The King Of Staten Island (Various platforms including Sky Store and Amazon Prime Video, 15)Verdict: Engaging and funny Rating: Da 5 Bloods (Net
The King Of Staten Island (Various platforms including Sky Store and Amazon Prime Video, 15)
Verdict: Engaging and funny
Da 5 Bloods (Netflix, 15)
Verdict: Timely but flawed
Never mind Staten Island, Judd Apatow is often described as Hollywood’s king of comedy.
His long list of credits as director, writer or producer (and sometimes all three) includes the Anchorman films, Bridesmaids, Trainwreck and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
On the whole, he likes his comedy broad and unsubtle. You could say his films are as broad as they are long. Apatow has not, in his illustrious career, learned the art of brevity. In that respect, The King Of Staten Island is no exception.
It runs for about two-and-a-quarter hours — the same length as your average superhero blockbuster. We could all do with a trim in these days of lockdown and that, it seems, includes movies.
Still, at least watching at home means we can hit the pause button for toilet breaks, mealtimes and exercises designed to prevent cramp in both the body and mind. And at least Apatow is merely this week’s apprentice in the business of making over-long films. I’ll come back to the master, Spike Lee, later.
Pete Davidson as Scott Carlin in “The King of Staten Island,” directed by Judd Apatow
Moreover, for a good deal of its 136 minutes, The King Of Staten Island is funny and engaging. Its leading man is Pete Davidson, with whom you might not be familiar, but in the U.S. he is a star turn on the TV institution Saturday Night Live.
He has also co-written this film, which is significant, because it has thunderous personal resonance. Davidson plays Scott, a 24-year-old deadbeat who spends his life smoking dope with his loser buddies, decorating them with bad tattoos, and having sex with his girlfriend, Kelsey (a scene-stealing performance by English actress Bel Powley.)
He also has attention deficit disorder and a debilitating dose of arrested development. Some of this is explained by the shadow that has loomed over his life since he was seven, when his firefighter father died in the line of duty.
On Staten Island, the most suburban of New York City’s five boroughs, Scott lives with — and, in his own awkward way, loves — his mother Margie (Marisa Tomei), and younger sister Claire (the director’s daughter, Maude Apatow).
Claire has shunted him into another emotional shadow with her academic achievements. She’s the golden girl, off to college. He’s the misfit. But when Margie starts dating for the first time since her husband died, Scott finds a purpose beyond his doomed ambition to open a tattoo-themed restaurant.
He’s had a run-in with her new suitor, Ray (Bill Burr), who also happens to be a firefighter. Scott makes it his mission to break them up. A lot of this is autobiographical. Aged seven, Davidson lost his firefighter father (on 9/11). He is a tattoo nut.
Art imitates life even to the extent that Steve Buscemi, whose character works with Ray, used to be a fireman himself. Maybe it imitates life, too, in the way Scott gradually acquires empathy and a measure of social responsibility.
Life and art also converge in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods. The Black Lives Matter movement could hardly provide a more timely backdrop to his story of four African-American veterans of the Vietnam War (Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr).
Chadwick Boseman in Da 5 Bloods, set in the Vietnamese jungle where gold is stashed
The group returns to the Vietnamese jungle to find a stash of CIA gold they buried during the heat of battle decades earlier. Their fallen commander Norm (played in flashback by Chadwick Boseman) told them that they, the ‘bloods’, deserved to keep it by way of reparations for all the injustices they and their forebears had suffered back in the States.
The film chronicles their modern day efforts to find it, and indeed find him. Norm’s remains are still out there, and the quest to honour him gives the story its emotional propulsion, lest we think they’re just in it for the money.
Lee himself is propelled by his long-simmering rage over racial inequality which, as I say, couldn’t be more timely. He peppers the film with images of African-American heroes, and there’s no doubt that the distressing footage of the assault on George Floyd would have been in there too, had it happened sooner.
Unfortunately, and not for the first time, this grievance-driven agenda, while fully justified, undermines the quality of Lee’s storytelling. Characters are woven into the plot so they can educate us, not each other. Slowly but surely, in a film so long it appears to unfold in real time, the credibility of this tale is sapped until finally it dries up altogether.
It’s a fairy good effort from Dame Judi!
Artemis Fowl (Disney+, PG)
Verdict: Not so special
This unwieldy mash-up of the Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings films could be mischievously dubbed Lord Of The Potters, or Harry Of The Rings, were if not for conspicuous streaks of Star Trek in there, too.
Let’s just say it feels highly derivative from the moment, early on, that we meet Josh Gad’s Mulch Diggums, a hairy rascal who acts as a kind of whispering narrator. He could easily be a close cousin of Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid in the Potter series.
I haven’t read Eoin Colfer’s bestselling books myself, not even to my children when they were younger, but I know enough about them to be aware that Kenneth Branagh’s long-awaited film adaptation fudges much of what gave the stories their appeal. I suspect true fans will cry ‘Fowl’.
Judi Dench seen in full make-up and costume during in a scene from Artemis Fowl
Here, Artemis (Ferdia Shaw) is a 12-yearold genius (‘When he was ten, he cloned a goat,’ Diggums tells us) who shares his home on the coast of Ireland with his father, Artemis Sr (Colin Farrell) and their faithful retainer, Domovoi Butler (Nonso Anozie).
Artemis Sr is an antiques dealer, but is also thought to be a criminal mastermind responsible for the theft of such priceless artefacts as the Rosetta Stone and the Book of Kells. Artemis knows him only as a kindly, loving dad, but Artemis Sr is clearly mixed up in something fishy because he gets kidnapped by malevolent fairies who want the magical Aculos, a kind of glowing pine cone, which he has pinched, and keeps hidden in Fowl Manor.
With it, they can destroy all of humankind. Meanwhile, the good fairies are after the Aculos too. They are led by Commander Root (Dame Judi Dench, acting her socks off despite a hairdo that brings John Bercow distractingly to mind, and an accent that meanders between Limerick and Somerset).
All this plunges Artemis into a magical world his father has always shielded him from. Can his preternatural intelligence keep him safe, and help him outsmart the forces of evil? That’s one burning question.
Another is whether Artemis Fowl will be, as Disney hopes, the new Harry Potter. Paradoxically, that’s precisely the problem. He needs an identity of his own, and this film doesn’t really provide it.