Summer Netflix – Brain on Fire

I recently watched two enjoyable Netflix films — Brain on Fire and Tau — and thought I would provide a quick review of Brain on Fire for anyone who has a few hours to binge.  I’ll get to Tau soon.

As a mom who spent three days in the hospital with her adult daughter suffering from blot clots, I related to Brain on Fire more from the parents’point of view than the protagonists. No matter which characters you invest in, the movie is well done and interesting to watch.

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Can you imagine your life falling to pieces day by day and doctors having no idea why? The film follows Susannah Cahalan (played by Chloe Grace Moretz), a writer for the NY Post, who begins to experience unexplained symptoms from a rare neurological disease. Doctors claim it is everything from alcohol withdrawal to mental illness before diagnosing her with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. Based on the book, Brain On Fire, the movie is based on journalist Susannah Cahalan true-life experiences.

Carrie Ann Moss and Richard Armitage play Cahalan’s parents. Previously, I saw Moss in the role of a tough-ass lawyer in Jessica Jones and The Defenders. I enjoyed her more realistic portrayal of a mom frustrated with the medical system. We’ve all been there. I also love Moretz as an actor and though she did an amazing job portraying the fear of having her body betray her without explanation.

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I didn’t quite get Cahalan’s relationship with her boyfriend. While supportive, their interactions lacked chemistry. At one point she was talking to him about her symptoms and he’s mixing music, ignoring her. He came off as uncaring, and I had to wonder why the directors decided that was how they wanted to portray him.

While not getting rave reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, the film is worth watching.  The characters are well portrayed and the fact that it is based on true events makes it more noteworthy.

The Florida Project

After a disappointing round of Oscar-nominated movies, I fell in love with the Florida Project.

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Many movies like The Big Sick, Get Out and Wonder Woman were enjoyable, solid films with “Oh wow!” moments, but didn’t live up to all the hype I’d heard before viewing. Even Logan and The Shape of Water, both which I truly enjoyed and ranked high on my list, couldn’t keep pace with the deceptive simplicity of The Florida Project.

Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) lives with her mom in a cheap hotel room near Disney. The film follows the six-year-old as she and her friends survive and thrive under the less than adequate care of those around her. Prince’s performance is brilliant. She is mischievous, sweet, and downright mean. Her character shows how, while still innocent and good, her environment has already left scars.

The movie is wonderful in its complex character portrayal. Viewers don’t dislike Moonee’s mom Halley (Bria Vinaite). She is most definitely flawed, but loves her daughter and tries. Really tries sometimes, while leaving Moonee to fend for herself most other days.

Willem Dafoe plays the manager who has his own problems, but works hard to protect the raggedy band of children around him. The end scene, which I can’t give away, leaves the viewer wondering the fate of all those involved.

The Titan on Netflix

Just finished watching The Titan on Netflix. What can I say about it? Meh.  It wasn’t bad. I stayed awake for the entire movie, which is good. But it lacked a gritty realism of a dystopian world. It also needed more depth and discussion about what was going on outside the small utopian military base where former Air Force fighter pilot Rick Janssen (Sam Worthington) is stationed.

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Janssen, along with other recruits, have all agreed to become the first humans capable of living under the harsh condition and inhospitable atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan. The military base is beautiful and in the middle of a gorgeous mountain and lake setting. It doesn’t seem like anything destructive has EVER happened there, and after a brief “the world is ending” announcement, and Janssen’s statement “Too bad we can’t save it,” the viewers witness little to none of the chaos supposedly exploding outside this pristine oasis.

As a viewer, I had a lot of unanswered questions. For example: If science has progressed to the point of altering human DNA, why can’t they create a closed biosphere on earth or at least invest in some hydroponics? The set-up of the movie seemed too contrived and the answers provided too simplistic.

Then there are the changes to Janssen. There are drugs, strenuous activities and surgery. Of course, thing go bad, but the movie never really gets exciting or interesting or scary.  I kept waiting for a pay out that never came. The volunteers, including Janssen change. I get it, but I never really care.

His wife, Dr. Abi Janssen (Taylor Schilling) does a wonderful job in her role, but she wears white for almost the entire movie. The symbol is a little heavy handed.  She’s also a doctor, something I didn’t pick up on until half way through the movie when she goes from a loving, doting wife to a skilled researcher with lab access trying to uncover what the military is doing to her husband.

So in the end…Janssen survives but does he really live?

Why Are Zombies Popular?

FrankzombieFrom World War Z to The Walking Dead (graphic novel and TV series), zombies make their presence known in books and on the small and big screens. While watching zombie movies and reading books in the genre, I became a little overly infatuated with the undead. The family would say I went through a “thing,” attending comic cons and watching, rewatching, and revisiting certain movies featuring animated corpses.

These movies are some of my favorites.  They are gross, grossly funny, and engrossing, and in doing so both scare and entertain me.  More importantly, they teach lessons. My love of zombies started with watching movies such as Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978).  Soon after, I moved on to films such as 28 Days Later (2007), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Resident Evil (2002) and Zombieland (2009). My feelings on Warm Bodies (2013), still undecided. Recently, I loved Girl with all the Gifts (2017) and Train to Busan (2016) is one of my all time favorites .

Why do we love zombies so?

  1. Zombie movies and books provide commentary on society. We all have days when we feel like the walking dead, overwhelmed with work and stressed with life.  Zombies help remind us that we need to put negative feelings behind us, break away from complacency, and live for the moment.
  2. The zombie genre often combines humor and horror allowing viewers to laugh at their fears and learn lessons. While each story is unique, there is often a deeper meaning behind all the hoards of brainless undead roaming the streets and eating the living. We just need to figure it out. The process to do so is often as fun as the results.
  3. The fears played out on screen and in books are universal. While movie stars battle and kill hordes of zombies, most individuals have little control over global warming, economic downturn, or school shootings.
  4. Similarly, zombies provide some catharsis over the problems people hear about or have to face in daily life. Reading or watching as others overcome their fears and survive unbelievable situations provides escapism and hope.  If protagonists can create a happy ending in fiction and film, maybe we have a chance to conquer whatever problems come our way.
  5. Zombies reflect the best and worst of humanity. The zombie genre movies and books shed some light on what it means to be human. Do we fight for ourselves or for others? Do we turn to each other for comfort or destroy one another to survive?  While no clear answer emerges, zombie movies and books offer different scenarios about humanity at its best and worst.

Now it is up to you. Start reading and watching today.Graves