Movie review: Observe and Report
April 16, 2009
On the surface it appears courageous to place a bipolar security guard at the center of a comedy storm. However, Observe and Report largely fails to comically observe, mainly reporting fascination with and little understanding of those suffering with this affliction. To cover its paucity of humor, the film seems intent on using gross-out gags to shock viewers into nervous laughter.Seth Rogen plays Ronnie Barnhardt, head security guard for a shopping mall. Ronnie lives with his alcoholic mother (Celia Weston), who confesses that Ronnies dad left after realizing their son was a special needs child. Now a 30ish loser, Ronnies job far surpasses the level of his competence. While we ponder the unlikeliness of Ronnie retaining this job, we learn he has two goals and moving out on his moms house isnt one of them. Rather, Ronnie dreams of becoming a policeman and of winning the affections of a pretty girl. He has chosen Brandi (Anna Faris), a bimbo working the cosmetics counter, when she is targeted by a trench-coated flasher.Ronnie seizes upon the incident as a means of getting closer to Brandi by claiming the flasher plans to rape then murder her. Though in the habit of sleeping around, Brandi has no idea shes in greater danger from those investigating the flasher than from the criminal himself.Following a night of drunken revelry paid for by Ronnie, Brandi is seen passed out in bed next to a pool of her vomit while Ronnie grinds away on top of her. When he stops for a moment, she rouses enough to croak, Keep going MF. Yet, its clear she remains sufficiently out of it to be unaware of whats being done to her and by whom.Imagining they are now a couple, Ronnie stops taking the medication for his bipolar disorder. Oddly, Ronnies before and after personalities are unchanged. He suffers from delusions of grandeur, a sense of entitlement and gets a charge out of cracking heads.Some scenes, such as the full frontal nudity of the middle-aged flasher, his trench-coat flapping open as he flees the crime scene, are both hilarious and realistic, because the potbellied flasher couldnt be more pitiful.Ray Liotta appears as a police detective investigating the flasher and vying for Brandis attentions. Naturally, Ronnie hates the detective, but the detective, easily 20 years Ronnies senior, stoops to hating Ronnie right back, and plotting to make the already idiotic mall cop look even more incompetent.Had the film helped me to better understand bipolar disorder, or been truly funny, Id be more inclined to forgive its shortcomings and telegraphed jokes. Even a trio of talkative young men, seated behind me, predicted nearly every punch line immediately after seeing the setup. On the few occasions when they really laughed, their reaction signaled the film had managed to surprise them. Comedy happens when the story reports less and observes more.
HANNAH MONTANA: THE MOVIE(2009)CR: * * 1/2 (Grade B-)Directed by Peter ChelsomStarring Miley Cyrus, Billy Ray Cyrus, Emily Osment, Jason Earles, Lucas Till, Vanessa WilliamsDisney/Rated G/Comedy/102 minExpanding on her sitcom show and incorporating her music videos, Miley Cyrus takes to the screen — again — as Hannah Montana. Mileys growing up and her father, played by Mileys real-life dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, is worried. Mileys pop-star alter-ego Hannah Montana, is becoming a testy diva, losing her temper in public. To halt Mileys downward spiral, Dad spirits her off to Crowley Corners, Tennessee, home of the family ranch. Along for moral support is Mileys best friend Lily (Osment) and Mileys screw-up brother (Earles). Just as Miley begins to gain perspective, a local boy (Till) catches her eye and Hannahs antics rear an ugly head. Featuring 12 new songs including Mileys hit, The Climb, the film cashes in on Disneys highly profitable asset while positioning Miley for bigger and better things to come.DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION (2009)CR: * * 1/2 (Grade B-)Directed by James WongStarring Justin Chatwin, James Marsters, Chow Yun-Fat, Emmy Rossum, Jamie ChungFox/Rated PG/Fantasy/85 minChow Yun-Fat brings humor to the role of Roshi, guide and protector of Goku (Chatwin), earths young savior. Dragonball, adapted from the graphic novel series by Akira Toriyama, attempts to broaden the manga-anime fanbase with this whiz-bang fantasy. Goku is an alien charged with collecting seven mystical balls to protect mankind. He becomes locked in a fierce battle for control of the artifacts with Lord Piccolo (Marsters), an evil conqueror intent upon destroying Earth. Chatwin, 28, fails to persuade as an 18-year-old, but he wears the characters funny hair comfortably. Yun-Fats Roshi doles out sage advice while providing martial arts expertise, effectively functioning as the films resident Yoda.FAST andamp; FURIOUS(2009)* * * (Grade B)Directed by Justin LinStarring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, John Ortiz, Laz AlonsoUniversal/Rated PG-13 /Action/107 minNo expense was spared on the $85 million dollar four-quel starring everybody who was anybody in the other three. Vin Diesel returns as ex-con and street racer Dominic Toretto (Diesel), primed for a hardcore feud with agent Brian OConnor (Walker) — that is until the pair agree to an uneasy truce to take down a common enemy. Brewster and Rodriguez return as love interests, joining the guys in their efforts to relieve a trucker of his million dollar fuel-train while keeping their muscle cars tuned up for each street race. Fans of Tokyo Drift will be glad to know that Sung Kang reprises his role. Tensions run high, but expectations are even higher for the latest installment of a $600 million dollar franchise based on Ken Lis Vibe magazine article, Racer X. ADVENTURELAND(2009)CR: * * * (Grade B)Directed by Greg MottolaStarring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan ReynoldsMiramax/Rated R/Drama/107 minSet in the 1980s, collegiate and carnival cultures intertwine in an atmospheric dramadey. Eisenberg plays James, a Renaissance studies graduate whose dream of a European vacation goes bust when his familys fortune takes a turn for the worse. To earn graduate school tuition James gets a summer job at an amusement park. There he falls for tomboyish, acerbic Em (Stewart), unaware of her clandestine affair with an older man (Ryan). Period ambience is captured by a soundtrack trolling Poison, Yo La Tengo, Crowded House, and others along with big-haired girls and carnie tricks for hanging onto those prized stuffed animals. Using humor to highlight the best and worst of the 80s, Adventureland is writer-director Greg Mottolas semi-autobiographical ode to coming of age through lost innocence. MONSTERS VS. ALIENS(2009)* * 1/2 (Grade B-)Directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad VernonVoices of Reese Witherspoon, Rainn Wilson, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Seth Rogen, Kiefer Sutherland, Paul Rudd, Stephen ColbertDreamWorks/Rated PG/Animated, Family/94 minReese Witherspoon headlines this animated science fiction entry voiced by an all-star cast. The plot, spoofing 50s sci-fi flicks, finds a 4-eyed alien (Wilson) threatening to destroy earth. To save our planet, the government releases monsters held in a secret hangar. Susan (Witherspoon), made into a 50-foot-tall-woman by an accident, leads efforts by earths monsters to repel the aliens. She works with the brilliant Dr. Cockroach (Laurie), a gelatinous blob (Rogen), a fishy primate and a 350-foot grubworm. Fun and scares arise from action-packed, humorous confrontations that rarely let up. I smell sequel-bait.
CR = Critics Consensus Rating, PR = Lisas Predicted RatingSTATE OF PLAY(2009)PR: * * * 1/2 (Grade A-)Directed by Kevin Macdonald Starring Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Helen MirrenUniversal/Rated PG-13/Thriller/132 minsAdapted from a highly-rated BBC mini-series, this dramatic thriller returns Russell Crowe to a thinking mans role. He portrays Cal McCaffrey, an established Washington reporter and friend of Stephen Collins (Affleck), a rising star U.S. Congressman serving on the defense committee. When Collinss assistant dies mysteriously and violently, McCaffreys paper assigns him to investigate. Teamed with rookie reporter Della (McAdams), and under the scrutiny of his tough editor (Mirren), McCaffrey finds links to corporate wrong-doing and cover-ups. Assassins come crawling out of the woodwork, prompting McCaffrey to question his longtime association with Collins.CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE(2009)* * 1/2 (Grade B-)Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor Starring Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Clifton Collins, Efren Ramirez, Bai Ling, David Carradine, Reno Wilson, Dwight Yoakam, Corey HaimLionsgate//Rated R/Action/85 minsIntense action, and maximum pain inform the efforts of protagonist Chev Chelios (Statham), who works overtime just to stay alive in this sequel. Viewers of the original Crank will recall a final scene depicting Chevs death, but as we learn in chapter two, he has been saved by technology. This includes an artificial heart that needs to be recharged regularly — and more often when Chevs active. The Chinese Triad has harvested Chevs heart and hell do anything — kill anyone — to retrieve it. Central characters from chapter one are back, most notably a scantily clad Amy Smart who gives Chev a shag for good luck. Hell need it.17 AGAIN (2009)CR: * * * (Grade B)Directed by Burr Steers Starring Zac Efron, Matthew Perry, Leslie Mann, Thomas Lennon, Michelle Trachtenberg, Sterling KnightNew Line/Rated PG-13/98 minHaving forsaken his basketball and college dreams on one fateful day in high school, Mike ODonnell (Perry), now 37, is separated from his wife (Mann), estranged from his teen kids (Trachtenberg and Knight) and stuck in a dead end job. While relives his glory days while visiting his old school. Suddenly — poof — Mike is magically transformed into a 17-year-old boy (played by Efron). Now a student at his kids school, Mike befriends his children who take him back to their house. His body may be that of a teen, but Mikes still in love with his wife and compelled to keep his kids on the straight and narrow. Capitalizing on his do-over turns out to be harder than Mike ever imagined.THE BLACK BALLOON [limited Release](2008)CR: * * * * (Grade A)Directed by Elissa DownStarring Toni Collette, Gemma Ward, Rhys Wakefield, Luke Ford, Erik ThomsonNeoClassics/Not Rated/Drama/97 minAs if being an army brat isnt hard enough, 15-year-old Thomas Mollison (Wakefield) is repeatedly embarrassed by the behavioral problems of his severely autistic brother Charlie (Ford). Thomas world comes crashing down when he develops a crush on Jackie (Ward), but must care for Charlie while his heavily pregnant mom (Collette) follows strict orders of bedrest. Co-writer and director Elissa Down draws on her own experience with autistic brothers, to paint an unsentimental, but affecting portrait of Thomass crisis. The humor the Mollisons employ as a coping mechanism, coupled with Jackies real affection for Thomas, contribute to an uplifting tale that documents the wondrous and confusing years known as our teens.THE CLASS [limited release](2008)* * * (Grade B)Directed by Laurent CantetStarring Francois Begaudeau, Nassim Amrabt, Laura Baquela, Cherif Bounaidja Rachedi, Juliette DemailleSony/Rated PG-13/Drama, French with English subtitles/128 minDirector Laurent Cantet daringly casts teach Francois Begaudeau as himself in a film based on Francoiss autobiographical novel. The gamble pays off. We meet Francois as his new class begins in an ethnically diverse Parisian school serving a low-income neighborhood. Francois is given the difficult task of molding seemingly unremarkable 16-year-olds into good citizens, despite their belief society has thrown them away. Can Francois ignite a hopeful spark, or will the kids cynicism overwhelm him? Cantet shoots for realism and his naturalistic film never feels manufactured. There are tough questions to consider as we gaze into these beautiful young faces.
IDITAROD: TOUGHEST RACE ON EARTH, DVD or Blu-Ray(2008)* * * * (Grade A)Discovery Channel/Not Rated/Documentary/256 minThis time the 1,100-mile ordeal is undertaken by 96 mushers and their 16-dog sled teams, competing for a $69,000 cash prize — and a pick up truck. Aside from a handful of top-seated mushers, these six episodes follow a severe diabetic wearing an insulin pump, a 55-year-old cancer survivor wearing hot pink for the cure, and an Eskimo riding his homemade sled. While the mushers fight sleep deprivation and attempt to outwit one another, their brave dogs are injured in fights, or during 16-hour treks causing pulled ligaments, paw pads rubbed raw and dehydration. Caring veterinarians fly the canines home for treatment, and before long before one competitor is down to just 10 dogs. During the final two episodes, the race turns into a cliffhanger, a game of cat and mouse between the two front runners. Caution, viewers are in danger of being bitten by this annual human-dogathon. 2-Disc DVD or 1-Disc Blu-Ray features: Bonus Footage: Expedition Alaska, DD 2.0 Stereo English language track, widescreen.LOST IN AUSTEN(2008)* * 1/2 (Grade B-)Directed by Dan Zeff Starring Jemima Rooper, Hugh Bonneville, Gemma Arterton,Alex Kingston, Elliot Cowan Image Entertainment/Not Rated/Drama/177 minAmanda Price (Rooper) is a modern day Brit toiling as a bank teller, worried that her lack of options may force marriage to her slovenly boyfriend. Amanda frequently transcends her humdrum existence by escaping into the novels of Jane Austen. She longs for the values, decorum and wit associated with the period. Amandas knowledge of Austens greatest work is put to the test when a portal into Austens Pride and Prejudice opens and Elizabeth Bennet (Arterton) steps into Amandas world. Soon enough, Amanda has entered that of Elizabeths. Once there, Amanda must explain Elizabeths absence and her own presence to the Bennets, along with her odd attire, speech and manners. Amusement arises from Amandas efforts to keep the Bennet girls and their suitors on track, while trying to persuade Elizabeth to reopen the portal. Jane Austen fans will favor any work smartly associating itself with that of the author. While imperfect, this production, originally airing as a BBC mini-series, offers sufficient twists on the formula to retain our attention. DVD features: Behind-the-scenes footage, trailer, DD 5.1 SS English language track, widescreen. HOUSE OF SADDAM(2008)* * * 1/2 (Grade A-)Directed by Alex Holmes and Jim OHanlonStarring Igal Naor, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Philip Arditti, Said Taghmaoui, Makram J. Khoury, Uri Gavriel, Christine Stephen-DalyHBO/Rated TV-MA/Docu-drama/250 minThe rise and fall of Saddam Hussein is depicted in a 4-part mini-series produced by HBO and the BBC. Its common knowledge that reign of Saddam (played by Jewish Iraqi Igal Naor) was anchored in the dictators paranoid megalomania, but tidbits concerning his first wife, Sajida (played by acclaimed Iranian actress, Shohreh Aghdashloo), and concerning Saddams family, add to our understanding. Much time is spent on the despots long affair and second marriage to a school teacher, while Saddams famous torture mill is conducted off-screen. The series briefly depicts murders, rapes and beatings inflicted on the unwary by Saddams crazed son Uday (Philip Arditti). The rulers problematic relationship with his ironfisted mother, and his efforts to keep cousins and sons-in-law in line through intimidation and murder, never cease to amaze. Though Saddam himself is written and acted with a degree of caution that renders his character oddly inert, the supporting players are alive and kicking — until Saddam or fate decrees otherwise. 2-Disc DVD features: The Fate of a Dynasty: family members fates are revealed, Cast and crew interviews, DD English language track, widescreen.