Action Point is out this week. Get your tickets here!
Like most landscapes, amusement parks change over time by taking on various stages of vibrancy, allure, and then eventual decay. As a kid, there’s something magical about theme parks. For example, the rush of feeling the wind blow through your hair on a fast ride, all the twinkling lights amongst the smell of popcorn and candy that permeates the air; and each attraction is whimsical in its own unique decor. As one grows up, these parks become more logistical where function supersedes fantasy and intrigue by introducing the concepts of time, space, and money which can all overshadow a sense of reckless fun otherwise experienced in more youthful years. Nonetheless, amusement parks serve as reminders of simpler times, a beacon of careless enjoyment and escapism that may otherwise be lost or corrupted with age.
A pro in reckless amusement, daredevil Johnny Knoxville’s upcoming comedy Action Point features real stunts while characters attempt to revive their risky theme park. To celebrate, here are five films that explore the spectrum of human emotion and experience ranging from excitement, fear, love, comedy, and responsibility (or lack thereof) all set in an otherwise jovial and nostalgic location. Grab some popcorn and enjoy.
Nothing captures the true sense of forced happiness like having to work in an amusement park as a young adult who would rather be frolicking around Europe on their parents’ dime and embracing every carnal pleasure possible. Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and The Whale) stars in this romantic comedy that perfectly captures the paradoxical challenge of trying to transition into adulthood despite slaving away in an environment aimed towards entertaining kids. However, being surrounded by games, rides, and a seemingly endless supply of weed helps the otherwise neurotic James (Eisenberg) to not only loosen up, but also pursue a relationship with his smart and mysterious coworker, Em (played by Kristen Stewart). Writer/Director Greg Mottola (Superbad) wisely chose to set the film in the summer of 1987; and therefore, the soundtrack contains nostalgia as sweet as cotton candy with songs from The Cure, Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, and The Replacements.
Carnival of Souls
In his novel Joyland, Stephen King states: “what’s a self-respecting amusement park without a ghost?” King knows that a supernatural component can add intrigue to any story, especially one revolving around an otherwise merry setting. Released in 1962, Carnival of Souls shines in its use of lighting, eerie organ score, and suspense reminiscent of Hitchcock. The film follows Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss), the lone survivor of a car crash who takes on a new job as an organist for the church. Writer/director Herk Harvey plays the main ghoul who haunts Mary as she tries to move on with her life, all while being lured to the abandoned theme park in her new town. This elegiac tale explores themes of paranoia, the afterlife, and female independence in a spellbinding manner that influenced such filmmakers as George Romero and David Lynch.
Beverly Hills Cop 3
Oh hell yes, I am listing the final film in the Axel Foley trilogy because sometimes one needs explosions, shoot-outs, and hilariously unrealistic yet heroic rescue sequences among the annoying costumed animals and bratty children that populate amusement parks. Eddie Murphy stars as the brazen Detroit cop on a mission to find his boss’ killer. His search takes him to Southern California’s “Wonder World” where he infiltrates the park’s corporate offices and subsequently uncovers a counterfeiting ring. This is by no means peak Eddie Murphy material nor is that the case for director John Landis who gifted us such gems as Trading Places, Three Amigos, and An American Werewolf in London. However, the absurd antics that take place within Wonder World are simple and silly entertainment in true ‘90s fashion, complete with a gun that contains a compact disc player, along with plenty of dance scenes from heroes and villains alike.
One of the best horror comedies in the past few years, Zombieland chronicles the stories of various survivors of a zombie outbreak. Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, and Woody Harrelson all deliver hysterical performances that not only entertain but keep the audience on their toes. Sisters nicknamed Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin) are in search of their treasured theme park from childhood, “Pacific Playland”, because they receive word there are no zombies there. Along the way, they join forces with Eisenberg (Columbus) and Twinkie-loving Tallahassee (Harrelson) to not only escape the undead but to relive the simple joys in life that they fear will be lost forever. Complete with rad kill scenes and witty comedy with voice-over narration on how to survive a zombie take-over, this flick delivers full-force. Want to see the crew destroy a gift shop? Done. Want a Bill Murray cameo? Done. Want kill scenes which mirror a video game that not only creep you out but also make you want to cheer? Done. Zombieland has it all, and the cherry on the top is that a sequel is in the works.
Strangers on a Train
This 1951 psychological thriller film noir is prime Hitchcock. As the title implies, the movie follows two strangers who cross paths on a train and decide to “exchange” murders, killing off the person the other one wants to get rid of so neither one of them will be caught. Amateur tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) wants to divorce his promiscuous wife, Miriam, (Laura Elliott) so he can marry the more refined and classy Senator’s daughter, Anne, played by Ruth Roman. The psychotically dedicated Bruno (Robert Walker) carries out the plan and flirtatiously stalks Miriam while she is at a local carnival. After boating through the Tunnel of Love, she meets her demise in one of the most uniquely crafted scenes in cinema, utilizing a double printing technique studied in film schools to this day. The execution of the climactic carousel scene also displays impressive filmmaking techniques with the use of miniatures, explosives, and meticulous projection that culminate in one hell of a ride.