You are probably NOT saying to yourself, "You know what the world needs more of? Zombie stories." I know I wasn’t. The idea behind the British Television mini-series (five episodes all together running just over 140 minutes) called Dead Set is this...what if there’s a world wide zombie outbreak, all hell breaks loose, the apocalypse sets in, and no one lets the attention seeking, shallow idiots of TV’s isolated Big Brother house in on the news? That’s the set-up; sounds like a cheap gimmick, right? Sounds even a little shrill. Guess what? It works. It works great. This is a zombie tale that can take its rightful place along with the handful of good zombie tales of the last fifty years (Night, Dawn, Shawn, the Dawn remake, and 28 Days Later).
The zombie mayhem comes fast in this story - no long-winded, Arthur Hailey like, first act of meeting and falling for the folks about to be thrown into disaster. Nope, ten minutes in and it’s on. Luckily for us. most of the Big Brother house morons are only there to be future zombie chum. The story mostly centers on two radically different characters. Kelly, a PA at the network, manages to survive the attack and when she makes her way, blood soaked onto the Big Brother set, to try to warn the cast, they take her as a ploy to shake things up on their show and assume she is an over-acting new castmate. Also managing to survive the initial outbreak is the show's producer, Patrick. The actor, Andy Nyman, is wonderful, making this obnoxious madman a cross between Entourage’s Ari Gold and Saul Rubinek in True Romance. From what I could figure, much of the cast is made up of real life British reality stars. But don’t let that turn you off, most of the acting is surprisingly well done.Continue Reading
Ghosts...of the Civil Dead
"You can only push a man so far before he pushes back," proclaims one of the more orderly prisoners in John Hillcoat’s Ghosts…of the Civil Dead. This line is one I’m sure I’ve heard dozens of times in films, but never more fully realized as when the violence and tension in the prison in which the film is set reaches a sort of chaotic resolution. The character in question is one of two prisoners whom the audience meets right at the start of the film, both of whom act as a common man that represent the two paths one is headed for when stuck in such an environment. One leads to murder and the other to suicide. And that’s not to say these are respectable people who don’t deserve their time in jail (we never discover what they are in for), but as the same aggressions and fears begin to show up in the guards' behavior, something clearly needs to change.
Apparently based on real events, Ghosts is an account of the events in a prison that lead to a total lockdown, confining the inmates entirely within their cells, and then to deathly acts of violence. Working as a sort of visual diary, we are taken through a series of seemingly unconnected events that, while not forming a narrative, show a clear route for the derangement that evolves. One such evolution is how physical recreation changes as prisoners continually take advantage of what freedoms are given them. First, the outdoor areas are closed off after a stabbing, restricting exercise to indoors, and then a fence is put up to further constrain them. This literal cage, as several of them point out, only solidifies their belief that they are no better than animals. Obviously prison is just a big cage anyway and the film isn’t trying to humanize clearly deranged people, but if something is clearly broken, it must need fixing. Sure the film doesn’t offer any easy answers but it is most certainly asking hard questions about what potentially is in all of us.Continue Reading
It’s hard to talk about the scariest movie of all time, just like it’s hard to talk about the funniest. Once you claim what it is people will have every other horror movie they’ve ever seen to compare it to and since the title of "scariest" is so subjective it all comes down to each person's experience. So in this case, I must go past personal experience and try to somehow justify why Ghostwatch scared me more than anything.
Over the last couple of years a lot of "found footage" movies have popped up. Some have been great and some have not, but all of them are outdated by Ghostwatch. In 1992 on Halloween, the BBC aired a special program about the most haunted house in England. News reporters were to take you inside and show you what ghostly goings-on were taking place and supposedly, while it was airing, a massive terror spread through England as children and adults alike thought that what they were watching was real. But it was not. It was a totally fictional program about a mother and her two daughters who were haunted by an old tenant that the children call Mr. Pipes (after their mother tells them that the noises they are hearing are just the pipes rattling). But once the media shows up, Mr. Pipes isn’t too happy and decides that if what they want is terror, then that’s what they’ll get.Continue Reading
Leningrad Cowboys Go America
Leningrad Cowboys Go America is a rock 'n' roll road movie that pulls inspiration from various classic Western rock movements while observing forced democracy and musical ambition along the way. A Finnish polka band called The Leningrad Cowboys, sporting winklepicker oxfords, black suits and exaggerated pompadours, are trying to make a name for themselves. In their village they perform for a producer and are told that they have a lot of talent. The producer speaks to their manager, Vladimir (Matti Pellonpaa) and advises the group to take off to America and seek fame. The manager makes some calls and sets up a show in Manhattan, claiming that the band is very good and speaks perfect English, which they don't. One of their bass players has recently passed away and they place him in a bizarre coffin, set on taking his corpse with them to America. Stalking them is Igor, (Kari Vaananen) a village reject who wants to join their band and intends on following their course abroad.
While in the air they brush up on their English and are ordered by Vladimir to stop speaking their native language for the time being. Upon arrival the club owner in New York asks them to play for him before he agrees to let them perform. After hearing the band he informs them that their music is just not what he was looking for. He gives them the address of his cousin in Mexico who needs a band for his wedding. According to him, their 10-piece band and ensemble of instruments would do well there, but not in America, where rock 'n' roll is the music of choice. Without a place to go and only $700 between them, they buy a Cadillac and start a road tour across America with Mexico as their final destination.Continue Reading
Have you ever anticipated something, like a promotion at your job, and then done something irresponsible? You know, spend money recklessly or boast about your new status. And then, the promotion doesn’t go through and you've not only exposed an ugly side of yourself, but because of the money and support you wasted, you find that you're in a terrible situation. This is where this film begins.
Lilya (Oksana Akinshina) is a teenager in Soviet Russia who has a bit of good news to share amongst her small group of friends. Her mother met a Russian-American on an internet dating website and he has arranged to have her and Lilya accompany him to the States. So Lilya prances around her squalid town rubbing this good news in everyone's face. She behaves as if nothing matters now that she is escaping the bleak future that most of her peers will meet. Just as she has packed her things and made a complete fool of herself, her mother informs her that she and her new boyfriend will be going without her. She makes a shaky promise to send for her after they are settled. Though Lilya is only a teenager, she knows the feeling of being abandoned quite well. After her mother leaves, she must say goodbye to her former comforts and experience the same hardships as everyone else.Continue Reading
The Battle Of Algiers
Banned in France for five years, The Battle Of Algiers is the best pro-terrorism film ever made (yep, even better than V For Vendetta). Led by Ennio Morricone’s thrilling score, who wouldn’t root for those poor, but heroic Algerians in their struggle against the creepy militant imperialistic French? Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do to get all those pretentious cafes out of the Casbah. Told about ten years after the actual war, director Gillo Pontecorvo has crafted the definition of a "docu-drama," so well done it’s often mistaken for an actual documentary. Shot in grainy black & white in the actual locations of the real life events, Pontecorvo notes in the opening titles that not one foot of newsreel footage was used.
The Battle Of Algiers was released in the United States as the war in Vietnam was making many Americans sympathetic to the victims of colonialists. The film had a massive impact and scored awards all over the world. It would win the prestigious Silver Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival and strangely, for technical reasons, it would be nominated in 1967 for the Best Foreign Film Oscar and two years later it would get nominated for Best Director and for Best Screenplay (I’m not sure if any other film has received three Oscar nominations in two different years, two years apart).Continue Reading