By G. Michael Dobbs
Two foreign films that might make it to your local Red Box are in this week's DVD review column.
Juan of the Dead
Oh, no, not another zombie movie. What can be added to this increasingly formulaic genre? Well, in this case, the twist is the locale: the communist dictatorship of Cuba.
Cuban filmmaker Alejandro Brugués puts a definitely different spin by mixing politics with the walking dead in this movie. His hero Juan (played by Alexis Diaz de Villegas) who is an Army vet, a slacker and petty criminal, tries each day to find ways to cheat the system. At the beginning of the film, he tells his friend Lazaro (Jorge Molina) that he doesn't want to sail their raft to Miami because in America he would have to work.
His own daughter, in Cuba after staying in Spain for years, wants nothing to do with him and he spends most of his days sitting on the rooftop of his building and drinking rum.
Juan views himself as the ultimate survivor who has successfully endured serving in Angola and various Communist purges. When a zombie invasion comes about, though, he hits upon the perfect moneymaking scheme: zombie killer.
Although the Cuban media is blaming the zombie attacks as the actions of dissidents and the United States, Juan doesn't really care about the origins, just what people are willing to pay him to dispatch their relatives who have turned into flesh-eaters.
The zombie attacks reunite him with his daughter and Juan and his crew realize they must escape the island before they are the only humans left standing.
Brugués' script is clever with veiled criticism of the Communist regime, while at the same time deftly mixing comedy with some gruesome zombie killing. There are some decent horrific moments, although none are so chilling as a scene in which an army of zombies is walking on the ocean floor toward Florida.
With solid production values, an atypical script and a fast pace, "Juan of the Dead" was no chore to watch. I'd add it to the list of the best zombie movies I've seen.
Hooo, boy! Here is a high concept for you: somehow Nazis managed to escape Germany in the final days of WWII and settled on the dark side of the moon. Decades later they are ready to invade the Earth.
Let that settle for a moment.
Finnish filmmaker Timo Vuorensola expects the audience just to accept the idea, as he doesn't explain any aspect of how a thriving Nazi colony on the moon could ever exist. That's because this action comedy is much more political satire than science fiction.
The Nazis are revealed when an American moon landing undertaken by President Sarah Palin to shore up her re-election bid happens upon the swastika-shaped base. One astronaut is killed, while the other a handsome African-American male model chosen for his looks is captured.
The discovery is enough to compel the Nazis to send a scout craft to Earth and that's where the real wackiness begins.
Part Mel Brooks sketch and part European view of American politics, "Iron Sky" may amuse you, may anger you, but it won't bore you.
The great German actor Udo Kier is the only name audiences here might recognize, but the cast really tries hard to sell this film. It looks great, by the way, with the Nazis operating spacecraft that depend upon gears and pulleys!
An odd film to say the least that adventuresome audiences might like.