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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



Observe and Report; Paris 36; Film notes
by Richard Knight, Jr.

This article shared 1943 times since Wed Apr 8, 2009
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Two films opening in Chicago this week vividly illustrate the difference between the tastes of the "vulgar" mainstream masses and the "cultured" indie snobs. Observe and Report, the mainstream effort, is indeed a vulgar but often hilarious comedy starring Seth Rogan, and it's a million miles from the sentimental, sophisticated theatrical artifice of the French film Paris 36. But both films play shamelessly to their core audiences and both movies work because they mine familiar stereotypes that expertly draw in their audiences.

In the lowlife comedy Observe and Report Jody Hill—writer-director of The Foot Fist Way and Eastbound & Down HBO series—serves up the same jaw-droppingly crude, unredeemable lead character that has quickly become his stock in trade. This character is so appallingly inappropriate in his language and behavior that he draws laughs from an incredulous audience. Hill then challenges his audience to shift its allegiance and end up rooting for this coarse white-trash character—a feat he pulls off consistently. In the process Hill also presents a rancid portrait of a culture so dim-witted, self-involved, materialistic and immediately identifiable one almost feels a palpable, uncomfortable embarrassment when confronted with it—when not laughing in recognition.

Hill's leading man of choice, Danny McBride, is replaced this time by Seth Rogan ( although McBride provides a very funny cameo ) . Rogan has quickly risen to the front ranks playing a sort of human embodiment of Homer Simpson. Here he plays Ronnie Barnhardt, the bipolar head of security at an indoor shopping mall whose hold over the mall is threatened by the arrival of a real-life cop ( Ray Liotta ) trying to capture a persistent flasher when Ronnie fails to nab him.

Though it's hard to identify with defeated losers like Ronnie and his cohorts it also feels just great to feel superior to them and to watch them hilariously, hopelessly screw up over and over again. Observe and Report is the latest in a long line of mean-spirited, snark-filled, low-down comedies that, while it lasts, gives stereotyping a good name.

In its way, so does the oh-so precious Paris 36 from writer-director Christophe Barratier ( best known here for 2004's Les Choristes ) . Set in 1936, the action centers on the performers and stage hands at the once mighty, now closed music hall the Chansonia, situated in a seedy district of Paris. The action centers on Pigoil ( Gerard Jugnot ) , a stage manager who has lost his livelihood and contact with his son when his wife, the star of the show, leaves town for another man with the boy in tow. Eventually, a desperate and destitute Pigoil and his allies secretly begin hosting shows in the theatre, bringing in new talent to go with the old ( including a hambone comic and a foppish choreographer ) with hopes that their new star, the songbird Douce ( Nora Arnezeder ) , will win the day.

The plot is a familiar cross between Mrs. Henderson Presents and Moulin Rouge ( with the film having the same artificial lighting, sets and costumes that added to the theatrical feel of those two ) , and the characters sing a lot of original French songs that Piaf would have adored. To a man, every character and situation has been seen in dozens of previous French movies; the sentimentality is so thick it could be cut off with a guillotine; and nothing here lasts in the mind beyond the final "alouette," but while Paris 36 is unfolding Barratier manages to wrap up the strands of this stereotypical "little" French film into an awfully sweet package.

Film notes:

—Queer Cinema 101—the new five-week, Monday-night series showcasing the best of gay cinema chosen and hosted by gay film critics—debuts this coming Monday, April 13. I'll be hosting this premiere offering, the tremendous 1996 documentary The Celluloid Closet. The screening will be preceded by a meet-and-greet with all the critics and a post Q&A roundtable as well. The series is being partly sponsored Sidetrack and by . The trailer for the forthcoming lesbian-themed film Hannah Free starring Sharon Gless will also be shown. The event starts at 7 p.m. at Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted. Seating is on a first-come, first-seated basis. A $5 suggested donation is requested; visit or call 773-472-6469, ext. 245.

—Hell in a Handbag Productions, the theater company noted for its hilarious film parody shows, presents a staged reading of the Joan Crawford classic Mildred Pierce, part one of their Dueling Divas! ( Joan Crawford vs. Gloria Swanson ) staged readings on Friday, April 10. Handbag Artistic Director David Cerda once again channels Crawford, this time in her Oscar-winning role. The reading will be presented at Hydrate, 3458 N. Halsted, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 for each. Proceeds from the series will help finance Handbag's forthcoming revival of their original hit musical Poseidon! Reserve tickets and further information on the Dueling Divas! series at .

—Off the Cuff—a mockumentary from writers-producers Jessica Hardy and Brent Kado about improvisation that was shot in Chicago and that features Chicago talent—will screen Tuesday, April 14, at 7 p.m. at Sonotheque, 1444 W. Chicago, as part of the monthly Film Culture Chicago's Indie Flicks series. The $7 admission includes free popcorn and drink specials. See .

—If the screen captures of Hugh Jackman's shapely booty burning up the Internet gossip sites from the forthcoming X-Men Origins: Wolverine have whet your appetite for more, how about the possibility of seeing Mr. Jackman in the flesh? Chicago could be the host city for a promised star-studded April 27 premiere of the film if fans drum up enough votes for Chicago. Voting ends April 17, and the winning city will beannounced April 20. Visit

Check out my archived reviews at or . Readers can leave feedback at the latter Web site.

This article shared 1943 times since Wed Apr 8, 2009
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