The Press Herald’s Justin Ellis and I run down the week’s New Releases (9/22/09)

When two mall security-related movies are released in the same year, one is bound to suffer, right? But did it have to be “Observe and Report”? In this week’s new releases, the old friends like the Emmy-winning “30 Rock” and Nathan “Captain Hammer/Reynolds” Fillion, and must once again come to grips with Matthew McConaughey.

Observe and Report

Good, wholesome fun...

Good, wholesome fun...

Videoport Jones: “Boy, the marketing of this one is going to freak out some people. If you look at the trailers, this film looks like ‘Paul Blart 2,’ what with the wacky mall security guard hijinks, and the ogling of the the women and the beating up on skateboarders and all.

But this film really is another in the run of hostile, misanthropic, painfully funny character studies from writer/director Jody Hill, whose previous efforts “The Foot Fist Way” and the HBO series ‘Eastbound and Down’ have introduced an unique strain of the comedy of pain into the national entertainment landscape.  Like those works, this film follows a maladjusted, unjustifiably confident alpha male who is unable to comprehend the gap between his inflated self image and his actual worth.  Plus, he is really, really violent.

Seth Rogen really took a chance with this one, breaking away from his ‘rude-but-ultimately cuddly’ persona (which is still paying great dividends) to create a genuinely weird, off-putting, and often vile character that is in no way designed to evoke the audience’s sympathy. I mean, sure, his Ronny Barnhardt is clearly the product of some truly awful parenting, mental illness, and, perhaps, fetal alcohol poisoning, but that doesn’t make you want to hang out with him;  Rogen and Hill hop back and forth across the thin line of making you feel sorry for an overgrown, clearly unstable man-boy and realizing the guy’s a truly dangerous jerk.  “Observe and Report” is an extended, largely successful dark comic goof wherein Ronny’s personality disorders and self-delusions are contrasted with the traditional ‘heroic’ stuff that goes on in an action

I will punch Kevin James in the nuts.

I will punch Kevin James in the nuts.

comedy; (Hill makes potent use of the ironic juxtaposition of slow-motion music-backed action and ridiculousness).  As Rogen’s crewcutted Ronny struts, gut-first, through the mall he views as the ultimate battlefield of good vs. evil and continues to do the absolute awful-est thing possible as he courts/stalks the makeup girl of his dreams (a humorously reprehensible Anna Farris) and tries to track down the doughy flasher terrorizing the parking lot, his monomaniacal self-importance, existing alongside his obvious (to everyone but him) insignificance sketches the outline of a truly original, if very creepy, character. Comparisons to ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ have been made, and I can see the resemblance.  Utterly unlike any ‘comedy’ released this year (and utterly unlike its studio-mandated marketing campaign), this one is an original, seemingly constructed to wig out the unwary. Cool.”

Justin: “This film seems to have created its own storm, thanks to a confluence of outside events, a risky script and an actor otherwise known for his goofy but lovable ways. America may have had its fill with Paul Blart, which is unfortunate, given this movie is better. (But then again outpatient surgery is better than Paul Blart. ZING!) It’s like having a bad experience at Outback Steakhouse and discovering a Ruth’s Chris across the street.

On the surface the similarities between these flicks seem glaring: loser mall cop with delusions of grandeur gets called on in a moment of need. So what happens when ‘Observe and Report’ is marketed as such, with one of Hollywood’s hot, top-drawing comedy stars? People walk out confused and maybe disturbed. You absolutely HAVE to know what you are getting into for a movie like this, otherwise you’ll hate it with a passion. I happen to like dark comedies with reprehensible characters (to a certain point of course. No one wants to root for a serial killer. Oh wait, ‘Dexter…’), and humor that delves into painful, ugly parts of life. It’s a relative to the kind of awkward humor you get with ‘The Office,’ the type that makes you laugh and cringe at the same time. Cleanse your mind of Blart and rent this.”

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

What?  Take my shirt off?  Well, if you all insist...

What? Take my shirt off? Well, if you all insist...

VPJ: “I…I’m a professional, I’m a professional. Sure, I don’t get paid and I don’t use my real name so no one knows it’s me, but still…sort of a professional… Here goes: Matthew McConaughey is an incorrigible bachelor who … nope.  I just can’t do it. C’mon, regroup here.  Let’s see … McConaughey’s not a bad actor, really – you liked him in ‘Dazed and Confused’ and ‘Lone Star.’ He was actually pretty badass in ‘Reign of Fire,’ and kind of funny in ‘Tropic Thunder.’  See?  You can do this, big guy … now – Matthew McConaughey plays Connor Mead, a committed bachelor who, on the night before his brother’s wedding…no, No, NO!  I cannot, I will not review this…thing!  God, wear more pastels, will you, McConaughey… I will not!!  AIIIIEEEE!!  ATTICA!  ATTICA!*
*Mrs. Videoport Jones reports that, subsequent to this, well, episode, Mr. Jones was put to bed with some hot soup and some cold PBR and is feeling much better.  In order to fulfill his obligations towards this film, explains that ‘Ghosts of Girlfriends Past’ is a ‘fusion of A Christmas Carol with the traditional romantic comedy.’  I think that’s all we need to know about that…”

JE: “JONESY! Speak to me! Damn you, McConaughey, you’ve taken another LIFE! Damn you and your easy smile, wavy locks and penchant for being shirtless! I’ll pick up the slack best I can here, but no promises. This is the latest in a long line of regrettable romantic comedies by Wooderson, following on the heels of ‘Failure to Launch,’ ‘How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,’  ‘The Wedding Planner’ and ‘Fool’s Gold,’ the inexplicable re-pairing of McConnughey and Kate Hudson. In ‘Ghosts,’ the

The laziest actor in Hollywood.

The laziest actor in Hollywood.

shirtless one stretches his abilities and plays a notorious cad who has never tied himself down in a relationship. The bad boy, he’s so saucy (if we say it enough you’ll believe it) that his libidinous ways finally catch up to him the night before his brother’s wedding. Then, Michael Douglas (of all people Gordon Gekko? Really?), acting as Jacob Marley, prepares him to be visited by…you guessed it! Ghosts of Girlfriends Past! You can see where this is going. The player learns his lesson, love conquers all, and, naturally, he takes off his shirt. I think we’re done here.”

30 Rock – Season 3

VPJ: “Remember when both this and the highly touted Aaron Sorkin ‘SNL’ show, ‘Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,’ were both coming out and the smart money was all on Sorkin?  Has anyone ever been wronger about anything?

‘Studio 60’ tanked, despite some good actors and Sorkin, perhaps modern TV’s best writer/creator (besides Joss Whedon, of course), largely because it treated the creation of a late night comedy television program with all the leaden self-importance of a Middle East peace summit while Tina Fey’s little show that could tosses the ‘show-within-a-show’ concept aside in favor of an almost literally-anything goes wackiness. It’s a good move, because all of those ‘Tina Fey’s gonna blow the lid off ‘SNL’ rumors were the least interesting part of the show; I did like the comparison of the dim prettyboy with the funny hair to Jimmy Fallon.   Well, ‘Studio 60’ is a largely forgotten fiasco, and ’30 Rock’ is still riding high, thanks to great, off-the-wall writing and a stunner of a cast, with Fey, Tracey Morgan, and the career-best work of Alec Baldwin as the greatest crazy TV boss ever.”

JE: “And to throw insult after injury, ’30 Rock’ continues to rack up the Emmys. What else can we say about this show that we heart big time. Crush on Tina Fey aside, anytime you can get a weekly dose of Alex Baldwin, Tracey Morgan or Jack McBrayer is good with me. But together? Gold. Now the show went a little stunt-casting crazy this last season, but within the universe of the show they were able to pull off the handsome Jon Hamm show up as Liz Lemon’s love interest, Alan Alda revealed as Jack’s dad, Steve Martin as a wacky convict/business associate, and an inexplicable ‘Night Court’ reunion. Oh, also this season: Peter Dinklage, Paul Scheer, Steve Buscemi, Elaine Stritch, Jennifer Aniston, Salma Hayek, The Beastie Boys, Oprah, Elvis Costello…this could go on forever.”


VPJ: “Who’s up for a charming little Norwegian comic character study? Fine, more for me then. The story of a lean, pipe-smoking man of 68 (the nimbly-deadpan Baard Owe, looking like a Scandinavian Ian McKellen) who, forced into mandatory retirement from his job as a train engineer, finds himself ambling into one oddball predicament after another, all of which he endures with, perhaps, a slight twitch of his mustache, or a puff on his pipe.  He’s trapped by a small boy in a quiet apartment, left on a runway at a busy airport and taken driving by an old man who claims to be able to see with his eyes closed. It’s all very charming and funny, and it’d edge toward ‘quaint’ if not for the unshakable dignity of the main character and the fact that Norway seems just this far to the center of normal.  A weird little sleeper well worth a rental.”

JE: “Are you speaking another language, cause I have no idea what you just said. English? Baard Owe? Norway? There’s comedy in Norway? What are you talking about? Zingers aside, I’m a fan of subdued ‘fish out of water’ tales (opposed to the Renee Zellwegger is SO OUT OF PLACE in this tiny Minnesota town-type of tales). Also, if it isn’t painfully obvious, I know nothing of Norway outside of tales of Scandinavia that all children in Minnesota pick up on. I have a feeling this flick could become the latest case of a quirky foreign comedy that picks up steam through word of mouth. Think ‘Amelie’ or ‘The Full Monty.’ I may have to give it a shot.”

Castle – Season 1

VPJ: “A mystery writer is first a suspect, and then an ally of, the LA police in this ABC series. Yawn. But wait! Of course not ‘yawn!’ Not when the writer in question is played by Nathan Fillion. As all the cool kids (read: dorks) know, Fillion, after toiling in soaps and things like ‘2 Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place’ for years, finally caught the eye of one Joss Whedon, who cast him as Capt. Malcolm Reynolds, one of the most compelling characters in modern TV history, in ‘Firefly’, and its feature film sequel ‘Serenity.’ Then, after both of those bombed financially, Whedon thought he’d try and make Nathan even more of a cult figure by casting him as the villainous superhero Captain Hammer in his brilliant ‘Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog’ (which just won an Emmy, thank you very much). Well, now (after yet another quickly-canceled show ‘Drive’) Fillion brings his effortless charisma to, frankly, a mediocre show. But it’s still worth watching for him- wait…has this been canceled yet?”

JE: “Canceled by Columbus Day! Well, not yet. I have to admit that as much of a fan as I am of Captain Hammer (or Captain Reynolds, or Captain Tightpants), I did not watch ‘Castle.’ I dig Fillion, heck I even watched ‘2 Guys and a Girl’ for a while (of course it also featured Ryan Reynolds), but something about ‘Castle’ just screams ‘FORMULAIC’ to me. Maybe it’s the whole ‘one’s by the book, the other is a loose cannon’ or the ‘will they or won’t they’ charade. Throw in the fact that it’s another police show and it did not feel like something else to pile on to my DVR’s reservation list. But perhaps I am short-sighted. After all, I do heart Fillion, and I’ve been known to give lesser scripted plots a chance (I still haven’t forgiven ‘In Plain Sight.’)”

Also appearing on the shelves of Videoport this week, “Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death,” “The Mentalist – Season 1,” “Battle for Terra,” “Ugly Betty – Season 3” and “The Haunted World of El Superbeasto.”

Parting Shots:

– Did “Observe and Report” suffer because of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop?”
– When will that McConaughey ever learn?
– Does “30 Rock” deserve the accolades it continues to rack up?

Published in: on September 22, 2009 at 3:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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