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If you’re like me, you’ve often wondered what would happen if you were to combine ABBA with Bjork, divide that into into two people and enter the result in the Eurovision Song Contest. Now, thanks to Will Farrell and Netflix, we finally have an answer.

“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” – directed by David Dobkin and starring Ferrell (who also co-wrote the script) and Rachel McAdams – is the story of a mismatched pair of Icelandic oddballs whose strange band accidentally winds up representing their country in the legendary Eurovision Song Contest.

This is a legitimately weird movie, one that revels in its sense of exaggerated cultural absurdity and is unapologetic in its steadfast refusal to concern itself with making sense. It is both celebration and satire, a goofy love letter to Eurovision that leans into the over-the-top pomp and circumstance that helps define the beloved contest. It is relentlessly ridiculous, loose and shaggy and rife with inexplicable accents. It is a movie that won’t be everyone’s cup of brennivin, but if you’re into it, you will be INTO IT.

Real talk: I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, but your mileage definitely may vary.

Saturday, 27 June 2020 13:01

Electile dysfunction – ‘Irresistible’

Written by Allen Adams

Anyone with eyes and ears is aware that we’re currently living in an extremely polarized time. That polarization makes it both a great time and a tough time to make a political comedy. On the one hand, the landscape is littered with targets for satirization. On the other hand, it’s all just so f---ing bleak out there.

Into this dichotomy drops “Irresistible.” Currently available via VOD services, the film is written and directed by Jon Stewart. It tells the tale of what happens when a small-town mayoral race captures the attention of high-level political operatives on both sides of the partisan divide. These operatives swoop in and turn this minor municipal election into a big-money campaign. It’s ostensibly an ideological fight, but it soon becomes clear that there’s far more to it than that.

Stewart’s body of work from “The Daily Show” on up would seem to make him the ideal candidate (no pun intended) to make a film like this. And it’s a dynamite cast, led by Steve Carell, Chris Cooper and Rose Byrne. The talent is here, for sure.

So why isn’t this movie better?

Not that it’s bad, per se. It has its moments. It just feels like it is trying to be all things to all people, which is ironic considering its subject matter. It never commits to a tone, resulting in an overall feeling of meh-ness that undercuts whatever satiric impact it might have made. Political commentary? Sly satire? Underdog tale? “Irresistible” is all of these – and hence none of them.

Friday, 26 June 2020 14:52

‘My Spy’ offers kid-friendly espionage

Written by Allen Adams

Stop me if you heard this one: a professional wrestler who transitioned to acting makes an action comedy in which he shares the screen with a precocious child costar.

Ever since the double leg drop of Hulk Hogan’s “Suburban Commando” and “Mr. Nanny,” it seems that part of the formula for getting over a wrestler as a movie star involves that sort of kid-oriented flick. Hogan did it, the Rock did it (wildly successfully, it should be added) and now we’re seeing offerings from the likes of John Cena and Dave Bautista.

Bautista stars in “My Spy,” currently available on Amazon Prime Video and for rental, precisely the sort of odd couple kiddie comedy we’re talking about. Now, Bautista is an interesting case, in that he initially skipped a few steps in the wrestler-to-movie star plan thanks to his delightful turn as Drax in the MCU, but apparently he still has to follow the rules, even if he does it out of order.

As you might expect, there’s not much here that you haven’t seen before. The standard beats are all present, landing with a steady deliberateness. This is not a movie that surprises in terms of structure or story; you’re pretty sure how it’s all going to go from the top.

And yet … it’s actually not bad. Not great, mind you, but charming enough, thanks to Bautista and (particularly) his young costar. It’s all perfectly pleasant, with some dumb jokes and a couple of fun supporting turns and some fun kid-friendly(ish) action sequences. Not memorable, but in a vaguely pleasant way.

Honestly, it could have been worse.

Monday, 22 June 2020 14:09

Fly the unfriendly skies – ‘7500’

Written by Allen Adams

Creating tension – genuine tension – is one of the most difficult things to effectively do in a film. It’s about finding the right buttons to push, yes, but also about discerning the best manner in which to push them. It comes down to the choices made by the filmmaker. When those choices don’t work, the result is flat and leaves the viewer disinterested and disengaged. When they DO work, however, the sky is the limit.

The new film “7500” is very much the latter – both literally and figuratively.

The film – currently streaming and available for free on Amazon Prime Video – is the story of a pilot confronted with an attempted hijacking. Taking place almost exclusively within the confines of the cockpit of an airliner, it is a claustrophobic and taut piece, a bundle of exposed-nerve tension that is rendered all the more powerful by the limitations of its setting.

Anchored by a phenomenal performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “7500” is a story about a man being pushed to the breaking point – and beyond – by circumstances outside of his control. His survival and the survival of his passengers are reliant on his making the right choices at the right time. And thanks to the efforts of Gordon-Levitt and first-time feature writer/director Patrick Vollrath, we’re there right alongside him – muscles tensed, breath held – until the bitter end.

Saturday, 20 June 2020 21:08

End of life - ‘Exit Plan’

Written by Allen Adams

Who decides when a life ends?

It’s a complicated question, packed with moral and ethical nuances. Should a terminally ill person be permitted to choose the manner in which their existence ceases? And should the state allow outside actors to participate in that process? How can anyone know that a person is truly, fully committed to the idea?

“Exit Plan,” a new Danish film from director Jonas Alexander Arnby currently available on demand, initially looks like it could be prepared to wrestle with the complexity of those questions. However, it never quite manages to find its footing, with Rasmus Birch’s script failing to maintain any kind of real consistency. It is chronologically jumbled and tonally confusing, never quite finding the sweet spot where everything clicks.

There are moments – largely driven by the legitimate talent of leading man Nicolaj Coster-Waldeau (of “Game of Thrones” fame – but they are far too few for the film to fully work. That said, the film’s aesthetic is compelling and again, Coster-Waldeau is great. Still, it’s clear that there are some big ideas bubbling away under the surface, but the languid pacing and scattershot timeline don’t allow those ideas to be fully realized.

Monday, 15 June 2020 15:09

Band of brothers – ‘Da 5 Bloods’

Written by Allen Adams

What a perfect time to get another Spike Lee joint.

Granted, there’s never a BAD time to get a movie from America’s greatest black filmmaker, but considering the state of the world in which we’re currently living, the sort of live-wire storytelling that is Lee’s specialty is particularly welcome. No one brings the sort of electric social consciousness to the screen that he does, along with style and vision that is unparalleled among his peers.

His latest offering is “Da 5 Bloods,” currently streaming on Netflix. It’s a story of a quartet of Vietnam veterans returning to the country for the first time since the war, each carrying the world-weariness of age along with the emotional burdens that still endure from their time in battle. The foursome are on a sort of dual quest to make right the real and perceived wrongs that they have suffered, all in service to the brotherhood they formed in that life-or-death time.

It’s a typical stylistic triumph from Lee, featuring the blending of aesthetic techniques and cultural touchstones that mark his best work. And he mines truly exceptional performances from his talented cast – again, the usual. This movie – much like so many others in his oeuvre – contains multitudes in a way that no other filmmaker can match, but that’s not really surprising – there’s only one Spike Lee.

Monday, 15 June 2020 14:38

‘Artemis Fowl’ is, well … foul

Written by Allen Adams

There’s big money to be made in franchise filmmaking. With hundreds of millions of dollars potentially on the table, it’s no wonder that studios are constantly on the lookout for intellectual property that can be translated to the big screen for big bucks.

On paper, the “Artemis Fowl” series of books by Eoin Colfer looks like a solid bet. It’s got a high-concept hook revolving around a secret world of fairies, a kid protagonist and eight novels worth of narrative to be mined. The project has been in the works at various stages with various studios for almost two decades. And now, finally, with the Disney monolith behind it, the first film in the erstwhile franchise has arrived.

Don’t be surprised if it’s also the last.

“Artemis Fowl” – currently streaming on Disney+ and inexplicably directed by Kenneth Branagh – is wildly unsuccessful on just about every conceivable level. It is a jumbled mess that borders on incoherent, a scattershot attempt at world-building that basically throws a lot of stuff at the wall, only nothing really sticks. The tone is inconsistent and the plot is nonsensical. The 95-minute runtime is not nearly enough to provide the required context, though that is offset by the feeling of audience relief at its brevity.

While I can’t say for certain, since I haven’t read them, I have to assume that the books are better than this candy-colored lunacy. They’d have to be. They probably have an actual story, for instance, rather than a series of barely-connected events that may or may not have some bearing on the overall narrative. It has all the worst parts of an origin story without conveying much about, you know, the origin. All in all, a misfire of truly epic proportions.

Sunday, 14 June 2020 12:38

Hail to ‘The King of Staten Island’

Written by Allen Adams

Few filmmakers have had as outsized an influence on 21st century comedy as Judd Apatow. For over a decade, the Apatovian voice led the way, introducing us to the players who would define the genre for their generation. It was a comedy of youth, shaggy and unapologetic and inspiring to those who would follow.

It’s hard to believe that it has been five years since Apatow helmed a movie, but it’s true – his last directorial foray was the 2015 Amy Schumer vehicle “Trainwreck.” Perhaps he was simply waiting for the proper inspiration to get back into the saddle.

Said inspiration has apparently arrived in the form of Pete Davidson, who teamed up with Apatow and Dave Sirus to co-write “The King of Staten Island,” a film based in large part on Davidson’s own life. It’s an emotionally charged and honest offering, one driven by the real feelings at the heart of its semi-autobiographical story.

Davidson – who also stars – is a polarizing figure in a lot of ways, but love him or hate him, it’s difficult to deny the quality of his work here. Apatow lets the story do the heavy lifting as far as the laughs go, allowing the flat-out exceptional cast to bring forth the very genuine emotions at the heart of things. It is funny and touching and surprisingly moving, a much more warts-and-all glimpse of the arrested development that the director so excels at presenting.

Friday, 12 June 2020 11:23

Doin’ it for the Gram - ‘Infamous’

Written by Allen Adams

What does it mean to be famous?

We live in a world in which there have never been more paths to finding some degree of fame. There are the traditional arenas – entertainment, athletics, politics and the like – but the advent of the internet and social media has led to a whole different kind of fame, a fame built around likes and shares and the dopamine rush that comes with the clicks that, in some small way, validate our presence.

And there will always be those for whom infamy is just as good.

“Infamous,” written and directed by Joshua Caldwell, takes a look at the dark potential of this thirst for fame. It’s the story of a young couple who find online notoriety thanks to a video record of their criminal exploits across the South. It also serves as a look at the corrupting power of fame, with the pair getting in over their heads; they go bigger and bigger as the internet audience for their spree grows and grows. After all, you’re only as famous as your last post.

Monday, 08 June 2020 14:54

Sorry Ms. Jackson – ‘Shirley’

Written by Allen Adams

The biopic has been a crucial part of the cinematic landscape since the very beginning. So many of our most acclaimed films have been built around the lives and narratives of real people. Whether they are cradle-to-grave or period snapshot, they share the stories of figures that have in some way shaped the world around them.

But when is a biopic not a biopic? When it’s “Shirley.”

The new film – directed by Josephine Decker from a script adapted by Sarah Gubbins from the novel of the same name by Sarah Scarf Merrell – takes a look inside the life of the notable and notorious writer Shirley Jackson, whose genre-adjacent fiction was among the most chilling of the mid-20th century.

With a dynamite performance by Elisabeth Moss in the title role, “Shirley” is not only a deconstruction of its subject, but of the very notion of biographical film. It is a sharp, biting film – one unafraid to lay bare the basic unpleasantness of its characters. By refusing to be bound by traditional tropes, this film offers up a striking and impactful interpretation of the creative process and the emotional and physical struggles that can accompany that process.

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