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October 2010

Newsmakers

cast: Andrey Merzlikin, Yevgeni Tsyganov, Mariya Mashkova, Maksim Konovalov, and Aleksei Frandetti

director: Anders Banke

102 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Showbox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
review by Christopher Geary

Newsmakers

Anders Banke, the director of Frostbite (aka: Frostbitten, 2006) - an Arctic vampire movie which predated 30 Days Of Night - follows up that minor genre coup with this remake of Johnnie To's Breaking News (aka: Dai si gin, 2004 ). Yes, this is that rare cinematic beast, a Russian version of a Hong Kong action flick!

The crazily dangerous days of Newsmakers (aka: Goryachie novosti) begins with a team of cops on a morning's routine surveillance of armed suspects. Presumably, the detectives on stakeout duty hope to catch this gang before, or during, their next heist. All is going well until a pair of suspicious traffic cops halt the gang's van, prompting a shooting incident that leaves plain-clothes and uniformed officers dead on the streets of Moscow, and launches a massive gunfight where vehicles, including the ambulance that's responding to a car accident, are hijacked or destroyed by explosives. Although no valuables or money is stolen here, this opening sequence is highly reminiscent of the shoot-out, following a bank robbery, in Michael Mann's classic crime drama, Heat (1995).

Blasting away with tactical shotguns, iconic Kalashnikov assault rifles, plus an RPG launcher, the gangsters turn busy urban areas into a veritable war zone in which local police, led by Smirnov (Andrey Merzlikin), with only standard-issue semi-automatic pistols, are unable to cope. They are completely out-gunned. Catching the attention of a TV news crew - attending the road accident (which involves a blonde pop-star, later interviewed as a witness) - sensational video is recorded to be replayed across various channels, to the acute embarrassment of Russian authorities, deeply offended by the obvious inability of Moscow police to maintain law and order, and keep city streets - in sight of the Kremlin - free of anarchy, and safe from such extraordinary violence.

A solution is presented to address official concerns and what happens next is the crux of this movie, as deputy PR captain, Katya (Mariya Mashkova), is granted operational control of turning the manhunt into a reality TV show, in which special-forces troops are given miniature video cameras to fix on their helmets. Now, Katya (bubbling with enthusiasm into her mobile phone: "All these hunky guys in flak jackets listening to me!"), is aided by a highly respected TV director, in the police control booth, to edit video feeds to satisfy commanders' requirements for a televised commando raid upon the gangsters' hideout in a residential tower block. While also demonstrating a slickly organised crime-fighting operation that can salvage the police's tarnished reputation, and restore the public's trust with a robust security initiative, is one which, by dint of being open to scrutiny, portrays the police as people, instead of just cogs in a faceless machine of government.

However, what photogenically presentable Katya fails to anticipate is that the crooks are equally capable of manipulating media and public attention - via video uploads to Internet sites - in their favour. Even as the evacuation of most tenants from a targeted building goes ahead, the baddies occupy a flat and take one family hostage, negating Katya's PR strategy with their own spin-doctoring of this volatile situation, benefiting from a web-cast of contradictory images showing the alleged villains sitting down for a cooked meal (prepared by the gang!) with the lone parent and his young children. It is a supremely cunning example of misrepresenting info terrorism as TV soap opera.

That events will eventually twist and spiral beyond any individual's control is a given in this often wryly amusing scenario. It all ends up, predictably enough, as not simply another hectic day at the office for kidnap victim Katya, who is disarmed, and used as a human shield by one escaping bad guy, closely pursued by relentless Smirnov in the climactic chase sequence.



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