This film certainly strives to be much more than your standard vampire movie. Director Timur Bekmambetov is shooting for epic status with his yarn about good and evil squaring off in modern-day Russia. He doesn't quite get there.
Many years ago, the forces of good and evil (evil being vampires and such) squared off, realized it was pointless and came to a truce. Good and evil would police each other (night watch and day watch), making sure nobody steps out of line. Of course, the sacred order gets messed up, and there's a lot of killing and bloodshed.
The film is the first in a proposed trilogy (part two is another Russian film already in the can, and part three would be produced in English). I imagine part one will make more sense after the final chapters have been ingested. The movie is quite confusing, but I sort of admire it for its lofty ambitions. Bekmambetov tells his story with style, but throws a bit too much into the pot. As a result, much of it is undercooked.
While I didn't really know what was going on in this film, I did enjoy stylish treats like watching the path of a rivet that pops out of an airplane in flight and eventually finds its way into somebody's coffee cup. That sort of thing is pretty cool, regardless of the confusing plot.
In the end, the movie doesn't work as a separate entity. It needs the other two chapters to give it a better sense of legitimacy. Right now, it's just a good-looking mess that makes little to no sense.
Special Features: There's a featurette that sets you up for the next two films in the trilogy. Bekmambetov promises that the next chapters will make more sense, so perhaps this franchise has a chance. There's an extended ending feature (as if the existing ending isn't protracted enough) and some commentaries to help you get through the experience.
This film depicts Chappelle in happier days, before he walked away from his lucrative Comedy Central contract and hid out in Africa. The comedian wanted to produce a block party featuring his favorite musical artists, and enlisted the help of director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) to capture the results on film.
Kanye West, the Roots and the reunited Fugees are the musical highlights, with Chappelle providing decent comic relief (mostly clowning around on and off stage). The best performance would have to be a duet between Erykah Badu and Jill Scott that is astoundingly good.
Special Features: A making-of Block Party featurette, footage of the Ohio Players bus ride and extended musical acts make it a disc worth checking out. The DVD version of the movie is unrated, with a little more nasty comedy for Chappelle fans.
I missed this one in theaters, and wouldn't you know it, the damn thing is one of the best films of 2006 so far. Director Jonathan Demme made a classic concert film of the Talking Heads with Stop Making Sense, and he shows he hasn't lost his touch with the genre. Filmed at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn., Demme trained his camera on Young for two nights of beautiful performances.
This film chronicles Neil Young's live debut of his Prairie Wind album, good music that sounds great live. This is a must for Young fans, and fans of the concert film genre. The incomparable Emmylou Harris appears for backing vocals, and that's some good hiring right there.
As he did with Stop Making Sense, Demme doesn't do a lot of audience shots. He focuses on the artists, and gives a clean, calm presentation. As this column has complained before, concert film directors often think it's necessary to utilize flashy editing and visual effects. Not Demme ... he looks for the smoothest presentation possible.
Young fans get a taste of his classic repertoire as well, because he follows the Prairie Wind tracks with songs from his back catalog, including "Old Man," "The Needle and the Damage Done" and "One of These Days."
Special Features: This is a two-disc set, and it's loaded. The second disc features extra interviews with Young, Demme and others involved with the project. In a segment called Fellow Travelers, Demme says his idea for the film was to present a "dream concert," and he was pretty successful with this goal. In another feature called Cruising With Neil, Demme interviews Young in the back of a car as they cruise around Nashville. Other features include rehearsal diaries narrated by Demme, a film unto itself. There's also classic footage of Young performing "The Needle and the Damage Done" on The Johnny Cash Show in 1971.