Monday, August 23, 2010

Pontypool (2008) A Different Kind of Infection

I don't need to expand on how much I enjoy infection horror. Don't ask me why I like it - I don't like being sick, and I don't want others to get sick. But hey, Dawn of the Dead and [REC] are among my favorite movies. It's the impossible and unlikely made realistic that draws me in, I think. When I saw the trailers for the Canadian film from Bruce McDonald, Pontypool, the idea intrigued me: the method to spread the infection isn't a bite or a sneeze or some alien spore, but words in the English language. That's the kind of outside-the-box thinking that makes me take notice.

Now, let's get some similarities out of the way. You may recall I took a look at a little film called Dead Air, which has several similar plot points. Radio talk show host trapped with some crew members while an infectious outbreak runs wild outside, of which we see very little. Seems like the same, but the paths they take are quite different. The characters are a little alike, but their goals are different: one is survival and trying to figure out how to stop something, the other is survival and trying to get back to family.

Grant Mazzy, played by perfectly grizzled Stephen McHattie (who had a wonderful part in Watchmen that was cut out), is a veteran talk radio host who has been ostracized from the big markets. He's the main star, whether he likes it or not, of small station CLSY in the Ontario town of Pontypool. On his way to the station one snowy morning, he encounters a strange woman who seems to be trying to say something, but stalks off. Arriving at the station, he sets about his normal broadcast day with producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) and engineer Laurel-Ann Drummond (Georgina Reilly). Mazzy talks about various things around Pontypool, checks in with the weather guy Ken Loney (calling from his car instead of a real helicopter), and drinks spiked coffee. Mazzy uses his strange encounter from earlier as a topic on the 911 service.

Slowly, things start getting strange. Reports trickle, then pour in, about people behaving strangely. Eventually, Ken Loney calls in, frantic that people are attacking other people, chanting slogans over and over. He mentions frantic attacks and instances of cannibalism as he runs, frightened and trying to hide. The BBC even calls in at one point to ask Mazzy his take on this horrible situation.

It's discovered that something has infected words in the English language. Mazzy even translates a burst of pirate broadcasting in the French language that spells out the danger. The broadcast ends with the warning, "Do not translate this message." Uh, oops. What words are infected? Well, nobody knows. A person could be talking, then start repeating words over and over. They become disoriented, then a little headstrong and bitey. Laurel-Ann shows the symptoms, then succumbs to the infection, uttering unheard phrases outside the soundproof booth. She also charges the glass like a rhino, disfiguring her pretty face.

Mazzy and Sydney battle to keep the infected out of the radio station (an old church) and to prevent themselves from falling victim to the strange plague. They are joined - in a very odd way - by the doctor whose clinic was initially attacked, one Dr. Mendez (Hrant Alianak). He gives some more insight into the "infected words" phenomenon, providing a clue into how to beat it - before falling to it himself. He survives long enough to leave as Mazzy and Sydney send out a looping phrase over the air that they hope will bring rescuers.

Sydney becomes infected and thinks her fate is sealed. Mazzy comes up with a plan: change the meanings of words. Change them so that the infection can't root itself in the speaker. It's a pretty creative little idea there to infect certain English words, then use meaning as an anchor for the disease to take effect. Well, it works. Sydney is cured.

But is it too late?

Despite the seemingly ambiguous ending (and the weird little snippet at the very end - still trying to figure that one out, maybe I missed something), a sequel appears to be in the works, Pontypool Changes. I'm interested to see where they go with that. As for this movie, I thought it was an interesting take on the infection horror genre. The script moves nicely, and is carried by the performance of McHattie. He always seems to resonate when he appears, whether it's as Elaine's psychiatrist lover Dr. Reston on Seinfeld or as the original Nite-Owl in Watchmen. He has a presence, and Pontypool is his movie. He delivers his lines with a growling cool that leads you to believe he really is a radio personality, and one that has paid his dues more than once.

The idea of infectious words made me think of DC Comics' Final Crisis, which I'm apt to do quite often anyway. You may remember a lengthy blog on the epic, apocalyptic comic series I wrote some time ago. The Anti-Life Equation, associated with Jack Kirby's Fourth World creations, is "mathematical proof that [supervillain] Darkseid is the true ruler of the universe" and is designed to grind humanity down to depressed, oppressed husks. If you have the time, read writer extraordinaire Grant Morrison's explanation:

I particularly like the description, "It is the E=MC2 of despair."

When the Anti-Life Equation is finally loosed on the world, it's first done through the Internet:

Billions are infected right away, Oracle states later in the series. That's definitely a statement on how we rely on technology to communicate. How do you get infected? Just listen to the Equation. The Justifiers - Darkseid's human "police force" - wear helmets that broadcast the Equation on a loop so that there is no free thought left.

Infected words. Think about it. Terrifying, really. Communication as we know it would have to change. In the movie, they could change languages, but what if...? What if the infection jumped languages? What if it infected the written word?


Well, fellow survivors, just be glad the zombies outside our gates don't even talk. I don't think I'd want to hear their infected words...

Until next time, folks...

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Triangle (2009) Somebody Divided By Zero

Every so often, a movie comes along and it...does something to your head. As a huge fan of LOST, I love a good puzzle on my screen. Something that makes me imagine or makes me ponder the odd circumstances in which the characters find themselves. Triangle, written and directed by Christopher Smith, is a movie in which someone, somewhere divided by zero, sending everyone - viewer included - tumbling into a pit like that kid falling into the hat dimension in the kid's show Lidsville.

Normally, when I share my thoughts on a film, I give a mostly-spoiler-free synopsis of what happens. Triangle is one of those films that to give a synopsis is to spoil the entire thing. I honestly can't get into the entire thing without spoiling everything. I can tell you what happens to a point, but I can't elaborate much after that. It really that wonderful sort of film that requires you to pay attention from start to finish...and beyond.

Here's what I can tell you: quiet, somewhat nervous beauty Jess (Melissa George) joins her good friend (and nice guy who's attracted to her) Greg (Michael Dorman) on his boat, along with Greg's young first mate Victor (Liam Hemsworth), yuppie couple Downey and Sally (Henry Nixon and Rachel Capriani), and their friend Heather (Emma Lung). Greg's worried about Jess, who has left her autistic son Tommy (Joshua McIvor) at his school. Downey and Sally don't care for Jess and have brought Heather along to fix her up with Greg. Setting sail, it isn't long before they encounter strange radio broadcasts and a violent freak storm which capsizes their boat.

It isn't a spoiler to mention that Heather is lost during the storm, and the survivors manage to make their way on board an oddly-quiet luxury liner happening their way. Once they board, they begin to explore.

This is when it gets weird.

The rest of the movie - and even parts up to and including the basics I just mentioned - is a trip that will surely make you rewind, rewatch, and end up insanely scrawling mad equations on the wall of your padded cell. Things happen. You want there to be a solution, but like the myth of Sisyphus, who was doomed to roll a rock uphill repeatedly for all eternity (and who's mentioned in the movie), it's not going to come easily.

As for the movie itself, it's tightly written and well-directed with a standout performance by Melissa George. This really is her movie, and she's up to the challenge. The movie looks good and director Smith makes the most of mounting tension and stunning reveals throughout. There will be inevitable comparisons to Timecrimes, but I personally found Triangle to be the superior movie - and was allegedly conceived well before Timecrimes.

Really, check this one out. Give yourself a good movie-watching atmosphere and follow the bouncing ball, because it'll have you bouncing off the walls. Then think about what you just saw and try to figure it out. That's the fun.

Oh, yeah, and that kid from Lidsville? He divided by zero. Check it out:

You don't want that to happen to you, do you? Trapped in a dimension of giant talking hats, being pursued by an evil Charles Nelson Reilly?

Until next time, friends, practice safe math. Seriously.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Outpost (2008) The Punisher Meets Some Evil Nazi Zombies

When you need a villain, you really can't go wrong with those evil Nazi bastards. There's a built-in hatred for those master race jerks that allows you to cheer when they're mowed down by the dozen. Make them zombies or ghosts or whatnot, and *bam*...instant supernatural villain. They're villains in the truest sense of the word. No cheering for them because it's "edgy" or "cool" (see World Championship Wrestling's 90's faction The New World Order). If you're cheering for the Nazi, then get off my lawn now.

Much in the same way Dead Snow brought scores of superhuman, very undead Nazi zombies to battle against innocent Norwegian vacationers, the 2008 British horror offering Outpost has a group somewhat more prepared for battle going up against undead Nazi super-soldiers. Throw in a slight touch of sci-fi, and you have an interesting premise.

Soldier of fortune DC (Ray Stevenson of Punisher: War Zone) and his band of merry men have been hired by secretive corporate fellow Hunt (Julian Windham) to open up and explore a bunker deep in some war-torn Eastern European forest. DC's got quite the international team of mercenaries, with guys from the USA to Belgium to Russia. The USA's representative, Prior is played by Richard Brake. You may remember him as my favorite part of Perkins' 14.

And imagine my surprise and delight when I find out that the Irish representative in this team, McKay, is played by none other than Michael Smiley, the rave-obsessed, mood-swinging bike messenger Tyres from my favorite Brit-com, Spaced.

I kept waiting for him to spout his trademark, "Oi-oi! You lucky people!" But alas, this was a more serious role.

The team enters the bunker and find some weirdness right off the bat. Radios don't work very well, and on top of possible snipers bearing down on them, they find someone somewhat alive. A strange, silent bald man lies among a pile of bodies in a mysterious room. No one knows how he could've arrived there, since the bunker was pretty much sealed and hadn't been touched in decades. Upon further investigation, they discover not only is the bunker very old, and not only was it used by the Nazis in World War II, but it was used for some of the more bizarre experiments.

In this bunker, the Nazis apparently tried creating the perfect soldier: one with tremendous capacity for physical strength and cruelty, as well as being virtually indestructible. Not only that, there's the whole reason that Hunt guy is there. Seems the Nazis were also experimenting with reality and time distortion, and there's a machine there his bosses want. The closer he gets to deciphering and understanding the machine, the worse it gets for him and the merc team. Shadowy figures appear on the perimeter. Members of the team go missing and then turn up, tortured and murdered.

Like evil undead super-ninjas, the Nazi super-soldiers get inside the bunker and then the kicker: the helpless, catatonic guy they found at the beginning. Not so helpless after all. While watching one of the films found in the bunker, it's discovered that Silent Bald Guy is really Ultra-Evil Nazi General Guy. He survived the experiment, plus a shot to the head, and is looking to reclaim his mantle as leader.

It comes down to The Punisher DC doing his best to mow down the advancing undead superhumans, but to no avail. Everybody goes, and they don't go pretty. When a recovery team arrives to assess the situation and maybe rescue who might be left (um, no one at this point), the silhouettes appear again at the treeline and we know everyone is pretty much screwed.

This was another movie that didn't wow me, but didn't totally disappoint. The notion of space and time being slightly warped intrigued me. The thought that there was possibly more going on there than what we actually saw. Exactly what could that machine do? I'd like to know more, and it looks as though I may get to, as a sequel is in the works for later this year. This film looked good and had some nice performances. While Richard Brake again played a loony, which he does very well, it was nice to see Michael Smiley show range since I mostly associate him with his wacky character on Spaced. So, mixed feelings on this one, mostly positive, though. I say show me more - there is more that can be done with this story, and it could be tightened up into a nice package.

Still, when all is said and done, The Punisher would have had a field day on those supernatural goose-steppers.

Until next time, fellow survivors, don't mess with the space-time continuum. It makes a mess.

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