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April 13, 2009 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Monday, April 13, 2009 - 5A

From X-Men' to
instrospection

"Can you imagine what that ass would look like in focus?"

Good cop, mall cop

Seth Rogen makes a
disturbed character oddly
hilarious and endearing
By BLAKE GOBLE
Daily Arts Writer
"Observe and Report" challenges its audi-
ence to laugh at a mall cop
with bipolar disorder who ***
brandishes guns, beats the
tar out of teens and slaps a Observe
Polaroid of a shriveled penis
on his forehead in defeat. and Report
Understand and accept these At Showcase
outrageous truths, and the and Qualityl6
film becomes palatable. Find Warner Bros.
them funny, and "Observe
and Report" is actually quite
brilliant.
From Jody Hill, the up-and-coming force
behind "The Foot Fist Way" and HBO's
underdog series "Eastbound & Down," comes
"Observe and Report," an original movie about
a security guard and his ridiculous road to
redemption.
Meet Ronnie Barnhardt (the red-hot Seth

Rogen, "Pineapple Express"), Forest Ridge
Mall's"head of security." Ronnie's got problems
- a lot of problems. The mall's being terror-
ized by a returning flasher and a night robber.
Ronnie's freaking out because local police are
investigating the matters he thinks he should
be dealing with. And meanwhile, Ronnie's
mom is an alcoholic, his dad's out of the picture,
the love of his life won't reciprocate and Ronnie
himself harbors a dream to become an actual
cop. Ronnie must cope with all of his stresses
and move on with his life. He must win.
Sounds like prototypical "cuh-razy" comedy
stuff. But Ronnie's movie uses itsjokes to sting.
It's not easy at first. It's actually rather unnerv-
ing. But "Observe and Report" is quite good at
what it does: inciting nervous laughter.
Heroin in the mall bathroom? Gulp. Racial
slurs aimed at the mall's non-white employ-
ees? Umm. People getting their arms suddenly,
viciously broken as comedy? Only Zack Snyder
("Watchmen") can do that, and even then only
unintentionally. A great primer for this film's
humor is the psychological profiling Ronnie
undergoes during his police entrance exams.
He's asked why he wants to join the force
by a police analyst. Ronnie, in so many words,
describes how he dreams mostnights of a giant,
black, cancerous, pus-filled cloud enshrouding

the land. And when that cloud arrives, he must
do God's work and lay to waste the people who
brought the cloud to him. But Ronnie won't
accept thanks; he thinks of himself as just a
"man with a shotgun."
Whoa. Ha ha?
Now, if that reeks of Travis Bickle or Emily
Dickinson, there's a reason. Besides being a bit-
ter comedy, "Observe and Report" is the latest,
greatest work of the "Cinema of Isolation," or
rather films about the fascinatingly disabled.
It's OK to like Ronnie. He's not an inten-
tionally warped fella. He's bipolar and often
acceptable to laugh at. Rogen wants that. But
he is an angry loner, and Rogen's surprising-
ly strong performance makes "Observe and
Report" a deep work. "Taxi Driver," "My Left
Foot" and even "The Miracle Worker" would
get along nicely with it.
On a final note, there's been some rumblings
about "Observe and Report" being "Paul Blart:
Mall Cop 2." It's being brushed off as just anoth-
er kooky mall caper. Take it from someone who
actually saw "Blart:" Paul Blart can suck it.
Ronnie Barnhadt's our broken man. See him.
Watch his movie. Laugh, linger and think about
the forgotten folks of the everyday. Mall cops
can be hilariously depressing. Just think about
that before seeing "Observe and Report."

recently read Adrian Tom-
ine's graphic novel "Short-
comings," a present given to
me because I have been reading
a great deal of
graphic novels
lately. Graphic
novels have
intrigued me
as an art form
since I was 13,
when I picked -
up the first book WIUMEY
installment of POW
"The New X-Men"
by Grant Morrison.
I suppose I've always loved
graphic novels and comics; the
former present the narratives in
one complete dose, and the latter
present it with the suspense of
waiting for month-by-month seri-
al installments. I've had my share
of both - of excitedly buying a
comic's issues 1-10 pre-packaged
in a glossy, soft-cover book, and
of waiting for my "X-Men" comic
to come in the mail every month,
only to be disappointed in the fact
that at its close I'd be waiting,
sometimes mid-caption balloon,
for what came next month.
Looking back, it was like
an addictive, sci-fi soap opera.
Drama! Intrigue! Murder! I still
held on, even while being sorely
aware of the plot devices, the
somewhat predictable twists and
turns and the cliffhangers that
were immediately resolved within
the first page of the next install-
ment. But there was still a child-
ish part of me that endured all of
the month-by-month suspense
because I sympathized with this
world. I wanted to have super-
powers when I was 14 (and even
now, at 21), and I'm sure many
others can sympathize with that
feeling too.
I dropped my subscription of
"The Ultimate X-Men" when I
was 16, aware of how the series
wasn't keeping my interest like
it had a year or two before. From
there, left without a monthly
comic to read, I moved from the
comic world into the world of
graphic novels.
It was there that I became
increasingly aware that the word
"graphic novel" enveloped much
more than the expected fantasy,
sci-fi or superhero genres. The
graphic novel, which once trans-
ported me from one world to
another (a world where men shot
lasers out of their eyes), could now
transport me inward. The graphic
novel could also allow for a great
deal of introspection into the
mundane, delving into the details
of a world within our own instead
of transporting me out of it.
A few years ago I read the
"Optic Nerve" comics by Adrian
Tomine, an Asian-American
graphic novelist whose work has
appeared almost everywhere,
including the cover of the New
Yorker, the New York Times
Magazine and on the cover of Yo
La Tengo's live-in-studio covers
album "Yo La Tengo is Murdering
the Classics." Tomine is known
for his crisp, subtle illustrations
that visually map out and emulate
the multifaceted anatomy of a
scene, a gesture or an emotion.
A single, two-by-one inch panel
in "Shortcomings," for example,
contains a speech bubble reading
"Okay" and an Asian man and a
Caucasian woman looking at one
another intensely, eyes somewhat
closed, lips pursed; this panel

embodies the complex height
of an infinite amount of sexual

tension related to infidelity, race
relations and sexuality that a
thousand words on the matter
could never come close to fully
expressing. The dreamy, familiar
look from one person to another
covers enough complex and emo-
tionally grounded material, it
seems, to occupy an entire Marvel
Universe.
Tomine's graphic novels made
me want to return to fiction writ-
ing. His ability to somehow find
the oddest, sparkling moment in
the mundane has always intrigued
me. I've always admired his -
and other graphic novel writers'
- odd and paradoxical ability to
be unsentimental while telling
a story with such sentimental
undertones, hitting on points such
as nostalgia, love or jealousy with-
out getting "gushy," "cheesy" or,
scarily enough, "emo." It's the art-
ist's ability to stretch out, expand
and renew the boy-meets-girl or
the I-shouldn't-have-cheated-on-
you tale that make stories worth-
while, because, essentially, we
have read their basic, bare-bones
plots before at one time or anoth-
er, but perhaps not in the particu-
lar way Tomine presents.
As for those interested in
graphic novels that examine life
in its confusion and complexity, I
Going beyond
the Marvel
Universe to find
a different view.
would suggest Allison Bechdel's
graphic memoir "Fun Home,"
which is primarily a personal
examination of Bechdel's neglect-
ful, homosexual father who com-
mitted suicide when she was 20.
Also worthwhile is Chris Ware's
"Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest
Kid on Earth," which, contrary
to its title's suggestion of child-
like fantasy, follows the adult
Corrigan through his profoundly
tragic, lonely life and his oddly
liberating dreams of peach trees
and robots.
Finally, there's David B's "Epi-
leptic" - a graphic memoir that
covers the childhood of David B.
and his disabled epileptic brother
Jean-Christophe. It tells the story
of Jean letting his life fall into the
tragic hideaway of his illness, and,
consequently, David letting his
life fall into the tragic hideaway
of his art.
For me, the introspective qual-
ity of Tomine's graphic novels
created a new looking-glass
through which to view the world.
Simply put, graphic novels have
done what literature, film and
many other art pieces have done:
They have presented the real and
the mundane, and then renewed
it for us, making it exciting and
different. I'm glad to see that this
medium has been making a great
deal of headway, becoming a legit-
imate art form in the eyes of the
public, and I'm looking forward
to seeing what other areas artists
will examine it in the future, from
the macrocosm of the Marvel
Universe to the microcosm of the
moment.
Pow needs someone to illustrate

her graphic memoirs. E-mail her at
poww@umich.edu if you can draw.

A Mirab-culous album

By RHIANNON HALLER
Daily Arts Writer
"Soft and understated" is a
phrase with
negative conno-
tations that are
often hard to
shake. If a poli- Miiah
tician's speeches (a)spera
were labeled as K
such, that per-
son's campaign
would surely falter. If a boxer's
punch was "soft and understated,"
that fighter wouldn't be landing a
whole lot of championship belts
anytime soon. In music, however,
"soft and understated" can be a
very good thing.
(a)spera, singer-songwriter
Mirah's latest, is a shining exam-
ple of such a case with its patient
instrumentation and soothing
vocals. Mixing a menagerie of
musical styles from countless eras
and parts of the world, Mirah's
new release keeps things interest-
ing while holding onto a thread of
cool collectedness.
The album is rarely fast-paced,
maintaining a constant string

of calm, subtle songs. On "Edu-
cation," gently plucked guitar
strings and dawdling drums
provide a picturesque pastoral
background to Mirah's whispery
singing. She "oohs" and "aahs"
and "la-las" and "da-das" as vio-
lins enter the scene, filling out
the sound with eerie, drawn out
chords.
Subtlety in motion pops up
again on "Shells." Like a lul-
laby, the track features a harp
and Mirah's sugary-sweet voice
in a hushed, cherubic tone. Each
song flows into the next without
difficulty, tightening the already
cohesive sound of the relaxing
atmosphere that pervades the
record.
On the rare occasion when
(a)spera speeds up into the land of
the moderately paced, the accel-
erated tempos don't sound out of
place. On "Forest," which features
distorted guitar riffs and ska-like
horns, Mirah's voice remains
waif-like and comforting, acting
as a uniting factor that drives the
song's deviation from the rest of
the album.
Mirah not only manages to

mainta
of the
instrut
also cri
from a
of the F
of her
singly
musica
"
cu
I
soU
with a
drum
ow a m
erronec
dispro:
maraca
tinctly
snare
the Me
by the;
voice

in the intertwining nature keeping a whisper-like intonation
album despite changes in while taking on a Middle Eastern
mentation and pace, but harmony. Her vocalized Arabian
eates variation with sounds rhythms become even more pro-
round the world. "Country nounced at the song's culmination
Future" is the best example as she begins to chant as though
sampling of global flavors, she were leading a call to prayer
encompassing several from a minaret.
1 styles. The song begins - The title of "Country of the
Future" could not fit the song's
global amalgamation any better.
"Soft" and The track's m6lange of sounds
echoes growing globalization and
Lnderstated" multiculturalism taking place
around the world. It is a vision of
have never a nation where drastically diverse
colors and creeds stand together
.nded so cool. in tightly knit solidarity.
(a)spera as a whole is a strik-
ing example of aesthetic unity.
The album concocts a mellow
few short rolls on a steel tranquility with lilting vocals
that mistakenly foreshad- and relaxing instrumentation,
ellow reggae number. The maintaining a perfect balance of
ous prediction is quickly similitude and fluctuation. It's a
ven as Spanish guitars and mature and graceful effort, quite
as kick in, spawning a dis- happy to occupy the backseat
Latin sound. Militaristic with its soft, understated per-
drums enter, contrasting sonality. But (a)spera's dexterous
diterranean calm provided fusion of solidarity and alteration
Spanish elements. Mirah's begs a more prominent place rid-
straddles globalization, ing shotgun.

Rogen, Hill and Faris discuss 'Observe and Report'

By ANDREW LAPIN
Daily Film Editor
Anyone who sees the ads for "Observe
and Report," with a silly-looking Seth Rogen
in a mall cop uniform, might mistake the
film for either another laid-back "Pineapple
Express"-type comedy or, worse, a raunchy
"Paul Blart" rip-off. But thanks to the efforts
of writer-director Jody Hill ("The Foot Fist
Way," TV's "Eastbown and Down") and the
go-for-broke performances of leads Rogen as
a mall cop hero and Anna Faris ("The House
Bunny") as a trampy cosmetics employee,
"Observe" occupies a deeper, filthier place in
the R-rated comedy echelon.
In three separate phone interviews, Hill,
Rogen and Faris discussed the challenges
and thrills of making such an out-of-the-
box film, which follows a bipolar mall cop
with delusions of grandeur as he attempts

to track down a flasher.
"(It felt) like we'd stolen abunch ofmovie
cameras and film, and somehow they let us
make this movie in this mall," Rogen said,
summing up the experience of being able to
mount such a bizarre production under the
big studio eye of Warner Brothers.
The actor, who admitted to doing almost
no mall-cop research for his part, noted
that making "Observe" felt more like an
independent movie to him than anything
he's ever done.
For Hill, who funded his previous film
"Foot Fist" out of his own pocket, this was
his first experience making a movie on
a budget. He likened landing Rogen and
Faris to "an insurance policy" for getting
the film made.
Rogen is grateful for the touch that indie
directors like Hill bring to mainstream
comedies.

"We're looking for people who are
smarter than us, basically," Rogen said.
Referencing films he co-wrote with
writing partner Evan Goldberg, he added,
Why Seth Rogen
and Anna Faris
are like a good
insurance policy.
"You know, there's a reason we don't direct
the movies ourselves."
"Observe and Report" has many unique
influences for a comedy. Hill talked about

his desire to write a movie that pushes its
main character to the edge of sanity, but
that would also work around the symbol of
a mall - "because I really hate malls," he
added with a laugh.
His influences were '70s films by direc-
tors like Sam Peckinpah and Martin Scors-
ese.
"Those movies deal with a lot of themes
of isolation and loneliness and characters
trying to come up with a code and feeling
out a place in their time," he explained.
Yet "Observe" has unique touches that
make the film all its own, such as a drunken
sex scene between Rogen and Faris that's
played for squirm-inducing laughs.
"I gave my parents a glass of wine and I
showed them that scene and I was like, OK,
brace yourself," laughed Faris, who notes
that both her and Rogen were convinced the
bit would never make it into the final cut.

With all the blue humor going on,
"Observe" is a far cry from the lovable ston-
er fare Rogen's fans are used to seeing him.
Even though this is a new type ofrole for the
comedian, he admits that he doesn't have
any grandiose career plans for himself.
"I've never ended up playing the roles
we've written for myself in the movies any-
ways," Rogen explained. "So that just fur-
ther adds a monkey wrench into our 'grand
plan,' of which we don't have much of in
the first place."
Regardless of Rogen's ambitions, if there
is a grand plan for "Observe," it seems to
be to make the audience laugh out of pure
discomfort as much as possible. With every
boundary of taste the film pushed in a pre-
view screening on Apr. 1, the packed house
howled louder in disbelief. Now that the
film is playing in theaters everywhere, it is
sure to shock, offend and entertain.

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