CREDIT: David Lee/Netflix; Walt Disney Studios/YouTube Screenshot

Da 5 Bloods

Starring: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Johnny Trí Nguyễn, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Victoria Ngo

Director: Spike Lee

Running Time:

Rating: R for Sometimes Shocking, Sometimes Not-So-Shocking Graphic Violence

Release Date: June 12, 2020 (Netflix)

Artemis Fowl

Starring: Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Tamara Smart, Nonso Anozie, Josh Gad, Colin Farrell, Judi Dench

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: PG for Goofy Fantasy Action

Release Date: June 12, 2020 (Disney+)

I was so worried that I was going to spend so much of my time watching Da 5 Bloods bemoaning its lack of a theatrical release. For one thing, the event status of a Spike Lee joint is unavoidably diminished by an at-home debut, and furthermore, I was concerned that even if I was really feeling it, there would be too many distractions fighting for my attention. Regarding the former, I just had to make peace with that fact. As for the latter, I can’t tell you the last time a Netflix release pulled me in with such a firm grip and refused to let go. A prologue swoops in hard and fast with real-world contextualizing footage from the Vietnam War era: Man goes to the moon! Muhammad Ali refuses to serve! Riots at the DNC! Nguyễn Ngọc Loan is executed! If you look away for even a second, you’re going to miss something essential.

It also helps majorly that all the characters – every single one of them – truly pop. The titular bloods are a group of African-American Vietnam vets returning to Southeast Asia in the present day to recover some valuables they buried in the jungle while serving: some gold bars, as well as the remains of their fallen comrade, Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman). Their bond is palpable, and the one who absolutely takes over everything is the MAGA-hatted Paul (Delroy Lindo). I can’t say I was expecting a black Trump supporter to be the most compelling movie character of 2020, but here we are.

Everyone else makes an indelible impression as well, from Jonathan Majors as Paul’s indefatigable and resentful son, to Mélanie Thierry as a fully intriguing landmine disposal activist, to Jean Reno as a possibly double-crossing French businessman, to Veronica Ngo as the smooth-talking Hanoi Hannah who evokes the power of radio DJs in Spike Lee films à la Sam Jackson in Do the Right Thing.

With Da 5 Bloods‘ violent turns and its appetite for taking on the civil rights struggles in America that persist to this day, it is – as I’m fond of saying about ambitious films – a lot to digest. I don’t know if Lee has successfully accomplished all he set out to do here. Nor do I know if he ever possibly could have done that, or if it’s possible to even know the answer to that question just days after watching. But I do know now that the power of cinema can still knock you out even when you’re perfectly comfy on the couch.

Weirdly enough, that revelation was kind of true as well during my viewing of Artemis Fowl. The reviews for this adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s fantasy novel have been looking uniformly dire, but I still wanted to check it out. After all, I am a critic who prides himself on seeing as many new films as possible, even the bad ones, just so that I can have the benefit of knowing what they are all about. And since I’ve already got the Disney+ subscription, I had no good reason not to give this bad boy a spin. But would I be able to pay attention at home to something so uninviting?

As it turns out, Artemis Fowl is able to grab my attention, at least initially, with the promise of a whole mess of nonsense. As a gravelly-voiced Josh Gad informs us (in quite possibly the performance of his career), everyone is after this deadly weapon called the Aculos. But I’m much more interested in his claim that Ireland is the “most magical place on Earth,” which leads right into some footage of the boy Artemis (Ferdia Shaw) surfing along the rocky crags. As someone who’s never read Colfer’s books, that’s not something I expected to see, but I immediately wished this whole movie could’ve just been Artie training for a surfing contest. We also quickly learn that this young lad is a master chess player, architect, and cloner of goats, and this all sounds delightful so far, but it’s probably a lot more than any one movie can satisfactorily contain, at least not one that’s a mere hour and a half.

After the promise of that intro, we then jump ahead to the core of the story, and it feels like we’ve skipped about 400 pages of backstory. The action henceforth mainly cuts back and forth between the Fowl mansion and the underground world of magical creatures, and the film’s approach to action and narrative momentum feels like a classic case of working around a shoestring budget. But that’s rather puzzling, because even though Artemis Fowl is arriving straight-to-streaming, it was originally meant to open in theaters, and it was produced with a corresponding Disney-sized budget. In summation: too much nothingness, right amount of Josh Gad, not enough Irish surfing.

GRADES:
Da 5 Bloods: 4 out of 5 Gold Bars
Artemis Fowl: 2 out of 5 Aculoses