Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.
WHAT: Filmed in the months leading up to the annual Unholy Masquerade Ball, a documentary crew follows a group of vampires – including Victorian dandy Viago (Taika Waititi), medieval torturer Vladimir (Jemaine Clement) and resident bad boy Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) – living together in Wellington, New Zealand as they deal with the dull minutiae of everyday life as an ancient bloodsucker. But when newly turned vampire Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) moves in, he helps usher his fellow housemates into the 21st century.
WHY: “What We Do in the Shadows” sounds like a bad comedy sketch – a “Real World”-esque reality show with vampires in place of horny millennials – but it’s actually a very funny satire of the vampire subgenre that’s done in the deadpan style of a Christopher Guest mockumentary. Because of the loose, improvisational nature of the film, not every joke lands, but the ones that do are laugh-out-loud hilarious, skewering centuries of vampire lore with goofy sight gags, clever observations about vamp culture and run-ins with a pack of werewolves led by Jemaine Clement’s “Flight of the Conchords” co-star Rhys Darby. But for everything that the movie gets right, “What We Do in the Shadows” suffers from the same problem as Taika Waititi and Clement’s last collaboration, the geek-chic rom-com “Eagle vs. Shark” – namely, that the concept feels like it’s been stretched well beyond its limits, despite the brisk 85-minute runtime. This is an idea that was better suited as a short film, although there’s so much funny material here that it’s understandable why they felt the need to expand it to feature length. As a result, “What We Do in the Shadows” never quite attains the instant cult status that it seems to be heading towards in the first act, but any movie that makes you laugh this hard (even if only sporadically) deserves the shower of praise that’s been heaped upon it.
EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by writers/directors/stars Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes, interviews and more.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: Several years after his three sons presumably died while fighting in the Battle of Gallipoli, Australian farmer Joseph Connor (Russell Crowe) travels to Turkey in search of the truth about what really happened on the battlefield.
WHY: For those wondering how an actor of Russell Crowe’s talent could possibly be convinced to star in a movie as atrocious as “Winter’s Tale,” look no further than his directorial debut, an equally overdramatic piece of pseudo-magical realism that thankfully isn’t quite as bad. Crowe certainly has a good eye for the kind of epic storytelling that he’s trying to achieve with his first stint behind the camera, but despite some decent visuals and a solid performance from the actor himself, “The Water Diviner” is too easily distracted by its numerous subplots. The story of Joshua’s search for his missing sons isn’t substantial enough to warrant an entire movie, so writers Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios have tacked on a romantic subplot between Crowe and Olga Kurylenko’s Turkish widow (which doesn’t seem right considering Joshua is still mourning the death of his wife), as well as flashbacks of his sons in battle that are incredibly difficult to watch. The latter wouldn’t be that much of a problem if the film stuck by its message that war is cruel and unforgiving, but “The Water Diviner” ends on such an uplifting note that it cuts right through that grim realism in favor of hokey Hollywood optimism. (Note: This title will be released next Tuesday, July 28th.)
EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and a retrospective on the Battle of Gallipoli.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT