The Italian Job (1969)

Directed by: Peter Collinson Starring:  Michael CaineNoel Coward

Ah, the perfect crime.  Four million dollars in gold up for grabs. Every detail planned, escape routes noted, backup plans made.  And the planner tossed over a cliff in his flashy sports car, courtesy of the Mafia.

Of course, this guy even has a plan (and instructional film) ready in case of death.  And that's where Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) steps in.

Fresh out of prison, Charlie's prepared to embark on an Italian job.  Picked up from the clink in a stolen car by his girl Lorna (Margaret Blye), Charlie has just enough time to visit the tailor and have a nice welcome-back party before his briefing on the job.  To Charlie's surprise, instructions about the job are delivered by the planner's widow, and he's no longer just part of the gang – he has to lead the heist.

Charlie can gather the gang, but he also has to get the funds together for training and travel.  For this he has to persuade Mr. Bridger (Noël Coward) to back the job.  Which involves breaking into a lavatory, and then a little luck with a well-timed news article regarding a multi-million dollar deal for China to back a Fiat plant.  There's a guarantee of gold, a program in place to hack the computer-controlled traffic system in Turin and an Italy-England football match in place to cover the presence of the Brits running the job.  All they have to do is dodge the cops and the Mafia and they're good to go.

The second half is the most entertaining bit, covering transport car training (e.g. crashing a lot of Mini Coopers), the nervous heist crew arguing about who's going to sit in the back of the motorcar, a Land Rover creeping through tiny Italian alleys like a stealthy beast, and three hot getaway cars being tossed over a cliff.  Oh, and there's also that legendary car chase, with the Mini Coopers racing down sidewalks (and one of the heisters snatching a Cornish hen off an unsuspecting sidewalk café patron's plate), up ramps, over the rooftops, through the sewers, and pretty much on any terrain they can.

If you:

  • Like Ocean's 11/12/13
  • Like car stunts and chases
  • Find the idea of 1960s computers being run by what look like giant spools of film amazing
  • Like an action film that's witty but not slapstick

Put it in the queue!

If you:

  • Can't imagine a G-rated film being entertaining to anyone over the age of 5
  • Never side with the 'bad guys'
  • Get panic attacks at the mere thought of a traffic jam, much less watching a full-blown traffic cluster with horns honking, etc.

Don't put it in the queue.

One For the Money

Directed by: Julie Anne Robinson Starring: Katherine HeiglJason O'MaraDaniel Sunjata

About four years ago, I became familiar with Stephanie Plum's Trenton, NJ.   The eighteen novels – plus several 'between the numbers' novellas – have all been books I enjoyed to various degrees.  So I was definitely in the target audience when One For the Money was adapted for the silver screen.

Stephanie (Katherine Heigl) falls into the bounty hunting profession by sheer necessity.  Downsized from her job as a lingerie department manager, she is behind on her bills, relieved of her car, and past due on her rent. She needs some financial stability quick, and would prefer to find another job rather than troll for a husband (much to her mother's dismay).

Her last resort for employment is in her cousin's bail bonds office, tracking down people who fail to appear (FTA) at their court dates. Fortunately, there is one big fish for Stephanie to catch with a fat $50,000 capture fee.  Even sweeter is the identity of this skip – Joe Morelli (Jason O'Mara), who once broke her heart.  She got even by breaking his leg with her car, but revenge is best when served again, right?  Especially if it's lucrative?  Of course!

Stephanie doesn't initially own a gun, can't shoot, unashamedly approaches the 'hos on Stark Street looking for information, and nearly gets assaulted in an MMA cage as she questions the looney tunes fighter Benito Ramirez (Gavin-Keith Umeh) about his missing girlfriend.  On the plus side, her first capture is relatively easy to apprehend (though he is an elderly male neighbor who believes in staying in the natural, unclothed state in which he was born, even on the way to the police station to reschedule his court date), she gets some shooting lessons and help on a few captures from expert and very attractive bounty hunter Ranger (Daniel Sunjata), and Morelli actually helps save her bacon a few times.

As a devoted fan, I really enjoyed this movie because it did an AMAZING job with casting.  Even though I think Betty White probably would have been better as Grandma Mazur, Debbie Reynolds was convincing as this quirky character.  Ana Reeder had Connie's hairdo, cleavage and attitude portrayed to a T.  Vinnie Plum – who I'd always imagined as looking somewhat like Leisure Suit Larry – was all I'd expected via Patrick Fischler.  And I really liked Katherine Heigl as Stephanie Plum though I thought she could do with fewer pairs of heels and a couple more pounds on her frame.  I also heard a lady a couple rows back complaining Stephanie wouldn't have been wearing the necklace they put on her for the film.

Much like I expect secret passageways and a car chase from an Indiana Jones movie, One For the Money also included a couple scenes with Stephanie's hamster Rex and most of the classic gags from the series:

  • Stephanie having to drive Uncle Sandor's giant blue Buick
  • A vehicle Stephanie had recently been driving getting destroyed
  • Grandma Mazur doing something humorously ridiculous (such as accidentally turning a roast chicken into target practice)
  • Ranger calling Stephanie 'babe' and Morelli calling her 'cupcake'

The only thing I was really missing was some Cluck in a Bucket and a box of donuts. Maybe next time.

I have no idea how long it will be until One For the Money will be available in the queue since it's still in major theaters.  If you already know you don't like this book series and don't really care for goofy female quasi-crime fighters, I'm not sure why you'd bother to go see it.  Unless you have a strange compulsion to see all films in which John Leguizamo has at least a minor role.

p.s. Shout out to Heather Purdum, who was a sport and went to see this movie with me.  Even though I nearly lost the parking pass.

In The Loop

Directed by: Armando Iannucci Starring: Tom Hollander,Peter CapaldiJames Gandolfini

As the United States has ended its involvement in Iraq, a film about the international political machinations behind war seems an appropriate choice.  In the Loop starts with a verbal gaffe by British Minister for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) during a radio interview.  When asked about the likelihood of military involvement in the Middle East, he replies war is 'unforeseeable' rather than regurgitating a slightly more equivocating party line.  Despite the acquisition of a new aide, Toby (Chris Addision) and heavily profane warnings from communications manager Malcom (Peter Capaldi) to keep his mouth shut unless he can stick to the party script, things go from bad to worse.

Simon's clumsy attempts to seem more important than the minor career politician he is and to correct his previous mis-statement with vague metaphors actually thrust him into the spotlight as a war hawk.  Unwittingly, Simon has become tangled up in a bit of a power struggle between two US Assistant Secretaries.

Rather than figuring out how to extract Simon from international dilemmas and local constituents making a laughingstock of him in the press, Toby stirs the political pot behind the scenes with information leaks.  The layers of maneuvering on all fronts – among the aides, between the pro- and anti-war groups, within the party – are ultimately like a multi-tiered concoction of cake and filling: sickening overall, though some parts are highly enjoyable.

Perhaps if it would have been more A Modest Proposal and less plausible, I would have enjoyed this movie more overall.  Also, I didn't really like any of the characters. Regardless of their motives and stance on the war, they were all a bunch of manipulative, self-centered turds in one way or another. Plus, it was too long I did not find the ending satisfactory at all.  I like my movies idealistic and have to say I far more enjoyed the ending of She's The Man (which I inadvertently started watching on TBS and was inexplicably compelled to sit through the whole thing).

If you:

  • Are connoisseur of creative profanity
  • Find strategic maneuvering thrilling
  • Like watching people who think they're powerful act like ass-hats (i.e. throwing temper tantrums, shouting threats, stomping the crap out of fax machine in a manner that rivals the printer destruction scene in Office Space).

Put it in the queue!

However, if you:

  • Prefer to escape from reality when you watch movies
  • Cannot fathom why anyone would really want a career in politics
  • Don't find farce enjoyable

Don't put it in the queue.

Midnight in Paris

Directed by: Woody Allen Starring:  Owen WilsonRachel McAdams

Even before I read The Great Gatsby, I wanted to live in the 1920s.  Beads, jazz, bobs, long cigarette holders, the Charleston, speakeasies…it all sounded like great fun.  Then once I found out about all the American expats living it up in Paris…the artistic/intellectual community of that era is the Elysian Fields for any wannabe author of the next Great America Novel.

Judging by Midnight in Paris, I am not alone in that regard.  Gil (Owen Wilson) is a successful screenwriter longing for a more 'authentic' writing career.  In Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents, he longs to ramble around the city in the rain with very romantic notions of what it was like in the golden age of the 1920s where authors and artists partied and mingled in a French mecca of creativity.  Inez is definitely not on the same wavelength, preferring wine tasting, gallery tours and late nights of dancing with her pseudo-intellectual American friend Paul (Martin Sheen) and his lady friend Carol (Nina Arianda).

One night Gil is off on a late-night walk, resting on some stone steps when an old-time car pulls up.  The jovial passengers offer him a lift, and Gil is spirited off to a fine party where the women are dressed like flappers, Cole Porter is playing the piano, and Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald invite him to pal around for the evening, ultimately leaving him at a café to chat with Hemingway (Corey Stoll).  Amidst talk of courage, grace and war, Hemingway refuses to read and comment on the gobsmacked Gil's novel in progress but suggests Gertrude Stein could provide a more fair opinion on it. Hurrying off to get his manuscript, Gil wanders back into his world.

Determined to get back to the roaring twenties again, Gil is in a hurried daze, tolerating Paul's blathering and Inez's putdowns only because he is whiling away the hours until the evening. Paul particularly mocks Gil's infatuation with 1920s Paris as he says living in the past and nostalgia is all a big romantic fallacy.  Gil tries to share this fantastic journey with Inez, but she refuses to wait with him for the car, and Gil again travels into the partied past alone to take his manuscript to Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates).  While there, he meets Picasso's beguiling young mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard) and she loves the first sentence of his novel.  Gil is charmed, particularly because this woman who has been the mistress of many famous artists is willing to engage in idle chatter with him.

Over the next few days, Gil rewrites the first few chapters based on Stein's feedback, evaluates the gulf between his ideals and Inez's, and attempts to woo Adriana in the 1920s (despite competition from Hemingway).  I won't spoil the unfolding of the plot, but it does end with Gil taking an evening stroll in the rain with a lovely young woman.

Overall, this movie is absolute paradise for anyone who revels in literary/artistic references (there is even a nod to a film I previously reviewed, Luis Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel). I also found the film even more fantastic after I had a few glasses of wine (everyone in the movie was drinking; I felt silly not joining in).  And with a Hemingway-ian sentiment, I should have disliked this movie because I didn't think of it first.

If you:

  • Have ever felt you belonged to a different time period.
  • Have taken far too many Humanities classes and go nuts for both overt and semi-obscure references to artists and authors of the given era.
  • Have been scoffed at for having very romanticized notions of certain times and places
  • Are a real intellectual that has ever been annoyed by a pseudo-intellectual

Put it in the queue!

However, if you:

  • Think the present is the golden age
  • Prefer disco to the foxtrot
  • Look down on France because of their politics and/or are a Tea Party Republican

Don't put it in the queue!


Directed by: Asif Kapadia

I can appreciate fast cars, great driving, and a story well told.  So I'm not sure why I waited for Daniel Ferreiro to recommend Senna twice before I watched it.

Primarily comprised of footage from the 1980s and early 90s, this documentary introduced me to one of the Formula One greats – a driver named Ayrton Senna.  Footage from Senna's early days competing in karting races, in-car cameras from F1 races and telecasts give the viewer a taste of the excitement surrounding this young driver.

I have seen a fair amount of documentaries, and this by far was one of the most compelling I've seen. The way the audio and video segments were carefully chosen and seamlessly woven together allow Senna to tell his own story.  You see his competitive drive on the track, his frustration at FIA politics and the ease he feels at home in Brazil enjoying boating and waterskiing when not racing.  The voices of friends, family, teammates, team owners, reporters work as narration, not as disruptive and boring 'talking heads.'

The film winds you up during the races with the buzz of the cars circling the track, spitting sparks and whizzing by at ridiculous speed, the announcers' shouts as Senna pulls into the lead with a risky yet rewarding move, the elation the win from a cockpit view.  It shows you the boyishly mischevious side of Senna, flirting with female reporters and celebrities who flirt right back with this handsome F1 world champion.  You feel the tension of Senna's rivalry with Alain Proust and his incredible drive to win as well as the stress of situations surrounding his last Grand Prix.

Senna gives so many insights into the true personality of this man – more than just a phenomenal driver, a hero to the Brazilian people, a compassionate person, a religious man, a heartthrob, an outspoken advocate for safety and fairness in F1, a son, a brother, but also a person with hopes and dreams beyond his racing career.  All these pieces make the conclusion even more poignant.

I enjoyed this film so much that I barely realized there are some segments with subtitles.  So highly recommended that I'm going to give you ample reasons to put this one in the queue and move it up to #1.

If you:

  • Have any reverence for automotive history and knowledge
  • Appreciate a competitive spirit
  • Like a semi-rebellious good guy who campaigns passionately for fairness and dislikes the political game
  • Long for a fast-paced documentary that keeps focus on the most important and interesting parts of a person's story
  • Get a kick out of a first-person/car cam

Put it in the queue!

However if you,

  • Want more of a Kitty Kelly style tell-all
  • Don't like to drive fast or watching automotive racing

Don't put it in the queue.


Starring: Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro Directed by: Neil Burger

Continuous improvement seems to be pretty much the only thing important to what we perceive as success: more profits, more efficiency, more productivity.  It is easy for the average person to get frustrated and perhaps somewhat disheartened by this manifesto.  Should we have already done more by now?  Shouldn't we be doing more?  Surely using this planner, that app, multitasking, delegating better, working smarter…something should unlock our ability to do more, right?

If you are a typical adult and you haven't ever gone through this inner monologue, you must be:

  • a freaking genius
  • transcendentally enlightened
  • someone who just doesn't give a shit.

Limitless speaks to our (or at least my) desire to see what's really inside the mind and understand what we could truly be capable of doing if nothing held us back.  Eddie Mora (Bradley Cooper) has a book contract and serious writer's block.  His crappy apartment is a mess, his girlfriend is fed up with him, and he looks like a bum.

On top of being unceremoniously dumped and past his authorial deadline with nothing to show for it, he runs into Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), his shady ex-brother-in-law. Vernon buys him a drink, listens to his troubles, then slips him a tablet in a little plastic bag, "on the house."  Skeptical at first of this experimental drug that will allegedly unlock all his brain's power (not just that standard 20 percent), Eddie hesitates considerably before taking it.

But when it kicks in, the results are amazing.  The subconscious serves up long-buried facts, his mental facilities go into overdrive, and he completes more than enough of his novel to placate and energize his editor.

One brush with this type of power isn't enough – of course Eddie wants more, which requires more of the drug.  So he goes to see Vernon again, and Vernon promptly sends him out to run a couple errands. When Eddie gets back, Vernon has been murdered and his apartment tossed.  Fortunately the baddies did not find the stash, but Eddie does.

What does he do with this seemingly limitless energy and intelligence?  Finish his novel?  Learn a bunch of foreign languages?  Figure out an algorithm that allows him to make millions in a couple days of stock trading?  Realize you know kung fu via all those Bruce Lee movies you watched in days of yore? Party with a bunch of gorgeous Italian women?  Go cliff diving?  Race around in a purple Maserati?

All this and more, friends, all this and more.

Of course, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Though Newton's Third Law doesn't completely describe the rest of the film, and I was not able to conjure up the name of this law with just the power of Diet Coke or my 20 percent brain alone (I had to use Google Search), the binds Eddie finds himself in as he struggles with the drug's side effects kept me on the edge of my seat.  I highly enjoyed this movie, even though watching it made me feel like an underperforming buffoon.

If you:

  • Like science fiction or, more correctly, 'techno thrillers'
  • Have ever wanted to be able to do more than you are physically and/or mentally capable
  • Have ever had writer's block

Put it in the queue!

However, if you:

  • Just say no to drugs
  • Are nonplussed by Bradley Cooper's acting skills and/or blue eyes
  • Just don't give a shit and would rather watch a comedy

Don't put it in the queue.

Written by Jennifer Venson

The Perfect Host

Starring: David Hyde Pierce, Clayne Crawford Directed by: Nick Tomnay

John (Clayne Crawford) finds himself in a serious pickle after he ends up injured and identified after a robbing a bank. Ditching his car – which has been described on the radio – he ends up wandering through a semi-ritzy neighborhood looking to weasel his way into shelter for the night.  After one foiled attempt, he finds a postcard from Julia in Australia to Warwick (David Hyde Pierce).  Posing as a recent friend of Julia's just in from Australia with a sob story about losing his luggage, he wrangles entry into the house, where Warwick is preparing for a dinner party.

While John is sitting in Warwick's house, sipping red wine and stringing together lies about his acquaintance with Julia, he hears another radio broadcast about his crime and the search for his whereabouts.  Fear making him belligerent, John grabs a knife and gets belligerent, revealing the truth about his identity and willingness to kill.  Warwick acts frightened and calls one of the guests to cancel the party.  And then John blacks out.  When he wakes up, he is the prisoner and four other dinner guests have joined Warwick's party.

What follows is an extremely strange – yet carefully structured – evening at Warwick's house.  There are even some flashbacks of John's bank robbery woven in to add context and set up the ending.  Throw in a nosy neighbor whose interference in the festivities is only avoided by quick thinking and the use of a rubber swamp creature mask, and you have a very weird yet completely enjoyable film. The only 'meh' I have about the film is the flashback sequences aren't integrated well.  They really don't work as either clues or character insights until very late in the movie.

If you:

  • Like a plot with more twists than a pretzel
  • Like David Hyde Pierce
  • Like a good mistaken/misrepresented/surprising identity ploy

Put it in the queue!

If you:

  • Aren't a big fan of movies that incorporate trendy and/or somewhat overused plot devices
  • Don't really like thrillers to have semi-comedic elements in them
  • Expect a movie that uses Polaroid pictures to document events to be as good as Memento

Don’t put it in the queue.

Written by Jennifer Venson

Crazy Heart

Directed by: Scott Cooper
If I didn't like Jeff Bridges or the soundtrack to Crazy Heart, I probably wouldn't have watched this movie.  The plot itself is kind of a fill-in-the Mad Libs recipe for a drama:
A(n) art form/ sports star is struggling with substance that could be abused.  This has caused negative result.  The star meets love interest name and self dectructive actions, generally leading to a highly dramatic turning point with conflict caused by substance abuse.  And then, the star dies/gets sober.
The acting is quite good. Bridges is excellent as the rarely-sober, down on his luck, and supremely talented Bad Blake.  He slips the role on as effortlessly as Blake slips on his signature shades and cowboy hat, grousing like a crabby aging man and perfectly charming the ladies in turn.  You feel as though his warmth for what he likes – talented piano playing, or shy reporter Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhall) and her son Buddy (Jack Nation) – is genuine. You also feel the depth of his frustration of being booked to play at a bowling alley, being unable to buy his favorite whiskey, and how deeply his reliance on drinking runs. Similarly, Gyllenhall strikes a perfect balance of vulnerable yet iron-strong, reserving herself for the truly meaningful things.
The music is phenomenal.  I can appreciate 'old country' with twangy and acoustic guitars, maybe a piano and a fiddle, and lyrics that tell a story. Crazy Heart also surfaces how elusive – and easy to take for granted – talent is. Blake gets on stage and performs relatively well while half falling-down drunk and writes an amazing song while laying in bed picking out a tune on his guitar.
I also have to acknowledge the late 70s model Suburban which shuttles Blake throughout the southwest on his tour dates.  An old Suburban can be a fine, fine vehicle for road trips and hauling the essentials.
If you:
·         Like a tale well told – even if it isn't really a unique story
·         Like to see people playing musicians in their natural habitat
·         Are a fan of any of the main actors (with the exception of Colin Farrell…he doesn't have a very big role)
Put it in the queue!
However, if you:
·         Don't like concert video-style footage
·         Absolutely cannot appreciate country music in any form
·         Don't want to see Jeff Bridges loafing about shirtless
Don't put it in the queue.

Old School

Starring: Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn Directed by: Todd Phillips

As one of my goals for 2012 – in addition to publishing In The Queue on a more regular basis than I did in 2011 – I plan to fill some of the gaps in my movie viewing experience. Recently, my work compatriot Jeremy Alexander was shocked to hear I had never seen Old School and Wedding Crashers. At the time these movies were popular, I pretty much dismissed them (especially Old School). I wasn't really a fan of Will Ferrell in his SNL roles and hadn't yet seen the absolutely fabulous Talladega Nights or Anchorman yet.  So to begin playing catch-up on pop movies, I started with Old School.

The main trio of Mitch (Luke Wilson), Frank (Will Ferrell) and Beanie (Vince Vaughn) are theoretically representing the spectrum of relationships for 30-year-old males.  Beanie is jadedly married with two kids, coaches soccer for his 6ish-year-old and sometimes packs around the baby in one of those sling carrier things.

Will Ferrell is the newly-married and semi-domesticated guy…the one who dedicates weekend days to lame home shopping/improvement activities with his brand new wifey.  He didn't listen when Beanie tried a last-ditch (i.e. while the bride-to-be was walking down the aisle) and hilarious speech to get him to reconsider marriage.

Mild-mannered Mitch is newly single, catapulting himself out of a comfortable relationship after discovering his girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) hosted polyamorous parties while he was traveling for work.  Moving to a sweet rental house right off the campus of Harrison University, Mitch is ready to relax and regroup.  Beanie has bigger plans for Mitch and his new place – primarily turning it into party central, supplied by resources from the Speaker City store chain he owns.

Mitch – who would actually rather date women his own age like Nicole (Ellen Pompeo) – reluctantly joins in the fun but still has a good time.  Frank stumbles back into his party self, aka  "Frank the Tank," streaking his way out of his new wife's good graces.  And to boot, Harrison University Dean Pritchard (Jeremy Piven, whose character I assume was the inspiration for 'nerdy Pete Wentz' in the 2005 video for "Dance, Dance") recognizes Mitch, Beanie and Frank as guys who used to pick on him years ago.  He serves them with a notice the house has been re-zoned and now must be used only for campus housing or social service activities.

Mopey Mitch comes home the next night to find his house stuffed with guys of all ages, races, creed and levels of education.  To preserve his vicarious lifestyle, Beanie has decided they will start a fraternity in the house, open to everyone.  From this motley group, they choose 14 pledges – many college students, but also a couple middle-aged businessmen and an octogenarian named Blue that hangs around one of the Speaker City stores.  In an absolutely hilarious sequence of pledge kidnapping and hazing activities, the fraternity is born.  And thus they manage to escape the wrath of Dean Pritchard for the time being.

You know the rest – the Dean finds another way to block the guys, they find a loophole...happy ending, etc etc etc.  The movie overall is significantly funnier than I expected it, particularly due to:

  • Beanie's pre-wedding speech, with hilarious cautions to the groom punctuated by a ridiculously sappy compliment for the father of the bride.
  • The Fight Club-esque way people talk about the fraternity and refer to Mitch as The Godfather.
  • The pledge class having to work at Beanie's son's birthday party
  • The excellent peppering in of random stars in small roles and cameos here and there throughout the film.
  • The Dean Pritchard chase scene
  • The mini-scenes running during the credits.

If you:

  • Liked Revenge of the Nerds or any movie where the underdog wins
  • Don't take Greek Life too seriously
  • Are in the mood for a comedy that's wittily stupid

Put it in the queue!

However, if you:

  • Are worried your significant other will disapprove of your watching this movie or if you ARE a disapproving significant other
  • Don’t think streaking on the quad is funny
  • Cannot appreciate Vince Vaughn

Don't put it in the queue.

Written by Jennifer Venson

Wild Target

Starring: Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, Rupert Grint Directed by: Jonathan Lynn

Quick, what comes to mind when you think of a British family business?  Perhaps a tea shop with freshly-baked biscuits aplenty, a haberdashery, or a B&B Fawlty Towers style?  Hang on just a minute – how about a family of assassins?

Victor Maynard (Bill Nighy) is a middle-aged gun for hire with the look of a respectable banker and the neat accuracy of a 007.  For his 55th birthday, his dear old mum (Eileen Atkins) presents him with a scrapbook of articles about his successful kills. Though he hasn't yet got a son to carry on the family trade, he does have a strong reputation within the field.

Until he's hired to take out the devil-may-care Rose (Emily Blunt).  Whether she's riding through a museum on a bike with a basket with reckless abandon and apparent innocence to spare or strolling through town lifting scarves, pocketbooks and clothing at a rate that would make the Oliver Twist gang blush – Rose is clearly a loose cannon.  In a fabulous fashion parade of sky-high stiletto heels and brightly-colored tights.

After pulling the old switcheroo on an art aficionado (Rupert Everett) who thought he was getting a vintage Rembrandt and ended up with a clever fake, Rose ends up on Victor's hit list.  Unwittingly eluding Victor's aim, Rose ends up in the crosshairs of a completely different threat – the bodyguards of the art collector she stuck with the faux Rembrandt.  Of course, things are completely bollocksed up, and errant car wash boy Tony (Rupert Grint) gets pulled into the whole mess after he shoots one of the bodyguards.

Victor can't bring himself to kill Rose – especially after she offers him a nice sum of money to protect her – so he, Rose and Tony go on the lam.

Overall, I found Wild Target quite a laugh.  There are car chases, buffoonery, poking fun at the stuffy British stereotype, a feisty aged parent, a drunken birthday party, an ex-parrot and a humorous rivalry with another hitman (Martin Freeman).

If you:

  • Like British humor
  • Are highly amused by actors playing quite the opposite of another well-known role, such as:
    • Queen Victoria Emily Blunt vs. con woman/thief Emily Blunt
    • Dr. Watson Martin Freeman vs. sadistic hitman Martin Freeman (Cor!!)
    • Ron Weasley Rupert Grint vs clueless assassin in training Rupert Grint
    • Like films where the main schtick is based around unlikely partners in crime (literally!)

Put it in the queue!

If you:

  • Prefer your British crime films to star James Bond
  • Are not amused by characters with a complete disregard for traffic
  • Would find it weird to see Ron Weasley smoking a cigarette in the bath

Don't put it in the queue.

Written by Jennifer Venson


Starring: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman Directed by: Guillermo del Toro

Antiquities, alchemy, immortality.  All are present in Cronos, Written and directed by Guillermo de Toro, the film begins with a brief history of a strange device that looks somewhat like a golden scarab – created by an alchemist and allegedly able to extend the owner's life. After living 300 years, the owner dies in a freak accident and his belongings are auctioned off.

Elderly antique shop owner Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) and his granddaughter (Tamara Shanath) are minding the store one day when several cucarachas crawl out of a wooden angel statuette.  Prying open the statue, Gris finds a strange golden device.  As he attempts to figure out how it works, the mechanism springs open and pierces his hand with its metal legs.  Startled, he disengages it…but takes it home with him.

Meanwhile, one of the shop's customers that day was looking for the same angel statue.  Irritable Angel de la Guardia (Ron Perlman) thinks he's been on a wild goose chase seeking similar statues for his terminally ill uncle (Claudio Brook).  However, his uncle also has a piece of the alchemist's estate in a detailed journal and is completely certain they have found the right angel.  They are more than displeased to find it empty of the real treasure, but Gris will not give it up – even though the elder de la Guardia suggests there will be trouble if Gris uses it without understanding 'the instructions' on how to use it.

In the meantime, Gris finds himself drawn to the device again, and allows it to clamp onto his hand once more.  In addition to the metal legs clamping to his hand, there is a 'stinger' that also pierces the skin and activates another interesting mechanism inside the machine.  He begins to change as well, feeling and looking younger.  His granddaughter notices the change and mistrusts the device, attempting to hide it from Gris. However, he finds it again and continues to use it.

Things become even stranger on New Year's Eve.  Gris, his wife and granddaughter go to a dance, and he is suddenly struck with a strange craving.  Angel de la Guardia has also tracked Gris down and intends to get revenge for continuing to keep the device from his uncle.  He gets his revenge by pushing Gris' car off a cliff – with Gris in it.  Will that keep him down?  Of course not!  However, immortality does come at a price…

I quite enjoyed this movie – the pacing was excellent, the plot was just weird enough you could suspend your disbelief *just enough*, and the acting was good.  I initially had misgivings about the film because I was worried it would be like Pan's Labyrinth (which I really did not like), but it was completely different. The movie has parts in both Spanish and English, so some reading is required unless you speak both of these languages.

If you:

  • Like a mysterious and somewhat magical tale
  • Like the idea of hidden treasure
  • Believe there's always a trade-off

Put it in the queue!

If you:

  • Don't think you would find an artistically-inclined mortician named Tito amusing
  • Don't like Ron Perlman
  • Have no imagination

Don't put it in the queue!

Written by Jennifer Venson

Last Tango in Paris

Starring:  Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider Directed by: Bernardo Bertolucci

After a month of watching pretty much nothing but horror movies of extremely varied quality, I sought out a foreign/artsy/acclaimed film.  Last Tango in Paris had been languishing in the queue for some time, and it fit that description.  The dialogue is mostly French, with some scenes in English.  Marlon Brando was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the film.

And yet…I didn't really like it.

The psychology behind the film is interesting – take two complete strangers and have them carry on an anonymous affair for an indeterminate, but presumably short, period of time.  Paul (Brando) and Jeanne (Maria Schneider) happen to arrive within minutes of each other to view an apartment.  Despite Jeanne stopping to look at the apartment on her way to pick up her boyfriend from the train station, she ends up having a quickie with Paul.  He suggests they meet there again.

Jeanne seems to be moderately irritated with her boyfriend, a filmmaker who is making something of a 'day in the life' movie about her.  She seems to feel used by him, especially as her greeting him at the train station is filmed to get spontaneous expressions of emotion as part of the film.  Thus it makes sense why she might be willing to go back to see Paul – who appears to be at least twice her age – again.

Paul has recently been freed from a relationship by his wife committing suicide.  With her mother fussing about and squawking at Paul like a ruffled matron hen, it is easy to see why he longs to escape to encounters without commitments.  When at the apartment, he repeatedly tells Jeanne that he wants to know nothing about her – not her real name, not her age…nothing.

Jeanne meets him at the apartment several more times.  Especially in contrast to Tom – who wants to know every bit of her past through filming and participate in every bit of her future by proposing marriage – the lack of interest in anything but the present via Paul must have been an exciting draw.

However, there are some scenes in which Jeanne seems like just an object, a toy for Paul.  She comes to the apartment as if seeking acknowledgement, lounges around wearing jeans and a scarf (or less), on display for Paul…who uses her and doesn't seem to care.  Until it's time to break off the affair, in which they undergo a dramatic role reversal.

I suppose I am easily scandalized (as apparently were some audiences, as the film has been rated X, R with edits, and currently NC-17).  As mentioned, it's an interesting idea, but the execution is a little uncomfortable to watch.  Especially as Jeanne looks very, very young with a poodle-curly, glam metal-esque hairdo, and Paul looks…just older.  In a pathetic and depressing mid-life crisis way. Which was probably completely intentional.  Perhaps I should have watched On the Waterfront or something to see a better Brando.

If you:

  • Feel a little schizophrenic watching movies that flipflop between multiple languages
  • Are disinterested in movies about May/December relationships
  • Expect the movie to be primarily about tango, or any type of vertical dancing

Don't put it in the queue.

If you:

  • Are a film connoisseur and this in on the must-see list due to Brando, Academy Award nominations, controversial status, etc
  • Find the topic interesting for the sake of human sociology/psychology/sexuality
  • Are not bothered by the idea of sex in very uncomfortable places (and no, Mallrats fans, I do not mean in the backseat of a Volkswagon).

Put it in the queue.

Written by Jennifer Venson

The Ring Two

Starring: Naomi Watts, David Dorfman Directed by: Hideo Nakata

Last October, surprisingly, the best movie I reviewed was The Ring.  It was great precisely because it was more of a mystery to unravel rather than a 'spooky things jump out at you around every corner' film.

Apparently when The Ring 2 was written, the opposite intent prevailed.  The movie is chock full of Evil Samara (Kelly Stables).  Her video still exists, and she's stalking Aidan (David Dorfman) even though Rachel (Naiomi Woods) has attempted to take them away to the small town of Astoria, Oregon.

Though Rachel finds the tape and stops its circuit among the town's teenagers early on, Samara is still not finished with her and Aidan. Instead of just the well and TV dwelling specter, she is now able to manifest in a public restroom, command a herd of murderous deer, do poltergeist-y things to Rachel's house, kill Aidan's fish, turn a bathroom into a visually impressive illustration of centripetal force and…oh yes, attempt to possess Aidan.

Sure there's still a mystery Rachel has to unravel, but it is somewhat half-ass.  The roughly half hour Rachel potters around trying to figure out more about Samara's history is pretty much the most interesting part of the film.

The rest is just monster around the corner (or monster at the bottom of the well) fare.  What's really creeping me out now is a fly has been buzzing around by my computer the whole time I've been writing this review…perhaps it’s Samara returned from the beyond in insect form…

Also I have no idea how they're going to pull a third film out of this one. Unless it's a prequel, I am thoroughly uninterested.

If you:

  • Can't resist a sequel
  • Like movies where the scary thing is always lurking around

Put it in the queue!

However, if you:

  • Prefer the thrill of a creepy mystery rather than a creepy monster
  • Can't suspend your disbelief enough that Samara all of a sudden decides to make the leap from video to stove/lightbulbs/fauna/human
  • Are easily annoyed by Naomi Watts moping around looking all skinny and concerned

Don't put it in the queue!

Written by Jennifer Venson

Family and The Washingtonians

Family - Starring: George Wendt, Meredith Monroe, Matt Keeslar

Directed by: John Landis

The Washingtonians -

Starring: Johnathon Schaech, Venus Terzo, Myron Natwick

Directed by: Peter Medak

I am returning to the Masters of Horror series for two more creepy short films.  The first, Family, was directed by John Landis.  George Wendt of Cheers fame is Harold, a man who lives in a nice, quiet neighborhood.  He has a pleasant home in a nice subdivision and blares gospel music while he works in his basement downstairs.  What's in the basement? Oh, a workshop where Harold bathes corpses in acid to melt off the flesh, leaving behind a skeleton.  He then wires together the articulated skeleton, dresses it, and puts it upstairs in his family room.  He goes there in the evenings to relax with his wife (posed reading a tabloid), his daughter, and now grandpa.  He talks to the skeletons, and in his vivid imagination they – as fully-fleshed people – respond.

A new couple, a young doctor David Fuller (Matt Keeslar) and his wife Celia (Meredith Monroe) move into the neighborhood.  After accidentally backing into Harold's mailbox in the wee hours of the morning, they go over to apologize.  They talk of wanting to re-start a family after tragically losing a daughter to cancer.   Becoming friends with Harold, they share dinners and chat often.  Meanwhile, Harold begins to develop a slight obsession with Celia, obviously considering adding her to the family.

This is quite a good tale, full of surprises and with an out-there yet not too ridiculous plot.

If you:

  • Like movies that let you peer into the motivations of a psychopath
  • Have even been suspicious of your neighbors

Put it in the queue!

However, if you can't bear the thought of "Norm!!" being a murderer, don't put it in the queue.

I watched the second movie with my brothers.  Since they are big American History fans, we chose TheWashingtonians.  This tale focuses on a family of three who are in town for a funeral.  Mike (Johnathon Shaech) has inherited his grandparents' house as a result of his grandmother's death, and they are staying there while in town.

Daughter Amy (Julia Tortolano) is terrified of the house.  And even more terrified of the local real estate agent who is waiting for them on the front porch.   Samuel Madison III (Myron Natwick) looks more like Colonel Sanders than a creepy creeper, but his false teeth and saccharine compliments to Amy are a bit disconcerting.

Amy continues to be afraid of everything in the old house, including a giant portrait of George Washington (she mistook it for a person in the cellar).  While her parents are cleaning out the basement, Amy decides to stand up to the image of the Father of our Country and yell that she's not afraid of it.  Which promptly causes the painting to fall over.

Behind a corner of the canvas, Mike finds a small scroll wound around a fork that looks like it was made from a small bone.  The note on the scroll suggests George Washington was a cannibal that ate children.  Strongly disconcerted, Mike immediately begins dithering what to do about it. In the meantime, he cannot help but imagine all the townsfolk as flesh-chomping maniacs; he and Amy are both fairly freaked out about the town and can't wait to get away.

After the funeral, he asks the realtor about the note and fork.  His reaction is also relatively strange, and he both implores Mike to keep it a secret and perhaps sell it to a collector he knows.  While he is making calls, Mike escapes to his grandmother's house.  Later that night, his family receives a visit from a group of people dressed in colonial garb (powdered wigs and all) and gross, bloodstained teeth demanding both the note, and silence about its contents.

Generally I enjoy historical fiction, and mayhaps even believe George Washington and his founding friends could have been involved in some Masonic skullduggery.  But cannibalism? That is a very unappetizing thought.

If you:

  • Like to believe extreme conspiracy theories (for example – George Bush belongs to a reptile alien race)
  • Like unnecessary gore

Put it in the queue!

However, if you:

  • Don't believe cannibalism is what the founding fathers meant when they said "the tree of liberty must be watered with blood."
  • Are creeped out by the thought of ghoulish colonial cannibalism re-enactments.  Or even ghoulish colonials wandering about New England.

Don't put it in the queue!

Written by Jennifer Venson

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead

Starring: Jake Hoffman, Devon Aoki, John Ventimiglia, Kris Lemche Directed by: Jordan Galland

Alas, poor Yorick…you're not even in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead!  And Hamlet?  Depends on if you're talking about the play or the man.  Both are parts of this film, but this is not your high school literature teacher's Hamlet.

Julian (Jake Hoffman) is on the verge of getting kicked out of his father's house/medical office for being a general slacker who apparently believes his job is bringing home a different girl every night rather than bringing home the bacon.  In his copious free time, he also acts as his gorgeous ex-girlfriend's errand lackey.  Even though she is dating an obnoxious entrepreneur (Ralph Macchio).

Forced to interview for a director's position at a small theater (or else find other living arrangements), Julian finds himself with a new job after a very weird interview with theater owner/actor Theo (John Ventimiglia).  Tasked with finding suitable actors for a vampire-themed adaptation of the classic play, he enlists his best friend Vince (Kris Lemche).  His ex-girlfriend Anna (Devon Aoki) salivates at the idea of playing Ophelia, but Julian is hesitant to involve her with the strange cast of characters.  Including an actor who believes the names of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern should be updated to Rosendude and Guildenbro, or other similar abominations.

Vince suspects something truly is rotten in the state of this theater company when he thinks he sees Theo and two of the other actresses devouring a human outside a club.  He screams for Julian, but by the time Julian appears – there is nothing to be seen.  Vince is also approached by a woman who insists a vampire-themed adaptation of Hamlet is part of an ancient conspiracy, usually ending in the whole cast and audience becoming a vampire buffet on opening night.  Seems crazy, right?  Well, not as crazy as the Monthy Python-esque video explaining the historical track of this conspiracy, or even the ridiculously rambling play itself.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead is one of those films that gives me great hope for my own mediocre scriptwriting.  However, the sheer goofiness of the storyline makes this a very enjoyable movie, if you like that sort of thing.  It definitely does not resemble Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which I once attempted to watch and miserably failed (I don't like absurdist plays/movies/etc.), but it does make a reference to it.  The acting is not all bad, and the brief appearance of Hamlet is hilarious (but not as hilarious as Hamlet thinks it is.  Yeah.  He's that guy).

If you:

  • Like Hamlet, but are not a literary purist about it – after all, it's just words….words…words.  :)
  • Like conspiracy theory
  • Have low expectations for this movie

Put it in the queue!

However, if you:

  • Think vampire theatre should be elegant, seductive and beautiful…not peppered with bumbling humans and weighted down by a boring script.
  • Can't stand the idea of Hamlet (the man himself) being kind of a tool who thinks he's a standup comedian.
  • Aren't in the mood for 90 minutes of ridiculousness

Don't put it in the queue.

Written by Jennifer Venson

Uncle Sam and Homecoming

Uncle Sam -- Starring: William Smith, David 'Shark' Fralick, Christopher Ogden

Directed by: William Lustig

Homecoming --

Starring: Jon Tenney, Thea Gill

Directed by: Joe Dante

Two zombie films for the price of one in this review, friends.

The first is Uncle Sam.  From the first 10 minutes, it seems like it might be a decent movie.  It starts out a little ominous in the desert of Iraq, deceased soldiers in a helicopter…though one is really not dead, just zombified and making a cheesy joke about friendly fire whilst shooting the investigating officer.

That is pretty much the highlight of the movie.

The rest is a heavy-handed, unfunny march through the soldier's hometown.  His name is Sam, and he left behind a wife who is afraid of him, a sister who is also afraid of him, and a nephew who absolutely idolizes him.

You can see who is going to taste the wrath of zombie Uncle Sam from miles away.  The draft-dodging elementary school teacher.  The IRS-cheating, Gulf War criticizing family friend.  The obnoxious teenagers who burn flags and desecrate the National Anthem.

It takes a really long time to set up the back story and get to the part where Uncle Sam starts doling out ridiculous zombie justice (such as running an unpatriotic offender up a flagpole by his neck and terminating a peeping tom with hedge clippers).  Plus, the adoring nephew's blind adoration and the political overtones are less humorous, more painful to watch.

The only thing that makes this movie somewhat watchable is the bloodbath at the 4th of July town festival and Issac Hayes as the overall hero of the day.

Do yourself a favor and don't put it in the queue.  There are many better options, such as…

Homecoming, a Masters of Horror piece directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, the 'burbs) is a far superior zombie soldier movie.

David (Jon Tenney) is something of a legend among political speechwriters, working a bit of an uphill spin battle for the upcoming election due to the unpopular war.  On an evening talk show similar to "Larry King Live" and other of that ilk, he has an emotional moment and wishes soldiers killed in action could come back and tell their families how proud they are to have died for their country.

Not only is this quote totally sound-biteable, it attracts the attention of the show's other guest, Jane Cleaver (Thea Gill).  Styled in the political leanings of Ann Coulter, she is a ball-busting conservative aching for power and unafraid to use her confidence and feminine wiles to get to the inner circle of politics.

Elsewhere, strange things begin to happen with remains of American soldiers killed in action returning from war.  Some of them are getting out of their flag-covered caskets and shuffling about as zombies with unfinished business.

Of course, this is a political nightmare.  It also stirs up an old family secret about David's brother, a Vietnam war veteran.

Amid speculation about how undead soldiers could be a tremendous asset to the cause, one finally speaks.  Why are they here?  What do they want?  Really, all they want is to vote in the upcoming election.  Not braaaaaaaaains, not souls, just a vote.  Easy, right?  Come on, it's politics.  What do you think happens?

As an hour-long movie, it is excellently stocked with philosophical points, politics, humor, and a creative premise.  Joe Dante is truly a master of comic horror.

If you:

  • Like zombie movies
  • Like a laugh with your undead
  • Enjoy a thinking person's scary film

Put it in the queue!

However, if you:

  • Are very pro-war
  • Are bored silly by political theory
  • Are unable to laugh at the ridiculososity of the political spin machine

Don't put it in the queue.

Written by: Jennifer Venson

30 Days of Night

Starring: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston Directed by: David Slade

Thanks to Twilight, True Blood, and perhaps even lingering effects of Interview With the Vampire, the pale undead are more sexy than scary, snuggly than snarly.  Able to contain their thirst, sparkle in the daylight, and flash their fangs to charm rather than chew…these vampires are nowhere to be found in 30 Days of Night.

Matching the harsh and wild winter of Barrow, Alaska, the pack of vampires roaming the frozen darkness is more animal than human.  Very few of them speak – mainly their leader Marlow (Danny Huston).  Mostly, they just stalk around with bloodstained chins, scream like tortured bats and attack humans with ravenous abandon.

The premise is simple – in the dead of winter, the sun won't rise in Barrow for a whole month because it is so far up north.  Quite a few people leave town, or at least intend to – including Sheriff Eben Oleson's estranged fire marshall wife Stella (Josh Hartnett and Melissa George, respectively), who has only been in town briefly due to a safety check she had to run in Barrow.

While Eben is out investigating a number of weird occurrences about town – cell phones destroyed, sled dogs murdered en masse, a helicopter vandalized and put out of commission – Stella misses her plane.  Other than a man (Ben Foster) appearing mysteriously in town, acting weird and speaking cryptically of the townsfolk never being able to escape 'them,' no one has a clue what's going on.

Soon enough it becomes clear the remaining citizens of Barrow are meant to be a month-long snack for the group of vampires that has swooped in.  It's never really clear how many vampires there are – perhaps 15-20ish, give or take – but nevertheless too many for the core group of humans to take on.  They have to make several moves throughout the month of darkness to get supplies, switch locations, and basically attempt to keep one step ahead of the vampires.

At nearly two hours, this movie felt like it took 30 days to watch.  Though there are some excellent action scenes – particularly one involving about six ways to kill vampires with a snowplow and ending with an explosion – it is pretty boring.  Visually, dark snowy streets get pretty dull.  Josh Harnett grows gross scraggly facial hair over the course of the movie.  Everyone mostly sits around in their parkas and tries to figure out how to outrun the vampires – not even destroy them, just outrun them to survive until sunrise.

If you:

  • Prefer the unfriendly vampire creature to the romantic ones
  • Like a movie that moves very slowly to highlight the tension of hiding and fear of discovery

Put it in the queue!

However, if you:

  • Are used to the human hero surrounded by vampire constantly working on some type of innovative way to slay the enemy (seriously – the odds were much worse in I Am Legend and he was always pottering around gathering samples, running experiments.  Even the kids in Fright Night did a little plotting and just didn't give the heck up.)
  • Like reading, and suspect perusing the original graphic novel might be both more expedient AND more enjoyable

Don't put it in the queue!

Written by Jennifer Venson


Starring: Bill Paxton, Matt O'Leary, Jeremy Sumpter, Matthew McConaughey Directed by: Bill Paxton

Zombies, vampires, werewolves, cave monsters, demons, ghouls and the like are the typical horror fare.  What's even scarier than that?

Someone with the absolute conviction God speaks to them in a dream and tells them to kill people.  And  even seeks mystically-provided weapons that should be used in carrying out these deeds. Such is the premise of Frailty.

FBI Agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe) receives a visit from a young man (Matthew McConaughey) claiming he has information about the God's Hand Killer (presumably Doyle has been assigned to this serial murderer).  This man, identifying himself as Fenton Meiks, claims his brother Adam is the perpetrator.  He narrates a tale of two young boys in small-town Texas, raised by their widower father (Bill Paxton).  They lived a self-sufficient, quiet life until their father shakes them out of sleep in the middle of the night to announce God has just spoken to him in a dream. This revelation actually includes the whole family – per God, the mission of the three Meiks is to collect three holy weapons to be revealed in the coming days and destroy demons masquerading as humans.

Adam, age 7-ish, embraces the new family enterprise with enthusiasm, while the pre-teen Fenton remains a skeptic.  To his increasing dismay and discomfort, his father soon brings home several items (an axe, gloves and a lead pipe) to carry out the divine mission.  To make matters worse, Fenton's lack of belief in God – much less his father's visions – earns him several punishments the modern perspective might classify as abusive.

Doyle patiently listens to this tale, agreeing to go see the location where Adam's victims are buried.  Fentoncontinues his tale, noting the willingness with which Adam accepts his father's increasingly bizarre revelations – including a list of names of seven demons the Meiks family must destroy.  When their father purchases a utility van and starts bringing home the terrified 'demons,' Fenton cannot hide his revulsion.  Torn between the family he cherishes and his growing horror at their wholehearted belief in this divine mission, Fenton must choose to participate or figure out a way to escape.

Most of the film is spent in the past, centered on the three Meiks and particularly Fenton's dilemma.  I had serious misgivings about this movie before I saw it, but was surprised how much I enjoyed it.  It's not always an easy movie to watch, but definitely rewarding if you like a good thriller.  And the thrills are constantly buried, like mounds of earth covering a grave dug for the Meiks' victims.  You never quite know what demons are on the other side.

If you:

  • Have ever wondered if what some dismiss as insanity was actually truth.
  • Like a movie where the horror comes more from the psychological aspect than visual gore.
  • Like characters with ulterior motives.

Put it in the queue!

If you:

  • Are expecting to spend a lot of time ogling Matthew McConaughey
  • Believe religion alone is an excuse to terrorize people.
  • Don't like movies based on narrated flashbacks.

Don't put it in the queue.

Written by Jennifer Venson

White Zombie

Starring: Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy Directed by: Victor Halperin

Zombies.  Often associated with the zombie apocalypse, the result of some horrific virus, or Night of the Living Dead.  Few connect them to Voudou, or to the casual scholar, voodoo. Probably even fewer have seen White Zombie, the 1932 film starring Béla Lugosi (aka Dracula) and some fake facial hair as the evil Murder Legendre, zombie master.

White Zombie, wasn't that a metal band?  Yep.  Lead singer Rob Zombie, who now makes horror films himself, names his band after this movie.  Now on to the plot.

Nearly-weds Neil (John Harron) and Madeline (Madge Bellamy) are to be married in Haiti.  The sound quality of the movie was pretty terrible, so I'm not entirely sure why they were there or why Madge and Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer) travelled on the same boat and met.  The short version is that Chalres has fallen in love with Madeline, and is willing to take some drastic measures to take her away from Neil.

Even though the local Hatians are terrified of Legendre and his legion of shuffling, unblinking zombies, Charles approaches him and asks for a solution to his romantic dilemma.  Legendre gives him a potion – probably the same stuff Friar Laurence gave to Juliet in ye olde Verona – and tells him to give a few granules to Madeline either in a flower so she will inhale it, or in a cup of wine she will drink.

Madeline gets a whiff of the potion, then goes to tell her new hubby's future in a cup of wine later that evening.  At which point she's confronted with the creepy eyes of Legendre.  Staring at her in a cup of red wine.  Which really isn't a bad special effect for 1932.

This “living dead girl” is buried (without even getting for formally consummate her marriage, poor thing), though spirited away by Legendre and Charles shortly thereafter.  Is Charles happy now?  Um, no.  Though she still can wander about Legendre's castle (conveniently located on a cliff high above some point rocks and rough water) with a vapid stare and play "Libestraum" on the piano for everyone's enjoyment, Charles is not satisfied.

While Charles whines, Neil and the local minister (Joseph Cawthorne) hatch a plot to go rescue Madeline (given she is squirreled away in Legendre's castle).   When they get there, many shenanigans ensue.

Is the movie kind of goofy?  Of course.  Does it seem like the only requirement for playing Madeline is to have huge eyes?  Sure.  Does is appear that Mr. Lugosi has furry caterpillars masquerading as his eyebrows and a very strange beard?  You bet your bottom dollar.  Is this a decent way to spend an hour?  Oh yeah.

If you:

  • Like film history
  • Need something to discuss with Rob Zombie, should you even meet him
  • Are a little bit obsessed with zombies/necromancy

Put it in the queue!

However, if you:

  • Think zombies need to be half rotted and hungry for brains to be entertaining

You may be right.  But that doesn't mean you shouldn't put it White Zombie in the queue anyway.  It's only an hour long!!

Written by Jennifer Venson


Starring: Essie Davis, Sean Harris Directed by: Billy O'Brien

As last year's October reviews included the ever-popular Black Sheep, I wanted to make sure this year's batch had sufficient representation of mutant livestock flicks with Isolation.

This movie's first fault is spending pretty much no time on setup, other than a shady bovine geneticist is running the experiment. Its second fault is spending far too long on a calf birthing scene.  I’ll be the first to admit I know nothing about animal husbandry, but the idea of swinging a newborn calf around one's head in a circle to get it to start breathing seems ludicrous. Apparently the calf didn't like it either, as it immediately bit off the caretaker's finger.

For safety's sake, the vet puts the calf down and decides to do an impromptu dissection.  Inside they find enlarged organs as well as spiny little mutant fetuses encased in the calf's wombs.  This experiment in highly accelerated bovine reproduction has already been a crashing failure – plus the vet warns there may be danger of infection.

It just gets better when one of the exoskeletal monsters slithers off the table and into a grand adventure of exponential growth. Sadly, the critter can't wreak much entertaining havoc when there are only four people – two of which have already been bitten – on the farm.

If you:

  • Need an excuse to consider becoming a vegetarian
  • Aim to reinforce a deep mistrust of what Patton Oswalt refers to as "Science:  coulda, not shoulda"
  • Need a cheesy monster thriller fix and are stranded without Syfy or a copy of  Mosquito

Put it in the queue!

If you:

  • Prefer filmmakers to actually put some effort into their monsters and have some pride in their craft rather than just showing some half-ass, fast-moving, partially visible critter
  • Like continuous action
  • Think a film ridiculous enough to have mutant cow fetuses running around feeding on cows and humans in order to rapidly grow should also include some creatively over-the-top death scenes

You will be very disappointed.  Don't put it in the queue

Written by Jennifer Venson