Reviews

Adventureland

A hugely enjoyable blend of humor and agony that captures the confused, painful, but open-ended state of late adolescence.


Adventureland

Director: Greg Mottola
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Martin Starr
Distributor: Miramax
Extras: 5
Studio: Miramax
US Release Date: 2009-08-25

Perhaps Adventureland’s middling box office performance will be a blessing in disguise. That the film wasn’t a blockbuster further illuminates its hidden gem status, the kind that’s often pegged to low-budget comedic/melancholic coming-of-age films. If it was popular, its success might overshadow its personality.

As it is, Adventureland features complex characters in complicated relationships but in a very accessible scenario that makes the film easily relatable and seemingly allows it to say different things to different audiences. Nostalgic remembrance of the follies of youth, the disrespect of minimum wage, learning your parents aren’t saints but aren’t villains either, the murkiness of infidelity, the fruitless pursuit of higher education – Adventureland has it all.

Serving as a quasi-memoir for writer/director Greg Mottola, Adventureland chronicles the first summer after college graduation for James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg). A graduate from Oberlin College with a degree in Comparative Literature and Renaissance Studies, James plans to attend Columbia grad school in the fall. But when he returns home, his dad has been moved to a new job and taken a severe pay cut (the film is set in 1987, so there are no direct parallels to the current economic climate) and James is forced to look for a summer job to help with tuition.

A quick survey of jobs in his Pittsburgh suburb brings him to the realization that he’s “not even qualified for manual labor”. Reluctantly, he takes a minimum wage job at the local amusement park, Adventureland. Relegated to working the electronic horse racing game, he meets a variety of similarly diffident co-workers that includes the world-weary Joel (Martin Starr), the alluring Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva) and the intriguing, confused Em (Kristen Stewart).

James’ time at the park adopts a quaint sense of comfort in its united hopelessness, but there’s still the prospect of purgatory lingering at the start of every morning. The film’s pacing is slow but confident, allowing events to unfold in a relaxed, novelistic way. The structure is appropriate for the literate dialogue and easy-going summer vibe inherent to the amusement park atmosphere.

Adventureland’s multi-faceted characters are its strongest suit and the film incorporates some disarmingly intense moments; in particular two standout scenes where Kristen Stewart (in a very impressive performance) plays her scenes fiery when they could have been maudlin. It’s also admirable how many conflicts remain unresolved – they may get addressed but they don’t receive easy closure. Adventureland isn’t afraid to portray the messy imperfections of real life but doesn’t make you feel glum about them, either.

The marketing for the theatrical release chose to focus on the film’s occasionally bawdy humor. Yes, there is a sequence that contains boner, vomit and urine jokes within a span of five minutes but these moments don’t define the film. Adventureland is profane but it is so in an early 20s-year-old way, not an exaggerated way. The film’s spirit is youthful but its soul is wise.

Filmmaker Greg Mottola cut his teeth directing television shows like Undeclared and Arrested Development before directing the smash hit Superbad. The success of that considerably raunchier film helped him receive funding for Adventureland, a screenplay he’d been developing for several years inspired by his own summer job experience at an amusement park in Long Island. Miramax emphasized its surface-level similarities to Superbad in the marketing while underplaying the film’s contemplative wistfulness.

The DVD packaging indicates they haven’t revised their approach for home video as the cover proudly states “Unrated Bonus Features”. I guess this refers to the occasional swear word uttered in the audio commentary by Mottola and lead star Jesse Eisenberg, because there certainly isn’t anything racy about the featurette or deleted scenes.

Just My Life: The Making of Adventureland runs 16-minutes and features Mottola comparing the film to his real life and discussing casting choices. He also discusses the struggle to find an amusement park that hadn’t been too modernized to pass for 1987 and mentions that Kennywood in Pennsylvania, the real operating amusement park they filmed on, is one of only two amusement parks in the national registry of historic places. Considering the film’s free form structure, one might expect a wealth of juicy deleted scenes, but sadly the three scenes included on the DVD barely run three minutes and only offer an additional joke or two.

The audio commentary features a witty rapport between Eisenberg and Mottola, who advises early on “you’re not getting the Martin Scorsese insight into filmmaking.” Instead they make a lot of high-culture jokes about Carl Jung, Charles Dickens and Swedish literature; although they refrain from describing the film as a Bildungsroman. Eisenberg and Mottola occasionally struggle when trying to keep the track professional but do offer some interesting production stories. For example, SNL members Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig who play the park managers were only able to shoot for four days on the film.

Much of the track is dedicated to discussing the music choices and clearly the film’s soundtrack is incredibly important to Mottola -- it boasts an impressive 41 songs from the '80s and the '60s. You get Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” but it’s not a kitsch-fest, there’s also two Velvet Underground songs, a lesser-known Rolling Stones track, and even room for an original score by Yo La Tengo.

I think the film has perfect bookending songs with The Replacements “Bastards of Young” beginning the film and INXS’ “Don’t Change” concluding it. Mottola reveals that the Replacements song was written into the script – as many of them were – and that he only received the money for INXS at the 11th hour of post-production. Mottola has a Cameron Crowe-esque understanding of music and the awesomeness of the music used here is second only to the film’s characters.

Unassuming and naturalistic, Adventureland has a remarkable sense of pathos for a young adult comedy. But its appealing ensemble, pitch-perfect soundtrack, and controlled filmmaking help the tougher moments go down smoothly. It’s a hugely enjoyable blend of humor and agony that captures the confused, painful, but open-ended state of late adolescence. You’ll never look at a Six Flags employee the same way again.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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