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

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 2/28/20

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CREDIT: Zach Dilgard/AMC

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

Movies
Burden (Limited Theatrically)
The Invisible Man (Theatrically Nationwide) – It’s invisible, and it’s spectacular!
Saint Frances (Limited Theatrically)

TV
RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 12 Premiere (February 28 on VH1)
Dispatches From Elsewhere Series Premiere (March 1 on AMC) – Jason Segel’s getting all mysterious.
Better Things Season 4 Premiere (March 5 on FX)
Devs Series Premiere (March 5 on Hulu) – From creator Alex Garland!

Podcasts
The Ron Burgundy Podcast Season 3 (Premieres March 5)

‘Downhill’ Demonstrates the Limits of Constrained Remakes

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CREDIT: Jaap Buitendijk/Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Will Ferrell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Miranda Otto, Zach Woods, Zoë Chao, Julian Grey, Ammon Jacob Ford

Directors: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

Running Time: 86 Minutes

Rating: R for Bold Language That Pops Out on Vacation

Release Date: February 14, 2020

Sometimes a remake that otherwise seems pretty pointless can be useful for helping to clarify something that you may have missed in the original. That happened to me with the explosive conclusion of the Korean classic neo-noir Oldboy and Spike Lee’s 2013 remake, and now I have experienced it once again with Downhill, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s take on the 2014 Swedish cringe family comedy Force Majeure. There’s a climactic moment on a ski slope in Force Majeure that felt to me at the time meditative and ambiguous, but when I saw Downhill‘s take, the purpose of that incident was spelled out much more clearly. (Although reconciling these two as congruent requires a specific interpretation of Force Majeure.) There’s an argument to be made in favor of leaving the meaning as subtext, but I know I felt satisfied in the moment. As for the rest of this American version, let’s just say this material is very tricky to make entertaining, no matter what part of the world you’re in and no matter how many times it’s been told.

Force Majeure‘s inciting incident is an all-time doozy, and Downhill does it pretty much exactly the same. The Staunton family on vacation at a ski resort in the Alps when a supposedly controlled avalanche looks like it is about to turn deadly. In a moment of panic, Dad Pete (Will Ferrell) runs away from his wife Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and his two sons. Ultimately nobody is hurt, but the tension remains simmering for the entire vacation. This all plays out in set pieces that are quite often lifted directly from the original. Pete’s psyche breaks down as he cannot bring himself to admit his betrayal, while Billie insists on the version of the truth that she can so clearly see is the correct version, and friends and acquaintances look on horrified, profoundly flummoxed by the impossible task of lightening the mood.

It’s not necessarily a more Americanized version of the same thing, at least no more so than a version starring American actors must necessarily be. Instead, it’s a more mature version, as Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus are more than a decade older than their counterparts, Johannes Bah Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli, were when Force Majeure came out. The original dealt with new-ish parents struggling with their evolving self-identities, while Downhill is about a middle-aged couple despairing, “It can’t be this disastrous after we’ve come so far, can it?!” That’s a theme it would have been wise to lean into more instead of relying so much on the template it had ready to go. But as it stands, it is still a fascinating dive into the panic that arises when we realize that we may never fully know who we and our loved ones really are.

Downhill is Recommended If You Like: Hard Questions

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Avalanches

Jeff’s Wacky SNL Review: Will Ferrell/King Princess

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CREDIT: Rosalind O’Connor/NBC

Hey, you. Yeah, you. Do you want to know a little secret? Will Ferrell is my favorite SNL cast member of all time! He regularly graced the Studio 8H stage from 1995 to 2002, and I don’t think it’s too out of line to say that he appeared in a lot of hilarious sketches that multiple people remember fondly. Since ending his tenure and moving on to other career ventures, he’s also made time to return for some visits, which has led up to him hosting for the FIFTH time on November 23, 2019, thereby becoming only the fourth former cast member to join the Five-Timers Club. Also appearing in an official capacity in this episode is musical guest King Princess. She’s only 20 years old currently, and I think she’s someone we’ll be noticing for a while.

Alec Baldwin-Trump showed up for the White House press conference cold open (Grade: 3/5 Large Pies, Extra Cheese), and somehow it felt somewhat fresh. It helped that it was just a few minutes long, and Will F. imbued some new energy into the proceedings as Gordon Sondland. You can always bank on an excellent Monologue (Grade: 4.5 New Blorks) from Will Ferrell (or as Tracy Morgan says, “Will fuh-RELL!”), thanks to his knack for subverting common monologue tropes. This time was no exception, as he became phantasmagorically puddly-lipped in the presence of surprise guest Ryan Reynolds.

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Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 5/3/19

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CREDIT: Philippe Bossé

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

Movies
Long Shot (Theatrically Nationwide)

Podcasts
Primetime (Premieres May 9) – Hosted by Vox Cultural Critic Todd VanDerWerff!
The Ron Burgundy Podcast – This premiered back in February, but somehow I’m only realizing just now that it’s available.

SNL Review January 27, 2018: Will Ferrell/Chris Stapleton

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CREDIT: Alison Hale/NBC

My letter grades for each sketch and segment is below. My in-depth review is on NewsCult: http://newscult.com/snl-love-itkeep-itleave-will-ferrellchris-stapleton/

A Message From the Former President – B+

Will Ferrell’s Monologue – B+

Air Force Squadron – B+

The House – B+

Dickenson’s Commercial Shoot – B

Southwest Flight Attendants – B

Next for Men – B+

Chris Stapleton (ft. Sturgill Simpson) performs “Midnight Train to Memphis” – B+

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B
Jacob Silj – B+
Bailey Gismert – B-

Cookout/Reality Stars (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+

Dinner Discussion – B

Chris Stapleton (ft. Sturgill Simpson) perfomrs “Hard Livin'” – B

Office Breakroom – B+

Chucky Lee Byrd – B+

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ is Amiably, Almost Transcendently Sweet, Except When Its Nasty Side Mucks Things Up

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2017.

Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, John Lithgow, Mel Gibson, Linda Cardellini, Alessandra Ambrosio, John Cena

Director: Sean Anders

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Alarmingly Near-Lethal Accidents and the Budding Birds and Bees

Release Date: November 10, 2017

There is a principle in improv comedy that stresses avoiding introducing conflict too quickly, as arguments can be anathema to the performative harmony required by yes-and’ing. That same advice is not as often applied to a scripted narrative, as conflict is frequently the engine that drives the plot. But for a family-centric hangout comedy like Daddy’s Home 2, which derives its most humorous moments out of character-based foibles, it might actually be best to keep conflict to a minimum. For its first 30 minutes or so, this sequel easily bests its original by allowing its blended families to be mostly harmonious. But it cannot quite quit its nasty, mean-spirited streak. Still, there are enough moments that genuinely convey the magic of the holidays and the power of choosing love over frustration for this to mostly be a success.

When we first check back in on Brad (Will Ferrell) and Dusty (Mark Wahlberg), they’re the perfect picture of co-dadding. Whenever they are told that theirs is a strange arrangement between father and stepfather, they do not care, because they genuinely get along with each other now, despite their significant differences. But all is not 100% well, as the kids are not fans of swinging back and forth between two houses, especially on Christmas. The solution: one big holiday getaway with all the kids and all the parents, with Brad’s dad Don (John Lithgow) and Dusty’s dad Kurt (Mel Gibson) joining to add a few new wrinkles.

The juxtaposition between these two patriarchs is where DH2 derives most of its laughs. Don and Brad are unabashedly close, always greeting each other with a kiss on the lips. Dusty, meanwhile, resents Kurt for rarely showing up to be an adequate father and grandfather. These stark differences could lead to a bunch of cheap gags, but instead the interplay between this quartet remains mostly palatable, thanks to the sweet treatment of Don and Brad’s closeness, Kurt not being as much of a Neanderthal as the previews implied, and the film clearly presenting his absenteeism and macho bullshit as bad things. Plus, Brad and especially Don avoid being bullied by remaining confident in their identities and playfully acknowledging Dusty and Kurt’s different personal styles.

Thus why it is too bad that DH2 cannot trust itself to maintain this bonhomie. Every little disagreement and accident gets blown way out of proportion. Sure, even people who get along get on each other’s nerves every once in a while, but generally they do not turn into completely unrecognizable assholes, as they do in this film. There are plenty of funny moments of folks just goofing off, so there is no comedic need for all the shouting and chaos.

This over-the-top-tendency does not even touch on the moments of (unintentional?) pure horror, when mishaps with heavy machinery and weaponry result in main characters just a few inches away from death. A snow blower gets stuck in Christmas lights and flies around the house! An errant chainsaw nearly impales Brad! Don gets lost and is almost left facedown in the snow overnight! A shotgun accidentally fires, and the bullet grazes Kurt’s arm! Somehow all this madness leads to a genuinely heartwarming conclusion that almost makes all these extremes almost forgivable.

One particularly insightful scene represents what Daddy’s Home 2 is at its best and for a few minutes, places it among the upper tier of 2017’s cinematic offerings. It is telling that this film understands certain improv principles, as an outing at an improv show demonstrates the danger and revelations that can happen at a live comedy performance. Don has been taking improv classes, so Brad has volunteered him as an audience participant. A prompt for the scene hits a little close to home, exposing the secrets cracking away at his endlessly chipper façade. The wrenching agony on Lithgow’s face presents an actor at the top of his game, always giving his all no matter how silly or sentimental the material.

Daddy’s Home 2 is Recommended If You Like: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Other Guys, Anything with John Lithgow

Grade: 3 out of 5 Loaded Guns (Literal and Metaphorical)

SNL Recap December 12, 2015: Chris Hemsworth/Chance the Rapper

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My full review can be found on Starpulse: http://www.starpulse.com/news/index.php/2015/12/13/saturday-night-live-season-41-episode-

Announcement from George W. Bush – B+

Chris Hemsworth’s Monologue – B

Star Wars Toys – B-

On the Record – B-

Time to Bleed – B

Brother 2 Brother – C

Deborah’s Time – B

Chance the Rapper – “Somewhere in Paradise” – B

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B+
Angela Merkel – B
Leslie Jones – B-

Claire (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+

Pirate Ship – D

Chance the Rapper – “Sunday Candy” – B-

Hunk Junktion – B-

Aron’s List (from Elizabeth Banks/Disclosure) – Original Grade: B-