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Pontypool (2008)

 

A morning radio show receives calls about a group of people attacking a doctor's surgery and other bizarre incidents

 

In the Canadian town of Pontypool, a DJ is heading to work when he encounters a woman repeating the same word. When he gets to work he clashes with his show's producer before they start to receive calls about people attacking a surgery. More calls follow and their eye-in-the-sky reporter encounters a crowd of people, including a boy with no hands. More madness follows as the team stuck in the studio try to figure out what's going on - or if it's some kind of elaborate hoax. This is a low budget, one location thriller with dashes of horror and dread. It starts not so much with tension, but more annoyance on all sides. But as things start to happen, the tension ratchets up and every word could be loaded - and deadly.

 

I thought this was a very effective picture with some great performances from the small cast. The sense that something was very wrong crept up slowly, and the use of news reports and phone calls really helped paint a scene in your head. The calls from the eye in the sky were very well done, veering from normal chat to fear to outright chaos. Stephen McHattie was great in the lead role, as a shock jock who now works at a small town radio station. His paranoia that this was some big joke on the new guy added yet another dimension and gave the viewer more to consider. I liked that we saw events unfold as they did, and were pretty much as confused as they were. This wasn't a creature feature and we barely see the enemy, but that didn't make the implication any less frightening. The music seemed very loud, sometimes drowning out the dialogue, and towards the end it lost its way a little. 

 

The explanation, or lack thereof, was also refreshing, as was the ending, which looked to be going one way, then switched and went another. There were a few jump scares and a very painful scene to watch (and hear). I liked this a lot, it built up a great sense of foreboding and dread, managing to sustain for most of the remaining runtime. Recommended. 

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After The Screaming Stops was absolutely amazing. I've always liked Bros and despite their diva-ish behaviour I thought they came across really well here. I've not laughed as hard at anything this year than I did at bits of this - the conkers petition or the bit about the photo in the bath. Some parts of it can't be unscripted - their delivery and timing is too good. I think it would make a good double bill with the Oasis Supersonic documentary. Magic stuff.

 

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Cam (2018)

 

A webcam girl on the verge of success finds herself replaced....by herself. 

 

This has been getting some good notices here and elsewhere, and it's a well made, well played mystery thriller. Madeline Brewer stars as Lola, a small time webcam girl with a loyal group of followers. She's desperate to make it into the top fifty webcam girls on the site she uses. After some success she decides to do a show with another girl, after which things start to come apart at the seams. I wasn't quite as impressed with Cam as others have been, but it's still a very good picture with a great performance from Brewer, who by and large has to carry the film for its entire run time. She was a well rounded character, pretty and perhaps a little naive. There's a small supporting cast who come and go, including her beautician mother and younger brother.

 

The use of technology was really well done, and it felt realistic within the world the film set up. Even when things began to get weird, it still kept its foot firmly in reality, for both the good and the bad. Brewer was an easy character to sympathise with and when she tries to explain things that are going on, most people do believe her, but aren't really that bothered by it. It made for a refreshing change and actually added further to the mystery than making it any clearer. The incidental characters also helped in this regard. It had plenty of twists and turns, but I was a little disappointed with the ending, perhaps I missed something. 

 

Worth seeing for Brewer's great performance and a mature use of technology, without feeling the need to get silly. 

 

 

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Watched this with a friend last night. Not quite sure how to explain it. But the amount of pain and love that must have gone into its creation is pretty mindboggling. There's very little written about it out there, except to say that it was a travelling art piece where the public contrbuted to the animation.

Check the trailer out. It's.... something...
 

 

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Absence of Malice (1981)

 

A newspaper reporter prints a story, implicating a man in the murder of a union official, that will have far reaching effects for all concerned.

 

Sydney Pollack directs Paul Newman and Sally Field in this drama. Newman's life is turned upside down when Field's reports that he may have been involved in the disappearance of a union official. His father was a loan shark and his uncle is a noted member of the local mafia, so the odds are already stacked against him. Fields is initially unrepentant but the guilt of what she has done starts to weigh heavy on her, which is only confounded when Newman's life long friend becomes involved. While all this is going on, the justice department are trying to build a case, but struggling to make much headway, while the mafia are keeping a close eye to ensure Newman doesn't try and cut a deal.

 

This was excellent, with two great central performances by the leads, as well as sterling work from a strong supporting cast. It poses many big questions that are as relevant now as they were then. As one of the characters explains, once the news story is out there, there isn't any going back. The paper doesn't care if he's innocent, and even if he is, nothing will be done to show the public he was. It's a great moral dilemma and it was fascinating (and sad) to watch things unravel for so many people from one single story with barely anything to back it up. Sally Fields was tough, no nonsense and only focused on the story, never realising what will happen. Paul Newman is upstanding, angry and upset, and this comes to a head in a quite frightening scene. Only an actor of his calibre could pull off such a layered performance, and gain fear, respect and sympathy. 

 

The supporting cast were equally well rounded and not just there to spout exposition. Bob Balaban as the head of the investigation was superb, arrogant, scheming but also trying to solve the crime at hand. Two further standouts were Melinda Dillon as Newman's friend, a sad performance from a character who adores and worries for her companion. The other was Wilford Brimley who practically overshadows everyone in a stunning twenty minute scene in which he tries to figure out who is involved and what they were responsible for. It's such a great scene, and Brimley never misses a beat, comfortably proving no one gets the better of him. 

 

This is well worth a watch, and while not quite as good as The Verdict, it was still wonderful entertainment, with a plot that resonates.

 

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Charley Varrick (1973)

 

A group rob a bank, not suspecting it's a front for a mafia money laundering scheme. 

 

Walter Matthau stars as Charley Varrick, an ex-stunt pilot turned small time bank robber. When he, his wife and two companions hit an establishment, they come away with a lot more money than they expected. When it's reported on the news, and the figure mentioned is much, much lower, Varrick realises they've hit a bank fronted by the mob. Desperate to get their money back, the mob unleash Molly, a no-nonsense hitman played by Joe Don Baker. In the meantime, the robbers have to figure out how to get out of town before the cops - or Molly, get hold of them. Don Siegel directed this gritty thriller that's a real cut above the norm. 

 

This was a terrific picture, with some shocking violence and a superb plot that never sat still. I didn't know much about it so when a cop get shot square in the head during the opening five minutes, I was definitely caught off guard. The robbery itself is very well staged, and the action inside the bank cuts perfectly with Varrick's wife's get away driver and the gradual realisation by two cops that something is going on. This is followed by an excellent chase and a couple of quiet moments, before things get really interesting with the discovery of what the bank was. I think the only time I've seen Walter Matthau cooler than this was in the equally brilliant Taking of Pelham 123 - I'd even go as far as to say he was better here. Incredibly confident, cool and thinking four steps ahead. 

 

Matching him almost all the way was a formidable Joe Don Baker, a terrifying giant of a man, with no patience for messing around. He's as stone cold as they come, smart and unlikely to ask the same question twice. A superb villain and the perfect foil to Matthau. There's a good supporting cast too, including John Vernon, Andy Robinson and Jacqueline Scott. A great soundtrack, some very clever twists and turns, and just two fantastic performances. I really enjoyed this - I hadn't planned on watching more than ten minutes last night and I ended up watching almost all of it. This is certainly worth tracking down, a very impressive and enthralling picture. A real hidden gem of the early 70s.

 

Thanks to Chosty for the recommendation a few months ago.

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Glad you liked it. I've not seen it in years and have forgotten many of the details, but just remember the overall quality. I wish it was easier to watch this kind of film - there seems to be a gaping hole in the various streaming services.

 

If I remember correctly, Tarantino once said it was once of the biggest influences on his film-making.

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The Happytime Murders (2018)

 

An ex-cop puppet gets caught up in a series of killings of the cast of a 90s TV show. 

 

A film many years in development and production, The Happytime Murders was originally set to go into production more than ten years ago. Having finally been made by Brian Henson, I had to wonder if it was worth the wait. Phil Philips is a puppet detective, in a world where puppets are the underclass. We discover in flashback that he was the first puppet to become a cop, but a bundled hostage situation involving his partner saw him accidentally shoot and kill an innocent by-standing puppet. Not only was he kicked off the force but a law banning puppets from ever becoming cops, was put into place (and named after him). Now someone is killing the cast of an old TV show, and Phil just happens to be at the scene of almost every crime. Reluctantly teaming up with his old partner, he sets about clearing his name.

 

This came and went within a few weeks upon release in America. Mauled by the critics, and avoided by the public, I really wasn't sure what to expect. Phil, voiced by puppeteer Bill Barretta is your typical hard boiled, cynical detective. His ex-partner is a 'fleshy' - a human being, played by Melissa McCarthy in a role close to the one she portrayed in The Heat. There's a few other humans in the cast, including Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph and Joel McHale, but the majority are puppets. This was obviously a labour of love for all concerned, and it's a shame there isn't much to it. I was surprised at how straight and quite unfunny it was. Jokes very often fell flat, with characters resorting to insulting each other or playground level humour. At one point there's a sequence were the joke is two characters not being able to hear each other - and both misinterpreting what the other is saying. 

 

Much of the humour seems to stem from the fact that it's a puppet saying or doing something outrageous. The first couple of times raised a smile, but the idea wore thin really quickly. The puppet work is excellent, with so much life given to the creations. Even background characters are really well done, and there are so many different ones. There's also what appears to be something deeper here (or there was at some point), with puppets being treated like second class citizens, how they're bullied or disregarded by humans. Sadly this idea is abandoned after the first fifteen or so minutes, and only hinted at later on. If you've seen the R-rated trailer, you've seen pretty much every joke or situation. It's never a good sign when the outtakes at the end raise more laughs in 2 minutes than the previous 80 did. There's good stuff here somewhere, and a lot of care and love has gone into this, but it just isn't very funny, and even at 80 minutes (without titles) I found myself getting bored.

 

Likely to become a cult classic, but it felt like a wasted opportunity. Not as bad as critics made out, but not good either.  

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