It’s a short week this week on home video with only a few new releases. The first up is the New Zealand vampire horror comedy “What We Do In The Shadows,” starring Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, and Rhys Darby (both of “Flight of the Conchords” fame). Directed by Waititi and Clement in a found-footage style, “What We Do In The Shadows” follows four vampires who share an apartment in a New Zealand suburb, and despite being hundreds of years old, have difficulty adjusting to 21st-century life. Combining deadpan humor about the mundane with an outrageously supernatural premise, “What We Do In The Shadows” has a sweet, innocent sense of humor that adds a gentle, yet hilarious touch to the proceedings.
Next, we have Zaza Urushadze’s Academy Award-nominated “Tangerines,” a film that takes place during the 1992-1993 war between Abkhazia separatists and Georgian government forces. The film follows two Estonian farmers remain in the Abkhazian village after the war begins and end up taking in two wounded soldiers, one a Chechen mercenary, and the other a Georgian volunteer. Though the two vow to kill each other once they recover, they eventually see glimpses of humanity in each other and realize one of the most ugly aspects of war: the erosion of empathy for others. After that, we have Teddy Chan’s “Kung Fu Killer” (originally titled “Kung Fu Jungle”) about an imprisoned martial arts expert who helps an inspector catch a killer who murders martial arts masters.
On the classic front, Criterion is releasing Stephen Frears classic “My Beautiful Laundrette.” A biting example of British social realism, “My Beautiful Laundrette” tackles political and cultural marginalization in Margaret Thatcher’s England through the romantic relationship between a young South London Pakistani man (Gordon Warnecke) and his childhood skinhead friend (Daniel Day-Lewis). Finally, we have two films by the legendary Alain Resnais, both collaborations with screenwriter Jean Gruault, out from the Cohen Film Collection: “Life Is a Bed of Roses,” a comic film featuring three stories from three different eras in in the forest of Ardennes, and “Love Unto Death,” a love story between an archaeologist and his wife who struggle with religious questions of death and the afterlife after the archaeologist dies and immediately comes back to life.
It would be very easy to take for granted what the creators of “What We Do in the Shadows” get right. Many scenes feel like master-classes in cringe comedy, like the above-mentioned blood-barf scene. And the group’s chemistry really can’t be overstated. This is especially true of scenes where Viago and the gang literally take flight while hissing at each other, like airborne feral cats. You’ve got to give it up for comedians who are this good at translating their apparent behind-the-scenes joy (watch the scene where they chase Gonzalez-Macuer around the house “Scooby Doo”-style, and tell me they’re not having a blast) into a tight hang-out comedy. It may seem like there’s nothing to “What We Do in the Shadows,” but it takes a lot of skill to be this silly. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B
Mike D’Angelo, The Dissolve
Too blunt and didactic to convey the futility of war with the complexity the subject demands, “Tangerines” works primarily as a showcase for its trio of lead actors, who work hard to make their characters’ gradual yet quick thaw seem not just credible, but inevitable….It’s hard not to be moved, at least to some degree, by any story that insists we’d all put aside our differences if we only were forced to see each other as people rather than obstacles. Sometimes the truth is a little corny. Read more.
“Kung Fu Killer”
Criticwire Average: C
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, The A.V. Club
In “Kung Fu Killer’s” best moments, Chan and Yen — who oversaw the fights — use the camera like a stuntman on wires; it leaps, snaps, swings, and floats down to ground level in graceful arcs. Here, in this entertaining, preposterous goof of a kung fu movie, are all those values missing from the mainstream of American action filmmaking, not the least of which is a sense of the camera as a participant in the action, sometimes moving in counterpoint to exaggerate stunts. Warped by wide-angle lenses, space becomes a participant, too. It’s that unique legacy of the Hong Kong style: The impression that everything on screen — from the walls and floorboards to long sections of piping that will become improvised weapons — is in a complex and unpredictable dance. Read more.
“My Beautiful Laundrette”
Criticwire Average: B+
Roger Ebert, RogerEbert.com
The viewer is likely to go through a curious process while watching this film. At first there is unfamiliarity: Who are these people, and where do they come from, and what sort of society do they occupy in England? We get oriented fairly quickly and understand the values that are at work. Then we begin to wonder what the movie is about. It is with some relief that we realize it isn’t “about” anything; it’s simply some weeks spent with some characters in a way that tells us more about some aspects of modern Britain than we’ve seen before. I mentioned “A Room with a View” because of the link with Daniel Day-Lewis. There is another link between the two films. They are both about the possibility of opening up views, of being able to see through a window out of your own life and into other possibilities. Both films argue that you have a choice. You can accept your class, social position, race, sexuality or prejudices as absolutes, and live entirely inside them. Or you can look out the window, or maybe even walk out the door. Read more.