Director and co-writer Tommy Wirkola's sufficiently nightmarish splatter flick "Dead Snow" follows seven medical students who travel to a remote mountain cabin in northern Norway for Easter-break R&R. It's not too long, though, before snowmobiling and sexy games of Twister give way to the realization that "someone is out there."
Turns out the forest is crawling with the vengeful corpses of former Nazi occupiers whose Norwegian captives slaughtered them more than 60 years ago. Those undead baddies, allegedly flash-frozen since World War II, are kind of unique, but they don't make up for the sense of deja vu one feels watching the rest of Wirkola's bloody vacation-from-hell-athon.
Soon, the voracious Third Reich leftovers (who look pretty much as you'd imagine) start picking off the doctors-to-be, causing more flying limbs, disgorged entrails and impaled eyes than you can swing an ax at. Still, any horror movie with the moxie to play Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" during a zombie attack can't be all bad.
Gary Goldstein --
"Dead Snow." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. In Norwegian with English subtitles. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.
Holding on in 'Cracktown'
Life is indeed hot in Cracktown, though not hot in the Paris Hilton-trademarked sense, but stultifying in the wacky way writer-director Buddy Giovinazzo tries to blend social realism with soap-opera theatrics.
Imagine the telenova version of a modern-day Dickens saga and you've got an inkling -- though you really have to see "Life Is Hot in Cracktown" to believe the lengths to which Giovinazzo will go.
Adapting his own short-story collection, Giovinazzo eschews the gray areas of life in favor of lurid melodrama. Certainly, there's never a dull moment in Cracktown, where babies cry, angelic children beg for food (when not watching their parents take hits from the crack pipe) and pre-op transsexual prostitutes speak in French subtitles. (Sacrebleu!)
While Giovinazzo's crude approach undercuts his occasional stab at gravitas, "Cracktown's" cast keeps things in the ballpark of relatable humanity. Best of the lot is Kerry Washington, lending a sad dignity to Marybeth, a drug-addled man looking to become a woman while trying hard to hold on to her man. It's complicated. But that's Cracktown for you.
Glenn Whipp --
"Life Is Hot in Cracktown." MPAA rating: R for strong violence, rape, drug content, graphic sexuality, nudity, pervasive language. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.
Lyme disease eye-opener
Lyme disease doesn't sound like the sexiest topic for a documentary, but as "Under Our Skin" proves, it's clearly a subject in desperate need of director Andy Abrahams Wilson's vigilant dissection. Wilson, who also did nice work as the film's cinematographer, offers an exhaustive look at the epidemical, tick-borne illness whose political and economic ramifications have reached startling proportions.
This eye-opening movie contends that insurance companies have conspired with factions of the medical community to brand Lyme disease a short-term, easily treatable illness, one that might not even really exist. That debatable diagnosis, advanced by the Infectious Diseases Society of America, protects insurers against covering the extended treatment that "Lyme-literate" doctors deem that the disabling, potentially chronic, sometimes fatal infection can require.
Meanwhile, each year thousands of Lyme disease victims, many of whom are profiled here, become sicker and poorer.
"Under Our Skin" is frightening, powerful stuff.
Gary Goldstein --
"Under Our Skin." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills.
A film about a filmmaker
Before his death in 2001, prolific filmmaker Richard P. Rogers had spent 20 years struggling to make a documentary about himself. He left behind 200 hours of footage that his widow, acclaimed photographer Susan Meiselas, turned over to his former student Alexander Olch.
Now, Olch has constructed the 82-minute "The Windmill Movie," an assemblage of myriad pieces that offer a fascinating portrait of Rogers' life.
Olch unleashes a flow of fragments, revealing that Rogers moved in a world of impeccable taste -- a handsome summer home in the Hamptons, a vast loft in a Victorian building in Manhattan, friends who always dressed with a casual perfection. Those friends included actors Wallace Shawn and Bob Balaban, both of whom appear in the film.
Olch doesn't make it easy to identify with Rogers and his stylish existence, but that choice begins to pay off gradually as the fragments start to add up to something more.
Kevin Thomas --
"The Windmill Movie." MPAA rating: unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood; and the University Town Center, Irvine.