Judging Mike Judge’s EXTRACT

EXTRACT (Dir. Mike Judge, 2009)

The filmography of Mike Judge is very small (just 4 films over 13 years) and very odd. Best known as the creator and voice of Beavis And Butt-head and King Of The Hill, his movies have a obvious bent towards working stiffs and the threat of stupidity taking over the world (see OFFICE SPACE and IDIOCRACY). EXTRACT is cut from the same cloth as Judge’s cult classic OFFICE SPACE but it’s a jagged uneven piece of that cloth. As the protagonist Jason Bateman is not just a cog in the system, he owns his own company – an extract manufacturing plant. A freak accident on the factory assembly line that leaves one of his employees (Clifton Collins Jr.) with only one testicle, leaves him with a huge lawsuit that could potentially ruin his company. Meanwhile on the home front Bateman isn’t getting any action from his wife (a blank slate Kristen Wiig from SNL) so he drowns his sorrows at a nearby hotel sports bar whining to his best friend – bartender Ben Affleck.

Affleck, bearded and be-wigged and seemingly having a better time than anyone else in the movie, spouts out awful advice, and recommends pills as solutions. Bateman is attracted to a new intern (Mila Kunis) and confides to Affleck that he wouldn’t care if his wife cheated on him as long as he could get it on with Kunis. Affleck refers Bateman, heavily drugged, to a small time gigolo (Dusty Milligan) whom he hires to go to his house in the guise of a pool cleaner in order to seduce his wife.

Okay! This is where I give up on the plot summary as recounting it is almost as bad as it was watching it. What started out promisingly becomes a test of endurance. Instead of waiting for laughs I found myself anticipating the flimsy unpleasant premise to get even more flimsier and unpleasant. When Gene Simmons of Kiss showed up as a sleazy lawyer (one of the film’s most inspired notions actually) I expected him to make good on his threat to slam Bateman’s balls in the conference room door. Why not? It’s not like the film had any loftier aspirations.

There are a number of genuine laughs in EXTRACT, just not enough to add up to a great cutting comedy. Kunis’s character as a hottie grifter (no Spoilers there – that’s revealed in the opening scene) offers no surprises and no character is likable enough to care about – I’ve liked Bateman in just about everything I’ve seen him in (especially Arrested Development) but here he’s a pretty bland and not particularly sympathetic everyman. I cringed more than I laughed during this movie I’m sad to report. Judge’s previous works were indeed odd with a twisted yet likable affinity for those struggling to climb to another rung on the ladder of success. EXTRACT is just odd and twisted – which would be fine if it was just funnier.

More later…

Just As Everybody Says – WALL-E Is Wonderful

WALL-E (Dir. Andrew Stanton, 2008)

Everybody (well, just about everybody – the film is at 96% at Rotten Tomatoes) is raving about WALL-E and it is well deserving of the acclaim. As the latest in the line of popular sophisticated animated Pixar films it is set in 2700 and involves a lonely rusty robot left behind to clean up the Earth after pollution has deemed it unlivable many centuries previous. As the humans have retreated to what Buy’ N Large (think Wal-Mart) CEO (played by a non-animated Fred Willard) calls “the final fun-tiere!” on a large corporate cruise-ship space station, WALL-E (stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth) compacts old trash into cubicles and builds skyscrapers out of them. He collects what strikes his fancy – a Rubik’s cube, silver lighters, a dingy old hub cab that he tips like a hat while watching an ancient videotape of HELLO, DOLLY.

It’s apparent up front that this machine, as well as this movie, has a big heart as he befriends a cockroach and looks longingly to the sky while replaying love song sound-bites from his before mentioned favorite movie. When a probe named EVE (stands for Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) from the ginormous spaceship comes to Earth looking for plant-life, WALL-E is intrigued. She’s a shiny new model with a noble directive and after one of the mightiest movie meet-cutes I’ve ever seen, WALL-E is soon smitten. I really don’t want to spoil any more of the nice narrative surprises or the tons of ingenious ideas here so that’s as far as I’ll go with the plot.

A friend mentioned IDIOCRACY (Mike Judge’s failed futuristic dumbing-down of society satire) right as WALL-E began so it was hard to shake the similarities of a trashed-out Earth with remnants of non-perishable plastic products covering every square inch. There is no big spelled out environmental preachiness here though, the narrative is too clever for such moralizing – more fun to be had in spectacularly imagining a future where cute robots sift through the debris and help mankind get back on track. There are many echoes of past sci-fi classics which also involved cute and not so cute robots – the warp speed, musical queues, and sound effects of the STAR WARS movies (thanks to Academy award winning sound designer Ben Burtt who also does the voice of WALL-E) and 2001 in both the character of the evil ship’s Computer (voiced by Sigourney Weaver!) and the use of the grand “Also Sprach Zarathustra.”

Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm, I WANT SOMEBODY TO EAT CHEESE WITH) does a enthused performance as the Ship’s Captain who despite his hard to move girth may find a spark of inspiration from the passionate power-activated robots who suddenly appear before him. In the matinee crowd full mostly of families with many little kids I sat in watching this mind bogglingly beautiful and funny movie I heard a lot of laughter of course, but there was also much crying, awe-ing and the very vivid sensation of an audience being profoundly moved. Score hit #9 for Pixar – in my book, or on blog, every one of their films has been better than the last and WALL-E is not only the best yet but one of the best films of the year.

More later…