Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kiss Means Kill: The Paranoid Pleasures of PONTYPOOL (2008)

If you're looking for a Halloween treat in your voluminous Netflix library, look no further. PONTYPOOL is one of the most original, offbeat, and peculiar horror films in quite some time. This Canadian gem largely takes place inside a talk show radio station recording studio (claustrophobia alert!) located in the titular unincorporated town in Ontario on a blustery cold Valentine's Day. The haggard host of the show, Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie from 300 and A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE) trudges into work looking like a hangover in a cowboy hat. Having just encountered a strange woman mumbling inaudibly outside his car, Grant is in no mood to deal with his micromanaging producer Sydney (Lisa Houle) whose incessant attempts at making him conform to radio standards bugs the hell out of him (if he is Howard Stern then she is his Pig Virus.)
Also just outside the recording booth is the perky and pretty Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly) who, having just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, seems to regard Grant as personal hero.
Grant dutifully reads news copy, cuts to the chopper-in-the-sky traffic reports, plays pre-recorded ads, weather reports, and even conducts an on-air interview, albeit one that ends ominously and forebodes much doom. Whenever Grant goes offscript, Sydney barks at him through her microphone while Laurel-Ann attempts to conceal her admiration for the rebel host.
All of this is mere prologue to a story that becomes more and more eerie and yes, claustrophobic, as eyewitness reports from the field indicate something truly bizarre is occurring in Pontypool yet no one seems to know exactly what that is (hence the oddball encounter at the film's start.)
Houle and Reilly are both good in their respective roles but like the radio show itself this McHattie is the star all of the way. His nearly skeletal visage, so frightening in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, is obscured somewhat by an unkempt, salt and pepper, beard, but the actor anchors the film with such a wizened, cool-as-a-cucumber, character that it becomes even more enjoyable as Grant becomes completely unhinged.
To reveal the mystery that lies at the heart of PONTYPOOL would spoil the pleasure of feeling the movie's grip slowly but surely tightening all around you. Like the best horror films, it forces its viewers to employ their imagination as rampant paranoia gives way to fear and then ultimately true terror. Think of the film as something of a cross between the best elements of Oliver Stone's TALK RADIO and David Cronenberg's VIDEODROME and you will have an idea of the grisly fun that awaits the discerning horror fan as they experience this unique and uniquely horrifying tale.

FURY (2014)

"Ideals are peaceful. History is violent." - Don "Wardaddy" Collier
FURY tells the story of five soldiers battling fiercely during the final days of World War II inside a tank nicknamed "Fury" (thank God it wasn't named "Nazi Killer" or the marketing department at Columbia would have really had an uphill battle.) The soldiers are led by the aforementioned Collier, played with weary determination by Brad Pitt. His tactical team, usually referred by their nicknames, are the taciturn Bible (Shia LaBoeuf, nicely underplaying) jokester Gordo (Michael Pena) Southern wild card Coon-Ass (Jon Bernthal) and the wet-behind-the-ears typist Norman (Logan Lerman, the Charlie Sheen of this platoon.)
The film is nearly non-stop action as the men inside Fury encounter one firefight after another. Director David Ayer (TRAINING DAY, END OF WATCH) puts the audience inside the tank and lets them witness the frantic procedures that go into firing a single missile. Easing the tension somewhat is the camaraderie amongst the men who refer to Fury as their home and behave like fraternity brothers.
Just when you think FURY is going to be one long battle, Ayer takes the men out of the tank and into the home of two German woman, one older, one much younger, where Collier and Norman bring them contraband goods in exchange for a meal and a place to a enjoy a brief respite from the sturm und drang It is easily the best scene in the film, as language remains a constant barrier for Norman and the younger, fresh-faced, Emma who slowly develop an attraction for one another. Ever the itinerant sergeant, Collier goads the virginal Norman into cutting to the chase as it were by curtly telling him," If you don't take her to the bedroom, then I will."
This extend moment of good will and reverie is eventually interrupted by the arrival of Collier's tank-mates and the peaceful mood cracks like a delicate eggshell. Just like Fury itself, the soldiers must constantly push forward, as war has no time for idleness.
The climactic battle of FURY is quite spectacular, and much like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, the horrors that the men encounter make the survivors envy the dead, as they at least won't be left with permanent scars.
It's quite a good film, but far from perfect. Pitt is good but not INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS good and some of the tragic moments are a bit arch. The Nazis are generally faceless targets in a shooting gallery but there are so many arresting moments, that the less successful scenes don't take away from the fact that FURY is an exciting, disturbing, yet poignant film, aggressively told by a director that has made his best movie to date.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

AMERICAN SNIPER - the first great movie of 2015?

2015 is already looking like a promising year for movies considering that Clint Eastwood's latest film, AMERICAN SNIPER, opens a mere three weeks into the new year. Based on the 2009 autobiography written by Chris Kyle, AMERICAN SNIPER concerns his career as a U.S. Navy SEAL and, with 160 confirmed kills and nearly 100 more unconfirmed, his ensuing notoriety as the deadliest sniper in U.S. history. Sadly, after a career that included four tours of Iraq and more medals and commendations imaginable, Kyle was gunned down at a shooting range in Chalk Mountain, Texas just four years after being honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy.
Judging by the just-released trailer, Eastwood has crafted an extremely tense but thoughtful film that chronicles the hard decisions combat soldiers must make when caught in a moral quandary. Bradley Cooper plays the intensely focused but conflicted title character and Warner Bros has wisely chosen to feature a continuous but agonizingly suspenseful scene from the movie instead of the usual "sizzle reel" approach.
AMERICAN SNIPER looks to be the perfect marriage between director, leading actor, and subject matter and January 15th can't come soon enough!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Greatness in Waiting: David Fincher's GONE GIRL (2014)

GONE GIRL is perhaps the most anticipated movie of the Fall season and early reports are confirming that the wait is well, well, worth all the hoopla. Based on former Entertainment Weekly staff writer Gillian Flynn's terrific best selling novel, GG stars Oscar-winning writer Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, a feckless husband whose wife Amy goes missing. Having read the book and skimmed the early reviews, that's all anyone should know going in because the story takes turns that you will not see coming. GONE GIRL isn't so much of a whodunnit as it is a whydunnit. It's a tense, fascinating, exploration of marital vows taken to the nth degree and despite the rather odd casting of Tyler Perry as a smarmy divorce attorney, I'm bee-lining for the nearest Alamo Drafthouse when it opens this Friday. Check out the early review blurbs: GONE GIRL is...
"The best movie David Fincher has ever made." - Jim Hemphill, American Cinematographer
"A high-quality mainstream crowd-pleaser in the best possible sense of the phrase." - Scott Mendelson, Forbes
"A work of chilly wit and bleak metaphor, an artifice that invites the kind of analytical response where we pull on our chins and discuss how other people, more naive than we, will receive it." - Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com
"Everything the book was and more - more, certainly, in its sinister, brackish atmosphere dominated by mustard-yellow fluorescence, designed to make you squint, recoil and then lean in a little closer." - Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
And to be fair, here is one of the few stinker blurbs:
"Fincher's chief delight seems to be in playing with genre conventions: what looks like an especially moody whodunit morphs first into a psychosexual thriller and then into what might just be straight-faced satire."- Matthew Lickona, San Diego Reader
GONE GIRL opens Oct. 3rd.