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We seem to be in the midst of an epidemic of rude behavior, with three high-profile recent examples in three different fields of endeavor — though, interestingly, all involving people with last names starting with “W.” At the State of the Union address, Congressman Joe Wilson expressed his differences with the President not by writing an op-ed or giving an interview but by yelling out “You lie!” in the middle of the speech. Tennis star Serena Williams got into an argument with the line judge at the U.S. Open that included an ugly, profanity-laced threat. And at the MTV video music awards, rapper Kanye West interrupted teen country and pop star Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for best female video to tell her that hers was not as good as Beyonce’s.
Perhaps one key to this trend can be found in the fact that all three of these incidents and the round of awkward and grudging apologies received the kind of press coverage we used to reserve for a royal wedding, while an act of supreme graciousness and courtesy received almost none. West, who in the past has been notoriously rude at award shows when someone else won an award he thought should have been his, this time interrupted Swift to tell her that while her video was fine, “Single Ladies” by Beyonce was better. Beyonce, sitting in the audience, looked aghast. But then, in a moment that would have been considered too outlandish for a movie, Beyonce won the top award of the night, video of the year. She went up to the stage, impeccable in attire and bearing as always, and turned the stage over to Swift.
What do these incidents teach our children? In movies, on television, and in the media we see rude behavior rewarded with laughter, attention, and even plaudits for “honesty.” Manners and courtesy are words that seem old-fashioned these days and concepts that seem all-but forgotten.
I believe that one of a parent’s most important responsibilities is teaching children the importance of courtesy. Yes, that includes which fork to use and passing the salt and pepper together even when only the salt is requested. And yes, it includes a hand-written, prompt, and specific thank you note for any gift, hospitality, or special kindness. But mostly courtesy is about showing the kind of respect and dignity that will benefit not only the recipient but the person who provides it. The simple rules of courtesy are a road-map that will give children and teenagers confidence and poise. And a big advantage in interviews for school and jobs, too.
I’m going to be posting a list of good movies to help families initiate conversations about respect, manners, and courtesy. Stay tuned.

The animation may be three-dimensional but the story is one-dimensional in this dull saga of humans invading an alien planet — from the perspective of the aliens. I suppose it is actually the humans who are the aliens in this story, so from now on I will refer to the characters who look like fish-lizard creatures as Terrans. The humans long ago destroyed not only Earth but the surrounding planets and for more than a generation they have been roaming the galaxy looking for another place to live. Their ships are barely able to sustain them. And all of those years without a home, battling to stay alive, has made them desperate and unable to think about the rights of other beings.

Mala (voice of Evan Rachel Wood) is a spunky teenager from the peaceful planet Terra. When the human military invade in search of a place to settle, she finds herself sort of stuck with a crashed human pilot named Jim Stanton (voice of Luke Wilson). They gingerly begin to trust one another.

Terra’s atmosphere is poisonous to humans but the humans have the capacity to switch it to oxygen, which will wipe out the Terrans. They feel they have no choice. And when Jim resists, the harsh general (Brian Cox) makes him prove his loyalty by forcing him to make a life or death decision between Mala and his own brother.

Despite the 3D effects, the visuals are dull and unimaginative. None of the characters have much by way of facial expressions or distinguishing characteristics. Apparently the Terrans are way ahead of the humans in the treatment of females and minorities as almost all the humans we see are square-jawed white males who just came off the GI Joe assembly line. The strongest voice performance is from David Cross as Jim’s little robot navigator and even he is a pale imitation of R2D2. The script briefly raises some intriguing issues but its darkest moments are too disturbing for its intended PG audience and its execution is too superficial for other viewers.

“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” feels like ghosts of movies past, with a been-there, seen-that feeling that goes far beyond its familiar appropriation of the structure of “A Christmas Carol.” It is not as deep as Matthew McConaughey’s dimples. He plays Connor Mead, a photographer so fabulously successful that he captures a magazine cover with one click of the shutter, while he mesmerizes every female in a mile radius into doing all but levitating out of their clothes every time he looks at them.

At his brother’s wedding, Connor is visited by the ghost of their guardian, world-class womanizer Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), who tells him he will be visited by three ghosts to help him learn about what he needs to change in his life. The first is Allison, played by”Superbad’s” very gifted Emma Stone, with a frizz of hair, a mouthful of braces, and some serious 80’s fashion victim attire. She takes him from his childhood love Jenny to the early lessons from Uncle Wayne in (1) picking up as many women as possible and (2) feeling as little for them as possible.” He relives his conquests and liaisons and his romance with Jenny (Jennifer Garner). Meanwhile, he manages to wreck havoc on the wedding plans.

The primary problem here is that the movie wants to have Connor both ways, a heartless but irresistible lady-killer who is callously offensive, breaking up with three girls at once via conference call and telling everyone at the wedding that marriage is a disaster. He’s less an emotional Ebenezer Scrooge than he is a throwback to those cads-just-waiting-to-be-tamed ring-a-ding-ding movies Frank Sinatra used to make like The Tender Trap and “Come Blow Your Horn.”

But we’ve come a long way, baby, since then, and the idea of the love ’em and leave ’em Lothario is neither as charming or as believable as it once was. Even McConaughey’s dimples can’t keep Connor from seeming more creepy than magnetic. The endless rows of women who are ready, willing, and able to do anything but act with any semblance of intelligence or dignity come across as embarrassing and sadly in need of some “he’s just not that into you” lessons. We cannot connect to the movie because it is impossible to feel any sympathy for Connor or root for his happiness. Fred Ward is nicely flinty as the prospective father-in-law but poor Lacey Chabert can’t help sounding shrill as the kind of bride who freaks out about every detail. Even the divine Anne Archer can’t do much with a cougar-role that gives her little do do but murmur knowingly. The highlights of the film are Stone’s teenage ghost and especially Garner. Her grace, elegance, and authenticity make us wish for her to do a lot better than the guy with the ghosts. And a lot better than this lackluster and formulaic script.

I have no affection for this movie but I have to admit to a grudging admiration for its willingness to be awkward, intrusive, and disturbing. A stark contrast to the similarly-themed and similarly plotted Paul Blart Mall Cop of just three months ago, this could easily have been a raunchier take on the same easy targets — mall shops, mall music, mall food, and mall shoppers as a proxy for an America that is soft in the middle and narcotized by things that can be bought by credit cards.

But writer/director Jody Hall (of the cult favorite “The Foot Fist Way”) makes comic movies with so much edge they can give you a paper cut. He does not go for the easy laugh that makes you feel good about yourself, you know, the one that lulls audiences into thinking that their families are not dysfunctional, just quirky, and that their pain makes them authentic and charming. This movie is funny but it is upsetting and very dark.

The overall structure of the movie is very much like the mall cop movie of just three months ago, “Paul Blart.” Both are about would-be policemen who take our their frustration with petty enforcements when they are not mooning over a pretty mall employee.

But where “Paul Blart” was cute and gentle, “Observe and Report” is harsh and bleak. There are no cheery pop songs on the soundtrack to let us know they are just kidding. And there is not much in the way of lessons learned or getting in touch with the life force. Seth Rogen plays Ronnie, a sad, lonely, and angry man who is borderline delusional. He lives with his alcoholic mother. He yearns for Brandi (a fearless Anna Faris), who works at a department store cosmetics counter. He bitterly resents Detective Henderson (Ray Liotta), who is assigned to investigate reports of a flasher who has been harassing women in the parking lot. In a subversion of the usual movie tropes, he decides to ride to the occasion and resolve the flasher case himself as a way of proving himself. But his instincts are skewed and he makes a series of poor judgments and expensive mistakes that are played for comedy.

Rogen, Faris, Celia Weston as Ronnie’s mother, and Michael Pena as his second in command manage the difficult material well, but Hall is more adept as writer (and selector of esoteric songs for the soundtrack) than as a director. The tone may be even more harsh than intended just due to an uncertain control of narrative and character. Hill says he was inspired by Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and “King of Comedy,” but he needs to do a bit more observing and reporting of his own to make sure he understands what makes those movies work.

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