Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Observe and Report

A week after "Adventureland" turned out to be a much different film than advertised (but a great one!), "Observe and Report" comes along to be even farther away from how it was advertised. From the trailer, it looked as though Seth Rogen's Ronnie Barnhardt was going to be a lovable if somewhat self-important schlub. A good guy who's simply misunderstood by those around him and unfairly maligned for being a mall cop. What writer-director Jody Hill gives us however, is the story of a deeply disturbed and delusional individual who has absolutely no business in a position of authority, no matter how small. This marketing bait and switch was clearly designed by someone at the studio to sell more tickets, but this is a film that probably has more in common with "Taxi Driver" than any of Rogen's own earlier work. That's not to say this isn't a comedy, but don't expect it to be "Paul Blart" with a "Superbad" sensibility.
Ronnie is the head of mall security at a New Mexico shopping center that has just been terrorized by a chubby flasher. The pervert exposed himself to several shoppers and he comes back for more. When he comes after mall employee Brandi (Anna Faris), it becomes Ronnie's personal mission to capture and yes, kill, the flasher. He even says so in a profanity-laced tirade on the local news. But as a simple mall security guard Ronnie has limited resources and gets no respect from Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), who rightly tells Ronnie to stay away from the investigation. Now in addition to the flasher there's also a burglar arriving in the night. Ronnie will not let this stand. Meanwhile, he applies to the police department, much to Harrison's aggravation.
In between violent, brutal outbursts, Ronnie courts Brandi but this is hardly a sweet budding relationship. Ronnie's creepy and Brandi is about as stuck up and self-obsessed as a person can be. It's a credit to Rogen and Faris as actors that they don't try to make these people likable or more cuddly. They get what Hill is going for here. This tone works well for many of their scenes together, but not everything comes off. Many scenes, particularly the more violent ones, Hill seems to be unsure of what he wants. Does he want us to laugh at Ronnie and Dennis (Michael Pena) beating kids with night sticks or does he want us to be horrified? In his seeming indecision he tries to have it both ways and the result is that we don't really feel anything.
For all of its flaws though, I still liked "Observe and Report." It's a very interesting film and Rogen proves he's able to stretch himself. There is some good work from the supporting cast as well. Pena is unrecognizable as the guy from "Crash" and "World Trade Center," and Jesse Plemons ("Friday Night Lights") and Collette Wolfe are both very good though sadly underused.
"Observe and Report" shows us a man that we sympathize with even if we would never want to be in the same room with him. There's something to be said for that. Just don't expect the laugh-fest you were promised. 7/10.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


Some of the best friends I'll ever make and most of the best stories I have to tell come from working a lousy minimum wage job where dignity was something I had to fight for every day. It was a battle I often lost. So I know exactly where Greg Mottola (director of "Superbad") was coming from with "Adventureland."
In the summer of 1987, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg, "The Squid and the Whale") was supposed to be going on a trip to Europe to celebrate graduating college. Unfortunately his parents (Jack Gilpin and Wendy Malick) can no longer afford to pay for it as they promised and with almost no money of his own, James needs to get himself a summer job to pay for graduate school in New York. With extremely limited work experience the only job James can get is at Adventureland, a Pittsburgh theme park run by a kooky couple (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) who love their jobs far more than they should.
It doesn't take long for James to realize how awful this job really is. He loses a "giant ass panda" to a dishonest dad at knife point in his first couple of days. The only thing making it worthwhile are the friends he's making who have been suffering there for ages. Joel (Martin Starr, "Freaks and Geeks") shows James the ropes while Em (Kristen Stewart) catches James's eye. It ends up being the best and worst time of his life all at once.
"Adventureland" was marketed as a silly teen comedy with a whiff of nostalgia to it, and it looked enjoyable enough, but this was a huge disservice to it. Greg Mottola has written and directed a film that captures the joys, frustrations, and boredom of working at a job like this. The on the clock gripe sessions, standing around after work trading cynical wisecracks, followed by an impromptu house party at a co-worker's. This makes for a very funny but also incredibly authentic film, filled with well-developed characters, outstanding performances (particularly Eisenberg, Stewart, Starr, and a toned down Ryan Reynolds), and some truly heartbreaking moments. Comedy and drama are rarely balanced so well as they are here. The budding romance between James and Em doesn't feel like something out of a goofy teen comedy because that's just not what "Adventureland" is.
I enjoyed just about every moment of "Adventureland," even the more painful ones. I loved that although it's set in 1987, the time period is never exploited for cheap gags. We just feel like we're there with no sense of irony. You can tell this movie wasn't made by VH1. The only eighties song that gets pounded into our skulls is Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus," but that's only because poor James has to hear it "twenty times a day" at the park. Anyone who's worked at an "entertainment venue" knows you hear the same music over and over again, all day, every day until you want to kill someone. And then they play the song some more.
This is a great movie about a time in your life you can never forget. Mottola is clearly glad to have left it behind him, but a big part of him misses it too. I know how he feels. 9/10.