It is now planned that most cinemas will reopen on July 31 with special safety measures in place. Once open, this column will resume reviews of new releases. However, in the interim the following are available for viewing on various streaming platforms
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (12A)
There may not have been an actual Eurovision this year, but, directed by David Dobkin, this Will Ferrell comedy perfectly captures the contest’s self-parodying multi-cultural kitsch. Unfortunately, it takes an often laborious two hours for what is essentially a sketch that, at best, should never have gone beyond 90 minutes. Obsessed with Eurovision from the moment he saw ABBA perform Waterloo on TV in 1974 as a child in his small fishing village, obliviously naïve Lars Erickssong (Ferrell in long blonde wig) has had only one goal, to win for Iceland. Though derided by his buttoned-up fisherman father (Pierce Brosnan, playing it relatively straight with a wink in the eye), who reckons his son’s wasted his entire life and the villagers, who only want to hear them play their banal risqué ‘hit’ Ja Ja Ding Dong, it’s dream shared by Sigrit Ericksdotti (Rachel McAdams), his elves-believing childhood best friend and platonic sweetheart who’s also his musical partner in Fire Saga.
Katiana (Demi Lovato) is already the foregone conclusion as the country’s entry, the rules see Fire Saga randomly selected to make up the numbers and failing badly. But, when the boat on which all the other contestants are partying explodes, killing everyone on board, the selection committee find themselves who choice but to enter the duo and their song Double Trouble, much to the relief of Victor Karlosson, the Central Bank of Iceland governor, who reckons winning would bankrupt them.
Arriving in Edinburgh for the contest, they get to meet all the other country’s entrants, most specifically Russia’s preening, fake tan lothario Alexander Lemtov (a brilliant Dan Stevens) with his homoerotic entry Lion of Love who sets his sights on seducing Sigrit, getting Greek contestant Mita Xenakis (Melissanthi Mahut) to distract Lars. The whole romantic subplot (Sigrit wants love, Lars is too scared to get involved) lumbers badly as the relationship strains at the seams, McAdams feeling somewhat constrained and uncomfortable in her performance while, by contrast, Ferrell again serves up his silly man child excesses and penis jokes that have long ceased to be particularly funny.
There is, though, much fun to be had in the over the top costumes and musical elements, kicking off with Fire Saga’s wonderfully ridiculous Volcano Man video with Lars in Viking costume and running through the different country’s entries (any of which could have been actual Eurovision songs, such as Swedish hip-hop outfit Johnny John John’s Coolin’ With Da Homies) to the giant hamster wheel disaster during the duo’s semi-finals performance and the big finale where, hitting her semi-mythical “speorg note,” Sigrit gets to sing her self-penned Icelandic anthem, Homeland.
There’s also an exuberant ‘song-along’ sequence at Lemtov’s house as all the guests, who include actual former Eurovision stars, among the Austrian drag queen winner Conchita, in a mash-up of Believe, Ray of Light, Waterloo and I Gotta Feeling, while 2017 Portuguese winner Salvador Sobral cameo as piano-playing busker. It slips up on some of the technical details (Eastern European hosts in Edinburgh?), but at least Graham Norton appears as his sarcastic self as the UK commentator, whose observations on the Icelandic entry might well also apply to the film itself. Netflix
Set almost entirely within a commercial airliner cockpit and, for the most part, a solo tour de force Joseph Gordon-Levitt, told in real time this German-made thriller by director Patrick Vollrath unfolds an attempted Berlin to Paris midflight hijacking. Gordon-Levitt is Tobias Ellis, the American first officer, and the early scenes establish his relationship with the affable Captain, Michael Lutzmann (Carlo Kitzlinger) and stewardess Gokce (Aylin Tezel), his partner and mother of his two year-old son.The mundane is quickly shattered when, shortly after take-off, two Islamic terrorists attempt to storm the cockpit armed with blades made from glass. Ellis manages to force one back, but the other, more elderly of the two, wounds both Lutzmann and Ellis before being overpowered and tied up.
Alerting air control that they’ve had a 7500, it’s now Ellis’s job to make an emergency landing at Hanover. However, it’s not going to be that easy. First, Lutzmann dies and then, contacting him over the intercom, a particularly violent terrorist threatens to kill one of the passengers until Ellis opens the cockpit door. Which, of course, he is forbidden to do, piling on the pressure as he’s conflicted between duty and morality.
It’s not too difficult to guess how another hostage situation develops, but then matters take a dramatic swerve when the captive terrorist escapes and allows his younger colleague (Omid Memar) to gain access, setting up a new dynamic between the three of them, especially given the teenager is less persuaded he wants to die for the greater good.
Other than scenes played on the black and white door monitor, it all takes place within the cockpit, ramping up the tension and claustrophobia as the power dynamics shift back and forth. There’s no conventional Hollywood heroics although the screenplay does take a slightly predictable clichéd turn in the final stretch, though not without diluting the violence and tension. Gordon-Levitt delivers a persuasive naturalistic performance while the ending is suitably anti-climactic in the numbness of the aftermath. Amazon Prime
Da 5 Bloods (15)
Opening with Muhammed Ali’s famous 1978 speech about refusing to drafted for the Vietnam War and proceeding through a collage of footage of African American soldiers in the conflict, Kwame Ture’s declaration that “America has declared war on black people” and Angela Davis warning that “If the link-up is not made between what’s happening in Vietnam and what’s happening here, we may very well face a period of full-blown fascism very soon,” all set to Marvin Gaye Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) with its line about “trigger-happy policing”, it’s clear that Spike Lee’s latest resonates loudly with the current protests in America and beyond.
That, however, remains a subtext to this thematically sprawling, tonally inconsistent but undeniably compelling tale of a group of African-American veterans reuniting many years later to revisit Vietnam. Ostensibly, the reason is to recover the remains of their former squad leader, Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), who was killed during an operation, and return them for burial. However, through a flashback to the mission, it’s quickly revealed that the overriding motive for most of them is to recover the caseful of US gold bullion intended for the South Vietnamese allies which they stumbled upon and buried to reclaim later since, as Norman puts it, “the USA owe us. We built this bitch.”
The four middle-aged buddies comprise Otis (a soulful Clarke Peters), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr) and Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Trump-supporting Paul (Delroy Lindo), the latter the most troubled of the group, haunted by guilt nightmares and suffering PTSD for reasons only revealed (not easy to surmise) in the final stretch when he loses it completely. Joining them, much to his father’s displeasure, is Paul’s concerned teacher son David (Jonathan Majors) while their guide for the trip is Vinh (Johnny Trí Nguyễn).
To get the gold out, through Tien (Lê Y Lan), a former prostitute who was Otis’ lover during the war (and by whom he discovers he has a daughter), they strike a deal with shady French businessman Desroche (Jean Reno), while, later in proceedings they cross paths with Hedy (Mélanie Thierry), founder of a landmine removal organisation, and her two colleagues. You don’t have to be a genius to know that, as the plot twist and personalities, motives and paranoias clash, there’s be fallings out, double crosses and at least one incident involving buried mine.
Nodding to a range of touchstones, among them Treasure of the Sierra Madre and, inevitably, Apocalypse Now (even down to using Ride of the Valkyries), it rattles along between the present quest and flashbacks to the fateful mission as the group dynamics swing from one extreme to another, one minute addressing the estranged father/son relationship, the next focusing on how Blacks were exploited as the war’s cannon fodder (cue a recreation of Hanoi Hannah broadcasting her propaganda) while maintaining a basic action movie narrative as it heads for the inevitable showdown between the Bloods, those who want to take the gold and Paul’s meltdown (a sterling turn by Lindo) as the truth of what happened to Norman back in the day emerges.
Co-written Lee’s BlacKkKlansman co-writer Kevin Willmott, its convoluted and narratively messy, but, between an amusing nightclub dance sequence, a scene where two elderly ex-Viet Cong but the Bloods a round and the powerful central performances, it keeps you glued throughout its two hours plus. Netflix
A White White Day (15)
Iceland’s unnominated Oscar submission for last year’s Oscars, opens with a car veering off through the barriers on a cliff road in the rain and then proceeds through a montage of shifting fixed camera images of an isolated house as it and the landscape changes over the months and seasons. Finally we are introduced to middle-aged police chief Ingimundur (Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson), who was widowed in the opening accident (and is undergoing therapy), who has brought pre-teen granddaughter, Salka (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir) to live there with her mother. As the film slowly progresses, he comes across evidence that his wife might have been having an affair, and starts stalking the man he suspects, even to the extent of joining a rival soccer team. The more disturbed he becomes, the more it affects his relationship with Salka.
Maybe it’s something to do with the Icelandic sensibility, but it’s a strange, at times detached, film. At one point, Ingimundur throws a large rock he drives over on the clifftop road over the edge and the camera watches it plunge into the ocean over 13 different shots and then there’s the scene where he tells Salka a bedtime ghost story that would be enough to have anyone hiding under the sheets in terror and a kids TV show featuring an astronaut screaming to viewers how everyone’s going to die. And then there’s the ending.
Enigmatic and challengingly patience-testing say the least, but let it slowly creep up on you and it becomes a haunting experience of grief, loss and emotional breakdown. VoD
Artemis Fowl (PG)
Originally planned for a 2019 release, then postponed, this adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s first of his eight Artemis Fowl novels about the teenage Irish anti-hero now bypasses cinemas altogether to debut on Disney +. It doesn’t arrive trailing exactly enthusiastic reviews, but despite its many faults – among them some wooden acting, clunky dialogue and anonymous direction from Kenneth Branagh – it ends up being quite fun, at least for the target audience.
Of course, Colfer fans will doubtless complain that it’s got ahead of the series and, rather than the 12 year old criminal mastermind in the original first few books, young Artemis (a somewhat stiff Ferdia Shaw) is already the plucky hero he becomes later, but really that’s neither here nor there and the film does nod to that by having the elder art dealer Artemis (Colin Farrell) being accused of being an international thief whose been stealing precious artefacts from around the world and storing them in his remote clifftop sprawling mansion where he lives with his son and bodyguard Butler (Nonso Anozie) and, brought in for added protection (even if she vanishes from the plot for long stretches and doesn’t really seem to do much), Butler’s niece Juliet (Tamara Smart).
Well, yes and no. He has, but in order to protect the world from a dangerous magic. You see, he’s apparently the only human who knows of the existence of a subterranean fairy world populated by trolls, goblins, dwarfs and the like, from which he’s stolen something called the Aculos to prevent it from being used to by dark forces to destroy all humans and dominate fairydom.
He’s also been teaching young Artemis (initially coming across as a bratty whiz kid) all about leprechauns and the other fairy legends as if they were real which, when dad disappears (abducted by some mysterious hooded figure who wants the Aculos to do exactly what I mentioned above), he quickly learns it is when, after subduing rampant troll marauding through a wedding (all humans put into a time freeze in the process and then mind-wiped), young (well, 84 years is teenage in fairy years) LEPrecon operative Holly Short (a perky elfin Lara McDonnell), the daughter of the late supposed traitor Beechwood, a friend of Fowl Sr who helped purloin the Aculos, disobeys orders and winds up his captive.
This prompts the LEPrecon Commander Root (Judi Dench dressed in lime green, sporting elf ears and speaking like she has gravel in her throat) to time freeze Fowl Manor and send in the winged troops to rescue her, and find the Aculos in the process. However, having bonded, Artemis and Holly are now working together to find where dad’s hidden it and rescue him.
All of this is told in flashback by giant dirt eating dwarf digger Mulch (Josh Gad) who’s being interrogated by some sort of British secret service and who also plays a major role in the battle at the manor.
The obvious influences, chiefly Men in Black (Artemis dresses in black suit and wears shades), Harry Potter (Mulch as surrogate Hagrid) and Star Wars (Farrell’s captor akin to Palpatine), do it no favours by comparison, but despite some confusing transitions, it rattles along quickly enough to keep its target audience distracted and the visual effects are definitely impressive. Like the ill-fated The Golden Compass 2007 adaptation before it, it ends setting up the main characters for the next stage in the adventure. That never saw light of day, but, perhaps Disney’s new streaming platform may yet give Fowl a fair chance of magicking up a franchise after all. Disney +
Joan of Arc (12A)
Set in 1425, Bruno Dumont’s sequel to Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (again starring Lise Leplat Prudhomme, then 8 now 10) details the final months of her life after failing to capture Paris and being brought to trial for heresy, defying the king (Fabrice Luchini) and wearing men’s clothing and eventually burnt at the stake. It is, however, an inert piece of work, characterised by long static scenes such as Joan standing along looking to the skies to the sound of interior monologues in the form of electronic pop songs in an eerie falsetto by the late, then 73-year-old, French former pop star Christophe (the previous film had heavy metal). There’s talk of battles, but none are seen and much of the early going involves different characters talking in the middle of sand dune, some suggesting he might appeal to her soldiers’ basic instincts rather than their piety, while the latter, trial, section has assorted priests doing much the same in a cathedral, keen to delegate any responsibility for her death to the secular authorities.
A series of stylised, starkly staged consultations, prayers and pronouncements, it barely registers a heartbeat, although Prudhomme has a compelling blank charisma and there is an inspired sequence, shot both at ground level and overhead, of Joan putting her cavalry through a bizarre pre-battle dressage display. Even so, you need to be a real Dumont fan to sit through it. VoD
Before he became famous as a mime artist (today celebrated as the greatest ever), Marcel Marceau had an ever more significant impact on history when, as part of the French Resistance, was directly responsible for saving the lives of hundreds of Jewish children from the Nazis. A pity then that Jonathan Jakubowicz’s biopic is such a workmanlike affair as, told in flashback as Ed Harris’s General Patton addresses his troops in 1945 Nuremberg, Jessie Eisenberg wrestles with a French accent as, initially lacking in empathy Marceau, the son of a Jewish Strasbourg butcher, is recruited by politically active cousin Georges (Géza Röhrig) to entertain a bunch of kids orphaned by the Nazis and, with the help of brother Alain (Félix Moati) and lukewarm love interest Emma (Clémence Poésy), becomes with the Lyon-based Resistance and outwits urbane but monstrous Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer as somewhat of a parody villain) to get them to safety in Switzerland.
Game of Thrones star Bella Ramsey is compelling as Elspeth, one of the orphans who witnesses her parents executed by the Nazis, and but Eisenberg feels miscast as Marceau (and his mime is nowhere near as fluid), while, for all the drama and tension involved in an enterprise where they could be exposed at any moment, Jakubowicz never really succeeds in bringing the film alive. Amazon and others