Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wasted Postage: Reports from the Netflix theater

Hey look! Three spineless movie reviews, they all got Bs!

When Office Space writer/directer Mike Judge announced his return to the workplace comedy with Extract, it was something akin to Michael Jordan's return to basketball for the Initech cult. Alas, Extract more resembles Jordan's return to the Wizards, not his return to the Bulls after baseball — the quick first step and fade-away jumper are mostly still there — but of course it just doesn't feel the same. No two movies are the same, and if that were possible, it would just be redundant. So, it was wise for Judge's workplace follow-up to take place in a totally different world than Office Space — Extract's nameless southwest setting has more in common with Judge's long-running cartoon King of the Hill than it does the white-collar hell of Bill Lumbergh-land.

Jason Bateman stars as the owner of a small factory producing flavor extracts for cooking. His days typically deal with settling disputes between the lunkhead line workers and trying to find a buyer for his company before coming home each day to a sexless marriage. Things take a turn for the strange when con-woman Mila Kunis reads about a former Extract employee who recently lost his balls in a workplace accident, and sets about convincing said employee to sue for all the money he can. Ben Affleck turns in one of several great supporting performance as Bateman's bartender friend/drug-pusher who further complicates things when he convinces Bateman to fix his marital woes in the least honest way possible. Extract is very funny, I found myself laughing throughout much of its lean 90 minutes, and Judge still knows exactly how annoying people can be, nailing the ticks and quirks than can make your neighbors and co-workers unbearable. Perhaps it was a bit unfair to expect one man to define hourly-wage malaise for a second decade in row. B

Up (2009)
Pixar has never made a terrible film, but not every feature from the CG animation powerhouse is going to be a classic, no matter how hard critics try to convince us. Like every good Pixar production, Up gifts the adults in the theater with serious themes and emotions (Up deals with grief, memory, loneliness, friendship, goals, etc, especially well in a masterful, extended vignette showing the old man growing up) without stripping the film of colorful characters, humor and plot. I don't know how to say this in any interesting way, but Up just got kind of boring, I found myself begging the characters to just get the damn thing over with. I toyed with the idea of writing a review that sarcastically complained about how unrealistic Up is ("Hey, balloons can't pull a house!"), but there is actually some validity to believability and consistency issues, i.e. all that can be asked of any film is that it follows its own rules, the rules of whatever universe is established for the story. In Up, one minute the old man is totally reliant on a walker, the next he's fighting the villain while stopping an entire house from floating away by holding onto a garden hose. I can only suspend my disbelief for so long, even in a cartoon with a floating house and talking dogs. I'm a god-damned adult, right? B

In the Loop (2009)
This profane British political satire involves US and UK bureaucrats, generals, politicians and their young aids telling each other to fuck off, eat shit and die for 106 minutes, which is fine, because apparently the British have found ways to curse I didn't even know existed. I mean, these motherfuckers really know how to fucking curse. They make Goodfellas look like a goddamn episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. As Americans, we should be ashamed. Filmed in the one-camera style of The Office, In the Loop often feels more like a long television episode than a feature film. At times, it brilliantly skewers the way war policy can often be a comedy of errors, incompetence and falsehoods. Other times it amounts to little more than hearing political rivals telling each other to fuck off, eat shit and die. B

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