You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Last Call at the Oasis

A sobering but somehow upbeat examination of the looming catastrophic global water shortage.

With: Erin Brockovich, Peter Gleick, Jay Familgietti, Robert Glennon, Tyrone Hayes, Paul Rozin, Jack Black.

Whether the glass is half full or half empty isn’t the point of the effervescent “Last Call at the Oasis”: It’s whether there’ll be anything in the glass at all. A sobering but somehow upbeat examination of the looming catastrophic global water shortage, Jessica Yu’s latest docu can be seen as the final installment in Participant Media’s Crisis Quartet — “An Inconvenient Truth” (climate), “Food, Inc.” (agriculture), “Waiting for Superman” (education) and now, a look at the Earth’s most precious, and perhaps most endangered, commodity. The film should fare as well as its predecessors: Everyone, after all, gets thirsty.

As she has in the past, helmer Yu (“In the Realms of the Unreal,” “Protagonist”) proves she can make exhilarating cinema out of unfilmable subjects, in this case water — i.e. its pollution, scarcity and commercialization. Although a considerable amount of time is, and must be, devoted to the interview subjects who provide so much of the pure information in the film (including Erin Brockovich, who revisits the water-poisoned town of Hinkley, Calif., made famous in the movie bearing her name), Yu also finds ways to make the subject visually engrossing: The opening credits sequence, a kind of aqueous ballet, is worth the trip to the theater.

Although “Last Call at the Oasis” fits into the standard template of cautionary eco-movies — stimulating opening, litany of woe, optimistic what-you-can-do list — it makes wonderful visual use of all the deadly sins of water waste (car washes, lawn sprinkling, golf-course irrigation), especially as accompanied by Jeff Beals’ original score and the often ironic choices made by music supervisor Margaret Yen, who puts mischievously upbeat songs under scenes of looming environmental disaster. It doesn’t dilute the impact of the story, and it’s certainly fun.

Still, much of the pic’s data is disquieting. The information imparted by Yu’s principal interviewees, who include Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, author Robert Glennon (“Unquenchable”) and the delightfully glum hydrologist Jay Famiglietti (his most memorable line: “We’re screwed”) certainly doesn’t sugarcoat the topic, or our future. At the rate the water behind the Hoover Dam is falling, it will stop producing electricity in four years. Las Vegas is in a virtual emergency state already. Australian livestock is dying or being killed for lack of water. And a deluge of pharmaceuticals — including one herbicide that can change the sex of frogs — is making its way into water systems nationwide. Behind the often spectacular landscape photography, and a parade of spectacularly intelligent people, is a crisis of biblical proportions.

“Last Call at the Oasis” does ebb and flow: After a riveting first chapter, the movie slows when it heads to Australia and later becomes more focused on specific problems and subjects. Brockovich, for instance, is given an inordinate amount of time, while more might have been afforded Tyrone Hayes, a U. of California, Berkeley, biologist who’s studied the effects and pervasiveness of Atrazine, the frog-sex drug.

Among those coming in for a hosing in the pic include former VP Dick Cheney, whose “Halliburton Loophole” allowed his favorite company to avoid reporting the chemicals used in water-driven “fracking,” which splits rock to gain access to fossil fuels; the public clamor for bottled water; and the Environmental Protection Agency for its lack of regulation to foster clean drinking water.

The situation may be dire, but “Last Call at the Oasis” is not averse to being entertaining and funny to deliver its message, apocalyptic as it unmistakably is: If people are going to put their heads in the sand, there’s going to be a lot of it around.

Production values are tops, notably the music, the editing by Kim Roberts and the work of d.p. Jon Else.

Last Call at the Oasis


Production: A Participant Media presentation. (International sales: Submarine, New York.) Produced by Elise Pearlstein, Jessica Yu. Executive producers, Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann, Carol Baum, David Helpern. Directed by Jessica Yu.

Crew: Camera (color), Jon Else; editor, Kim Roberts; music, Jeff Beal; music supervisor, Margaret Yen; sound (Dolby Digital), Matt Waters; associate producer, Sandra Keats. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Real to Reel), Sept. 9, 2011. Running time: 105 MIN.

Cast: With: Erin Brockovich, Peter Gleick, Jay Familgietti, Robert Glennon, Tyrone Hayes, Paul Rozin, Jack Black.

More Scene

  • Variety TV Summit Europe

    Variety TV Summit Europe Coming to London on June 13

    Variety’s TV Summit Europe will coincide with London Tech Week this year, returning to the city on June 13. The international conference will be held at the Royal Lancaster and is co-produced by global events company Informa’s KNect365 division, the world’s largest business-to-business organizer. The one-day summit will focus on the intersection of content and [...]

  • David Furnish, Bryce Dallas Howard, Taron

    'Rocketman': Paramount Previews Footage of Elton John Biopic

    “Rocketman” is ready for lift off. Paramount Pictures threw a cocktail party Monday night to preview 15 minutes of the upcoming Elton John biopic, set for release on May 31, at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, the legendary rock club where John made his U.S. debut nearly 50 years ago. More Reviews Video Game Review: [...]

  • The CalArts REDCAT Gala 2019 Honoring

    Pixar's Pete Docter Honored at CalArts REDCAT Gala

    Pixar’s Pete Docter reminisced about his days as a student at CalArts on Saturday night at the 2019 CalArts REDCAT Gala, where he received the Distinguished Alumni Award. For the wide-eyed boy from Minnesota, where life was more routine, attending CalArts “was a free-for-all. It was eye-opening in a lot of ways,” he recalled. “But [...]

  • Sasha Pieterse, Eli Brown, Sydney Park

    'Pretty Little Liars' Spinoff Unexpectedly Coincides With College Admissions Scandal

    It was a case of art imitating life at Saturday night’s Hollywood premiere of “The Perfectionists” — Freeform’s “Pretty Little Liars” spinoff about a scandal involving college students striving for excellence by any means necessary. The TV show’s debut was coincidently preceded by a real-life college scandal involving Hollywood celebrities who allegedly didn’t let a [...]

  • Keira Knightley'The Aftermath' film screening, Arrivals,

    Keira Knightley Talks 'Aftermath,' Alexander Skarsgård and Another Itchy Wardrobe

    The reigning queen of period pieces, Keira Knightley, knows a thing or two about historical clothing. “Lining. Lining is always important,” the Oscar-nominated actress playfully advised on Wednesday at the premiere of her post-WWII drama “Aftermath.” “If you get a lot of itchy stuff always put lining in it. I have learned that from having [...]

  • Priyanka Chopra

    Priyanka Chopra to Speak at the 2019 Women in the World Summit (EXCLUSIVE)

    Priyanka Chopra has just been added to the star-studded list of speakers at the 2019 Women in the World Summit. Chopra, who will be interviewed on stage by Women in the World founder Tina Brown, will discuss her career as an activist and entrepreneur. Recently, the “Baywatch” actress joined forces with Serena Williams in investing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content