The Rocket


The Rocket

Hockey ain't no game for sissies!

(2007) True Sports Drama (Palm) Roy Dupuis, Julie Le Breton, Stephen McHattie, Patrice Robitaille, Mike Ricci, Francois Langlois-Vallieres, Randy Thomas, Vincent Lacavalier, Sean Avery, Remy Girard, Pascal Dupuis, Ian Laperriere, Stephane Quintal. Directed by Claude Biname

Every sport has its Babe Ruth; a dominant figure who changes the nature of the game forever. However, once in awhile, a player comes along who not only changes the nature of his sport forever, he changes the world around him as well.

Maurice Richard (Dupuis) is the most dominant ice hockey player in his era. A gifted goal scorer, a rough customer and a talented playmaker, he has led the Montreal Canadiens to the upper echelon of the National Hockey League. His suspension for the remainder of the 1955 season after striking an official caused rioting in Montreal.

And yet he came from humble beginnings. As a teenager (Langlois-Vallieres) he worked in a factory by day and played junior league hockey at night. His exploits on the ice impressed young Lucille Norchet who would eventually become his wife (Le Breton). He also impresses scouts for the hometown Canadiens enough that he is given a tryout for the team which has been mired in a bout of underachievement for years. Their new coach, Dick Irvin (McHattie) wants winners. He doesn’t see any on his squad.

Watching Richard’s tryout, he realizes he has a player whose will to win is like nothing ever seen before in hockey. Although hockey experts caution Irvin against signing the young winger due to the number of injuries he’d suffered in the junior leagues, Irvin takes a chance and signs him. At first, it doesn’t look like a brilliant idea. Richard is inconsistent on the ice and when he breaks a leg during a game, it looks like the Canadiens got a lemon – a fragile player susceptible to injury.

But Richard does come back. Put on a line with Elmer Lach (Ricci) and Hector “Toe” Blake (Thomas), he becomes one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the game. His skills make him a target – the Rangers send out “Killer” Dill (Avery), a noted goon, to take him out of the game permanently but Richard is well able to defend himself.

Part of what makes him a target is his status as a French-Canadian. Back in the post-World War II era of the NHL – indeed, in all of hockey – French-Canadians were second class citizens. They were given separate caged-in seats to watch the game from at the Montreal Forum, and the players were the targets of racial slurs and excessive violence.

Richard’s skills made him one of the first French-speaking hockey players to acquire a mass following. He had a regular column in the Montreal daily newspaper that was a must-read for French-speaking citizens of the city. He criticized Clarence Campbell, commissioner of the NHL, for not administering discipline in the same way when French-Canadian players were involved. His columns were so inflammatory that eventually the Canadiens had to ask him to stop writing them or risk being fined by the league.

Richard is never paid very much, relatively speaking and feels it necessary to work at the same factory he did as a teenager during the summers when hockey is on hiatus. Supporting his family is very important to him and he is worried that if his hockey career comes to an end prematurely he won’t be able to do that. Still, despite the hardships, despite the injuries, even despite the abuse he perseveres to become the greatest hockey player of his time – and arguably ever.

Before Gretzky there was Richard and it’s hard for us Americans to comprehend what he means in the province of Quebec and specifically in Montreal. I suppose it’s very much like Michael Jordan in Chicago or Carl Yastrzemski in Boston but it’s much more than that. It goes beyond that adulation of an athlete – it’s almost a cultural thing. Richard is very much part of the identity of French Canada.

Before this movie was made, there was a four hour miniseries (in 1999 to be exact) about Richard that also starred Dupuis (who bears an uncanny facial resemblance to the Rocket) and much of this movie is taken from that mini-series. Director Biname does an admirable job with a microscopic budget (by Hollywood standards) and while the movie smacks of boosterism a little bit, there seems to have been an effort to make it as factual as possible. However, there are times when the low budget aspect of the movie shows onscreen which is unsettling.

Dupuis is stolid in playing Richard for the third time in his career. Richard was never the most charismatic of men – he preferred to lead quietly. That makes it difficult for Dupuis to truly grab your attention onscreen as he pretty much has to low-key it throughout. The same goes for Le Breton as Lucille; she never really has much to do other than being the faithful, loyal wife.

McHattie gets much more of a plum role as the fiery Coach Irvin. He brings the irascible coach to life, his belief in Richard helping the player achieve what he did. His is the most memorable performance of the movie. There are also a number of former and current NHL stars in the film, some having more prominent roles than others such as current Tampa Bay Lightning star Lacavalier as the Canadiens’ elegant star Jean Beliveau and former San Jose Shark Ricci as Richard’s linemate.

This isn’t the greatest hockey movie ever but it may very well be the most earnest. There is no doubt that Richard revolutionized the game and has left an indelible mark both on the NHL and on Canada; I would have liked to see a little more of the latter, but they do a great job on the former. Most Americans wouldn’t know a slap shot from a wrist shot but this is a movie that offers insight to the Canadian soul, particularly her French speakers.

WHY RENT THIS: As much of a look back at cultural and class inequalities of the era as a full-blown hockey movie. Decent hockey sequences give you an idea of how dominant Richard really was.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Poor production values are noticeable in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some hockey violence and quite a bit of blood as a result, a smattering of foul language and yes, there’s smoking which let us remember was common back then. Get over it.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The script was reviewed by Richard himself shortly before his death in order to maintain as much accuracy as possible.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a 22 minute feature on the real Richard and his impact not only on the game of hockey but on Canada and the province of Quebec in particular. It’s a pretty extensive piece with interviews with contemporaries of Richard as well as current NHL players.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Hangover Part II

300


300

Gerard Butler wonders why with the budget the film had they couldn't afford more than underwear and capes.

(2006) Swords and Sandals (Warner Brothers) Gerard Butler, David Wenham, Lena Headey, Dominic West, Vincent Regan, Rodrigo Santoro, Michael Fassbender, Stephen McHattie, Tom Wisdom, Andrew Pleavin, Andrew Tiernan, Giovani Antonio Cimmino, Kelly Craig.  Directed by Zack Snyder

This is not like anything you’ve ever seen or are likely to see ever again. Based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley that is a fanciful, highly stylized account of the legendary stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, the movie starts with a narrator (whose identity isn’t revealed until the very end of the movie) who explains the rigors of life in Sparta. Starting from birth, where babies that are considered weak, inferior or deformed are killed, the children are born to a life of cruel discipline, constant fighting, strength, honor and respect.

Leonidas (Butler) is born to this world and he takes to it like a politician to a photo-op. Now the King of Sparta, he is visited by an emissary from Persia demanding Sparta’s submission to their rule. Persia, a vast sprawling empire that encompasses hundreds of nations and a slave-driven army of more than a million, is ruled by Xerxes (Santoro from TV’s “Lost”), a decadent, corrupt ruler who believes himself to be a God. Leonidas, enraged by the implied threats, executes the Persian contingent.

Knowing that this will provoke Persia into attacking Greece, he seeks the blessing of the Ephors, grotesque inbred priests who select the most beautiful young women in Sparta to act as Oracles (Craig), which involves a lot of writhing around while semi-nude and speaking in tongues. Leonidas is aware that the Persians will arrive during one of the most sacred religious festivals on the Spartan calendar, and he wants to be able to make an exception to the law and march his army to a narrow chasm called the Hot Portals, or Thermopylae. There, the overwhelming numeric advantage of the Persians will be rendered useless. The word from On High is that the Gods will protect the Spartans as long as they honor their religious commitments. That’s not the answer that Leonidas wanted to hear.

Powerless to bring the entire Spartan army to defend his people, he must settle for his own personal guard, which includes his Captain (Regan), the Captain’s son Astinos (Wisdom), the affable Stelios (Fassbender) and the taciturn Dilios (Wenham). They march off to battle, while members of the council, led by the politically savvy Theron (West) debate whether to send aid at all which boils the blood of their fierce Queen (Headey).

The Spartans are met by a vast host of the multi-cultural Persian Army and the over-the-top King Xerxes himself. No matter what the Persians throw at them, the hard-edged Spartans repel every attempt to defeat them. They are doing the impossible – holding the pass against an overwhelming force. However, those who know the story of the 300 know that the status quo will change and the stuff of legends will be born.

This is a gritty, ultraviolent movie that director Snyder (the Dawn of the Dead remake) keeps remarkably faithful to Miller’s graphic novel vision. The movie is largely filmed with green screen, rendering epic vistas and impossible sights, while allowing them to mute the lighting so that the movie seems to be filmed entirely at dusk in a kind of sepia-toned veneer. He brings the grotesque creatures of the graphic novel to life in a way that makes them seem realistic while keeping with Miller’s vision, a very difficult line to walk (if you’ve seen any of Lynn Varley’s artwork, you’ll know what I mean). The visuals are spectacular throughout.

Butler, who had theretofore hinted at stardom with impressive turns in Phantom of the Opera and Lara Croft: The Cradle of Life here does a star turn. His dialogue is delivered at full volume, and his face much of the time is contorted into a primal snarl (and for the ladies, he spends most of the movie wearing a black leather speedo), but he carries himself with a presence that commands your attention every moment he’s onscreen. Leonidas is king, yes, but he is also a man and his interactions with his wife and son give the movie it’s very few quiet moments. This is a starmaking turn and propelled Butler into the upper echelon of the Hollywood star hierarchy.

Headey makes a great foil for Butler, as strong and charismatic as he himself is. Her Queen Gorgo takes on Dominic West’s Theron without blinking an eyelash and shows herself to be as admirable a Spartan as any man. Santoro’s Xerxes is decadent, corrupt and a little bit fey. Regan, Wisdom, Fassbinder and Wenham do fine jobs as Leonidas’ inner circle – they’re Spartans all through and through. They go full bore and hold nothing back. In fact there are very few things that are anything less than the very highest volume. There are a few moments that are about the three quarter mark, particularly early on.

Otherwise this is a movie that was filmed at 11, and is meant to be played back at 11 (to use a Spinal Tap analogy). It is an overwhelming sensory experience that will release a surge of testosterone in all but the most non-masculine sorts and give women their opportunity to access their inner man. This isn’t the most historically accurate epic you’ll ever see, but think of it as a surreal dream version of history and that might salve the conscience of sticklers a little bit. So go, see the movie, and then go out and beat somebody up, preferably with a sword. If you’re wearing a leather speedo, so much the better. 

WHY RENT THIS: Stunning, innovative visuals and a star-making performance by Butler. Takes a graphic novel and cranks it up to “11.”

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The amount of testosterone flowing through this movie might be off-putting to someone who doesn’t like their movies quite so over-bearing.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is some really graphic battleground violence, a bit of nudity and a little sensuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The quote attributed to Stelios here “Then we shall fight in the shade” when warned that the rain of Persian arrows will blot out the sun was actually spoken historically by a Spartan soldier named Dionekes.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There is a feature examining the historical license taken by Miller and by the filmmakers, comparing the events of the movie to what actually happened at Thermopylae. There is also a featurette on Miller, his early years and the writing of the original graphic novel. On the Blu-Ray edition is the original test footage Snyder used to sell the Warners executives on the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $456M on a $65M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

TOMORROW: Bridesmaids

A History of Violence


A History of Violence

Viggo Mortensen is so hot that Ed Harris has to wear shades just to look at him.

(2005) Thriller (New Line) Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Peter MacNeill, Stephen McHattie, Greg Bryk, Kyle Schmid, Sumela Kay, Gerry Quigley, Deborah Drakeford, Heidi Hayes, Aidan Devine, Michelle McCree. Directed by David Cronenberg

Funny thing about the past; it has a tendency to catch up with you. Especially when you least expect it to – and where you least expect it to.

Tom Stall (Mortensen) lives a quiet life in a small Indiana town. He owns a popular diner, is married to a beautiful native named Edie (Bello) and has two kids including a teenager named Jack (Holmes) who has taken his mild-mannered father’s lessons to heart and has as a result been picked on by bullies who are frustrated by Jack’s refusal to fight.

One night, all that is shattered when a couple of small-time hoods (McHattie, Bryk) come into his diner. They terrorize his patrons and despite Tom’s pleas for them to leave peaceably, it appears they are going to kill a waitress when Tom suddenly reacts with decisive action, killing both of the crooks.

Unfortunately, Tom’s actions get noticed by the media and he is painted as a hero. This is, in turn, noticed by a very bad man named Carl Fogarty (Harris) who seems to think that Tom is someone named Joey Cusack. Tom doesn’t appear to know Fogarty, but doubts are cast in the mind of his wife and the town sheriff (MacNeill). The question becomes who is Tom Stall and why is he so good at killing people?

By far, this is Cronenberg’s most mainstream movie. Known for cult films (Naked Lunch, Videodrome) and horror classics (The Brood, Scanners), he has a gift for taking a normal, safe environment and turning it upon itself until it is virtually unrecognizable. Here, he does that in a literal way; the man we think we know (and the man Edie Stall thought she married) turns out to be someone so different as to be almost a different species. This is not an easy adjustment to make and some may find it too much for them.

On the other hand, the adjustment is made easier by bravura performances by Mortensen, Bello, Harris and Holmes. Also worth noting is Hurt’s role as a man pivotal to Tom’s past. It is interesting that Hurt appears in only one scene, but his performance is so dynamic that he wound up being nominated for an Oscar for that one scene.

Violence is often used as the last refuge for survival, and Cronenberg seems to say it is justified in that case. However, is there a Joey Cusack lurking in every Tom Stall? Given the right circumstances, I think – and I have a feeling that Cronenberg agrees – there is.

WHY RENT THIS: Cronenberg’s most mainstream film. Terrific performances by Mortensen, Harris, Bello and Holmes – and an Oscar-nominated one by Hurt.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending isn’t what you might like it to be.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s some brutal violence, a good deal of sexuality (as well as some nudity), a bit of drug use and foul language to boot.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the last major Hollywood film to be released in the VHS format.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There’s a featurette on Scene 44, a dream sequence that was cut from the movie but was polished and added here as a special feature.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $60.7M on a $32M production budget; the movie broke even.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Runaways

The Fountain


The Fountain

Just another 26th Century Icarus.

(2006) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Marc Margolis, Stephen McHattie, Sean Patrick Thomas, Donna Murphy, Ethan Suplee, Richard McMillan, Lorne Brass, Fernando Hernandez, Cliff Curtis, Janique Kerns.  Directed by Darren Aronofsky

There are some mysteries that fire the imagination and others that are so immense that they’re terrifying. Eternal life is like that. We as a species fear the unknown, and there is nothing quite so unknown as death. We try to avoid it, we shrink from it, we fight to stave it off and yet inevitably, it claims us all. Some come to embrace it, others in time learn to accept it. Others, however, never quite come to terms with it.

The Fountain is an attempt to breach the mystery and it is done in a way that reading a plot won’t really shed a lot of light as to what the movie is about. The storyline is this; in the 16th century, a conquistador named Tomas Creo (Jackman) has been given a mission by Isabel (Weisz), the Queen of Spain who has been beset by the Grand Inquisitor (McHattie) for her heretical thoughts which are a tad more liberal than his liking. A priest, Father Avila (Margolis) under her control has discovered the location of the Biblical Tree of Life which grants eternal life to all those who drink of its sap. Returning to Spain with such a treasure would shift power from the Inquisitor to the Queen, who has pledged that should Creo return successful he would have her hand in marriage. However, to get to the Tree he must fight his way through a bunch of annoyed Mayans in a heretofore lost pyramid.

In modern times, Dr. Tommy Creo (Jackman again), a brilliant medical researcher, is racing against the clock to find a cure for the extremely aggressive brain tumor that is slowly killing his wife Izzi (Weisz again), an author who is writing a book about a conquistador’s quest for the Tree of Life. She has left the final chapter unfinished, wanting her husband to complete the book for her when she is gone. Tommy, for his part, is driving his team relentlessly, causing his boss Dr. Guzetti (Burstyn) to remonstrate with him. She wonders if he shouldn’t be spending more time with Izzi in her last days rather than on this fool’s errand to find a cure. His teammates Antonio (Thomas), Betty (Murphy) and Manny (Suplee) are concerned that he’s lost his perspective. Tommy, however, is working on a plant from South America that may yield the cure he desperately needs for his starry-eyed wife, who is trying to make her peace with her eventual fate.

Five hundred years from now, a hairless astronaut named Tom (Jackman a third time) hurtles through the void in a transparent bubble-like spaceship with a dying tree with the intention of flying it into the center of a dying star. His motives are unclear; whether he intends to restore life to the star, or life to the souls of those the ancient Mayans believe went to this place to rest or perhaps some other theory altogether. He hallucinates the presence of his lost love who looks suspiciously like Izzi, practices yoga and meditates as the sphere speeds towards the nebula.

Director Aronofsky has made not so much a movie you watch passively but an event to be experienced. Critics and audiences alike have lined up on either side of the coin; the movie was roundly booed at its Venice Film Festival premiere and has received a critical pasting. However, those who get this movie absolutely love it. Aronofsky really doesn’t give you much room for anything else but absolutes here, which is ironic since the movie has a tendency to be vague with its message.

That message is left open to interpretation, with Aronofsky asking the viewer to reach their own conclusions about the movie. There is a certain 2001: A Space Odyssey feel, particularly to the 26th century sequence and there has been some grousing that this is a movie best encountered while stoned out of your mind. Not being a stoner, I can only imagine what this movie would be like whilst altered.

Jackman does his best work to date as the three Creos (which is Spanish for “I believe,” by the way). All three characters are alike in that they are extremely driven, but different in that they are driven in different ways. Jackman is at once a brutal conquistador, a brilliant but bereaved researcher and a serene Zen monk-like astronaut. Weisz, who at one time was not one of my favorite actresses but has been on a roll lately, makes the best she can out of a role which really doesn’t require much from her other than to smile beatifically most of the time and give soulful looks from a warm bath.

The effects are not CGI on purpose, as Aronofsky felt that would date the movie (not mentioned is that his budget was cut in half by the studio; undoubtedly he had to get a little bit more imaginative with the effects in order to pull it off, and cutting expensive CGI shots would seem to be the right way to go here). Still, there are some spectacular sequences, particularly on the Pyramid and then again as the spacecraft reaches the dying nebula. The whole she-bang is framed by one of the most beautiful scores you will ever hear, penned by Craig Mansell and performed by the classical group the Kronos Quartet and the rock band Mogwai.

This is not a movie for everybody. Several audience members walked out after about 20 minutes and the teenagers expecting some sort of space opera were completely baffled by what they saw. This is the kind of movie that requires an intellectual commitment, and a lot of people who go to the movies are out to turn their brain off, which is fine – I do it all the time. However, if you’re in the right frame of mind, exploring the mystery of eternal life and our attitudes towards it can make for a fine evening’s mental exercise. I realize I’m something of a voice crying in the wilderness, but The Fountain is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, but not many will share that opinion, and that’s fine by me.

WHY RENT THIS: Great performance by Jackman and thought-provoking script. Despite the lack of CGI, still beautiful to look at. Outstanding score by Mansell and performance by the Kronos Quartet and Mogwai.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The triple timeline story is often confusing and frustrating to follow.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is some surprisingly violent action sequences as well as some sensuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The Xibalba Nebula refered to by Mayan astronomers as the place where departed souls enter the afterlife, is located in the constellation Orion.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: The movie’s torturous journey to the screen included an aborted first film that starred Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett that was halted not very far into production after creative differences between Pitt and Aronofsky and budgetary concerns from the studio led to the cessation. The feature “Australia” discusses this, although not in as much detail as we’d like.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $16.0M on a $35M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Happy Feet

Shoot ’em Up


Shoot 'em Up

Paul Giamatti finds Clive Owen's mid-afternoon snack of a carrot and a baby bottle disturbing.

(2007) Action Comedy (New Line) Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci, Stephen McHattie, Greg Bryk, Daniel Pilon, Ramona Pringle, Julian Richards, Tony Munch, Scott McCord, Wiley M. Pickett, Stephen R. Hart, Laura de Carteret. Directed by Michael Davis.

Sometimes, a mindless action movie is just the ticket. It allows you to sink back into your sofa or lounge seat with a b bowl of popcorn in your lap and a 2-litre bottle of soda on your coffee table and just switch your brain to “off.” Shoot ‘Em Up is just the ticket for those seeking escape.

Mr. Smith (Owen) is just minding his own business, sitting at a bus stop and eating a carrot when he sees a pregnant woman (Pringle) scurrying by him, obviously in distress and pain. Moments later a sinister black car squeals around the corner and slams into a parked car. A man (Pickett) gets out, roaring threats and obscenities, and follows her down a dark alley, throwing a sneered “What are you looking at?” to the innocent bystander. Once the man cocks a gun, the innocent bystander stands with a sigh, and says “Bloody hell!” in a resigned voice. Thus he turns from innocent bystander to Good Samaritan, all in the space of a two-word phrase. That’s just good writing (not to mention good acting). In any case, he heads in, and starts killing people; Death by shooting, death by stabbing, death by carrot (more than once). Soon, there are all sorts of killers in the room, led by the over-the-top Mr. Hertz (Giamatti) who may not be Avis but is certainly trying harder to get the job done; I think we see more of Mr. Giamatti’s teeth than we do in any other single movie, as his expression is almost perpetually a rabid snarl. Smith enlists the aid of a lactating hooker (Bellucci) to help him keep the baby fed, but essentially they are in a running gun battle from here on in.

That’s essentially all the plot you need for Shoot ‘Em Up. Yeah, there’s a bit more back story with a senator running for president on a gun control platform who has a special relationship with the baby and his/her mother and a corrupt gun manufacturer, but that’s all window dressing anyway. All you need to know is that bullets fly, cars crash, buildings explode and people are chopped into Alpo in all sorts of entertaining and disgusting ways. You will see blood, baby poop and strained carrot. You’ll see a neon sign turned into a means of personal insult between Hertz and Smith. You’ll see executions, breasts, torture, people falling out of airplanes, broken bones, spurting wounds and thugs getting shot in the ass. In fact, you’ll hear a lot of expletives, a lot of them. What you won’t find here is a dull moment.

Director Davis to date had only directed a handful of movies, the best-known of which was the indie comedy Eight Days a Week, none of which would really prepare anyone for this movie. His hyperkinetic style is very reminiscent of John Woo and other Hong Kong actioners (which is fitting, since his cinematographer is the great Peter Pau, whose credits include Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Bride with White Hair). Davis and Pau rarely stoop to clichés, such as the super slo-mo leap, or the bullet time dodge. Nope, things keep hopping from start to finish. There is rarely time for breath (although there is a pretty hot sex scene to break things up).

Owen, on the heels of Sin City and Children of Men has developed into quite the action star. His hangdog face belies the tough guy within, and he is certainly as tough as they come here. He’s smooth and unflappable; no wonder he was a frontrunner for the vacant James Bond part that eventually went to Daniel Craig. Giamatti plays the anti-Cleveland Heep, an assassin with no conscience, no remorse and absolutely relentless in pursuit of his target. He makes a surprisingly good villain. Those who thought that the Matrix series didn’t feature enough of Bellucci will be more than satisfied here.

Don’t go into the theater expecting much in the way of plot or character. Few of the folks appearing onscreen are actually given names, and there’s a good reason for that. The thing here, people, is the action sequences, and these are executed to perfection. Shoot ‘Em Up is just that, a poster child for truth in titling. It’s loud, unapologetically masculine and relentlessly kinetic. You may not be illuminated when you exit the theater, but I almost guarantee you’ll be entertained.

WHY RENT THIS: Non-stop hyperkinetic but perfectly executed action sequences.  Lots of breasts for the guys, lots of Clive Owen for the ladies. Unexpected wit.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Plot? What plot? Relentlessly bloody and over-the-top. Doesn’t just push the edge, it obliterates it and then urinates on it for good measure.

FAMILY VALUES: A ton of violence (if that wasn’t made clear in the review), some strong sexuality and nudity, and a profusion of profanity. Bring the kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The infant who played the baby was cast before he was even born; a woman who was expecting twins agreed to allow her newborns to be used in the film.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There are some special effects test shots and animatics but otherwise none worth mentioning.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $26.8M on a $39M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

Pontypool


Pontypool

Georgina Reilly has an eating problem.

(IFC) Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak, Rick Roberts (voice), Daniel Fathers (voice), Beatriz Yuste, Tony Burgess. Directed by Bruce McDonald

We use language as a tool to communicate; as a matter of fact it is a necessity. Without language we can’t communicate and without communication society tends to descend into chaos. Language is a prerequisite for civilization. In recent years, we have added enough jargon, slang and nonsense to stretch the English language to the breaking point. What would happen if our language began to fight back?

Grant Mazzy (McHattie) is a shock jock who has seen better days. Fired from his job at a big city station for saying things over the air that his station manager didn’t want him to say, he has landed as the morning drive time jock at the sole radio station in Pontypool, a flea speck of a town in northern Ontario, and I’m thinking it wasn’t the one Neil Young had in mind when he wrote “Helpless.”

Once a voice in the Canadian consciousness, Mazzy is reduced to reporting about lost cats, drinking enough coffee (heavily spiked of course) to drown said cats, and bickering with his producer, Sydney Briar (Houle). His engineer, Laurel-Ann Drummond (Reilly) just returned from a tour of Afghanistan and tends to want Mazzy to speak his mind whereas Sydney wants no repetition of the incident that got him fired and makes it clear he’s on a short leash. All in all not the most dazzling first day on the job.

Then, strange reports begin to come in. The “Sunshine Traffic Copter” (that is in reality a guy parked in a truck on top of a hill overlooking the town) reports a crowd gathering outside the office of the local physician, Dr. Mendez (Alianak). Soon, the increasingly agitated Ken Loney (Roberts) – the guy parked in the truck – makes it clear that the mob is getting violent, ugly. And as the morning wears on, it becomes even clearer that there is something wrong with the people of Pontypool – they’ve developed a taste for human flesh.

As authority breaks down, the three slowly realize that they are under siege in their basement studio. Eventually, Dr. Mendez arrives at the station and informs them that there is a virus going around, but no ordinary one – it is carried through certain words in the English language. In fact, the only way to maintain safety is to speak French, which will certainly have the French separatists in Quebec giving the citizens of Canada a great big “I told you so.”

All kidding aside, this no-budget Canadian horror film is actually rather effective. McDonald, whose last film was the less-than-stellar The Tracey Fragments does a good job of utilizing the claustrophobic nature of the basement sound studio, maintaining the frustration of the staff as they struggle to discover what is going on outside their doors. McHattie, Reilly and Houle all do credible jobs as people who don’t particularly like each other suddenly forced to depend on each other.

It takes a little while for the tension to get amped up but once it gets there, McDonald and writer Tony Burgess sustain it nicely. The ending is also nicely ambiguous, not only leaving room for further sequels (apparently one is in the works) but also leaving viewers wanting a sequel.

The budget is virtually non-existent, forcing a bit of creativity for the moviemakers. Almost all of the action takes place in the sound booth where Mazzy does his thing; while that gives a nice feeling of claustrophobia, it also makes for a very static film, almost as if it were the filmed version of a play. While Orson Welles’ version of The War of the Worlds was effective in its day, radio reports of horror don’t really move the modern horror film audience as profoundly.

However, props and kudos to the filmmakers for taking an unusual concept and sticking to it; many filmmakers don’t have that kind of courage of conviction. Pontypool won’t rewrite the horror genre, but it does provide a thoughtful, insightful thriller with horrific elements that should keep fans who like their horror less visceral and more cerebral quite satisfied.

WHY RENT THIS: A taut thriller with horror elements that utilizes the claustrophobic nature of its main setting nicely.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie drags in places and with the action mainly limited to a single room, lacks a bit of scope that might have served the story better.

FAMILY VALUES: Unrated; there isn’t a lot of gore although there is some. There’s also a bit of foul language and a good deal of tension; definitely not for the squeamish or the impressionable.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tony Burgess, who plays Tony/Lawrence in the movie, also wrote the screenplay as well as the novel it’s based upon.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Actually, there’s a fair amount of extras here, including a trio of short films unrelated to the main feature, as well as the audio-only CBC radio version of the play the movie is based on.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Predators