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Schultz reviews: ’Extraction’ & ‘It's a Gift’

Schultz reviews: ’Extraction’ & ‘It's a Gift’

Carl Schultz

 

“Extraction” Distributed by Netflix, 117 Minutes, Rated R, Released April 24:

 

You can probably get a fairly accurate idea of what you’re getting into with the new Netflix movie “Extraction” just by quickly scanning the names of the personnel involved.

 

Produced by Joseph and Anthony Russo, the writing/directing team behind four Marvel Cinematic Universe pictures including the blockbusters “Avengers: Infinity War” from 2018 and its sequel “Avengers: Endgame” from 2019, “Extraction” is adapted from the 2014 graphic novel “Ciudad” by the same creative team behind the comic book and directed in his filmmaking debut by Sam Hargrave, the Russos’ stunt coordinator on the two “Avengers” pictures.

 

If your guess is that “Extraction” is a live-action version of a comic book, you’re half right. The other half is sort of an elaborate arcade game in which the picture’s hero wades through seemingly endless tracking shots of ultra-violent video game-like mayhem, dispatching bad guys with grim determination in a crusade to reach the next level of computerized pandemonium. All that’s really missing from “Extraction” is the joystick for the viewer to control the action.

 

In “Extraction,” when an imprisoned Indian drug lord’s sheltered and naive son is kidnapped in Dhaka, Bangladesh by the particularly sadistic and vicious agents of a rival Indian drug lord, the jailed kingpin as a means of retrieving his teenage son turns to former Special Air Service Regiment agent and current black ops mercenary extraordinaire Tyler Rake.

 

Nobody ever accused Chris Hemsworth of being a good actor. Since first gaining fame as the title superhero in the hit 2011 motion picture adaptation of the Marvel comic book “Thor,” the Australian Hemsworth has mostly based his movie career on his appearances as the hammer-wielding Marvel Comics superhero. Hemsworth appeared as Thor not only in the 2011 picture of the same name, but also its two sequels in 2013 and 2017, as well as the four ensemble-based “Avengers” superhero all-stars pictures in 2012, 2015, 2018 and 2019.

 

As Tyler Rake in “Extraction,” Hemsworth might’ve found his dream role--basically Thor without the cape and hammer. So tough that he has a sort of elaborate target tattooed on his scarred torso to indicate where his heart used to be, Hemsworth’s Rake (ya gotta love that name) is so skilled in the arts of chaos and death that he doesn’t even need a gun to fight against his heavily-armed opponents — he simply uses whatever happens to be lying around. For that reason, the screenwriters make sure Rake always has some fairly interesting implements within easy reach ... including in one memorable scene his character’s namesake gardening tool.

 

The screenwriters seem to have also included in the picture as little dialogue as possible for Hemsworth to recite. As an example, at one point in the narrative the rescued boy says to Rake, “You just hit him with the truck!” And Rake replies, “Yep.” Still, viewers might want to consider keeping the closed captioning feature activated during the picture — Hemsworth’s pronounced Australian accent makes even his sparse dialogue difficult to decipher. The captioning is also helpful in blocking the noise of constant gunfire and explosions while still enabling you to not miss any helpful information which might come your way as a means of explaining what you’re seeing onscreen.

 

Former stunt-coordinator Sam Hargrave in his filmmaking debut mostly sticks to what he knows best: Action, stunts, and computer-enhanced special effects. The threadbare plot boils down to a small handful of words — kidnap, rescue, kill, repeat — so the director doesn’t really need to worry too much about the narrative ... although the picture is seasoned throughout with a couple of expository scenes as a means of keeping track of which characters have switched sides, and are now Rake’s opponents instead of his allies. For those viewers interested in movie minutiae, one single tracking shot in the picture appears to have a duration of 11 minutes and 29 seconds. You’ll recognize the shot when you see it — it kind of sticks out.

 

Although the movie quiets down a little during the third quarter as a means of making the fourth that much more impressive, “Extraction” despite its elaborate trappings and exotic locales is actually standard action adventure fare, filled with gunshots, vehicle crashes, helicopter rescues, savage beatings, and constant explosions. If that’s what you seek in motion picture entertainment, have at it. But if you’re looking for subtlety, nuance, character development or compelling narrative structure, look somewhere else. At heart, “Extraction” is the kind of movie Hollywood makes for those among us who are too lazy to read a comic book.

 

Produced on a budget of $65 million, “Extraction” is receiving surprisingly respectful notices from the critics, including an approval rating of 68% from Rotten Tomatoes against a weighted average of 56% from Metacritic. Possibly Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic are starved for original motion picture entertainment during the pandemic. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone comes closer to the truth of the matter, writing that the picture is “a series of stunts strung together to look like an ultraviolent video game, in which the avatars are played by actual humans.”

 

In other words, whether or not you watch “Extraction” doesn’t really make that much of a difference — like an arcade game, you’re gonna forget all about it anyway a couple of minutes after you’ve seen it. Filmed on location in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Nakhon Pathom, Thailand, and Mumbai and Ahmedabad, India, “Extraction” is rated R for violence and mayhem throughout, and brief sexual content and nudity. A sequel is already reportedly in the works. The movie is currently streaming on Netflix.

 

“It’s a Gift” Distributed by Paramount Pictures, 68 Minutes, Not Rated, Released Nov. 17, 1934:

 

Let’s face it — we all exaggerate sometimes.

 

Admit it — very few of us can resist the impulse to occasionally take an already good story and make it a little better. It’s sometimes not good enough to have a bad employer — for the purpose of a good story, the employer has to become the worst boss in the world. And if the kids are acting up a little at home, why not turn ‘em into apprentice demons who escaped from some cosmic netherworld ... just for the purposes of a good story, that is.

 

Part of the genius of movie comic W.C. Fields was that he understood the central truth that we all occasionally improve our stories a little bit while retelling them. So in the very best of his 1930s comedies, Fields would take exaggerated versions of fairly commonplace occurrences, string them together into a sort of Rube Goldberg chain of tiny disasters, and project them onto a motion picture screen as a means of holding a mirror to his audience to show us how silly we might appear to somebody picturing us as the heroes of our own epic saga.

 

In the minor 1934 classic “It’s a Gift,” Fields plays Harold Bissonette — pronounced Bisson-AY at the insistence of his social-climbing harridan of a wife. A mild-mannered New Jersey grocer contending with an incompetent assistant, an annoying teenage daughter and rambunctious school-age son, and assorted troublesome customers, neighbors, and salesmen, Bissonette perceives redemption when he inherits a considerable sum of money from a recently-deceased distant relative. As a result of the windfall, the hapless grocer decides to pursue his secret dream — to buy a California orange grove and country estate, and relocate his reluctant family to the west coast.

 

One of a very small handful of silent film comics to transition successfully into talking pictures — Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and  Hardy were others — W.C. Fields was a Broadway veteran and vaudeville legend who had honed his razor-sharp comedy timing in thousands of live performances as a headliner of the fabled Ziegfeld Follies during the 1920s, where he’d frequently upstaged the likes of Ed Wynn, Eddie Cantor, and Will Rogers.

 

Making his feature film debut in “Sally of the Sawdust,” the 1925 adaptation of his Broadway hit “Poppy,” Fields became a star all over again in his career as a motion picture actor, in demand as a performer in both movies and radio, and prosperous enough to have his choice of film projects: Fields famously turned down the role of the Cowardly Lion in 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” because he disliked the elaborate makeup and costuming. Fields often recreated in his movies his classic vaudeville routines, a sort of living history of a long-disappeared form of entertainment.

 

Although Fields is often portrayed in pop culture as a sort of grandiose and bombastic top-hatted cigar-chomping fraud, it’s a persona the comic inhabited in only a few pictures, notably “My Little Chickadee,” his disappointing 1940 collaboration with fellow comedy headliner Mae West, and in his fairly straight turn as a dramatic actor in the role of Wilkins Micawber in the 1935 movie adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield.”

 

Rather, in the best of his comedies, including “It’s a Gift,” Fields portrayed a sort of modern everyman contending with domestic entrapment — often puzzled by the unusual circumstances which surround him, admirably patient with life’s inequalities, occasionally displaying irritation but seldom completely abandoning his patience, no matter how infuriating the provocation.

 

In enjoying Fields’ wonderful 1930s comedies, produced during the global economic depression, it helps to remember that the legendary comic endured as a youngster considerable poverty and hardship. As a result of his explosive relationship with his short-tempered father, Fields ran away from home at age 12, abandoned education during grade school, and lived by his wits in a variety of temporary professions during his teenage years before discovering a talent for juggling, eventually becoming successful as an entertainer in theaters and music halls across America and Europe.

 

Fields treasured to the end of his days the feeling of sleeping at night between clean sheets, and is said to have deposited sums of money in dozens of banks in vaudeville towns all across America in case he ever found himself there again, jobless and broke. Unimpressed by pretense, appreciative of prosperity, Fields in his Depression-era comedies always seemed willing to give, or receive, a fair shake to anyone he encountered, as a means of making life’s journey a little smoother.

 

In 1934’s “You’re Telling Me,” for example, Fields finds himself rescuing a young woman from an apparent suicide attempt, and becomes something of guardian angel. When he learns at the end of the picture that she’s actually a fabulously rich European princess traveling incognito, it makes not a bit of difference to him. He congratulates the princess on her racket and resumes his own life. The implication is clear: You never know who’s gonna come along and change your life, so you might as well be kind to everyone.

 

As a result of his early poverty, Fields always remembered one central rule many of us are often prone to forget: We’re a great people not because we triumph over life’s cardinal absurdities, inequalities, and unfairnesses, but because we never stop trying, and never give up. We’re great not because of who we pretend to be, aspire to be, or dream of becoming, but because of who we are.

 

W.C. Fields’ comedy “It’s a Gift” has a rare Rotten Tomatoes rating of 100% Fresh.  In 2010, the picture was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

 

Adapted from a story by Charles Bogle — one of several pseudonyms employed by Fields himself as a screenwriter — and directed by cartoonist, writer, and comedy filmmaking specialist Norman Z. McLeod, “It’s a Gift” is available on DVD, or for high-definition online streaming on the HDFY or MOVG-TV websites.

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