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Ulterior Structuralist Motives — With Zombies

Ulterior Structuralist Motives — With Zombies (photo)

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Low-budget, Canadian and sneaky as hell, Bruce McDonald’s “Pontypool” is a movie that restores your faith in the ability of genre movies to rabbit-punch your limbic system and your frontal lobe at the same time. Just grabbing the ingenious premise with two hands is a moviehead thrill: the setting is the local radio station for a tiny Ontario town, so small that it occupies not its own building but the basement of a church. The protagonist is Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), a grizzled, boozy, pretentious shock jock whose downward career spiral has landed him in the provincial wilderness, where his indulgent ramblings are largely unwelcome and where he’s only supposed to deliver weather and traffic news. His foils are the patient station manager (Lisa Houle) and a young intern (Georgina Reilly). Amidst the morning-drive drudgery, reports begin to trickle in, of crowds forming and riots beginning and people being chased and torn apart…

We know we’re never going to get out of that basement. The conceptual brilliance of novelist/screenwriter Tony Burgess’ set-up is irresistible, pitting a classic “Rio Bravo” trapped-by-a-siege scenario against the contingencies of talk radio (in which McHattie’s self-involved washout finds himself in the position of being the community’s, and the world’s, only source of information about what appears to be a zombie plague of some kind). The measures of discovery and disbelief are spot-on every step of the way; the fact that we hear but do not see the chaos is a genuine creep-out, in a Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds”-kind of way; and, it should be said, McHattie simply rocks here, so astutely painting this character’s ruinous history and self-entertaining attitude on his face and in his voice that you could see the actor landing a shock-jock radio gig for real if in fact he weren’t so ridiculously busy acting. (Too often relegated to episodic TV, McHattie has appeared in 20 different projects in the year since “Pontypool” began appearing at film festivals.)

01262010_Pontypool2.jpgBut all that’s not quite reason enough to love “Pontypool,” if that’s all it was — a radio-inflected, bell-jar zombie suspenser. The MacGuffins for such scenarios are most often just that — arbitrary and meaningless plot integers (space probes, bacterium) useful only for a little credibility and a big push forward. But here, it’s a different animal, so different I wouldn’t even call it a spoiler: eventually Mazzy and Co. (including the hilariously relaxed Hispanic doctor who may have started the crisis, tumbling in through a cellar window) figure out that, somehow, certain words or even language itself is communicating the virus.

On the surface, it’s a far-out idea echoing out of Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” (a copy of which is glimpsed), and one that’s aptly focused on a radio station, but soon enough you realize that the premise is absurd enough to be Absurdist, soon after Roland Barthes is quoted, and the risible Dr. Mendez makes the Barthesian case that language, in general, can be defined as a virus, even as the cannibalistic-infected hordes hammer at the doors. Can the Post-Structuralists be far behind? “Stop understanding what you are saying!” Mazzy hollers at one point, evoking everyone from Kierkegaard to the Talking Heads in one impacted existentialist moment.

01262010_pontypool3.jpgNote, as British critic Jonathan Romney did, the small plastic rhinoceros on the soundboard, and suddenly you realize you’re in Eugene Ionesco Land, and witnessing a sidewise remake of “Rhinoceros” (filmed for real in 1973 with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, but also staged by Welles in 1960), in which the denizens of a small town (mostly unseen) begin to inexplicably turn into rhinos. For the French/Romanian Absurdist playwright, it was a parable of fascism, of course, but rhetoric is the totalitarian’s primary weapon, and in “Pontypool,” rhetoric itself is the poisoning agent, literally and irrationally transforming an orderly society into raving madness.

What’s a drunken, wiseass loudmouth with a microphone to do? (Bizarrely, “Pontypool” is in the pipeline for a Hollywood remake.) By its third act, “Pontypool” doesn’t even try to be a thriller any longer, but embraces its philosophical agenda and dares to suggest that, in a world of twisted meanings and public lies and empty verbiage, Surrealist poetry and its freedom from common sense may be our salvation.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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