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The Land of Opportunity

The Land of Opportunity (photo)

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To college students graduating into the nightmare of the current job market, the floating, companionable uncertainty of “Adventureland” must look very agreeable. Greg Mottola’s gentle comedy is set mostly in a Pittsburgh amusement park during the summer of 1987. The hero, James (Jesse Eisenberg), was expecting to spend the season traveling around Europe. But money troubles at home make it impossible for his parents (hangdog Jack Gilpin and Wendie Malick, with her bruised brightness) to finance the trip they’ve promised him. Even his place at Columbia Journalism School in the fall is uncertain.

Mottola, whose last film was the mostly marvelous teen comedy “Superbad,” has a knack for capturing the way time stretches out in post-college limbo, and for the camaraderie to be found in lousy summer jobs, the sense that you and your coworkers are all in this bitch together. James befriends Joel (Martin Starr), a lanky, awkward student whose specialty is Russian lit but whose eyeglasses might have belonged to James Joyce, and Connell (Ryan Reynolds) a would-be musician who works as the park’s maintenance man when he’s not talking up his plans of moving to L.A. or pursuing the young girl who’ll be his summer affair.

Mottola is too compassionate a director to deride his characters for their pretensions and failings. Reynolds, who has always seemed the definition of callow, here shows an adult awareness in his baby features. And Starr’s Joel is such a fundamentally decent guy that he achieves a kind of gangling dignity. Mottola is kind, too, to Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as the park’s married managers, such a pair of perfectly matched oddballs that you can imagine them happily finishing each other’s sentences when they’re 80. And his benevolence extends to the resident hottie (Margarita Levieva) — you believe her when she asks James to take her out because she’d like to be with a nice guy for a change. And when she doesn’t get one of James’ references, Mottola is smart enough to put the joke on the guy showing off his book collection rather than the girl asking, huh?

Skinny and shaggy-haired, and with a nose that might make him Paul Westerberg’s runt brother, James is the kind of terribly self-conscious guy who seems to have formed his ideas of what girls find charming from Woody Allen movies. He’s a post-feminist kid who sees male behavior divided into two possibilities: his own kind of shambling sincerity (he insists on telling girls he’s just had his heart broken, or that he’s a virgin) or the kind of macho cool that he can’t affect and which repulses him.

04012009_adventureland2.jpgIn some basic way, we feel less for James than we do for Kristin Stewart as Em, the co-worker whose courtship dance with James provides the heart of the movie. Based on “Adventureland” and “Twilight,” Stewart might not have a huge range, but there’s something very satisfying about the tough fuck-you set of her features here. Because she suffers no fools elsewhere, we can be sure that Em’s tenderness towards James is genuine. (Mottola sticks Stewart with one bummer of a scene in which she publicly humiliates her stepmother. It’s too cruel: for a moment the movie veers into the idiot “grown-ups suck” ethos of John Hughes movies.) Stewart makes Em the kind of cool girl you’re happy to have in your gang.

“Adventureland” may be a letdown to the people looking for Mottola to repeat the raunchy boisterousness of “Superbad.” At times, it could use some of that dirt. I’ve already heard the quiet, observational tone of “Adventureland” used to deride “Superbad” as just another dumb teen-boy comedy. That isn’t just a drag — it suggests the kind of insularity “Adventureland” finally escapes.

There’s integrity in the way Mottola stays true to James’ tentative rhythms. But Eisenberg is such a recessive presence that the movie lacks dramatic tension. Eisenberg doesn’t have a false moment, and by the end of the movie, you’re on James’ side. But there’s a measure of perversity in staying true to a character who makes you want to shake him for so long, particularly because Mottola has succeeded in making the amusement park such an accepting place that the logical thing would be for James to flower. No movie I know has ever really gotten the particular way that the barriers of class and cliques fall down after high school and college. (The irony in this one is that the Reagan years are throwing those barriers back up stronger than ever.) Thrown together at Adventureland, this crew is happy hanging out after work grousing and drinking, or sneaking in pot cookies during a shift, or listening to the bands they feel cool for knowing. (It’s the time of The Replacements and Hüsker Dü, but James and Em have caught on to The Velvet Underground and Big Star, as well.)

What carries “Adventureland” beyond its frustrating hero is that it has the sweet, stoned good-naturedness of a quotidian idyll. Mottola is smart enough not to depict the world waiting beyond the park as all phoniness and corruption. This is what the mumblecore kids might be capable of if they had any notion of making movies for an audience.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.