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

  • Sacha Baron Cohen

    Why Sacha Baron Cohen Credits Donald Trump for ‘Who Is America?’

    Over the course of history, comedians have shared their take on current events with biting commentary on everything from class and gender to fashion and politics, and the current presidential administration is definitely no exception — with President Donald Trump regularly lampooned on shows like “Saturday Night Live” and by late-night TV hosts. But when [...]

  • James Marsden attends the 2019 MOCA

    New Abortion Ban Laws Take Center Stage at MOCA Gala

    Forty years ago in Los Angeles, the decision to invest millions in a museum dedicated exclusively to contemporary art — not to mention its formerly desolate downtown location, where the vibe was more apocalyptic than artsy — was a risky proposition. But now that the city’s cultural heart has shifted south of Hollywood, it seems [...]

  • Robert De Niro Calls for Impeachment,

    Robert De Niro Calls for Impeachment, Imprisonment for Trump, Says Maybe Al Pacino Should Lead Instead

    Robert De Niro honored Al Pacino, his longtime friend and four-time collaborator (with Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film “The Irishman” marking their latest pairing), at the American Icon Awards, and then called for a different type of tribute for President Donald Trump — “impeachment and imprisonment.” “You didn’t think you were going to completely get away without [...]

  • Millie Bobby Brown on Her Feature

    Millie Bobby Brown Calls Her Film Debut in 'Godzilla' 'Kind of Unreal'

    Millie Bobby Brown is no stranger to stardom thanks to “Stranger Things,” but she still can’t believe she’s making her feature film debut in the monster reboot “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” “It’s kind of unreal,” Brown told Variety at the premiere. “I’m like, ‘What is happening right now?’ It’s so bizarre and unreal, and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content