While most movie theaters are still closed until July at the earliest, new films are still hitting the streaming services every day. And this weekend just might be the best showcase for movies yet, with the release of Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods on Netflix, Artemis Fowl on Disney Plus and The King of Staten Island with Pete Davidson on premium video on demand.
The three films couldn't be more different. Da 5 Bloods is a war drama from the iconic, Oscar-winning Lee about a group of African American veterans. Artemis Fowl is a YA fantasy adventure with elves, fairies and dwarves. And The King of State Island comes from Judd Apatow, his first scripted directorial project since 2015's Trainwreck.
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While Lee chose to work with Netflix for Da 5 Bloods, the other two movies were intended for theatrical release. However, the coronavirus pandemic upended Disney and Universal's plans. Luckily, for Artemis Fowl, it found a natural home in Disney Plus. As for Universal, they experienced huge success by releasing Trolls World tour online (even if it got the studio in hot water with movie theatre chains).
Speaking of which, AMC recently announced that it will reopen "almost all" of its U.S. locations in July. The first movies to roll back into theaters could be the Russell Crowe thriller "Unhinged" on July 1, followed by Christopher Nolan's "Tenet." Of course, it remains to be seen whether people will feel comfortable going back to theaters, even with safety measures put into place.
In the meantime, we've still got our pandemic saving grace, streaming. Here's what to know about the three big movies debuting this weekend.
Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
Spike Lee's newest joint wasn't intended to be so timely, but then again, the director has always been ahead of his time in speaking to the truths that underpin our society. Just watch his video "3 Brothers," which takes footage from his 1985 film "Do the Right Thing" and mixes it with footage of the deaths of George Floyd and Eric Garner. Da 5 Bloods centers on a war that took place over 40 years ago, yet the themes resonate deeply today: While black people fought for civil rights, they were also sent to the front lines to fight for a country that treated them as lesser than.
The story follows four African-American Vietnam veterans who reunite in Ho Chi Minh to retrieve the remains of their fallen squad leader Stormin' Norman (Chadwick Boseman). All of them — Eddie (Norm Lewis) Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), Otis (Clarke Peters) and Paul (Delroy Lindo) — are struggling with personal issues as well as memories of their time in Vietnam. But recovering Norman isn't their only goal; they're equally hellbent on finding a gold stash buried with him. As Norman says (in flashback), "War is money and money is war." And doesn't this band of brothers deserve to get what they're owed?
Da 5 Bloods continues Netflix's strategy of targeting top, iconic directors and shoving a ton of cash at them to make an original that the company can take to awards season. See: Martin Scorsese's The Irishman and Alfonso Cuaron's Roma. Can Da 5 Bloods be Netflix's big Oscar movie in 2020? Possibly. And it might be a chance for the Academy to make up for its many years of wrong in ignoring Lee's work.
Artemis Fowl (Disney Plus)
Artemis Fowl is Disney Plus' first major original movie (no, we don't count the live-action Lady and the Tramp), but don't expect it to get the kind of fanfare and attention that The Mandalorian series got last fall. Releasing Artemis Fowl feels less like a bold decision and more of "well, we have this banked, so why not?"
The $125 million Kenneth Branagh–directed fantasy film is based on the 2001 YA novel by Eoin Colfer and follows the titular Irish prodigy (Ferdia Shaw) on a wild adventure. He teams up with his faithful servant, a dwarf and a fairy in order to rescue his father, Artemis Fowl I (Colin Farrell), who has been kidnapped by a gang of fairies looking to reclaim an item the Fowl family has stolen.
Adapting Artemis Fowl into a movie began not long after the book came out — so long ago, that it was developed under the Miramax banner. The project then sat in development hell for years, until 2013, when Disney announced it was co-producing it with The Weinstein Company (yeah ... a certain figure was removed as an executive producer). Branagh was hired, production started and finished and a release date was set for August 2019. Then, after Disney absorbed the entertainment properties of 21st Century Fox, a bunch of movies were shuffled around and Artemis Fowl was delayed once again to May. And of course, then, the coronavirus pandemic completely upended Hollywood's film calendar.
Is Artemis Fowl cursed? Maybe. Is it any good? Disney Plus subscribers will be the judge of that. But we can't help but note that Disney didn't put any of its big spring blockbusters, like Mulan and Black Widow, on the streaming service, but is rather holding them for eventual theatrical release. Take that as you will.
The King of Staten Island (premium video on demand)
While Judd Apatow has seemingly been ubiquitous in the comedy scene in recent years, he really hasn't. He hasn't directed a scripted film since 2015's Trainwreck. Before that, it was 2012's This Is 40. Apatow's mostly had a hand behind the scenes as a producer. Meanwhile, Saturday Night Live's Pete Davidson has felt like a ubiquitous figure, though less for his comedy and more for his high-profile romantic relationships.
Much like his other films, The King of Staten Island is portrait of arrested adolescence, this time featuring Davidson's slacker man-child Scott. In the semi-autobiographical tale (which was co-written by Davidson, Apatow and Dave Sirus), Scott's firefighter dad died when he was young and now as an adult, he lives with his mom (Marisa Tomei), smokes pot and goofs off his with his friends. But when his mom starts dating another firefighter (Bill Burr), it forces Scott to start growing up, even just a little.
Perhaps Apatow has grown up, just a little, too. The King of Staten Island is perhaps too long (an Apatowian trait) but reviews praise it as darker, more vulnerable, more emotional, less of a joke fest. It's more of a drama with funny lines. And Davidson just might be the next breakout star to come out of SNL.
Universal has been bolder than other studios during the pandemic in dabbling in the digital realm. The company rushed the VOD releases of its early 2020 movies, like The Invisible Man. Then, it pissed off theatre owners by giving Trolls World Tour a digital debut and talking about future use of premium video on demand. Now, this is just the second Universal title to get a digital-first release, so it's not quite a revolution yet. But if The King of Staten Island performs well, then maybe we can start writing those thinkpieces.