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It should be noted that I have not seen Mike Judge’s 1999 cult classic, Office Space. While it’s on my very long list of movies that I want to someday get around to seeing, I don’t see that as being a problem for reviewing his latest film, Extract.
In this offbeat comedy, Jason Bateman plays Joel Reynolds, the owner of a factory that makes food flavouring extracts. He has to deal with a gaggle of hapless employees, a sexless marriage, and the temptation to cheat on his wife (Kristen Wiig) with an attractive young temp at his plant (Mila Kunis). Joel’s only friend, a spacey bartender named Dean (Ben Affleck) suggests that Joel tempt his wife with an attractive young gigolo (Dustin Milligan). If she takes the bait, Dean figures that Joel is free to pursue an affair with his employee, Cindy.
But unbeknownst to Joel, Cindy is actually a con artist, hoping to capitalize on an unfortunate accident that left one of Joel’s employees, Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), in a position to sue the company. The impending lawsuit puts the company’s chances of being bought out – and Joel’s hopes for an early retirement – in jeopardy.
If that sounds like a lot of plot for a silly 90 minute comedy, it’s probably because it is. Extract is a film that would have benefitted from fewer characters and subplots, and more concentration on the humour aspect. There are funny parts, but this movie stalls several times when it’s trying to squeeze in all of the necessary plot points. And after all of that story, the movie still doesn’t feel like it’s really about anything.
But even though Extract is thrifty with its laughs, it does find a lot of humour in everyday people and circumstances. From Joel’s unrelentingly annoying neighbour to the young metalhead working at the extract factory, you’re bound to recognize people that you know in the characters. Joel himself is a very real character, and therefore a very flawed person. He’s kind of like a less likeable version of Bateman’s Michael Bluth on Arrested Development. But Bateman plays the character expertly. His sense of timing and sarcasm is impeccable, and it’s great to see him get a lead role.
Though I’m not much of a Ben Affleck fan (except when he’s directing Gone Baby Gone), I thought he was actually pretty funny here, even if the “dumb stoner” shtick isn’t exactly a new concept. He brings some likeability and zest to the role that’s needed in a film like this, which is so wry that it’s almost devoid of emotion.
Mila Kunis is given virtually nothing to do in this role, other than standing around and looking nice. Cindy started off seeming like an interesting character, but she’s soon shuttled to the background. We never learn anything about her story, and the “con artist” plotline goes in the most expected directions. Kristen Wiig isn’t given much screen time or material either (though she makes the best of it), which is ridiculous, considering what a huge comedic talent she is. Having a good cast is important, but it’s also irrelevant if you don’t play to their strengths.
Extract is a mixed bag. Its observational humour is spot-on at times, but the physical humour involving crotch-shots and black eyes falls totally flat. It suffers from too many characters, and often gets too wrapped up in half-baked storytelling. Bateman really helps to save the movie, and I like that its going for a subtle brand of humour. But in the end, there just aren’t enough laughs to make it a must-see.
Like many others have, I’d like to take a minute to share my thoughts on the death of J.D. Salinger. It was announced today that the famously reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye passed away on Wednesday from natural causes at the age of 91.
Liking The Catcher in the Rye as a teenage is not a unique sentiment. And my feelings on it are not unique. But there’s a reason why so many people love that book in a way that feels so personal to them. It’s impossible to describe the story to people who’ve never read it, or to convince those who didn’t like it of Salinger’s brilliance. On the surface, not much happens. But the mind of Holden Caulfield is so beautifully portrayed throughout the course of that story. His idiosyncratic, often contradictory views on humanity are heartbreaking, hilarious, and perfect.
I read The Catcher in the Rye when I was fifteen years old, which to me, was the perfect age to be introduced to Holden Caulfield. Tenth grade was a low point for me, because I felt so incredibly disconnected to the rest of the world. I felt so angry at myself for not being able to connect to anyone, even though I hated most of the people at my school, and told myself that I didn’t want to be friends with them, anyways. So to find a book that carefully laid out every emotion that I was feeling was a pretty special thing. Also, it was unlike most books that I read at the time. My literary tastes had fallen more along the lines of the work of Meg Cabot prior to reading Catcher. Not only did it make me feel a little less lonely, it also opened my eyes to the possibility of reading books that were both entertaining AND had something important to say.
Catcher is obviously Salinger’s most famous work. It’s going to live on forever as a literary classic. But his short story, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” (which can be found in his Nine Stories compilation), is another masterpiece. It takes a while to make its impact, but once it does, it’s unforgettable.
J.D. Salinger is responsible for what is arguably the most iconic novel of the 20th century, and he’s inspired countless writers to write their own stories of teenage angst (for better or worse). As an aspiring writer myself, Salinger is definitely one of my heroes.
Rest in peace.
With the 2010 Oscar nominations coming February 2 (same day as Lost starts!), I’ve decided to compile a guide with my predictions for the nominees. It’ll be interesting to see how they stack up to the final results. The contenders that I list as “locks” are the ones that I would be highly surprised the see snubbed. “Good bets” are those who have a good shot at being nominated, but could miss out. And the “best of the rest” are those who I feel could either fill the rest of the category, or bump one of the good bets.
The big buzz with the Best Picture category this year (aside from its complicated new voting procedure) is the fact that there will be ten nominees, as opposed to the usual five. This leaves a lot of room for films that wouldn’t normally get recognized to be nominated, yet there are really just a handful of films competing for the win.
The Locks: There’s virtually no chance that Avatar will miss out on a nomination, especially after its Golden Globe win. The blockbuster definitely has a good shot at winning the whole thing. Right now, it seems like the only other two movies that have a shot at winning are The Hurt Locker and Up in the Air. And while it has the disadvantage of not being in theatres during awards season, Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is also pretty much guaranteed one of the ten spots, as is Precious, despite its slight loss of momentum since its big win at TIFF.
Good Bets: A lot of people thought that Wall-E should have received a Best Picture nomination last year, so with ten slots available this year, the beloved Up is bound to get Pixar its first Best Picture nomination. Invictus may have gotten snubbed at the Globes for Best Drama, but I think the Academy will make room for Eastwood’s latest project.
Best of the Rest: The last three slots are really hard to call. There are nearly a dozen films that could fill those spots, but none of them have much of a shot at snagging the win. I think An Education and A Serious Man have a pretty decent shot at receiving a nomination based on strong critical reception and acclaimed performances. The last spot is even harder to call, but if I had to guess, I’d say The Messenger might sneak in. But there are plenty of other options. Crazy Heart has the benefit of a powerhouse performance from Jeff Bridges to help propel it into the mind of Academy voters, as does A Single Man, with Colin Firth’s acclaimed performance. The Lovely Bones and Nine were once considered to be major contenders, and though they’ve both received poor reviews from critics, there’s a slim chance one of them (more likely Nine) might still make it on the strength of their directors and casts. Star Trek and District 9 were acclaimed sci-fi blockbusters, but with Avatar already fitting that description, their chances are slimmer. And speaking of blockbusters, don’t be too shocked if The Hangover gets one of the spots.
Wishful Thinking: I’d love to see (500) Days of Summer get some recognition, but with its loss at the Golden Globes, it’s chances are not good. Even less likely to receive a nomination is Spike Jonze’s wonderful Where the Wild Things Are.
The Locks: It’s currently a race between George Clooney for Up in the Air and Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. And with his win at the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards, it seems like Bridges has all but secured his spot at the podium Oscar night. Colin Firth is also bound to pick up a nomination for his work in A Single Man, but unless there’s some kind of upset, he’s unlikely to win.
Good Bets: Despite Morgan Freeman‘s snub at the BAFTAs, and Invictus‘ exclusion from Best Picture at the Globes, I still don’t think the Academy will ignore Freeman for his turn as Nelson Mandela. That’s the kind of role that the Oscars live for. As for the fifth spot, the previously underappreciated Jeremy Renner has a good shot at rounding out the category for his work in The Hurt Locker.
Best of the Rest: I think that the five men listed above will be the five to get nominated. It’s hard to get a sense of other actors’ buzz, since everyone seems so sure of the five nominees. But if there were to be an upset, it could be from The Road‘s Viggo Mortensen. Ben Foster and Sam Rockwell have also gotten loads of praise for The Messenger and Moon, but I don’t think that either of them will have the momentum to steal Renner or Freeman’s spot.
Wishful Thinking: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I loved Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer. With the Globe nomination, he has a tiny shot at getting a nomination, but it’s highly unlikely that the Academy would recognize such a young actor for a comedic role. And Max Records gave one of the best performances from a child that I’ve ever seen in Where the Wild Things Are.
The Locks: As bizarre as this may sound, it’s likely that either Julie & Julia or The Blind Side will have given us an Oscar winning performance. Meryl Streep was considered a frontrunner since J&J‘s release, and now Sandra Bullock has unexpectedly become a major contender in the Best Actress race. They won their respective categories at the Globes and tied at the Critics Choice Awards, and now it looks like they’ll be facing off for Oscar gold. Poor Carey Mulligan.
In the wake of all of the Sandra Bullock excitement (who knew such a thing existed?), it seems like she’s been pushed aside a bit. With a slew of critics’ awards for her performance in An Education (including a win from the National Board of Review), Mulligan will almost certainly be nominated, but I’m doubtful that she’ll be able to beat the two heavyweights in this category.
Good Bets: Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe is likely to get recognition for her emotional performance in Precious, but the fact that this is her first film could hurt her chances slightly, as might all of the focus being put on Mo’Nique’s performance.
Best of the Rest: For those keeping track, that leaves one spot available in this category. Helen Mirren seems like the most likely choice for her work in The Last Station. She would be my guess to round out the category, but it’s possible that the Academy will want to recognize someone new (since Mirren won just back in 2006 for The Queen). Emily Blunt has been getting rave reviews (and a Golden Globe nomination) for The Young Victoria. She’s a respected young actress, and she might be rewarded for her work in the period piece. And perhaps one of the youngest, most respected actresses in Hollywood is Saoirse Ronan, who received a supporting nod for her work in Atonement two years back. But the fact that the lead Actor and Actress categories rarely recognize child actors (not to mention the critical ravaging of The Lovely Bones) won’t help her chances any. Abbie Cornish (Bright Star) and Michelle Monaghan (Trucker) also got great reviews for their performances, but they and their films have been largely overlooked this awards season.
Zoe Saldana may never have appeared in non-blue form during Avatar, but she gave a raw, fearless performance.
Best Supporting Actor
The Locks: Having won just about every precursor award in existence, there is no way that Christoph Waltz won’t be nominated for Inglourious Basterds. And while he’ll likely be adding one more award to his collection on Oscar night, the excitement in this category is surrounding who the other four nominees will be (yes, they’re still going to bother). There are about seven men fighting for four spots in the line-up. Woody Harrelson is probably the only one of them who’s more or less guaranteed one of those spaces.
Good Bets: Veteran actor Christopher Plummer has a good shot at being recognized for his work in The Last Station, as does double Globe nominee Matt Damon for Invictus, despite the fact that both of them recently missed on a BAFTA nomination, and that Plummer was snubbed at the Critics Choice Awards. And while critics haven’t liked The Lovely Bones, most of them have been raving about Stanley Tucci‘s turn as a killer. The only thing that might hurt him is that he may lose a few votes for those who wish to nominate him for his charming work in Julie & Julia instead.
Best of the Rest: It’s definitely possible that Alfred Molina could sneak in to this category thanks to early raves for his performance in An Education. And while he doesn’t seem to have much of a campaign going, many critics latched on to newcomer Christian McKay for his performance as a young Orson Welles in none other than Me and Orson Welles. It would probably be considered far more surprising if Alec Baldwin got a nomination for It’s Complicated, or if The Hurt Locker‘s Anthony Mackie managed to snag a spot, but I wouldn’t count either of them out yet.
Wishful Thinking: I know it’s an odd choice, but I think that Zach Galifianakis gave one of the funniest, most memorable performances in a long time in The Hangover.
Best Supporting Actress
Mo’Nique‘s win for her monstrous turn in Precious has been locked up for a while now. Her only possible competition is from Up in the Air‘s Anna Kendrick, but at this point, it’s Mo’Nique’s award to lose.
Good Bets: Kendrick’s co-star Vera Farmiga has a very good shot at picking up her first nomination and rounding out a trio of acting noms for Up in the Air. If the wonderful Julianne Moore gets a spot in the line-up for her apparently brief role in A Single Man, she’ll have to settle for her fifth consecutive loss come Oscar night.
Best of the Rest: Once again, we’re left with one spot, and several candidates. Marion Cotillard (who I believe has now had her campaign switched to the supporting category) and Penelope Cruz have won praise for their work in Nine, but a after being shut out for all five Golden Globe awards, and all ten Critic’s Choice Awards that it was nominated for, the film’s chance at any Oscar nominations seems to be sinking fast. Meanwhile, Inglourious Basterds seems to be gaining strength as the awards season progresses, so either Melanie Laurent or Diane Kruger could steal the last spot. The other contender is Samantha Morton, who is not only receiving accolades for The Messenger, but is also coming off of a decade full of acclaimed performances. Forced to make a prediction, I’m guessing that Cotillard might still be the fifth nominee.
Emily Blunt was fantastic in the criminally underrated Sunshine Cleaning. She balanced humour and depth with a subtlety similar to that which Anna Kendrick is being praised for.
The Locks: Despite what he claims in this Rolling Stone article, James Cameron clearly learned nothing from his “I’m king of the world!” debacle at the 1998 Oscars, judging his Na’vi-tinged Golden Globe acceptance speech in any indication. But douchebaggery aside, Cameron has a good shot at adding another Oscar to his mantle for Avatar. His main competition is in Kathryn Bigelow who is being praised for her gritty direction in The Hurt Locker. Just to keep things interesting, it so happens that Cameron and Bigelow are ex-husband and wife (Bigelow was his third of five wives). If Bigelow gets nominated (which she surely will) she’ll be only the fourth female director to get recognized by the Academy. This could be the year that a woman finally wins Best Director.
Good Bets: With his third film, Up in the Air, Jason Reitman gave his most mature work yet, and he’ll likely be rewarded for it with his second Oscar nomination. Also in contention is the always interesting Quentin Tarantino, whose Inglourious Basterds struck a chord with viewers and critics alike.
Best of the Rest: At this point it seems to be a toss-up between Lee Daniels (Precious) and Clint Eastwood (Invictus) for the fifth spot. Neither will win, but it depends on whether the Academy wants to recognize a promising new director, or a reliable vet. My guess is that Daniels will take it.
Spike Jonze, as always.
As long as there is an audience, they will keep making Night at the Museum movies. Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, and Owen Wilson all return for the sequel to 2006′s blockbuster family film, with Amy Adams, Hank Azaria, and Bill Hader joining the all-star cast.
Night at the Museum 2 picks up two years after the end of the first film, and we now find our hero Larry (Stiller) as a successful inventor (I think his invention – a glow in the dark flashlight – is some kind of running gag from the first movie, but it’s all a little bit fuzzy to me). He’s left his job as a night-time security guard at New York’s Museum of Natural Science, but catches wind that the museum is re-vamping its exhibits in favour of new high-tech holograms. Larry goes to Washington, D.C. to rescue the old displays of historical figures (which all come alive at night) from the clutches of an evil Egyptian pharaoh, Kahmunrah (Azaria).
If you’ve seen Night at the Museum, you’ll know exactly what to expect from the sequel – a bumbling Ben Stiller caught in the mayhem of warring historical figures. I liked the first film more than I expected to, and while it doesn’t break any new ground, Battle of the Smithsonian is harmless enough. That being said, director Shawn Levy (known for such gems as The Pink Panther and Just Married) could have pushed things much further, rather than just lazily rehashing the first film.
Children are likely to love the mania and humour of this film, and for the rest of us, there are still a few things to like. At one point, Larry fakes his way into the underground storage area of the Smithsonian museum by posing as a security guard, and he runs into a real guard, “Brundon”, played by Jonah Hill. The two have a lengthy exchange, and while the deadpan humour may be lost on some of the younger viewers, it’s actually pretty funny. At another point, as Larry and Amelia Earhart race through the museum, they jump into one of the art gallery’s moving paintings. They find themselves briefly trapped in a war-era black and white painting, followed by their attackers. That segment of the film, though short, is really well done, and it’s so much more original and interesting than anything else in the entire film. It’s one of the moments that saved the film for me.
Another one of Battle of the Smithsonian‘s saving graces is the always delightful Amy Adams, as spunky Amelia Earhart. Her screwball performance feels like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale franchise. Bill Hader, another new addition to the cast, plays General Custer, and though he has considerably less screen time, Hader makes the best of it, giving a typically charismatic performance. Ben Stiller is also charming, and his performance (as well as his chemistry with Adams) is likely to please both the kids and adults watching.
Though there are things that I like about the Battle of the Museum franchise, one of my major problems with it is that the idea of bringing historical figures into the modern world has been done so many times before. Take a film like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It’s not exactly a masterpiece, but they get a lot of humour from bringing their collection of historical figures back to the present, and watching them try to navigate today’s fast-paced world. Night at the Museum is mostly contained within the museum setting, and while they get interest from the characters reacting to each other, they largely miss out on the opportunity of having them deal with the fact that they’re in a world totally different from their own. I also remember a kid’s TV show (I think it was Canadian) called Mentors, where they brought historical figures to the present-day world. It was played more seriously, but it was both more educational and deeper (I remember one surprisingly stirring episode with Beethoven) than Night at the Museum has ever been.
If you’re looking for a harmless family movie, you can do a lot worse than Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian. But you can also do a lot better. It’s got some charismatic performances and memorable moments, but the filmmakers are obviously half-assing it. We see hints of something better than a typical franchise film, but ultimately, it feels a bit musty.
2009 gets a bit short-changed with everyone focussing on their “best of the decade” lists, but these are my picks for the best movies and albums of 2009. I haven’t heard nearly as many albums as I’d like to, and it’ll probably take me until half way through ’10 to catch up on all of the movies that I want to see from last year on DVD. But from what I’ve seen/heard, here are my lists:
Favourite Movies of 2009
- (500) Days of Summer
- Where the Wild Things Are
- Sunshine Cleaning
- Star Trek
- The Hangover
- I Love You, Man
- Away We Go
- The Princess and the Frog
Favourite Albums of 2009
- I and Love and You – The Avett Brothers
- Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk
- It’s Blitz! – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
- Wilco (The Album) – Wilco
- My Old, Familiar Friend – Brendan Benson
- Fortress ‘Round My Heart – Ida Maria
- Territory – Two Hours Traffic
- It’s Not Me, It’s You – Lily Allen
- Backspacer – Pearl Jam
- The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Of course, it was a daunting task to pick my favourite movies of the decade. But after re-drafting my list at least a dozen times, this is what I managed to come up with. These are the ten films that I enjoyed most from this decade.
10. Capote (2005)
For some reason, the #10 spot seemed to be the hardest to fill on this list. But Capote, which won Phillip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar, was captivating in every way. The acting (of course), the story, and the visuals are all stunning. The evolution of Capote’s character, and his relationship with the murderous subject of his next book, were astounding to watch unravel.
9. Finding Nemo (2003)
I guess this is my requisite Pixar choice. Up and Ratatouille underwhelmed me, but this colourful tale of aquatic life was undeniably joyful. The animation is hypnotic, and the characters are unforgettable. It’s both a touching story of family, and an exciting adventure tale. Throw in Ellen Degeneres’ hilarious Dory character, and you’ve got a fantastic family film.
8. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Spend thirty seconds with the foul-mouthed grandfather in Little Miss Sunshine (played by the wonderful Alan Arkin), and you’ll likely appreciate your own family a little more. But underneath the biting, dark humour of this film, there is actually an incredibly heart-warming road trip story. Steve Carrel’s suicidal scholar and Paul Dano’s voluntarily silent teen make one of the best on-screen duos I’ve ever seen.
7. Memento (2000)
Guy Pearce (one of the more underrated actors out there) plays a man who can’t make new memories in Christopher Nolan’s frenzied breakthrough film. The film amazingly manages to keep up its fast-paced momentum, despite the fact that it’s scrambled and chopped, and that scenes play out in overlapping reverse order. It’s amazingly unique, and Memento is both intelligent, and an incredibly entertaining whodunit.
6. There Will Be Blood (2007)
This film seems to be popping up on everyone’s top 10 list (often at the top spot), but that’s probably because There Will Be Blood is such a masterpiece. Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing, there are so many striking, unforgettable moments (the whole oil rig fire sequence was amazing, not to mention the final scene).
5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
There is no doubt Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the most unique films of the decade. From the quiet, realistic courtship of Joel and Clementine, to the unusually messy breakup (they decide to erase each other from their memories entirely), it’s a whimsical, gorgeous film. It feels like it’s made for this time, which is probably why so many people connected to it so intensely.
4. The Dark Knight (2008)
Honestly, do I need to say anything at all? I’ll just apologize and move on.
3. Half Nelson (2006)
Ryan amazingly subtle performance as a crack addicted teacher is the anchor of Half Nelson, but the film as a whole is entirely absorbing, and it’s a stunning debut for director Ryan Fleck. Half Nelson celebrates and laments the small moments in life that everyone experiences, as well as delving into the tragic problems of the character’s lives. The relationship between Gosling’s Dan and Shareeka Epps’ Drey is beautiful – full of sorrow, understanding, and respect.
2. Juno (2007)
Maybe it sounds stupid to say this about a fairly lightweight comedy, but Juno is a film that really spoke to me. I love that Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody created a fun, mainstream film that actually has something to say, and it features some amazing well-written characters. It’s touching and funny, and Juno is one of the only honest on-screen depictions of what it’s like to be a young woman.
1. Almost Famous (2000)
Almost Famous has a wonderful sense of joy, and it captures the feeling of being young and loving music in a way that I didn’t even know was possible. Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson (in what may be her only good performance, like, ever), Frances McDormand, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are vibrant, and the killer soundtrack (featuring the first Led Zeppelin tune to be licensed for a film) tops it all off.
A Beautiful Mind, The Departed, Donnie Darko, Garden State, Into the Wild, Requiem for a Dream, Signs, Snow Angels, Zodiac
My blog seems to be getting rather visual lately (or maybe I’m just getting lazy). Everyone knows that most movie posters are poorly Photoshoped, star-pimping, and bland, but I’m going to take a minute to celebrate some of the more interesting posters from 2009, both mainstream and independent. These choices are based purely on the visual impact of the posters.
The scene that took place in the Guggenheim was the only interesting part of The International, so they were smart to capitalize on it in the poster.
^This poster is currently hanging in my bedroom.