Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
Distributed by Fox Home Entertainment
Ever since watching and reviewing the official DVD release of the wonderful Russian film Night Watch a while ago, I haven’t been able to shake the feelings it left me with. Sure, I go about my daily routine of work, eat, socialize, and sleep, but always at the back of my mind is the idea that they’re out there — the Others. Moving back and forth between the Light and the Dark and occasionally doing battle in the Gloom. I had to know what happens next. Finally Fox has released the sequel, Day Watch, on DVD, and at long last I can return to the world I’ve been missing.
[Note: This review assumes that the reader has seen the original Night Watch and, therefore, includes some possible spoilers for that film. Additionally, since Day Watch does not provide any sort of recap or synopsis of what transpired in Night Watch, it is highly recommended that the original film be viewed prior to its sequel; otherwise, you will have no idea who the characters are and will be completely lost with regard to Day Watch‘s storyline and references to past events.]
Like its predecessor, Day Watch begins with a flashback that explains some additional history about the ongoing battle between the forces of Dark and Light. The legendary warrior Tamerlan is in Northern Iran, attempting to devise a way to retrieve the “Chalk of Fate” from its maze-like fortress. Anyone possessing the Chalk is able to rewrite his own history and change events, including bringing the dead back to life, a trick that comes in handy for Tamerlan. Following this introduction, which incorporates exactly the type of bloody battle fans of the series have come to expect, we are transported to the present day, where Anton and Svetlana are now working together in the Night Watch. He is training her, and she is asking him about a book of his that she found — a book about Tamerlan. Their mutual attraction is immediately apparent. But that must be put on hold as they are on the hunt for a rogue Dark Other who has been breaking the rules by inserting needles into the backs of the elderly and sucking out their life force. They get the call that another old woman has been attacked. Sveta spots the assailant and gives chase, entering the Gloom despite Anton’s earlier warnings to her that she’s not experienced enough. At this point we’re treated to the first of many cool, weird visuals for which the Watch films are known. Sveta is rescued from the Gloom by Anton, but not before she rips off the face-covering cap of their quarry. It’s Yegor, Anton’s son. Sveta does not know him but sees the recognition on Anton’s face. He tells her he will take care of things from here on out.
Yegor returns to Zavulon’s residence, where the Dark leader is informing his minion/lover Alisa that she is to never remove the ring he has given her. Yegor is upset. He believed that only he, a Great, could access Level 2 of the Gloom; but Sveta had followed him there. The possibility of two Great Others co-existing at this point in time means that many other events are about to unfold and fate is at hand. The next day is Yegor’s birthday, and Zavulon needs to ensure that nothing stands in the way of his coming into his own. He begins setting in motion a plan to have Anton arrested for murder by the Day Watch and taken out of the picture. In order to protect Anton and try to keep the balance from shifting too much more to the Dark — already their numbers are increasing — Gesser (the Light leader for those of you who might be a bit rusty on names) borrows a page from Anne Rice’s Tale of the Body Thief and “hides” Anton in Olga’s body. Olga, you may recall, is the member of the Night Watch who only recently returned to human form after being turned into an owl back in the 1940’s. Anton/Olga goes home with Sveta, where the two engage in some girl talk, and both are soon overcome with the need to finally express their emotions about one another. It’s an honest, beautiful scene in which Galina Tyunina (Olga) truly shines. Her transformation into Anton is near perfect. From her mannerisms to her posture to her expressions, there is no doubt who inhabits her body: Anton, a man. Understated though it may be, it’s truly a masterly performance. She’s ably matched by Mariya Poroshina (Svetlana), but the almost goofy tropical setting of their love scene took me out of the moment somewhat.
Then I started sensing that the whole tone of this installment is lighter than what I was used to from Night Watch. There is even some unexpected humor thrown in here and there. It makes for a nice balance between the two films. If, as one of the characters says, “Darkness hides defects,” then director Bekmambetov must have realized that since there is very little wrong with Day Watch, there was no need to hide it in the shadows. Sergei Trofimov, the cinematographer, did an outstanding job of bringing Day Watch into the Light.
Which brings me to the best part of Day Watch: Konstantin Khabensky. I cannot extol this actor’s talents enough. You learn everything you need to know about Anton from studying Khabensky’s face. The loss of his son to the Dark side; his love for Sveta and the awe with which he regards her; the hope he still carries that one day he can make things right — it’s all there. The synergy between Khabensky and Bekmambetov is a major ingredient of the success of these films. Nothing is black and white, nothing is shoved down our throats, and nothing is over-explained, although I do know some people think things aren’t explained enough. Myself? I like a lot left to the imagination, especially in a fantasy that’s rooted so firmly in reality. And speaking of imagination, whoever thought up that stunt of Alisa driving along the side of Zavulon’s super sleek high-rise building deserves applause. That was some crazy effect!
I was also glad to see Alisa’s character expanded in Day Watch. It was mentioned in the features for Night Watch that Zhanna Friske is a real pop star in Russia, and I couldn’t help but be curious if she has serious acting abilities since her part in the first film was rather small. I’m happy to report that she is quite good. Her subplot with Kostya, Anton’s young vampire neighbor, is touching and adds a strangely human element to the goings-on. Truly, from top to bottom there’s not a single actor who could be called a weak link.
So, it all sounds very cozy and inviting. Awesome effects, a director who respects the audience, terrific acting, even an appearance by two Inquisitors . . . blah, blah, blah. What about the payoff? Is it both a worthy sequel and a satisfactory setup for Part 3? Absolutely. One thing Bekmambetov and his crew do better than almost anybody is know how to film wars, chases, and fight scenes. And score them with music and sounds that are just right. Alisa’s driving scene mentioned earlier is the tip of the iceberg. There’s a race between the Night Watch’s big bad truck and some Day Watch members on motorcycles that is pretty extreme, but even that doesn’t compare to the final showdown of Great versus Great — Yegor vs. Svetlana. The boy unleashes some nifty silver spheres of destruction that would leave the Tall Man drooling, and when all seems lost, the question of whether the Chalk of Fate is legend or fact is finally answered. Quite satisfactorily in fact.
Also satisfactory are the extras on this disc, especially the 27-minute making-of. It contains interviews with cast and crew with an emphasis on the effects, character development, and overall philosophy of the series. As Bekmambetov explains in his commentary, it was quite difficult to properly translate the Watch films because they contain so many cultural references that would only make sense to a Russian audience. But to this reviewer, it’s precisely that exotic, unfamiliar characteristic that’s so appealing. It’s like being immersed in a completely different world, one that is somehow comforting in its complexity.
Bekmambetov goes on to say that Day Watch “imitates” a commercial film but really belongs to the art house crowd. His commentary is sporadic and filled with long pauses, so many that at some points I thought maybe I’d turned it off. But be patient — the tidbits he does reveal are well worth it. He discusses how he first got involved with the project, how the novels inspired him, what it was like to work with the books’ author Sergei Lukyanenko on the screenplay, his casting process, the meanings behind the opening and closing title sequences, and more.
Along with the commentary and featurette are the US trailer, 6 Russian trailers, and a whopping 16 TV spots that I highly recommend taking a few moments to watch. A couple of them are absolutely brilliant!
Interestingly enough, Day Watch the movie isn’t based on Lukyanenko’s novel Day Watch, but rather two stories from his Night Watch book. At one point it was going to be released as Night Watch 2, and a teaser trailer with that name was included on some Russian DVD’s. About 70% of Day Watch was filmed at the same time as Night Watch and was supposed to be broken up into two films. But then the decision was made to wrap up the Russian part of the story and move the action to America, so the two parts were combined into one. Either way is fine with me. As Anton cynically tells Sveta, “Dark, Light . . . What’s the difference?” As long as I know there’s at least one more installment of the Watch on its way, they can call it whatever they want. Just so the Hollywood suits stay far away and Timur, Konstantin, and the rest of the gang are left alone to keep doing what they’ve been doing to make our days nice and Gloom-y.
4 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5
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The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life
Written and directed by David Freyne
Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains, and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.
Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war-torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus-free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son, even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.
The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try to restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.
Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality, focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications, drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population, it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers-that-be.
Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.
Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.
The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe, but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country; and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.
The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.
Bad Apples Review – Rotten Fruit, Indeed
Starring Brea Grant, Graham Skipper, Alycia Lourim
Directed by Brian Coyne
Like a seriously bad rash, some films stick with you regardless of whichever topical ointment you slather in generous fashion over your regions – ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce today’s orbital irritant: Bad Apples.
Directed (rather misdirected) by Brian Coyne, this lamentably sterile piece of celluloid follows a couple of murderous sisters, donning horrific (and not in a good sense) masks, and generally putting the sharp edges to random folk on Halloween night…case closed. Only problem here is this: the film has no pulse, no interesting characters to speak of, and basically nothing to redeem or recapture the time that you’ll have spent watching this complete dud. A husband and wife duo has a spotlight on them as well, but their tempestuous relationship makes rooting for them about as pleasing as sitting through 3 hours of Olympic curling…absolutely brutal. Also, you’re reading the babblings of a guy who loves to put the boots to any film that has been deemed “unwatchable”, but this complete wreck of a production is entirely that – something so remedial and uninspired that to type an endless array of rightful vitriol would be an utter waste of time.
So I’ll go on a bit longer with my public display of vehemence, as the casting seems WAY out of whack, and the production? Whoa…don’t even get me started on this – okay, I’ll go on a bit. With differing levels of sound editing, you’ll get the feeling at times like you could pick up a needle drop inside of a concert hall, and other frames of dialogue are so muddled they’re incomprehensible (not like you’ll feel the need to know what’s going on). Wonky camera angles and following shots are so horrendously captured, you’ll be wishing to watch your Mom and Dad’s old home movies just to gain a sense of stability. I normally pride myself on not begging this particular audience to take what I say to heart, or to shy away from something that could potentially ruin their eyesight, but believe me when I plead with you: do not waste your valuable time on this shipwreck – even if your time isn’t all that valuable: don’t waste it. Find something else to do and take a big ol’ pass on this wannabe slasher.
I don’t mean to pick on the low-hanging fruit, but these Apples should be batted away with a Louisville Slugger.
Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone
Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters
Directed by Jeff Houkal
Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?
Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.
As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).
Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”
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