Pussy Riot and zombies coming out of the closet

Jun 8 2013 - 11:01pm

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Luke Newberry and David Walmsley star as Kieren and Rick in “In the Flesh.”

DES WILLIE/BBC
Luke Newberry and David Walmsley star as Kieren and Rick in “In the Flesh.”

DES WILLIE/BBC

Punk music is a dangerous game in some corners of the world, as detailed in the revealing HBO documentary "Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer."

Directed by Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin, and assembled rapidly after a six-month shoot, "Pussy Riot" presents as full a portrait as we've seen of the three balaclava-wearing young women arrested and imprisoned following their protest performance at a Moscow cathedral last year.

On Feb. 21, 2012, five members of the feminist art collective, colorfully dressed in their trademark jumper dresses, tights and bright-hued ski masks, staged a guerrilla performance on the altar of Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

"The Church praises rotten rulers," is a typical lyric, which might lose poetry in the translation but makes its point nonetheless.

The anti-Putin protest lasted only 40 seconds, but became an Internet sensation and cause celebre.

Three of the women, familiarly known as Nadia, Masha and Katia, were soon tracked down and charged with, among other things, disrupting the social order. (Katia was later released on appeal.)

Combining news clips, rehearsal video, interviews and, most revealingly, actual trial footage, "Pussy Riot" does a fine job not only in profiling these smart, articulate activists -- the beautiful, charismatic Nadia, in particular, has the makings of a genuine rock star -- but also in explaining the government's overreaction.

For some aging Muscovites, Pussy Riot resurrected memories of communist "hooligans" disrupting church services.

But even in that context, the Pussy Riot trial -- an oddly informal, rather shabby affair to my eyes -- is revealed as the sham it was, with convictions all but guaranteed.

"We are jesters," Nadia says in her fruitless address to the judges. "Holy fools."

She and Masha are serving two-year sentences at a Russian labor camp.

"Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer" airs 10 p.m. Monday on HBO.

*****

BBC America's three-part "In the Flesh" is a clever take on the zombie craze, with the undead not only walking, but talking, loving and generally trying to fit in.

Set in the fictional English village of Roarton, "Flesh" picks up four years after a mysterious "rising," in which the recently dead clawed their way out of graves with an insatiable appetite for human flesh.

It turns out they are sufferers of PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome), a condition treatable with the proper meds.

As part of a government effort to reintegrate the newly becalmed "rotters" into society, teenager Kieren Walker (a sensitive Luke Newberry) returns home to parents and a sister still grieving over his suicide four years earlier.

"Flesh" finds most of its drama in the village's hostile reaction to the returning dead, forcing all but the most out- and-proud zombies to cover their pasty skin with make-up and their dead-fish eyes with colored contacts.

The gay allegory is a bit too spot-on (and dated) to have much impact, particularly in Kieren's secret love for a closeted zombie (David Walmsley) who happens to be the son of the town's most vehement bigot.

But writer Dominic Mitchell grounds the tale with a low-key credibility (no "True Blood"-like camp). A game cast (particularly Newberry and, as his outspoken zombie pal Amy, Emily Bevan) brings the nightmare to life.

"In the Flesh" airs at noon today  on BBC America.

*****

USA Network adds another summertime diversion to its seasonal line-up with "Graceland," a silly, sun-and-fun crime drama.

Blending "21 Jump Street" with "The Real World," "Graceland" brings together a beach house full of young (or young-ish) undercover crime busters.

When not surfing the waters of southern California, the do- gooders (including Daniel Sunjata, in a come-down from "Rescue Me") solve crimes you'll be unable to recall from one sunny day to the next.

"Graceland" airs at 11 p.m. Thursday on USA Network.

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