Adventureland

Posted on August 25, 2009 at 8:00 am

We all have at least one, a summer when everything changes, when we first start to become the person we truly are. Every writer tries at least once to tell the story of one of these summers and the best of them connect us to our own stories as we laugh and cry along with them.

Director Greg Mottola’s last film was the box office smash “Superbad,” and like that, this is the story of young people at a turning point, told with sex, drugs, rock and roll and with some surprising sweetness. The mix is much more on the sweetness side in this frankly autobiographical film; don;t let the ad campaign mislead you that this is another wild and raunchy story.

For one thing, this movie’s lead is four years further along. James Brennan (“The Squid and the Whale’s Jesse Eisenberg) has just graduated from college and things are not going the way he planned. His parents have had some financial reversals. Not only is his planned trip to Europe with his friends canceled so he can stay home and get a job but there’s no money to pay his tuition at graduate school, and his parents seem disturbingly callous about how this affects him. He finds to his distress that an undergraduate degree in literature does not qualify him for pretty much anything, so he ends up getting a job for which no qualifications of any kind are necessary — working at a decrepit amusement park called Adventureland.

We know what to expect, of course. In just about every summer job, summer camp, and summer trip movie ever made there will be a girl of great sensitivity and insight and a girl of great hotness. There will be a bully or menace of some kind and a boss who is clueless or evil or both. But the humiliating lessons are more in the painful twinge than wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-20-years-later-in-a-cold-sweat category. The bosses (SNL’s very funny Bil Heder and Kristin Wiig) are not evil and not really clueless. They just have the requisite benign obtuseness that enables them to continue to run a business that (1) relies on children in unleashed frenzy mode as customers and (2) relies on teenagers in major hormonal crisis mode as staff. Mottola manages to avoid the cliches and create characters with warmth and specificity and — that rarest quality in movies of this genre — some grace.

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Comedy Drama Inspired by a true story Romance

The Amityville Horror

Posted on April 15, 2005 at 5:26 pm

Going over the same ground as the original 1975 cult classic and its many derivative offspring, this “Amityville Horror” provides enough of a shiver for novice horror fans to guarantee an opening-weekend audience but, for more well-versed fans of the genre, will feel like a redundant round of recycling.

The script here differs slightly from the original but still has not figured out how to solve the ending. With the ominous (and highly suspect) intro “Based on a true story,” this version cuts quickly to the premise. A young man living at home wakes one night and shoots his family one by one. When the police bring him in for questioning, he explains that his family was demonic and that the house told him to do it.

Flash forward a year to young married couple, George (Ryan Reynolds) and Kathy Lutz (Melissa George), who are working together to build a good home for her three children, who are still dealing with their father’s death. They come to the house, now for sale at a discount, and snap it up despite the visible nervousness of the realtor and her passing reference to the tragedy that took place there.

Within hours of moving in, everyone from the family pet to the young daughter have seen serious signs that this house needs a lot more than a Fab Five make-over. Ghosts, some chatty, some just ghastly, lurk in the shadows, the windows open and shut like eye-lids, and the vents have a habit of whispering. As the days pass and George begins to get testy and more than a little red in the eyes, Kathy realizes that she has a mystery to solve before she and her children fall victim to the house’s new plaything.

The recent rash of horror flicks prompts a soul-searching all their own: if you have seen it all before can they still scare you? When done well, old stories and equally familiar images will have you rattling your popcorn by the time the opening credits roll. This remake, though, has fair special effects, some jump-out-at-you surprises, decent acting by attractive performers, but its familiar antics just as likely to leave your popcorn static. Does the step-dad get possessed? Is there a creepy kid? Does the family pet make it to the last reel? What do you think?

Parents should know that this movie earns its R rating and then some. Besides the murder of children, the images of torture, references to suicide, the death of innocents (including a pet), and near constant peril, this movie dwells on the psychological metamorphosis of a gentle, family man into an abusive monster. There are sexual references as well as a fairly explicit sex scene between a married couple. Playing to horror’s growing female demographic, actor Reynolds spends a considerable amount of his time with his shirt off. Strong language is used, at times directed at family members. There are social drinks and drug references. Possibly the world’s worst babysitter smokes pot and makes sexual references to the children.

Families who see this movie should talk about a common theme of many ghost stories: the unhappy soul with unresolved issues. Families might also want to talk about George’s insecurity about his role as step-father and how his relationship with the house exacerbates his worst characteristics. They should also talk about the fact that while the original book was published as nonfiction, the story has been thoroughly discredited.

Families who see this movie might want to look at the very unusual reviews by two critics who didn’t make it to the end of the movie. Families who enjoy watching scary ghost movies might want to see the original Amityville Horror (1975). Also picking up the ghosts with unresolved issues theme are The Grudge and The Ring. The Shining is one of the best of the genre.

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