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Monday Review: Extract and The September Issue

Sorry guys, no Gamer review as my screening was canceled. Hopefully I'll get to see it over the weekend.

Judge extracts the plot, leaves the comedy

It's pretty clear that at some point in time Mike Judge was a comic genius. Anyone who fails to see the satirical humor in Beavis and Butthead or who doesn't appreciate the comedic masterpiece that is Office Space is missing out on the best of modern comedy. However, since Office Space it's been a little more rocky. King of the Hill has its sweet spots and so did Idiocracy, but overall they've been far more uneven than his early work. In Extract Judge returns to the workforce, the question is does the magic return with him?

Extract doesn't quite approach the workplace the way that Office Space did if at all really. The film simply takes place in an extract plant and isn't about "working." The plant is owned by Joel (Jason Bateman). He's stuck in a marriage that has gone flat and no one seems to appreciate the wonder of extracts as much as he does. After a freak accident involving an employee losing a testicle Cindy (Mila Kunis) comes into town looking to con her way into the money that Joel's employee will get if he sues the company. Meanwhile, Joel hires a gigolo to sleep with his wife after his friend, Dean (Ben Affleck) convinces him its a good idea while Joel is drunk and stoned. Things then spiral out of control.

Or they should. Things actually never lose any control. In fact the entire film has almost no dramatic pull to it at all. The 90 minute running time keeps things so tightly confined that the only storyline that gets truly developed is Joel's love life, leaving Cindy and her conning relatively pointless to the main thrust of the film. It makes what should be a quick and punchy comedy into one that feels like it drags on far longer than it should. At the end of the film, when everything is being wrapped up in a convenient way, it literally feels like the film hasn't moved anywhere.

Thankfully, while Judge's pacing and storytelling skills are way off, his comedic skills still shine. The film would have been far better off as a series of humorous vignettes touching on topics from drug use, to sleazy lawyers to blue collar workers. There are some seriously funny scenes and a priceless cameo from Gene Simmons. However, the comedy doesn't quite hit the same perfect spot that his previous work has. It seems less genuine. You'll laugh, but it isn't from the smarts the film has, but from the stupid. The movie is funny, yes, but classic, no.

Of course expecting every film to be a classic is a little ridiculous, and you can definitely do far worse with your comedies. The main problem is it never really pops, and with a cast and writer that we know can actually pop, this fact is a bit surprising. Extract actually has to extract its laughs from the movie (pardon the pun), and that is something great comedy never has to do.

No issue with 'The September Issue'

There are two types of people in the world: those who know who Anna Wintour is and those who don't. The September Issue is a documentary that will easily be enjoyed by both these groups. Those who don't know who she is will find it interesting and humorous to learn about her and those who do know who she is will be able to discover the real woman behind the inspiration for The Devil Wears Prada, not to mention drool all over the copious amounts of Yves Saint Lauren, Louis Vuitton and other high end designers flung across the screen.

Yes, The September Issue is all about putting out the massive and iconic September issue of American Vogue, but this documentary is not just for the fashion elite. The film chronicles the five month lead up to the publication of the 2007 September issue and documents with incredible openness notorious editor-in-chief Anna Wintour's epic feat of putting it together. It also documents those who work with her to do this feat including American Vogue's Creative Director Grace Coddington who seems to be the one who butts heads with Wintour the most. The 2007 September issue was the largest in the magazines history with 840 pages and a weight of over five pounds. I say that's big, my fiancee describes it as wonderful. We come from different points of view on this, obviously.

We can both agree that the movie is wonderful, though. Shockingly candid for a film about a section of the world that is usually closed off to most the movie deftly weaves not just through the production of the magazine, but the people who put it together too. Yes, much of what you see in The Devil Wears Prada is actually true. Wintour rules fashion with a powerful fist, and what she says goes. Unlike The Devil Wears Prada, Wintour doesn't come across like an ice queen, but more of a determined editor doing what she has to do to put together 840 pages of magazine involving a plethora of models, photographers, fashion designers and editors -- all of whom quake in their boots in hilarious fashion when Wintour is around. If you ever want to see some of the most high powered designers in the world shake like scared, little children arrange them a meeting with Wintour.

While Wintour is immensely interesting, especially the few parts with her daughter, who blatantly states she doesn't understand what her mother does and doesn't want to work in the fashion industry because people take it far too seriously, it is Coddington who steals the show both with her frankness and humor. Coddington puts a large portion of the photo shoots together and subsequently has them torn apart and cut to shreds by the discriminating eye of Wintour who she has worked with for the past 20 years. It is this give and take (and it's mostly take by Wintour) that envelops the entire development of the issue and truly makes the film interesting. Coddington is often livid with what Wintour does, but she's also respecting of the skill and power that she wields. It's an immensely interesting study of a work relationship, and also makes for one of the most entertaining documentaries in years.

This might also be because the film is surprisingly unpretentious for its subject matter. Director R.J. Cutler has woven together a film that neither denigrates nor hails its subject matter -- a feat that is no easy task. While the cameras and film crew are clearly there (this isn't some grasp at "real life" being documented) they never intrude to a point where one believes they are influencing the goings on to any great effect and when they do they do it in ways that show the nature of the characters (Coddington plays on Wintour's ego to raise the budget of a shoot by discussing it in front of the cameras).

What is most surprising about he film is just how entertaining it is. It isn't simply interesting to see how American Vogue is put together, but actually fun, humorous and insightful. Plus, Wintour is really a b**ch sometimes, and that is always good to watch.

(Please help me end the senseless war between the dolphins and the pigeons that has been ravaging both species for so many years by clicking on the link in my profile.)
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About Matthew Razakone of us since 2:04 PM on 04.03.2009

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