Film (with rating): Adventureland (R)

Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Summary: When James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has to cancel his summer vacation in order to make money for graduate school, his lack of on-the-job experience means he’s only qualified to run a game booth a the kitschy amusement park, Adventureland. But in the middle of his boredom, he meets some unique people like Em (Kristen Stewart), and suddenly, his boring summer becomes one of the best ever.  

Review: From the packaging, “Adventureland” seems to be an amusement park-themed counterpart to the hilarious “Waiting,” also with Ryan Reynolds. But it’s not. “Adventureland” is actually a “Wonder Years” for the adult circuit, with some college-aged John Hughes flavor thrown in for good measure. It’s a coming-of-age comedy, a smart comedy that elicits laughs of recognition, not of hysteria.

 I was drawn to the film because, like James, I too spent some time after college making money for grad school working at an amusement park. And while the work itself didn’t challenge my upper-level education, it did allow me to meet some amazing people. I viewed those summers spent working on the rides as some of the best I’ve had, thanks to my coworkers. Plus, this movie is set in the 1980s, and I’m a sucker for all things ’80s, especially the music, which is in ample supply here. 

But even with my predisposition toward liking “Adventureland,” I was still surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did. It was an intelligent, heartfelt, character-driven film. It didn’t smack me over the head with nostalgia, stereotypes or comedy; it let me find all that on my own. Director Greg Mottola (“Superbad”) far surpassed my expectations for this film (especially since I hated “Superbad,” and yes, I’m very aware I am one of the few who did). Eisenberg was brilliant and multifaceted as the geeky yet irresistible James, and Stewart had some good moments as Em. But it was Eisenberg’s show all the way. His ability to weave dorky honesty and witty confidence together was brilliant.

I actually not only liked the characters, but I believed them, too. They weren’t portrayed as “stupid youth,” nor did they speak and act like sassy Hollywoodized twentysomethings. Everything felt honest, not forced. It’s rare a comedy will master that trick, but this one did.  In the shadow of John Hughes’ passing earlier this summer, “Adventureland” comes out on DVD at a great time. I for one loved this trip back into the ’80s, and my own days of asking “how many in your party?”  

Extra highlight: “Just my Life: The Making of Adventureland”

What to serve for dinner: Theme-park food–corn dogs, roasted corn and funnel cake (

Corn Dogs

1 cup corn meal
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoon oil
1/2 tablespoon powder curry
1 small can cream corn
1/2 cup corn starch
8 regular franks
1 slightly beaten egg
8 Popsicle sticks

Be sure franks are dampened a bit, but not wet. Mix all ingredients together, including egg, creamed corn, and oil. Add buttermilk a little at a time until it is at the right consistency (almost like a cake batter). Set aside for a few minutes allowing baking powder to rise. Place cornstarch in a flat dish. Push Popsicle sticks into franks and roll then in the corn starch, shake off extra, then coat with the batter. Heat enough oil in a pan to cook four dogs at a time. Cook to the degree of brownness you desire.

Roasted Corn    

Remove outer husk. Turn back inner husks, remove silks. Replace inner husks. Place on grill. Turn often. Roast 12 to 15 minutes. Husks will brown, but corn will be delicious. Serve corn on cob with butter, salt, and pepper.

Funnel Cake

1 1/2 cups flour
2 eggs
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon mace (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

Combine all ingredients. Drop mixture through a large funnel into hot peanut or vegetable oil (365-375 degrees), swirling the mixture and frying until golden. Remove to paper towels using a slotted spoon. When cool, place in a clean paper bag and shake with confectioners’ sugar. Alternatively, drizzle with syrup or honey just before serving.

What to talk about over dinner: What was your job after college or during college? What was the lamest job you’ve ever had? The worst? Did you ever have a job that seemed really boring until you got to know your coworkers? What lessons did those summer jobs teach you? Have you ever met people like those in “Adventureland?” What do you think of the 1980s? What was your favorite song from back in the day? Have you ever dated anyone from work? Why or why not? If given the chance and the money, would you again work at a no-brainer job just so you could have some fun without all the office politics? Why or why not?

I Love You, Man

Film (with rating): I Love You, Man (R)

Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment

Summary: A lovable, yet awkward, groom-to-be Peter (Paul Rudd) discovers he has no one to serve as his best man and embarks on a search to find one. That’s when he meets his polar opposite (Jason Segal) and somehow, they click. Hysterically.

Review: Who cares about romantic comedies? It’s all about the bromantic comedies now, my friends! “I Love You, Man” is just the ticket. Director John Hamburg could have easily made this flick into nothing more than one giant fart-and-genital joke, but instead, he created a funny, smart, slightly touching comedy. With a few fart and genital jokes thrown in for good measure. It’s an ideal balance of endearing and naughty, never tipping over to one side.  Rudd, as he was in “Knocked Up,” is brilliant. He plays metrosexual, girls’-best-friend Peter perfectly without being irritating or unbelievable.

Yet it’s Segal who steals the show. I love him in the television series “How I Met Your Mother,” and laughed myself tearful watching him in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” His comedic timing mixed with his physical comedy skills once again light up the screen. Segal’s ability to deliver deadpan one-liners is classic. He may not be the sensitive guy in this film as he has been in others, but Segal still comes through without a hitch. If you find yourself getting a bit bored by the slightly slow buildup of “Love,” hang in there. Once Segal hits the screen, there’s no turning back, and it’s well worth the wait. The chemistry between Segal and Rudd, mixed with their individual characters and acting styles, makes this movie work big time.

Extra highlight: The gag reel, of course.

What to serve for dinner: Honor Peter here with a nice bottle of wine and a summer salad, such as a dill veggie tuna salad (

1/2 cup small pasta shells, uncooked
1 (6 ounce) can water-packed tuna, drained and flaked
1 large tomato, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 stalks celery, chopped
6 tablespoons ranch dressing
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Fill a pot with lightly salted water and bring to a rolling boil. Once the water is boiling, stir in the shell pasta, and return to a boil. Cook the pasta uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the pasta has cooked through, about 13 minutes. Drain well in a colander set in the sink, and chill by rinsing with cold water. Combine the cooled pasta, tuna, tomato, cucumber, red bell pepper, green onions, and celery in a salad bowl, and toss lightly to mix. Stir in the ranch dressing and dill, cover, and refrigerate until chilled, at least one hour.

What to talk about over dinner: Who do women prefer, the guy with girl friends, or the guy with girlfriends? Do nice guys finish last? If you’re a guy, do you have guy friends? What would you do to find a friend? Have you ever had a bromance? Is it OK for women to have close friends, but not men? What was your most romantic evening?  What do you think of “Chocolat?” Do you have friends who are your polar opposites? What makes the friendship work? What is your favorite “How I Met Your Mother” episode? “Slapsgiving” anyone?

17 Again

Film (with rating): 17 Again (PG-13)

Studio:  Warner Home Video

Summary: Nearly 40-year-old Mike O’Donnell realizes his job stinks, his kids resent him and his marriage to his high-school sweetheart is over. But he’s given another chance at life when he’s miraculously transformed back to the age of 17, but in the present day and with the outlook of a thirtysomething husband and father.

Review: I’m too old to be a fan of “High School Musical” (any of them. What are we up to now in that franchise? Twelve?) or its bubble-gum star Zac Efron. I knew the audience the movie studio shot for when releasing this film, and I’m about 25 years past the edge of that marker. Yet when I watched “17 Again,” I was pleasantly surprised, not just with the story, but with Efron. He’s not nearly as tweener cheesy as I feared. He’s got a likeable charm about him, and he’s easy on the eyes to boot. Plus, his comedic timing was admirable. The film’s plot, while on the surface sounds completely recycled (“Big,” “13 Going on 30,” “Freaky Friday”) actually added a few twists, characters and unique subplots to keep the story reasonably fresh. The movie is slow to show its real flavor, but once it gets going, it does so quite well. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a great movie, but it was enjoyable and cute. I loved the scenes featuring Ned, portrayed beautifully by hysterically funny Thomas Lennon of “Reno 911″ fame. The man is a comedy genius, and he holds nothing back here. Matthew Perry, who plays the grown up Mike, is rather bland, but I think that was the point. And Efron, as both Young Mike from 1989 and Young Mike Today, holds his own both in the funny and more serious moments. No, “17” not my favorite film of the year, not by a longshot. But it’s a pleasant romp that you can watch with your own tweeners, both enjoying it for different reasons.

Extra highlight: “Going Back to 17″ for you, and “Zac’s Dance Flashback” for your tweener daughter.

What to serve for dinner: What was your favorite food as a teen? I’m thinking pizza, mac and cheese, hamburgers. Let’s update those cravings with some adult flare. Serve up caramelized-onion and gorgonzola grilled pizza (“Gourmet,” June 2008). Add a mixed-green salad, garlic bread and red wine.

    * 6 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
    * 1 1/4 pound onions (two large), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
    * 14 to 16 ounce pizza dough, thawed if frozen
    * 1/4 pound Gorgonzola dolce, crumbled (1 cup)
    * 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
    * 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat 1/4 cup oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-low heat until it shimmers, then cook onions with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper, covered, stirring occasionally, until golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and keep warm, covered.

Prepare a grill for direct-heat cooking over low charcoal (medium heat for gas). Stretch dough into a roughly 12- by 10-inch rectangle on a large baking sheet and brush with one tbsp. oil. Bring dough, onions, cheese, nuts, parsley, and remaining oil to grill area.

Oil grill rack, then put dough, oiled side down, on grill and brush top with remaining oil. Grill, covered, until underside is golden brown, 1 1/2 to 3 minutes.

Using tongs, return crust to baking sheet, turning crust over (grilled side up). Sprinkle evenly with onions, cheese, nuts, and parsley. Slide pizza from sheet onto grill and grill, covered, until underside is golden brown and cheese is partially melted, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into pieces.

What to talk about over dinner: What were you like in high school? Would you ever want to be 17 again? Why or why not? What are the perks? The downside? What mistakes from your past would you want to rewrite? What did you do well in high school that shaped who you are today? What were your favorite parts of high school? The most hated parts? When was your life most golden? Who was the Zac Efron of our tween years? Compare this movie to other middle-age-life-swap flicks. How does it measure up?

John Hughes Retrospective

Fine Arts LA Sixteen Candles

Films: John Hughes Restrospective: “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Christmas Vacation”

Summary: Everyone forgets Samantha Baker’s “Sweet Sixteen” birthday, five high school students from all walks of life spend an entire Saturday sharing their secrets in detention, a precocious high schooler spends one glorious day playing hookey with his friends, and Clark Griswold does his best to have an old fashioned family Christmas complete with all the festivities and dysfunction the season offers.  

Review: With the passing of legendary 1980s screenwriter John Hughes this week at the age of 59 from an apparent heart attack, I scrapped my planned column and opted to do something a bit out of the ordinary in tribute to on of my teen idols. My formative years simply would not have been the same without the impact and influence of Hughes and all of his memorable, realistic and enviable characters.

While Hughes was also a director and producer, his real gift was his writing. Through the magic of his words, Hughes made characters like Ferris and Sam and Clark come alive. The writing, especially in those films featuring the “Brat Pack,” sparked much of the lingo I used throughout high school. Hughes also shot such 1980s’ stars as Molly Ringwald, Emilio Esteves, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall and Judd Nelson to household-name status.

Watching those actors back in their own youthful years transports me immediately to summers at the beach with my friends, hours spend trying to perfect the amazing Molly Ringwald fashion look I coveted, endless fantasies and gossip sessions about the ideal boyfriend known as Jake Ryan (played by the yummy Michael Schoeffling, who is now building furniture in Pennsylvania). The ending of “Sixteen Candles” is still my all-time favorite conclusion of any movie. Hands down. As a teen, I must have watched my VHS tape of that movie a hundred times, never once tiring of it. I dreamed of having a play day with friends like Ferris, and I so wanted detention to be as cool as that featured in “Breakfast.” And the soundtracks! Instant happy music.

“Christmas” is another movie I never, ever tire of watching again and again. I can quote much of the film’s impeccable banter and one-liners with pride, and I know I’m not the only viewer out there who has holiday memories that are more than a little bit similar to those had by the Griswolds. It’s a holiday tradition in my family to watch “Christmas” every Thanksgiving night to ring in the holiday season. Some families may enjoy “A Christmas Carol” or something else traditional, but to me, there’s nothing more festive than Randy Quaid emptying his chemical toilet into the street sewer.  

There are so many other Hughes films I could also recommend, but the weekend, alas, is short and so I’m giving you my top four choices. John Hughes was a legend, and his passing leaves a gaping hole. For all of you babies of the 1980s out there, our youth is now officially over. But we’ll always have the memories. Thanks, John.  

Extra highlight: Instead of watching any extras tonight, just call up the soundtracks on your iPod and rock out to the tunes of David Bowie, Spandau Ballet and Billy Idol. Toss in a “Danke Schoen” and “Mele Kalikimaka” for variety.

What to serve for dinner: It’s 80s’ night, folks. Order what you would have as a teen: pizza. Lots of pizza. And beer. And pretzels.

What to talk about over dinner: What is your favorite John Hughes movie? Who was your favorite Hughes character? Favorite ending? What movies and characters influenced you the most during your younger years? Why? Whose fashion sense did you try to copy (thanks Molly Ringwald!)? Who adored Judd Nelson’s bad-guy image? Is there a “Brat Pack” today? Who, or why not? What 1980s’ movie has the best soundtrack? See who can spout off the most John Hughes quotes. Admit it: who had a crush on Farmer Ted? And who cried when Cameron’s dad’s car bit the dust? Who thought Mrs. Griswold was a hottie? How many boys did you go out with in high school who tanked just because you compared them to Jake Ryan? (Or am I just airing my own teen dysfunction here?) Can you name what films Hughes appeared in? What about Hughes’ later films, like “Drillbit Taylor?” Like, or not? When you run out of things to say, just raise a glass to John Hughes. In the words of Ferris, “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”