“Dead Set” is a delightfully gory zombie satire

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AMC’s premiere of “The Walking Dead” may be the most anticipated horror event of the year, but zombie fans looking for an entertaining appetizer would be wise to check out “Dead Set.” After Stephen King included the British miniseries in his year-end Entertainment Weekly column listing his favorite TV shows of 2009, I’ve been anxious to see what all the buzz is about. And thanks to IFC – which is airing the horror series throughout the week starting on October 25th, as well as showing all five episodes back-to-back on Halloween night – “Dead Set” is finally coming stateside.

Set almost predominantly within the hit TV reality program, “Big Brother,” the series opens on eviction night when a zombie outbreak turns the outside world into a wasteland where the living are vastly outnumbered by flesh-eating undead. Protected inside the walls of the Big Brother house, the fame-seeking contestants are some of the only survivors remaining – and the last to hear about the zombies. But staying alive requires teamwork, and that’s easier said than done when you’re surrounded by a bunch of people who have been specifically selected to not get along.

Drawing inspiration from the likes of “Dawn of the Dead” and “28 Days Later,” “Dead Set” is still a considerably fresh entry in the zombie subgenre thanks to a few unexpected twists and a solid script that doesn’t shy away from comedy. It’s not exactly funny like “Shaun of the Dead,” but rather a dark satire that plays on the idea of the contestants falling victim one by one in a cruel reflection of the reality show they were cast in. The actors also elevate the material beyond its potentially gimmicky premise – particularly Jaime Winstone as the unlikely heroine and Andy Nyman as the asshole producer in charge of the show – but it’s the amazing zombie effects (the amount of gore packed into each episode is pretty impressive) and the breakneck pacing that make “Dead Set” an absolute must-see.

  

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Weekend box office: Can a horsey biopic or a darkly premised romcom disconnect “The Social Network”?

Personally, I would think that, if only because of the eternal fascination of tween girls for all things equine, “Secretariat,” about the seventies triple-crown winner, would be the more likely film to unseat the early Oscar favorite from writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher, “The Social Network.” However, jolly Carl DiOrio (whose background music on his video has become distractingly un-jolly) thinks not, while L.A. Times box office guru Ben Fritz projects a possible $15 million photo-finish between it and “Life As We Know It,” a poorly reviewed rom-com with a bizarre and unlikely premise — Kathryn Heigel and Josh Duhamel hate each other but are somehow saddled with the custody of their dead best friends’ children without their prior consent and, naturally, fall in comedic love.

Kathryn Heigl and Josh Duhamel experience

For its part, “Secretariat” is getting decent, but not too excited reviews. From Randall Wallace, a director with a style that is both big “c” and small “c” conservative and written by Mike Rich of “Finding Forrester” and “Radio,” the tone is definitely old school and inspirational. There’s an audience for that. Perhaps reading more than is there because of Wallace’s past films, Andrew O’Hehir of Salon both praised and damned the film politically, only to be slammed in turn by a liberal of a less snarky nature, Roger Ebert, who writes that “Secretariat was not a Christian.”

On the other hand, the week’s other new release, “My Soul to Take” marks the return of Wes Craven to the slasher horror genre after five years with a 3-D entry that DiOrio thinks has a shot at “the mid-teen millions.” The movie is being sequestered from critics and sure sounds like a retread of past dead teenager films. On the other hand, even as a squeamish guy who will never, ever see his “Last House on the Left” or “The Hills Have Eyes,” I’ve always admired Craven — I’ve been able to make it through a few of his films — and he was nice to me and some other geeks when I met him as a teenager. I won’t be mad if it does better than expected.

Zach Galifianakis in In limited release are far more movies than I have time to talk about tonight adequately, but I’ll mention a few anyway.  “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is actually not such a limited release, as its being opening in 742 theater nationwide. It a dramedy featuring the underrated Zach Galifianakis from the team that made the highly acclaimed indie dramas “Sugar” and “Half-Nelson,” that is dividing critics to some extent, with my colleague Jason Zingale being not too impressed.

We also have some potential Oscar material with the young John Lennon biopic “Nowhere Boy” and potential retching material with the remake of the ultra-controversial grindhouse torturific horror rape-revenge legend, “I Spit On Your Grave” (also on my “never, ever see list”). “It’s a Wonderful Afterlife” is an Anglo-Indian production being touted as a combination of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “Shaun of the Dead.” Finally, I wish I could say better things than I did in my review of the latest from my favorite non-auteur living director, Stephen Frears, “Tamara Drewe” but ex-Bond-girl star Gemma Aterton is definitely worth a look.

Gemma Aterton in

  

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Cameron attacks Beck! Beck attacks Cameron! Kevin Smith attacks me (and every other critic in the world)!! MI:4 gets jiggy with directorial possibilities!!!! It’s auteurs gone wild!

I was honestly going to take tonight off to focus on some other stuff I need to get done but then Kevin Smith, James Cameron and, er, Glenn Beck — yes, you heard me, Glenn freaking Beck, have made that impossible.  Between the three of them, I could probably do five thousand words alone. Just let’s say there’s a whole lotta lameness going on. On the other hand, Michael Bay is actually making as much sense as Cameron these days. It’s a weird world we live in. And that’s not all,  to wit…

James Cameron
* In a massive example of what this liberal feels falls under the category of “dude, I’m not sure you’re helping,” while talking to the press, James Cameron launched into a somewhat humourous expletive filled tirade against Glenn Beck, the newest and by far the looniest resident of the Fox News asylum. Naturally, this was grist for the mill of John Nolte over at Andrew Breitbart’s frequently even more unhinged far right film blog, Big Hollywood.

Now, it would probably take me the aforementioned five thousands words to explain why the vast majority of what Nolte ordinarily writes is, I believe objectively and factually, complete horse puckey. However, here there is a definite kernel of truth in noting that Cameron’s decision to release an initially stripped down “Avatar” single disc with zero extras on Earth Day, naturally to be followed by more deluxe editions in the future, doesn’t exactly fit in with the environmentalist message of the film or Cameron’s claims to be not too terribly concerned with making scads of money. Though, to be fair, Fox — owned by Rupert Murdoch — does have something to say here as well.

Of course, Glenn Beck has responded and, watching said response, during the first half I was thinking: “Good work, James Cameron, you’ve given Glen f–king Beck a chance to look sane.” But, fortunately for my view of the universe, Beck’s need to over-dramatize, even in an attempt at humor, prevented him from looking too stable or stable at all.

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Steven Zeitchik of the oh-so-liberal (in comparison to Big Hollywood) L.A. Times provides the video and some context involving Cameron’s involvement in a 2007 documentary touching on the historical reality of the New Testament. Big Hollywood provides the same video and some very different context on the same film. I simply don’t have the time to investigate that one right now.

Three things I’m sure of, however: 1. One of these men is a gifted egomaniac; 2. the other is a former “Morning Zoo” shock jock who has found the only job on the planet requiring even less intelligence and sense of responsibility; 3. the best way to turn the public off the entire issue of the environment is for James Cameron and Glenn Beck to have a debate about it.

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Celluloid Heroes: Best British Imports of the Decade

Foreign films made a big splash at the turn of the century, with many moviegoers finally realizing that subtitles weren’t so bad after all. Though a language barrier was never the reason the British film scene failed to take off, it really came into its own in the aughts with the introduction of new talent like Guy Ritchie, Edgar Wright, and Danny Boyle. As part of our look back at the movies of the 2000s, here’s a list of the best British imports of the decade. You’ll probably notice some similarities among many of the entries, but that’s just because when it came to delivering great genre films, the U.K. was king.

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10. “Son of Rambow”

Movies like “Son of Rambow” don’t get nearly as big of an audience as they deserve, which is a shame, since it’s one of the most wildy inventive family films I’ve seen in a long time. And who better to make a movie that incorporates animated doodles into its character’s imagination than the director-producer duo that created the wacky, stop-motion music video for Blur’s “Coffee and TV”? It’s a match made in heaven, though much of the film’s success is thanks to newcomers Bill Milner and Will Poulter, who give child actors a good name.

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9. “Billy Elliot”

Jamie Bell may be all grown up, but “Billy Elliot” remains the best thing he’s done. A classic feel-good movie featuring a great soundtrack, a funny and heartfelt script, and a memorable performance from Julie Walters as the title character’s chain-smoking ballet teacher, “Billy Elliot” was nominated for three Oscars and was eventually adapted for the stage (with music by Elton John, no less) where it went on to win ten Tony Awards. Still, for as much love as the Broadway musical has received during its five-year run, the movie version is still one of the most entertaining British films I’ve ever had the pleasure to see.

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8. “Sexy Beast”

Though it’s best remembered for Ben Kingsley’s riveting turn as Don Logan, a venomous, high-strung gangster who doesn’t take “no” for an answer, “Sexy Beast” is a smart and energetic crime drama that also happens to be pretty damn funny. Of course, most of that humor comes from Kingsley’s expletive-laced performance, and it’s a crime that he wasn’t rewarded with a nice, shiny Oscar. Still, even though the movie is essentially the Ben Kingsley Show, “Sexy Beast” served as a nice introduction to Ray Winstone and Ian McShane, and will likely go down as one of the better crime dramas of the decade.

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7. “RocknRolla”

Say what you will about Guy Ritchie, but his movies are an absolute blast to watch, and “RocknRolla” is easily his most mature film to date. Though he still seems to favor style over substance, the movie still succeeds thanks to an amusing story and lively ensemble cast led by Gerard Butler and Tom Wilkinson. Plus, that bizarre dance scene between Butler and Thandie Newton is one of the funniest WTF moments of the decade (not to mention their subsequent sex scene). Ritchie’s films may never receive the credit they deserve (he’ll forever be remembered as a Tarantino wannabe, even though QT himself has been accused of stealing several times over), but “RocknRolla” is what going to the movies is all about.

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Celluloid Heroes: Best Characters of the Decade

There are a lot of variables that go into making a successful movie – actors, writers, directors, producers, and all of the other overlooked crew members – but even if everything is done exactly right, it doesn’t mean anything without a good character. And at the end of the day, that’s what people remember the most when they leave the cineplex. As part of our look back at the movies of the 2000s, I present you with a list of the best characters of the decade. Obviously, some cuts had to be made (notable omissions include The Joker, Batman and Derek Zoolander), so feel free to comment on which of your favorite characters didn’t make the cut.

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10. Spider-Man

The web-slinger would probably make a list of best characters in any decade-end review of comic books, but this is the first time he can even be considered for a movie list. Thank Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” for that, because without its success, there’s a good chance we may have never seen Spider-Man jump to the big screen. Sam Raimi definitely deserves credit for adapting the character without all the cheese of the 60s TV series, but it’s Tobey Maguire’s strong performance that really brings the character to life. Although many claim the second film to be the best in the series, we think that all three have their own strengths and weaknesses. Sure, Peter Parker may lose some of his appeal when he goes all emo in “Spider-Man 3,” but seeing Spidey rock the black symbiote suit was just as cool as anything he did in the first two films.

Memorable Quote: “You know who I am. Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”

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9. Jigsaw

Say what you will about the deteriorating quality of the “Saw” films: Jigsaw is right up there with Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Kruger as one of the ultimate horror icons. What makes him so different from the others, though, is that he’s a fairly regular guy (when he dies, he really dies) who isn’t so much a villain as he is someone who goes to radical extremes to get his point across. Though his argument that he doesn’t ever kill anyone could be debated for eternity, Jigsaw is still a pretty badass dude. Not only is he one of the most inventive baddies to ever grace the silver screen, but the fact that he’s doing all of this while dying from cancer is beyond impressive. Tobin Bell may never be remembered for anything other than his work in these films, but his limited appearances are so memorable that we wouldn’t really mind.

Memorable Quote: “I want to play a game.”

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8. Wolverine

Though it’s difficult to think of anyone other than Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine, it certainly could have ended up that way. You can go ahead and thank the comic book gods for interfering, because if Dougray Scott hadn’t gotten hurt while shooting “Mission: Impossible 2,” “X-Men” fans might have seen a decidedly different take on their beloved adamantium-laced berserker. And since Wolverine has since become the mascot for those films (even earning a mediocre spin-off of his own) that also would have affected the movie as a whole, which might have stopped the whole comic book movie revolution before it even began. Just think about that the next time you see Jackman in his role as the wise-cracking, cigar-chomping mutant, because without his charismatic, star-making performance, this list would look a lot different.

Memorable Quote: “I’m gonna cut your goddamned head off. See if that works.”

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