Month: August 2014

EXTRACT – 8/27/2014

2009 – Written and directed by Mike Judge (!!!) and meant to be a “companion piece” to Office Space (!!!!!?!?!???!?!?!?!??!!!???!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!!?!)

Here’s an important life lesson you can learn thanks to Extract: very few people in show business are naturally funny. You can take an actor who was funny in one thing, put him in another thing, and watch him fail miserably. For instance: the quirky, off-beat cast of The Whole 9 Yards, who became some of the least funny people on Earth in The Whole 10 Yards. Remember when Dana Carvey had that one stand-up special that people would quote endlessly? Dana Carvey, meet The Master of Disguise. The cast of Seinfeld, Jennifer Aniston… the list goes on.

To bring the discussion around to the terribly-plotted, atrociously-paced, sloppily-constructed Extract, consider Jason Bateman. Very funny in Arrested Development. Here… somewhat less so, despite the fact that he’s trying to play the exact same character. But it’s not entirely his fault. The plot of Extract is so Byzantine, so full of pointless characters, and so lacking in any kind of comedic or dramatic momentum, that it almost defies my ability to describe it. But I’ll try.

Joel (Bateman) is the owner of an extract bottling company. He’s in a bit of a funk because his employees are a pain and his wife Suzie (Kristin Wiig) never wants to have sex.

Super original comedy innovation #1: Wives never want to have sex with their husbands. HAH! That’s such a refreshing new twist on marriage!

We get to meet some of the delightfully unique and charming employees at the extract plant, like The Two Racist Ladies, Hector the Hispanic Guy, the Dumb Guy Who’s In A Band, Stupid Hick Step (“Step” is his real name), and Spider-Man‘s J. Johan Jameson Guy. It turns out that General Mills might want to buy the company, which Joel would love since he’s sick of being the boss. On his way home from work, Joel runs into his annoying neighbor Nathan (the guy from Anchorman who yells “WHAMMY!”). Nathan wants him to go to some kind of dinner.

Super original comedy innovation #2: The annoying neighbor. This character just slays me! He is a socially clueless boob who never stops talking! DOUBLE HAH!

Back at the factory, the Two Racist Ladies stop working because they suspect Hector the Hispanic Guy is being lazy. Through a Rube Goldberg-esque series of mishaps, there’s a big accident and Step ends up getting his testicles blown off.

Super original comedy innovation #3: Groin shots. I guess it still would have been hilarious if Step had lost, I don’t know, a kidney in a workplace accident, but he gets hit IN THE BALLS. That’s what makes it so funny! If you like ball jokes, and jokes about not having balls, you’ve come to the right place.

Keep in mind, we’re now almost a half hour in and this impending train-wreck of a movie is only starting to pick up steam. Evil hot girl con artist Cindy (girl who has that lesbian scene with Natalie Portman in Black Swan) reads about Step’s accident and plans to seduce him with her purportedly irresistible hotness, convince him to sue Joel’s company, and get rich off the proceeds of the lawsuit. So she gets a job at the factory and pretends to hit on Joel in order to get Step’s contact information. Joel, thinking she was flirting, ponders having an affair with her.

But wait, there’s more hilarity still to come! Ben Affleck is in this movie! He plays Dean, Joel’s ne’er-do-well buddy. Thinking that Joel should relieve his sexual frustration with the seemingly willing Cindy, he suggests they hire a gigolo to tempt Suzie to have an affair of her own so Joel won’t feel guilty about his own potential affair afterward.

What?

Super original comedy innovation #4: The hero’s lazy stoner best friend who comes up with all manner of zany schemes. What a delightfully original idea! This character is completely different from the hero’s lazy stoner best friend in Office Space, because here he’s portrayed by noted thespian Ben Affleck.

Now things are really going to get popping. Joel agrees to Dean’s scheme because he accidentally took some drugs (drugs are always funny – just ask Philip Seymour Hoffman!). So goofball gigolo Brad sleeps with Suzie. Joel is furious, but doesn’t have the guts to approach Cindy. Cindy, meanwhile, has been stealing things from people at the factory and they all blame Hector the Hispanic. I guess that’s funny… or ironic?… or something.  The lawyer Step and Cindy hire is played by Gene Simmons of Kiss fame, for absolutely no reason at all. So now General Mills doesn’t want to buy Joel’s company and he may be bankrupted.

That’s basically the plot of the film. By the time all this gets set up, it’s half over. If it was some kind of fast-paced comedy of errors, that would be acceptable. But Extract is also one of the most sluggish, lifeless, dull comedies you’ve ever seen. Being generous, I’m going to say that Mike Judge needed to make about a half-dozen major re-writes. Then he’d need to consider putting some jokes in.

By “jokes,” I mean better than having Suzie finally yell at annoying neighbor Nathan, and having him die from shock.

Super original comedy innovation #5:  The WACKY death sequence. Did you know that death can be hilarious as well as tragic? I sure didn’t – until I watched Extract!

Not only is this scene filmed in a fashion that is shockingly similar to when the therapist dies in Office Space, but it just isn’t funny. There wasn’t any better or more amusing scenario than to have the guy randomly drop dead? It’s lazy. It’s almost hard to comprehend how a movie can be so lacking in any kind of narrative structure. Characters and sub-plots crop up endlessly and drift off meaninglessly. There’s no rising or falling action. Half the time I couldn’t even tell what was supposed to be funny.

One positive takeaway? I liked Ben Affleck. I think that’s the first time I ever said that.

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HOW I LIVE NOW – 8/3/2014

2013

I talked about Saoirse Ronan in Violet and Daisy, where she plays an 18-year-old girl named Daisy. Here, she plays… an 18-year-old girl named Daisy. But GET READY, WORLD, because the Daisy of How I Live Now isn’t your typical friendly, respectful, well-adjusted 18-year-old. HELL NO. She’s moody and introspective and sassy and disrespectful of authority.

Pink headphones and dark eye makeup! Everybody step aside!

Pink headphones and dark eye makeup! Everybody step aside!

WOAH. Yeah, she’s a bad-ass alright. Not at all what you’d expect from the lead character in an artsy-fartsy post-apocalyptic teen romance. Saoirse is better than she was the last time she portrayed a maladjusted teenager named Daisy, at least. She gets to shoot a guy, but the guy isn’t James Gandolfini this time around, so it’s sort of underwhelming.

The plot concerns Daisy arriving in England to visit her cousins. As she is predictably drawn out of her shell by ultra-hunky (incest alert!) cousin Eddie (George MacKay), World War III starts and the country is invaded by terrorists. Granted, I haven’t been involved in many terrorist invasion-type scenarios, but the terrorist-to-citizen ratio is shockingly high here. The bucolic English countryside is literally “swarming with enemy units.” Where did they come from? Predictable bad stuff happens, the kids get separated, they have to struggle to find each other again, etc etc. If Twilight thought it was The Road and had more British people, it would be this movie.

I want to touch on two things, the first of which is this kid:

HE'S ENGLISH!

HE’S ENGLISH!

Meet Isaac (Tom Holland). Ugh. He’s absolutely atrocious. He’s the awkward pubescent Daniel Radcliffe of this film. I can’t stand him. He’s “the boy who wears glasses.” That’s the extent of his character. In fact, when he (SPOILER ALERT) gets killed, Daisy takes his glasses, leaves his body behind, and just buries the glasses. It’s supposed to be touching. It’s not.

Second – Aunt Penn (Anna Chancellor).

How I Live Now anna chancellorShe’s easily the best part of How I Live Now, despite only being in it about four minutes. Her character is a real mystery: she sits in her study all the time, never interacts with her kids, and has some mysterious government job. On the eve of the terrorist invasion, she flies to Switzerland (abandoning her kids) and never returns. I kept wondering – did she know what was coming? I kept wondering – why do I find her so strangely hot? In a disturbingly furtive way, I imagined that if I walked into that room and Aunt Penn turned around with a cigarette held ever so delicately between her fingers, some crazy stuff would happen. Butt stuff. I also kept wondering if she was secretly the same character she played in the underrated Bill Murray comedy The Man Who Knew Too Little.

Aside from Ms. Chancellor’s scene, though, this movie was too long, too dreary, and had far too many British guys yelling “OY! YEEW!”

BLACKFISH – 7/31/14

2013

Remember at the beginning of Jurassic Park, when they’re unloading a velociraptor and one of the guys gets dragged into the cage and the Australian hunter guy starts yelling “SHOOOOT HEEEEEHR! SHOOOOT HEEEEEHR”? I kept thinking about that throughout Blackfish, whenever they showed a whale start to pull someone under the water, manhandle them, etc. Why didn’t they have someone standing by with some kind of elephant gun or exploding shell? Why, in a society that demands we put a dog down after one little kid gets nipped, are these serial killer whales just let off the hook?

I understand that they’re wild animals and maybe the rules are different for them… the problem is, that’s exactly what Blackfish doesn’t understand. There are two halves to this movie that never really connect: 1) killer whales are dangerous and SeaWorld wants us to think that they aren’t so they can make money; and 2) killer whales are huge, majestic, intelligent creatures who would never harm a fly.

If your theme is “SeaWorld is bad,” that’s fine. They certainly seem like a typically loathsome, dishonest corporation. The most fascinating parts of Blackfish are about the company’s insidious campaigns to cover up the nature of the whale attacks, to misinform the public about whales in general, etc. But then we have to suffer through some vegan douchebag rhapsodizing about how killer whales have their own secret language and their brains are so advanced and they love their babies.

Look, I love animals. I don’t like the idea of some idiots taking baby whales away from their mothers. The movie has my complete support on that. But stop with the “these creatures are probably one step away from inventing the internal combustion engine” nonsense. Killer whales have their own language? Why, because they make sounds that mean different things? So do cows. Call me when they develop pronouns and adverbs.

The most hilarious moment comes when some animal researcher points to “mass strandings” as a sign of how brilliant whales are. Yes, MASS STRANDINGS – in which large numbers of whales will intentionally beach (and kill) themselves. To me – and this is just me – that seems like evidence of whales being big dumb idiots. Again, just me.

Some animals are clearly more intelligent than others, and they certainly have their own personalities and individual quirks. But the brains of animals simply do not function like the brains of human beings, and Blackfish makes the misguided assumption that they do time and time again. Why did Tilikum attack, kill and partially eat three people? Oh, he was “frustrated.” He’s “mentally disturbed.” NO, he’s a 22-foot 12,000-pound wild animal with “killer” in his name. He has no idea where he is or what “people” are or why he should care if he batters one to death. One day he might feel like doing tricks, the next day he might wonder what your forearm tastes like. No big deal to him.

Toward the end, one of the (former) trainers wonders whether the relationships they thought they had with the whales were “stronger than giving them fish”. Although the film itself doesn’t realize it, that’s the central, tragic question of Blackfish.

Basically, if you’ve seen Grizzly Man (2005), you’ve seen a much better version of this movie – one that doesn’t try to make us feel all warm and fuzzy by anthropomorphizing its titular wild beasts. The filmmakers could have saved themselves a lot of time if they had just listened to Werner Herzog, who said of his Grizzly Man subject: “And what haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food.”