Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New movies released today on DVD

Blood: The Last Vampire (2009) *½ Set primarily on an American military base near Tokyo (the action takes place in 1970, but Vietnam references are conspicuously absent), Blood suffers from abusive close-ups, repetitive fight sequences and uninspired demon design. The French director Chris Nahon (adapting Hiroyuki Kitakubo’s animated short film of the same name) strains to connect low budget and high ambition, but his talent for atmosphere is repeatedly undermined by Chris Chow’s incoherent script. Grade: D+

Cheri (2009) **½ It’s perhaps inevitable that the film becomes something of a story about what happens to beautiful Hollywood stars. Michelle Pfeiffer is now 51, and her success has largely rested on a combination of extraordinary looks and an underlying fragility that dilutes the threat that great beauty can bring with it. No matter the role, with her watery eyes and slender limbs, she often seems on the verge of breaking. She can seem as brittle as a twig and just as easy to snap. At other times, you see the steeliness that comes with any sustained and successful movie career. In Chéri you see the frailty and the strength, yet you rarely experience either with the depth of feeling you might because of the palpable uneasiness surrounding her performance. Grade: C

The Elephant King (2008) **½ There is in fact an elephant in The Elephant King, but his keepers are far from royal. Some time ago a scruffy bon vivant named Jake (Jonno Roberts) bilked his university for a travel grant to Thailand, and now he runs around spending the money on booze, drugs, women and a shabby crash pad. Oliver (Tate Ellington), his depressed, introverted brother, has joined Jake in Chiang Mai and quickly comes alive to the slacker expat lifestyle. You know you’re in for a cautionary tale when two fun-loving dudes buy a baby elephant on a drunken whim, install him by a motel pool full of empty beer bottles and show only mild concern when the dung starts piling up. Written and directed by Seth Grossman, The Elephant King tells a colorful if conventional tale of dysfunctional Americans abroad. Grade: C

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) **½ The creative people behind the cretinous Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the second blockbuster inspired by the popular Hasbro toys, have segmented their demographic into four discrete categories: 1. Young teenage boys who still play with Transformer toys (or keep them under the bed). 2. Older teenage boys who identify with the professional doofus Shia LaBeouf. 3. Somewhat older teenage boys who would like to play with the professional hottie Megan Fox. 4. Boys of all ages who think it would be cool to go to war and run around the desert shooting guns. Of course, viewers can embrace several categories at once; say, those who collect toys and liked Mr. LaBeouf in the last Indiana Jones movie. Or those who fantasize about having sex with Ms. Fox while shooting guns, a vision that distills the auteurist ambitions and popular appeal of the movie’s director, Michael Bay. And make no mistake: Mr. Bay is an auteur. His signature adorns every image in his movies, as conspicuously as that of Lars von Trier, and every single one is inscribed with a specific worldview and moral sensibility. Mr. Bay’s subject — overwhelming violent conquest — is as blatant and consistent as his cluttered mise-en-scène. Grade: C

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