It’s a great week for home video, with a handful of mainstream titles supplemented by an exceptional independent film and an equally good foreign offering.
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for language, drug use and sexual references
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Writer-director Greg Mottola’s “Adventureland” isn’t nearly as rude and crude as his last feature, “Superbad,” but it is another coming-of-age tale populated by fascinating characters.
Set in the late 1980s, the focus is on James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a promising college student forced to cancel a planned trip to Europe in order to save money for graduate school in New York. Alas, the only job he can land is at a low-rent amusement park populated by an assortment of offbeat characters. They include Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), an amateur musician who makes his living fixing rides; Bobby (Bill Hader), the park’s eccentric owner; Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), the resident hottie; and Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart), a down-to-Earth twenty-something who immediately catches James’ eye.
“Adventureland” has both romance and comedy, but it’s not a traditional romantic comedy. That’s because Mottola approaches the material with jaded eyes, allowing a vibe that’s more “Reality Bites” than “Sleepless in Seattle.”
Consider that a compliment because “Adventureland” is thoroughly enjoyable, thanks to great characters who, like actual human beings, are flawed, insecure and mistake-prone. In fact, that’s one of the points of the movie: Human beings make mistakes but they needn’t be defined by them.
DVD extras include deleted scenes, a making-of feature and an audio commentary by Mottola and Eisenberg.
Rudo y Cursi
Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content and brief drug use
Sony Pictures Classics
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna lit up the screen in director Alfonso Cuaron’s 2001 foreign hit “Y tu mama tambien” and they’ve done it again with “Rudo y Cursi,” a soccer drama written and directed by Alfonso’s brother, Carlos Cuaron.
The Spanish-language film cleverly uses soccer as a parable for life, with the all-knowing narrator regularly pausing to explain how a woman is like a ball or how sport compares with war. A device like that could be forced, but Cuaron uses it perfectly, punctuating a story carried by fine performances from Bernal and Luna.
The two play Tato (Bernal) and Beto (Luna), soccer-loving brothers who are living in obscurity in a rural Mexican town when a traveling scout discovers them. In short order, Tato becomes a superstar, professional striker who is given the nickname Cursi. Meanwhile, Beto develops into a remarkable professional goalie who fans call Rudo. Both men embrace their newfound popularity but it wears on them — and their relationship with one another – in unexpected ways.
Cuaron deserves credit not only for crafting a wonderful story about family and sport, but for presenting it in compelling fashion. His feature moves quickly, and it wraps with a finish that’s sweeter than any … GOAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
DVD extras include a making-of feature, deleted scenes and an audio commentary with Cuaron, Bernal and Luna.
Rated R for language
Available on: DVD
With “Goodbye Solo,” writer-director Ramin Bahrani has crafted an intimate, sometimes heartbreaking, drama that is immensely fulfilling despite leaving viewers with questions.
The picture begins when a Winston-Salem, N.C., cab driver named Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) picks up a taciturn old man (Red West). The senior, who speaks only in a matter-of-fact manner, reveals that his name is William and tells Solo he’ll pay $1,000 for a one-way trip to Blowing Rock, a Carolina tourist destination known for stunning views of a deep, windy gorge.
William’s trip is to take place in a little more than a week and Solo is at first thankful for the high-paying job. Soon, however, he begins to question William’s motives, and he tries to engage the man in a friendship that could literally save his life.
Bahrani tells his story in just 91 minutes, but that’s plenty of time to become acquainted with his beautifully drawn characters.
West has the easier acting job because William is solemn and quiet throughout, but he still infuses the character with enough humanity to make viewers care. Solo is the emotional center of the film, so Savane has a more difficult task, but he’s up to it. His performance is powerful, yet understated, and it ranks among the best of 2009.
As good as Savane and West are, the movie isn’t just about acting. Bahrani’s story is outstanding, and the fact that it closes with half a dozen unanswered questions makes it that much better.
DVD extras are limited to a handful of trailers and an audio commentary by Bahrani and cinematographer Michael Simmonds.
Rated R for language, disturbing images, some sexuality and drug use
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Most people don’t put much thought into what happens to a crime scene after the detectives leave, but it turns out there’s an entire industry built around the gory cleanup.
Viewers get an up-close, and sometimes comical, look at the business when struggling single mom Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) convinces her sister, Norah (Emily Blunt), to join her in scrubbing bloody walls and disposing of maggot-ridden possessions. It’s not a pretty job, but it does pay well and the two sisters slowly build their business, Sunshine Cleaning, into a concern.
Adams and Blunt are great, and the cast is filled out by Alan Arkin who plays their father, a gruff-but-lovable guy who always has a business scheme up his sleeve.
“Sunshine Cleaning” is frequently funny, but there’s an underlying sense of sadness. Rose and Norah get into crime scene cleanup not out of a particular interest but out of financial desperation, and a subplot about Rose’s ongoing affair with her married high school sweetheart (Steve Zahn) makes their situation even sadder.
Director Christine Jeffs presents her story effectively but the drama and humor walk an uncomfortable line that makes the film difficult to love. One thing is certain, though. “Sunshine Cleaning” sticks with you, which is more than you can say for most Hollywood pictures.
DVD extras include a feature on the crime scene cleaning profession and an audio commentary with writer Megan Holley and producer Glenn Williamson.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Duplicity”: Julia Roberts and Clive Owen star as corporate spies who team up in an attempt to con their bosses. Written and directed by Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”).
“Fighting”: The story of a young hustler (Channing Tatum) who gets into the world of underground street fighting. Terrence Howard also stars.
“The Last Days of Disco”: Criterion Collection release of writer-director Whit Stillman’s feature about young Manhattanites looking for love in a Studio 54-like club.
“The Informers”: A collection of intertwining social tales set in Los Angeles during the 1980s. The all-star cast includes Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Winona Ryder and Mickey Rourke.
“Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles”: Another Criterion release, this one focuses on a middle-aged widow who lives a routine and predictable existence that includes cooking, cleaning and turning tricks. Directed by Chantal Akerman, the French-language film clocks in at 201 minutes.
Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com