With the quick closure of all cinemas due to the global pandemic, movie studios have been forced to adapt to the changing environment by completely re-evaluating their release schedule. Every film scheduled to be released from late March to mid-July has already been pushed back to later this year or into 2021. However, some studios have taken a glimpse at some of their finished films and have sacrificed the theatrical experience to release the films at home via either rental through Video on Demand or a streaming service, like Netflix. As someone who loves going to the movies and makes an effort to see at least the majority of new releases in theaters, this past Friday, June 12, was easily the biggest day for new film releases since social distancing guidelines have been put in place. The high volume of films that were released for home media earlier in the pandemic had already been in theaters for a short period of time, while there were a few films that were supposed to hit theaters, like “Trolls: World Tour” and “The Lovebirds,” sprinkled at home throughout the past few months. The releases of “The King of Staten Island,” “Artemis Fowl,” and “Da 5 Bloods,” all on one day excited me because it felt like a common release slate for movies coming to cinemas. It’s a small note, but one that made me feel like the world was finally getting back to normal, especially with two of the three films being great watches.

“The King of Staten Island” was the first film of the lot that I watched because it was definitely the one I was most excited for. I am a huge fan of the star and co-writer, Pete Davidson, as well as the director, Judd Apatow. I think this pairing came together to create a hilarious character study about someone who just doesn’t have his life together yet. The film follows Scott (Davidson), a tattoo addict who still lives at home and dreams of becoming a tattoo artist, despite not being very good at it. Davidson sells this character incredibly well in what is his best performance. When the film begins, you have very little sympathy for his character. He gets high with his friends and makes poor, irrational decisions. But as the film progresses, Scott’s layers begin to get peeled back, which reveals trauma he experienced as a child and keeps him rooted in his ways. The other standout is stand-up comedian, Bill Burr, who gives his best performance and who has an interesting relationship with Scott. I won’t dive into what makes his character so important because it changes so much throughout the film and was easily my favorite part. To top it off, Burr is hilarious in this film and gets some of the most laughs. My one main issue with this film is one that I have with most Judd Apatow movies. This film, and almost all of his others, starts very strong. The first hour is packed with character development and relentless laughs. Right after this, the laughs become less frequent and the focus turns to the dynamic between the characters and to growth and drama, rather than comedy. Comedies like these tend to flow best while staying under a two-hour runtime, but Apatow tends to overstay his welcome. “The King of Staten Island” is Apatow’s second longest film at two hours and 17 minutes. While I was never bored, 20 minutes could have easily been cut to make a more cohesive and tight experience. Nevertheless, this film was a blast and I highly recommend it. You can rent “The King of Staten Island” on Video on Demand.

Grade: B

The second film I watched was my least favorite by the largest margin. “Artemis Fowl” is one of the most corporately ruined movies that I have ever seen. This movie is completely devoid of any artistic quality or vision of a single director. The style of credited director Kenneth Branagh, mainly known for his Shakespeare films as well as “Thor” and “Cinderella,” is completely lost here. There’s almost no story to talk about because nothing of importance ever happens. Artemis Fowl Sr. (Colin Farrell) is kidnapped by someone, leaving Artemis Fowl Jr. (Ferdia Shaw) to find a certain artifact to trade for his father back. However, in the earth’s core lives all sorts of fairy-tale creatures, like trolls and elves, who also want said artifact. So, the two sides confront each other at Fowl Manor and remain there for the entire runtime of the film. If it sounds boring and lifeless, that’s because it is. The entire cast gives awful performances, worst of all from Josh Gad and Judi Dench. Both choose to use very deep and gruff voices that create unintentionally hilarious moments throughout. Ferdia Shaw is also not a great lead, as Artemis Fowl is easily the least endearing or interesting character of the lot. It is tough to blame these actors though because the writers clearly had no idea what to do with this story or the characters. At the end of the film, Artemis declares himself a “criminal mastermind” which doesn’t make any sense because he didn’t do anything resembling a crime throughout the film. I don’t think I have ever seen such an inactive and worthless protagonist on screen. I haven’t read the “Artemis Fowl” books, but I assume they had to be at least decent to have a film adaptation. Whatever made those books charming was completely lost in this film. As mentioned before, my only reason to ever recommend someone to watch this movie is for the “so-bad-it’s-good” moments. To give you an example, this is the type of movie where Judi Dench, as Commander Root, tells another character to, “Get the four-leaf clover out of here.” In this regard, “Artemis Fowl” is a masterpiece.

Grade: D-

My new favorite movie of the year (by default and also because it’s amazing) is Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods.” After watching this film, it is an understatement to say that Spike Lee is the most powerful filmmaker working today. Sure, others deliver emotionally resonant work, but with “Da 5 Bloods” and 2018’s “BlacKKKlansman,” Spike Lee has made two gut-wrenching films that comment on the black experience in the world of film, as well as in the present social climate. This film could not have been released on Netflix at a better time, amidst rallies for the Black Lives Matter movement, making it an absolutely essential viewing for everyone. The film follows four black Vietnam War veterans who return to Vietnam in the present day to retrieve their commander’s (Chadwick Boseman) remains. Along the way, the group encounters several situations that test their morality and force reflection on the war itself. Lee blends so many different themes and genres into this one film that it’s incredible how coherent it is. At its surface, it’s an action movie with tense moments and violence, but it’s also a commentary on black people’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the tense relations between the Vietnameese and the black soldiers upon returning as well as a character study of what war has done to these four men. The action is certainly a standout, but some of my favorite moments came at the beginning of the film, when the main characters discuss the reasoning for returning to Vietnam and their negative feelings about the war. It’s an angle that has rarely, if ever, been explored through film, which is a testament to Spike Lee’s power as a filmmaker. I can’t say much else about the film without spoiling it, but it is essential to watch this film if you have a Netflix account. It’s brutal, raw, emotional, poignant and at times, hilarious. 

Grade: A

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