Wednesday, 1 September 2010

If Zombies Could Talk...

There are some films that cause controversy right from the start. You can't even classify them without starting some serious flame wars. Take for example 28 Days Later. As soon as it was described as a zombie film the gloves came off faster than a prom dress in a limo. The message boards on IMDb were clogged, debating the finer points of zombie classification, and whether the essence of the zombie film was more important than the endless search for brains. Oddly, the film I'm reviewing today has managed to avoid all of this controversy. Possibly because it had an extremely limited release of only 1 screen in the US.

Pontypool begins with Grant Mazzy, played by Stephen McHattie (a prime of example of 'Hey, it's that guy from that other thing!') a shock jock who has been black listed and cast out into the Canadian winter. The only job his agent has been able to secure for him is hosting the morning radio show in the archetypal small town of Pontypool.

Things start to get a little strange for Grant early one morning on his way to work. While stuck at some traffic lights, a disoriented woman tries to get his attention before melting back into the darkness echoing Grants calls back to him. The day continues to get more sinister as at first, reports of a riot are mixed in with the everyday mundanities, before increasingly shocking and confusing calls begin to build a picture of something far more dangerous. The people of the town are developing a pack mentality, repetitively murmuring and shouting phrases and sounds they've heard. Aggressively pursuing and tearing into the unaffected.

The suspense, fear and isolation that builds up over the course of the day through the progressively disturbing and descriptive reports from people on the scene begins to take it's toll, and the atmosphere it creates is truly creepy. People in the know in Pontypool are extremely thin on the ground, and it is not until almost an hour in that we start to get some exposition of what's been happening, and how the infection is spreading.

Almost the entire film takes place in the basement that the radio show broadcasts from, with only Grant, his producer Sydney (Lisa Houle), and technician/ex-military local hero Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly). The limited cast might seem like a drawback, but their incompleteness is what adds the spin to their decisions and reactions. Grant's aggressive and depressive style is determined to unravel what's going on. Sydney's torn between maintaining the order in her town and making something of the biggest story of her career. Laurel-Ann has great admiration for her colleagues, and is the only person with high-stress survival experience.

Pontypool is likely to leave you with a lot of questions. It provides you with some answers, implies some others, and some are left up to the watcher to decide. You may be left with some mysteries that you can't explain, and you might find this frustrating or intriguing. It's one of those films that doesn't leave you just because you stopped watching it, and I found myself thinking about it on and off for the next week. If you give it a chance, Pontypool is a tense claustrophobic zombie thriller, without the zombies. Try and get hold of it if you can, and then start some fights on IMDb!

Monday, 30 August 2010

Those Delightful Quirks

So, despite the rocky relationship I share with film, and the myriad of complaints I have; there are still some flaws that are nothing but endearing, and these are my guilty pleasures. It's often painfully easy to spot how bad they are, but there's something that lets you look past it all, and for me that's a real achievement.

I've been trying to work out what the mystery aspect is that can make an otherwise bad film become so loved, but for every common factor I find, there are twice as many examples of it failing miserably. Do I love 'Hard Target'* because it's so unapologetically serious in every ludicrous scene? Then why does every Steven Seagal film suck? Does 'Dude, Where's my Car?' work for me because of the bizarre, non-sequitur randomness of the plot? Then why does 'Spice World'** make me want to set fire to the writer...slowly? I want that bitch to smolder. I'm going to stop the examples there as I'm just listing crap films I like and I suspect it's damaging my credibility.

Overall, that magical elixir seems to be a dynamic combination of factors, that combine with the hosts DNA in new and unique ways to produce a truly unpredictable attraction. And this seems to be the mystery. The bonds that we have for these films are as personal to us as fingerprints, and are as unexplainable as our own desires. While these flicks stand out as the obvious flaws in cinema, our fondness for them make them the endearing quirks in our own film psyche's.

*If you've not seen it, imagine Jean-Claude Van Damme fighting off a variety of gun-crazy caricatures who would look over the top in a 'Captain Planet' episode, that are hunting him for the sake of evil. All done in over the top John Woo style so that it takes 50 bullets to dramatically miss someone 6 feet away (in slo-mo)!

**Hideous Spice Girls movie, from back in the day. If you're remotely interested in finding out about it, then please watch this review first

Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Love/Hate Relationship

OK, so I'm quite big into films. I love them, I have bookcases filled with DVD's. If I meet someone new, I want to find out what films they like, so that I can recommend them an awesome film that I believe they'll like, and they've probably never heard of. I love the medium of film, and the possibilities that it can afford a gifted film maker. The problems in our relationship comes from the consistent disappointment that I get from watching them.

I have been jaded beyond the point where hype can touch me. Trailers no matter how stunning leave me with a capital Meh. Film has let me down more times than seem possible, and I still love it. I'm the abused husband of a multi-billion dollared marketing sponsored whore, who sells out for pennies. I wish it could be different. I wish film would realise the value that it has inside itself, and how much worth it has beyond what it's happy to be. But alas. It is what it is, and I'm not prepared to throw away the true gems of our relationship, to spare me the countless indignities I have endured, and have still yet to endure.

I'm not a film snob. I don't insist on watching films from eastern European countries that only shoot in black & white and have to have a director with at least one conviction for sexual deviancy. I'm not an elitist. I don't criticise bland camera angles, or poor choices in cinematography. I'm not an intellectual who refuses to waste my time on anything not expanding my concept of the collective unconcious and it's parallels to my favourite Russian revolution. I don't immediately reject the films of Hollywoods monthly 'A' list, and my most beloved actors and directors have all let me down at times. So what am I?

I have decided to label myself as a 'Purist'. What I'm looking for is something new. Not completely new, just something done in a new way, or a different take of an old idea. Something that might make me doubt what's coming next. As an example, take romantic-comedies. For the love of Cthulhu, a heavily concussed wildebeast could correctly give you the plot for any romantic-comedy after seeing only the trailer. They're as safe as suggesting Jack Black play an offensively funny but likable character. So finding an original take on one should be the easiest thing on the planet.

Seriously why can't one director or writer go "Hey, how about if couple don't get angry with each other and break up for an arbitrary reason at the end of the second act while we play the sad emotional song of the day in the fucking rain! You know, just to shake some shit up!" Why this seems to be impossible I don't know, but there is a recent example of someone taking a chance and making a damn fine rom-com, that goes by the name '(500) days of summer'. The relationship in the film is far from perfect, we can see how it's built up in the minds of the characters beyond what it ever was, and it feels real. Hind sight is awesome, and I'm sure most of you have been in the situations where you feel like your relationship is some idyllic slice of paradise, until she runs off with the douche who still owes you £100 from when he got that elderly dwarf hooker in Amsterdam (Bitch!), and then you can see how your piece of prime real estate is actually pretty close to the sewage plant, and built on a zombie burial ground, with nary a machete shop in sight.

I'm sure there was a point somewhere. Oh yes. Please film, please try and do something original occasionally. I've tried to just take a blockbuster as it is and enjoy it, but I can't. I just see poorer versions of better films (ie Die Hard > Under Siege). When I finally see a film that surprises me, I know that there's still hope left. The disappointments of leaving so many cinemas wash away, and I'm glad I'm there to appreciate it. I've seen something that made me think, something that I wasn't expecting, and something to try and get other people excited about too. If you're interested in trying to see something approaching originality, then here are some of my recent favourites that you might not of heard of:

Moon (sci-fi)
Time Crimes (sci-fi)
Defendor (superhero/comedy)
Pontypool (horror)
Triangle (mystery)
(500) Days of Summer (rom-com)
Dogville (drama)
The Fountain (I have no idea how to classify this)