"If they're dead, they're dead. If they're white, they bite." So reads post-apocalyptic graffiti. Before we get to that '28 Weeks Later' scenario, this indie Canadian hidden gem zombie flick launches with character, featuring Mi'kmaq heroes on a First Nations reservation. While it pays homage to Romero and the likes of Tarantino, this stylish b-movie done right treads new ground. Subversive in themes & plot twists. With the Indigenous immune to bites, there is rich metaphor to enjoy (like the burning of a bloody Hudson Bay blanket) alongside the fantastic gory kills (with several yell at the screen moments).
Completely unknown hidden gems are hard to find. This is one. Akin to Amistad, but set entirely on the ship, this tale is morbidly fascinating with matter-of-fact brutal realism, focused on the African perspective long before Roots. Emotional highlight: Dandridge's servant slaps Tamango, warning "a slave never fights back", trying to save his life. Nevertheless, a tension-filled rebellion unfolds, culminating in a heart-rending bittersweet inspirational finale. Not without flaws, the story is entirely captivating. (Just imagine the 1958 audience thinking about their enslaved grandparents.)
Boston Strangler 2023
A well-crafted true crime thriller with solid acting all around and a focus on character. The plot and camerawork vibe like Fincher's Zodiak, exploring the obsession of those investigating the case, and how the killer claims another victim in them, taking their life away. Like Zodiak, there are intriguing theories to consider, inviting the audience to participate. Along with the procedural elements, this explores themes, like an under-staffed police force with a rising population (and more evil). Given time, a reporter or detective can focus on theories, otherwise it's just another file in a stack on a desk.
In the subversive opening Meet Cute, MacMurray (from legendary noir Double Indemnity) seems to encounter his femme fatale for this mysterious outing. Turns out, he's a 'homme' fatale. The twists & turns continue to unravel from there, but Act 1 is strongest. Overall, a well-done solid thriller focused on character, with some intriguing stakeout procedural elements and compelling dramatic irony.
All Quiet on the Western Front 2022
Focusing on young soldiers and how war affects them, this unsettling tale takes a more thematic approach, a la Thin Red Line; however, unlike the divisive Malick masterpiece, this explores character much more. Unlike many films in the genre, Quiet focuses on the perspective of the 'enemy'. A haunting atmosphere conveys the horror of war, not just in battle, but moreso in the aftermath. Taking place in 1918, with more than a few compelling cinematic moments, this would make a strong double-bill with 1917.
Ace in the Hole 1951
Kirk Douglas' ruthless reporter gambles everything for an exclusive story. Decades before the 24hr News cycle, this thrilling character-piece focuses on sensationalist media and its obsession with tragedy, weaving in a little hope along the way with the public wanting to be a part of something big like national headlines (a la Sugarland Express). An expected hero arc from selfish to selfless takes unexpected detours, exploring grander themes. With Wilder at the helm, the direction and scripting is upper-tier, from the captivating hero intro, to the provocative finale.