'Zombieland' features more than just gore Feb. 1, 2010
By G. Michael Dobbs
A fascinating documentary, a fun horror film and a comedy that satirizes films from the 1970s are all in this week's DVD review column.
Welcome to Nollywood
Okay, movie fans: name the three countries that produce the majority of the world's films -- India, the United States and Nigeria.
Well, although that country's films are not readily seen in this country, Nigeria has a very busy film industry, which produces about 2,500 direct to video movies a year. This engaging documentary serves as a tantalizing introduction to the country's films and filmmakers.
Facing low budgets, quick schedules and intermittent electricity, these producers and directors have developed a guerilla filmmaking style from which low budget American directors could learn. They have wisely not tried to reproduce the scope or subject matter of American films, but have created an African style based on African storytelling traditions.
The Nigerian films are shown throughout much of Africa and the filmmakers are proud to say their industry was not subsidized by the government and brings in millions of dollars in revenue.
The documentary follows several filmmakers as they produce their films and concentrates on director Izu Ojukwu as he attempts to make an epic war film based on the experiences of Nigerian soldiers who served in an international peacekeeping mission in Liberia. Ojukwu loves movies he even built his own projector as a young man -- but his money runs out, his cast turns rebellious and the film looks as if it is in peril.
If I have one beef with documentary director Janie Meltzer it's that he doesn't include footage from Ojukwu's film, which was completed after two years and became a big hit. I was interested in seeing it.
If world cinema is a subject that interests you, this documentary should be on your list.
Now I understand that many zombie movies traditionally have been more about special effects and splatter than about story, humor or characterization, so "Zombieland" might not be to the gorehound's liking.
But for people who enjoyed "Shaun of the Dead," "Zombieland" should be a hit.
Set in the near future when an unknown virus has decimated humanity, Jesse Eisenberg plays Columbus, a college student whose survival has been based on following a number of rules -- everything from stay in shape (you have to be able to outrun zombies) to never be a hero and take chances.
When Columbus meets Tallahassee (played perfectly by Woody Harrelson), his life changes. Tallahassee is a zombie hunter. He doesn't avoid them. He invites them to find him so he can blow them away.
The two men form an uneasy alliance and each is hoping to find some pocket of humanity that has also survived. They do find two sisters who con them out of their vehicle. Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin play the siblings who are trying to head west, where they believe an amusement park will offer refuge.
I really liked this movie because it was more about the characters than about trotting out the hyped-up conventions of the zombie genre. While it does have its share of nasty looking undead, violence and various exploding body parts, it does have a big heart and it's not on the floor in some scene.
If you missed it in the theaters, give it a try.
"Black Dynamite" is a comedy that satirizes the black exploitation films of the 1970s and, while it can be clever, it took me a while to warm up to it.
That's not because the lead, Michael Jai White, didn't hit his Jim Brown-like role on the head -- he did -- and not because White doesn't have the legitimate athletic chops to pull of fight scenes -- he does.
I think I was making mental comparisons to another comedy that took aim at the same subject, "I'm Gonna Get You Sucker," written and directed by Keenan Ivory Wayans. The previous film used a number of actors who had been in the movies that were satirized and that gave it a neat, nostalgic tone.
Like Wayans, White is more than the lead actor. He co-wrote the script and was one of the film's producers.
White plays former CIA agent Black Dynamite, which is apparently his given name. Set in the 1970s, the comedy has all of the conventions of the films of that era -- pimps, righteous reformers, sleazy politicians and big, big Afros. The plot follows a familiar course as Black Dynamite hunts down the white mobsters pushing heroin into the neighborhood but then veers off in other directions as it pokes fun at such films as "Enter the Dragon."
Co-writer Byron Minns plays Black Dynamite's sidekick, a character clearly based on the late Rudy Ray Moore. Moore played Dolemite, a character not too far away from Black Dynamite in some ways in a series of films he produced himself in the 1970s. I wondered as I watched this what Moore would have thought of this send-up.
Blissfully politically incorrect, "Black Dynamite" has a spectacularly outrageous climax. If you're familiar with the black action films from the 1970s, check out "Black Dynamite."