ADVENTURELAND (2009). Movie fans need another period coming-of-age flick about as much as the nation needs another Senate cop-out on health care, yet Adventureland proves to be a pleasant surprise. For that, thank the efforts of a talented ensemble and a screenplay that mostly steers clear of the usual gross-out gags that have come to define this sub-genre in modern times. Jesse Eisenberg stars as James, whose best-laid plans to attend grad school are dismantled by a sudden lack of funds. He's forced to take a minimum-wage job working the game booths at the Pittsburgh amusement park Adventureland, and what makes the gig endurable is his burgeoning relationship with a fellow employee, the pretty if often moody Em (Twilight's Kristen Stewart). Adventureland was written and directed by Superbad's Greg Mottola, and he frequently has trouble nailing the 1980s milieu in which the film is set: Some scenes are visually so nondescript that it's easy to forget the time frame and assume the movie takes place in the here and now. Other bits hammer the '80s connection home in marvelous fashion: The "Rock Me Amadeus" gag is especially inspired. Eisenberg is exemplary as the nerdy intellectual whose sensitivity and demeanor attract rather than repel women – here's that rare youth flick where it's actually believable that the brainy guy gets the girl – while Stewart again demonstrates her standing as one of our most promising young actresses by ably tackling the script's most complicated role. The supporting parts are also well-cast, offering familiar character types yet investing them with enough personality to offset any sense of deja vu.
DVD extras include audio commentary by Mottola and Eisenberg; a 16-minute making-of featurette; and three deleted scenes.
THE GOLDEN BOYS (2009). Between them, David Carradine, Rip Torn and Bruce Dern have racked up 147 years of screen time, and The Golden Boys capitalizes on that vast pool of experience by allowing these veteran performers full rein to work their movie mojo. It's impossible to recommend this piffle to anyone who doesn't possess an ounce of interest in these accomplished thespians or the filmic heritage from which they draw, but seniors and cinema buffs should derive some modest measure of pleasure from the end result. Working from a 1904 novel by Joseph C. Lincoln titled Cap'n Eri: A Story of the Coast, this centers on three septuagenerian sea captains sharing a Cape Cod home. Deciding that they need a woman to look after them – but unwilling to pay for a housekeeper – the crusty trio decides that one of them must immediately find a wife. Captain Zeb (Carradine) and Captain Perez (Dern) are let off the hook when Captain Jerry (Torn) loses the coin toss, but once the chosen woman – the sensible, middle-aged Martha (Mariel Hemingway) – enters their lives, the other two men find themselves captivated by her charm and intelligence. Charles Durning, looking shockingly frail at 86, turns up as a God-fearing man who believes actions speak louder than words, while John Savage, the spring chicken among the males at the age of 59, appears as a city slicker who wants to introduce (gasp!) rum to this quiet community. Other characters flutter in and out of the story, but really, all that matters here is the triumvirate heading the cast. These three vets are a delight to watch (especially Carradine, who died less than two months after this film's stateside bow), even if the movie around them remains soggy.
DVD extras include a 40-minute piece billed as a David Carradine retrospective but which plays as much as a making-of featurette; and the theatrical trailer.
GOODBYE SOLO (2009). Set in writer-director Ramin Bahrani's hometown of Winston-Salem, this film festival favorite has drawn easy comparisons to last year's The Visitor but actually feels more similar in structure and tone to Abbas Kiarostami's A Taste of Cherry. Newcomer Souleymane Sy Savane plays Solo, a Senegalese immigrant who makes his living as a cab driver. His latest fare is William (Red West), a crusty old codger who wants to hire Solo to drive him to Blowing Rock, where he plans to kill himself. Solo is rocked by this confession and spends the days leading up to William's planned suicide trying to talk the septuagenarian out of going through with it. One of the greatest compliments that can be paid to any motion picture is to state that its characters are so richly defined, you can easily imagining them having lives outside the parameters of what's shown on screen. That's certainly the case here. West makes William a man of mystery and regret, a tired soul who can no longer grapple with the demons haunting his every move. Yet the real treat is the title character. As marvelously portrayed by Savane, Solo is the eternal optimistic, but not in any sort of grating, happy-go-lucky manner. We're privy to his fears and doubts, yet what we take away most from him is the sense that no matter how tough things become, he makes us believe that we can always find something positive or pleasant to keep us going. He's a wonderful movie character, although we find ourselves wishing he was something more concrete. I imagine all of us could use some quality Solo time in our lives.