Check out this week’s “60 Seconds of Film” – your bite-sized weekly round-up of film news, presented by Jules Brook.
Netflix has hundreds of films from blockbusters to indie gems to cult classics and it has no shortage of great science-fiction.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
The Plot – The film follows Jyn Erso a woman who has been on the run from the Empire since her childhood because her father is the man who designed the Death Star. Forced by the Rebel Alliance into a mission to extract her father from the Empire’s clutches and so disrupt their plans, Jyn becomes more and more involved in the civil war that is only just beginning.
Why It’s Great – In my opinion this has been the best of the new crop of Star Wars films. A self-contained story (more or less) that fixed perhaps the biggest plot-hole in all of Star Wars – namely, who builds a priceless weapon of mass destruction with such an easy Achilles’ Heel. The cast is sensational with Felicity Jones and Diego Luna as great leads, Ben Mendelsohn doing his Evil Scumbag routine in space and with great actors like Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whitaker taking on small roles.
Verdict – A wonderful addition to the Star Wars Saga.
The Plot – Leonardo Di Caprio plays Cobb, a very special kind of criminal who enters peoples’ dreams to steal information. Challenged to the seemingly impossible act of “inception” – implanting a new idea in a dream that the dreamer will believe to be their own Cobb puts together a crack team to accomplish his goal.
Why It’s Great – Christopher Nolan doesn’t make bad films. Or at least he hasn’t yet. Inception was the first film Nolan directed after Nolan makes blockbusters like no one else, making them as intelligent and original as they are a spectacle. There is a lot of the “one last job for a criminal” motif going on but that is just a great jumping off point. The special effects are truly stunning with the city landscape being twisted and folded as the high point and even if the writing and acting were terrible – which they aren’t – it would be worth watching for the effects alone. As frustrating as the ambiguous ending might be, I like a film that is brave enough not to give you all the answers.
Verdict – A dazzling and smart sci-fi blockbuster.
The World’s End (2013)
The Plot – Gary King wants to reassemble his school friends to complete the “Golden Mile” a pub crawl along twelve pubs in their home town. Sadly for Gary much has changed since school, the group is estranged and he is no longer – if he ever really was – their leader. As the friends reunite and start their pub crawl things in the town become increasingly odd leading to a sensational fight in a pub toilet that reveals what is going on in the town.
Why It’s Great – All of the Cornetto Trilogy are more than what a simple category can describe – all of them are excellent examples of their genre but excel in being films about people. The World’s End is a film about aliens slowly taking over the planet but it’s also about friendship, betrayal, dealing with disappointment in life, youth (and losing your youth), what is life about and more. I would say this is my least favourite of the trilogy but that still could put it in my top twenty films of all time. It has another feature of the Cornetto Trilogy in combining huge, over the top scenarios, in small unlikely places. Few films pack the emotional punch of The World’s End let alone comparing it to other sci-fi comedies.
Verdict – A triumphant end to the Cornetto Trilogy.
Back To The Future Trilogy (1985, 1989, 1990)
The Plot – After accidentally travelling backwards in time teenager Marty McFly interrupts the meet-cute between his parents and thus will never be born. Recruiting the younger version of the scientist who sent him back in time, Doc, Marty seeks to set the timeline right and save himself. In Part 2 Marty and Doc travel to the future to avert a disaster for Marty’s son only to make things much worse everyone – well, nearly everyone. And Part 3…well Part 3 is set in the Old West for some reason ( just go with it, it’s fun).
Why It’s Great – I suppose it’s cheating to put a whole trilogy into one slot but it’s surely a crime to break up these wonderful films when they make such a satisfying collection. It’s hard to overstate the impact these films had on science-fiction and pop culture in general. For many these are the films that made time-travel (and all the paradoxes, dangers and opportunities that come with it) vaguely possible to understand, partly through literally drawing it on a blackboard in Part 2.
Verdict – If for any reason you have not seen these films prepare to watch three of the most enjoyable films ever made.
The Plot – Lena’s soldier husband returns mysteriously to their home but something is very wrong with him and it isn’t long before the government swoops in and takes control of the situation. It turns out her husband was sent on a secret mission into The Shimmer – a mysterious area of land where normal rules do not apply and her husband is the only person to return from numerous missions. Lena, a scientist and former soldier joins the next team determined to find out what happened.
Why It’s Great – While it does feel somewhat fitting to include a Netflix original film on this list doesn’t mean Annihilation doesn’t got a free pass – it’s a great sci-fi film, and in a way that few sci-fi films are. It has gunfights and monsters and all those things going on it has also has unusual ideas that make you think about the world and the universe. Science-fiction gets a lot of criticism but to me it’s always been the genre of big ideas – whether that’s time travel or space flight or what it means to be human. Written and directed by filmmaking genius Alex Garland and adapted from the successful Southern Reach book trilogy this film comes with exemplary sci-fi credentials.
Verdict – Bizarre mind-bending sci-fi epic.
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Steven Spielberg caused controversy recently with his comments about streaming platform Netflix – the legendary director appeared to roundly condemn those who want to include films made directly for the media service provider in the list of Academy Award nominees, referring to their eligibility for the accolades as “token qualifications”.
And here we, as film enthusiasts, find ourselves trapped between a rock and a hard place: the rock being arguably the most famous movie director of all time, and the place being the Western culture of 2019, where content is consumed in a vastly different manner than it was when Spielberg first began his directorial career.
Is this the opening skirmish of a war between the past and present? Are we supposed to pick a side?
When Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma won three Oscars at the Academy Awards (including, most significantly, Best Director) last month, it broke a taboo that perhaps none of us realised even existed. Roma was put forward for ten awards by the Academy, and though it wasn’t the first streamed film to be nominated (that honour goes to Manchester By The Sea), it was the first to ever win in the Best Director category. That’s a major distinction.
And yet, Roma ruffled more than just Spielberg’s feathers. One of the reasons why the film was considered so contentious by those in the movie industry, in fact, was the way in which it was released. Netflix made the film available mid-December, around the time most Oscar-hopefuls will start distributing their work, and also released it in a few movie theatres at the same time, which was frowned-upon by some because it failed to stick by the 90-day cinema window.
In the run-up to the Oscars, Tom Rogers (former CEO of TiVo) explained why Roma could be a milestone in the history of cinema.
“It’s such a disruptive pick for the Academy to end up embracing something that’s really going to go to the heart of movie theatrical distribution and the whole windowing system it has,” he said. “Netflix came up with a better way to watch television. Consumers have voted. It’s a great way to get what you what, when you want, and how you want it. And they’re doing the same thing with movies.”CNBC
So while Netflix is indeed breaking new ground, it isn’t necessarily doing anything wrong (in the eyes of most people, anyway).
However, Steven Spielberg wasn’t quite so accommodating, stating:
“I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theatres for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”The Guardian
He went on to suggest that Netflix movies should be nominated for Emmy Awards as they’re technically made for television. The veteran director is expected to raise the issue at the next Academy board of governors meeting and argue for a rule change that would ensure Oscar-nominated films adhere to the traditional theatrical run format in order to be eligible for the awards.
So what’s the bottom line here?
Well, it depends what way you look at it. Peter Bradshaw writes:
“Those sympathetic to Netflix contest their opponents’ claim to be the defenders of decent celluloid values battling against an overweening corporate monster intent on crushing the community values of movie theatres. On the contrary, they say Netflix is challenging the privileges of entitled white males.”The Guardian
Bradshaw does, however, go on to point out that Netflix relies heavily on subscriptions and is simultaneously engulfed in massive, crippling debt – a staggering $28billion – that could quite easily cause the platform to collapse, “leaving us to wonder how we could have been so naive and disloyal in relation to the workable theatrical release model.”
And for those who might try arguing that the current generation is transitioning away from traditional models of cinema towards instant content, it should be noted that just last year, attendance at UK theatres was at its highest since 1970, with 177million admissions.
Perhaps Spielberg has a point, and the purity of the Academy Awards should be preserved at all costs. Or maybe we’re simply in a new era of cinema, one in which we can watch Oscar-worthy films on both our television and theatre screens, depending on our preference.
Surely increased access to quality works like Roma can only be a good thing, after all? Certainly, Spielberg’s contemporary Martin Scorsese seems to think so, with his next film The Irishman set to debut on Netflix later this year.
A claustrophobic horror thriller centred around a bitterly divided family.
What’s Going On?
Nick brings his girlfriend, Annji, back to his family home for Christmas after an absence of several years. It is not long before the tensions in the family boil over, particularly the racism directed towards Annji. After making the decision to leave Nick and Annji find out they are trapped in the house by metal shutters placed there by some outside power. Their only outlet to the outside world is through the television broadcasting instructions on what they should do. The already fractured family are put through increasingly intense dramas that only brings out the worst in them.
Behind The Scenes
The film is directed by Johnny Kevorkian and written by Gavin Williams and this is probably their biggest project to date. The film certainly has it’s interesting moments but neither the direction or the writing particularly stand out.
In Front Of The Camera
The main actors are Sam Gittins (Nick), Neerja Naik (Annji) and Grant Masters (Tony, Nick’s father) and they are all asked to a lot but don’t manage to pull it off. Of the three Naik’s performance is the best as she tries to withstand a familiar line of abuse, ranging from unpleasant comments about immigrants to vicious slurs yet not lose her temper. Gittins plays the dependable boyfriend and (as well as Naik) the voice of reason to the encroaching madness. Masters isn’t quite believable as the ringleader of what happens and fails to convincingly portray a normal man who goes too far.
The most recognisable member of the cast will probably be David Bradley best known as either Filch from the Harry Potter films or Walder Frey from Games of Thrones. Bradley plays Granddad – the family member who never even tries to welcome Annji or moderate his behaviour at all.
Does It Work?
The film starts off with an interesting premise of a family, already on edge, being pushed further by the horrendous circumstances. Often films where people are trapped together in a small space they start as friends or strangers but before any of the horror starts there are clear dividing lines in the group. It’s hard to not think that this is a post-Brexit film; the issues of immigration and race are specifically brought up, with each side thinking the other is utterly ridiculous and completely to blame. The first half of the film definitely works better and Abigail Cruttenden plays the mother desperately trying to reconcile the different elements of her family and maintain the peace quite well.
When they wake up on Christmas day and realise they are trapped these fault lines only harden. Tony tries to take control of the situation but that is limited to blindly following the instructions via the television, trying to disguise his blind obedience as sensible and practical behaviour.
There are a few cliches that get wheeled out and when things start getting out of hand it’s not a surprise when the most obviously unpleasant character is the first to suffer. Then there is the presence of Nick’s sister, Kate, heavily pregnant, used as justification by her husband for his behaviour and, of course, making her incredibly vulnerable.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks is that the slip from imprisonment and mild paranoia to outright violence and worse is incredibly quick. It is only hours before all manner of terrible things are being done and even with their existing problems, it’s hard to reconcile such extreme behaviour with their circumstances. Even families that don’t get along will have their limits and most people place their family’s wellbeing as the centre of their world.
What the film reminded me of most was an episode of Black Mirror, or probably more accurately, a sub-Black Mirror inspired show. The film comments on hysteria, the power of media, the fear of the Other but without any subtlety or particular originality. The film also reminded me of one of the most infamous experiments in all of psychology – Stanley Milgram’s study on obedience. Participants were asked to give electric shocks to a person every time they got a question wrong, increasing the voltage with each wrong answer. Most participants carried on past the point their victim begged them to stop with one of the researchers telling the participant they must continue. Importantly no one was actually harmed in the experiment but people thought they were harming people. The film is partially a study on obedience to authority; obeying the government, obeying your father, obeying those with power over you. Each character responds differently to these different authorities and this is one of the film’s most successful aspects.
As the film nears the end and the madness is ramped up even further the bizarreness of the ending does not feel justified. I can go along with all manner of oddness if I feel it has been earned or handled in an interesting way but it just felt silly – the worst thing that can happen to a horror film.
Overall Await Further Instructions is not a good film, despite a good beginning and an intriguing idea of bringing the division of the country into one home. I would say in its defence that I was never bored and did want to see where it was going and how it would all end, but I could already sense that the ending would not be able to tie up the loose ends sufficiently let alone deal with some of the bigger plotholes.
Verdict (2 / 5)
Who doesn’t love a good documentary? They offer informative and intriguing glimpses into the world that surround us. But the best documentaries are not just talking heads reciting information at you. The best documentaries are the ones that take you on a journey and leave a lasting emotional impact on you.
And with Netflix having a treasure trove of documentaries available at your fingertips, today I’m recommending five documentaries, both films and TV series, for you to queue up and watch as soon as possible.
Five Came Back
Netflix has created many engaging original documentaries, but today I am giving special mention to two. The first being Five Came Back, which chronicles the lives of influential filmmakers William Wyler, George Stevens, Frank Capra, John Huston and John Ford, and the film industry that surrounded them, before, during and after World War II. Beginning with the first rumblings of the second world war and how Hollywood dealt with it, to many of the men seeing active service. Through their involvement with American propaganda and how the war impacted their careers after coming home. The series is a gripping and intensely personal character study of how the directors’ wartime experiences shaped them and their films. All the men’s stories are captivating. Their personalities are conveyed so well through archival interviews and insight from modern filmmakers, who share common traits, that you forget the documentary’s retrospective nature and become completely absorbed in the experience. The use of music and the directors archival battle footage makes the series as gripping as any war film and shows that art isn’t merely escapism. It helps us process the world around us. And is essential to the healing process of both artists and society.
This entry can apply to any of David Attenborough’s documentaries. Many are available on Netflix and all are worth watching. But for the definitive Attenborough wildlife documentary, look no further than Planet Earth. Being one of the world’s foremost natural historians you know that Attenborough knows what he is talking about when it comes to the subject matter and he delivers information in a way that is easy for all to enjoy. His smooth and authoritative voiceover invites the viewer in and makes the information easily digestible, which would be enough to recommend a documentary alone. But when combined with some of the most stunning wildlife footage ever captured, that gets up close and personal with the storied lives of earth’s tiniest insects, most feared predators and even endangered species from across the world. It makes for the definitive wildlife documentary series.
I’ve never been a big sports fan but I love sports documentaries. Because the best sports documentaries help you understand and empathize with the people who participate in these global events. And one of the best examples of this is Senna. Senna tells the story of Brazilian Formula One driver, Ayrton Senna. From how he won the F1 world championship 3 times in his careers through to his tragic death in 1994. What makes this documentary stand out is that it’s made up entirely of archival and home movie footage/voiceover about Senna. Which gives the movie an authentic feeling as everything is rooted in recorded history. W
Now for my second Netflix Original choice. 13th is a film that looks at the history of the USA and posits that slavery never actually went away. Though ownership has gone, the USA’s judicial and governmental system is still so poisoned against minorities and black people in particular, that many are now locked up and used for free labour for having the audacity to defend themselves and demanding a fair trial. From that description, it’s easy to see why 13th pushed so many people’s buttons. It is not an easy topic to think about, nor should it be. But the film delivers this difficult subject matter in a way that is easy to understand and showcases some truly disturbing material that has resulted from this oppression, but in a way that feels purposeful rather than exploitative. It is a polemic but it is incredibly successful at being one and at best stimulates a conversation that is worth having. As a good documentary should.
Paris is Burning
Finally, we go for an older documentary which is altogether more uplifting though in places no less sad. Paris is Burning documents the New York underground drag scene at the end of the 1980s. Looking at the competitions that bring the community together and the personalities of the contestants that take part. Paris is a fascinating time capsule. Although it could be looked upon as a glorified home movie, it holds significance because of what it represents. It is a glimpse inside a culture that, at the time, was very marginalized. As a result, the unprofessional and grainy presentation makes the film feel real and reflects its underground subject matter. It also doesn’t coyly skirt around discussions of transvestism, racism and homosexuality within the 1980s either. Focusing on how the community formed itself under the oppression, brutality and indifference of the culture. And although the subjects have their doubts about themselves and their place in the world, you ultimately come out feeling uplifted, for the film’s celebration of love and beauty in a marginalized group.
So there are five documentaries available on Netflix to get you into the world of non-fictional entertainment. Of course, there are many other documentaries available on Netflix. Both old and recent, and covering a range of different subjects. Do you have a favourite Netflix documentary you would like to recommend? Then please mention it in the comments. And help us discover more real-life stories to treasure.
Watch this week’s 60 Seconds of Film – your bite-sized weekly round-up of film news, presented by Jules Brook.
Watch this week’s 60 Seconds of Film – your bite-sized weekly round-up of film news, presented by Jules Brook
It truly is an exciting time to be a film viewer with so many streaming sites vying for our attention. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Now TV and so many others are competing to be your go-to entertainment streaming service. And soon another company will join the streaming wars. Disney announced last year that at some point in 2019 it will launch its own streaming service, Disney+. Many have prophesized that the entertainment behemoth could give Netflix a run for its money. So, today we are going to ask, what effect Disney+ could have on the streaming landscape. Will Netflix be able to compete with a company as giant as the house of mouse? And what could this mean for the future of film distribution?
What is Disney+ offering?
Disney+ is stated to be a child-friendly streaming hub for all of Disney’s owned films and TV shows. These include properties like Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel, and National Geographic. Hulu will broadcast the more adult-oriented content owned by the company. So far, the service has not set a price, but has promised that it will be cheaper than a Netflix subscription. Similar to Netflix and Amazon Prime, Disney+ also plans to host exclusive content. These include Star Wars: The Mandalorian and a series based on Marvel’s Loki. It will also be the first place where all the latest Disney films become available.
How will this effect the industry?
Disney+ could herald the beginning of the next generation of streaming. With the studio’s pedigree and the exclusive big names they have, including Star Wars and Marvel, it seems likely that the production value of their exclusives will be high, with both properties usually focusing a lot on spectacle. And if the service becomes successful with a cheaper price, other streaming companies will have to step up their game. Perhaps lowering their price, offering new selling points or allotting higher budgets for their new projects. Competition breeds creativity and Disney+ seems poised to encourage that.
It is also interesting that Disney does not intend to dismiss cinema distribution. Allowing films to run their course in theatres rather than exclusively releasing it on Disney+. It is interesting that despite the rise of streaming, cinema exhibition continues to generate over £1 billion in revenue each year. And this display from Disney reinforces the importance of cinematic distribution. Therefore, cinemas will still benefit from the income that big releases bring to them. As well as allowing a broad audience to see the films before it becomes exclusive and potentially allowing platforms for smaller films to be seen by a larger audience.
However, if Disney+ is successful it’s not hard to see other big studios forming their own streaming companies to retain distribution rights. Meaning that a movie will run its course in cinemas and then become exclusive to that studio’s website. Customers will thus lose the variety of current streaming sites. Instead, they’ll have to sign up to multiple companies, with different prices to find what they want. This isn’t a particularly consumer-friendly environment to encourage. Plus with the four highest grossing movies of 2017 being produced by them, it’s not hard to see why Disney wants to keep using the cinema box office.
Netflix Vs Disney+
And with Disney+’s announcement, many saw it as a direct challenge to Netflix’s hold on the market. With a cheaper price, a large back catalog as well as original programming and exclusive retention of its latest cinema releases, many predict that Disney+ will be a great Netflix competitor. However, this judgment seems rash. It is exciting to see what Disney will bring to the table. And the more family-focused content of Disney+ makes it unique amongst current streaming companies. Which mainly focus on offering content for different age ranges. But ultimately it is hard to see Disney+ felling Netflix completely for one simple reason, a lack of variety.
The reason platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime have succeeded is because they provide a vast range of content for all ages and interests. Genre cinema, documentaries, critically acclaimed work, schlocky trash, foreign language cinema from all over the world, kids films and the latest blockbusters are all available on those platforms. And not everyone wants to watch a Disney show or movie when they get home. Some people want to watch an adult-oriented comedy or violent action films, not exclusively family-orientated films.
Just look at the domestic box office figures for Disney’s releases last year. Their box office takings are incredibly sporadic. With some projects earning hundreds of millions while others never reach the hundred mark. Fatigue can set in easily when there is little room to breathe between brand projects (comparatively speaking). Even big-name brands don’t guarantee success, see Solo: A Star Wars Story for proof of that. Disney+ will undoubtedly have a big fan base to rely on. But the limited audience range and content makes it seems more like an Amazon Prime add on than something you would exclusively pay for.
What does the future hold?
Ultimately these judgements are merely speculation and we will find out what happens when Disney+ launches later this year.
It will be interesting to see how established companies will deal with the challenge posed by Disney. A healthy dose of competition is sure to produce a good amount of change. Both in business and in the products produced. And the retention of cinema distribution will give faith to cinemagoers and smaller filmmakers looking for potential platforms to reach a wide audience.
But it is also hard to not be pessimistic about what this could do to the industry by promoting insular distribution rather than reaching the widest possible audience. Overall this feels like something being done for business rather than art. And even devoted fan culture can get burnt out when given too much to chew.
This week, we’re hopping on our broomsticks and whizzing back in time (they’re special time-travelling broomsticks, you see) to 1990, when life was simpler and selfies hadn’t been formally acknowledged as a thing yet.
Let’s take a retrospective look at Roald Dahl’s The Witches.
The Witches was made available on Netflix during the first week of 2019.
In a nutshell
A young boy and his grandmother, who has a rather in-depth knowledge of witches, travel to a seaside hotel for the summer, where they inadvertently encounter a convention of the cackly old crones presided over by the Grand High Witch herself. Cue plenty of classic nineties OTT acting, white mice, and absolutely terrifying Jim Henson makeup effects.
Who’s it for?
Children…and also, not for children at all, sometimes. The Witches is one of those anomalous films that’s aimed at kids but is at times disturbing enough to leave parents with a few bad dreams of their own. Much like Gremlims, for instance. I wouldn’t recommend letting very young children watch it.
Who’s in it?
Luke and his grandmother Helga are played by Jasen Fisher and Mai Zetterling respectively, while Anjelica Huston owns the role of the Grand High Witch. Rowan Atkinson, right at the beginning of his Mr Bean days, plays the hotel manager.
The good stuff
If you like a good dose of nineties nostalgia and don’t mind a few slightly cringe-worthy moments, you’ll like this. This is Roald Dahl story-telling at its best: funny, satirical, mesmerising in its simplicity and horrific in equal measure. It’s wonderfully over-the-top at times, and the makeup effects for the witches are unforgettable (no matter how hard you try). Huston is superb as the Grand High Witch, genuinely scary even without her grotesque prosthetics and mechanised claws, and Atkinson is, well, Mr Bean incarnate. It’s a fun, silly film to watch, with or without the kids.
The not so good stuff
Like many nineties or late eighties movies viewed from the vantage point of Generation Z, The Witches will have aged considerably in its look, pacing and cinematography. Contemporary viewers may find themselves rolling their eyes at points or wondering where the CGI dragons are, but if you go into it understanding the context of the time and the source material from which it’s drawn, you won’t be too disappointed. It’s hard to be too critical of anything inspired by Dahl, even if the man himself hated the film’s ending.
The bottom line
The Witches is an enjoyable watch, and worth it just to see Anjelica Huston in one of her most celebrated roles. It’s funny, weird, disturbing and scary, and came along at a time when computer-generated images weren’t quite there yet, so puppetry was used instead to great effect.
Flick it on some evening and lose yourself in Roald Dahl’s brilliance for ninety minutes.
Verdict: (4.5 / 5)
This week’s review sees us drifting downriver with a blindfolded Sandra Bullock and two scared kids as we take a look at another Netflix original: Bird Box.
Bird Box began streaming (no pun intended) worldwide on 21 December 2018.
In a nutshell
The film starts off with Bullock’s character Malorie telling a young boy and girl that they’ll be taking a boat down river, and not to remove their blindfolds for the duration of the journey, otherwise they’ll die. Skip back five years and we see why, as supernatural entities begin appearing around the world, causing anyone who looks at them to immediately commit suicide.
Who’s it for?
Anyone over the age of 15, if the certification people are to be obeyed. There isn’t a whole lot of anything in this movie other than violent death scenes that would require a viewer to be a bit older, but it’s certainly not for children or those of a nervous disposition.
Who’s in it?
Bird Box has a nice little cast. Sandra Bullock is the protagonist supported by Trevante Rhodes, BD Wong, Tom Hollander, Jacki Weaver and John Malkovich, among others.
Bullock is, as you might expect, as strong as ever in the lead role – assured, funny, empathetic and believable playing Malorie, a character who’s well capable of preserving herself and others while remaining vulnerable enough in the midst of an apocalyptic situation for us to relate to her as a person (not that we’ve been in too many end-of-the-world scenarios, but you know what I mean).
Malkovich puts in a notable performance as Douglas (are we supposed to hate him or like him?) while Rhodes is a strong support for Bullock’s lead. Hollander is sufficiently creepy in his role, too.
The good stuff
I’ve recently acquired an inexplicable taste for horror movies, so I couldn’t resist flicking this one on as soon as I watched the trailer. And it didn’t disappoint – it is scary, and it is a relatively-fresh breath of air in its genre. And it’s another bull’s-eye for Netflix’s efforts in horror after the superb Annihilation.
I enjoy movies where a group of random strangers are thrust together and have to collectively figure out how to survive. I wouldn’t do so well in that scenario myself, but it’s fun watching others have a go at it. The plot of the movie, which cuts back and forth between the river journey and how it all kicked off five years prior, is engaging enough to keep you hooked in without giving you too much of a chance to dig any deeper into potential plot-holes; the tension is pumped steadily into the house where much of the retrospective action takes place and when the scares do come, they’re worth the wait.
The filmmakers also employed a clever trick to maintain the suspense, one that directors have used countless times in the past to great effect – you don’t see the monsters for a very long time (or in this instance, technically not at all). Think of the shark in Jaws, the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, or Norma Bates in Psycho. The suggestion of horror in Bird Box is often greater than what’s actually seen, and that makes it all the more powerful.
The not so good stuff
As mentioned previously, Bird Box is a relatively-fresh idea, but it’s not totally original. M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening (which is a terrible movie) was centred on the same idea of people committing suicide under the influence of some invisible entity, so I felt like this one was a slight rip-off. Indeed, Josh Malerman, who wrote the novel on which the film is based, feared that his rough draft (written prior to The Happening) was too similar to Shyamalan’s idea and would be passed over. This is a much better take on the idea, though, so he needn’t worry.
My only other gripe was the ending, which was a bit of a come-down after all the tension leading up to it – it’s not the worst, but a little more closure would have helped.
The bottom line
Bird Box is another solid horror showing from Netflix, and well worth a watch. It’s plenty scary and intelligently executed by the filmmakers and cast. I enjoyed it a lot and will definitely give it a second viewing at some stage.
Verdict: (3.5 / 5)
At the time of writing, Christmas is just over three weeks away. The streets are strewn with lights, classic Christmas songs are on the radio and everyone is struggling to find a gift for their loved ones. But fear not. If you are buying for a film lover, Big Picture Film Club has your back.
Today we are going to give five categorical recommendations of gifts that will please any film fan. Hopefully, this will give some of you an idea about what to get. So, let’s begin.
Collector’s edition DVD’S/Blu-rays
Nothing makes a film fan happier than owning the best editions of their favourite films. Regular DVD’s/Blu-rays are nice but there is a certain pleasure in unwrapping a collector’s edition with filmmaker commentary, documentaries, interviews, analyses, and a gorgeous transfer. Although collector editions are available from various sources, in the UK if you want the best, you can go to one of five companies:
- Arrow Video – Specialises in cult releases (see also, Arrow Academy which specializes in critically acclaimed work and Arrow Films, which focuses on new releases)
- The Criterion Collection – Specialises in releasing important films from world history
- Eureka’s Masters of Cinema and Eureka Classics label – a UK counterpart to Criterion which puts out works of cultural importance and well-regarded niche films. If criterion doesn’t have your film, Eureka probably will.
- BFI – They provide gorgeous transfers of historically significant work from Britain and around the world
- Curzon Artificial Eye – Provides extra ladened releases of world cinema titles, new and old.
If your friend loves a film released by one of these companies, you owe it to them to get it. They are a little more expensive than other DVD/Blu-ray releases but for the quality of the content, it’s worth it.
(Also recommended 88 films, 101 films, Powerhouse Films, and Second Sight Entertainment)
This category really has the power to surprise and delight. Film fans adore minutia to brighten up their homes and there are so many options for what to buy.
You could get them a classic poster of their favourite film to give them something gorgeous to hang on their wall. You could buy them a Funko Pop of their favourite film characters to liven up their work desk. Or, why not buy them replicas of famous movie props. To allow the recipient to live out the fantasy of being a part of their favourite films.
These items vary drastically in price but no matter what you pick, your film loving friend will have a big grin on their face.
There really is nothing better to get your friend to ensure that their movie viewing needs are cared for all year. But, what service should you get them? Well, what do they like?
- Netflix – For a range of well-known classics, critically acclaimed modern and original films (£5.99-£9.99 monthly)
- Amazon Prime – Provides modern favourites and many obscure older titles. Also includes prime next day delivery for those who frequently use Amazon (£79 a year or £7.99 monthly)
- Shudder – A streaming service for horror fans. Stocked with well-known and obscure horror titles from around the world (£47.98 a year or £4.99 monthly).
- Now TV with Sky Cinema subscription – Provides a range of classic and little-known Hollywood favourites (£55 a year)
- Mubi and Mubi Go – For those with a taste for auteurs, independent and foreign language films. And Mubi Go allows the owner to attend one specially selected film screening a week at selected cinemas (£59.88 a year)
Or perhaps if your friend likes visiting the cinema, you could get them a subscription card for their favourite cinema chain. Cineworld has unlimited, Odeon has limitless and many cinemas have their own loyalty program. So, if your loved one likes visiting the cinema, this could help them keep up to date with new releases.
You won’t see your friend for a few weeks after they get their gift, but be assured, they are appreciative.
Home Cinema Equipment
What’s better than getting a good quality Blu-ray or DVD of your favourite film? Watching it on good home media equipment. Whether it be the latest 4K television that allows you to see a higher quality image or a home surround sound system to provide a more immersive sonic experience, it makes a nice little addition to any film watchers home.
Finally, every film fan likes watching films, but do they also want to make their own films? Well, this year why not give them a helping hand.
Firstly, find out what the person you are buying for is interested in. Do they make films solo or are they interested in one particular area of filmmaking? Once that question’s been answered, we can proceed.
If they want to make films themselves and you have a bit of extra cash, then you could buy them a nice DSLR camera. Which allows them to shoot their own stuff on the go and have a great input into how the image will look. If you don’t have enough cash for that, why not try a nice phone gimbal? To allow them to use their phones in a more cinematic way.
Do they want to be an editor? Why not buy them some editing software like Final Cut X or Premiere Pro? Hopeful directors can always use a viewfinder. For those interested in sound maybe a new microphone may be in order. And there is a myriad of other equipment available online to help start your friends on their journey towards becoming the next Spielberg. So, I encourage you to look around.
So, there are just a few suggestions of what to get your cinephile for Christmas. I hope this has at least given you some idea about what is available out there and wish you all the best of luck with your Christmas shopping. If you have any further ideas of what to buy, then please let us know in the comments and stay tuned for more festive articles coming soon.