DVD Corner: ‘Adventureland’

Posted Aug. 21, 2009, at 6:42 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:57 a.m.

Adventureland, DVD, Blu-ray — From Greg Mottola, one of the best, most satisfying teen-oriented coming-of-age comedies to come along in a while. It’s a film filled with authentic details that serves two demographics — those who were in their early 20s during the late 1980s and fondly remember all the possibilities of that time, and present-day twentysomethings who are just discovering them. The film features a surprising measure of restraint — at least when it comes to the affections that bloom between its main characters, James (Jesse Eisenberg) and Em (Kristen Stewart), who find themselves slumming through bum jobs at a Pittsburgh theme park called Adventureland during the summer of 1987. Both are between college — Em soon will be back at NYU and James plans to attend graduate school at Columbia. Beyond that, what they have in common is a quick, understated wit that suggests a fine pairing is at hand if only they can work things out. Here, it’s the supporting characters who provide the antics and the energy, which is shrewd because it allows James and Em to generate something real during their brief time onscreen. Though their romance is budding, each is being pulled in different directions — Em by the married mechanic (Ryan Reynolds) she’s having an affair with, James by the vivacious Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva, perfect), who is coveted by every young man at the park. Some will argue that the movie is too slight to be significant, that its characters don’t possess enough depth to be interesting, but they’ll be missing the point. “Adventureland” is a slice of life designed to offer only a glimpse into something deeper. We enter into it on the verge of one memorable summer, we observe what transpires within those few months, then we leave the characters on the cusp of change in what you sense will be a more profound story that will play offscreen. Rated R. Grade: B+

Dexter: Season Three — What’s a serial killer to do when he also happens to be a forensics expert for the Miami Police Department? For Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), the answer is to take a bite out of crime — literally. That’s the show’s hook; Dexter routinely slaughters criminals he can’t bring to justice. And he’s so likable, the irony is that you willingly cheer him on in what continues to be a smart, savage television show that’s at once human and darkly comic, with the daring writing and fine work by an excellent cast making the unthinkable work. Grade: A-

Duplicity, DVD, Blu-ray — Tony Gilroy’s caper has its moments, most of which come from the pleasures of its cast, which possesses enough talent and presence to lift a plot so unnecessarily cluttered, it’s a gimmick. The trouble with the movie is that it involves a nonlinear structure that’s so fractured, you wonder how much better it might have been had it just been told straight. Since Gilroy could have achieved the desired effect of keeping his audience off-kilter by merely holding back through better writing, the slicing and dicing of the time structure grows repetitive and tiresome. That said, this isn’t a film without energy. It does feature several terrific supporting performances and its dialogue can be brisk and smart. Julia Roberts is former CIA agent Claire Stenwick and Clive Owen is former British MI-6 agent Ray Koval. They are two people who have lived duplicitous lives for so long, what are they to do when their emotions threaten to get in the way? Since trust is an issue for each, they mostly keep their relationship down to sex and to business over the two years the movie charts. The plot is unnecessarily messy. Claire and Ray want to pull off a scam that would allow them to make off with millions so they can quit the business and live their lives together elsewhere. When the right opportunity arrives, it’s by connections through two competing businessmen — Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) and Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti), who hate each other with such venom, they give the film its funniest scene in its opening moments. Working the angles on their other connections, Claire and Ray struggle to trust each other while duping a host of players along the way. Watching the film, you know what Gilroy is aiming for — one of those ultra-hip, abstract entertainments favored by such directors as Steven Soderberg and David Mamet — but the effort, while beautiful to look at for all sorts of reasons (the people, the locations, the clothes), falls short. There’s nothing like telling a story cleanly and well, and that’s where “Duplicity” stumbles. It has been manufactured with so many quirks, it has had the life squeezed out of it. Rated PG-13. Grade: C+

Gossip Girl: Second Season — If you’re going to call your show “Gossip Girl,” you better not hit the scene with the intention of gossiping about the good things in life. This series doesn’t even come close to doing so, which is why it’s kind of a fun, guilty pleasure, regardless of how cheap its underpinnings. Fueled by soapy storylines, the show, set in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, uses its super-rich, wholly unlikable twentysomething brats to tell the truth about a corner of today’s youth culture plenty would prefer not to face. Teens have sex; they swill booze; they smoke pot. And this is a surprise? That it tells its unseemly tales through a mysterious blogger makes the show timely and relevant, as does its refusal to overlook the downside of their casually reckless behavior, which is at once dangerous, ridiculous and not without its share of repercussions. Grade: B

Hannah Montana: The Movie, DVD, Blu-ray — Let’s face it; this baby is reviewproof. And so, knowing that, nothing will stop the brand’s legions of fans from scrambling to get their copy and enjoying it, regardless of how mediocre it is. The movie stars Miley Cyrus as the adored rocker Hannah Montana and as a more down-home version of herself, which she must face when her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) takes her to Tennessee for a shot of reality, which includes cute boys, chicken hoo-hoo, cow pies and Hannah’s real hair. It’s all exactly what you expect, nothing more, which likely is a large reason this vapid Disney creation keeps on keeping on, regardless of how shrill and annoying Cyrus is in the role. The disc includes seven music videos, cast bloopers, deleted scenes, an audio commentary and — sit down for this, folks — the mind-numbing “Hoedown Throwdown Dance-Along.” Rated G. Grade: C-

The Simpsons: Twelfth Season, DVD, Blu-ray — Plenty of tongue planted firmly in plenty of cheek. Twelve seasons out, this enduring series continues to give audiences exactly what they want: Homer making a fool of himself, Bart up to no good, Marge overwhelmed, Lisa taking matters into her own hands, Maggie coolly stealing her share of scenes. The laughs flow easily in the set’s best episodes — “New Kids on the Blecch,” “I’m Going to Praiseland,” “Treehouse of Horror XI,” “Tennis the Menace” and especially “Pokey Mom.” Given the crudeness of the animation, its appearance on Blu-ray is a curiosity, but yes, the picture is cleaner and the audio brighter, just as you’d expect them to be. Grade: B+

Also on DVD and Blu-ray disc

Available this week is the fourth season of “Everybody Hates Chris,” which is a reasonably entertaining, fictionalized account of comedian Chris Rock’s tumultuous life as a child. Joining it is the eighth season of “Smallville” (DVD, Blu-ray), a fine Superman spinoff that begins with Clark stuck in a Russian prison, and then involves episodes in which characters are poisoned, a serial killer is on the loose, Clark quits the Daily Planet, weddings are assailed, and Clark’s true identity — as always — is on the line from any number of people. Not the best season in the “Smallville” lineup, but it has its moments and on Blu-ray, it looks terrific.

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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