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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Observe and Report

2009 turned out to be the year of the ‘shopping mall security person’ comedy, and it shows you how fast trends turn over these days that there were only three months between the theatrical release dates separating the point where the genre was established, with Paul Blart: Mall Cop, a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release, and was then undercut in cynicism, withObserve and Report, a Warner Home Video release.

Paul Blart is far and away the better of the two films. In fact, it is highly entertaining and had a brilliant marketing plan that never even slightly gave away the major plot twist that takes up the film’s entire second half. As the trailers and commercials implied, the first half is a slapstick comedy about an overweight and seemingly hapless shopping mall security guard, played by Kevin James, whose romantic life is as bleak as his career prospects. The hero accidentally gets drunk one night and pretty much obliterates what was left of his reputation, and at that point you start to wonder how in the world the 91-minute film ever became a blockbuster hit. It is best not to share what happens next, because the surprise is part of the excitement, but the film, like the hero, does get its act together and delivers enough satisfaction to deserve every penny it earned.

From the title, which is part of a motto displayed prominently in Paul Blart, to innumerable other details,Observe and Report almost seems as if it had been made to deliberately upend the other film’s presumptions. Seth Rogen is yet another overweight and sincere but inept shopping mall security guard, with the same romantic and career problems that James’ character had. Rogen’s character, however, also has a taste for bloodlust, and tends to go overboard in executing his duties. There is a good deal of slapstick in the film, but where the humor in Paul Blart was broad and benign, the humor in Observe and Report is dry and perverse. Ray Liotta gives a marvelous performance as an actual cop whose patience is stretched to its limits by the hero’s misguided intentions. Running 87 minutes, there are a pair of nominal crimes in the film that give the narrative its structure, but they are treated secondarily and are less important than the efforts Rogen’s character makes to prove his legitimacy. If watched first in what ought to be a tempting double bill, the film will seem to set things up for the other movie effectively and, thanks to Liotta, provide a reasonable amount of satisfaction, but seen after the other movie, it will be an anti-climactic letdown, in which its nastier attributes will become all the more magnified.

The picture on Paul Blart is in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The color transfer looks fine and the 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound is adequate. There is an alternate French track in 5.1 Dolby, optional English and French subtitles, 12 minutes of deleted scenes that would have slowed the film considerably, and 50 minutes of production featurettes that do a good job of emphasizing the many skateboard and BMX bike stunts in the film. There is also a commentary track with James and producer Todd Garner, who provide a relaxed but reasonably informative description of the shoot (such as how convenient it was to be working in a real mall with a real food court) and how the humor and the story were developed and adjusted as they went along.

The picture on Observe and Report is available in both letterboxed format, with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback, and full screen format, which takes a little bit of picture information off of the sides and adds a little to the bottom of the screen. Again, the color transfer looks fine and the 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound is passable. There are alternate French and Spanish tracks in 5.1 Dolby and optional English, French and Spanish subtitles, but no other features. The Blu-ray, on the other hand, comes with a jovial commentary track featuring Rogen, co-star Anna Farris and director Jody Hill, who also appear in a picture-within-a-picture at the bottom of the screen. There also 27 minutes of deleted scenes, an 8-minute segment of Rogen and Farris improvising a scene, 12 minutes of bloopers, and 10 minutes of bland promotional featurettes. A second platter is included that contains a copy of the film that can be downloaded onto handheld viewing devices.

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin