Happy New Year! Award-season is mostly behind us (as far as releases go) and now we just await the upcoming award-shows themselves, like The Golden Globes this Sunday and the Critics Choice Awards coming to The CW on Sunday, Jan. 13th. Of course, we are only a few weeks away from the Academy Award nominations being announced as well. And while this weekend does see a few new releases (keep reading!), it's a massively-successful streaming movie that currently has movie-goers buzzing - or chirping, you could say - as we head into 2019.
Here are reviews of the new releases for Friday, Jan. 6, 2019, as well as our review of the Netflix phenomenon, "Bird Box."
The real mystery surrounding the new Netflix film "Bird Box" is why has it become such an international phenomenon since being released back on December 13th. Since then, Netflix has boasted that it has become the service's most-watched film in its history, with over 45 million viewers in just the first seven days of release alone (we will leave this debate for another time, as Netflix's metrics for measuring such a number is a whole other mystery unto itself). So why does "Bird Box" have so many people flocking to Netflix? Is it worth the hype?
Essentially, no. "Bird Box" - by all measures - comes across as a pale imitation of 2018's "A Quiet Place," despite the fact that "Bird Box" is actually based on a 2014 novel (by Josh Malerman). But since we all saw "A Quiet Place" first, the comparisons are inevitable due to each's film's premise. In "A Quiet Place," unseen monsters in a post-apocalyptic world would kill you if you made a sound. In "Bird Box," unseen monsters in a post-apocalyptic world would kill you if you make eye contact. What's next, "A Smelly Bird Place," in which monsters in a post-apocalyptic world invade your nostrils should you dare to sniff?
In retrospect, "A Quiet Place" excelled mostly on the mood it created and didn't have to rely on dialogue...by using sound (or lack thereof), it created an atmosphere where an audience member would be too scared to even munch popcorn while watching. And while the looming horrors of "Bird Box" do provide occasional thrills and a few tense sequences, the movie makes a mess of itself every time it provides us with spoken words. It's jumbled time-jump structure too, doesn't help the narrative.
Sandra Bullock is always likable and effective, but she's surrounded by several one-dimensional fellow survivors, none of whom act or think like real human beings. Trevante Rhodes is an instant love interest in the middle of the chaos, and John Malkovich hams it up so bad that you'd need a blindfold not to notice. Bullock's character too, we're supposed to believe, names two children "Boy" and "Girl" because she has attachment issues and is emotionally stunted. Forget the plot, the filmmakers and screenwriters themselves could be considered the blind-leading-the-blind.
Will "Bird Box" make you commit suicide if you happen to look upon it squarely with your own eyes? It's not quite that bad. But nearly every single time a character opens their mouth, you'll wish you were in a quieter place.
Genre: Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi. Run Time: 2 hours 4 minutes.
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson, Jacki Weaver.
Directed by Susanne Bier ("Serena," "A Second Chance," "Things We Lost in the Fire," "Brothers").
"On the Basis of Sex"
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become - by all accounts - "notorious" for her service to this country and for her impact on creating social and political change. Just last year, we were given the inspired documentary, "RBG," which gave us insight as to where this amazing woman draws her strength from. Contrast that with the new biopic about her, "On the Basis of Sex", and you might not even realize that both films are talking about the same woman. In other words, Ginsburg deserves better.
Felicity Jones is somewhat miscast as Bader Ginsburg, married to taxation law expert Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer), in a film that focuses on a slice of the Supreme Court Justice's life. As was the "norm" in the late 60s and 70s, Ruth was not quite able to shine outside of her husband's shadow, but when Martin receives some bad health news, Ruth is given her moment. He introduces to the young lawyer a case about a man who was denied a tax deduction based on the fact that, up until that point, a "caregiver" was defined as being a woman. Ginsburg uses the case as an opportunity to fight for equal rights, and in doing so becomes a champion of the cause.
For a woman so tough, and so willing to fight traditional norms outside-of-the-box, this movie about her is quite plain Jane. It's almost as if they had to use the word "sex" in the title to try to spice up an otherwise bland film. "On the Basis of Sex" unravels without much gumption, and doesn't quite do Ruth Bader Ginsburg...justice.
Genre: Drama, Biography. Run Time: 2 hours.
Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux.
Directed by Mimi Leder ("Thick as Thieves," "Pay It Forward," "Deep Impact").
The first horror film of 2019 attempts to cash in on the rise in popularity of "escape rooms," a recent phenomenon that is now estimated to be a half-a-billion dollar industry worldwide. A group of "players" enter a room and need to solve a series of puzzles in order to "escape" in time. Of course that means that in the film "Escape Room", the concept turns deadly.
Like most horror films, this one stars a cast of mostly unknowns (Deborah Ann Woll, from HBO's "True Blood," is maybe the most recognizable, rounded out with Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis and Nik Dodani). Each individual is lured to a mysterious new escape room with the promise of a $10,000 grand prize, but they don't quite realize what they've gotten themselves into.
Just like a real escape room, you will find yourself caught up in the challenge of aiding in the escape. Director Adam Robitel ("Insidious: The Last Key") does a surprisingly effective job of pacing the story with palpable tension, unexpected camera moves and elaborate set pieces, as this group of strangers try to survive from room to room. And with a PG-13 rating, the thrills never become too violent or gory...this is not a horror movie that will make you cover your eyes at any point. Quite the opposite: This one will have you leaning forward, trying to guess what is coming next or where this is all headed.
Of course, all of this is pretty inconsequential. This is a movie that is all journey, no destination. The dialogue is laughable, in that "B-movie" sort of way but often times far worse. And the final twists and last half-hour or so are so implausible, it might turn you off to the whole adventure. But what we learn is that this wasn't simply meant to be a "one-and-done" experience...again echoing the real-life escape room experience, the creators have plans for you to return again and again to this franchise, and the somewhat blind-confidence in this decision feels bold, if not a bit naive.
Is "Escape Room" a great film or an instant classic? No and no. But there's no escaping the fact that it knows what it is. And that's an accessible, PG-13-rated thriller.
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery. Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes.
Starring: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Tyler Labine, Deborah Ann Woll, Jay Ellis.
Directed by Adam Robitel ("Insidious: The Last Key," "The Taking of Deborah Logan").
This movie was not reviewed but is now available in limited-release and On-Demand.
Genre: Drama. Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes.
Starring: Cybill Shepherd, Pam Grier, James Brolin.
Written and Directed by Rod McCall ("Jim," "Becoming Eduardo," "Paper Hearts").
All of these movies open Friday, Jan. 6th, 2019. Check here for show times.
Movies opening next weekend include: "Ben is Back," "The Upside."
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