Dear ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’: I Feel the Joy!

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EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: The Story of Fire Saga (CREDIT: John Wilson/Netflix)

Starring: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan, Dan Stevens, Melissanthi Mahut, Demi Lovato, Graham Norton

Director: David Dobkin

Running Time: 203 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for “Full Nude Sculptures”

Release Date: June 26, 2020 (Netflix)

I have decided to judge the success (or lack thereof) of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga by whether or not it made me want to watch the actual Eurovision competition.

So, did Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga make me want to watch the actual Eurovision competition?

Yes! Very much so!

And that’s significant because previously my interest was in the “Hmm, maybe” vicinity. So that’s got to be an increase of about 50 percent.

I get the sense that a lot of the real-life Eurovision entrants are like Will Ferrell characters, particularly the sincere variety that includes the Icelandic dreamer Lars Erickssong. Or at least I hope that’s the case! Every time I’ve ever heard people talk about Eurovision, they make it sound like the singers are genuine heart-fueled dreamers. So while watching The Story of Fire Saga, I realized, “Oh right, of course, the appeal is obvious.”

Contests like Eurovision can also be counted upon to reveal up-and-coming talented individuals who make you go, “Why am I only now just hearing about you?” That happened for me in Eurovision the movie in the form of Melissanthi Mahut, who plays Greek hopeful Mita. I predict and pray for big things for her in the coming years.

I give Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga 3 Knives out of 4 Elves.

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 6/26/20

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EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: The Story of Fire Saga (CREDIT: John Wilson/Netflix)

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Movies
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (Streaming on Netflix) – Starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as an Icelandic pop duo, just as the Fates predicted.

Music
-Haim, Women in Music Pt. III

This Is a Movie Review: With ‘Disobedience,’ the Rachels Weisz and McAdams Seek Love in an Orthodox Place

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CREDIT: Bleecker Street

This review was originally posted on News Cult in April 2018.

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola

Director: Sebastián Lelio

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: R for Bodily Fluid Swapping

Release Date: April 27, 2018 (Limited)

It’s nice when a movie like Disobedience, which looks like it is on a one-way track to a depressing conclusion, actually manages to have a happy ending. Now, “happy ending” might be a bit of a stretch, as it does not wrap up with the most joyous of notes, but the main characters do have decent prospects for the future, thus managing a note of hope I was nowhere near expecting.

Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) is a photographer living in New York who returns to the insular Orthodox Jewish community in London where she grew up to attend the funeral of her rabbi father, a pillar of the community. While there, sparks re-emerge between her and Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams), a childhood friend and clearly much more. Disobedience then is a close relative to Brokeback Mountain, as it is a gay love story negotiated within an oppressively culturally conservative community, but whereas Brokeback’s arc is tragic, Disobedience manages to be about resolution and compromise.

While the Orthodox Judaism of this film is hardly open-minded to the prospect of a lesbian couple, there are other traditional ideas that manage to be more insidiously oppressive. It feels like a bigger scandal that a woman would choose to be childless or abandon her home than for her to fall in love with another woman. Thus, Ronit bears the brunt of the ostracization, whereas Esti, who has married a man and made a steady living as a schoolteacher, maintains cordiality and respect despite her orientation being something close to an open secret. Esti’s husband Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) knows the truth about her, and he embodies the idea implied by the community that if you are a woman and you have an affair with another woman, it will be more or less ignored so long as you get married and have sex once a week and at least try to have a baby. Disobedience is smart about recognizing that while romance and its attendant passions are important, there are other fundamentals to life that are worth focusing on.

This is a drab film, with characters endlessly dressed in black or other dark tones. Surely that is partly to due with mourning the loss of a loved one, but you get the sense that this is how this community always dresses. Perhaps they are taking a cue from the perpetually rainy weather of their hometown. Even the brunette Esti wears a wig of a darker shade. While these outfits strike me as painfully passionless, much of the community wear them well. Esti can make them work to a certain extent, while Ronit is clearly uncomfortable throughout. This is a story about whether the two of them can meet in the middle, and being surprisingly okay with it when they cannot quite get there.

Disobedience is Recommended If You Like: Brokeback Mountain, Doomed (But Not That Doomed) Romances, Portrayals of Orthodox Life

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Orthodoxies

This Is a Movie Review: Spotlight

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SpotlightNewsroom

There is an inherent drama and urgency in the Catholic Church priest abuse scandal that a film about it does not need to do any work to tease out. But just perfunctorily putting the Boston Globe’s investigation of this story does not automatically make for a great movie. Luckily, director Tom McCarthy and his co-screenwriter Josh Singer make plenty of astute filmmaking decisions alongside their similarly tuned-in cast and crew.

Recognizing that the story itself is plenty powerful (the epilogue text detailing the extent of the abuse is perhaps the most overwhelming moment in any movie this year), the actors on the Spotlight team (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James) keep it understated. As victims’ lawyer Mitch Garabedian, Stanley Tucci is labeled eccentric, but he is actually also low-key. The production design, cinematography, and costumes are all also appropriately drab.

The plot manages to legitimately earn the descriptor “action,” with the editing favoring cross-cutting between various story threads. This plays out as such: Mike Rezendes (Ruffalo) tracks down evidence at the courthouse, and before we find out if he uncovers the right puzzle piece, we check in on Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams) interviewing a victim, but before she gets out all her questions, it cuts back to Mike, and then it cuts around to the rest of the team. This is just Filmmaking 101, creating tension and establishing engagement. Spotlight makes a difference, and it is thrilling.