Rod Paddock's blog

Review: The Divide


The Divide Movie PosterImagine looking out of the window of your high-rise apartment building and seeing a blast of nuclear hellfire coming your way. After having your breath taken away, what would you do? In a post 9/11 world, your reaction should come naturally: You would get the heck out of Dodge.

You make for the stairwell and are greeted by fellow tenants making their way to the ground floor. As you reach the ground floor, the door flies open, exposing you to heat that feels like the force of a thousand suns. Oh crap, now what? Head for the basement! Lucky for you, there is a basement, and only a few of your fellow tenants have made for the basement door. By the skin of your hair you force your way into the basement. You have made it to salvation as the metal door shuts behind you.

You are safe, but for how long? You will soon find out what it is like to be a survivor. You have entered the world of The Divide.

The threads that make up the fabric of civilized society may not be bound as tightly as you think. Given the right catalyst the threads can come unbound rather quickly. The Divide illustrates what happens when a patchwork of people are thrown together in a confined space, with a low amount of resources and no idea of whether the world they inhabit even exists. The movie, which originally screened in Austin during SXSW 2011, provides a fresh angle on how people react to a post-apocalyptic world.

Alexander Graham Bell once said, "Before anything else, preparation is the key to success." In this story, the survival of the basement denizens can be attributed to Mickey (Michael Biehn), the building supervisor. It seems Mickey has been preparing for some type of terrorist attack and already stocked the basement with supplies. We quickly understand that it was not Mickey's intention to share his shelter and food with others, but he now does so reluctantly.

Screenwriters Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean have constructed a rich set of characters who waste no time understanding the reality they will face. What will they eat? How will they deal with human waste? When will they be able to return to the surface? Along with practical issues, it doesn't take long for the characters to establish a pecking order. Mickey asserts his position immediately; this is his world and he makes that very clear. Eva (Laura German) and Sam (Ivan Gonzalez) are a married couple with issues, Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette) is a mother with a a young child. Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) and Adrian (Ashton Holmes) are brothers accompaniedby Bobby (Michael Eklund), Josh's lover.

Our Holiday Favorites: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale


Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Through time immortal we have viewed Santa Claus as a sweet, portly, cookie- and milk-addicted grandpa, who brings us happiness and joy. This joy is delivered in bundles of presents delivered with FedEx-like efficiency down a fireplace. It is well known that that Santa has a list of who's been naughty and who's been nice. He brings the joy to the nice kids and coal to the naughty ones. I don’t know about you, but I cannot recall ever receiving that bag of coal in years where my naughty points exceeded my nice points. So what if Santa decided to actually punish the kids who were naughty? This is the concept Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale explores.

The first act of this movie from Finland deals with a mining company that unearths something buried under a small mountain on the Finnish/Russian border. That something is Santa Claus and he's not that jovial bowl of jelly we've grown to love. He's a vengeful grandfather with a bone to pick. He's ready and willing to punish the naughty kids and adults. It's this juxtaposition that makes Rare Exports so enjoyable. I appreciated being exposed to a new, fresh and somewhat twisted view of the Santa Claus mythology. It's a real treat to have a character such as Santa Claus juxtaposed the way it was in Rare Exports, which originally premiered in Austin at Fantastic Fest 2010.

Want to watch? Rare Exports is available at I Luv Video and Vulcan Video, and will also be showing at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz this weekend. There is one item you need to know: The DVD/Blu-ray and the website include two short films that formed the inspiration for this movie. I highly recommend watching these AFTER you see Rare Exports. I would consider them spoilers for what happens in the third act of the film. After watching the film, I found them to be whipped cream on a serving of pumpkin pie.

A subtitled trailer for Rare Exports is embedded below.

Extra Credit: My Life as An Extra


My Sucky Teen Romance

Austin Diner. A university-area co-op. The La Quinta on 35 and Oltorf. The Ramada Inn on 35 and 290. A local entertainment writer's home.

What do all of the above sites have in common? Are they gathering places for movie geeks, crime scenes, or places where I have crashed? If you answered yes to any of these, you would be wrong. These are all places in Austin where independent filmmakers have shot movies. They are also places where I've worked as an extra.

The process of making movies has always fascinated me. I grew up in California, specifically in the Antelope Valley, which is popular with filmmakers. Hundreds of movies have been shot in the desert where I lived, from Duel to Terminator 2. It was not uncommon to come across film sets while driving the backroads.

Zombies Invade Highland Mall During Mondo 'Dawn of the Dead' Event


Justin Ishmael at Dawn of the Dead

On Saturday night, as you slept, the dead walked the earth here in Austin. Highland Mall experienced a zombie outbreak. Was there a full moon? Was there a chemical release from a freight train? Did a voodoo ceremony go awry? Nope, nope and nope. What there was, was an yet another epic event created by the evil geniuses at the Alamo Drafthouse and Mondo Tees. Last night was MMMIX: Mondo Mystery Movie #9, which turned out to be the 1978 Dawn of the Dead.

Mondo Mystery Movie is an event where people buy tickets to see an un-named mystery film, and receive a poster related to that movie. The first two events in Austin (six others took place in Los Angeles) were Akira and Jurassic Park. Each of these events sold out almost immediately. MMMIX, as it's being called, topped all of them.

MMMIX was executed as an epic bait-and-switch that would make William Castle proud. The instructions for the event were pretty simple. The location was Austin's Riverbend Church on Loop 360. The directions stated, "Please be there no later than 8:30 pm. We are closing and LOCKING the doors at 9:30 pm. If you're not there by then, you will miss the show." Wow, that's pretty cool, I thought -- they are going to be locking the doors. Interesting. Wonder what film we are going to see in a church? Rampant speculation was that it would be The Exorcist. Wow, did they actually talk a church into showing The Exorcist?

Review: Margin Call


Margin CallIn the first decade of this century, rocket scientists who ruled the back rooms of Wall Street discovered something they touted as a real Philosopher's Stone. Through financial alchemy, they created Frankenstein's monster. This monster was named Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDO). CDO's were created using something known as The Formula. The Formula theorized that packages of mortgages could be mashed together and sliced apart into "good" parts and "bad" parts. The problem is that The Formula relied on a base set of assumptions that history shows were faulty to the core.

It is not possible to turn lead into gold and a sow's ear will always be a sow's ear no matter how much you want it to be a silk purse. Margin Call illustrates what happens when a financial institution realizes that the bag of gold they hold is in reality a bag of lead.

Margin Call opens with a scene that could have been straight taken from Up in the Air. Employees are called into managers' offices where HR awaits with bad news that has been all too common these days. One of the employees being "let go" at this financial institution is Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), a manager in the risk management department. As Dale is leaving, he hands Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) a USB drive with some of his latest work. He implores Peter to continue this work instructing him to be careful with it. Peter Sullivan burns the midnight oil completing Dale's work.

It's at this point we know the company is in deep Bandini (extra credit if you know what that means). Sullivan immediately raises the red flag and calls in his manager Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), who brings in the upper management of the company, one by one, to deal with this crisis.

Fantastic Fest Review: Juan of the Dead (Juan de los Muertos)


Juan of the Dead

I'm a sucker for anything zombie: books, graphic-novels, posters and of course movies. A few months ago, a new trailer surfaced for a low-budget Cuban zombie flick called Juan de los Muertos (Juan of the Dead). The trailer was awesome (I've embedded it at the end of this review), and I knew I had to see this movie. When I found out Juan of the Dead was selected for Fantastic Fest I was muy happy. After watching this film I was muy muy happy -- Juan of the Dead is an amazing film.

Juan of the Dead tells the story of Juan (Alexis Diaz de Villegas), a slackerish Cuban always looking for his next score. When a zombie outbreak occurs, Juan doesn't see it as a crisis but as an opportunity. Juan and his buddies set up shop helping people dispose of friends and loved ones who have turned into the undead.

Fantastic Fest 2011, Day Seven: Following the Buzz


Hell's Alphabet coloring bookIt's now day seven of Fantastic Fest and festival fatigue has set in. I know I am not alone -- watching 4-5 movies a day can be exhausting. At this point of the festival, I am doing my best to catch some of the movies I missed earlier in the fest. I also spend my day watching films that have a "buzz." Today was a good one.

My day started plainly enough. I logged into the online ticketing system and for some reason I got in right away. Hoorah! I picked just two films, as one of the films I was going to watch had a press screening. After securing my reservation, I drove to Alamo Drafthouse to pick up my boarding passes. A fun trait of Fantastic Fest is that you never know who you will see milling about. Today's sighting was Alejandro Brugues, director of Juan of the Dead. As I drove up, he was waiting for a cab. Nothing like shaking the hand of someone whose film you love (my review is coming soon).

My first showing of the day was a film called Retreat. Retreat tells the story of Jack and Kate, a couple vacationing on a private island trying to reconcile problems in their marriage. During their stay, they find an injured man whom they take into their cabin. The man tells them that a virus has overtaken the mainland and they need to seal off the house. You never know whjether he is telling the truth. This movie plays like an episode of Twilight Zone. It an entertaining popcorn movie.

After watching Retreat, I was able to finally see Headhunters, a splendid Norwegian film about an art thief who gets into trouble with one of his marks. After last year's Fantastic Fest, I've become a real fan of their Norwegian cinema. I highly recommend watching this film if you have a chance.

Fantastic Fest Review: Snowtown



Earlier this year, I heard about a potentially cool horror film from Australia called Snowtown. My next-door neighbor had just returned from Down Under and had seen advertisements for this film. He thought Snowtown was my kind of movie and boy was he right.

Snowtown is a film based on real-life serial killer John Bunting. Bunting was the ringleader of a group who perpetrated a series of murders that became known as the Snowtown Murders. The murders took place in a town near Adelaide in Southern Australia and were also known as the Bodies in Barrels murders, as this is how the bodies were stored.

The movie starts with a single mother who leaves her children with a male friend, who proceeds to take nude pictures of the boys, it is also implied that he abuses them while they're in his care. It doesn't take long for the mother to realize something is wrong with her children and she quickly calls the authorities. When the pedophile is released quickly on bail she enlists people to help her carry out vigilante justice against the pedophile. Ultimately she finds John Bunting, who harasses the neighbor, eventually convincing him to leave.

Fantastic Fest Review: The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)


Human Centipede 2One of the most talked-about films of Fantastic Fest 2009 was a campy gross-out horror movie called The Human Centipede (First Sequence). Marketed as "100 percent medically accurate," it told the story of a crazed surgeon (played marvelously by Dieter Laser), hell-bent on attaching three human beings together into a human centipede. I missed this film at the fest, finally watching it on Netflix last month. I found it to be an interesting angle on gross-out horror.

Flash forward to Fantastic Fest 2011 where the opening-night movie is the sequel to the 2009 film: The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence). Human Centipede II is about Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), a morbidly obese, demented psychopath who has a sickening obsession with the original movie. Martin's obsession with Human Centipede manifests itself in the creation of an actual human centipede. The first three-quarters of this film is spent watching Martin stalk, assault and graphically abuse the victims who will become parts of his sickening creation. The last quarter is spent showing, in all of its gory details, Martin constructing his creation.

It's in the last scenes of the movie where writer/director Tom Six goes too far. The construction of the centipede contained some of the most gratuitous, gory and over-the-top imagery I have ever seen on film. I won't go into any details of what I watched but I will say that the imagery reached a level of pornographic detail that even the most depraved could not appreciate. I have a very high tolerance for gore in film but there is a threshold that even I don't want to cross. This movie far exceeded that limit and I can tell you this is a movie I wish I could un-see.

When I sat down to watch Human Centipede II I had no idea what to expect. The first film, while graphic, followed an approach to horror that I can appreciate: "Less is more." It was not as gory as I'd anticipated it would be. It was graphic in parts but it was also campy and I appreciated it for what it was. Human Centipede II has no point and delivers no redeeming value.

Fantastic Fest 2011, Day Two: Sex, Drugs and Snow


Drew Struzan Frankenstein posterMy Fantastic Fest Day 2 started in a coffeeshop with good coffee and strong wireless. I was waiting for the online ticketing system to open for non-VIP badgeholders. I got on around 9:30 am and shortly after 10, I was picking tickets for my movies for the day. I was fairly lucky -- I got three out of five tickets I really wanted. This new system works well and I cannot throw enough praise to Fantastic Fest for making it happen.

My first film of the day was from Japan: Body Temperature. This movie deals with immature relationships we can develop when we substitute real human relationships with artificial ones. The artificial angle here is a man who develops a "relationship" with a realistic-looking sex doll, and what happens when he makes real human contact.

Between films, I retreated to the "relaxing" atmosphere of the Alamo Drafthouse porch. Actually the porch is one of the best parts of Fantastic Fest and if you are not hanging out with us, you are missing out. Come say hello! While on the porch, I discovered something wonderful. In a brilliant marketing move, FEARnet set up an ice cream truck and fed us all delicious swirled ice cream cones. Yummy!

My next movie was another strange selection, Underwater Love -- a movie that crosses Howard the Duck with late-night Cinemax soft-core porn and music from Tenacious D. It's the story of a kappa, a creature from Japanese mythology, who returns to visit the woman who was his girlfriend before he died and was resurrected as a kappa. This movie has some of the strangest sex scenes I have seen and is extremely strange and funny.

My next stop was Mondo Tees. I stood in line to acquire one of the Drew Struzan Frankenstein posters (more info on the poster here). I am an avid Struzan collector and I was happy to be one of 50 people to get this poster at Fantastic Fest.

After that, I went to see El Narco (also known as El Infierno). El Narco tells the story of the drug cartels in Mexico. Because of the Mondo sale, I missed the first part of the film. What I did see was great. It was funny at times and shocking at others. It made a great statement on what is happing in Mexico today. Writer/director Luis Estrada did a Q&A at the end that was awesome. I highly recommend this movie.

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