Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Observe and Report" / "The Midnight Meat Train" / "I.O.U.S.A."

Observe and Report - Written and directed by Jody Hill, starring Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Michael Pena, and Ray Liotta - Rated R

I have not seen Paul Blart: Mall Cop, (I will watch it on DVD) but I'm pretty sure this movie is quite different even though both movies are about a mall cop. Paul Blart is rated PG, which means it's most likely family friendly; Observe and Report is anything but family friendly. It may not even be audience friendly, depending on what reviews you read. I found it hilarious, weird, stupid, smart, and surprisingly deep at times. The main thing to point out is that this is not like one of the Judd Apatow comedies that Rogen is known for. This movie has the signature of it's director, Jody Hill. If you've seen The Foot Fist Way, then you'll have an idea of what's in store. It also helps if you've seen Eastbound and Down on HBO. That first film and the TV show are both funny, but they are also pretty weird. Hill doesn't have a normal sense of humor and that makes for an interesting comedy.

Observe and Report is about Ronnie (Rogen), a bi-polar mall security guard who dreams of saving humanity (with the help of "the biggest shotgun you have ever seen"), winning the girl of his dreams (Faris), becoming a cop, and stopping a serial flasher at the mall. Ronnie is not a nice guy. Some people may have trouble getting behind him in his quest for justice. I can understand if people hate the character; he is obnoxious, egotistic, delusional, and, arguably, a rapist (more on that later). Not sure what it says about me, but I wanted things to work out for Ronnie. I wasn't annoyed by his sociopathic behavior, I was amused by it, and that might make or break this movie for some people.

Issues about the character aside, it should be hard for anyone to deny that Rogen gives a great performance. I completely bought that he was mentally unstable and it seemed like he truly believed in his heroic destiny. This might just be because Rogen is finally playing a different character, though. Think about it: take his characters from Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Knocked Up, The 40-Year Old Virgin, and Pineapple Express and mix them up within the movies. You get the same wise-cracking stoner in each one. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of that character, but it doesn't show range and it's bound to grow stale (it already has with some people). This film showed me that Rogen can act like someone other than himself and still be funny and I think this will be the film people look at later in his career when they want to point out when he became an actor.

Rogen isn't the only one who does some good work here. Faris is hilarious as the superficial Brandi. I laughed aloud during the dinner scene when her eyes light up as she sees a tray of tequila shots and exclaims giddily, "Shots!" This role may not be a stretch for her, but she's perfect for it. Michael Pena (World Trade Center) is also impressive as Ronnie's second in command. His lisping quasi-gangster voice is hilarious and when his drug induced portion of the movie comes up, the film goes from amusing to comedic brilliance. Part of that is because of Jody Hill's attempt to pace the movie based on what drug was being consumed during certain scenes, which is the kind of interesting direction you don't see in comedies today. The other part of it is the writing.

Hill has written a dark, funny script that will make some people uncomfortable. I'll go ahead and get into the slightly controversial "rape" scene. (Some of this could constitute as spoiler material, so fair warning.) In this film, there is basically a date rape scene involving prescription medication and alcohol. Normally, this wouldn't be played up as a comedic scene, but it is arguable whether or not it is rape. It's not a stretch to think that Brandi has been involved in similar situations before due to the hints of her partying behavior. Also, Ronnie is a delusional person and if Brandi wasn't putting up a fight, then that's the same to him as completely consensual sex. And Brandi does speak during the scene, so she's aware of what's happening. Anyway, I just wanted to comment on it because some reviews have used it as a negative aspect of the movie and I think that's a bit unfair.

It's unfortunate that some critics are focusing on the "rape" because there are many other serious aspects to this movie that require multiple viewings, I think. First off, Ronnie is medicated and delusional, so you might start to question what is real and what isn't. This is a comedy in which something completely crazy might happen and we're not supposed to suspend disbelief because it's a comedy; we're supposed to question it and then consider the possibility that this movie might have a bit more going on for it, psychologically. This is still a comedy, though. Just think of it as a comedic version of Taxi Driver. The fact alone that there is debate about whether or not parts of this film are fantasy or reality shows that this is not your standard comedy. It's not a masterpiece or anything, but it demands a bit more attention and intelligence than most comedies today, and that's a step up in my book.

One more thing: I'm pretty sure I've nailed home the fact that this is not a family movie, but I should mention that there is full frontal male nudity in this (which has strangely become a standard thing in R-rated comedies lately). Some people take issue with that, but if you just divert your eyes at times, you should be okay.

The Midnight Meat Train - Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, starring Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, and Vinnie Jones - Rated R

I don't want to dwell one the story with this one, just look at that title and take it literally. There is a late subway train, and Mahogany (Jones, the guy with the hammer in the poster) kills passengers and butchers them as if they were meat. And Leon (Cooper), an aspiring artistic photographer, notices Mahogany and follows him around to try and witness some truly brutal aspects of city life so he can put on an art showcase. But who's out there watching this movie hoping for a compelling story? The story works and is even interesting, but this movie is all about the blood, and there is a ridiculous amount of it.

Here's an example: people get hung upside down on meat hooks on this train, and at one point, a guy gets gutted, so to speak, and about five gallons of blood floods out of his body. That's the kind of gore you can't take seriously and you just have to laugh a bit. I truly think that most of the gore is intended for laughs, but this movie also strives for cringe-inducing scenes as well. There's plenty of both. You might see somebody's eyeball fly out of their head after being bludgeoned with a huge hammer one minutes, then you might see a meat hook pierce an ankle and then rip down into the leg. You see? That eyeball one is funny and slightly stupid (especially since the CG is kind of weak), but that meat hook/ankle one? That hurt...I gritted my teeth on that one. Normally I would have a problem with such an inconsistency, but I thought it added variety to this one.

It's a good thing that the violence changes because the acting is pretty basic here. Jones is good at that whole silent menacing thing that he does in every role and Bradley Cooper plays obsessed well enough, but it's not groundbreaking or anything. Everyone is simply serviceable, but then again, so are the characters themselves. On the DVD, the director mentions that they were trying to create a new horror icon in Mahogany. I can't say that they accomplished that here, but Jones tries his best and the hints at Mahogany's history sparks some interest, but before the story goes too deep into character it steers back towards the gore.

But all of it looks pretty good, style wise. This film has a look to it that adds a layer of darkness to the story. That dark look (literally and figuratively) may be the factor that keeps this film from becoming goofy. So if you're into horror/slasher flicks, give this a try. You'll laugh, you'll look away once or twice, and maybe you'll scan back to take a second look at some of the gore. Either way, I think most people will be entertained.

I.O.U.S.A. - Directed by Patrick Creadon - Rated PG

This documentary is a short, informative look at how bad things are and what needs to be done to avoid total economic meltdown in the United States. Sound depressing and even a little scary? It is. What can I really say about this? If you want to know a bit more about our debt and our place in the economic world, check this out and make sure you watch the five minute update included on the DVD. This film may not clear everything up (let's face it, the economy is a complicated issue that few people truly understand), but it will leave you with more answers than questions and it might make you get a bit more involved and look at your options politically when it comes to our sickly economy.

Next week: probably some random DVD releases, depending on what I get from Netflix, I don't plan on making my way back to the theater until Wolverine on May 1st. I might try to check out State of Play next week, but I doubt it.

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