Justin’s on vacation, so I’m left all alone, forced to bounce my reviews off the serving wall since my partner-in-snark Justin Ellis is enjoying bacon, mojitos, and, well, that’s probably it. He’ll be back next week, thank the gods…
Adventureland: “This unassuming little coming-of-age comedy is the new release generating by far the most buzz around Videoport’s shelves this week. And that’s one of the reasons I love Videoport. Directed by Greg Mottola, who helmed the cool, mid-nineties indie The Daytrippers, but is better known these days for Judd Apatow’s brilliant decision (as part of his self-described ‘get smart people to direct our dumb comedies’ strategy) to hire him to direct the very funny ‘Superbad’, Adventureland is the story of James (Jesse Eisenberg), a high-minded recent college grad who, when his parents’ money troubles cost him his planned pre-grad school European trip, finds himself working at the titular, scabby Pittsburgh amusement park. There, he, of course meets a collection of oddballs, including the requisite ballsy love interest (Twilight’s Kristen Stewart). If my description sounds a little condescending, it’s only a little; Mottola was, surprise!, employed as a young guy in a dingy amusement park, where he, no doubt, was a sensitive, self-deprecating figure amongst the din and the rabble, perhaps spending his downtime dreaming of one day directing a movie about his experiences working in an amusement park. But I kid the ‘coming-of-age’ genre- Adventureland is funny (although those looking for ‘Superbad’ raucousness will be disillusioned fairly quickly), charming, and can boast some nice little character performances from the winning Eisenberg (he and Michael Cera are gonna compete for a lot of roles), ‘Freaks and Geeks’’
Martin Starr (stealing scenes, as ever), ‘SNL’ pals Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig (funny as the married park supervisors), and Ryan Reynolds (who makes the ‘cool older guy with a thing for young girls’ role into something kind of likable). As for teen superstar Stewart, she tousles her hair, doesn’t wear makeup, and tries (too hard) to be ‘edgy’, but her sexy catalyst role (what the Onion AV Club refers to as the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ archetype) is more at fault than she. Adventureland is a smart, fun, pleasant inndie comedy and well worth a rental.
Scrubs- Season 8: “I love this show. It’s got a certain sitcom silliness factor, sure, and it’s never going to be mentioned in the same breath as something like ‘The Wire’, or ‘The West Wing’, ‘prestige’ shows (which I also love), but there it sits, all eight seasons, on my movie shelf at home. And I watch it as often or more than those shows, when I’m looking for something breezy, funny, and entertaining, sure, but also for something with some dramatic meat on its televisual bones. And season 8, which may, in fact, be the last season of its run (there’s some talk of a cast-depleted season 9) is, I think its best. Yeah, I said it. A friend described it to me prior to it hitting DVD (I don’t get cable) as too ‘very special episode’-y, but that really worked for me this year as J.D., Turk, Elliot, Carla, Dr. Cox, Bob Kelso, Ted (who sings a killer acoustic version of ‘Hey Ya’), the Janitor, and the rest of the gang adjusted to their respective characters’ growth with a renewed sense of maturity and focus. (I really thought there was a marked improvement in the writing this year over the last couple). There were big laughs, sharper characterizations (literally everybody’s eight-year journey is paid its due respect), money guest stars (Glynn Turman really got to me), and, I’ll go ahead and say it, a final episode that made me cry (like the little girl I will ever be) even more than the ‘Six Feet Under’ finale. If we cannot appreciate good writing, good acting, and affecting, fully rounded character arcs wherever we find them, even on network TV, then we are truly snobs indeed. Plus, trotting out Peter Gabriel to sing the Magnetic Fields to close things out…that’s just not playing fair. I love this show.”
Sunshine Cleaning: “There are some movies I just can’t figure the target audience for. This film, a melancholy comedy about a pair of mismatched, down-on-their-luck sisters
who decide to start a crime scene cleaning business, seems to have a marketing problem: the very audience usually drawn to tales of spunky women overcoming adversity through ingenuity and, well, spunk shares little ground with that which craves many, many scenes of people sopping up gore and viscera with a hazmat suit on. Try that one on, marketing department. Amy Adams, whom everyone has come to love is, as ever, lovable as the sensible, if not that sensible, sister (the way she strips her face completely naked to emotion is really affecting), and Emily Blunt continues in her bid to become the American Rachel Griffiths (aim medium high, sister!), and Steve Zahn and Clifton Collins are around to provide some color. Plus, Alan Arkin (again playing the irascibly-lovable grandpa figure) is always a plus, even if he can play this role in his sleep. I dunno, the movie’s fine for what it is- an updatedly ‘edgy’ version of what, in the 40s, would have been termed a ‘womens picture’, except there it was Claudette Colbert up to her apron in flour trying to make ends meet, whereas we get Amy Adams up to her pathogen-safe facemask in human goo. Um, progress?
Duplicity: “Julia Roberts and Clive Owen play a pair of corporate spies, who may be actual spies, spying on each other on behalf of their super-secret spy agencies. And then they fall in love and start spying on their own spies and…well, there’s a lot of spying going on. I have a lot of trouble getting myself to watch a Julia Roberts movie; I don’t dislike her (she’s actually kinda endearing), but, no matter the performance, I just can’t stop picturing her on Oprah talking about how much fun the movie was to make while her costar shifts in his seat uncomfortably. Maybe that’s just me. I’ll probably check this one out, though because one- Clive Owen’s definitely a cool dude, and two- it was directed by Tony Gilroy who showed such a sure, controlled directing hand with Michael Clayton.”
Trouble the Water: “One of the benefits of the digital video phenomenon is the ability of people with very little money to make something good-looking enough to ensure a film deal. Sure, in a lot of cases that means we get 80 minutes of pasty twenty-somethings with no real problems mumbling to each other about how they ‘kinda like that girl…or whatever’, but it also means that, with a cheap camera, some ingenuity, and a whole lot of righteous indignation, we get something like Trouble the Water a moving, shocking, and heartfelt examination of the Hurricane Katrina disaster as it rises all around one New Orleans couple. Kim and Scott Roberts were an ordinary poor couple when the storm hit, and her footage of their low-income neighborhood being swallowed up by the rising waters is breathtakingly chilling, but it’s the aftermath, when the waters receded, leaving a hellish, ruined landscape behind and the bureaucratic government response began, that the film picks up its head of indignant steam. Following the couple, and their city, as they try to move on, clean up, and reassess their place in America is deeply compelling. This and Spike Lee’s epic When the Levees Broke make for an essential double feature on this uniquely American disaster.”
Also this week: The Informers (Mickey Rourke, Billy Bob Thronton and others wander in a sunny, coked out haze in this adaptation of another of Bret Easton Ellis’ 80s tales of bleary misogyny), Fighting (it’s about fighting!), and Landscape #2 (dimwitted thieves unwittingly bring up Nazi secrets when they steal the wrong painting in Slovenia).