Thursday, February 25, 2010


Directed by Ti West, Starring Jocelin Donahue & Tom Noonan

Building tension is an art form I fear the horror genre doesn't have much use for anymore.  A killer's strike can be startling for sure, but waiting for the killer to strike can be excruciating.  This tension has been replaced with special FX, forcing me to reiterate the old, "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should" rule.  I am not entirely sure who made up that rule, but it was probably somebody's mother.  If there is one area "The House of the Devil" excels in, it's taking that rule to heart.

Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), like all college students, is desperate for cash.  She has found her dream place, but fears she may not have enough to put down a deposit.  When she finds an ad on campus for a babysitter, she doesn't think twice.  From the moment we hear the advertiser's voice on the phone, we do.  When she arrives, she is greeted by the naturally creepy Tom Noonan, who informs her that she is not expected to babysit a child, but his mother.  Uh-huh.  Remember that part of the grand horror tradition is a protaganist's lack of common sense.  She takes the job.

From here the film takes it's time, letting the house and the silence within it do all the work.  Samantha does little but watch television, listen to her walkman and explore her surroundings.  But you are always waiting, expecting this mysterious mother to make her appearance. 

Speaking of walkmans; remember walkmans?!  That's another area where the film succeeds in spades.  It feels like it was made in the 80's.  From the opening credits to its closing moments, Director Ti West never slips up.  Still, it is hard for me to declare this one a full success.  The pacing is perhaps a bit too deliberate and the ending is merely adequite.  But then, that tends to be a problem when you have spent so much time getting there.  "The House of the Devil" is a fun, throwback horror film.  Not entirely satisfying in the end but, worth the trip there.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty & Guy Pierce

Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) stares down into the trunk of an abandoned car.  It's been packed full of enough explosives to destroy himself and the embassy it's parked directly in front of.  In his eyes there is a mixture of fear, excitement and admiration as he begins removing his safety gear.  "If I'm going to die, I at least wanna be comfortable".  For my money there's not enough fear in the equation!  But James is a thrill junkie and, in Bravo company's elite bomb disposal unit he has found the perfect supplier.

I think it's fair to say that not everyone is mentally equipped to handle such a task.  And for a while at least, James' squad members question whether or not he's got the goods.  His biggest critic being Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), who operates as James' eyes and ears while he works.  Sanborn believes James will eventually get them all killed with his blatant disregard for the procedures Sanborn trusts to keep them alive.  They are both aided by Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), a young man who begrudgingly admires James' skill while simultaneously fearing his bravado.   The thing is, James is good.  So good in fact, that despite their best judgements both men find it increasingly difficult to argue with him.  And after all, there's hardly any time for bickering.

Part of the reason "The Hurt Locker" is so successful is because of it's emphasis on character over premise.  Director Kathryn Bigelow keeps a steady eye on her subjects, allowing no room for politics or plot points. We feel Sanborn's fear as he begs James to give up on that car bomb.  There's a crowd gathering, after all, and anyone of them could be the bombs creator.  We also feel James' determination.  He will not be beaten, and his tunnel vision threatens the safety of himself and those around him.

Renner has been nominated for his role and deservedly so.  It's the kind of part that requires an almost rigorous attention to detail.  Renner is tasked with portraying a man whose forgotten how to be anything other than what he now is.  How does one return to such menial tasks as grocery shopping, or caring for ones wife and child when you've stared death in the face on a day to day basis?  It is certain that not all men return from war with this mindset. It is just as certain that no one returns quite the same. 


Friday, February 19, 2010


Directed by Gary Marshall, Starring EVERYONE

Love is in the air, everywhere you look around....

So I suppose you have to go into a film like "Valentines Day" with a certain mindset.  You either have to be willing to accept its terminal whimsy or you've got a good two hours of suffering ahead of you.  I chose acceptance rather than resistence, and it did help....but only a little. 

Here's the premise, in so much as it can be coherently described: Somebody likes so-and-so but they don't know so they like somebody else whose perhaps not so great for them because they're either married or just a crappy person and in the end things work out for the best for all involved.  There are just too many characters to really get into the nuts and bolts of it all, so that will just have to do.  There are a few halfway decent stories, though.  Julie Roberts' story is simple, sweet and has a nice little surprise in the end.  Shirley McClaine and Hector Elizondo show that love can indeed strengthen over time and, Topher Grace and Anne Hathaway make a swell young couple over coming a minor hurdle on their way to happiness.  The rest of it is pretty much fluff, varying degrees of fluffiness.  I also feel that I should warn you about the Taylors, both Swift and Lautner.  They are borderline unwatchable.

So I can't really recommend "Valentines Day", though it is relevtively harmless.  I have read several other reviews describing this film as a bit of a poor mans "Love, Actually".  I believe I'll follow suit and recommend a viewing of that instead.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

FILMS I LOVE - Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

If you can watch "Night of The Living Dead" on an old, 10" black and white television, huddled under a tent made from your own bedding, I'd highly recommend you do so. The more intimate the viewing, the better.  In fact, I believe it to be one of those rare horror films that doesn't necessarily benefit from audience participation.  It wants to scare you in a much deeper, more personal manner.

The story is simple:  A young man and woman, brother and sister, stop by a cemetary to pay respects.  It is eerily quiet.  There are no other mourners (Sometimes a small budget can be a blessing in desguise.).  As the young man teases his obviously frightened sister with the imortal line, "They're coming to get you Barbara", a shabbily dressed man approaches and attacks her.  Her brother is killed in the scuffle, forcing her to retreat to a nearby farmhouse where she encounters a small group of characters with similar stories.  After discovering a television, not unlike the ideal one I mentioned earlier, they learn from the local news that the recently deceased are "returning to life and devouring the flesh of their victims".  It 's pretty grim stuff, and having grown up on the camp of "Channel 20's Thriller Double Feature", I was ill prepared for the loss of humanity "Night of The Living Dead" portrayed.  It shook me.  Normal people reduced to mindless, souless killing machines.  We were the monsters here, our friends and family. 

What's equally interesting about the film is the manner in which it develops it's story.  For all intents and purposes, "Night" starts off as a pretty fun, campy affair.  Its zombies are stiff and clumsy.  It's easy to find them amusing and for the most part all the characters can do is watch helplessly as more and more of the ghouls shamble towards the farm house.  But there's one particular scene near the middle of the film where director George Romero signals the fun's over.  It's shortly after a failed escape attempt has left a young couple dead in their pick up truck after it had burst into flames.  As the flames die down the ghouls slowly approach and begin tearing at the charred bodies, devouring them part by part, organ by organ.  It's a long sequence and it's filmed by an unflinching camera.  Roger Ebert described this transition in his review, stating that the film had gone from being "delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying".

Some argue (and justly so) that the films sequel, "Dawn of The Dead" is the superior film.  And while it's story is larger in scope, it's social commentary more deliberate and it's SFX vastly improved, it's hard for me to agree that "Dawn" is the scarier film.  There's something about it's predicessor that just stuck with me.  Perhaps it's a scene near the end where a mother is killed by her own daughter with a trowel?  Yeah, that'll do it.



Directed by Bruce McDonald
Starring Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle & Georgina Reilly

"Pontypool", which is quite possibly the worst title I've ever heard, pays homage to it's radio roots right from the start. Shock Jock Grant Mazzy, expertly played by Stephen McHattie, croons the story of a local womans missing cat over a black screen broken only by a red, skittering sound wave. I know it sounds mundane, but there's something inatley chilling about his delivery.  "Pontypool" banks a lot on that kind of vibe.

A great deal of the film is spent watching Mazzy "do his thing", much to the chagrin of his producer (Lisa Houle) and amusement of his board operator (Georgina Reilly).  Mazzys "thing", it seems, is pissing people off.  And though we get little to no explanation as to why he was fired from his original job and plopped in the small town of Pontypool, Ontario, we get an idea.  The man lives to start trouble.  Turns out this town doesn't really need his help.  Soon, Mazzy begins receiving phone calls describing mob scenes randomly erupting all over town.  Seems some folks have taken to babbling incoherently and eventually assaulting their fellow.... Pontypoolians?  Pontypoolans?  Whatever.  Point is, the source of this zombie-like behavior is revealed to be lurking somewhere within the english language itself, begging Mazzy to wonder whether his on the spot updates might be hurting more than helping.

I realize you've probably gotten hung up on that "lurking within the english language itself" business.  I must warn you I can be of little help with any real explanation and, I wouldn't expect "Pontypool" to give you one either.  The film is far more interested in the metaphorical, it seems than the literal.  It's taking the social commentary of Romero's zombie films to an extreme, and this is really where the film begins to derail.  The power of language as well as the construction and de-construction of words  are interesting topics, but do they really have any place in a zombie film?

I suppose I appreciate the attempt to bring something new to the table, even if it doesn't quite work.  It's just that "Pontypool" gets so strange and esoteric by the later half of the film that it kind of blind sides you.  Couple that with an ending that's a bit less than satisfying and what you have is a film that's reach far exceeds it's grasp.  So just what exactly is it about the english language that's setting people off?  It's really best if we don't talk about it.

*NOTE:  Yes, I do realize how many times I used "Pontypool" in this review.  There's something hypnotic about it, don't you think? Pontypool....Pontypool......