Artemis Fowl *1/2
Da 5 Bloods
Those who know Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl
YA fantasy book series know the titular 12-year-old protagonist as a “criminal mastermind”—and without that anti-heroic edge, it’s hard to know what the hell was the point of this flaccid movie adaptation. Here, young Artemis (Ferdia Shaw) lives with his widowed antiquities-dealer father (Colin Farrell) in their seaside Irish mansion, and soon learns that Dad’s infatuation with the lore of fairies, dwarves and such is based on their very-real existence when a mysterious figure kidnaps Artemis Sr. and holds him for ransom for a super-powerful magical whatchamacallit. The plot is a thin set-up to introduce fanciful characters like fairy cop Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) and oversized dwarf/inveterate thief Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad), along with the underground metropolis of magical creatures that gives director Kenneth Branagh’s film its only real visual flair. Otherwise, all you’ve got is a few generic action sequences built around relationships that are stated rather than felt, and crap dialogue like Artemis Sr. asking Artemis about his belief in magical things, and Artemis responding, “All I really want is to believe in you.” The dull protagonist’s occasional insouciance and a fantasy world painfully lacking in detail aren’t much of a foundation for a kiddie diversion steeped in blandness. Available June 12 via Disney+.
Da 5 Bloods ***
When Spike Lee directs a motion picture, he gets every last penny out of directing a motion picture—and that remains true in this sprawling drama. Four Vietnam war buddies—Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Eddie (Norm Lewis)—reunite back in Ho Chi Minh City 50 years later in an attempt to recover the remains of their squad leader (Chadwick Boseman), and perhaps also some CIA gold that never found its way to the South Vietnamese. Thematically, Lee and his co-screenwriters are all over the map, ranging from the complicated legacy of African-Americans fighting for America, to Vietnam’s own damaged post-war history, to the estranged relationship between Paul and his son (Jonathan Majors). And Lee lets loose everything in his filmmaking arsenal for this wide-ranging story, employing multiple film stocks and aspect ratios, inserted images of historical figures, a blatant music-cue nod to another Vietnam War film, and the intriguing conceit of using the same actors in the flashback sequences with no effort to make them appear younger. But as typically messy a Spike Lee joint as this is, it’s still generally compelling, whether in the tense life-or-death moments or in Lindo’s magnetic performance as a traumatized, Trump-voting veteran. It’s not a tidy movie, but as the story finds an overlap with current events, it feels pretty on the money for our untidy nation. Available June 12 via Netflix.
King of Staten Island **1/2
See feature review
. Available June 12 via VOD.
Pioneers of Queer Cinema
Three films for one price presenting three 1920s/1930s German-language features on queer themes: Mädchen in Uniform
and Victor and Victoria
. Available June 12 via SLFSatHome.org.
Sometimes Always Never **
Quirkiness should be a seasoning, not the meal, and misunderstanding that chemistry is a big part of what makes this odd bauble from director Carl Hunter and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce so frustrating. At its heart, it’s a tragic tale—about the relationship between Scrabble-obsessed widower Alan Mellor (Bill Nighy) and his son, Peter (Sam Riley), which has been complicated by the disappearance of Peter’s older brother Michael as a teenager many years earlier. But the dynamic that should have driven the story emotionally—basically, to use the metaphor employed frequently within the film, what it’s like for the brother who isn’t the “prodigal son” on that Biblical story—gets sidetracked through multiple subplots, including Alan’s interactions with Peter’s teenage son, Jack (Louis Healey), and even Jack’s own first romance. And that’s saying nothing of the devices Hunter uses to further distance his narrative from the real world, like animated snippets and old-school green-screen backdrops for the driving sequences. Nighy and Riley are quite good whenever they actually get to interact together, capturing plenty of unresolved mourning between the two men. It’s just hard to connect with that pain in a movie that can’t seem to stop winking at you. Available June 12 via SLFSatHome.org.