Bird Box, First Man, Polar and Russian Doll (R-074)

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I probably don’t need to tell you, as apparently it’s been a big hit on Netflix, that Bird Box is a film based on the book by Josh Malerman starring Sandra Bullock. The premise is reasonably simple – there are some entities (the origin of which is never explained) that will take on the appearance of your worst fears causing you to commit suicide in sheer terror if you see them. So the advice is to keep your eyes closed or wear a blindfold.

If you’re psychotic it won’t effect you which helps to raise the odds about hallway through the film after the cast of disposable characters has spent far too long inside a house talking about how the world’s gone to hell in a handcart (like every zombie film there has ever been).

While the opening scenes of chaos on the streets of America were very well done I found the story all too predictable in the end and indeed the end was unsatisfactorily inconclusive. If I didn’t know better I would’ve thought it the work of M Night Shyamalan as it reminded me a lot of the lacklustre The Happening and in general some of the shit that he’s written and directed over the years. I’m not a big fan.

Sandra Bullock is great, but the story is weak. Moving on.

First Man is a biopic about Neil Armstrong and NASA’s quest to get to the moon before the USSR. Last time I saw Ryan Gosling he was playing a robot trying to be a man, this time he was playing a man trying to be a robot. Directed by La La Land buddy Damien Chazelle and co-starring Claire Foy (The Crown) the film is one-half family drama one-half The Right Stuff esque historic-hero propaganda. The combination of the two works really well helped along by some well though out shot choices.

It’s not on the same level as Hardcore Henry for first-person POV visceral action scenes but it certainly delivers some gritty cutting-edge nuts and bolts space exploration stuff using the same technique. We’re in the experimental aeroplane when Armstrong is bouncing along the edge of the atmosphere trying to get it back down to terra firma, we’re in the Gemini capsule when it starts spinning out of control and we’re in the Apollo 11 capsule on the tip of the Saturn 5 rocket when it blasts off from Cape Kennedy. And last but not least when we finally get to the surface of the moon the sound drops to just the sound of breathing in his suit and we’re there on the powdery surface with all its pock-marked monochrome beauty.

Ryan Gosling delivers another brilliant performance and Claire Foy is just as good as the astronaut’s wife.

Back over on Netflix, Polar is a heavy stylised graphic novel adaptation starring Mads Mikkelsen (Casino RoyaleHannibal) as an assassin a few days away from retirement and due a large pay-out from his employers. His boss, a dreadful man played dreadfully by Matt Lucas (Little Britain) aided by Vivian played woodenly by Katheryn Winnick (Vikings) in a multitude of costumes and hairstyles, doesn’t want to pay up. In fact he’s bumping off anyone due to get their retirement dues.

The film is rather like John Wick but less realistic, if that’s actually possible. I had to keep reminding myself it was based on a graphic novel and forgive all those involved for over-acting their parts. That said, while everyone else was hammier than a butcher’s shop window, Mikkelsen played it straight like everything else I’ve seen him in and his presence shone through. I dread to think how bad the film might have been if he wasn’t in the lead role.

Over-stylised violence and only one decent performance.

On the episodic TV side of things, Siggy and I finished watching Ozark Season 2 which was really good despite being completely shot in half-light, full dark and shadows. It certainly adds to the atmosphere and lends the twists and turns of the plot a dark patina.

To lighten the mood we’ve been watching a lot of Family Guy. Brian died and then came back two episodes later, they went to Springfield and met the Simpsons, and everyone projectile vomited a lot. We’re also trying to finish off Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. it’s fair to say that I enjoy it more than Siggy and I’ll be a little sad when we’ve finished watching the final set of episodes that were released a few weeks ago.

We’ve also started watching Russian Doll, a dark comedy currently comprised of eight half-hour parts. It’s like a fusion of Groundhog Day and Final Destination. Starring Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black) and in later episodes Charlie Barnett (who I’ve not seen in anything prior to this) it tells the story of two seemingly unrelated New York residents who die only to come back to life at exactly the same point and relive their experiences only to die again. Live. Die. Repeat.

Lyonne is brilliant as the wise-cracking Nadia Vulvokov and the supporting cast, most of whom I have never seen before really help to sell the story. Despite the repetition inherent in the show there’s enough variation and comedy for it never to become tedious, only really intriguing.

We’ve got two episodes left, so I’ll ignore the ‘ending explained’ video I’ve just spotted on YouTube and hope that I don’t need to watch it.

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