By Christopher Campbell | Spout November 23, 2010 at 9:33AM
Again let me remind everyone that I'm not much of a horror guy, but even if I've only seen a few titles of that genre this year I think I can honestly say "Countdown to Zero" is the scariest film of the year. Don't be fooled because it's a documentary, Lucy Walker's first release of this year (she also has the Oscar-shortlisted "Waste Land" currently in theaters) may not have any gore or vampires or zombies or exorcisms, but it does have some revealing details on how easy it is for terrorists to get their hands on nuclear weapons. And that is obviously a whole lot more real and therefore a whole lot more frightening. This is the stuff that will give you nightmares.
Produced by some of the same people as "An Inconvenient Truth," "Countdown" similarly presents a doomsday scenario, this one showing how much of New York City will be destroyed if a nuke goes off in Times Square. Between this and the water-level animation of "Truth," it's a wonder I still want to call the Big Apple my home. Don't think, though, that this won't be as scary to non New Yorkers. The film pretty much confirms that we as a planet are all destined for the worst. As you make your Thanksgiving travel plans this week, forget wondering what's worse, a body scan or a plane with a bomb on it. Just say your thanks on Thursday that we've surprisingly not seen any use of nuclear weapons since World War II and that none of the many (!) accidental launches and other mishaps were as devastating as they could have been.
Oh but what a good time to watch the film, in addition to it being a holiday weekend, when terror alerts are often high. Look, there's fighting between North and South Korea again. And North Korea might be currently increasing its nuclear program (even if claimed to be for nuclear power purposes) and ... well, that's the news media scaring me almost as much as Walker's film. Should we be as skeptical of documentaries using fear tactics as much as we should the TV news? Recently another doc, "Cool It," came out in part as a response to the overblown scariness of "An Inconvenient Truth." Perhaps we'll need a similar film that calms us down about the nuke issue? If such a thing can be made, yes. For now, though I'm shaking in my boots.
Here's a trailer for "Countdown to Zero," out on DVD today:
Also out on home video platforms this week is a film about a masked man who commits terrorist acts in the middle of the night, all over the world. Well some people think graffiti is an act of terrorism, or at least it has the potential to look like terrorism (remember the Boston scare of 2007 related to an "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" marketing stunt?). Also, who's to say Banksy isn't really Osama Bin Laden? Okay, that's going too far. I prefer to think of the elusive artist to be of the superhero variety of nighttime masked characters. And in his Oscar-shortlisted documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop," he's fighting the powers of the art world and exposing how ridiculous that world really is. In the film he has a sidekick (or is it an alter ego?) named Mr. Brainwash, and "together" they take on the Los Angeles gallery scene. I don't think it's as hilarious as it's made out to be, but it certainly will perplex you more than any real superhero movie will.
Here's a deleted scene, which reminded me of the Boston "terrorism" incident. The film, without this part, hits iTunes and video-on-demand channels today.