31 Days Of Horror: Pontypool

Shock rock dj Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) runs into a strange woman who keeps chanting the word blood on his way into work.

Once at work news breaks that a riot has broken out and several people are dead. While covering it they lose contact with the reporter on the scene.

They receive a transmission in French informing them to remain indoors, not to use terms of endearment, rhetorical discourse, or the English language and not to translate the message.

They find out that the town is under quarantine. It seems that there is a virus in the English language that infects people and makes them spread it through language. They also get violent and start biting/eating each other.

Soon a group of infected people are attacking the radio station.

Based on the novel Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess this excellent intense horror film does a different spin on the zombie/virus infection genre.

31 Days Of Horror: It Comes At Night

A virus has ravished the world. Paul (Joel Edgerton) his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) all live in their house in the woods. They have rules to protect themselves from the virus and other people.

They capture a man trying to break into the house. After tying him up outside overnight to make sure he doesn’t have the virus they find out that the man, Will (Christopher Abbott) has a wife and son and he was looking for water for them.

Sarah suggests letting Will and his family live with them. Paul goes over the rules. The front door always stays locked and only Paul and Sarah have a key. And no one goes out at night.

One day Travis’ dog runs off into the woods. Travis thinks he hears something out in the woods. One night Travis gets up and finds the front door unlocked and open. Travis’ dog returns sick the virus. They kill and burn it. Then Travis reveals that the door was open.

This is a pretty cool low key thriller. Director Trey Edward Shults crafts a quietly intense film where there are no monsters, just people and the unknown.

31 Days Of Horror: The Howling

It’s pretty clear that zombies have a viral disease that spreads through bites. Yesterday’s Dawn of the Dead demonstrated that. Depending on what vampire movie you are watching either vampire bites are infectious or just drinking vampire blood. Either way again a viral infection. But what about werewolves?

It’s clear that being bitten by a werewolf can create new werewolves but there is some films like An American Werewolf in London were the attack is more of a transferring a curse than an infection. The 1981 Joe Dante directed The Howling, it’s clear that werewolfism is a viral infection caused by bites.

Reporter Karen White (Dee Wallace) has been receiving phone calls from serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo) and has agreed to meet him. The police have Karen wired and have officers trying to track her. They lose her and the transmitter signal keeps cutting out. Karen meets Eddie in a porno shop where he attacks her. The police save her killing Eddie.

Karen has amnesia from the event and suffers from severe trauma. Her doctor, Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee) suggests that Karen and her husband Bill (Christopher Stone) spend a couple of weeks at his country retreat that he calls the Colony. There they meet and odd sort of characters.

Meanwhile Karen’s co-worker Terri (Belinda Balaski) continues investigating Eddie. She finds that he was obsessed with werewolves which leads her to investigate into the legends of werewolves.

Back at the Colony Karen keeps hearing wolves at night and things seem off. Bill is attacked by a wolf and bitten. Without revealing the ending Karen and Terri soon find out the terrifying secret of the Colony and the source of Karen’s trauma.

I love this movie. It’s fun and the effects still hold up well. There was a lot of potential for the many sequels that followed but sadly they are all pretty bad.

VOD REVIEW: ‘2067’ Brings Back the Australian Dystopia

For reasons worth exploring at depth, Australian cinema is uniquely good at exploring apocalyptic scenarios: The Mad Max movies, The RoverThese Final HoursCargo, you name it. They’re all perfectly believable and unsettlingly dark.

2067, the latest production to join this weird little subgenre, doesn’t reach the heights of Max Rockatansky and company, but the bleakness and lack of faith in mankind is right there. Earth has gone to the dogs in believable fashion: Energy sources are dwindling, the greenhouse effect has killed most plants in the planet and the air is so rarified, oxygen is only available in synthetic form. This has also caused an acute class division in which only the employed have a shot at survival. And not for long.

Ethan Whyte (Kodi Smit-McPhee, now in proper adult roles) is a nuclear technician barely scrapping by. His main concern is the wellbeing of his partner, who’s coughing blood and not getting enough oxygen. The opportunity of a lifetime falls in his lap when he’s offered the chance to go into the future and bring back remedies to the many maladies affecting the world. But something else seems to be at play, as the time-travelling machine calls for him specifically to do the trip.

2067 deserves kudos for how far stretches a modest budget. The obvious Blade Runner influences are palpable and for the most part it’s quite effective at portraying a rundown society on the verge of collapse. The problem is not the production design, but a script that’s not nearly as clever as it thinks that it is. Every ground-shattering twist can be seen from a mile away and the family drama at the center of this sci-fi romp is the least interesting part of it.

While not well supported by the dialogue (portentous, yet barely functional), Smit-McPhee and True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten are likeable enough to carry the audience to the conclusion. The film flirts with hard sci-fi concepts like time paradoxes and religious ideas like predestination, but doesn’t develop them enough. There’s a good movie somewhere in 2067, but this one takes one wrong turn too many. 2.5/5 breathless planets.

2067 is now available on demand.

31 Days Of Horror: Rabid

October is here already and that means that it’s time for another 31 Days of Horror! This year’s theme is well……….pandemic/epidemic horror movies which is the really the theme of this entire year.

To start things off we are starting with some good old fashioned Canadian horror by director David Cronenberg.

Released in 1977 and set in rural Quebec and Montreal, Rose (Marilyn Chambers) and her boyfriend Hart (Frank Moore) are involved in a motorcycle accident out in the countryside. Hart suffers from a broken arm and some bruises but Rose is pinned under the bike while it burns suffering severe burns to her chest.

Fortunately there is a private plastic surgery clinic near the accident and Dr. Dan Keloid (Howard RyshFrankcomes to the rescue and saves Rose with an experimental surgery using morphogenetically neutral grafts. Rose survives but is in a coma for a month. Hart is released from the hospital and goes home to Montreal.

Rose wakes up screaming and a nearby patient comes to help her. The patient can’t remember what happened but his arm is wounded and his one side is numb and the wound won’t stop bleeding. Dr. Keloid sends him to the Montreal General Hospital.

Rose seems fine. But the procedure has altered her. She can’t survive on food. In her armpit she has developed a stinger that stabs her victims and drains their blood, which Rose needs to survive. The victim meanwhile can’t remember the attack and soon after they start becoming violent, foam at the mouth and need to bite someone. The victim soon dies after. And the bite spreads the virus creating more foam raging people.

Soon there are several more victims and a “rabies” outbreak is sweeping across Montreal and martial law is declared. Hart is trying to find Rose and Rose has no idea of the terrifying infection that she has unleashed.

The movie was one of the highest grossing Canadian movies at the time and it gave Marilyn Chamber her first mainstream role.

https://youtu.be/Fr4ZLdhoQRY

REVIEW: Antebellum Makes America Grey Again

The wave of horror laced with social content has been a respite after the umpteenth zombie movie or Paranormal Activity knockoff. Antebellum doesn’t quite reaches the heights of Get Out, but it’s a sturdy feature that makes great use of the ‘confederation nostalgia’ sweeping America’s redest corners.

The charismatic Janelle Monáe is Eden, a slave in a confederate garrison. We meet her as a breakout attempt has gone horribly wrong and she’s held as responsible. But even after the botched escape, others in the plantation see her as a leader, a position she’s reluctant to accept.

Those who saw the (perhaps too revealing) trailer know Monáe also plays a successful academic in modern times. The heart of the movie lies on how are these two characters linked, a plot twist I won’t reveal here.

Antebellum brings together these two pivotal eras to underline how little certain elements of American society have evolved. It does it first broadly, showing the excruciating cruelty of the slavery, and then bringing attention the casual racism, insidious enough to be noticed, but low-key so it’s often tolerated. The film also highlights how intelligence can be particularly irritating for bigots who think of themselves as superior (see Trump’s obsession with Obama).

The main reveal is certain to launch a thousand think pieces, but all you need to know is that it works. When you think about it, it’s horrifying because it’s not far-fetched.

Social undertones aside, Antebellum is a serviceable piece of entertainment. The movie is lusciously shot and allows a modicum of comedy when appropriate. Every so often, the writer/director duo of Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz feel the need to spell out the themes of the film (“discrimination is written in the DNA of this country”, “unresolved past can wreak havoc in the present”), but overall it’s worth your time. 3/5 planets.

Antebellum is now available on demand.

TIFF ’20 – Day 6: MLK/FBI, Beans, Good Joe Bell, Concrete Cowboy

MLK/FBI (USA, 2020. Dir: Sam Pollard): We all have a generic idea of the contentious relationship between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the FBI. It’s common knowledge that the director of the Bureau, J. Edgar Hoover, had King under constant surveillance given his considerable influence over the black community. Turns out there’s a lot more to the story. According to recently declassified documents, the trigger was King’s acquaintance with a communist lawyer. Both Kennedy and LBJ were aware of Hoover’s illegal surveillance of MLK and didn’t do anything to stop it. In turn, reports of King’s extra-marital dalliances failed to sway his followers away from him, irritating Hoover. MLK/FBI is filled with fascinating details about this period and excellent footage. The doc does a great job putting all the pieces together. The outcome is a notch cold, but it’s definitely worth your time. 3/5 planets aware of the limits between public and private life.

Beans (Canada, 2020. Dir: Tracy Deer): A look to the Oka Crisis through the eyes of a tween, Beans is a different kind of coming-of-age story, one in which the edges are not sanded off. A 12-year-old Mohawk girl nicknamed Beans gets a crash course in adulthood when, as a result of the standoff to protect her people’s land from developers, gets to face racism, violence and police inaction first hand. Not only that, a friendship with older teens push Beans towards uncharted territory too early. The film is rough around the edges—the acting is at times amateurish and the dialogue could have used more polishing— but triggers visceral reactions other movies wish they could. 3.5/5 planets that won’t forget.

Good Joe Bell (USA, 2020. Dir: Reinaldo Marcus Green): Based on real events, Good Joe Bell is a well-intentioned effort (even though it has written “Mark Wahlberg wants an Oscar” all over) that avoids getting into difficult territory. The titular character (Wahlberg) is a grieving father whose son committed suicide after being bullied for being gay. His reaction is to walk across America to raise awareness, but his own responsibility on the tragedy slowly creeps in (reluctantly accept your kid’s homosexuality doesn’t cut it). Written by the same team behind Brokeback Mountain—Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana—Good Joe Bell doesn’t come close to break new ground: Bullying is bad, inaction is bad, platitudes are useless and people suck. We know all that. Also, why isn’t this movie about the kid and not the straight guy who wants to feel better about himself? 2.5/5 planets happy at least it’s not Entourage 2.

Concrete Cowboy (USA, 2020. Dir: Ricky Staub): You know your life has taken a turn for the worse when you’re sharing accommodations with a horse. It’s what happens with Cole (Caleb McLaughlin, Stranger Things), after his fed-up mom drops him at his father’s place in Philadelphia. Two options present themselves to Cole: Double down on his bad behavior and join a criminal enterprise or accompany his presumed deadbeat dad (Idris Elba) at the city stables and learn to tame horses. While Cole’s story is perfunctory as heck (trouble kid is redeemed by his love for horses), the setup is worth your attention: For years black cowboys have been training horses on the streets of Philly, but city development has been pushing them away. That story should have anchored this movie, not been relegated to the background. 2.5/5 planets that are all for teens developing character, but in their own time.

TIFF ‘20 – Day 5: Violation, Limbo, New Order, 76 Days

Violation (Canada, 2020. Dir: Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Dusty Mancinelli): We have been subjected to a fair share of rape-and-revenge films, most as tasteless as I Spit in Your GraveViolation doesn’t bring anything new to the table plot-wise, but there’s enormous value on the female gaze, which should have dominated the conversation in the first place. Sims-Fewer (also the lead) and Mancinelli use extremely close ups to strip the movie of any possibility of titillation and to suggest they’re going deep into the psyche of the victim. Whenever not reveling in nature-inspired semiotics, the film is disturbing. Could have been more noteworthy if it wasn’t because I May Destroy You got so much more from tackling the same subject. 2.5/5 avenging planets. 

Limbo (UK, 2020. Dir: Ben Sharrock): The drama of refugees trying to get into Europe has so many angles, there’s no limit to what a filmmaker with imagination can do. In the case of Ben Sharrock, that’s mining the absurdity of the situation. Omar (Amir El-Masry, Jack Ryan), a young Syrian man escaping the civil war, lands in a Scottish island in the middle of nowhere. As he waits for a response to his refugee status claim, Omar kills time by attending tone-deaf cultural awareness classes, debating with fellow asylum-seekers the plausibility of Friends and avoiding the many traps that could render his application void. While often riotous, the tragic undertones of the situation often come to the surface. Sharrock is able to maintain the balance between tragedy and comedy, but Limbo is perhaps too low-key for its own good. 3.5/5 planets waiting for Godot.

New Order (Mexico, 2020. Dir: Michel Franco): Mexican cinema can get very dark really fast and New Orderis a good example of this approach to moviemaking. Writer/director Michel Franco takes the social unrest phenomenon sweeping the world and pushes it to the next level, while stripping it of any idealistic pretensions. A wedding at a posh neighborhood in Mexico City is interrupted by impoverished rioters with no qualms about shooting the rich folk point blank. The bride ends up in military custody, but the soldiers are also in it for the money. New Order moves fast and no social group survives unscathed. The nihilism is a notch hard to take, but it’s not like the movie is wrong. The plot doesn’t hold much water, but you won’t feel like poking holes at it while watching it. 3.5/5 planets hitting the streets, demanding their share.

76 Days (USA, 2020. Dir: Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, Anonymous): The title refers to the 76 days the Chinese province of Wuhan was under lockdown following the COVID-19 outbreak. Using footage from inside a Wuhan hospital, the documentary chronicles the early days of the pandemic, when there was little clarity about the virus modus operandi, let alone how to deal with it. The film is made mostly of vignettes of patients dealing with their hospitalization: The septuagenarian man failing to understand the concept of asymptomatic carrier, the new mother unable to see her newborn baby, the infected elderly couple kept apart within the same hospital. It’s all horrible and too relatable. For all the access and unvaluable testimonies, 76 Days is unwieldy and repetitive, and can be taxing for the casual viewer. Still, for all its shortcomings as a feature, the raw material is devastating. 3/5 planets wearing a mask and judging those who don’t.

TIFF ’20 – Day 4: The New Corporation, Falling, Summer of 85, Pieces of a Woman

The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel (Canada, 2020. Dir: Joel Bakan, Jennifer Abbott): 17 years ago, The Corporation proved a once controversial thesis: If corporations were people, they would be psychopaths. Now that they pretend to be model citizens—environmentally mindful, woke even—it’s time to look under the hood again. Sure enough, making money for shareholders remains the main goal (by law), but now they must seduce the public in order to profit. Bakan and Abbott put together the corporations’ playbook to increase their earnings while manipulating governments, the financial system and the public opinion. The New Corporation does a great job making its case and does it with panache. For at least one hour, it’s scarier than a horror movie. 4/5 planets in it for the money.

Falling (Canada/UK/Denmark, 2020. Dir: Viggo Mortensen): In his directorial debut, Viggo Mortensen explores love at its most difficult. At the center of Falling is Willis Peterson (career crowning performance by Lance Henriksen), an octogenarian battling failing health and dementia. Willis wasn’t an easy man to deal with at the best of times and now is truly impossible: His racist, homophobic and misogynistic ways are a challenge for his utterly patient and gay son (Mortensen). Henriksen’s work aside, the film is too broad to leave a mark and after one-too-many obscene tirades by Willis, it starts feeling repetitive. There’s also a moment in which the movie goes too far and destroys any empathy we may still have for the elderly hellion. Having said that, Mortensen has a way with actors and likely a future behind the camera. 2.5/5 planets aging disgracefully. Distributor: Mongrel.

Summer of 85 (France, 2020. Dir: François Ozon): After tackling some heavy themes for the last five years, prolific French filmmaker François Ozon returns to the subject that made him famous: The dark side of growing up. Summer of 85 can be described as a lighter The Talented Mr. Ripley: Alex, a closeted teen, becomes infatuated with David after he rescues him from a capsized boat. As with every relationship, everything is puppies and rainbows until David shows a darker side and Alex fails to manage his expectations (think Call Me by Your Name with a body count and better music). Never mind the captivating plot, there’s something delightful about spending time at the gorgeously shot Normandy coast. 3/5 planets enduring a cruel summer.

Pieces of a Woman  (USA/Canada, 2020. Dir: Kornél Mundruczó): One of the reasons I attend TIFF is for the dramas with teeth, sorely lacking this year. Thankfully, here comes one that will haunt my dreams. After the birth of her first child goes horribly wrong, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) reacts by shutting down and sabotaging every relationship in her life. In turn, Shawn (Shia LaBeauf), the father of the baby, falls into old patterns (addiction, violence) and fails to provide a support system for Martha. Pieces of a Woman goes after those who think mourning is a collective experience and assume platitudes make a difference. The film is sharp as a tack and reminds us that at 88, Ellen Burstyn is a force to be reckoned with. The birth-at-home procedure that kickstarts the movie is an extended single shot that amplifies the tension to unbearable levels. Pieces of a Woman flies high until the end, when it morphs into a procedural and takes an unearned, inspirational turn (yeesh). But for everything that preceded it, it’s worth watching. 4/5 planets that don’t want your stinking casserole. Distributor: Netflix.

TIFF ’20 – Day 3: Inconvenient Indian, Wolfwalkers, Nomadland, Penguin Bloom

Inconvenient Indian (Canada, 2020. Dir: Michelle Latimer): Inspired by Thomas King’s widely popular essay, this documentary aims to support King’s notion that the colonization of aboriginal peoples has continued through the suppression of indigenous culture and traditions. Director Michelle Latimer also shows First Nations peoples countering this phenomenon by using every available venue so they can be seen and heard. The ideas supporting this doc are sound and the visuals, inventive. Unfortunately, given the number of topics it tries to cover, the result is scattershot and a notch slight. 2/5 respectful planets.

Wolfwalkers (Ireland, Luxembourg, France, 2020. Dir: Tomm Moore & Ross Stewart): Irish animation has it going on. Following the excellent The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, here comes the superb Wolfwalkers, which may be even better. Set during the English colonization of Ireland, Robyn, a settler girl hungry for adventure, befriends Mebh, a wild child who turns into a wolf when she sleeps. The unlikely friendship is threatened by the Lord Protector, the king’s envoy who—to win over the locals— has promised to burn the surrounding forest to get rid of the wolves, perceived as a threat. The film is an achievement from every point of view: Gorgeous 2D animation, compelling and entertaining plot and doubles as a warning against populism. What’s not to love. 4.5/5 planets-slash-wolves. Distribution: Apple TV.

Nomadland (USA, 2020. Dir: Chloé Zhao): Expected to be one of the strongest titles this year at TIFF, Nomadland lives up to the hype and more. Widowed and jobless, Fern (Frances McDormand) takes the road, working part-time jobs and living in her van. Her lifestyle is more common than she imagines and soon she’s part of a community of rudderless loners who have rediscovered their humanity while living precariously. Chloé Zhao allows the story to breath and the dialogue to linger. There’s not much of a plot here, but doesn’t matter because McDormand is magnetic. She fully inhabits her character and it’s fascinating to see her interacts with others in the same boat (mostly non actors, except for David Strathairn). America’s open spaces rarely have been shot so lovingly. A must see. 4.5/5 planets. Distribution: Searchlight.

Penguin Bloom (Australia, 2020. Dir: Glendyn Ivin): Bad things happen when Naomi Watts goes to Thailand (see The Impossible). This time around she falls from the hotel roof and breaks her back. Paralyzed from the waist down, Sam (Watts) has pretty much given up on living, despite her three boys and loving husband (Andrew Lincoln sans zombies) trying to lift her spirit. At her lowest point, the family adopts an orphan magpie they call Penguin. Despite having wings, Penguin can’t fly (get it?), just like Sam and her legs (METAPHOR ALERT!). Based on real events, this movie is Hallmark-worthy at best and has the subtlety of a jackhammer. The only interesting aspect of the film is that the family pays more attention to the bird than the youngest kid and is unintendedly funny. If you like your human interest stories with a lot of cheese you could do worse. 2/5 planets that are doing just fine without help.

Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (Hungary, 2020. Dir: Lili Horvát):Remember Felicity? The girl with curly hair who followed the boy she liked to college even though she could have done much better? This movie is like that, only older-skewed and far duller. An Hungarian neurosurgeon (Natasa Stork) moves back to her country after meeting a man at a conference. Here’s the catch: He doesn’t recall meeting her. Is she having a mental breakdown? Is the man ghosting her? Instead of going for a thriller or a comedy vibe, writer/director Lili Horvát choses to tell the story in the most dour way possible. By the time the movie provides an explanation, I had stopped caring about half hour earlier. 1.5/5 planets who can’t take a hint.