Cinematic Spillover: Short reviews of The King of Staten Island, Da 5 Bloods and Artemis Fowl

Universal Pictures / Netflix / Disney+

We’re still a few weeks away from movie theaters screening new releases. So, here are a few short reviews of some of the films that hit VOD, Netflix and Disney+ today.

Artemis Fowl

Based on a series of fantasy novels written by Irish author Eoin Colfer between 2001 and 2012, the first book of the adventure franchise about a 12-year-old mastermind has been adapted for Disney+. Artemis Fowl stars newcomer Ferdia Shaw as the title character, a young boy who goes on search for his missing father (Colin Farrell). When he finds out that the stories his criminal dad told him about fairies are real, he kidnaps one of the winged creatures, so he can gain leverage and get his father back from a mysterious, evil pixie. The world building in Artemis Fowl is messy. None of the fantastical characters – from elves to goblins to trolls – register as very creative. Even the soldier-like fairies, who are led by Commander Root (Oscar-winner Judi Dench) and feature the most prominently during the breezy albeit boring 95-minute quest, feel underwritten and meaningless. Despite the film being in the more-than-capable hands of Oscar-nominated filmmaker Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Cinderella), Artemis Fowl’s narrative is twisted into so many knots, the youngest of viewers will find it challenging to keep the story straight, especially with an unnecessarily complicated plot. Like the YA novel series Percy Jackson, the stories of Artemis Fowl might have had a loyal following when they debuted, but it’s easy to see why both franchises were overshadowed by the Harry Potter books, which hit store shelves around the same time. Adapted as a film, Artemis Fowl lacks imagination, focus and an engaging and likeable tween hero. Artemis Fowl debuts on Disney+ June 12. 2 out of 5 stars (not recommended)

Da 5 Bloods

The first hour of director and Oscar-winning screenwriter Spike Lee’s new joint, Da 5 Bloods, is magnificent storytelling that is honest and timely. Lee follows four black Vietnam veterans, who return to the jungles that took the life of their squad leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman). There, they plan to bring home the remains of their fellow soldier, but also dig up a trunk filled with gold bars the fivesome buried for safekeeping decades prior. During this section of the film, Lee presents audiences with the kind of compelling perspective we’ve grown to love about the filmmaker over his 40-year career. In Da 5 Bloods, he questions why so many black American soldiers were sent into an immoral war to die for a country that didn’t see them as equals. It’s an impactful setup into a drama brimming with depth and powerful flashbacks. During these flashback scenes, Lee does something inventive and allows veteran actors Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis and Delroy Lindo, in an Oscar-worthy supporting role, to play their own characters (without makeup or digital effects) during the Vietnam War instead of casting younger actors. After the first hour, however, Da 5 Bloods loses its direction and settles for being a buddy adventure with graphic violence. It veers off the road in a clumsy way, but Lee, and especially Lindo, keep the narrative from hitting a ditch by making the politically charged core of the film as red-hot as possible. Da 5 Bloods debuts on Netflix June 12. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)

The King of Staten Island

Films about the arrested development of a man-child aren’t anything new in the Hollywood canon, but when a writer/director like Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, The 40 Year-Old Virgin) decides to take a stab at it, most mainstream comedy fans will sit up and watch to see how he makes the theme distinctively Apatow-esque. Fortunately, there is a lot more that is good than not in Apatow's first film since 2015’s Trainwreck. It still features, however, some of his bad habits, which he hasn’t been able to shake during his career (like squeezing in unnecessary scenes that make the overall run time of the film almost maddening). The film stars Pete Davidson (TV’s Saturday Night Live) as Scott Carlin, a 20-something year old slacker, who still lives in Staten Island with his mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) and spends his time smoking weed with his equally lazy friends Igor (Moises Arias), Oscar (Ricky Velez), and Richie (Lou Wilson), and friend-with-benefits Kelsey (Bel Powley). When his mom starts dating new guy Ray (a fantastic Bill Burr), Scott takes it upon himself to make life for them difficult. He’s angry that Ray works as a firefighter like his own father, who died in the line of duty when Scott was a kid. In real life, Davidson’s father was a firefighter who died during the 9/11 attacks in New York City. The parallels between Davidson’s life and his character’s give Staten Island a sense of authenticity, which is difficult in this particular comedy because of the sensitive nature of the situation. However, Apatow maneuvers his way through his screenplay with both heartfelt and darkly funny moments. Comedians, of course, mine for that perfect combination of pain and humor though their own life’s tragedies, and Davidson has more than most to pull from. With him and Burr leading the way, Staten Island is oddly charming. Watch it and then make it a double feature with Jay and Mark Duplass’ 2010 comedy Cyrus, which also features Tomei in a similar role. The King of Staten Island debuts on VOD June 12. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)

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