Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga – A Movie Review

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I totally misjudged what this movie would be about from the little advertising I saw promoting it. The promotions made it look like Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams are avant-garde, haughty, powerful musicians bent on world domination. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a silly, comforting, fun–sometimes even touching–movie featuring two actors who have incredible chemistry and seem to truly enjoy each other’s company.

Will Ferrell plays Lars Erickssong (yes, really), a middle-aged man living with his father and determined to win the Eurovision Song Contest. Rachel McAdams plays Sigrit Ericksdottir (read that last name out loud), Lars’ best friend and possible sister. Together, they make up Fire Saga, a two-person band that can’t seem to find an audience, appreciation, or even respect in their homeland of Iceland.

Through a series of incredible events, they find themselves representing Iceland at the Eurovision Song Contest. There they meet a cavalcade of eccentric European performers. Their friendship is put to the test as temptations, missteps, and even conspiracy threatens their dream.

If all of that sounds very serious … it’s not. This film is full of goofy jokes, ridiculous pratfalls, and hilarious costumes. Yet, the movie does not have a mean spirit at all (other than constantly making fun of European music). When it ended, I actually found myself surprised by the fact that, overall, the whole things was kind of … sweet.

Be warned, though, if you’re watching it with little children, there are some strange moments of violence. I won’t spoil them for you, but I think one might actually be a little frightening for small children. Other than that, though, there isn’t any overt language, nudity, or sex. Oh. Wait. There are some Greek statues that … are rather ambitiously sculpted.

Perhaps most astonishing is the fact that the music is oddly catchy. The final song is actually beautiful. We all know Will Ferrell can sing. What I didn’t know was that Rachel McAdams can carry a tune very well, too. I assumed she lip-synced through the whole thing, but a little research afterwards revealed that she sang all of the songs herself and then they blended her voice with a professional singer’s to create a kind of hybrid.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga features two very likable actors at their absolute most likability. Their characters are strange, naive, and even a little backwards, yet their passion, kindness, and faith in one another takes what could have been a complete farce and turns it into something uniquely sincere.

 

The Gentlemen – A Movie Review

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There’s something about Guy Ritchie British tough-guy movies that I just can’t resit. Sherlock Holmes, Snatch, King Arthur: Legend Of the Sword — these are movies that amuse me to no end.

So, if you’re like-minded, you’ll love The Gentlemen just as I did. It’s a fast-paced gangster movie fraught with frenetic dialogue and cuts that will give you whiplash.

Matthew McConaughey plays Michael Pearson, a very successful American marijuana manufacturer who has cornered the British market. Charlie Hunnam plays Ray, Michael’s assistant. Jeremy Strong plays Matthew, a rich entrepreneur looking to buy Michael’s business. Hugh Grant plays Fletcher, a private investigator looking to blackmail … well, whomever he can. Finally, Colin Farrell plays Coach, a fight coach who unexpectedly gets entwined with all of these people.

As you can imagine, there is a great deal of violence, tons of twists, more than a few moments of treachery, and plenty of inappropriate humor. The movie looks great, as all Guy Ritchie movies do, with incredible set pieces, costumes, and locations.

The real heart of this movie though is the charm that each and every character exudes. No matter how shady they are, no matter how awful they are, they are all charming in their own way. You’ll notice that most of the actors listed above have built a career round not only their acting prowess, but also their innate charm.

This movie won’t change your life or improve the human condition, but it will provide an extremely fun time and wholly entertain you.

Netflix’s Bright – A Movie Review

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I’ve been meaning to watch Bright since 2017. Yes, you read that correctly. For some reason, I started it last night at around 11:00 p.m. and thought I’d watch for an hour or so before going to bed. Before I knew it, the movie was over and it was 1:00 in the morning!

That probably tells you all you need to know.

Though I wanted to see it, I always hesitated to watch Bright because of the strange premise–I just didn’t see how it could work. If you’re not familiar with the concept, imagine that Lord Of the Rings happened 2,000 years ago on Earth. Bright is the modern day consequence of that.

Bright is mostly grounded in the world as we know it. It is gritty, dirty, and sweaty with everyone struggling to pay their bills and earn their pensions. However, it’s slightly different in that orcs, centaurs, fairies, elves, and even an occasional dragon also occupy this reality.

Will Smith’s character, a cop named Ward, has been forced to partner with his precinct’s first orc officer, Nick, played by Joel Edgerton. As you can see in the picture above, orcs are not very pleasant to look at. However, Nick only wants to please Ward and is actually quite unwillingly funny. Smith and Edgerton have great chemistry with each other in what is essentially a cop movie. In fact, though Smith is playing a character with some pretty rough edges, that old Will Smith charm is in full effect and proved delightful to behold.

Though Ward and Nick don’t get along all that particularly well, when an elf fleeing for her life crosses their paths wielding an incredibly rare magic wand, Ward realizes they have to hide both she and the wand or chaos will erupt. Nothing in Bright’s world is more coveted than a magic wand for it can fix any problem ailing someone’s life. That’s when the movie really picks up. Everyone wants that wand. The cops want the wand; the gangsters want the wand; humans want the wand; orcs want the wand; the wand’s owner wants the wand back.

Bright is essentially an action movie with touches of fantasy. That fantasy, though, operates within the confines of the real world, not vice versa, and it is a world fully realized. This world looks lived in, aged, even historical. You will believe all of these different lifeforms have been uneasily living among each other for centuries.

It all sounds so ridiculous as I write about it, and it should not have worked, but it did. Bright was a really interesting, fast-paced movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend that you do.

 

Da 5 Bloods – A Movie Review

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With Da 5 Bloods, Spike Lee has delivered a film full of incredible performances and stunning visuals, but also a film that is inconsistent.

Da 5 Bloods is a Netflix original movie. Netflix is an attractive collaborator for creators because they reportedly exert very little resistance. Spike Lee, Damien Chazelle, Martin Scorsese, Joel and Ethan Coen, Steven Soderbergh, and Alfonso Cuarón are all noteworthy directors who have opted to throw in with Netflix. Such creative freedom, though, can sometimes lead to overabundance.

At just over two and a half hours, Da 5 Bloods is simply too long for the story it chooses to depict. The plot centers around four black Vietnam veterans who have returned to Vietnam in order to locate their squad leader’s body, which they had to leave behind decades before … and also to find dozens of gold bars they hid in the wilderness.

If the film had centered on either one of those two things, it would have been far stronger. As it stands, however, it tries to do both, which results in tone shifts that are jarring to the viewer. The portions relating to their felled leader are poignant, insightful, and evocative. The parts pertaining to the lost treasure are cliched, forced, and borderline absurd.

Even so, there are some amazing performances in Da 5 Bloods. Delroy Lindo deserves nothing less than a “Best Actor” Oscar for his work. He offers a very real, very conflicted human being that we both love and hate. His trauma from Vietnam is heartbreaking. Watching Lindo act makes the film worth your time. He is mesmerizing.

Furthermore, Chadwick Boseman yet again lights up the screen. Frankly speaking, other than Delroy Lindo, no one can keep up with Boseman in Da 5 Bloods. He shines during his scenes in a way that simply overpowers everyone else. Boseman is a gifted movie star, through and through.

Jonathan Majors plays David, the son of Delroy Lindo’s character. I’m not familiar with Majors, but he also won me over. Lee keeps David a bit of an enigma in the beginning of the film–we aren’t quite sure what to think of him. Majors plays the part perfectly as David is the only character that actually shows real change throughout the duration of the movie.

That being said, I liked the other three men played by Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, and Isiah Whitlock, Jr., just as I was supposed to like them. If I’m being honest, though, the writers didn’t give them much to do or say beyond their initial introduction. Those three men seem to essentially repeat the same lines throughout the entire film. Which leads me to my next issue …

Da 5 Bloods’ writing is erratic. I found the dialogue overly repetitive and one-dimensional which, in my opinion, gave the actors less to work with. Lee likes to sprinkle in some history throughout the film, which I enjoyed and learned from, but as the characters talk about this history it seems very wooden and pedantic–not natural to the characters at all. Though the actors are not stiff, their dialogue is.

Also, there were some outlandish coincidences in Da 5 Bloods, coincidences that, at times, stupefied me. I won’t spoil anything, but there are at least three unbelievable moments that are, shall we say, verging upon ridiculous.

Finally, as touched upon earlier, Da 5 Bloods’ tone is literally all over the place. The film starts out as a buddy story with old veterans reconnecting. (There’s a scene where they actually strut dance in a Vietnamese nightclub.) Then they go on a fun-loving treasure hunt. Then they haphazardly search for their dead friend’s body. Then things get very, very violent.

There is no doubt that Spike Lee is a brilliant filmmaker and a tremendously relevant voice. His timing with this movie is both cosmically coincidental and monumentally important. As a nation, we need to remember that black soldiers and freedom fighters have been guaranteeing our country’s ideology since the very beginning even as their own personal rights were being trampled upon. Lee also successfully portrays the PTSD not just of soldiers in general, but even more specifically of African Americans who served in the military.

I truthfully wanted to love Da 5 Bloods. I entered the movie without a shred of objectivity–I was fully prepared to write a rave review, especially because critics seem to adore it. But it would be a disservice to Spike Lee himself if I denied my criticisms. It’s still a very watchable film, however, with extremely important messages. And, like I said, Delroy Lindo’s performance alone is well worth your time.

Netflix’s Always Be My Maybe – A Movie Review

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Maybe you’re like me and you intended to watch Always Be My Maybe with your significant other but you just never got around to it. I’m guessing that–also like me–you’ve found yourself with some extra time and are in search of viewing pleasure. My wife and I watched Always Be My Maybe the other night and we both loved it.

The premise is simple in nature. Sasha and Marcus were childhood friends who spent every moment together because Sasha’s parents were never home–they ran a restaurant. Marcus and his parents, Sasha’s neighbors, pretty much made her a member of their family.

Eventually, during Marcus’ senior year, they drifted apart–the kind of apart where you don’t speak, see each other on Facebook, nothing.

Then, around twenty years later–bam! Fate brings them back together. What happens from there on you’ll just have to see for yourself.

As far as romantic comedies go, this is right up my alley. It’s got some touching moments, but, for the most part, this is very smartly written dumb comedy that comes at you a mile a minute.

Ali Wong and Randall Park have insane chemistry. You will immediately fall in love with both of them. When you see them separately in movies they always shine. But when you put them together it’s a whole new level of likability.

In fact, I challenge you to find any character in this movie who isn’t likable. Even Daniel Dae Kim, who sort of plays a jerk, is likable. Of course, there’s the special surprise cameo … I won’t spoil it for you if you don’t know what I’m talking about, but it was hilarious.

For a romantic comedy, the story really held up well. It actually made sense, seemed to have a target, and unfolded fairly naturally. Sometimes comedies are just a series of gags–not so with Always Be My Maybe. Everything had a purpose.

If you’re looking for something light and funny to watch as a couple, I cannot recommend Always Be My Maybe highly enough. It kept us laughing and entertained throughout.

Netflix’s Extraction – A Movie Review

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If you’re thinking of watching Netflix’s new movie, Extraction, get ready for a wild, entertaining, and ultimately meaningless ride.

Extraction stars Chris Hemsworth as an Australian mercenary hired to retrieve the son of a powerful drug lord who was kidnapped by another powerful drug lord. Much of the story takes place throughout southern Asia and appears to be filmed on location. Hemsworth’s character is the best at what he does, but he’s also a broken, saddened man who seems perfectly fine with dying.

I’m sure this is all nice to know, but none of it really matters.

This is an action movie–through and through. The action, by the way, is hypnotic. There are incredible fist fights, gun fights, knife fights, fist fights with guns, gun fights with knives–you get the idea. I also enjoyed the style of the film. It cut from scene to scene to scene very quickly, almost as though it dared you to look away. Furthermore, the action scenes looked very similar to what you might find in a top-rated video game. They were very tight, almost intimate.

Consequently, like an over-the-top video game, this is an unabashedly violent movie. It’s not gross, but there are lots of blood splatters, blood pools, and just blood in general.

Unfortunately, once you get past the frenetic action, there’s nothing substantive about Extraction. We don’t get much of a chance to care about the boy, Ovi Mahajan, nor do we really even get much opportunity to invest in Hemsworth’s character, Tyler Rake. We’re told why we should care about him, but that’s not the same as actually creating investment in a character. I’d argue that only one character actually demanded our interest, and that was in the form of a quick cameo by a Netflix superstar. I won’t name names, but it was a fun, though brief (and unnecessary), surprise.

While Hemsworth’s physicality in Extraction is mesmerizing, there’s nothing about him in this film that sets him apart from any other classic action hero. He didn’t even get a zippy catchphrase like you would expect from Arnold, Sly, or Bruce. In fact, Hemsworth barely speaks at all in Extraction. We all know that Hemsworth oozes charm, charisma, and can be quite funny. None of that was on display in Extraction.

Finally, the ending really bothered me. And when I say the ending, I’m talking about the last two seconds of the movie. What little emotional investment I developed quickly fluttered away during those last two seconds.

In the end, Extraction is a fast, entertaining action film. It won’t capture your heart or your imagination, but it will certainly thrill, and it will look good while doing it.

 

Code 8 – A Movie Review

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Have you noticed a movie on your Netflix Top Ten list called Code 8? Know anything about it? No? I didn’t either.

In fact, it wasn’t until I read an article over at Wired that I even became aware of Code 8. This movie has a fascinating history, one that prompted me to see the film

In short, this was a crowd-funded independent film that began as a short, then had a limited theater release, and is now part of Netflix’s Top Ten. That’s quite a story in and of itself!

Starring Robbie Amell and his cousin, Stephen Amell, Code 8 is about a city full of super powered beings who are treated as second class citizens. Despite their power, they are discriminated against, hated, and treated less than human. These are not super heroes–these are just regular people trying to squeak out a living. When the mother of Robbie Amell’s character desperately needs expensive medical treatment, he turns to Stephen Amell’s character and a life of high-paying crime in order to save her. But how high of a price is he willing to pay, even if for his mother’s life?

If the name “Stephen Amell” sounds familiar to you, it’s because he played Oliver Queen on the CW’s Arrow. His cousin, Robbie, also played a smaller role on the CW’s Flash. I’d like to say that it was refreshing to see Stephen Amell playing a different kind of character. There were plenty of similarities, to be sure, but Stephen definitely has a “star” quality. And, frankly, so does Robbie. Both men more than carried Code 8.

Speaking of which, is Code 8 actually any good?

Yes, it is. At just over an hour and a half, it’s full of action, has some cool special effects, and it knows how to tease us with the captivating robotic police officers called “Guardians”–they give us just enough of these things to satisfy, but definitely leave us wanting more.

However, Code 8 didn’t quite stick the landing for me. I felt that the last five minutes were a little awkward and inconsistent with the rest of the film. Generally speaking, though, Code 8 kept me entertained, and what more can you ask for during these difficult days?

If you enjoy action, sci-fi, fast-paced movies, or just simply the Amell cousins, I recommend you give Code 8 a chance.

 

Onward – A Movie Review

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We love both Disney and Pixar in this family, so we intended to see Onward in the theater. Unfortunately, the outbreak had other plans for everyone.

Amazingly, Disney rushed Onward to video-on-demand weeks after its theatrical release. Until this moment in time, such a thing was unprecedented. Perhaps even more surprising, Disney announced that Onward would then arrive on Disney+ soon after the video-on-demand debut. Though I would have otherwise paid for Onward with video-on-demand since the entire family could enjoy it, we decided we could instead wait until it came to Disney+ since we subscribe to that service.

Onward debuted on the streaming platform today, and we just finished watching it.

First of all, the animation is incredible. It’s a beautiful movie to watch, and the details are now so nuanced in these things that you can actually see dust particles in the air. Secondly, it’s a very fun movie. The idea of fairy tale creatures living in modern times is not necessarily new, but I haven’t seen it done before with quite such an irreverent attitude. Biker pixies? Yeah, so what? Garbage eating winged-unicorns? Big deal. Dragons as house pets? Not impressed. I found this blase tone of the movie in regards to these things really funny. Finally, it’s hard not to root for characters played by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. These are two of Hollywood’s most likable men, after all.

And while my kids enjoyed it well enough, and I enjoyed it well enough, it didn’t touch me the way typical Pixar movies do. Cars, Toy Story, Coco, Inside Out–these are Pixar films that sparked a real emotional connection with me. On paper, Onward should have, but it didn’t.

Is this because of the movie, or is this because we were all piled on the couch, hitting pause for snacks, and talking whenever we felt like it? I don’t know. I’d love to know what your experience was like with that aspect of home viewing.

However, it is certainly a fun family movie. I absolutely recommend it if you’re all looking to spend some time together watching a film. It’s funny, has great graphics, and moves very quickly. Just don’t expect that emotional touchstone. Maybe that’s not a bad thing during these hard times? Nothing wrong with a little fun escapism, right?

Mute – A Movie Review

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Mute is a sequel of sorts to Moon, which you may remember I enjoyed quite a bit. Ducan Jones wrote and directed both, so it makes sense that they exist in a shared reality.

I have to admit that I did not enjoy Mute nearly as much as Moon. Mute has a run-time of two hours and six minutes, and because it felt every bit of that, I found myself drifting away. The movie is very slow to start and features Alexander Skarsgård in the beginning, which also contributed to my disinterest. In Mute, he plays the protagonist, and a mute hero at that. Skarsgård is a fine actor, particularly when he plays a villain, but he just can’t carry a movie as the star in my opinion.

The plot features a man living in Berlin in the near future. He grew up disconnected from technology and suffered a terrible accident in his  youth, which led to his muteness. He’s now a bartender, and when his troubled girlfriend goes missing, he desperately tries to find her. As he searches, he becomes mired in all kinds of villainy.

Like I said, the first half of this movie is rather slow. However, when Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux begin to dominate the second half of the film, it really picks up. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed the last thirty minutes. Rudd and Theroux play former military medics, men who seem decent enough, but as the movie progresses, their depravity becomes more and more apparent. I enjoyed the end so much because I’ve never seen Rudd play someone quite as edgy as “Cactus Bill.” He fully committed to his role, and he mesmerized me much like Sam Rockwell did in Moon. In fact, had Mute featured only Rudd and Theroux, it would have been far more captivating (though it obviously would have needed a different title).

That’s really the main issue I have with Mute–it’s almost two different movies in one. One movie features a silent man looking for his missing girlfriend, the other features two men who are very likable but also really quite awful. Eventually their worlds collide, but only because they must.

If you want to see Paul Rudd do something drastically different from his usual fare, I highly recommend Mute–his charisma is no less potent even as a morally ambiguous miscreant. However, if you’re just looking for something to stream on Netflix, I wouldn’t settle on Mute. Pick Moon, instead.

 

Knives Out – A Movie Review

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I saw this quite a while ago but never got around to reviewing it. However, now that I see it is available on demand, and because quite a few of us have a lot of extra time on our hands, I thought I’d share my thoughts.

First of all, if you’re looking for a compelling grown-ups movie, a movie that a couple might enjoy for a “date night,” this is the one for you.

It is funny, mysterious, thrilling, and–best of all–endlessly entertaining.

The general plot revolves around a famous author dying unexpectedly at home while his entire family happens to be visiting. Each member of the family stands to benefit from his death, and each is a suspect. They, consequently, believe that his home health care assistant–Marta Cabrera–could be at fault. Daniel Craig enters the movie as Detective Benoit Blanc, a seemingly inept investigator. He doesn’t even know who hired him, but he means to get to the bottom of this mystifying case.

The acting in this film is a hoot. Daniel Craig utilizes a ridiculous southern drawl that doesn’t take long to become charming. Chris Evans is at his absolute best when he’s playing a cocky jerk. Ana de Armas loses every ounce of glamour as Marta which makes her all the more sympathetic. And those are just the main players! The film also has excellent performances from Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, and Christopher Plummer.

The writer and director, Rian Johnson, reminds us that movies don’t have to have huge special effects, CGI, or muscular people in tights to be great. This movie thrives on an irresistible mystery, quirky details, and superb acting.

Like I said, if you need a movie that will appeal to a variety of grown-ups, you can’t go wrong with Knives Out.