REVIEW: “Bird Box”

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Arguably the weirdest titled movie of 2018 has debuted on Netflix and with quite a bit of attention. According to the streaming giant “Bird Box” has been watched by 45 million accounts making it the “best first 7 days ever for a Netflix film.” Skeptics notwithstanding, those are pretty impressive numbers especially for a usually tight-lipped company.

“Bird Box” is a genre stew featuring slices of horror, psychological drama, science-fiction, and end-of-the-world thrillers. It’s based on Josh Malerman’s 2014 debut novel of the same name and adapted to screen by Oscar nominated screenwriter Eric Heisserer (“Arrival”). Danish director Susanne Bier is tasked with corralling it all together and she manages it with a satisfying effectiveness.

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The film opens with a mother named Malorie (Sandra Bullock) giving strict instructions to two children as they prep for a dangerous trek up a river. The three blindfold themselves before feeling their way to a fiberglass rowboat. After a few more pointed warnings they begin the treacherous journey upstream.

Flashback to five years earlier. A terrifying unknown presence surfaces causing anyone who lays eyes on it to suddenly kill themselves. Malorie, now pregnant and a soon to be single mother, finds herself holed up in a house with an assortment of strangers all trying to make sense of the rampant death and chaos.

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“Bird Box” bounces back-and-forth between the present day river scenes and the flashbacks which reveal what led Malorie to that point. Most of that time is spent in the house where survivors battle fear and uncertainty as supplies begin to run out and new survivors show up. A talent-rich supporting cast fill out the group. There’s Tom (Trevante Rhodes), Douglas (John Malkovich), Cheryl (Jackie Weaver), Olympia (Danielle Macdonald), and Charlie (Lil Rey Howery) among others.

Parenting is a central theme and we see it from both literal and metaphorical angles. When it works it’s mostly due to a stellar performance from Bullock who hasn’t lost a step and shows she can still navigate an intense range of emotions. But it’s not always easy to keep the theme in focus especially when the film stumbles into some familiar genre trappings. There is clearly a thematic throughline, but you never lose sight that this is very much a genre(s) movie.

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The film’s opening 20 minutes are its best, introducing its terrifying unseen threat that is undeniably menacing yet intentionally undefined. It turns society upside-down much like the killer first scenes of 2013’s “World War Z” yet on a smaller scale. Bier builds plenty of suspense and then carries it over to the film’s more character-focused house segment. Some of the characters work better than others. Rhodes is a standout. Malkovich is very John Malkovich-like. Weaver is sadly lost in the crowd.

“Bird Box” runs the gambit from riveting to predictable to kinda silly. At the same time it’s never boring and the performances are always worth watching. The convergence of survival and motherhood within such a sinister setting is a cool concept and Bullock wonderfully fleshes it out for us. She’s the movie’s backbone and even when the story sputters at times she puts it on her back and carries it to finish line.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

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5 PHENOMENALLY AWFUL SUPERHERO MOVIES

In honor of this Friday’s release of “The Avengers”, I’m spending the week looking at comic book/ superhero movies. Yesterday we listed 5 Phenomenal Superhero Movies. Well, just like every other genre, you have good movies and you have some real stinkers. Today I’m listing 5 Phenomenally Awful Superhero Movies. As with yesterday’s list, this one stays within the comic book arena. The main difference is that these films simply got it all wrong. Unfortunately there were plenty to pick between and I found it a little difficult narrowing it down to five. Nonetheless here they are. As always I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, but there’s no denying that these 5 superhero movies are most certainly not phenomenal!

#5 – “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND” (2006)

It’s a shame that a franchise that started so good could fall so far in such a short time. “X-Men: The Last Stand” was the third X-Men movie and by far the worst. Bryan Singer, the director of the first two films, left and Brent Ratner took over. But the biggest problem was with the story. The ridiculous liberties that were taken with the team were simply unforgivable. The series went from being about a superhero team to being a Wolverine and Jean Grey love story. The special effects are really good and the production value is fine. But X3 turned the series on its head. “X-Men: The Last Stand” severed its ties to its comic book roots and proved to be a franchise killer.

#4 – “JONAH HEX” (2010)

Talk about a great example of a missed opportunity. Jonah Hex has more than enough wonderful source material to make a great movie. Why on earth did the movie stray so far off course? “Jonah Hex” is an absurd and often times incoherent mess than only gives the audience brief glimpses into what makes the character great. What’s even worse is that Josh Brolin is perfect as Jonah Hex. The makeup combined with Brolin’s portrayal is right on target. Unfortunately the material is so ridiculous and lame that it’s impossible to enjoy what he’s doing on-screen. Then you have the casting of Megan Fox who offers up one cringe-worthy line after another. Even the often times reliable John Malkovich is like fingernails on a chalk board. “Jonah Hex” is one of the most poorly written movies I have ever seen and even at only 81 minutes, it drags on forever.

#3- “THE SPIRIT” (2008)

Acclaimed comic book and graphic novel writer Frank Miller wrote and directed “The Spirit” and I have to say he should stick to books. “The Spirit” is an absolute mess right from the start. The movie is a lifeless and emotionless film that is a good example of style over substance. Miller’s over-the-top style works visually but the material is so flat and grating. Miller’s self-indulgence make some scenes seem to go on forever and it’s truly a laborious task to make it through the picture. The actors drudge along never developing a single character worth caring about. It’s almost as if Miller simply forgot the difference between print media and cinema. Whatever the reason, “The Spirit” is a movie that I pray I never have to see again.

#2- “CATWOMAN” (2004)

I’m not alone in calling “Catwoman” a terrible movie. It’s one of those rare movies that I honestly wasn’t able to make it through. I struggled with leaving it off this list simply because I never finished it. But then I asked myself WHY I never finished it? Oh yes, because it was absolutely horrible. Loaded with ludicrous and cheesy dialogue and a paper-thin story, “Catwoman” takes a great DC Comics character and butchers her all for the sake of putting Halle Berry in a cat suit. Both Berry and Sharon Stone are laughably bad and the material is no better. The direction, the special effects, the character development, all of it is subpar and the result is a disaster that some have said derailed Berry’s once promising career. If you’ve seen “Catwoman” (or if you’ve tried to see it), you know exactly why it’s on this list.

#1- “BATMAN AND ROBIN” (1997)

The first Batman movie franchise wasn’t the best. The first film starring Michael Keeton and Jack Nicholson was a lot of fun but after that it slowly started going downhill. The series hit rock bottom with Joel Schumacher’s abhorrent “Batman and Robin”. Schumacher’s film was a catastrophe and was the ultimate death knell for the franchise. Nothing in “Batman and Robin” works. It takes such a flippant and arrogant approach to Batman and his universe. It’s never as funny or as clever as it thinks it is and Schumacher seems more interested in clowning around than making a quality film. George Clooney is a fine actor but he was a terrible Batman and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze is one of the worst characters in film history. I have a laundry list of faults associated with “Batman and Robin”. Maybe it’s my affection for the source material, but it doesn’t take much to see that this is a poorly made movie on almost every level. It’s absurdity is off the charts and it’s lazy, unfunny attempts at humor never let up. I hate “Batman and Robin” and there is a reason why it’s accused of killing the Batman series.

So there they are. Do you agree or disagree with my list. See something I may have left off? Please share you comments below.