The Girl with All the Gifts: The ABZ’s of Zombies

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The Girl with All the Gifts:  A review

 

 *** Some spoilers ***

Currently on Amazon Prime, The Girl with All the Gifts is a 2016 film directed by Colm McCarthy (Peaky Blinders). Starring newcomer Sennia Nanua as Melanie, the cast includes Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton (Hansel and Gretel) and Paddy Considine (The Bourne Ultimatum).

Cover for The GirlWith the Gifts

The Girl With the Gifts (IMDB)

 The Girl with All the Gifts  is a zombie movie.

Unlike most zombie movies, this one concerns a fiercely intelligent little girl who happens to be a zombie. Written by Mike Carey (Peaky  Blinders, The Boy on the Bridge), from his book with the same title, like 28 Days, it is set in England.

 What sets this movie apart from others in this genre is its point of view.

Rather than a story focused on the struggle of survivors to find safety, it is about an awakening and self-acceptance, a story about letting go and the willingness to change. As Melanie, Sennia Nanua is a standout. Her performance alone is a reason to see this film.

  In a barricaded research facility, nine-year old Melanie’s room is a jail cell.

Each morning, before the soldiers come, she hides her only possession, a picture on a greeting card from the world before the “hungries” came. As she waits in her wheelchair, she places her hands where they can bind them. Before the soldiers wheel her to school, she greets each one with a cheery “hello.” They ignore her efforts to connect.

School is a room within the compound. Melanie joins a class of twenty-five or so. Like Melanie, each student is restrained.

 All the children sit quietly as Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) begins the lesson. A bright student, Melanie loves Miss Justineau who is fond of her. When Miss Justineau touches Melanie’s shoulder, Sergeant Parks scolds her. Touching any of these children it is a dangerous move. To make his point, Parks approaches another student and bares his arm. The student clicks his teeth together rapidly, triggering the same reaction in all the children, except Melanie, who stops herself.

By seeing the clicking teeth reaction to the sergeant’s bared arm, Melanie understands why the soldiers fear her and her classmates. The children are dangerous.

 She knows that hungries roam outside the compound. She knows that classmates who enter Dr. Caldwell’s lab never leave it.

Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) is convinced she’s close to a cure.

Soon, she’ll find something to fight a fungus that destroys memories, turning its victim into a killer. Searching for answers, Caldwell dissects the brains of her subjects. Despite Miss Justineau’s protests, Melanie is her next subject.

Unlike other hungries, these children can think and experience emotions.

But, they are still killers and Caldwell prepares while Melanie is strapped to an exam table. When Miss Justineau tries to rescue Melanie, marauders, intent on stealing food and supplies, drive outside hungries into the compound. When the men break into the lab, Dr. Caldwell is injured.

Melanie saves Miss Justineau by killing the man attacking her.

Sinking her teeth into him, she has her first honest-to-goodness zombie meal. Compared to her daily bowl of writhing worms, the man tastes like the chef’s special in a five star restaurant.

Determined to protect her teacher and knowing that her zombie tummy is full, Melanie guides Miss Justineau to safety.

Still determined to dissect Melanie, a limping Dr. Caldwell follows them. As Sergeant Parks and few other soldiers are leaving, they stop the truck to pick up Justineau and Caldwell. Melanie wears a muzzle and rides on the truck’s roof.

Soon, Melanie wins the trust of Parks by outwitting the hungries and finding ways around them.

Using walkie-talkies, Melanie and Parks scout for safe passages. In the city, the group finds that many hungries are changing. The fungus inside them has now broken out of their bodies resulting in huge stalks and pods.

Dr. Caldwell warns: if the pods break open, the human race is finished.

Soon, they find a movable research lab, a place that offers safety but no food. Although she is dying, when  Dr. Caldwell sees all the equipment, she breathes a sigh of relief. She wonders what size head clamp Melanie wears.

In the meantime, as she noshes on the occasional feral cat, Melanie looks for supplies.

When the last soldier dies, leaving only Parks to protect Miss Justineau, Melanie makes a discovery. The hungries that killed and ate the last soldier are children. And like Melanie, they can think. Unlike Melanie, they are feral.  Waiting for Melanie’s return, Dr. Caldwell has taken steps to prevent Miss Justineau from interfering while she plots Melanie’s dissection.

After confronting and neutralizing Dr. Caldwell, Melanie makes a decision.

When that decision leads to the unintended death of Parks, she grieves. Can she protect Miss Justineau?

The story ends when Melanie turns a corner in this new world where teachers are valued.

If I were a teaching, I’d love to have a student like Melanie, but first I’d hide my cats.

I am he as you are she as you are me and we are all Inceptional?

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The Thirteenth Floor: A review

***Spoilers***

thirteenth floor  The Thirteenth Floor, a film directed by Josef Rusnek, and based on the 1964 Daniel F. Galouye novel, Simulacron 3 was released in 1999. Although hard to follow, with a less than compelling conflict and plot resolution, this film was met with enthusiasm by sci fi buffs and it was nominated for the Saturn Award as “Best Science Fiction Film” of 1999. Unfortunately for The Thirteenth Floor, The Matrix was also released in 1999. Rats. I know that The Matrix is beloved by many, but I found it every bit as flawed as The Thirteenth Floor and with its “mysticism,” incredibly pretentious and sophomoric.

Because the intricate plot and guessing what’s going on is the whole point, I’m not going to reveal plot points. The film has a good cast, including Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol, Vincent D’Onofrio and Dennis Haysbert.

The Thirteenth Floor is not a good film but not entirely bad either.

Like Inception, a film much closer in structure and concept, the premise is difficult to convey and so the solution is to blend in another, more easily understood genre. Inception gives us car chases and shoot-outs in our dreams within dreams. The idea, I suppose, is that those who lack the patience to follow the film’s complexity, will understand the language of violence.

In hopes of not losing its mainstream audience, The Thirteenth Floor blends in LA noir and a murder mystery.

The result, like Inception, is a feeling of disorientation. We don’t get to know any of the characters or care about the outcome; we’re too busy trying to crack the code–guessing what’s what. I like the idea of computer-generated, sentient beings who believe they’re human. Their limited existence reminds me of another hybrid movie–Dark City. Like The Matrix, Dark City has an element of mysticism but I didn’t think it nearly as pretentious. Very weird (in a good way for me) but lot’s more entertaining than The Matrix.

The concept of virtual reality is such a rich one that I hope someone will make a film that explores it on its own terms, trusting the audience and attempting to answer some of the questions it poses, such as what defines a human being. Along with the Star Trek holodek, television has done its own spin around VR territory, including 1995’s VE-5 and the Syfy’s current offering, EUREKA. Science fiction writers have long mined the territory of virtual reality, including my own second book, Babylon Dreams, where a whole industry competes for the consumer dollar by offering “after-death” destinations.

If you haven’t seen The Thirteenth Floor, I recommend it, especially if you like science fiction. It’s worth the elevator ride.

The Cabin in the Woods is like a fried Twinkie

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The Cabin in the Woods: A review

***Spoilers***

cabin in the woodsThe critics and the fans said must see The Cabin in the Woods. So I saw.

I ignored the lone “worst movie I ever saw”– naysayer–there was only one. Now that I’ve seen it, make that two. This movie, written by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon and directed by Drew Goddard, looks like it was a lot of fun to write. I can see all concerned cracking each other up at the hilarity. I would have loved to sit in on the sessions that put together this script, a combination of office comedy and slasher-college-students-go-camping sadism. The office segments, centered in a high tech control room with lots of screens and tons of controls are smart and very funny. A couple of middle-aged men in white shirts and ties combat the boredom by shooting down slasher-movie conventions as they comment on the progress of the college students, whose story unfolds on one of a series of screens via hidden cameras. Different departments participate in a betting pool to see who dies and how.

We’re told that steps (spiked hair dye, pheromone mists, etc.) have been taken to ensure the students follow the intended course. Like the office, we’re meant to watch as the students struggle to survive. And like the betting pool, other than what we paid for the ticket, we have no investment. We spend the entire movie guessing the point of it all. Why is this happening? We’re given clues that point to a blood sacrifice.

By the time we learn that it’s either the college students’ deaths or the “end of the world” we’re still detached.

When one of the students begins to outsmart the puppeteers, there’s frantic damage control. We, the audience, continue to observe but not invest because the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit together.

If you don’t care, you have time to be logical and the story collapses. Other than a mild curiosity, we don’t care about what happens to any of the characters. For example, early in the story, one of the office techs complains that his wife’s plans to get pregnant include child-proofing the entire house. Then he and the rest of the office complex bet on which group of young people dies a grisly death. Jarring but not quite believable because so little attention is paid to character–it’s all jokes and office politics; there’s no anchor–no place to establish a point of view.

Absurdism ala Mel Brooks this isn’t. Brooks parodies genre, establishing a setting and a narrative and commenting on the conventions. He doesn’t splice two genres together. When you’re guessing at the setting and confused about who or what to root for, you, like the office workers, are indifferent. The Coen Brothers make you laugh at the violence resulting from human folly, but you’re also horrified because they find the humanity as well as the absurdity.

There’s no humanity in this office. I thought perhaps they weren’t human–maybe the office was set in hell. It would have made more sense.

Clever performances and jokes can’t make up for the cynicism and indifference of the script. At the end, like the surviving college students, you shrug at “the end of the world.” To be scared, you have to care. Cabin in the Woods has a crisp outer layer of office humor with a sweet gooey center of college-students-sex-and-death. And like a fried Twinkie, it’s hard to swallow and just as indigestible.

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night–This Dog Don’t Hunt

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***Spoilers***

I don’t recommend Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

dylan dogA comic-based movie–Dylan Dog: Dead of Night. Dylan Dog…is based on a 1986 Italian comic book series by Tiziano Sclavi.

I watched this on Netflix.  A 2011 film, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night is a mess from start to finish. Dylan’s director is Kevin Monroe, who directed the animated 2007 TMNT 4 (Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles). And therein lies the one of the problems–live actors are a lot harder to direct than animated characters. Animated films, (unless you’re Pixar) are by nature, two dimensional.

With live actors, you need a little more “directing.”

Monroe was blessed with two excellent actors in Taye Diggs and Sam Huntington. Brandon Routh in the title role needed a little more help. The only other film I had seen Routh in was Superman The Return. He is an extremely good looking actor and this is a mixed blessing. Mr. Routh needs some miles on his face–some indication of character that draws us (ala Harrison Ford) in so that we project our own back story on how they got there. Right now, Routh’s face is a blank sheet. His droning voice-over, meant to help us follow a confusing, muddled story, loses us in the first ten minutes. If Monroe, the director, knew how to work with actors, perhaps there would be a little more shading–something of interest to support the noir feel this movie attempted to create.

As Dylan, Routh was as flat as a cartoon turtle.

Knowing something about actors, having been one and worked with many as a casting director, I feel Routh is a work in progress. I hope that he continues to be cast without the burden of carrying a whole film and along with paying that acting coach, he does some theater–which is an actor’s medium. A little Tennessee Williams would do him a world of good not to mention what’s going on currently in theater. I freely admit I don’t know. When I left production, I left it all behind and now am a consumer–an audience member. I want to see what’s behind Routh’s big brown eyes.

Whatever limited appeal this film possesses comes from Sam Huntington, who was Jimmy Olsen to Routh’s Superman.

Huntington was the resident werewolf on the SyFy Channel’s Being Human. George Bush senior was described as that “first husband,” the one you briefly married before you settled down. Huntington’s prissy “everyman” is the essence of your college roommate’s boyfriend–the one who always shows up to help you move. He’s so funny as the reluctant zombie–grossed out by his zombie needs, that he makes you forget the awkwardness of the film.

 Taye Diggs is such a compelling actor that he blows everyone else off the screen.

And one more problem: Dylan Dog is full of monsters because Dylan is the “middle man” between humans and the world of monsters. Most of the movie is spent with monsters, on behalf of monsters and fighting monsters, yet all the fight scenes are versions of martial arts. Where are the claws, the fangs, the bolts of lightening, the melting people, etc.? Other than throwing punches and tossing people around, the demons, vampires and werewolves are pussies.