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Granger at the Movies: ‘Da 5 Bloods,’  ‘The Great,’ ‘Artemis Fowl’

By Susan Granger

Special to WestportNow

Admittedly, it’s early to speculate on the 2021 Academy Awards, but I suspect Spike Lee’s new movie, “Da 5 Bloods,” streaming on Netflix, will be a factor, along with Delroy Lindo’s dynamic performance.

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Exploring racial inequity through the lens of the Vietnam War, it’s the story of four African-American veterans who gather at a bar called Apocalypse Now in Ho Chi Minh City. They’re embarking on a dual mission: to recover the body of Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), their revered squad leader, and find a cache of gold bars they’d buried after he was killed.

Otis (Clarke Peters) has organized the expedition. When he visits Tien (Le Y Lan), a Vietnamese woman who was his lover while stationed in Saigon, he discovers he has a grown daughter (Sandy Huong Pham).

And it’s Tien who connects Otis with Deroches (Jean Reno), the shady Frenchman who will set up offshore accounts to help them launder the gold originally sent by the US as payment for South Vietnamese fighters.

Venturing into the jungle, Otis’ companions include skeptical Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), genial Eddie (Norm Lewis) and deeply disturbed Paul (Delroy Lindo), an avid Trump supporter, wearing a MAGA cap. At the last minute, they’re joined by Paul’s estranged son David (Jonathan Majors).

Between eerie wartime flashbacks and historical montages, along with unexpected encounters with land-mine locators and rogue Vietnamese soldiers, tension mounts – augmented by spectacular tracking shots filmed in Thailand and Vietnam by cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel.

The compelling screenplay by Spike Lee and Kevin Willmott revises a previous script, “The Last Tour” by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, which focused on aging white veterans, and it’s obvious how much Lee was influenced by his favorite film: John Huston’s “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” (1948).

“We flipped that concept. Put our flavor on it, some barbecue sauce, some funk, some Marvin Gay. And there you have it,” Lee says.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Da 5 Bloods” is a fiercely relevant, timely 10. “When you’ve been in a war, it never ends…”

Elle Fanning stars in “The Great,” a cheeky 18th century comedic drama about Catherine the Great of Russia, billed as “an occasionally true story.”

When optimistic 19 year-old Catherine (Fanning), daughter of a German aristocrat, arrives in Russia for an arranged marriage with Czar Peter III (Nicholas Hoult), she has no idea what a cruel, erratic idiot he is, more devoted to his whores and horses than her or his country.

Since better educated, bookish Catherine is of little or no interest to him, aside from bearing him a son, Peter appoints Leo (Sebastian de Souza) to be her lover, since he’s known to have a large, but sterile organ.

“Peter did not have an entirely bad heart,” Catherine once observed, “but a weak man usually does not.”

So, as her husband wages a continuing war with Sweden, Catherine systematically gathers her own idealistic power base, including her lady-in-waiting Marial (Phoebe Fox) and Count Orlo (Sacha Dhawan).

It was Orlo who came up with the diabolical plan: “It is better we secure the palace, arrest him, get him to sign an abdication, send him to house arrest, and then burn the house down…”

Eventually, Catherine has Peter deposed in a 1762 coup, so she becomes Empress of Russia, determined to bring female education and enlightenment through the arts and science to her people.

Scripted by showrunner Tony McNamara (co-writer of Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite”) the 10 hour-long episodes, filled with absurd palace intrigue and farcical depravity, are of varying quality, cohesion and interest.

One major aberration is presenting Peter III as Peter the Great’s son; in reality, he was his grandson.

This mini-series has no relation to nor should be confused with last year’s HBO mini-series “Catherine the Great,” starring Helen Mirren. And for those who enjoy old movies, back in 1934, the Russian ruler was embodied by Marlene Dietrich in “The Scarlet Empress.”

On the Granger Gauge, “The Great” is a bawdy, satirical 7, a royal romp.

Disney disasters are rare but the big-budget, live-action fantasy “Artemis Fowl” is certainly one of them.

Based on Erin Colfer’s popular YA novels of the same name, it’s been ineptly adapted by Irish playwright Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl and clumsily directed by Britain’s Kenneth Branagh (“Thor,” “Murder on the Orient Express”).

Set in Northern Ireland, it focuses on Fowl Manor, where a wealthy art and antiques dealer, Artemis Fowl Sr. (Colin Farrell), has gone missing, much to the distress of his precocious 12 year-old son, Artemis Jr. (Ferdia Show), a criminal mastermind who has already mastered biotechnology (by cloning a goat), emerging as a surf-loving, nerdy chess champion.

The police are questioning compulsive thief Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad), a “giant dwarf” who growls and looks like a close relative of Harry Potter’s hirsute pal Hagrid.

“Let me show you the possibilities of magic,” Diggums teases, describing a high-tech fairy city located deep in the Earth’s core, operating under the aegis of 803 year-old Commander Root (Judi Dench), who enlists officer Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) to find a powerful weapon called the Aculos, stolen by Artemis Sr., who’s being held for ransom by evil pixie Opal Koboi (Hong Chau).

Meanwhile, back at spacious Fowl Manor, arrogant Artemis Jr. and his guardian Domovoi Butler (Nonso Anozie) capture and team up with plucky Holly Short, initiating a “time freeze.”

While this choppy, confusing film lacks plot cohesion, character delineation and concept development, it boasts a dense abundance of visual effects, including the pointless introduction of fanciful Irish folkloric creatures like dwarfs, leprechauns, trolls, centaurs and goblins.

On the Granger Gauge, “Artemis Fowl” is a dreadfully disappointing 2. Don’t bother streaming on Disney Plus.


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(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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