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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

September 4: DVD alternatives to this weekend’s multiplex offerings

We know how it is: You’d like to go to the movies this weekend, but it’s the last weekend of the summer and the last chance to burn dead animals on the barbecue — yum! — before the cool weather sets in. But you can have a multiplex-like experience at home with a collection of the right DVDs. And when someone asks you on Monday Tuesday, “Hey, did you see that new Mike Judge movie this weekend?” you can reply, “No, I spent Labor Day checking out far better workplace satires.”
INSTEAD OF: All About Steve, in which Sandra Bullock plays a crossword-puzzle constructor who stalks Bradley Cooper, and it’s okay and cute because she’s just so adorably kooky and he’s so gorgeous any gal would go felonious over him…

WATCH: Oh, I so called it! Back in 2006, when the wonderful documentary Wordplay — about eccentric crossword nerds — was a hit, I predicted more movies about eccentric crossword nerds; you should check out the doc for authentic eccentricity, which is way more interesting than Bullock’s Hollywood brand. If you love Bullock’s brand of Hollywood eccentricity, even if it is phony, try 1999’s Forces of Nature, in which her kookiness charms Ben Affleck, and in which they both experience inclement weather — like hurricanes — just like she and Cooper do in Steve. If you just crave more bad romantic comedies, don’t miss the appalling License to Wed, in which Mandy Moore and John Krasinski are abused on the eve of their wedding by Robin Williams’ creepy priest — as a bonus, it’s written by the same screenwriter of Steve, Kim Barker.

INSTEAD OF: Extract, Mike Judge’s new would-be working-class workplace comedy, in which Jason Bateman’s factory owner comes under existential attack by everyone around him…

WATCH: Judge’s actual workplace satire, Office Space, the 1999 cult classic that made the world fall in love with slackers and red staplers. Or, check out Judge’s underappreciated Idiocracy, from 2006, a satire about a dumbed-down future in which Ow, My Balls is the name of a hit TV show; it’s hard not to wonder if Judge isn’t having us all on with Extract when “ow, my balls” accurately describes a major plot point in the film. If you want genuine workplace comedy that’s gentler with the satire, The Hudsucker Proxy is a lovely choice: the Coen Brothers’ 1994 screwball comedy about Tim Robbins’ dimbulb CEO shares that quality with Judge’s films of being relegated to cult status, as if the world weren’t ready for it. If you prefer your factory-based movie serious, then the obvious go-to flick is 1979’s Norma Rae, starring Sally Field as a union agitator.

INSTEAD OF: Gamer, in which Gerard Butler’s convict is forced to play bloodsports broadcast on the Internet for the fun and profit of others, and fights back against his corporate overlords…

WATCH: Last year’s Death Race, which is pretty much the same movie, as far as I can tell, about Jason Statham as a convict forced to play bloodsports broadcast on the Internet for the fun and profit of others, and fights back against his corporate overlords. To see an excellent example of an athlete — if not a criminal one — in a popular bloodsport fighting back against his overlords, see James Caan in the 1975 Rollerball (skip the 2002 remake), a delicious satire on sports and corporate culture. For bad guys breaking free of their virtual realities, there’s no movie better than the gloriously goofy Virtuosity, from 1995, featuring Russell Crowe in one of his first Hollywood roles. If you want more Gerard Butler, you can’t go wrong with the huge hit 300, about the warriors of Sparta, or the little-known European flick Beowulf & Grendel, a 2005 arthouse take on the epic poem, and an excellent venue for seeing Butler’s true talent, as a thoughtful and potent actor, not as mere Hollywood beefcake. Not there’s anything wrong with that.


Where to buy:

Beowulf & Grendel [Region 1] [Region 2]
Death Race [Region 1] [Region 2]
Forces of Nature [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Hudsucker Proxy [Region 1] [Region 2]
Idiocracy [Region 1] [Region 2]
License to Wed [Region 1] [Region 2]
Norma Rae [Region 1] [Region 2]
Office Space [Region 1] [Region 2]
Rollerball [Region 1] [Region 2]
300 [Region 1] [Region 2]
Wordplay [Region 1]
Virtuosity [Region 1] [Region 2]



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  • And when someone asks you on Monday Tuesday, “Hey, did you see that new Mike Judge movie this weekend?” you can reply, “No, I spent Labor Day checking out far better workplace satires.”

    You wrote all that and didn’t go out to recommend that people rent the UK version of The Office?

    Shame on you…

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