Bird Box (2018): A Fantastic Post-Apocalyptic Horror Thriller

I loved “Bird Box.” This is a movie that has become a meme due to the sheer popularity it seems to have taken on, which given how Netflix turned “Stranger Things” into a cultural artifact it is no surprise that this movie would do the same. In both cases the emphasis is on character and fear of the unknown, which is executed beautifully in how the story is told. This is a film built on characters and tension and from there executes a beautiful masterpiece. Susanne Bier did a great job directing this film. I’m definitely interested in seeing what she makes next after this.

The story follows Malorie (Sandra Bullok) in the past as she groups up with a bunch of survivors in a home trying to make sense of the strange event that has occured that is driving people outside to kill themselves and in present day where she guides two children down the river, with each of them blindfolded to some how stave-off this unknown threat. From here the two timelines converge as we learn about what happened to our world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and does a great job of making everything vibrant. Even the house covered in paper to keep people from looking out has a sickly glow to it. Whether it is night or day you are given a reason to fear what is outside. This works well too in action scenes where characters have to act without seeing, whether it is Malorie with the kids on the river or the drive in a covered car to the supermarket. The visuals keep the threat alive, even though they never show you the demons outside of what a character perceives them to look like through pictures. The visuals and I should also mention the sound design here, keep the tension alive.

The Ensemble Cast – The cast is fantastic. BD Wong appears as a minor character who is on the empathetic side of the surivors contrasted with Malkovich’s Douglas who doesn’t care about anyone outside of himself for the longest time and the characters who are on different sides of this. United in fear they slowly open up to one another and there is just the right amount of characters from a cop in training, an ex-druggie, a grandma, a writer who works at a supermarket, Olympia the idealistic mom contrasted with Malorie’s cynicism and Rhodes’s Tom who is largely the protector and semi-leader of the group.

Creating Family – One of the running themes of the film is the creating of family. We see this in the literal sense of Malorie and the other mother Olympia about to have kids. The survivors are an expression of this too as Malkovich’s Douglas goes from someone who only cares about himself after his 3rd wife is killed in the event but is willing to risk his life for the others when the survivors are all at risk in the end. We also witness it in love that forms between Rhodes’s Tom and Bullok’s Malorie as they come to love each other and become a couple and Malorie raising the two kids and opening up to them. This is one thing the film excels at and my guess is why it is so loved, outside of how well the terror is executed. I cared about the characters and seeing how they became invested in one another was the reason why.

The Unknown Fear – We never learn what the event is. It seems to be implied it might be Lovecraftian demons (the whole looking at them would drive you crazy fits with Lovecraft lore as well as their consuming the populace in metaphorical way) it works and is my kind of horror. We only see the implication it could be these demons based off drawings from one of the men who is let into the survivors home and tries to force them all to see. The drawings are dark, tentacles and hidden terror. This is what gives me the biggest implication that they are the ones responsible but given we never see that first hand, only the impact it could also be some virus or disease that spreads through the eyes when one is outside. Either one works for me and in this case I like not knowing, the consequence of whatever it is, is enough. You fear for the characters because the moment they look they’ll hurt those around them or kill themselves.

The Cons:

Characters Not Learning – At one point the characters should know not to let anyone on the outside in. One of them does and they stand by her doing this. After this everything goes to crap. I can understand why it happened, it was empathy, but at that point the characters should have known something was up with the guy. Things had been silent for so long and some of the group had died from experiments of watching what the outside. Of course this wouldn’t be a horror movie without at least one character making a stupid mistake so I won’t hold this too much against the film, but it is still a con.

“Bird Box” is worth the hype is if you love character stories or horror films. This is a film that excels at both and manages to have less stupid mistakes on the part of the character choices than “A Quiet Place,” which is also a great film. I just think “Bird Box” does horror and tension ever so slightly better. There is power in not seeing the monster but seeing what it does and not knowing the answer in this case pays off. The story isn’t about the mystery, it is about the survival of the characters and their individual arcs and this is what the film does really well. If you have Netflix definitely check it out. This like “Infinity War” lived up to the hype.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10.

Penguins of Madagascar (2014): A Dumb Fun Satire of Spy Films

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     I have never been a fan of the “Madagascar” series. It struck me as suffering from the Dreamworks winking at the audience and being far too aware of whatever it was it was trying to satire, as well as being way to clued into popular culture, which in the end takes away from the jokes. Again, this isn’t a series I hate but I’ve never sought out this series and will be surprised if I ever do. What lead to me watching “Penguins of Madagascar” than? I have younger kids in the family over Thanksgiving and I’m not someone to miss out on a chance to spend more time with family or to miss the chance to see a film…even if it’s one I probably won’t like.

This film, like the first “Madagascar” movie wasn’t bad. It was really stupid but it had some funny moments so it wasn’t bad. There was a lot it could have done better, but I think it set out to accomplish what it wanted to…afterall the Penguins are spin-off characters in the same line as Puss in Boots and the Minions who also got or are getting films. They exist as attempts to make money off the legacy of the larger films they come from…usually because they are the characters who became popular because of original said film series. But, enough on that. Let’s get to the film!

“The film was directed by Simon J. Smith and Eric Darnell, produced by Mark Swift, Lara Breay and Tripp Hudson, and written by John Aboud, Michael Colton, Brandon Sawyer, Tom McGrath and Eric Darnell once more.

The premise is that three penguins break away from being followers unlike all other penguins when they see an egg blown from the snow. It is here the three penguins (Skipper, Kowalski and Rico) save the egg from Leopard seals and begin the adventure with the newest member of their group, Private. From here the story unfolds as all Private wants is to truly be a part of the team as everyone else is specialized in some way but can’t as he is not taken seriously because he is cute.  All that soon changes as an evil Octopus names Dave plots to destroy the Penguins forcing them to work an elite force who is called the North Wind. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Penguins – The Penguins have a great dynamic and are fun to watch. Private is a bit idiotic at times but thinks well in a jam, Skipper is adaptable and good at getting out of tight spots, Rico is unhinged and deadly and able to take on most threats and Kowalski is able to assess threats. They do a fantastic job in this and minus the changing of Private back to normal were very fun to watch in their interaction with others. They take themselves so seriously, which is the best joke through it all. They are also contractions which makes their debates with others good. Tom McGrath is the most distinct as he voices Skipper the leader, Kowalski is voiced by Chris Miller, Rico mostly growls but is voiced by Conrad Vernon and Private is voiced by Christopher Knights. The Penguins basic arc is learning to accept help from other and admit when they’re wrong and to value Private beyond his cuteness and accept as a member of the team.

Okay: Dave – John Malkovich does a good job as the baddie and gets some good laughs and actually has a good reason for his motivation as he was forced into smaller and smaller tanks everytime the penguins were at his zoos. This leads to him making them ugly monsters, which he actually succeeds in before Private’s cuteness powers his ray puts everything back to normal for the most part. This also leads to Dave’s defeat as he is shrunk and made cute. He was a creepy character but also sympathetic at times which shows that, that at least was done well.

North Wind – The North Wind was okay but not super memorable. I get they were meant to satire the technological badasses in spy films and it does satire this when their plan falls apart and they make not of why you should look back after you’ve exploded something…but they were mostly Skipper’s team’s foil and I didn’t get much character from them. I put them as okay because Cumberbatch’s Classified at least had personality and a character where he grew to respect the penguins, which is more than can be said for the rest of the team.

The Cons: Too Many Puns – I like puns, I make puns all the time…this movie had too many. Most were related to the names of Octopus who were given celebrity names like Hugh Jack man, etc. The puns were pretty weak and I tired of them quickly.

Madagascar References – It starts with the “I like to Move It” song and even the Penguins point out how tired they are of that song…and also the King Julien is able to use his cute assistant to change Private back to normal which completely removes Private’s sacrifice. I’d have preferred they kept him purple, spotted and horned. It would have been a thing for the team and him to adapt to and show the consequences of his sacrifice.

No Consequences – Private being retconned was lazy because they probably knew him remaining a monster wouldn’t sell toys. So not very impressed that they changed him back, even if it was predictable.

This was a fun stupid film that succeeded sometimes at the satire, and other times had jokes lag on for way too long. Also most of the minor characters didn’t feel like characters and functioned mostly as plot devices which just didn’t lend itself well to giving the story consequences. This is a shame but I also don’t expect great out of “Madagascar” as a series. It is stupid fun first and foremost…just doesn’t take any risks within that. The Penguins are great as characters but not anyone else. Little kids will probably like this film but this is no “Wreck-It-Ralph,” or “How to Train Your Dragon.”

Final Score: 7 / 10. Wouldn’t see it again but it was stupid fun.