Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Posted on June 25, 2020 at 5:30 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for crude sexual material including full nude sculptures, some comic violent images, and language
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic mayhem and violence, characters killed, murders, explosions, some grisly images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 26, 2020
Copyright Netflix 2020

Will Ferrell, who co-wrote and stars in “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” knows that it is impossible to exaggerate the sheer nuttiness of the annual song competition, so he does not even try. He just puts us in the middle of it, almost reassuringly bittersweet in the year of the pandemic, which has canceled the real-life Eurovision for the first time since it began in 1956.

Ferrell plays Lars, an Icelander who has been obsessed with winning the song of the year competition since 1974, when he watched the not-yet-world-conquering ABBA win with “Waterloo.” (Do not think too hard about the math. Or the plot. Or anything else.)

ABBA’s stunning appearance had an even more profound impact on another child in the room, Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), who was mute until “Waterloo” inspired her to speak and sing. Now Lars and Sigrit have formed a duo called Fire Saga, and through a combination of events, including having all of the other Icelandic competitors get blown up, they are Iceland’s representatives in the competition, located this year in Edinburgh.

“Wedding Crashers” director David Dobkin keeps things moving briskly, with the highlight of the film a delightfully staged riff-off at a party for the top competitors featuring real Eurovision stars. Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”) has a blast playing the contest’s flamboyant front-runner, the Russian Alexander Lemtov. Just like the real Eurovision, the musical numbers are wildly over-the-top, with klieg lights, gyrating dancers, and outrageous costumes. I mean, Eurovision makes Las Vegas look like a third grade piano recital.

McAdams does not get to show her comedy skills as she did in “Game Night,” but she is always an enormously appealing performer and provides some balance to the goofiness of the Lars character. If Sigrit believes in him, we do, too. Will there be betrayals? Romantic conflicts? Live performance mishaps? A race to the airport? Is Ferrell getting too old for these boy-man roles? And for playing a romantic interest for Rachel McAdams? Are the songs goofy fun? And what about bringing biscuits to the elves? (Ah, surprised you with that one.) All of that, plus the fun of the only Eurovision songs we’ll get this year make this a treat for the pandemic summer.

Parents should know that this film has strong language, sexual references and sexually explicit statues, comic mayhem including murders with some graphic and disturbing images including a severely injured ghost.

Family discussion: Why was Erik so hard on Lars? Why was it hard for Lars to show his feelings for Sigrid? Which song would you vote for?

If you like this, try: “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and watch some of the real-life Eurovision songs on YouTube

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The High Note

Posted on May 25, 2020 at 12:01 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language, and suggestive references
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 25, 2020

Copyright 2020 Focus
If you find yourself, in what all the commercials are calling “these challenging times” looking for cinematic comfort food, “The High Note” is here, and when I say “here,” I mean coming to you in your home. One of the films switched to streaming as the question of when, how, and whether movie theaters will open remains unsettled, “The High Note” is entertaining without being challenging. If its twist is among the least surprising ever scripted, that itself has its own satisfactions when everything else is so uncertain. It’s a Cinderella tale with (not much of a spoiler alert) a happy ending, in a glamorous setting with beautiful people and some good songs.

Maggie (Dakota Johnson) is personal assistant to a world-famous, if slightly fading singer named Grace Davis, played by Tracee Ellis Ross, the daughter of a world-famous and never-fading superstar Diana Ross. Grace has not released any new music in many years, but still fills arenas with adoring fans. Her manager (Ice Cube) is urging her to accept a very lucrative residency in Las Vegas. She can stop touring and sing her hits every night for as long as she wants.

No one pays much attention to Maggie, unless Grace needs some green juice or some highly inconvenient errand run. But Maggie loves music and, though Grace does not realize it, Maggie is Grace’s truest fan, the only one around her who sees her as a songwriter and performer and not just as a nostalgia cash cow. Seeing the world of music, even from the edges, inspires Maggie to want to be a producer. She hesitantly disagrees when a successful producer wants to remix one of Grace’s hits by adding synth, with digitally created voices for back-up singers. And when she meets a young singer/songwriter who busks outside of a grocery store (fast-rising star Kelvin Harrison, Jr. of “Luce” and “Waves”), she tells him she is a producer and persuades him to let her bring him into a recording studio.

So far, so good. But then it veers off the rails. Cinderella without a godmother makeover — fine. “All About Eve” without the ferocious, greedy ambition — also fine. But then we get a wholly unnecessary scheme so preposterous that even Lucy and Ethel would consider idiotic. And Maggie is supposed to be savvy about the music business and supremely competent. The only benefit of this ridiculousness is a lovely scene with Eddie Izzard, who brings such an air of lived-in wisdom that for a moment it almost makes sense. Almost. And the non-surprising surprise is on top of that.

Ross is fun to watch as the diva, especially when she is on stage, the many opportunities she has had to watch from the wings paying off as she brings authentic star quality to her interactions with the audience (for better) and the crew (for not so much better). She’s especially good in a scene where Grace gets real about the prospects for an over-40 woman of color in the music business. Johnson is sadly underused. She has such a rare gift for comedy, glimpsed in “22 Jump Street” and “The Five-Year Engagement” and yet Hollywood keeps casting her as a wide-eyed little mouse. She would have been better cast as the high-spirited roommate (Harrison is the one to watch her, with very bit of the star quality the part or the goofy housekeeper (though Zoë Chao and June Diane Raphael are reliably delightful in those roles). Harrison has all of the star quality his character requires and more, especially impressive given the wide range of his recent appearances.

There are moments when a movie’s predictability is an advantage rather than otherwise. It benefits this film that it is released I such a time, into our homes, where we most appreciate its comforts.

Parents should know that this film includes brief strong language, some sexual references and a non-explicit situation, and questions of parentage.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Maggie tell David the truth about herself? Which song was your favorite? If you were producing a song, how would you begin?

If you like this, try: “Music and Lyrics” with Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant and “Black-is” with Tracee Ellis Ross

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Military Wives

Posted on May 21, 2020 at 5:26 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Not rated, some mature material
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, teen drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Offscreen wartime violence and peril, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters and issues of diversity
Date Released to Theaters: May 22, 2020
Copyright 2020 Bleeker Street

“They also serve who only stand and wait.” Those lines by Milton are a powerful reminder of the quiet struggles of the families left behind when soldiers go to war. “Military Wives” is based on the real-life story of British women who stood and waited while their spouses were fighting in Afghanistan, and came together to form a choir that inspired audiences and led to the creation of choirs on other military bases.

The choir is as much the result of opposing forces as common interests. Kate (a frosty Kristen Scott Thomas) is the wife of one of the base’s commanding officers. He is about to return to duty for the first time since the death of their only son in action. We get a sense of their different ways of grieving — and the way his death has driven them apart — as they talk about a photograph of their son. Should it be left casually on the refrigerator as it was when he was alive or upgraded to a frame and protected by glass?

Lisa (“Catastrophe’s” Sharon Horgan) seems to have been designed to annoy and be annoyed by Kate. She is earthy, unpretentious, and outspoken and just generally messy. She is, in theory, in charge of organizing the morale-boosting base activities for the spouses. But she is not by nature or inclination an organized person. She has a rebellious teenage daughter she can barely manage. And she considers Kate’s “helpful” suggestions snobbish and unrealistic. How much comfort can worried, lonely wives of soldiers get from a knitting club or a film series to explore the auteur theory?

But Lisa cannot dispute Kate’s point that the women “need something to focus on, something to keep them together.” The idea of singing seems to have some appeal. Lisa tentatively agrees but want to keep it casual. “It’s like a drop-in,” she tells the women. “And then you commit,” says Kate. “A lot of fun,” says Lisa. “And uplifting,” says Kate.

They have different ideas about what to sing and how to rehearse. But just as different notes can make beautiful harmonies, the two women find a way to combine forces and even develop some respect for one another. With some bumps along the way. Kate says “it has to be challenging to give them something else to think about.” But it turns out that the challenge is what helps them think about all of it — worry, grief, fear — better.

“It’s like ‘Sister Act’ without the Mafia hit men!” one character says cheerfully. No Mafia hit men, no nuns, but real war, with real casualties, and real pain. The real turning point is when the women bring the people they miss into their performance. And the real highlight is the glimpses we get of the real choir and the others it inspired over the closing credits.

Families should know that this film includes some strong language, teen misbehavior, and sad offscreen war-related injuries and deaths.

Family discussion: Did your sympathies toward the characters shift over the course of the movie? Why? How did characters find different ways to deal with stress?

If you like this, try: “Young at Heart,” a documentary about a choir of elderly singers

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Sing Along With the Beatles: Yellow Submarine

Posted on April 23, 2020 at 5:32 am

All aboard for the Yellow Submarine YouTube Dress-Up Sing-A-Long Watch Party!

This Saturday, 25th April, join in at 9am PDT (12pm EDT/5pm BST) for the Beatles’ celebration of love, music, and surfacing from strange seas into a beautiful world free of the Blue Meanies!

Dress-up as your favorite character from the film and escape with us to a place where, for a little while, nothing is real. Click the bell to set a reminder on this Watch Page.

Share your photos and videos of you singing along in your costumes at home and tag them #YellowSubLive. Following the film, they’ll be sharing your images and videos on Instagram Stories in the Yellow Submarine Sing-A-Long After-Party. For more info about the event visit: yellowsubmarine.com and check out #YellowSubLive

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Animation Cool Stuff Fantasy For the Whole Family Musical

Newsies the Musical on Disney Plus!

Posted on April 17, 2020 at 8:00 am

First it was a movie with a young Christian Bale that never found an audience. Then it became something of a hit on video. Then it was a Broadway  musical. And now that musical is available on Disney Plus.

And of course you can watch the original, too.

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