September 6, 2010

A spate of spectacular reviews

Let the media frenzy begin...
  • Adventureland - Man, very little annoys me more about a movie than when the trailer promises a movie that isn't remotely the movie that actually shows up.  Catch Me If You Can and The Informant  both racked me off in that way, and Adventureland has all the stink of another bait-and-switch all over it.  Stupid trailer.

    All that's sort of beside the point, however, as Adventureland is actually a pretty good film.  The set-up is that our awkward main character has just graduated college and is headed to Columbia (in NYC) for grad school after the summer in Europe.  Family finances, however, butt in and take away Europe and force James to work at the local amusement park, Adventureland, for the summer.  There he meets and falls hard for Em while being too early-twenties to take things straight forward.  Missteps and very little comedy ensue.  Instead, it's a nicely touching - if a drastically slow - tale of a young man who finds himself in his first real relationship - this one with a girl who's a little too damaged to accept that relationship easily. 

    The movie is painfully slow at times, and James is painfully awkward, but it feels very honest and real.  The characters are nicely three-dimensional, and Ryan Reynolds plays one of the forces of change with a very casual, studly grace.  The feeling of not knowing how to move a relationship forward, of not knowing whether she wants you to hold her hand or whether she's just standing there watching the fireworks resonated strongly with me, and I'm so happy that I'm not in that position, at that age anymore.

    Give this one the time to grow on you but don't go in expecting a laugh riot.

  • Hot Tub Time Machine - This flick, on the other hand, has absolutely nothing to hide.  The is the comedy version of Snakes on a Plane.  It has the stupid, self-referential catchphrase - "this must be some kind of hot tub time machine" - and the over the top style but with way more intentional comedy.  In fact, the tale of three former best friends going back twenty-years in time to what turned out to be a turning point weekend is hilarious from start to finish.  There's nothing cerebral in the least here, not a single lick of anything but over the top, self-aware comedy (one of the characters refers to Chevy Chase as - I'm paraphrasing here - the mystical sage of time travel who's just going to give them cryptic but important clues.)  Heck, there's even the requisite fading in and out of one character whose very existence

    It's a strong recommendation and one that you won't need to turn a single brain cell on to enjoy.

  • The Death and Life of the Great American School System - Caught the author - former undersecretary of education under George HW Bush, Diane Ravitch - on NPR a while back.  She was talking about this, her new book in which she publicly refutes the movement of testing, accountability, and school choice at the expense of the earlier curricular design movement - of both of which she was an outspoken proponent in their times.  Sadly, the book was too boring for me to even make it through more than the first two chapters.  I appreciate the sentiments - check NPR's book review for a decent summary and excerpt, but I simply cannot take any brain cells to focus on why the testing movement - as exemplified by No Child Left Behind - is a bad thing even though I believe it is.  I just don't have the effort to waste on that when I'm teaching in a school that is about nothing but those very tests.  Our success or failure as a school and a district is measured on nothing but three weeks of tests given in the spring, summer, and fall.  Much as that fact displeases me, it is my reality, and I have no time for discussions of why the testing movement actually isn't improving schools in America. 

    If you're not intimately involved in the morass, you might enjoy the book.

  • All-Star Superman vol 1 & 2 - I reviewed the first volume a couple of years back and wasn't impressed.  I gave the two volumes another read through recently and have to thoroughly recant everything that I said about them.  This is a nearly perfect Superman story.  These are the pinnacle of Superman stories.  It takes the archetype of Superman, strips away all of the unnecessary, and leaves us with pure, distilled Superman at his finest.  Yeah, he's flying into the sun.  Yeah, he's bashing bad guys.  Yeah, he's flying Lois around.  But he's the greatest hero, and rarely has a more perfect story of him been told.  If you find anyone who doesn't get why Superman is awesome - and it's easy to think that he's not because he's just some ultimately-powerful do-gooder whose stories pretty much end up with him bashing something with brute strength, give them these two copies and look for their reactions.  If they get it, if they understand the perfection that is Superman by the end of these volumes, keep them as a friend.  If they still don't get it, abandon hope all ye who friend here because they're dumb.

    Marvelous, outstanding, glorious stuff here.  This one's a strong add to the starter comic book series list.

  • Songs of the Civil War -I wouldn't have guessed that I've enjoyed this album as much as I did, but there are a lot of quality songs here.  They're modern recordings of songs that would've been popular during the 1860s: Yellow Rose of Texas, I'm a Good Old Rebel, When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again, Run, Mourner, Run - my favorites.  I really enjoyed this one, though I'll warn that it'll be a little country and folks for some tastes.
  • If I Should Fall From Grace of God - The Pogues' third album came my way with me thinking it was a greatest hits compilation.  I knew so many of the titles of these songs and hadn't done my homework, so I thought that one of the only two Pogues cds that PLCH had would have to have been a greatest hits cd.  Wrong, this was the third album that the band released and - according to - the last great album that they made before Shane McGowan's drinking derailed the band's creative awesome.  Bunches of great songs here - though I'd take Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash as a greater collective album.  This is, however, the epitome of modern, drunken, Celtic punk music but with the band stretching out to include Spanish and other world music rhythms from track to track.  It's a hell of a lot of fun.  Check out some of the songs online.  I'll leave you today with the best of them...with some awful lip synching on Top of the Pops...


Ame said...

I was as debating reading the school book, but I feel the same as you. I hate it, but schools live and die by the test and we have to accept that at this time. FYI, Indiana is currently trying to base your salary decision on 51% student test scores.

PHSChemGuy said...

It might be a good book, but it's pointless for the grunts on the front line.

What do you mean "your salary decision"? Gimme details, would ya?

Katydid said...

Remember, movie marketing isn't about what you actually want, it's what studios think you want. If a film's plot can't be described in a sentence or two, most studios simply won't finance it. That being said, I really liked "Adventureland," despite the fact that its marketing was horribly off.

Oh, Shane McGowan, making a case for prohibition simply with your knocked out teeth. Kirsty MacColl from the video did some great solo stuff as well, you'd probably enjoy it.

PHSChemGuy said...

I know movie marketing is all about getting me into the theater, and this one did a pretty good job. I was certainly interested in seeing this movie just hadn't gotten around to it until now, but I wonder if giving a bait and switch like this doesn't hurt a movie's long-term profit potential as it may lead to a bigger first weekend but a quicker drop-off as people realize it's not what was promised to them.