It's that time of year when certain websites run 'listicles' prepping you on various pitfalls typical of the Christmas staff party. But snogging your floor manager or overdoing it on the mulled wine pale in comparison to the carry-on staged here by directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck, who invoke the spirits of Christmas Morning-after Regret with the mother and father of all movie office knees-ups.
We need a plot to hang the carnage on, so how about a company teetering on closure? The always likeable Jason Bateman will do very nicely as Josh, a down-on-his-luck executive at IT firm Zenotek. Dissolute branch manager Clay (TJ Miller) has inherited leadership of the firm but a bad third quarter has him under the cosh of fire-breathing CEO and sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston, in peak condition). They might just be able to change her mind on mass redundancies if a big investor can be wooed. And where better to show them a good time than at a sprawling festive bash filled with unhinged staff who may have caught wind of possible lay-offs.
While Xerox machines get defiled, contraband is dropped in the snowblower and office dullards generally show their true colours, Josh and dreamy colleague Tracey (Olivia Munn) maintain enough brain function to keep an eye on the bigger picture.
It's surprising nobody to find that Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (the writers of The Hangover) dreamt up this bawdy, bumbling romp that stretches its thin premise into 105 distracting minutes by way of character-driven asides, a great cast and some Animal House brass.
Perfect for catching a breather from the high-street shopping scrum, but not a whole lot else.
Hiilary A White
Club Cert; Now showing, IFI
Poland 1990, the Eastern Bloc is changing radically and new things are on the horizon. Which is perhaps why the lack of change is so hard for the four women in this quartet of slightly overlapping stories which Tomasz Wasilewski writes and directs. So much of what he observes is accurate, eternal and uniquely female and on that level it works well. Overall it is beautiful, bleak but strays into being a bit boring.
All four women live in the same soulless Communist town. Agata (Julia Kijowska) is bored of her life and husband and has fallen for the local priest. Iza (Magdalena Cielecka) is the icily reserved school principal whose passionate affair with a married man is collapsing, Marzena (Marta Nieradkiewicz) is her former beauty queen sister who still has dreams and Renata (Dorota Kolak) is the older, lonely lady who sees a chance to participate instead of observe.
Their strangely pretty, grey, washed-out surroundings are punctuated by angry sex and potted plants. As a depiction of the occasionally deranged levels to which people are driven by lack of passion, this is rich, beautiful and well acted. Yet how it depicts that is uneven and too drawn out.
It's beautifully shot by Oleg Mutu but a little too self-consciously directed on occasion with too many of the gorgeous, nearly still life shots and too many back of head shots but its aim is mostly true and the emotions linger.
Cert: 15A; Now showing
The first casualty of war is truth and nowhere is that evinced as well as in the (mostly American) responses to Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation. Parker directs, co-writes (with Jean McGianni Celestin) and stars in this film about slavery which begins with the immortal line "based on a true story" and which has polarised critics at a time when the race war in the US is raging again, politically at least.
It opens in Virginia in the early 1800s with a young slave boy who is believed to be special. As a child he plays with the slave owner's son, Samuel, and is selected by the mistress of the house (Penelope Ann Miller) to live with the family and learn to read selected passages from the Bible which lays the ground for him to become preacher to his fellow slaves as a young man Nat (Parker). His erstwhile friend Samuel (Armie Hammer), proves a gentle enough plantation owner and in a slightly odd dynamic, Nat marries fellow slave Cherry (Aja Naomi King). It's a relatively pleasant existence but when Nat is rented out as a preacher to subdue other slaves he learns just how cruel slavery can be.
Nat Turner did exist, Parker's version of him is a bit of a hagiography but that doesn't detract from the power of the story. Evil was perpetrated daily and defended to death. The causes and effects of that are still huge in the US and it's a conversation they need to have. As a film it is nowhere near as harrowing as 12 Years a Slave. It's manipulative but engaging.
No Cert; Now showing
Animated sequences plague many current documentaries however in Life, Animated, Roger Ross Williams's excellent documentary about Owen Suskind, the animation represents a key. Disney films proved not only Owen's way to emerge from the world in which he was trapped by autism, but his way of expressing his experience of life. Owen was three when his parents Cornelia and Ron noticed a sudden change in their youngest boy. The documentary covers his entire life from diagnosis and being locked in a world of silence to finding a way through to current day Owen (23) and living independently. Indirectly it highlights the expense of meaningful care. This informative, very affecting film is excellent on both the perspective of those with autism and those who love them.