PHOTO: Chris Massoglia plays Darren Shan, the new half-vampire assistant to John C. Reilly’s Larten Crepsley in “Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant.”

Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 109 min.). I had high hopes for this film going in, and they basically were fulfilled. This is a fun ride, with lots of cool freak make-up effects and special effects.

The film opens at the narrator’s funeral — he’s in his coffin playing a hand-held video game — and then goes into the backstory. The narrator is high schooler Darren Shan (newcomer Chris Massoglia), and his best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson) is always talking him into trouble. One day, a flyer for the Cirque Du Freak lands at the friends’ feet and they sneak out to the show. The show includes a man with two stomachs (Frankie Faison), a woman who can grow a beard on command (the sultry Salma Hayek as Madame Truska), a wolfman (he bites the arm off a woman in the crowd, who actually is a freak as she can grow back body parts), a man with a very narrow see-through waist area (Orlando Jones) and a snake boy who would rather be a rocker (Patrick Fugit). Darren has a thing for spiders, so he is enthralled by Larten Crespley’s (John C. Reilly’s) deadly Madame Octa. Steve is enthralled by the fact that he recognizes Crepsley as a vampire from one of his books.

Darren goes backstage for a closer look at Octa and overhears Steve beg to become a vampire, but he is rejected. Darren ends up stealing Octa, which Steve lets loose in school and gets bitten by. Seeking help from Crepsley, Darren agrees to become his half-vampire assistant. There are good vampires like Crepsley, who only feed a little on their victims, and bad vampires called Vampanese, who kill their victims. Murlaugh (Ray Stevenson), who works for Mr. Tiny, is one of the latter. Crepsley hides out Darren at the Cirque’s camp, while Steve is made into a vampire by Murlaugh. One of the deleted scenes explains it better that there is a prophecy involving two “brothers”; the film merely goes so far as to say Mr. Tiny is trying to start a war by breaking a 100-year-old truce between the two sides.

The film blatantly sets up sequels, but then the three-part making-of feature (19:59) explains how the film is based on the first of a 12-book series. There also is a narrated tour of the Cirque’s living area (18:04) and 27:17 of deleted scenes, including one in which Ribs goes halfway down Two Bellies’ throat so he can wriggle his feet in both stomachs. The Blu-ray picture is crisp, which is especially helpful for the scenes when the vampires flit at extreme speeds, and the night battle in the graveyard. I look forward to the next film. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 3 stars

The Informant! (Warner, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 108 min.). Matt Damon is excellent as real-life informant Mark Whitacre, a vice president at Archer Daniel Midlands (they process corn into lysine and other products), who worked as an FBI informant for two-and-a-half years in the early to mid-1990s. Fearing a saboteur was introducing a virus into the lysine ADM was developing, Whitacre makes a deal with a Japanese firm contact for information and a solution for $10 million. However, ADM goes to the FBI (Scott Bakula plays lead special agent Brian Shepard) about it. At that point. Whitacre finds himself confessing to Shepard details of price- and volume-fixing by ADM and several global competitors.

He wears a wire for them, leading to many amusing moments as he over-narrates what is going on and later repositions people for best view from the hidden camera. When the FBI finally swoops in for arrests, ADM finds and reveals Whitacre has been embezzling money (the total eventually comes to $9.5 million).

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, who provides audio commentary along with screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, the film feature an outstanding, fun performance by Damon, who is getting used to roles in which the character lives two lives, and the narration is funny as well, but the story is not that gripping. The only other DVD bonus is 6:25 of deleted scenes. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Additional reviews are available online at and include “The Box” and “Everybody’s Fine.”