Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It's Time for a Little "Adventureland"

I walked into the Springfield 8 movie theater in Springfield, MO expecting a campy 80s comedy about the ever-so-difficult life of high schoolers working at an amusement park; I walked out with a smile on my face after seeing an actual movie with a plot and everything! Adventureland stars Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart and was written and directed by Greg Mottola of Superbad fame. I was pleasantly surprised to find this movie is actually a substance comedy that has just enough melodrama to keep the audience entertained and interested in the story.

James Brennan (Eisenberg) is a recent college graduate looking for any job that will hire him who ends up working for a local fun park. One downfall is the fact that he was a poetry major, a character trait that doesn’t quite fit into his 1987 Pittsburgh upbringing. Another personality setback is how similar James is to actor Michael Cera in his last three movies. It seems obvious that Mottola wanted Cera for this movie, so making the lead character resemble Cera was his next best option. Eisenberg brings a slightly different flavor to the film, but nothing that makes him stand out. The same goes for Stewart, whose character Emily is remarkably parallel to Bella, the character she played in Twilight. Technically, I guess Bella would be like Emily snce Adventureland came first, but still... While Stewart does have a solid handle on her character’s teen angst (even though she is portraying a 20-year-old), she doesn’t show much growth even with her world being turned upside down around her. One standout performance comes from Matt Bush, whose character Frigo is the perfect reminder of the annoying semi-bully that we all loved and hated in school but couldn’t get away. I smile every time I see him in an AT&T commercial... (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuu3jdmXQ4Y)

I am a big fan of the 80s, and I love that this film wasn’t made to be an “80s movie.” It was simply a film set in 1987, and the lingo, costumes and music compliment perfectly.

There is a lot of drug use portrayed in this movie, but nothing graphic. One completely unrealistic element of the film is how much free time these kids have at work. Smoking and drinking are all done on the clock, yet magically no one notices. The storyline is solid, but the characters neither act their age nor react believably to some of the adult situations they find themselves in. This movie would be better if all the characters were high school grads, not college, and if the relationship between the main characters was further established before hearts are broken over what seems like a trivial matter. That being said, my rating for this movie is good – IF YOU ARE UNDER 30 AND WANT A FUN MOVIE WITH A LIGHT PLOT, AT THE VERY LEAST WATCH THIS ON DVD. Adventureland is rated "R".  You can purchase Adventureland on DVD or Adventureland [Blu-ray] from Amazon.com. 

Music, Magic, and Fun!

Let’s take a look at another entertainment option in the Live Show Capital of the World. Located at 3090 Shepherd of the Hills Expressway in Branson, MO is the Hamner Barber Variety Show, an Ed Sullivan-style variety show full of magic, comedy, music and ventriloquism. The show begins with a comedic look at how magician Dave Hamner and comedian Jim Barber got their starts, then falls into a series of magic tricks performed by Hamner and his wife Denise. I enjoy magic shows because I love to be surprised and amazed, but unfortunately my seat on the far end of a center aisle exposed me to a few behind-the-scenes glimpses of how birds appeared and disappeared, plus gave away one of the neatest entrances by Barber in his classic “Austin Powers” costume. Barber’s ventriloquism is hilarious, even if his character voices sound remarkably similar. Two of the best segments are a Les Miserables duet with Barber and one of his characters where Barber engages in a tug-of-war match with an audience member over a baby, and his version of “Ventriloquist Karaoke” where Barber provides the voices for two unsuspecting male audience members as they sing a hit by The Supremes. Absolutely hilarious.

The illusions in this show are powerful, and the music and choreography leading up to each trick really heightens the excitement. Unfortunately, in their effort to keep the show fast-paced by alternating an illusion with a comedy bit, the Hamner Barber show actually make it more difficult to keep momentum, so the beginning of each new segment feels sluggish and a lot of the dramatic effects were lost. However, one magic trick that should not be missed is their multimedia tribute to veterans, an illusion over three years in the making.

The Hamner Barber Variety Show is a great show for families no matter the age of your children. My rating for this show – GRAB A FEW KIDS, PACK UP THE CAR, AND MAKE A NIGHT OF IT WITH THIS FUN SHOW!

This show runs at 3 pm on Sundays and 8 pm Tuesday – Saturday through mid-December. Located in the Hamner Barber Theater, tickets are $29 for adults, $16 for teenagers age 13 – 17, and $8 for kids age 4 – 12. They also have a group rate for groups of 15 or more. Reservations can be made by calling 1-888-335-2080 or by visiting their website.

Music, Dancing, and Apparently Some "Spirit"

If you like music and lots of dancing with tons of variety,“Spirit of the Dance”, showing at the Branson Variety Theater in Branson, MO, may be the one for you. But I wouldn't hold your breath...

I went into this show with anticipation of crisp Irish step-dancing, beautiful costumes, and lots of energy. I was highly disappointed. The show began with step-dancing that may or may not have been considered Irish, and within thirty seconds disappointment had set in. There were no taps on the dancers’ shoes, and all the sounds their shoes should have been making were pre-recorded and played over the sound system! Even the singing was canned, although the actors nearly pulled the wool over my eyes a few times with their perfectly executed breathing and lip-syncing. I was excited to see that several different types and styles of dance were included in the show, which was also beneficial for the cast as very few of them looked like actual trained Irish step-dancers. While it is accepted that the more dancers you have the less synchronized the group looks, there were several big mistakes made by a few individuals of the large dance troupe. Don’t get me wrong, these guys were having fun, and it was evident. Wide eyes and big smiles were on everyone’s faces, and the camaraderie between the cast members grouped with their ability to involve the audience made the above mentioned transgressions forgivable. Some of them, at least. I especially enjoyed watching Mark Hobson-Middleton, who, despite his height, is incredibly coordinated and exceptionally versatile. It is obvious most members of the cast enjoy being on stage with him, and his welcoming expressions and ear-to-ear grin make him a pleasure to watch.

The costumes on the ladies were tasteful and elegant, while the striped shirt with glitter outlines that the men wore looked very homemade. The overall set was very basic but effective, but technically this show was beautiful. My compliments to the show’s technical director, Kevin Vandeutekom, for a fantastic use of color, shading, fog, and effects. The lighting set the mood for every song, and really enhanced the overall experience of each set of dances.

Overall this show was a crowd pleaser and is worth seeing – if you are already in Branson and don’t have other plans. My rating – UNLESS YOU HAVE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING BETTER TO DO, SKIP THIS SHOW!

The Branson Variety Theater is located at 2701 W. Highway 76 in Branson. Show times vary per season, so check the theatre's website for more details. Tickets are $33 per adult, and child pricing varies by season. You can order tickets by calling 1-888-462-7267, or by visiting their website.

The Who, What, When, Where, and Why of Entertainment!

It’s time to welcome a new blog to the world of... well, bloggers. My name is Stephanie and I am here for what will surely become the most exciting part of your online experience – Entertainment Reviews! I’ll review movies, plays, live shows, musical acts and more in an effort to help you make a better decision about where to spend your hard-earned dollar in your search for fun. While I am located in the Southwest Missouri area, my reviews are useful nationwide, as some entertainment knows no boundaries! (That's not always a good thing...)

I encourage you to comment, follow, and join me in my quest to find the perfect source of entertainment. I also love getting requests for reviews, so leave those too!

If you want to follow me in print (and let's be honest... who wouldn't?), you can always pick up a copy of the Nixa Xpress in Nixa, MO, or visit the Christian County Sun online at http://www.chirstiancountysun.com/.

Oh, and a little about me... I'm am the Owner and Entertainment Director of The Ashwood Entertainment Group, an entertainment and events planning company in Springfield, MO. I've been scouting and booking entertainers for over eight years, and I've also worked in numerous theaters in the Southwest MO area. I have seen my fair share of good, great, and mediocre talent, and I look forward to sharing my experiences with you. Thanks for reading!