©2009 Big Empire Industries and Randy Shandis Enterprises
Every right imaginable is reserved.


This week:

Filthy says:
"Mostly pretty fucking greats!"

Independent amusement parks, like drive-in theaters, are a dying phenomenon we're the last generation will enjoy. Sure, some kids in the year 2222 might be fascinated by the history, or enjoy them in some retro way. But otherwise, they're like Arthur Fonzarelli: they're importance in the world will go the grave with us. I'm not a nostalgic person and I don't like looking in the rearview mirror. Literally. That's how I cracked up the Ford Falcon, the Galaxie 500, and why I ride the bus nowadays.

Here in Denver, we used to have two independent amusement parks within a few miles of my home. Elitch Gardens was the bigger one with two wooden coasters: Mister Twister and the Wildcat. They also had a theater where Count Basie and Duke Ellington played. In the 90s, the park moved downtown and became a boring, antiseptic Six Flags. After the move, but before they redeveloped the old space the rides got overgrown with weeds and graffiti, the peaks of its rickety old coasters loomed over a semi-demolished ghost town. It was probably a great place to get gangrene.

We still have Lakeside, a 101-year-old park with a real steam-engine train, a 69-year-old coaster called the Cyclone, plus the Wild Chipmunk, the Rock-o-Planes and the Schlager Diskotheque. The Cyclone track lies over an abandoned mini-golf course whose tiny castle and tunnels are still there. It has mechanical brakes that require a worker to pull really hard on a lever to slow the coaster as it reaches the station. Once the cars are loaded, another worker releases a second lever to let the coaster roll out of the station.

One night, as Mrs. Filthy and I were boarding the Cyclone, one of the riders getting off told the crew they saw a big hole in the track. While we sat in the coast, a maintenance guy was summoned. He pulled out a flashlight, walked around a little bit, shrugged and said, "I didn't see anything." And away we went. The mystery added a little extra tension to the already scary ride.

I love Lakeside. I love how they slap new paint on the cracked and fading buildings every year, how the plant beds are lush and weed-free in May, and overgrown and dry by September. How the staff works hard to keep up with replacing the tubes they can on the custom-shaped art-deco 50s neon signs. It's cool how you can see one of the owners in the park at night, watching the kids running around and eating cotton candy. Mostly, though, I love how sweetly sad Lakeside is. It pretends it's not getting older, not dying out and not slowly becoming irrelevant. It's so happy to have customers driving the few go-karts that still run, or to find kids that don't think the Flying Dutchman is lame. You never wait more than ten minutes to go on the Cyclone, it costs $2.50 to get in and an ice cream cone is $1.50. I remember a night we went after a thunderstorm and about 50 of us had the entire park to ourselves. Every fall when it closes I hold my breath, hoping it'll reopen in the spring. That it won't be torn down and made into condos or a Wal-Mart. Every spring, it reopens with a few more bulbs burnt out, the snack stand looking a little shaggier and one fewer go-karts on the track. But it reopens.

I even like the indifferent teenagers working the rides in Kiddie Playland amid the overpowering smell of industrial grease, ozone and pee. I wonder where Lakeside falls in the heierarchy; is it a cooler or less cool job than McDonald's? Does it pay more or less than being a boxboy at King Sooper's? Would they hire me?

The really fucking good Adventureland takes place in 1987 around Pittsburgh in a park similar to Lakeside. Jesse Eisenberg is a guy just out of college looking to piss away his summer before heading of to some fancy graduate school in the fall. His parents have money trouble, though, and he's forced to find a job to finance his fancy education dreams. With no marketable skills whatsoever, Eisenberg lands at the amusement park, working in games. In the movie, manning the game booths is a lousy job compared to operating the rides. In reality, working the food booths is the shittiest work. Those guys would kill to work games even. I suspect, though, that a movie about a guy toiling over a deep fat fryer has no hope of being made. So, Adventureland is about a carnie. Eisenberg is surrounded by other dorky collegiate fuckups treading water at the amusement park. They know it, but some have a plan to escape and some don't. They spend their days mostly drinking and smoking pot.

Eisenberg is a virgin, he says by choice, and I think the movie wants us to believe that. He becomes smitten by Kristen Stewart, another carnie. She's secretly having an affair with the hunky and married maintenance man/rock star Ryan Reynolds. He's better looking than any of the dorks at the park, and cooler because he's jammed with Lou Reed.

The first hour or so of Adventureland, which is the slow unfolding of Stewart and Eisenberg's relationship, is pretty fucking great. To Stewart, Eisenberg is sweet and sincere, and a dork, while Reynolds is cool and grownup, but wrong. It's sort of like the choice between a big bowl of Captain Crunch and vermouth or Kashii for breakfast. You know which one's better for you, but you still can't resist the instant gratification. Eisenberg is in a role usually played by Michael Cera: the nerdy, unsure young man. Except, director/writer Greg Mottola doesn't leave him as annoyingly passive as these types of character usually are. In most of these "sweet" romantic comedies Cera/Colin Hanks sits around and gets shat upon until some script-formula-defined moment of revelation. Eisenberg isn't so passive, he actively expresses what he wants and pursues it, even if it is awkwardly.

This type of movie usually features a female lead who isn't like any real human. She is some lonely screenwriter's idealized version of the girl he never got. In Adventureland, Stewart is as fucked up as any of the men. She's mostly screwing Reynolds out of insecurity and low self-esteem. She has a self-loathing streak as wide as my shitstains after enchiladas at Santiago's. She likes Eisenberg, but would rather sabotage the relationship than disappoint him. And she's pretty sure she'll disappoint him.

The strongest part of Adventureland is Mottola's respect for his characters. Secondary characters look like they will fall into a formula, such as Margarita Levieva as the sexy, vacuous girl who bumps and grinds at the Music Express ride. When she asks out Eisenberg, I expected the usual: that he would lose his virginity to her, regret it and anger Stewart. That didn't happen, and Levieva proves to be more human than first impressions suggest. Similarly, Reynolds' Lothario mechanic isn't a typical smug asshole. He's a guy who knows that the kids working at the park will go somewhere while he's stuck, telling his increasingly irrelevant bullshit Lou Reed story to kids who are less and less interested. Rather than try to undermine Eisenberg's relationship with his mistress, he likes the kid enough to help him out. Mostly.

About 70 minutes in, I thought Adventureland might be damn near perfect. And then subtlety disappears as the plot machine takes over. What was patient and amusing about Adventureland becomes slightly forced and formulaic. Stewart and Eisenberg's romance falters on a corny misunderstanding, things are said that will be regretted, and everything gets patched up romantically and conventionally. Worse, the characters stop behaving like the unique individuals we're introduced to, and they start behaving more like pawns of the plot devices. It made me care a little less about the characters so beautifully developed, because they become more like pawns of the script devices.

The amusement park is a great setting for the movie. Like my beloved Lakeside, it's a semi-sad relic trying just to survive and keep its guests happy. It employs people who think a lot of themselves and who want to escape. While it may represent adventure for the guests, it means stagnant chore for the workers.

Setting the movie in 1987 doesn't make a whole lot of sense, other than maybe it helped Mottola place the events from his own life. But he seems to forget some details. Beers in the movie are pull-tabs, even though pull-tabs went out almost ten years earlier. When Reynolds wows girls with tales of jamming with Lou Reed it seems damn unlikely to me. By the late eighties, Reed was pretty irrelevant, and most teenage girls had never heard of him. The soundtrack is heavy on Velvet Underground and the Replacements. Both are fine bands, and both likely staples for the intellectual college crowd of the time. But they are also among the touchstones of Ira Kaplan from Yo La Tengo, the band who does Adventureland's music. While VU's Pale Blue Eyes is a pretty song, I wonder if the more contemporary and really fucking great and shambly REM cover that came out the year the movie is supposed to take place would have been better.

Overall, Adventureland is pretty fucking good. It's better written and deeper than I expected, and it feels pretty damn real and sincere up until it's last thirty minutes. I guess that's when Mottola was forced to wed his memory to Hollywood formula and deliver something the grassfuckers would understand. Four Fingers.

Want to tell Filthy Something?



Bryan Erdy of Movie Planet

Race to Witch Mountain is "an exciting thrill ride!"

Confessions of a Shopaholic is "The first feel-great film of the year. Laugh-out-loud funny! You will fall in love with Isla Fisher!!"

Filthy's Reading
W. R. Burnett - Underdog

Listening to
REM - Dead Letter Office


Best in Show