Movie Review of And Breathe Normally

As we begin 2019, January is not usually seen as the best time for catching one of the best films of the year. Nonetheless, Netflix continues to release new films each month, and this month is no exception. Released this weekend, and one that I’m taking a look  at in this post, is an Icelandic drama, And Breathe Normally. Being screened last year at the Sundance Film Festival, it won for the World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award. As a film that may go unnoticed this month, amidst the awards season that has just begun, here’s my take on And Breathe Normally, now streaming on Netflix. 

After being contacted by an Icelandic collections agency and the local police department, a struggling single mother and her son are later evicted from their apartment. But as the stakes are raised even beyond these difficulties, Lara (played by Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir) must soon confront the necessity of taking on some sort of help. 

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I was pleasantly surprised by And Breathe Normally, as I think it’s a great addition to what Netflix has to offer out of its new releases. While it may not become a sleeper (as it may just remain quite unnoticed), the film I think offers a universal message for all of us, regardless of age, gender, or race. Adja (played by Babetida Sadjo) is the supporting actress in the film and carries the main theme throughout. Both Sadjo and Haraldsdóttir I thought perform as their characters in a quite believable way with the circumstances they’ve found themselves in. 

Visually, it’s quite the treat to enjoy a film that takes place in Iceland, as well. The cinematography not only captures some great landscape images of Iceland’s Southern Peninsula (the story’s setting), but even in the most mundane locations, camera angles are executed to portray beautifully framed shots of both character and backdrop (e.g., an empty office room or sidewalk bench). 

The story itself I think also is a very earthy, realistic one that many of us can relate with. Because it is a drama that attempts to portray a character struggling with real-world, day-to-day obstacles, some may find it a bit slow, when compared to action, fantasy, or superhero genres. Yet the director/writer I think gives enough symbolic clues for us to pick up on, and to find the strength contained within the story. For winning such a noteworthy award at Sundance last year, and now after viewing the film, I wouldn’t be surprised if it earns a nomination in the coming year for best foreign language film. 

And Breathe Normally (the Icelandic translation) serves as one example of being the antithesis of a popcorn blockbuster. So for those who are normally drawn merely to cacophonies and eye-popping visual effects, this will not be an entertaining story. Yet for those interested in enjoying a story that looks at two women intending to escape the circumstances they’ve found themselves in, And Breathe Normally is a great take on our need at times for the unexpected bonds of generosity. 

Zimm Score: 7.3/10 

Movie Review of Avengers: Infinity War

With the biggest box office opening this year and as the fourth-highest grossing film of all time, a recent release to Netflix last week was the superhero film, Avengers: Infinity War, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. Set as a closing chapter within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is the first of a two-part series, with its direct sequel set for release in April 2019. Taken here as a stand-alone film, let’s look and see what works in this action-packed blockbuster!

After obtaining his second powerful gem (or “Infinity Stone”), a sociopathic sort of demigod sends his chief lieutenants to retrieve the third of six stones. With all six Infinity Stones, he will be able to bring peace and balance to the universe, as he believes. But when he learns of what it will take to retrieve the remaining stones on his journey, Thanos must learn that “the hardest choices require the strongest wills.”

I have to say at the outset that I very much enjoy the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Beginning in 2008 with Iron Man, I have followed the progression of this universe with every film that has led up to this climactic moment of kairos. I say this because as a stand-alone film, there are some apparent weaknesses to Avengers: Infinity War. Yet for those who have followed the previous 18 films (!), the story in this film will make much more sense. As a result, fans debate whether this is revolutionary for film in general, or whether it hurts this movie in particular. 

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Visually speaking, Avengers: Infinity War has spectacular digital effects. With an ensemble cast (to even put it mildly), some have joked that there is so much movie in this movie! Action scenes and visuals are thrilling and look amazing. With some tough competition this year, it has some early nominations for best in the visual effects department. 

One area that can be discussed is the script. The Russo brothers had a task never before seen in film: direct a script for one movie that includes a range of 20 to 25 superheroes (depending on interpretation and screen time), and is a culmination of 18 previous films. I am going to say that the makers succeeded in telling one story with so many characters. Others, targeting it still as one film, will say it is too muddled with as many characters as are shoved into it. Nonetheless, the script works with both emotional weight and humor as well (often as self-deprecatory), aside from some occasional weak spots. 

I must also say that for any who have seen maybe a few films within this large series, Infinity War is a heavier and perhaps more thought-provoking film than some of the other comic book movies that have been released in this saga (e.g. Ant Man, Spider-Man: Homecoming, or Guardians of the Galaxy). Topics like the human condition, sacrifice and cooperation are all presented or discussed, adding depth to the film. For those who have followed the series, the opening for instance is both shocking and emotionally invested, with somber music that accompanies the long prologue. 

Avengers: Infinity War is a great film, especially for those interested in superhero or action-fantasy films. Though it lacks much of any character development, it’s both a curse to the film itself, but also a strength. It’s a strength to the fact that 18 previous films have developed so much development of each character, that it is unwarranted for those who have followed the cinematic series. With great visuals, humor, action and emotional depth, Avengers: Infinity War is a great selection on Netflix that touches on the obsessions of one’s destiny, the cost of sacrifice, and the need for teamwork. 

Zimm Score: 7.8/10

Top 10 Films of Last 10 Years (2009-2018)

Okay, everyone! In this post I’m putting a Netflix movie review on hold and am going to present what I think were my top 10 films of that last 10, yes 10 years! As we’ve reached 2019, this will cover films from 2009 through 2018. Before I reveal what I thought were my top 10, a few explanations are in order first, so let me briefly explain. Or, feel free to jump down to my list! Lol. 

In making such a list with only 10 films, I understand that like any decade, there were many, many great films that were released during this period. As making a top 100 list would be daunting for me to compile, and too daunting for some of you to look through, a top 10 list is much more feasible. 

Secondly, a movie is a form of art. As art, there will be great subjectivity as to what one person deems as a “good movie” and what another deems as an “awful movie.” The only objectivity I can really state about a film is to say, for example, Sandra Bullock is acting in the movie, Gravity. Or, the color green has been used in every scene that I’ve noticed. But did such examples help make the movie a good movie, or help to make it worse? This is where subjectivity, like any form of art, comes in. 

As a result, my top 10 may be more similar for what some would say, and very different from others. As far as criteria I kept in mind while evaluating my choices, I formed three areas. First, did I find this movie to simply be a very good or well-executed movie, from a filmmaking standpoint? Secondly, was I entertained throughout the film, keeping my attention? And lastly, if I wasn’t as much merely “entertained,” did I find it to have great and profound thematic material that added to its cultural impact and historical significance? Some of my selections fell more easily into two of these three areas, but all in my evaluation were greatly executed and had at least one of the second or third criterion. 

Finally, though I probably don’t need to mention this, I will say that I did consider many other movies not listed. Most of the movies not listed I still have seen, while a few that I considered I have not seen, but are seen by some to be one of the greats. Keeping in mind that judging art is a subjective (and very personal) reality, let me now present my top 10 films of the last 10 years (2009-2018)! Hope you enjoy! 

(In no specific order) 

1.   The Social Network (2010)

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With amazing writing from Aaron Sorkin, carried through in acting by a brilliant young cast, and an almost haunting but substantial musical score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Social Network is a must-see film for those interested in viewing the dramatized origins of what would easily become one of the most influential and popular realities of the early 21st century. 

2.   Gravity (2013)

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Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, Gravity is a gripping portrayal, essentially, of what it means to let go, to enjoy life, and move on from past hurts and regrets. Director Alfonso Cuaron directs a 90-minute survival story in space with spectacular visuals, suspenseful music (with every pivotal decision that Bullock’s character makes), and a central theme that is universally relevant to those of us living in the Western world. 

3.   Roma (2018)

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If I were the Academy, I would vote for Roma as best picture this year. Though it may lose to some other contenders, the cinematography, creative screenwriting with usage of motifs and foreshadowing, and ultimately the hero’s journey that the protagonist goes through all are areas that are amazingly executed in a unique way I rarely ever saw for the past decade.

In light of controversial issues in America related to the gender gap, Roma is also a timely look at something so culturally significant right now in America. 

4.   Inside Out (2015) 

I absolutely love Inside Out! Like other films I have on the list, the rewatch ability this film carries for me is pretty strong. As someone with a good amount of informal education about personality theory as something I enjoyed for a few years, I probe Inside Out to try to make connections with what’s going on inside the mind of the little girl the story revolves around (even though experts I know enjoy critiquing the accuracy or lack thereof).  From the minimalist piano melodies, to the beautiful visuals, to the emotional weight of the story, Inside Out is my favorite animated film of the decade and was worthy of its inclusion as one of my top 10 greatest films. 

5.   12 Years a Slave (2013)

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In my estimation as comparable to Schindler’s List, there was no hesitation or question to placing 12 Years a Slave as one of the best ten films of the last ten years. For me, this is a must-see film for anyone who has yet to see it. Though it won’t be for the faint of heart, 12 Years a Slave takes a brutal but real look at American slavery during the 1840’s in the American South. As a film that delivers in every cinematic area applicable, it’s also a story with essential and educational value, such a central and influential reality that somehow is still ignored in American history classes. 

6.   Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Covering a spectrum of ten years in the post-9/11 era, Catherine Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is, what one of my most like-minded movie reviewers called, “the masterpiece of 9/11 cinema we’ve been waiting for.” Though it cooked up much controversy over multiple issues, Zero Dark Thirty brilliantly observes the ambition, trauma, persistence, bravado, and secrecy that went into the manhunt for kingpin Osama bin Laden.

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Jessica Chastain, in her portrayal of Maya, an ambitious CIA agent, embodies such ambition, persistence, and even obsession that were traits of the American government, as it sought to climb its way back up the proverbial ladder proudly as the superior superpower. Such a film is immensely significant historically for the 2000s and the early part of the period that this post covers.

7.   The King’s Speech (2010)

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Perhaps the film on this list with the greatest aesthetic pleasure through its cinematography, The King’s Speech centers around the future King George VI, played by Colin Firth. The excellence for me in this story, in part, is the primal relationship that the Duke of York (Firth) has with his family and the struggles that come along with that. Additionally, for a historical drama with such emotional weight, it surprisingly also delivers laughs that some may see as something absent in a historical look at British royalty. As I recently rewatched this film on Netflix, it’s a story I think that has held up against the test of time (now over eight years) as one of the decade’s best. 

8.   Whiplash (2014)

Somehow, during my time as a musician and as a 20-something, I completely missed seeing Whiplash. Sure, it was a limited release, which would be the main reason as to why I missed it, but having since seen the film, it conveys a story that is just too relevant for singers and musicians alike that have fallen into the phantom of perfection and excessive ambition.

brass drumsEven for many of us who may never have had an abusive, strict and insulting conductor or teacher, many of us will relate to the desire of wanting to be the best in our field that the world has ever seen. The relationship between the lead characters, the music (which goes without saying), the inspiration, and intensity all lead to a thrilling story of a student, his sacrifices, and a villainous jazz instructor!

9.   The Shape of Water (2017) 

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Though some disagreed with the win for Best Picture last year going to The Shape of Water, my wife and I left the film last year in love with it. Even for films of the last ten years, I think Guillermo del Toro brought something unique in terms of color and visuals rarely seen in other films. Along with a solid performance by Sally Hawkins and rich themes as part of an emotionally moving story, The Shape of Water earns its spot for me as one of the best of the best. 

10.   Inception (2010)

Rounding out my list for the top 10 films of the last ten years is Christopher Nolan’s direction of Inception. Along with Inside Out, and probably others on this list, Inception is a film I don’t sense I could wear out it’s watchability. Each time, I’m always seeing the story from a new perspective, analyzing different parts of the visuals or dialogue expressed.

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As a film critiqued by some for intellectual ability Nolan apparently demanded by the audience, I rather see this is a challenge and positive trait in filmmaking. Nolan challenges us to better understand the world of dreams and the relationships they have with reality. Bringing spectacular visuals, an amazing cast, a moving premise, a primal dilemma we can relate to, and a monumental score from Hans Zimmer, Inception goes down for me as one of the best of the 21st century so far.

There you have it! I hope you enjoyed my list; feel free to share your favorites I may have considered but didn’t list here or on Facebook! Below are five more that I had to mention! Cheers. 

Honorable Mentions

  1. Toy Story 3 (2010)
  2. Spotlight (2015)
  3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
  4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011) 
  5. First Man (2018) 

Movie Review of Bird Box

This month, Netflix has released what surprisingly has become the biggest film opening ever for the streaming company. Viewed by 45 million in the first week, Bird Box is a post-apocalyptic thriller that stars Sandra Bullock, among many other notable actors. If you have been seeing the memes but not the movie yet, let’s look and see if Bird Box is worth your time. At the very least, you’ll be able to make some sense out of what has gone viral over the last week, and maybe get some laughs out of it along the way! 

After witnessing mass suicides in her hometown, a lonely woman joins a group of strangers that are hiding from something dangerous that no one can see or understand. But as tensions rise and events unfold, Malorie (played by Sandra Bullock) must learn that merely surviving is not truly living. 

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Initially with Bird Box I hesitated to watch it. It just didn’t look all that interesting to me. With the viral sensation it’s become, however, I gave it a go. The story has a clever premise: if you want to be safe and survive, you need to stay inside or shut your eyes. Going outside with eyes open will kill you. The problem is, I didn’t feel I was promised this premise throughout the story very much. This is a thriller on paper, and yet I didn’t sense much suspense or thrill. In screenwriting, a good script will deliver on the promise of showing you the premise. In a way, I somewhat felt cheated of such a promise. 

Such storytelling I thought was performed by a solid cast, however. Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, Tom Hollander, Sarah Paulson, and John Malkovich all, I thought, did what they could with what they were given to give good performances in stressful situations. 

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But again, the direction and writing of the story I thought didn’t quite live up to the potential it had to be a great film. Many times throughout I felt the story just crawling with too slow of a pace. For really any film, there are sequences in a certain place of the film where tension and conflict should be quickly increasing. Unfortunately, there is no such tension until a climactic scene (you know it when you see it) that occurs late in the film. Additionally, I felt the middle of the story sags a bit, without any strong shift or beat to twist the story in a somewhat new direction.

Bird Box has its strong points. It’s why I don’t think this is necessarily a bad movie. The shot locations in California look beautiful, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network) I thought composed a great score, and the cast give above average to very good performances. The plot structure is even good enough, where I was at least able to follow the story without much confusion or complication. Yet the direction and writing of Bird Box still left me wondering what all the rave was about. Perhaps the source material includes bits that were left out of the film? Either way, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest the book, like so many other scenarios, over the movie in this review. 

Oh, and if you check it out, make sure to laugh at some great memes afterwards! ; ) 

Zimm Score: 6/10 

Movie Review of Julie and Julia

For today’s post, I’ll be reviewing a film that repeatedly pops up on Netflix, not under a “Because you watched…” category, but because it’s been under popular and trending categories for weeks (based on whatever statistics the company uses). Starring Meryl Streep, who has to be one of the greatest actors of all time, and Amy Adams, Julie and Julia is a comedy-drama film that contrasts the life of chef Julia Child with the young New Yorker Julie Powell. Released in 2009 and now streaming on Netflix, let’s review what I think works and what this story has to offer for those who have yet to see it!

When beginning to discuss with her husband the acclaimed chef Julia Child and her successful cookbook, an unfulfilled young New Yorker decides to begin cooking every day while following Child’s recipes. But as both exciting and unfortunate events occur along the way, Julie must learn the importance of perseverance, despite the urge to give up.  

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Julie and Julia is a film I would not necessarily call profound. As the story is set up in the first 10 or so minutes, light and joyful music accompanies the laughs of Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and the walk to work for Julie Powell (Amy Adams). Though not the only example to support my opinion, the music is one that seems to support a more light and simple tone, not requiring much mental effort. And before I proceed any further, I must say that the film presents parallel stories, a series of flashbacks between the present day and the past. 

Though for some it may go without saying, perhaps the strongest aspect to the film is Meryl Streep’s performance of the late Julia Child, American chef, author and TV personality. Being ranked at the top of many lists for who’s the greatest, I’ve began to notice how effective Streep is by never (in my opinion) seeming to fall into the melodramatic camp. Regarding more recent roles in her career, she makes subtle changes to perform in a dignified and serious manner (e.g. The Post), and subtle changes to perform in a more anxious or gleeful manner (e.g. her small role in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, or here with Julie and Julia). 

Here in this film, Streep upgrades the film I think with joy, optimism, tenacity, and perseverance that Child (according to close acquaintances) exhibited throughout her life. Also, and being partly a comedy, Streep adds the necessary humor needed for the kind of story we are introduced to. Within the contrasting side of the story, Amy Adams I thought gives a strong performance for one of her early roles as a lead character. 

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The final point to be made I think, in terms of the film’s ups and downs, is the story’s pacing. Because genre should have nothing to do with how fast or slow the story feels, Julie and Julia I felt could have improved with direction and writing that sped the pace up a bit. Whether it may be the bouncing back between story threads, or scenes that linger a bit too long, I struggled at times to be immersed in the story that these two women journey through. 

I enjoyed Julie and Julia, for one reason being, the main character decides to begin a blog, which I have chosen to do as well! So there was personal relevance for me. The film shines, though, thanks to Streep’s performance and the humor she brings to the dinner table. (wink wink) And if you can get around a slower pace that perhaps lacks deep thematic or thought-provoking material, and want some light and comical entertainment, you just may enjoy Julie and Julia. 

Zimm Score (scored prior to viewing online scores for my amusement!): 6.7/10
Aggregate Critics’ Score on Rotten Tomatoes: 6.7/10 (not using percentage score)
Metacritic Score: 66/100

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/julie_and_julia https://www.metacritic.com/movie/julie-julia

 

 

Movie Review of Dumplin’

With industries such as beauty and women’s fashion that have swept across our social media platforms, content sharing and networking have gone publicized to a whole new level that previous generations would not have ever imagined. Physical comparisons and competition, though not unprecedented on its own, are now viewed around the world, thanks to new technologies the Western world is inundated with. Against this sociocultural backdrop, Netflix has released an endearing coming-of-age film called Dumplin’, starring Jennifer Aniston and young Danielle McDonald. Enjoyed by many since its release two weeks ago, let us review the strengths and takeaways that the movie has to offer, shall we? 

After attending another seemingly pointless teen beauty pageant with her mother and best friend, an insecure but charming young girl soon decides to apply to next year’s pageant. As events begin to unfold, however, high school senior Willowdean (nicknamed “Dumplin,” symbolizing her heavyset figure, played by Danielle McDonald) is in need of learning the importance to decide for herself who she is going to be, and not anyone else. 

After viewing Dumplin’, I thought it was a film that, structurally speaking, made sure to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. It’s a simple and charming story I was able to easily follow, without any sequences that I felt dragged on for too long, or with too many moving parts that just made a muddled mess. No, the writers had a simple but touching message to tell, and they did it well so that we can understand. 

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In the film, Jennifer Aniston plays Willowdean’s mother, Rosie Dickson. She’s a past beauty queen in the small Texas town they live in, as well as a panel judge and essentially, the director of the pageant. One of the strong points of the film I thought was the experience and humor that Aniston brings to the story. Her small quirks and mannerisms I thought added life and humor to the ups and downs that the main character journeys through. Another strong and comical, but perhaps understated performance I thought was by Bex Taylor-Klaus, who plays as Hannah Perez, one of the “weirdos” who has entered the pageant competition to revolt against the institution. 

Perhaps the strongest point of the film, however, is its message and theme. Though obviously it is a mother-daughter film, it’s also a film for humanity. We all struggle to be confident in who we truly are, because of our weight, because of our gender and identity, because of our skin color, because of our religion or the lack thereof, and/or because of many other countless realities. Dumplin’s message is here to tell us, in the words of Willowdean’s aunt Lucy at the beginning of the film, “The world is filled with people that are gonna try to tell you who you are, but that’s for you to decide.” 

Critically speaking, yes, there are some elements that deter the movie from being, what I thought in the great or excellent range. Some of the dialogue is tacky, and being a sweet and charming coming of age story, there is nothing noteworthy about the cinematography. Additionally, with many of the young actors and actresses just beginning their careers, performances were respectable, but nothing outstanding. 

Yet Dumplin’ is a film I would still recommend. It is a good, heartwarming story for anyone in need of some encouragement to be the person they truly are. Hey, and with a Dolly Parton-centered soundtrack, country music lovers will potentially find only another element of the film to fall in love with! Cheers. 

Zimm Score (scored prior to viewing online scores for my amusement!): 6.2/10
Aggregate Critics’ Score on Rotten Tomatoes: 6.5/10 (not using percentage score)
Metacritic Score: 53/100

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/dumplin
https://www.metacritic.com/movie/dumplin

 

 

Movie Review of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Arguably one of the greatest films Netflix has to offer (for the time being), in this post I’ll be reviewing The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, directed by Peter Jackson. Released for streaming since August of this year, the film has retained popularity among viewers over the months since its release, a hallmark of cinematic quality that has lasted over the last 17 years exactly since its release today in theaters (as of this writing). Seen as one of the greatest fantasy films of all time and having been nominated for 13 Oscars (winning in four categories), let’s enter the magical world of Middle-earth and review what this film has achieved! 

When a powerful and magical ring is first presented to a satisfied and comfortable hobbit, he soon enters a world devoid of any peace or familiar surroundings. But when he learns that this world-changing ring must essentially be destroyed, Frodo Baggins (played by Elijah Wood) must prioritize courage and bravery on such a quest before all hope is lost. 

The Fellowship of the Ring I think triumphs in many ways. Aside from acting as a cinematic landmark in filmmaking and the fantasy genre, the film itself is a beautiful piece of art from beginning to end. Visually, set pieces in countless scenes are gorgeous. At no point in the film do I think that parts of the production design look at all artificial. If anything, the choice of set locations and colors used in the computer animation greatly aids our emotional response (e.g., a colorful and bright opening act when days are well, versus dark lighting and gray colors when events become bleak). 

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In terms of the storyline, Jackson, Philippa Boyens, and Fran Walsh had what many believed to be an insurmountable task in translating J.R.R. Tolkien’s three part literary set to the big screen. Nonetheless, this screenwriting team did what perhaps had never been done. Multiple story threads exist in Tolkien’s work, yet The Fellowship of the Ring was structured clearly and simply, allowing the viewer to follow the main plot without confusion or complication.

Another area in which I think the film clearly succeeds is its musical score. Like any great epic film, The Fellowship of the Ring is accompanied by a gripping and moving score that beautifully aids whatever scene or world we find the main characters in. If we find ourselves in the antagonist’s lair, a pulsating and complex 5/4 time signature, to some, may add a sense of tension that supplements the plans of the enemy. 

Finally, the acting overall I think is very good and believable. Nominated for best supporting actor, Ian McKellen plays Gandalf (a wise and old wizard who is a good friend and mentor to Frodo), bringing a great sense of wit and whimsy to the story. Elijah Wood (playing as Frodo) and Viggo Mortensen (playing as Aragorn) also bring, if not enthralling performances, noteworthy and believable performances as well. 

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring has a very long runtime, so for anyone who has missed this epic adventure and now desires to watch, beware. Having said that, I was shocked in theaters that when the end credits rolled, the film was over and I felt there was still so much left. It was a journey I didn’t want to have to wait longer to continue! Yet this is what makes the three-part series so great. And although this first film is the only one streaming on Netflix, The Fellowship of the Ring will give you an entertaining story filled with wonder, suspense and the encouraging message that anyone in this world can truly bring positive change.  

Zimm Score (online scores already known when scored): 8.8/10
Aggregate Critics’ Score on Rotten Tomatoes: 8.2/10 (not using percentage score)
Metacritic Score: 92/100

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_lord_of_the_rings_the_fellowship_of_the_ring
https://www.metacritic.com/movie/the-lord-of-the-rings-the-fellowship-of-the-ring