Extract (Mike Judge, 2009)

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domino harvey
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Extract (Mike Judge, 2009)

#1 Post by domino harvey » Tue Sep 29, 2009 9:02 pm

So, maybe we don't have a thread for this because everyone's waiting for it to hit DVD. After all, it just doesn't feel right to see a Mike Judge film in the theatre. Nevertheless, I recently took advantage of the rare opportunity and have been thinking quite a bit about the film since. Judge specializes in mild amusement done well, and this is surely his lowest-key work yet (which says a lot). I enjoyed Extract as it played-out and laughed often (including two huge laughs, much more than most modern comedies can produce), but felt a little underwhelmed. However, not unlike the similarly mild Office Space, the film's charms become more apparent during reflection.

I was struck again by Judge's ease and comfort in tone. He messes with viewers coming to the film weighted-down by sitcom cliches by setting up scenario after scenario during which the intelligent fan of comedy can see the wheels turning on an obvious contrivance, only to have the scenes dissipate on the mildest of keys. Both like and unlike the hyper-aware comedy of the Stella members, Judge is knowledgeable of the nature of comedy (and he definitely shares their humanism) but less interested in subverting these standards as much as underwhelming them. The characters who populate his film (with one regrettable exception*) belong so much to the identifiably "real" world that they make the regulars on the Office look like Dan Fielding or Kramer in comparison. Kristen Wiig and David Koechner walk away with the film every time they're on screen, and it's not just because they're already talented comedic performers working with the best-written roles in the script-- it's because they move beyond portraying identifiable characters in a more entertaining version of reality into a credible recreation of reality itself. No character is funnier or more clever than he/she would be in the real life version of these events, but that doesn't make them braindead mumblecore fodder or witless losers. Everyday life is mundane but also quite often punctuated by the absurd; the people we meet are often amusing and interesting things do happen. To pretend otherwise is to impart a false "reality" (which is, again, why mumblecore is fundamentally flawed).

But as a lover of film, which shows us the world not as it is but as its perceived to be, does successfully representing reality even matter? Isn't it funnier to see Judge's earlier, more outwardly cartoonish antics such as the gangland murder of the printer in Office Space than a bored housewife demonstrate how it takes her two seconds to "work from home" designing coupons? Maybe, but while Judge's genius is often found in making a situation just absurd enough to be believable (and he does it here as well-- see the jaw-dropping finale), his greatest asset is his keen ear for the cadences of speech, timing, and life itself. It's easy to criticize Judge for not being splashier with his mise-en-scene, but too much attention beyond the existent flatness would ruin the effect. When I think back fondly to a turn of phrase from this film, I remember it the same way I might remember a funny remark a family member or co-worker once made. The film and the world it creates feels organic, as opposed to counter, to the non-filmic world. And I do find that rather remarkable.



*The caveat here is the Mila Kunis character, who doesn't belong in the world Judge has crafted and is thankfully relegated to barely a cameo. Her entire part reads like a last minute addition to the final draft of the film, and it shows.

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mfunk9786
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Re: Extract (Mike Judge, 2009)

#2 Post by mfunk9786 » Tue Sep 29, 2009 9:11 pm

Great review as always, Domino. I, like yourself, walked out of the theater underwhelmed but still pleased with what I saw - but as I've thought about it, my overall assessment of the film has improved. The performances of minor characters, especially by Koechner, Wiig, Grant and Affleck are really what push the film over the top from an admirable failure to a low key success.

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Re: Extract (Mike Judge, 2009)

#3 Post by Grand Illusion » Wed Sep 30, 2009 1:35 am

I really enjoyed how low-key this film was. Nothing made me fall out of my chair laughing, but I was smiling throughout. Judge has a way with the mundane jobs and habits that push and pull us through our lives.

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Brian C
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Re: Extract (Mike Judge, 2009)

#4 Post by Brian C » Wed Sep 30, 2009 1:44 am

Through some curious alignment of circumstances, I've managed to see every Mike Judge film in a theater thus far.

Anyway, I really wanted to like Extract but even after two weeks of reflection I haven't come around. I felt that Judge was returning to familiar territory, but I thought Office Space observed workplace absurdity in a much sharper and funnier way. That film was dead-on with its critique of the massive time-waste that is corporate America and the unsettling implication that white-collar America survives at the whim of worthless half-wits (since proven to be more or less true). If a few moments of "outwardly cartoonish antics" stick in the memory, it's possibly because they served as a release and counterpoint to the more mundane horror within.

I didn't get anything like that from Extract, and to be frank, I didn't really see "a credible recreation of reality" in its characters. I agree that the Kristen Wiig character was more substantial than expected, but on the whole I thought that the characters barely rose to the level of stereotype. Cliff Curtis's de-balled employee reacted to events only in ways needed to drive (and then resolve) the narrative conflict. Beth Grant's discontented line supervisor, J.K. Simmons's foreman, Matt Schulze's pot dealer, and David Koechner's neighbor all were thinly conceived, exaggerated one-note personalities. And Jason Bateman struggled to find the right tone of everyman incredulity that I thought the script called for and for which I thought he was clearly aspiring to (for what it's worth, I've always thought he struggles in films).

So, I dunno. Perhaps it's just not a style of humor that I'm able to appeciate, but I don't have much to recommend about the film.

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Re: Extract (Mike Judge, 2009)

#5 Post by Fiery Angel » Wed Sep 30, 2009 10:11 am

Yes, but isn't Mila Kunis hot?

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mfunk9786
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Re: Extract (Mike Judge, 2009)

#6 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed Sep 30, 2009 12:48 pm

Not that I'm a world-renowned expert on hotness (but as an overweight guy in his 20s, I'm certainly the target demographic for it): but I don't know what all the fuss has ever been about when it comes to Mila Kunis. I've never seen her cast as anything but 'the hottest girl in the movie' and I think she's kind of... eh. She doesn't have much screen presence or notable good looks.

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Andre Jurieu
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... and obviously Mila Kunis is 3rd-degree-burn-level hot

#7 Post by Andre Jurieu » Wed Sep 30, 2009 2:20 pm

Brian C wrote: I felt that Judge was returning to familiar territory, but I thought Office Space observed workplace absurdity in a much sharper and funnier way. That film was dead-on with its critique of the massive time-waste that is corporate America and the unsettling implication that white-collar America survives at the whim of worthless half-wits (since proven to be more or less true). If a few moments of "outwardly cartoonish antics" stick in the memory, it's possibly because they served as a release and counterpoint to the more mundane horror within.

I didn't get anything like that from Extract, and to be frank, I didn't really see "a credible recreation of reality" in its characters ... on the whole I thought that the characters barely rose to the level of stereotype.
I appreciate Judge's films and while I agree that Office Space was more successful in comparison to Extract, I would have to say that Judge's characters in Office Space were just as much stereotypes as his characters in Extract. The only significant difference between the two films is the position from which his main protagonist perceives his co-workers. Otherwise, they're both films about reasonably intelligent men who are surrounded by morons that prevent the protagonist from attaining some basic satisfaction with their mundane lives, while also having to deal with some form of sexual aggravation. While both movies are entertaining, I wouldn't state that either is a "credible recreation of reality."

Unfortunately, what might be irksome to a lot of Judge's fan-base is that the position of authority that Joel assumes (I wouldn't say "enjoys") within the plant doesn't necessarily lend itself to a great deal of automatic sympathy in comparison with Peter's vulnerable standing within the office. As well, Peter's ability to manoeuvre through the corporate world through some combination of idiocy, indolence, and apathy is likely far more appealing and perhaps more easy to identify with than Joel's sudden impotence and frustration that threatens to topple the meager extract empire he's worked hard to establish. Basically, viewers probably find it easier to relate to the low-level employee who is bored with his job than with the mildly-accomplished boss, and it's never that difficult to attain agreement with the idea that white-collar America isn't as sharp and accomplished as it believes itself to be.

Judge's basic premise in Extract isn't exactly an easy sell, since it's perfectly understandable that a low level office drone can view his co-workers as strange and immature and his superiors as incompetent and clueless, but it seems mean-spirited to have a boss/owner perceive his employees as lazy and stupid. A case could be made that it's an insensitive position to take during the current economic climate, but I would say the current state of the economy doesn't really have that much to do with the basic relationships within either movie.

While I enjoyed both movies and I'm always impressed with how effortlessly Judge presents workplace absurdity that somehow seems familiar, I would say neither film is actually all that realistic in their critique of North American workplace incompetence and lethargy. Sure, it's easy to assume everyone that surrounds you at work is an idiot (fun too!) and I'm certain co-workers will always provide ample examples of how weird behavior and ineptitude, but the reality is that for every 2 or 3 overpaid useless schmuck that you have to suffer through at work, there are probably 1 or 2 intelligent people around that are hard-working and doing their best to make sure the place is running smoothly (he wrote at his desk when he should have been answering work-related e-mails).

Also, while I agree with the general sentiment that the efforts of corporate America are often over-emphasized in our capitalist, increased-profit-driven culture, and their exploits are usually praised and revered in a misguidedly perverse fashion within our society, I believe it's somewhat reductive to state that white-collar America sustains itself simply through the actions of whatever morons have attained power (I'm reminded of Bernstein's quote in Kane). Office Space felt like a necessary movie at the time of it's release mostly because our society's worship of corporate America had expanded beyond any reasonable level, but it's not exactly an accurate depiction of corporate America. On some level, while its focus on incompetence, inertia, and useless bureaucracy was precise and novel, it never really examined the sinister minds that are determined to create new methods to exploit consumers and the financial system in general. Perhaps more important is that the film also never really presented us with the identifiable, stable, well-adjusted, competent hard-working employee (though they are competent and hard-working, Samir and Michael are both incredibly neurotic - functional, but neurotic) who sustains the system (which Extract includes) as much as any Gordon Gekko-type executive. In their own way, Office Space and Extract are just as warped in their perspective since they can't expand past their isolated perspective.

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domino harvey
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Re: Extract (Mike Judge, 2009)

#8 Post by domino harvey » Thu Jul 08, 2010 11:54 am


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mfunk9786
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Re: Extract (Mike Judge, 2009)

#9 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Jul 08, 2010 12:04 pm

Not sure how to feel about this. Nothing against B+B, but Judge showed so much depth with King of the Hill and his films, I wish he'd move onto something new. The new episodes of Futurama are a perfect example of the "it'll never be as good as it used to be" effect when a TV show is revived.

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Tom Hagen
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Re: Extract (Mike Judge, 2009)

#10 Post by Tom Hagen » Thu Jul 08, 2010 12:23 pm

I wonder if the new Beavis and Butthead will feature meta commentay on the absence of music videos on MTV. Perhaps they will sit around commenting on the various reality schlock and celebratainment that constitutes the bulk of MTV's programming these days.

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Re: Extract (Mike Judge, 2009)

#11 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Jul 08, 2010 12:42 pm

Which would equal major ZZZZZZs. These things are unintentionally funny on their own and the "there are no music videos on a music video channel!" gag is about 20 years old at this point. I Just don't see how a B+B revival is worth doing unless it's a very well-scripted half hour animated sitcom-ish format or a series of vignettes. But the music video riffing has seen its best days.

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Re: Extract (Mike Judge, 2009)

#12 Post by wattsup32 » Thu Jul 08, 2010 1:11 pm

Tom Hagen wrote:I wonder if the new Beavis and Butthead will feature meta commentay on the absence of music videos on MTV. Perhaps they will sit around commenting on the various reality schlock and celebratainment that constitutes the bulk of MTV's programming these days.
It would be great if B+B have matured after all these years and, as older B+B, sit around watching old episodes of B+B commenting on videos and commented on those. No. Wait. That'd be stupid.

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Tom Hagen
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Re: Extract (Mike Judge, 2009)

#13 Post by Tom Hagen » Thu Jul 08, 2010 1:56 pm

mfunk9786 wrote: But the music video riffing has seen its best days.
But that was the best part of the show!

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Re: Extract (Mike Judge, 2009)

#14 Post by Numero Trois » Thu Jul 08, 2010 2:48 pm

Maybe they'll update it by having them look at videos on laptops. Or to be really up to date, iphones. And given that video making is so prevalent these days, maybe they'll film each other and upload to the web.

The best use of B&B was at one of the MTV awards shows. B&B were sitting in the stands next to Letterman. Dave goes "look, there's Ozzy!" and slaps Beavis upside the head.

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