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. 

bright countryside dawn daylight

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. 

green and lime bird on gray wood log

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.  

anise aroma art bazaar

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. 

person flattening dough with rolling pin

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. 

bar blue business cafe

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). 

adventure alpine alps austria

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

 

 

Movie Review of District 9

Netflix, now after years of success, has released an array of critically acclaimed films. Although it was not distributed by the online company, one of these successful movies that is now streaming and has maintained popularity over the last couple of weeks since its release is District 9, directed by Neill Blomkamp and produced by Peter Jackson. Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, let’s look at this this sci-fi story and review what works!

District 9 tells the story of an alien affairs officer and his attempt to relocate an extraterrestrial alien camp, located in Johannesburg, South Africa, to outside of the city. As things go from bad to worse for the naive but passionate Wikus van de Merwe, Wikus goes on a journey of what it means to live the life of a foreigner. 

Early on, it’s apparent that District 9 technically succeeds with its well-executed visual effects as we see aliens appear on-screen. (This especially stood out to me when I saw the film nine years ago.) To add to this, the usage of news footage, handheld video recording, and rapid camera shots all convey a sense of chaos and urgency, as humanity cannot come to terms with an alien race that wishes to live in the same vicinity. Such filmmaking even goes so far as to include many fictional interviews of in-story experts, giving viewers the sense that this almost seems like a documentary.

monochrome photo of flying helicopter

Yet such a documentary, if it were one, would be quite grotesque. Whether it is someone experiencing a mutative process, severed animal heads, or people being blown to bits, District 9, like real-life warfare, is not for the faint of heart. It is for this reason, however, that I think District 9 is also a thematic achievement for cinema. These gritty examples, along with cool color tones, all convey the sense of hell that war really is. What adds to the potency is the fact that the film was released during the Iraq War, when the majority of deaths had already occurred. 

Whether it’s a news report such as, “There was a terrorist attack, but everything is fine,” or musical overtones commonly heard in Arab contexts, the film is bold in sending a message that is against violence and weaponry, and one that is for peace, protection, and sympathy. Personally, I think any movie fails in some sense when anything is a bit too on the nose. District 9 in my opinion comes close to falling into such risk taking, while still remaining safe, due to the writing. 

Thankfully, we get to see such a duality of peace and war, instead of being told that a war is going on and we need to either support it or be against it. Also on display that should be addressed is the acting of the main character, Wikus, and the transformation we see him go through from beginning to end. Regrettably, this is the area of the film I was a bit preoccupied with and thought suffered as a result. 

South African actor Sharlto Copley had quite the task in playing Wikus. Without spoiling the film’s main progression, Copley does well to display great emotion. Yet at times in the story, his acting seems to veer into the realm of being melodramatic. Of course this is nothing unique to acting, simply something I thought deterred the film from being even greater than it already is. 

District 9 is gripping, and it’s intense. For those interested in a story that may go down as a sci-fi classic in the future (if it already isn’t one and said sci-fi fan somehow hasn’t seen it yet), then you may love the film. There’s great thematic material and ample amounts of action to boot. For those wishing to stream something a bit more gentle this holiday season, may I advise that you steer clear of District 9. 

Zimm Score (scored prior to viewing online scores for my amusement!): 8/10
Aggregate Critics’ Score on Rotten Tomatoes: 7.8/10 (not using percentage score)
Metacritic Score: 81/100

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/district_9
https://www.metacritic.com/movie/district-9

 

Movie Review of Roma

December every year in the world of film means it’s the last month for the best movies to make their mark. Since many of America’s film critics and commentators have released their nominees, some of which Netflix has distributed, in this post I’ll be reviewing Roma, a foreign film that has been nominated for best picture at the Critics’ Choice Awards (and presumably will be nominated for an Academy Award as well).

sea black and white sunset beach

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, and Gravity), Roma tells the story of a Mexican housekeeper living with a middle class family in Mexico City. Set in the early 1970s and in a nation of political turmoil, we follow the young housekeeper, Cleo, who comes to terms with what womanhood really is in such a climate, and what it means for her identity. 

Being nominated for eight Critics’ Choice Awards (with the most for a film this year having 14), I went into Roma assuming it would at least be a decent movie. When the end credits rolled, I thought it was the best movie of the year, at least so far that I’ve seen. Now yes, I do hope to still see some left that have many nominees of which I have yet to see. But Roma was a display of visual arts that told a story in which only the most astounding films do, in my opinion. 

Roma is a film that “let’s you sit in it,” or sink into the story. There’s very little music (coming from one who loves a moving musical score), and it’s shot in black and white. These traits I think yield something special when the viewer is allowed to “take in” a story and is not force-fed or rushed through a cornucopia of sights and sounds slamming you in the face, not to mention lacking any structure. “Great, thanks for your $12, the exit is that way.” 

No, when there is music, it’s intentional and placed for the viewer to understand something special, something symbolic that is going on. Visually, Cuarón directs with such beautiful usage of imagery and symbolism. Having only finished the film a couple of hours ago (at the time of writing), I still don’t think I’ve exhausted all the meanings and connections within this one story. Round two viewing may be in the works! 

The cinematography greatly executes beautifully framed shots one after another. Additionally, there are also techniques such as slow panning from left to right and vice versa that gives you a panoramic display of activities, activities that revolve around a nuclear family and its loyal housekeeper. 

Cleo, played by Yalitza Aparicio, for me was entirely believable. Because of her role as housekeeper for this particular family, there isn’t necessarily a wide range of emotion. Yet as the story progresses and the stakes are raised, so does the suspense and stress level. As events unfold, I felt emotionally connected with a Mexican woman working as a young housekeeper in Mexico City during the 1970s. Such a story had a structure that was clear and was easy to follow. Characters develop. Scenes were intentional. And for me, the pacing was neither too slow nor too fast. 

Finally, Roma worked for me because of both its strong cultural significance and cultural relevance. Though the film is actually a semi-biographical take on Cuarón’s upbringing in Mexico City, the release of the film comes at a time where there is much discord on issues related to social status and gender equality. Regardless of where you stand on such issues, Roma is impactful for the discussions it may foster now and perhaps for decades to come. 

Zimm Score (scored prior to viewing online scores for my amusement!): 9/10
Aggregate Critics’ Score on Rotten Tomatoes: 9.1/10 (not using percentage score)
Metacritic Score: 96/100

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/roma_2018
https://www.metacritic.com/movie/roma?ref=hp https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/aug/30/roma-review-alfonso-cuaron

 

 

 

Movie Review of Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle

 

With the 2010s nearing the tail end of the decade, it could be said that it’s been quite the decade for remakes, reboots, and sequels. With the list much too long that warrants a separate post for such a subject, one such remake has recently been released by Netflix. Directed by Andy Serkis, best known for his voice acting and motion capture roles in various big box-office sci-fi and fantasy films, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle marks a return to the stories of The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling.

bengal tiger half soak body on water during daytime

(Disclosure: In giving the following synopsis, some early plot points are revealed, but are considered not as important as spoilers that come later in the story.) 

When a boy named Mowgli (played by Rohan Chand) is taken in by animals of a jungle, he grows to learn specifically of Shere Khan, a Bengal tiger (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). As is just so convenient for Mowgli (*yay sarcasm*), Shere Khan wants Mowgli killed, and thereby having him removed from the jungle. As the story unfolds, Mowgli must learn the importance of protecting his own before losing his home and friends forever. 

I’ll admit from the outset, this film was a difficult viewing for me, even at only 98 minutes. Such difficulty was not from how much the story was emotionally weighed down, since this was Serkis’s intention, stating it would be a darker version and one that was closer to the source material. No, for me it was a difficult viewing in how much the narrative was weighed down in its confusing presentation. 

It’s clear that many films that could be called emotionally burdened or weighed down have been Oscar-bait for the Academy. Yet one thing many of these films have that I thought Mowgli lacked was a clear direction or structure. Many changes and scenes that come late in the story, I would say, could have been placed much earlier in the story, adding more effective storytelling for the viewer. 

For example, many of us are perhaps ready to jump into a whole new world with the main character after about 25 or 30 minutes. If that doesn’t happen, and we’re still in the same “world,” without even any new characters, we might start to lose attention. Some of us may feel it’s starting to drag a bit. I thought Mowgli, unfortunately, suffered from this problem. 

On the bright side, Mowgli is supported by some excellent voice acting from a star-studded cast. Christian Bale plays Bagheera, a black panther (which I didn’t recognize while watching!), Benedict Cumberbatch as Shere Khan, a bengal tiger, Cate Blanchett as Kaa, an Indian python, Andy Serkis as Baloo, a sloth bear, and Naomie Harris as Nisha, an Indian wolf who is Mowgli’s adopted mother. Though at times I struggled to view each motion-captured character as one unit of both voice acting and computer animation, this wasn’t an awful distraction and thought both were done with excellence. 

When reflecting on Serkis and how he directed the entire team, I have to remember that this is the very beginning of his directorial career. His intent was indeed a darker version of The Jungle Book than many have become accustomed to, and at that he succeeded. It is clear in his presentation, as Kaa narrates in the opening scene, that “chaos and darkness came to our lands.” Such raw earthiness and savagery, as displayed through hunting, knives, slicing, death and despair, are for sure traits of the jungle Serkis thought necessary for this telling. It is such a telling, however, that I thought lacked the emotional balance and heart that this story deserves. I still remember feeling moved by the climactic scene in Disney’s animated version from 1967. Instead, I felt the emotional mood throughout was akin to Manchester by the Sea, while remembering to bring things to a close in a disorganized and abrupt way. 

Because of such emotional weight and violence that could rightfully be imagined in a jungle, I personally wouldn’t see this as very educationally redeemable or worth the time for anyone younger than a teenager. If you want a story of the jungle with a great voice-acting cast and some great visual effects, check this one out! If you’re expecting something on par with Disney’s recent remake or even Disney’s animated version, just remember: I warned you. ; ) 

Zimm Score (scored prior to viewing online scores for my entertainment!): 5.5/10
Aggregate Critics’ Score on Rotten Tomatoes: 5.5/10 (not using percentage score)
Metacritic Score: 53/100