The Movie Buffer

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dvd Review: Night Watch


Tough on spoilers


Mix a story about supernatural forces, a talented Russian director with a tiny budget and you get a great action/fantasy picture that even the most jaded Matrix special effects fan can enjoy. At the time of it’s release, 2004, Night Watch became the highest grossing Russian film. It spawned a sequel called Day Watch, which is being released in North America through Fox Searchlight Pictures June 1st.

The story follows Anton Gorodetsky who sells his soul to a Dark witch, which leads him to be immersed in the world of the occult. Anton decides to join the Night Watch, an organization that hunts down the Dark Others who violate The Agreement.

The Others are all the supernatural beings in the world: vampires, shape shifters, witches/wizards etc. Theses groups are broken down in Light Others and Dark Others (very much like the light and dark Jedi from Star Wars). As a solution to the unending war, the Light and the Dark create a pact called The Agreement, which states that neither side will forcefully recruit new members, use their powers to influence human affairs, or even draw a drop of blood from the opposing faction. In order to monitor their enemies, each side creates a secret police: the Light Others have the Night Watch and the Dark Others have the Day Watch.

Night Watch is a more realistic action film where the line between the heroes and the villains is blurred. The heroes aren’t pure, wholesome peacekeepers and the villains aren’t blood thirsty (except for the vampires) maniacs. Both sides are just as ambitious as the other - they lie, cheat and bend all the rules in The Agreement to get the upper hand on their rivals.

The film has particularly dark undertones and many scenes of graphic violence so this isn’t a movie that will please all audiences - especially those who don’t approve of witchcraft, voodoo and other devices of Satan.

The special effects in Night Watch are incredible and extensively used. The Gloom(also known as the Twilight), the limbo outside reality that the Others use as an escape from the living, is especially impressive. These effects on par with many of the big budget action films and they were done on a scant 4 Mil USD budget.

The film aptly follows multiple storylines, which is an interesting twist in itself, because having such a tightly written story in an action movie is rarely seen. Two of the storylines are cliché but there are enough interesting elements that make them seem fresh.

The characters are portrayed by a cast of very capable actors, who make their characters believable and mostly human.

With everything that this film has going for it, it has a lot of rough edges: Some of the secondary characters are so over the top that it really breaks the mood of their scenes; Many of the combat scenes are done in a frantic tangle of quick cuts which can be difficult to follow; Russian humor was tricky to “get”.

This is a solid film that has all the bases covered: good effects and story, decent actors – 7/10. You may need to hunt around for this film because it wasn’t widely released.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Bambi vs. Godzillia: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business by David Mamet


This is a book, not a film.


Over the weekend, between hockey games, I read Bambi Vs Godzilla (BvG) which is a collection of short essays about the film industry. From the set designers/prop guys to the corporate bigwigs, from concept to final product, BvG shines light on some of the intricacies, pitfalls and general craziness that happens in Hollywood.

The reason I picked up BvG is because it had received some excellent press from the New York Times and Variety, as well as film critics, Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin, even though there’s a whole section in the book about how critics ruin films. Furthermore, Mamet is a veteran in the biz who has written several solid films (Wag the Dog, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Untouchables), so I was interested in seeing what he had to say.

Though the topics are rather varied the main thread of the collection is about the artistry and the craftsmanship involved in producing motion pictures. Mamet begins his journey at the ground level with set designers, artist and the rest of the production crew, who he anoints the unsung heroes of the industry. Then, he moves on to criticize everyone else involved with the film making process: young writers for not appreciating the essence of writing; studio script readers for debasing creative writing because the result may not be profitable; producers for being the product of nepotism and greed; directors for introducing unnecessary clutter to stories; critics for being critics.

Interspersed in his tirades against the machine that has made him famous are nuggets of advice to people wishing to break into the industry, a few opinion pieces about the roles of females/jews/the audience in Hollywood and why violent summer films are so profitable.

Mamet’s name dropping and references to his own works read rather pompously and the constant injection of French and Latin phrases draw away one from the book’s casual style. Even still, if you are a fan of his work or just want to get a little bit of a flavour of how the business works, then BvG is well worth reading.

(edit: the title comes from the animated short, Bambi Meets Godzilla, in which Bambi is stomped into shoe custard by Godzilla. Found Here)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Spiderman 3


Wealth and fame, he's ingored,
Spoilers are his reward!


So here’s a nugget of my personal history, as a kid I was a huge Spiderman fan and I still am. I don’t collect the books anymore though I do have a sizable collection that can only increase in value if this movie is a huge hit. (Edit: While not a huge critical hit, it did rake in a tremendous chunk of cash). Moreover, Venom is one my favourite super-villains of the series and I was excited to see how Sam Raimi would create the character.

Unfortunately, knowing the lore casts a long shadow on the film version. I understand that on film everything needs to be tightened up because they don’t have as much time or freedom to explain a story like the books do, so allowances must be made, laws of physics broken and caution thrown to the wind.

You like tangled webs? This film has them in spades. With three Peter Parker stories and two Spiderman plots, this film overflows with new characters and exposition. About an hour an a half has elapsed after getting through the introduction of all the characters and their distinguishing traits.

There’s the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) running amok, Harry Osborn (James Franco) attempting to avenge his father’s (Willem Dafoe) death, the symbiotic Venom suit’s terrible curse, the relationship highs and lows between Peter and Mary Jane, and the rivalry between Peter and Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) at the Bugle. The film is a five car pile up – it’s a horrible mess, but it’s hard to look away.

The film is visually stunning. If only the story had been streamlined the film would have been excellent. The Sandman and Venom are rendered superbly and web slinging shots have been brought to a whole new level. Unfortunately, these extras are like slathering gravy over a rancid pork chop.

The first problem with the film is the opening credit roll. Yeah, I know it’s pretty rough when the credits are messed up. Similar to the previous installments, Spiderman 3 uses a CGI montage during the roll call for the cast and the characters they play, but not all the names and the characters were synched up. This would have made sense if the montage was just of Peter and Mary Jane, but most of the characters appear and many of them are mislabeled.

This small miscue was followed by dozens of others, the uncaring scientist who turns on the particle accelerator with a man standing in the beam’s path, a meteor crashing into central park going unnoticed, two terribly overdubbed musical numbers performed by Dunst, etc. They are small things but when you’re having trouble suspending your disbelief already, these obstacles only make the experience worse.

I doubt this is going to hit home for fans of the first two films. There are plenty of action scenes, lots of explosions and more villains than you can shake a stick at but this is clearly a case of too much, too fast. For the fan of the comics, this is another film that you’ll probably watch just to see where they had to change the story and come out of the theatre with a burning desire to flame this film all over the internet. I’m giving this film a 4/10 by virtue of the Venom scenes, the excellent visuals and Bruce Campbell’s cameo role as the swarthy French Maitre D’.

Sony has announced that it is going to be developing more Spiderman films regardless of Raimi, Maguire or Dunst’s involvement. Hopefully, they pick a more self contained comic story to make into a film.