9/25/09

Review: Extract (2009)


I'm a bit late writing this review, and the box-office and critical reception seems to be underwhelming for Extract, but it's a perfect comedy about crazy people and normal people acting like idiots. The Goods wanted to be this movie, in terms of the areas of comedy mined, but didn't quite find its footing.

Extract is funny from the opening moments, in a quiet, understated way, with over-the-top elements which also work well, much like director Mike Judge's earlier classic Office Space. It's a smidge less funny than Office Space, but more grown-up and well constructed.

And like the current Taking Woodstock, this is largely due to a winningly credulous performance from its lead actor, Demetri Martin in Woodstock, and the great, and much more experienced actor Jason Bateman in Extract.

Bateman plays Joel Reynold, a chemist and entrepreneur who discovered a way to prolong the flavor experience of different kinds of extracts, and who now runs a successful extract production company being eyed for a windfall takeover by General Mills. This despite the crew of misfits who keep causing industrial accidents at the factory.

The wonderful Kristen Wiig ("SNL," Walk Hard) plays Joel's wife Suzie, who signals her lack of interest in sex with Joel by donning her sweatpants early in the evening. Mila Kunis ("That '70s Show") plays Cindy, a drifter/con-artist whose interest in Joel causes the major crisis of the film, as he gets high on Special K and decides to hire a gigolo, Brad (Dustin Milligan, pluperfect), to seduce his wife and give him the excuse to cheat he's looking for.

Ben Affleck, who also appeared in this year's State of Play along with Bateman in a catchy supporting role, plays Joel's friend Dean, the druggie bartender who accidentally lends Joel the Special K.

Affleck's great here, as he was very good in State of Play, and the reversal of roles with Bateman in the lead feels much more well-balanced than the general state of affairs in that movie. In both films, Affleck signaled his graduation from pretty-boy roles, in which he was sometimes effective, to aging, dissolute pretty-boy roles, for which he shows a marked talent. Affleck and Bateman have a brilliant marijuana paranoia scene together, with a classic punchline which helps put the film's humor over the edge toward greatness.

Extract also features great supporting work from Gene Simmons as a shady lawyer, J.K. Simmons as the factory manager, David Koechner (insufferable in The Goods, just right here) as an annoying neighbor of Joel's, Beth Grant (Donnie Darko) as a know-it-all who holds up the factory's production line, and Clifton Collins, Jr. (Star Trek), in his best role to date as her unfortunate victim. Director Judge has a very funny cameo of his own.

Extract feels like a real stretch for Mike Judge into more adult, character-driven fare, and it's welcome. His sense of humor and wont for wild plot developments which actually have meaningful depth are on ample display, along with an ability to create instantly recognizable caricatures which are funny and not one-note, and he continues to show his flair for directing real actors, rather than just cartoons (which he also does well).

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

9/11/09

Review: 9 (2009)


9 is a pretty simple, interesting post-apocalyptic puppet movie about the nature of life and the dizzying pace of technological change. Probably not appropriate for very young children, in keeping with its PG-13 rating, it is nevertheless a worthwhile film for kids or adults, visually well-executed and pretty fun to watch, with a familiar if still relevant message.

In the near future, a scientist has created a machine which creates machines, Terminator-like. Originally conceived as a life-affirming, humanity-compatible entity, it inevitably comes under the control of a dictator bent on using it for destruction and the extension of his own power.

When it runs even out of his control, and turns against all of humanity, the scientist sees that all of life is endangered, and creates nine new "inventions," tiny burlap-covered dolls endowed with souls, language, and a complex hidden program or mission to destroy the machine and make the world safe for life again.

It's a bare-bones quest of a plot, but the visuals and the questions raised by the way the character of 9 is "born" and meets his brothers and sister(s)? are compelling enough to carry the story along.

Tim Burton is an excellent producer for the film, though it was based on a short film (which I have not seen) by the writer/director, Shane Acker. The characters and character designs evoke Edward Scissorhands and Oogie Boogie and other characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Though it is computer-animated like Corpse Bride or the aliens in Mars Attacks, like those films it also mimics stop-motion animation in its details and movement.

The Star Wars films are also echoed visually, with huge two-legged walking robot killing machines, a marked similarity between the 1-9 numbered characters and our old friend C-3PO, and, in a certain way, the Death Star concept.

All of these echoes are obvious and familiar, but don't take much away from a real feeling of the creation of a persuasive, unique world the characters inhabit. The doll characters accept and interact with one another in a way that makes sense, and which grows and changes in a believable way.

The voice casting is very good as well, particularly Elijah Wood as 9, Christopher Plummer as the put-upon 1 and John C. Reilly as the hesitant 5. While the voices are all distinctive, it is a flaw of the film that there are times when we're not sure exactly who is who, especially among numbers 2, 5, 7 and 9. This gets a bit confusing in a few places.

9 probably isn't even the best animated film about humanity's excesses as opposed to the resources available on this planet out now, that'd be Ponyo, but it has a unique look and style of its own, and tells a spare story with resonance.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

9/8/09

Review: Taking Woodstock (2009)


Taking Woodstock isn't a perfect film, but it's unexpected, complicated and very good. Not strictly a meditation on the event itself, it's mostly about how it changed life for one person involved, and in that sense, it's pretty deep and effective.

Demetri Martin plays that one person, Elliot Teichberg, a young interior designer just a bit older than the general "Woodstock generation," who lives with his parents, Sonia and Jake (Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman) in White Lake, New York, where they run the El Monaco "Hotel and Resort," a ramshackle motel with an aspiringly countercultural theatre troupe living in the barn.

In financial straits over paying the mortgage, a news story about the cancellation of the nearby planned site for the Woodstock music festival gives Elliot an idea which changes everything.

Bringing the festival to his town improves the family's financial picture a lot, as well as forcing the Teichbergs to get to know each other a lot better, alienating most of the townspeople and giving Elliot many different opportunites and options he wouldn't have gotten any other way.

The pleasures of the film are very much just watching Elliot move around his world, and this is because of Martin's strong performance. Having seen him do standup, there are some concerns at first that the role could be limited by his comic persona. But this doesn't happen.

His more familiar personality is glimpsed, but on the whole he plays Elliot as a young aspiring businessman who gets along well with people, loves his family even through difficulties, who gets his eyes knocked out of his head when the Love Generation arrives on his doorstep. It's a very promising dramatic lead debut for Martin.

Liev Schreiber is also a standout as Vilma, a former Marine/transvestite who shows up strapped to take over security for the El Monaco, and who helps Elliot get to know his parents and himself a bit better. Goodman and Staunton are both very good, despite some over-the-top stereotypical faults of their characters, but the actors pull it off the best they can. Emile Hirsch plays a returned Vietnam vet who was childhood friends with Elliot, and it's a solid cameo.

I read a few reviews which criticize the film for its lack of interest in the concert itself, but there are other movies which cover that quite well. Taking Woodstock has a satisfying rock and roll soundtrack and its own point of view about what was most important about the event, and it's worth telling.

Taking Woodstock is set in and around the namesake festival, so it's a Woodstock movie, but it's also a family story, a drug story, a sex story and a gay "coming of age" story (for a bit of a late bloomer). Not all the threads come together dramatically, but it mostly works.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

9/3/09

Pence leads 2012 GOP presidential nominee web poll results for August

Rep. Mike Pence (IN) led August voting for who respondents thought would be the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. As usual, this is of self-selected voters of any party who found my website, so it is not scientific in any way. (This means you should not complain that it was not scientific because it's never going to be.) Voting is just for fun, please no wagering. Here are this month's results:

August 2009

#1 - Rep. Mike Pence (IN) ... 21.1%
#2 - Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) ... 14.3%
#3 - Fmr. Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR) ... 13.5%
#4 - Sen. John Thune (SD) ... 9%
#5 - Fmr. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (GA) ... 8.3%
#5 - Fmr. Gov. Tom Ridge (PA) ... 8.3%
#6 - Gov. Sarah Palin (AK) ... 6%
#7 - Gov. Tim Pawlenty (MN) ... 5.3%
#8 - Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA) ... 4.5%
#9 - Fmr. Gov. Jeb Bush (FL) ... 2.3%
#9 - Senate Min. Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) ... 2.3%
#9 - Fmr. Vice Pres. Dan Quayle (IN / AZ) ... 2.3%
#10 - Gov. Haley Barbour (MS) ... 1.5%
#10 - Sen. Sam Brownback (KS) ... 1.5%
#11 - Fmr. Gov. Mitt Romney (MI / UT / MA) ... 0%
#11 - Other ... 0%

133 total votes cast / Margin of error ±100%

You can vote for this month's new poll here, or click the vote button from any of the Choose Our President 2012 pages.

Alex
Choose Our President 2012