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


The Girl with All the Gifts: The ABZ’s of ZombiesA review

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 Girl With All the Gifts

The Girl With the Gifts (IMDB)The Girl with All the Gifts  is a zombie movie.

Unlike most zombie movies, The Girl with All the Gifts 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.



LORD of ILLUSIONS: Lordy what a mess! But in a good way,  a review with ***spoilers***

Cover image for Lord of Illusions

Lord of Illusions Cover Image–IMDB

Directed and written by Clive Barker, Lord of Illusions begins as many horror films do with the camera showing us all the creepy things that we know spell “time to go someplace else.” We’re in the desert and looking at an abandoned one story building. There’s an array of small animal bones, skulls, old broken dolls, dead snakes, etc.

A group of people drives up and approaches the building commando-style.

Inside, there’s a party going on and it’s obvious these gun-toters aren’t there to bring the dip. As these fun-interruptus types barge in, we see someone sitting on the steps. The androgynous figure is a character named “Butterfield” (Trevor Edmond). who is the biggest, baddest fan of “Nix.” Nix (Daniel von Bargen) is a mellow-voiced sorcerer who plans to sacrifice a young girl. The girl cowers in the corner while a large, nasty baboon bares its teeth and tries to bite her.

I think the point of the party and the sacrifice is to kill the world and hang around after and gloat. But, I’m not sure.

All the party goers are having a great time. They’re shaving their heads and looking at each other like good sex is going to happen soon. The head of the commandos is a guy named Swann (Kevin O’Connor). Things get crazy. Nix ends up dead and buried with an iron mask nailed to his head. The mask will keep the Lord of Illusions dead. In the meantime, Butterfield who survives the fracas, is getting really mad.

So we jump fifteen years. Swann is a world famous magician.

A detective (who knows the “dark-side” we’re told via a flashback and a newspaper headline) named Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) is on a case. When Harry stumbles on a murder-in-progress, it’s a revenge killing. Someone is stalking the people who broke up the party and nailed Nix, the Lord of Illusions. Of course Butterfield (now played by Barry Del Sherman) is involved and of course Harry decides to investigate. This takes him to Swann’s Beverly Hills mansion and Mrs. Swann (in name only we’re told), Famke Janssen.

So let’s skip ahead, shall we? Swann fakes his death.

Though Swann fools Butterfield, Butterfield still manages to dig up Nix and re-book the party with all the same folks invited. Of course, they’ll bring their scissors and razors. What fun. At the party, Swann ends up in a stand-off with Nix, who is disappointed because he had counted on Swann to help him kill the world. Afterwards, the Lord of Illusions assumed he and Swann could just hang out together. Poor Butterfield is so unappreciated. Harry shows up and there’s another stand-off. After the Lord of Illusions loses, predictably, the only people left are the best looking–Scott Bakula and Famke. The world is saved. My guess is both Famke and Scott considered firing their agents after this.

I kept watching despite the mess and confusion.

There were dangling plot lines like the client who paid Harry to investigate the unfaithful husband and the cool woman cop. Also I wondered why the Magic Castle magician  helped Harry find some perfectly irrelevant info. What about Lord of Illusions did I find compelling?

I think it was Butterfield and the party-goers.

They were so passionate, so into whatever Nix was selling, it was seductive. The movie came alive during the party scenes and whenever Butterfield showed up. Otherwise I felt as if I was watching some good actors (Bakula, Janssen, O’Conner,etc.) looking like they would rather be having a root canal. All in all, I’d opt for the Lord of Illusions rather than the root canal, but as far as that party goes, I’m not shaving my head for no one.

Trumbo vs. Big Mother


Trumbo vs. Big Mother         A Movie Review        ***spoilers***

Trumbo cover image

Bryan Cranston as Trumbo–IMDB cover

Trumbo is a movie chronicling the history of the “Black List,” a list of people working in the American movie business. These people became unemployable when they were marked as traitors. Beginning in the late 1940’s, by the early 1950’s, the Black List ruled Hollywood. In the early 1960’s, a courageous few defied its power. During those years, the Black List targeted thousands of entertainment professionals. The reason? They were communists trying to infiltrate the U.S.A. with their dirty communist propaganda!

It’s true that many of these people had joined the Communist party.

Some joined in the 1930’s before George Orwell’s 1984 let the world know what an oppressive, soul-killing dogma it was. Many were closely associated (friends, worked with, went drinking with, etc.) with communists. Perhaps some of these show biz commies would have approved of Stalin’s gulags. Maybe, they applauded re-education camps, seizing property and putting all the educated to work in factories and collective farms.

Maybe a few of these American commies cheered when Mao and Pol Pot purged their countries of teachers.

In addition, they executed skilled labor and anyone who wore glasses. Who knows?  Most were more interested in less drastic changes like better wages and working conditions. Viewed as subversives, all were considered guilty of “Thought Crimes”.

Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper was a prominent Republican.

A powerful voice, Hedda was active in the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPA). She made it her mission to destroy the careers of those she considered subversives.

Hedda Hopper, as played by Helen Mirren, was a ruthless ideologue and anti-Semite who would have been right at home in 1984’s “Ministry of Truth.”

Big Brother had nothin’ on Big Mother Hedda, who wielded her pen like an avenging angel. The result was the destruction of careers and lives of thousands. Actors, writers, craftsman who made their living working in the film industry were faced with long-term unemployment; some never worked again.

To make things worse, friendships were destroyed when hundreds faced a devil’s bargain.

Called to testify before Senator Joe McCarthy and his House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), people were ordered to prove their loyalty by giving up the names of those they suspected of being communists or face contempt charges and possibly prison. Even now, people are bitter—not forgiving those who gave names. Director Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront, Streetcar Named Desire) testified before the HUAC committee and his testimony ended careers.

In 1999, Kazan was awarded an honorary Oscar. Many in the audience refused to applaud, and outside the theater there were demonstrators protesting.

Trumbo was directed by Jay Roach (Meet The Parents, Austin Powers) and stars Bryan Cranston (TV’s Breaking Bad, Argo, Godzilla, 30 Rock, The Simpsons and a zillion other credits) as Dalton Trumbo, the screenwriter who finally broke the back of the Black List, neutralizing Hedda Hopper and the MPA. Along with Helen Mirren as the fearsome Hedda, the rest of the cast is stellar, with Louie C.K as melancholy writer, Arlin Hurd, Diane Lane as Cleo, Trumbo’s supportive wife, and most notably, Michael Stuhbarg (Arnold Rothstein in Boardwalk Empire) as actor Edward G. Robinson.

Robinson’s fall from grace after giving up the names of friends sums up the plight of actors caught in the storm of paranoia.

“You can write under another name,” he tells Trumbo. “I only have this,” he pleads, pointing to his face.

For all the fine talent on display, it is Cranston who dominates. His Trumbo is a mix of confidence, righteousness, hubris, cunning and peculiar habits.

He often sits in the bathtub as he chain smokes and writes. Trumbo’s a gambler who trusts the odds and when they fail him, our sympathy for the humiliation he endures in prison catches us off guard. Later, when after completing his prison sentence, he writes under pseudonyms, defying Hedda and her minions, we see his commitment to support his family become an obsession to outwit the MPA. During that time, Trumbo won two Oscars for screenplays he wrote. But without his name on them, one for Roman Holiday and the other for The Brave One, they were awards he could not collect.

The Black List began to lose its power when actor Kirk Douglas openly credited Dalton Trumbo as the writer of Spartacus.

The superb script and Douglas’ moving performance as Spartacus, the slave who defied the Roman Empire resulted in an unqualified success. Box office success is power and Douglas used it to free Trumbo from the grip of the MPA. The nail in the coffin of Hedda’s power was John Kennedy’s endorsement of Spartacus, saying, “It’s a fine film.” Trumbo’s success opened the gates to employment for others on the “List.”

Then Trumbo jumps years to an event that occurred long after Trumbo was vindicated.

Cranston, as Trumbo, delivers a speech describing the damage done by the Black List, acknowledging all who suffered, including those who named names—“We all were victims.”

Dalton Trumbo was an enormous talent. The injustice he suffered was a product of the fear and politics that gripped the entire country.

The movie is worth seeing, if only for the Oscar worthy performances by Cranston and Mirren. In addition, I recommend it because of its rendering of Hollywood during these pivotal years. As Trumbo asks more than once in the film, “Where’s the story?” More than style, innovation, setting or wit, story is what matters to me.

In Trumbo the story is a battle between determined foes and what they represent:

Trumbo (First Amendment Rights and artistic freedom) and Hedda Hopper (the paranoia of the Cold War). Because these foes are rendered as complex human beings (Trumbo more than Hopper) we are invested and care about the outcome.

This is a part of history that anyone who cares about movies, our culture or freedom of expression should know.

When I was a young actress, Dalton Trumbo interviewed me for a role of “the girl back home” in his film, Johnny Got His Gun, based on his 1938 National Book Award-winning anti-war novel with the same title. As he patiently explained a pivotal scene, I sat politely nodding my head. It was one of many interviews and readings I did during that time. I remember how old he seemed with his face a city map of lines (all that smoking), the hunched posture and the drooping white mustache. During the fifteen minutes I was there, he was gracious and tried to make me feel at ease, but I knew I didn’t make an impression and the part went to someone else.

How I wish that I had known I was in the presence of an Industry lion.

Trumbo was a master of his art, someone who had led a rebellion, a guerilla warrior fighting the Thought Police of 1950’s Hollywood.

I do now.

The Boy: A spoon full of formula makes the story go down


A spoon full of formula makes the story go down    The Boy: A Review     ***spoilers***

I was in the mood for something scary and decided to check out The Boy, a movie about an old English couple who hire a nanny for their child, a boy named Brahms. If you’ve seen the trailer or even just a poster you know that Brahms is a life-sized doll.

Creepy doll movies are among my horror favorites.

Years ago, when I was a painter, my work focused on the disquiet we feel when we catch an unguarded glimpse of a doll plopped on something or discarded—its painted eyes staring placidly, seeing—what?   The Boy

I perceived a quiet acceptance of its fate.

Inevitably, it would be discarded. Soon it would be part of a landfill, probably sooner if it lost a limb or its head or when the fantasy it offered no longer entertained and something newer took its place.

I painted other toys besides dolls, but the blank gaze and snarled hair of my daughter’s favorite doll made it my favorite.

I created an alternate reality for it—the theater of our child minds was where dolls and other toys existed. I set the stage and painted the scenes. That was many years ago. I had some shows and eventually moved on. Using dolls as subjects is no longer cutting-edge. Long after my paintings were done and gone, the movie series Toy Story explored this idea and though charming, much of it is poignant and dark. Dolls have that effect.

Our toys are usually forgotten as we mature and like any friends we leave behind and then unexpectedly encounter, they know things.

Why do I tell you this? Most of us find dolls creepy, especially the life size ones like the ventriloquist’s dummy in the movie Magic, like Chucky, like Talking Tina in the Twilight Zone episode or Annabelle like little Brahms.

Because The Boy is a movie about  life-sized doll. I had expectations!

Written by new screenwriter, Stacey Menear (Mixtape) and staring Lauren Cohen (The Walking Dead), The Boy, directed by William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside), starts out well enough.

Greta, a young American ends a long trip from the States, arriving somewhere in the English countryside to interview for a job as a nanny.

She sees a big house that she deems “storybook” and I would describe as a standard horror movie mini-mansion. Inside, it definitely reads scary with the obligatory stuffed animals, bizarre knickknacks and lots and lots of stairs. No one is there to greet her. Intimidated and confused, she removes her boots before she explores. The boots disappear.

There’s a family portrait of a couple in their late fifties and their son, a sullen little boy of eight.

As Greta does the math, figuring out how a couple that old could have a kid that young, a woman interrupts her. It’s the mom—or mum I should say. Only Mum is way older than she was in the portrait. After getting a list of to-dos and not to-dos, meeting Malcolm, the cute grocery guy who hesitates to give her the scoop on what’s going on, Greta meets Brahms.

As we know and Greta discovers, Brahms is a life size doll.

Greta struggles to keep a straight face as Mum talks to Brahms and describes his daily routine. The job is hers; unlike the other applicants whom he rejected, Brahms likes her. Mummy and Daddy leave for a vacation. Later, we watch as they load their pockets with rocks and head into the ocean.

The Boy, Brahms, is Greta’s problem now.

All right. I could go through the rest of the plot but it’s typical cat and mouse horror fare. As she’s left alone with the doll and rather than singing it a lullaby, fixing it breakfast, reading to it and all the rest, she tosses it on a chair and does what she likes.

Some weird things happen. You guessed it.

Predictably, Brahms is in a different place from where she left him, and is the doll looking at her? What was that noise?

When Greta sets up a date with Malcolm, the tiny gloves come off.

Brahms is jealous. Greta’s in the shower and we see her jewelry slide away from the edge of the sink (does Brahmsie get his first woody?). Oh no! Her dress is gone and then later, Greta’s trapped in the attic and misses her date.

What’s going on in The Boy? Less than you think.

After days of harassment, Greta throws in the towel and works the program, hitting all the steps of the care and pretend feeding of Brahms. Concerned, Malcolm tries to persuade her to tone it down, but Greta’s convinced herself that what’s going on is supernatural. Malcolm told her that the real Brahms died years ago in a fire. He was eight, but he was, as people said, odd, and what was it about the little girl who disappeared back then?

Was the missing little girl the one Brahms was glaring at in the old photo? Why, yes she was!

Never mind. Greta’s survival instinct has kicked in and she’s going to do what Brahmsie wants. All is well in Toyland until Greta’s abusive boyfriend tracks her down. This is the one who beat her to a pulp, forcing her to move to another country to avoid running into him. He wants her back, but Greta knows that Brahms doesn’t share.

What Chuckyesque thing does Brahms have up his little sleeve? We eagerly await the cummuppins.

Then comes the big disappointment. As bad boyfriend prepares to slaughter the Greta-defending Malcolm who is half his size, we wait for Brahms to defend his woman—I mean nanny. Suddenly a wall breaks open. A man wearing a doll-like mask rushes out and kills the boyfriend.

Oh no! Brahms isn’t a devil doll! Instead, he’s generic–hidden-crazy guy!

All this time he was hiding in the walls! How unusual! Oh man—what a disappointment! So the rest of the movie is the chase. You know the drill. Brahms wants to kill and chases Greta and Malcolm who don’t want to die. Finally, with Malcolm seemingly down for the count, Big Boy Brahms has Greta on the bed!

Just like when she tucked in Pretend Brahms, Big Boy wants a kiss!

As he leers at her through the grotesque mask, presumably hiding scars from the long ago fire, Greta plunges a long screwdriver (very Freud) into him and she and a dazed Malcolm get the hell out. When the movie ends with Big Boy piecing together the shattered face of the doll, it dawns on me.

Where have I seen this ending before?

I don’t mean the crazy guy chase, but one where crazy guy hides in the walls to make us we think something supernatural is going on. It’s the House Bound ending! Yes folks, check it out on Netflix! Last year, I reviewed another of director William Brent Bell’s efforts, The Devil Inside. I summed it up by describing it as Godzilla versus the Smurfs. At the end of my review, I remarked that the story had no ending; it just stopped, as if they had run out of money.

It’s possible the ending of The Boy was the end result of the writer’s angst in finding the right resolution.

I will say that much of the first half of The Boy entertains due to Cohen’s performance, and because of Stacey Menear’s deft handling of the exposition. It’s possible again, that the ending was a mere coincidence and nothing more, however my sense of having seen the exact same ending was overwhelming.

So how should it have ended? For a real scare, let’s keep the supernatural in tact. Let’s see—we have ghosts, devils, possession, voodoo . . .

I know. Let’s say Malcolm and bad boyfriend are dead, the victims of what? Greta is missing. Mummy and Daddy didn’t kill themselves. The police call them as they sip Mai tai’s on some beach. They return. Other than the bodies, the result they presume, of a crazed and still missing Greta, the police tell them that nothing else is amiss. Mummy rushes in to find Brahms, still dressed in his pajamas.

Unlike the police, Mummy’s practiced eye spots a small drop of blood on her boy’s little hand.

As she coos over what poor Brahms has endured, she sees something under the bed. It’s a Greta Doll! Mummy swears to never leave again as she nods her head. “Yes, of course she can stay!” At last, Brahms has a playmate.

Thank you Twilight Zone’s Talking Tina. Thank you Magic. Here’s a win for all you dolls in Toyland.