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DVDs In Brief: March 3, 2010

The trailer for 2012 (Sony) was built around the film’s disturbing hook: Wouldn’t it be fun to witness a natural catastrophe cracking open the earth, sliding entire major cities into the ocean, and leading to the deaths of almost everyone on the planet? Turns out, watching those same apocalyptic money shots spread out over 158 minutes of boilerplate disaster-movie cheese is more stultifying than offensive. This feels like the end of an unloved subgenre… 

Spike Jonze’s liberal interpretation of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are (Warner Bros.) expands Sendak’s simple picture book into a melancholy, sometimes frighteningly violent meditation on the force and stormy abruptness of childhood emotions. In the hands of screenwriter Dave Eggers, the wild things are just externalizations of the difficult feelings inside a 9-year-old boy’s mind, and in Jonze’s hands, that boy’s headspace looks fantastic. The whole film is a rich, dark, fully realized fantasyland of wonders and horrors…

There’s no significant conflict in Ponyo (Disney), the latest animated feature from Japan’s Hayao Miyazaki: Like his film My Neighbor Totoro, it’s distinctly meant for the younger set. But fans of his more adult films, like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, can still get lost in his fantastic visuals, as he very loosely adapts Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” for a story about two very young children—a boy and a magical fish-girl—who form an attachment. It’s more a wild, dreamlike exploration of the sea than a linear story, but the lack of plot doesn’t interfere with the film’s energetic sense of joy…

The metaphysical black comedy Cold Souls (Samuel Goldwyn) concerns a service where people can have their souls extracted from their bodies, thus relieving them of the burden of carrying one. (Incidentally, star Paul Giamatti, playing an actor named Paul Giamatti, learns that his soul is the size of a chickpea, even though it weighs on him like an albatross.) The premise of an abstract concept like the soul manifested in physical form is a good one—or at least, it would be good if Charlie Kaufman hadn’t done this conceit a thousand times better with Being John Malkovich

Two flops later, the outsider cult of writer-director Jared Hess and his debut phenomenon Napoleon Dynamite has faded significantly. On the heels of Nacho Libre, Hess’ latest, the barely released Gentlemen Broncos (Fox) again tries to extend Napoleon’s deadpan quirkiness and tacky décor, but it yields scant few returns to make digging through all that mysteriously stained ugliness worthwhile.