There’s no de­fense for copy­ing screen an­tics

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Neal Zoren Neal Zoren’s tele­vi­sion col­umn ap­pears ev­ery Mon­day.

Tele­vi­sion is never to blame when peo­ple take upon them­selves to im­i­tate or at­tempt some feat they’ve seen on the lit­tle screen.

The idea that a source of en­ter­tain­ment, whether books, movies, TV, or stage, is re­spon­si­ble for in­di­vid­ual lapse of com­mon sense is lu­di­crous.

Put me on the jury of any­one who takes ac­tion against Net­flix for do­ing some­thing as bird­brained as blind­fold­ing them­selves and ne­go­ti­at­ing a river’s rapids, as seen on “Bird Box,” and the TV pre­sen­ter will be ex­on­er­ated ev­ery time.

Peo­ple con­trol them­selves. Lots of peo­ple take risks or do oc­ca­sional things they know are wrong – “One day soon I will get that car in­spected” – but when plung­ing know­ingly into reck­less dan­ger will not win sym­pa­thy here.

Be­sides – spoiler alert – my ex­am­ple from “Bird Box” isn’t ex­actly the best be­cause Malo­rie, the lead char­ac­ter played by San­dra Bul­lock, doesn’t take the rapids blind­folded. When she hears she is ap­proach­ing them, she grounds her boat and pro­ceeds with her chil­dren over land.

“Bird Box” may be gar­ner­ing more at­ten­tion from sto­ries about fools tak­ing “the ‘Bird Box’ chal­lenge than it is from view­ers or TV fans in gen­eral.

The show, re­leased to stream­ing in the U.S. but play­ing in movie the­aters in Lon­don, sab­o­tages it­self in sig­nif­i­cant ways that keep it from be­ing the win­ter block­buster Net­flix may have an­tic­i­pated, es­pe­cially with a cast that in­cludes Bul­lock, John Malkovich, B.D. Wong, and Sarah Paul­son, two of whose sto­ries end early.

I was en­grossed for the first 45 min­utes or so. The idea of some­thing in­vis­i­ble in the air that lured peo­ple to mad­ness, then sui­cide, was in­trigu­ing, es­pe­cially as you saw peo­ple suc­cumb­ing to vi­sions and sug­ges­tions in var­i­ous ways. Malo­rie’s sis­ter sees some­thing and is so drawn to it, she for­gets she is driv­ing and be­comes un­rea­son­able and hap­haz­ard. The woman who in­vites the preg­nant and seem­ingly aim­less Malo­rie into her home an­swers a call from her late mother. Wong’s ra­tio­nal char­ac­ter takes pre­cau­tions yet gets drawn into ex­treme ac­tion by some­thing he sees on his home se­cu­rity surveil­lance screens.

Mys­tery is def­i­nitely es­tab­lished, and as in most mys­ter­ies you want clues as some for­ward progress in dis­cov­er­ing the why’s and the who’s. I al­ways tell peo­ple I was at­tracted to jour­nal­ism be­cause I need to know ev­ery­thing and can’t keep a se­cret. My drive from such things borders on the patho­log­i­cal, but even a milder per­son, watch­ing a story about some­thing that threat­ens to erase mankind, must fi­nally want an an­swer.

It’s fash­ion­able to­day not to pro­vide an­swers, to have an end­ing re­main am­biva­lent and sub­ject to in­ter­pre­ta­tion, such as Tony So­prano leav­ing that restau­rant or whether the mag­a­zine edi­tor in “Life­span of a Fact” (on Broadway un­til yes­ter­day), pub­lishes the story that stretched many truths to get to one.

“Bird Box” isn’t en­ti­tled to such a lux­ury. It needs to re­lieve cu­rios­ity in a way that isn’t in­cum­bent on “The So­pra­nos” and that “Life­span” han­dles in a deft vis­ual at the end.

“Bird Box” has pre­sented some­thing un­usual and fright­en­ing. All kinds of ideas go through a viewer’s head as he or she, along with the char­ac­ters, are try­ing to fig­ure out what’s hap­pen­ing and why it doesn’t af­fect peo­ple who can’t see or stay in­side.

One per­son who takes refuge in the same house as Malo­rie has a dozen spir­i­tu­ally con­nected con­spir­a­cies. There’s talk about a nerve gas gone amok. Malo­rie has a night­mare about a snake­like crea­ture.

The prob­lem is, at no time, do the creators or film­mak­ers se­ri­ously work to sat­isfy the au­di­ence hunger to know what Malo­rie and her chil­dren are fac­ing.

Might “Bird Box” have a deeper mean­ing? I looked for one, be­cause be­ing en­grossed turned to be­ing bored once plot lines dou­bled on them­selves in terms of sto­ry­telling and failed to lead to rea­sons for hu­man­ity’s dilemma. I dis­missed the house­mate’s mumbo-jumbo, but won­dered in Malo­rie and her chil­dren are meant to sur­vive for a spe­cific rea­son and even went so far as to sur­mise the birds Malo­rie kept in a box and guarded dur­ing her jour­ney were meant to be har­bin­gers of safety, or an end­ing, like the doves re­leased from Noah’s Ark.

All of my thoughts and the­o­ries turned out to be tor­tured at­tempts to make some­thing of a pro­gram that wasn’t able to make some­thing of it­self.

I gave up. I might be able to stand the de­lay of the tan­gi­ble, or moan in con­tempt when I learn a plot hinges on one bit of in­for­ma­tion the au­thor chose to with­hold to make a mys­tery sort of hap­pen. I feel cheated when I come to the con­clu­sions writ­ers can’t even with­hold be­cause they haven’t fig­ured out the prob­lem them­selves.

Even­tu­ally, “Bird Box” had to show signs that led some­where in ex­plain­ing hu­mankind and Malo­rie’s plight.

It doesn’t. It gives you no pal­pa­ble mon­ster. It shows you no alien force us­ing in­di­vid­ual fears to get peo­ple to aban­don life and Earth. It pro­vides no hu­man vil­lain who might be will­ing to use weapons of mass con­fu­sion. It doesn’t even make clear why see­ing is likely be to fa­tal while be­ing blind­folded cre­ates im­mu­nity.

So you slog through to a dis­ap­point­ment. No so­lu­tion and no hope or dis­turb­ing warn­ing of eons of dystopia.

Bul­lock is good at play­ing scared but lead­er­like and re­source­ful. She earned an Os­car nom­i­na­tion for do­ing so in “Grav­ity,” an­other movie that bored me no mat­ter now much I ad­mired its gor­geous vi­su­als.

It isn’t enough. “Bird Box” is find­ing more dis­dain than adu­la­tion be­cause it lets down on all the things that keep one en­grossed. It squan­ders its ini­tial good faith.

Yet it made head­lines for one thing peo­ple did take away from, the won­der of whether they could ne­go­ti­ate the world blind­folded, in­clud­ing while driv­ing a car.

“Bird Box” may not im­press the gen­eral tele­vi­sion au­di­ence, but it can pro­vide, un­in­ten­tion­ally and, as I be­gan with­out blame, an ac­tiv­ity for idiots.

Life is ran­dom. You can’t pre­dict what might strike an in­di­vid­ual as fun or a ‘neat’ thing to do.

Scripted drama, par­tic­u­larly thrillers, are not ran­dom. While “Bird Box” has no apolo­gies to make for peo­ple stupid enough to put them­selves in dan­ger for bor­row­ing one of its ideas, it has to lot to an­swer for in not mak­ing a plot and side busi­ness con­tin­u­ally in­trigu­ing and for do­ing so in ways that flout the ba­sic tenets of sto­ry­telling – Don’t just show the plague; show the per­pe­tra­tor!

Ea­gles fun

NBC Sports Philadel­phia knows how to have fun with the Ea­gles play­off run. It spon­sored ral­lies and events all week, mostly around a “Road to Re­peat” bus that drove through the re­gion to key sites, such as The Franklin In­sti­tute and the Read­ing Ter­mi­nal Mar­ket so fans could au­to­graph the ve­hi­cle that would make its way to New Or­leans.

Bar­rett Brooks talked to fans in Wil­low Grove, and there was fes­tiv­i­ties in South Philly.

Then came a day’s worth of pro­gram­ming be­fore and af­ter Sun­day’s game.

Chan­nel 29 sent Delco na­tive Chris O’Con­nell early last week to cover fes­tiv­i­ties there. O’Con­nell ap­peared with sports guru Howard Eskin and top Ea­gles in­sider Dave Spadaro on spe­cial pro­grams from the Mercedes-Benz Su­per­dome.

Mean­while, the “Good Day Philadel­phia” teams of Mike Jer­rick, Alex Hol­ley, Bob Kelly, and Sue Se­rio did a spe­cial pro­gram Sun­day af­ter­noon de­voted to the Ea­gles.

I wish the lo­cal Fox peo­ple would take over the na­tional pre-game show. Terry Brad­shaw, Howie Long, and Michael Stra­han have bored me most of the sea­son, mainly be­cause I get tired of them wan­der­ing in an out of for­ma­tion and go­ing for big ef­fects in­stead of de­liv­er­ing con­cise anal­y­sis of the game on which they are al­legedly paid to com­ment.

If the most de­sired hap­pened yes­ter­day, stay tuned to see what these and other sta­tions have in store.

Sir Charles hits ‘Goldbergs’

NBA-great and lo­cal fa­vorite while a mem­ber of the Six­ers, Charles Barkley will make a cameo ap­pear­ance play­ing a sub­sti­tute gym teacher on Wed­nes­day’s 8 p.m. episode of “The Goldbergs,” one in which the hap­less fam­ily in head­ing to a Six­ers game and has to lis­ten to an end­less loop of Ru­pert Holmes’s “Pina Co­lada Song” dur­ing a traf­fic jam en route.

Barkley’s teacher is not easy on his pupils. He blocks shots made my oth­er­wise con­fi­dent kids who at­tempt to score on him.


This image re­leased by Net­flix shows San­dra Bul­lock in a scene from the film, “Bird Box.” Net­flix said Wed­nes­day, Jan. 2, 2019, that 45 mil­lion sub­scriber ac­counts world­wide watched the Bul­lock thriller “Bird Box” dur­ing its first seven days on the ser­vice, the big­gest first-week suc­cess of any movie made for the com­pany’s nearly 12-year-old stream­ing ser­vice.

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