcoming gun-law vote, Elizabeth Sloane's personal views push her to leave her firm and work on the opposite side of the issue. However, she finally recognizes that winning against the most powerful opponent in Washington will require lofty sacrifices.

In this politically volatile atmosphere where we find ourselves inescapably trapped, there's been an immense push-back against this film. However, Miss Sloane offers a reasonable portrayal of the responsible gun owner versus the emotionally reckless gun owner, both of which exist in our society. Even more important, though, is just how small of a role these identifying factors play to the greater intention of John Madden's intelligent drama. The gun rights issue actually takes a backseat to a larger message regarding the dangers of allowing money in politics and the unjust influences it can have over our elected officials. To help deliver this message, Jessica Chastain shines in her empowering lead role, providing a level of performance we haven't seen from her in a few years. Her exceptional turn supports a heady screenplay which details the mental chess-match between these feuding sides of the issue. But despite the film's fine lead performance and its cleverly concocted script, a bloated running time detracts heavily from its shining qualities. There are many lulls scattered throughout the film but, thankfully, Miss Sloane explodes with a brilliant finale that makes this marathon of a ride completely worth it.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

The modern Hollywood comedy has become completely inept and devoid of any real talent or creativity. You can look no further than Josh Gordon and Will Speck's new holiday film, Office Christmas Party, to understand just how barren the genre has become. Even a long list of recognizable comedy favorites isn't enough to salvage this jumbled mess of a film.

Fresh off a divorce, Chief Officer Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) and his overseeing branch manager, Clay (T.J. Miller), have their holiday spirit crushed when the company's CEO (Jennifer Aniston), threatens to shut them down unless they can secure a huge potential client. So rather than cancel their annual office Christmas party at the CEO's behest, they double down on the evening's shindig by trying to impress the client with an outrageous bash that he'll never forget.

Careless storylines, poorly scripted jokes and an overall lack of quality ideas spoil the latest comedy effort from the directing duo of Josh Gordon and Will Speck (Blades of Glory and The Switch). Ironically, Office Christmas Party opens with a flurry of well-earned laughs, but then unravels quickly thereafter. This early onset of humor provides a glimmer of hope that's held on to for way too long, up until the film ultimately reaches a point of no return with its female pimp character, played by Workaholics supporting star Jillian Bell. The film's attempt at a romance subplot stands as its most formidable aspect, but even that feels sadly forced. Silicon Valley co-star, T.J. Miller, once again validates that he's only tolerable in small doses. Unfortunately, he's asked to carry the weight of the film and everything else crumbles from there. Office Christmas Party fails to produce any memorable qualities and, in all honesty, it isn't worth your time or effort.

Stars: 1.5 stars out of 4

Grade: C-

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