'Taking Woodstock' is not a great trip

Likely it was Hunter S. Thompson who said, "If you remember the '60s, then you weren't there."

More accurately, if you remember the '60s, you may find that decade all but impossible to describe, a tsunami of counterculture change that encompassed language, music, dress, hair, lifestyle and protest. Ubiquitous protest: against "the system," against conformity, against the war, against the draft and against all those forces that infringed on that drug-induced essence of free-flowing bliss known as freedom. Because freedom was what it was all about.

The '60s also was a surging riptide of evolving attitudes and convictions with countless permutations, a movement often resulting in groups packing up old school buses and milk trucks and VW vans, painted in splashes of psychedelic colors and strings of yellow daisies, and heading back to the land. It was all about getting in touch with Mother Earth, working the soil, raising crops and animals, forming communes and striving for harmony while chasing chickens that never come when you call them. And if you came to San Francisco, be sure and wear a flower in your hair. Those who had already arrived were feeling groovy.

The '60s, viewed collectively, was a trip. A gestalt. And if there was one iconic moment that captured this period, perhaps better than any, it was Woodstock. "3 Days of Peace & Music," held on 600 acres of dairy land in upstate New York with performers such as Richie Havens, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Ravi Shankar and Janis Joplin performing (to name just a few).

Initially, it was estimated that some 5,000 people would attend; however, by all final counts 500,000 showed up. For reasons that still defy understanding, Woodstock became a magnet drawing "hippies" "flower children" and all those who "turned on, tuned in and dropped out," from as far away as California.

Woodstock became a totemic event, momentous, and did indeed prove to be three days of peace punctuated by music that rolled across the often rain-soaked fields.

If a referent is needed to capture the mood and feel of the '60s, the name Woodstock is invariably mentioned, as well as the 1970 Oscar-winning feature documentary, "Woodstock." The event had to be seen, the music heard, the participants interviewed to be believed.

This is all to say that when director Ang Lee ("Brokeback Mountain") decided to make "Taking Woodstock," he must have realized that the title would be, if not misleading, then in need of explanation for his film is not about Woodstock. At least not directly. It is, instead, a character study of a family — Jake (Henry Goodman), Sonia (Imelda Staunton) and Elliot (Demetri Martin) — who own the El Monaco Motel, a shabby, frayed place in White Lake, N.Y., that is taken over by festival organizers. The actual event, the performances, the 500,000 people become tangential to the story of these three people.

Lee must have known that to use Woodstock as the context for the film, he would have to tell a compelling story. It would be necessary that the audience cares about Sonia and Jake and Elliot as they grapple with events and the people suddenly inserting themselves into their lives.

While "Taking Woodstock" has a certain charm, with moments that are comedic, it never fully engages, seeming more a series of thinly connected vignettes. Little is known about Sonia or Jake or Elliot. Less is known about the festival organizers and hustlers who show up to plan the three-day spectacle. And the story that is told is simply not that interesting.

Post Grad

This won't take long. Audience: young teenage girls. Story: benign, simplistic, one wacky set piece after the next. "Post Grad" is about the lovely, charming Ryden Malby (Alexis Biedel), just graduated from a generic university in Southern California, who hopes to step into an entry-level job at a major book publisher in downtown L.A. All of her eggs are in this one basket.

She has a nifty guy friend, Adam (Zach Gilford), who is heading off to law school. He is in love with her; however, she's convinced that her feelings for him are strictly platonic. After all, Adam has always been there since they were in elementary school.

But give this film another 50 minutes and she will have her epiphany, quit her job at the publishing house and race after Adam. Who, she belatedly realizes, had long ago stolen her heart.

Her family is odd, off-center, with goofy mom (Jane Lynch) and dad (Michael Keaton), eccentric granny (Carol Burnett) and little brother (Bobby Coleman), their antics meant to make the audience laugh. Doesn't happen and it's too bad. There is solid talent here, and they try mightily to lift what is a mediocre script out of the comedic doldrums.

While age-appropriate in every respect (13-17), it is actually sad to watch "Post Grad." Films targeted at the teen demographic could and should be intelligent and reflect issues that this age group is facing. Instead, too often, the writing is dumbed down, and the message to very young women is shallow and actually confusing. Another missed opportunity by Hollywood, which can't seem to get this genre even close to right.

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