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Safety Not Guaranteed (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

This gem of a movie stands out as one of the year's best. (Colin Boyd, our other critic, shared that sentiment.)

When a newspaper investigates an advertisement seeking a time-travel partner, everyone figures the person who placed it will be a real kook. Such is the case when journalism-intern Darius (Aubrey Plaza) meets wannabe time-traveler Kenneth (Mark Duplass). He's an obsessive sort who wants to travel back in time to save an ex-girlfriend, and Darius can't help but find his scheme endearing.

There are wonderful side stories involving Darius' boss (Jake Johnson), who uses the investigative-journalism trip to hook up with an old flame. And there's co-worker Arnau (Karan Soni), a shy virgin who happens to look really good when he puts on sunglasses.

Johnson (funny as the principal in this year's 21 Jump Street) is a real standout, delivering hilarious and heartfelt work as an aging playboy who has a strange way of trying to help others. This guy has monster comic timing. Duplass is also great as the crazy love interest who thinks he's being followed—but he won't let that deter his training.

However, this is Plaza's movie. She is a genius of deadpan humor on TV's Parks and Recreation, and she puts that to work here. She also shows that she can handle dramatic and heartfelt moments with the best of them. She's got a good career in front of her.

This is, in many ways, a little movie with grand ideas, and those ideas are played out perfectly. No movie this year has left me smiling like this one did. It's one of those movies that come out of nowhere to charm you.

SPECIAL FEATURES: The Blu-ray is a bust when it comes to special features: You only get a short about the original ad on which the film is based, and a quick look behind the scenes. A Plaza and Johnson commentary should've been a must, but is nowhere to be found. Boo!

Ruby Sparks (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Lo and behold, here's another of the year's best films. (Incidentally, I missed both this and Safety Not Guaranteed when they played in theaters.)

Paul Dano stars as Calvin, a downtrodden writer who's trying to follow up his hit novel, but he's stuck in neutral. Meanwhile, he has vibrant dreams about a red-haired girl who seems perfect (Zoe Kazan). Then, under very strange circumstances, he meets his dream girl, a wonderful woman named Ruby.

To give away the true origins of Ruby would be a crime. I will tell you that Kazan plays her beautifully—and Kazan is also a damn fine writer. She's the granddaughter of famed director Elia Kazan (of A Streetcar Named Desire), and the author of this film's screenplay. Considering how good the story is, and how terrific she is in the part she penned, hers is one of the more significant 2012 film accomplishments.

That's not to downplay Dano's contributions; he delivers his usual reliable performance. I also enjoyed Chris Messina as Calvin's down-to-earth brother, and Elliott Gould as his earnest therapist.

This film is a testament to the power of writing, and it manages to be a great example of writing in and of itself. This is one of the movie year's great, underrated pleasures.

SPECIAL FEATURES: This is another great movie that is a special-features bust on Blu-ray. (I hope we are not seeing a trend.) There are a few behind-the-scenes shorts, and that's all. A commentary from Kazan and Dano, who are a real-life couple, would've upgraded this package.

Brave (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

After the severe misstep that was Cars 2, Pixar gets back to goodness with this, the tale of Merida (the voice of Boardwalk Empire's Kelly Macdonald).

Merida is a princess who doesn't want to conform to tradition. She shoots arrows better than any of the boys in or around her kingdom, and she's not really too keen about marrying any of them under arranged circumstances. When a spell is cast on her family members, she must search for a way to restore normalcy while convincing her mom (Emma Thompson) that she has the right to choose her own destiny.

Merida is a fun character, and Macdonald gives her the perfect voice. As for the look of this movie, it is beautiful throughout its running time. While I've liked many Pixar films more than this one, that is not meant to be an insult to this movie. It might not be one of the best the studio has offered, but it is still a highly entertaining piece of work.

SPECIAL FEATURES: This one has plenty of stuff. A director's commentary, extended scenes, galleries, an alternate opening and nearly an hour of behind-the-scenes docs make this a good, full-bodied Blu-ray.

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