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The Vicious Kind





(OUT OF 10)

Adam Scott (who played Will Ferrell's mean sibling in Step Brothers) shows that his talents go well beyond comedy in this movie. As a jilted guy with a massive bitter streak, he turns in one of 2009's best performances—and hardly anybody saw it, because it got a limited release in December. Now that it's on DVD, classify this one as a must-see.

Scott plays Caleb Sinclaire; we first see him in a diner shortly after picking up his brother Peter (Alex Frost) from college. We see a quick flash of vulnerability from Caleb when Peter leaves the table for a moment, but then the verbal bile starts to flow. Peter has a new girlfriend, Emma (Brittany Snow), and Caleb doesn't want to see his little brother get hurt. In fact, he's totally nuts in his plan to protect his brother.

They pick up Emma on the way to their house for Thanksgiving break, but Caleb won't be attending dinner this year. He and his father (J.K. Simmons) are not on speaking terms, and Caleb is harboring some major daddy issues. All of this is further complicated by the fact that Caleb has not slept in two weeks, which is resulting in some severely unstable behavior.

Scott is an all-time-great mean guy in this movie. He exudes hate in a way that is almost poetic. When Caleb's character goes through some complicated, extreme and downright psycho emotional changes, Scott rides the monster to the very end. He's fully committed to the material, and I don't think there's an actor alive who could've done this role better. He makes Caleb very much his own.

Snow is impressive as the girl caught in the middle. Hers is a role that requires all sorts of reactions to the various Sinclaire men. Dad's a pig; Peter is naïve; Caleb is deranged. Snow plays off each of them perfectly.

Seeing Scott work his magic is a pure delight, even when the movie veers into nasty, nasty territory. Much credit goes to director Lee Toland Krieger, who also wrote the risky screenplay. He shows a mastery of every facet of film with this effort, and I'm very much anxious to see what he does next. Had I seen this movie before, it would've made my 2009 best-of list.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Some deleted scenes and a couple of commentaries, including one with the director and Scott.

Cold Souls





(OUT OF 10)

Paul Giamatti, in a film that owes more than a little to Being John Malkovich, plays himself in this oddball movie from director Sophie Barthes.

Giamatti is in a production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, and it's wearing him down. He finds out about a new procedure where your soul can be extracted and stored in a facility. When he undergoes the procedure, he discovers that his soul is a chickpea, and the soul winds up feeling a little hollow. He winds up renting the soul of a Russian poet, which severely changes his performance in the play—he gets a little too spirited—much to the chagrin of his director. Meanwhile, his real soul is stolen and winds up on the black market, eventually taking residence in a Russian soap-opera actress.

If this all sounds kind of weird, it is. Barthes, who also wrote the movie, has a lot of fun with the notion of transportable souls. David Strathairn turns in a great performance as the polite but shifty doctor who talks Giamatti into all kinds of reckless behavior with souls. Emily Watson is typically good as Giamatti's confused wife.

In the end, the movie is a little slow, but Giamatti is in peak form, and he makes it worth your time.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Not much; some deleted scenes, but no commentary.

Ponyo (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

I was a little perturbed that Disney's theatrical release of Hayao Miyazaki's latest was dubbed with American actors. Thankfully, this DVD has a Japanese track. You have to do a little digging for it, and turn on the English subtitles, but it's worth the work to see the film with its original audio.

I was a little more enchanted by this tale at home, compared to when I saw it at a theater; Blu-ray just makes most animated films prettier. It's based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid, as was the 1989 Disney animated feature. However, the two films are quite different. Ponyo tells the story of a small goldfish that is rescued by a little boy, and the fish begins a quest to become human. What follows are lots of pretty animation sequences, something Miyazaki has gotten quite good at.

It boasts some nice environmental and family themes. The likes of Tina Fey, Liam Neeson and Lily Tomlin do admirable jobs of vocalizing on the English-language version.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Lots of behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a nice introduction to the disc.