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Day Watch (aka Dnevnoy Dozor) (DVD)

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Day Watch DVD Review (click for larger image)Starring Konstantin Khabensky, Mariya Poroshina, Galina Tyunina, Viktor Verzhbitsky, Dmitri Martynov

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.]

Day Watch DVD Review (click for larger image)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.

Day Watch DVD Review (click for larger image)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.

Day Watch DVD Review (click for larger image)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.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary by director Timur Bekmambetov
  • The Making-of Day Watch featurette
  • U.S. theatrical trailer
  • Russian trailers
  • Russian TV spots
  • Miscellanous trailers
  • Film:

    4 1/2 out of 5

    Special Features:

    3 out of 5

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    Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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    Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

    Directed by Charles Martin Smith


    I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

    Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

    Now let’s get to it.

    First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

    Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

    I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

    Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

    It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

    And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

    Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

    This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

    And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

    Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

    In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

    That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

    Rockstar lighting for days.

    Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

    Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

    More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

    Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

    Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

    All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

    Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

    • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
    3.5

    Summary

    Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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    User Rating 3.65 (20 votes)
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    AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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    Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

    Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


    ** NO SPOILERS **

    It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

    Spoiler free.

    To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

    That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

    Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

    Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

    Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

    Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

    But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

    But let’s backtrack a bit here.

    Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

    And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

    Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

    With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

    Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

    I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

    Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

    Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

    Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

    On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

    That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

    In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

    While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

    Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

    Bring on season 12.

    • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
    3.5

    Summary

    The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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    User Rating 4.14 (22 votes)
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    The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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    Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

    Directed by Nicholas Woods


    The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

    The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

    The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

    The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

    The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

    The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

    ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

    • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
    • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
    • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
    • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
    • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
    • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
    • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
    • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
    • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
    • The Axiom
    4.0

    Summary

    In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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    User Rating 3.95 (20 votes)
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