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Extract – Review

20 May

Mike Judge is one of the best when it comes to comedy. It’s hard to deny the impact he’s made on the genre and popular culture itself. From his television creations like Beavis and Butt-HeadKing of the Hill, and most recently Silicon Valley, to his commercial film hits like Office Space and Idiocracy, his talent is clearly visible. One of his movies that I don’t hear too much about is his companion piece to Office Space titled Extract. I’ve finally come around to seeing it, and I can sort of see why it’s not one that’s talked about too often. It certainly is funny enough and a comedy that will more than likely stay on my radar, but it does lack some of the sharpness and off the walls absurd satire of his other, more recognized work.

Joel Reynolds (Jason Bateman) seems to have it all. He is the founder and owner of the Reynolds Extract company, has a great house in a quiet neighborhood, and also is married to his beautiful wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig). On the flip side, his company is also facing problems after an accident causes one of his employees (Clifton Collins, Jr.) to lose a very important part of himself, he is constantly aggravated by what may be the world’s worst neighbor (David Koechner), and his love life with his wife has become stagnant. Things become even more complicated when a mysterious drifter, Cindy (Mila Kunis), starts working at the factory and shows a major interest in Joel. Because of this and some horrible advice from his friend, Dean (Ben Affleck), Joel’s life becomes a series of lies, even great misfortunes, and a possible company ending lawsuit.

Extract has a story that’s all over the place. There’s problems with the factory and also Joel’s love life, then there’s Mila Kunis’ character who has a backstory and motivation all her own, and then there’s an impending lawsuit that becomes more of an issue towards the end. There’s so much going on that it’s hard to keep track of it all sometimes. This works both for and against the movie. On one hand, with all of these subplots working against each other, there are some areas of the movie that feel rushed and not worked to completion. One character is relegated to just one scene when he could’ve had a lot more screen time. On the other hand, it started to make me stressed, which should be a problem, but it helped me relate to Joel’s plight, especially when he starts to reach his boiling points.

Where the movie does sort of falter is in the overall point of it. When I watch something by Mike Judge, I expect to see some sort of satirical sharpness, especially when he says that this film is a companion piece to his super sharp Office Space. There’s a really fun comedy of errors to be found here, but the whole thing feels kind of hollow. Part of that can be due to what I was talking about before. There’s so many plots and subplots and side characters that don’t amount to much that the whole thing doesn’t feel fully realized. If Judge was going for this simple comedy of errors vibe, it pulled off, but if he was going for something more than it doesn’t quite reach that standard.

Where Extract does succeed, and where Judge continues to show his immense understandings, is the personification of the characters. Everyone in this movie is someone you have met or have no problem believing in. One of my favorite characters is an older woman at the factory who continuously harasses a new employee and who refuses to work because she believes she works harder than everyone else and gets nothing for it. I know I’ve met that person. This also has a really great cast. Bateman is always great as the deadpan character who explodes after being pushed too far. Ben Affleck is surprisingly hilarious as Dean and David Koechner as Nathan, Joel’s annoying neighbor, kills every scene he’s in.

Extract is definitely a minor entry into an otherwise outstanding body of work by Mike Judge. This is a funny film with a great cast and a premise that works really well, even if it does feel stretched a bit too thin. If more time was given to certain plot elements, this might have felt a little bit stronger, even without the sharp satirical edge I was expecting. This movie is good for some laughs, but don’t expect anything more than that.

Final Grade: B-

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Triple 9 – Review

15 Mar

In my opinion, John Hillcoat is a film maker who’s movies will get me excited no matter what. I haven’t seen all of his movies, like The Road, but his other films like The Proposition and Lawless are genre bending punches to the throat full of great acting, direction, and performances. He’s very well known for his collaborations with Nick Cave as screenwriter and composer, but with his newest film, Triple 9, Nick Cave is nowhere to be seen. That didn’t change the fact that I was excited for this movie and while the reviews have been very mixed, I thought this was a pretty badass flick.

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Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his band of thieves, including two Atlanta police officers Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins, Jr.), are under the strict employ of a Russian mob boss’ wife, Irina (Kate Winslet). After pulling off a major heist for Irina, she still demands that Atwood and his gang pull off a much more complicated one: robbing a highly secured government building of all the files on her husband. In order to do this, it is suggested that the crew initiate a triple 9, which is a code for an officer down, across town so the building will be a free for all. Opportunity knocks when Marcus gets a new partner, Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), a clean cop only out to do the right thing. As the police’s investigation of this gang gets them closer to the truth, Atwood feels rushed to get the job done, which could spell doom for the whole crew.

First off, I have to say that one of the first things that piqued my interest in this movie was the cast. Other than the actors I already named in the summary, this film also boasts the talents of Woody Harrelson, Norman Reedus, Gal Gadot, and Aaron Paul. It’s really an insane cast that all do their jobs really well. Casey Affleck continues to be one of my favorite actors working in movies while Anthony Mackie and Clifton Collins, Jr. showed a level of skill I haven’t seen in them before. Ensemble films like this don’t always work because there isn’t enough personality between the characters to differentiate them from the rest. Luckily, that was not the case with the cast in Triple 9. They were all great to watch.

TRIPLE 9 - INTENSE ACTION - RAID SCENE

Probably the only fault I can give this movie is how complicated it gets, even though this is a movie that doesn’t really need to be complicated. There is such a huge cast of characters and each of them seem to be doing ten different things. It’s ok for some of them to just remain side characters, but each one has a different arc that they’re trying to get through. This still doesn’t really hurt the movie for me, though. While I was trying to figure out what everyone was doing, I was marveling at the urban war zone that Hillcoat and screenwriter Matt Cook have created. It’s a landscape where everyone is your enemy and your friends have something to hide. This made for a very paranoid fueled heist thriller.

When I say that Triple 9 had some of the best action set pieces I’ve seen in a while, I mean that sincerely. Right from the get go there’s a robbery and a car chase on the freeway that should be remembered way down the line. Another great scene is a police raid on an apartment building shot mostly in tracking shots like we are part of the squad. There is a lot of down time in this film, but it never got boring for me, especially since right around the corner there was another action packed scene that was really well shot and paced. That’s an art all unto itself.

Based on all the reviews I’ve been seeing, people either love Triple 9 or they hate it. I don’t know if I can say I loved it, but it was definitely a really cool movie. It does get overly complicated at times, but the strong cast and the intense action sequences and urban environment really pulls it all together very well. After seeing Triple 9, I’m reminded once again why John Hillcoat is one of those film makers that gets me excited about movies. This one is worth a watch.

Traffic – Review

4 Apr

Steven Soderbergh has been around for quite a long time and has made a variety of different films, but in 2000, Soderbergh released a film that would be both heavily influential and controversial. Traffic is gritty, tough, emotional, and aims close to home.

Traffic is an epic tale that includes multiple story lines and characters involved one way or another with the Mexican drug trade. Javier Rodriguez (Benicio del Toro) is a Mexican police officer who finds himself and his partner tangled in a web of corruption between the sadistic General Salazar (Tomas Milian) and the notorious Tijuana Cartel. Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) is a judge from Ohio who is elected head of the Office of National Drug control. Amongst his new responsibilities, Robert is struggling to help his daughter, Caroline, with her drug addiction. Montel Gordon (Don Cheadle) and Ray Castro (Luis Guzman) are DEA agents who’re working together to bring down the drug lord Carlos Ayala. After his arrest, his wife, Helena (Catharine Zeta-Jones) dives deep into the underworld in order to get her husband out of prison, even to go so far as to hire a hit man (Clifton Collins Jr.) from the Tijuana Cartel to assassinate the main witness in her husband’s trial (Miguel Ferrer).

After watching this film, I felt sort of like I did after watching Syriana, although Traffic isn’t quite as difficult. Just because it isn’t as internationally intriguing as Syriana does not mean it is not as important. This is one of those films that should be shown in schools, despite it’s graphic depiction of drug use and the violence that it causes between nations.

At many points throughout the movie, the viewer gets many opportunities to observe the U.S./Mexican border. The story lines flow seamlessly from one country to the next with clever uses of lenses, filters, and cameras to signify where we are and how we should be feeling. The Mexican scenes are shot with handheld cameras with a grainy yellow filter to help the viewer feel the heat and grime of the drug underworld. The film stock of these scenes also gives them an older look that almost makes them look like scenes out of an experimental film. The Ohio and Washington D.C. scenes have a blue filter which I feel shows the coldness and artificiality of this type of government lifestyle. The scenes in San Diego appear to look the most normal, except with the reds heightened a little bit, for reasons I’m not too sure of. Needless to say, this film looks fantastic, and I think it’s rare to see this kind of attention to detail in films of this kind.

The story lines in Traffic slightly intersect, but not as much as you might expect. The point of the film is to show how this diverse group of characters play their part in the bigger story. At times you will see certain characters walking by each other or sitting in the same room, but they will never interact with anyone outside of their own story line. That is an interesting choice and works better than trying to force these characters to meet and interact with one another. For me, the most interesting story line is the Wakefield storyline because it has to do with the smaller battles that drugs cause and how they can not only tear nations apart, but also families.

There are many talented actors in this film. Benicio del Toro actually won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and it is deserved. It can be argued that his character is boring and monotone, but that is appropriate for who he is and the viewer can easily see the trouble the character is facing just by looking into his eyes. Michael Douglas also gives an incredibly moving performance, but I personally think that the scene stealer in this film  is Erika Christensen, who plays Douglas’ daughter, Caroline. We never hate this character even though she puts her parents through hell. We sympathize for her and want to see her get through her troubles, even though we don’t have much hope.

Traffic can arguably be considered the first modern epic. After this film was released, we saw many films like it, for example Crash and the aforementioned Syriana. Saying this film isn’t important in both the thematic sense and the historical sense would be a very bold statement to make, but I don’t think I would meet anyone who would say that after seeing this film.

Traffic is without a doubt a modern day masterpiece and only further defines Steven Soderbergh as one of the better film makers of our time. I also stand by my point that this film should be shown in schools. It neither condemns nor supports the War on Drugs, but it certainly alludes to the fact that it can not be won. Every story line is strong and interesting, it looks beautiful, and it is true to life. I definitely recommend this film.