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Eurovision Song Contest - The Story of Fire Saga: You can't parody something that is by and large already a self-parody

Reviews: Eurovision Song Contest - The Story of Fire Saga, The Girl with a Bracelet, Fanny Lye Deliver'd, Irresistible, and the best of streaming

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Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams play Icelandic duo in the Eurovision send up

Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams play Icelandic duo in the Eurovision send up

Steve Carrell and Rose Byrne

Steve Carrell and Rose Byrne

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Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams play Icelandic duo in the Eurovision send up

Gone be the days when the Eurovision Song Contest might launch enduring pop careers and display some of the best song-writing talent in the world.

Since then - as we know all too well - it has become a slickly produced farce where the aim is to out-kitsch everyone else with any gimmick to hand. But if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, as they say. Many have come to embrace the Eurovision's annual slab of silliness and celebrate it as a reality freak show to escape into.

The first question upon seeing this comedy send-up from producer and star Will Ferrell and director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, Shanghai Knights) is how to parody something that is by and large already a self-parody? The answer is you can't, which from the very get-go renders this two-hour-long film as an exercise in futility.

Ferrell and Rachel McAdams play Icelandic music duo Alexander and Sigrit. Their smalltown dreams of pop stardom are going nowhere fast, until, that is, they win their national Eurosong contest by default after an explosion wipes out the competition. Much to the chagrin of Alexander's stern father (Pierce Brosnan), the pair set off for the extravaganza in Edinburgh and are thrown right into its ultra-camp carnival.

Cracks appear when Sigrit is charmed by a louche Russian competitor (Dan Stevens) and Alexander is seduced by the feisty Greek entry (Melissanthi Mahut). This and the inevitable run of calamities that befall the pair are the many staples that every talent-contest film falls into line with. These are not that harmful to the film. What really drags it down is how hard it tries to conjure up laughs that simply aren't there in the writing via Ferrell's braying, a trend in many of his films.

It's funny there should be a running joke here about US backpackers treating Europe like a playground because it can feel like that is exactly what Ferrell and co-writer Andrew Steele are about. It's as if he discovered this gas eurotrash curiosity (Ferrell's wife is Swedish) and wants to give US viewers a crash course in it.

McAdams (the film's best asset), the Icelandic landscape, and the reliably giddy stage pizzazz offer the better moments here. Ferrell undoes any good work by toggling into "force-feed" mode with his comedy shtick. And the harder he tries, the more we recoil.

Eurovision Song Contest - The Story of Fire Saga Cert 15, Netflix

★★ Hilary A White

The Girl with a Bracelet

Cert: Club; Curzon Home Cinema

Lise (Melissa Guers) is arrested on a beach while relaxing with her father (Roschdy Zem) and brother. She is taken away by police and charged with stabbing her best friend to death after a party.

Over the course of the subsequent trial (and the purgatorial interim where Lise must wear an ankle bracelet so that her movements can be traced), we are drawn into the most intimate confines of this 16-year-old at the centre of the case.

Writer-director Stephane Demoustier wants us to try to find the mind's construction in the face, and to grapple with that difficult moment when parents must accept their child has a private life. As Lise is cross-examined, enclosed behind glass like a zoo animal, we are challenged to discard ideas and prejudices about young people and "what they get up to" as they try to find their way into adulthood.

Making her screen debut, Guers is the epitome of still waters running deep, while Zem and Chiara Mastroianni (as Lise's mother) give sensitive portrayals of parents thrust into a frightening position. There is a brewing feeling of their victimhood as well throughout which raises the stakes as we approach the final furlong and the jury's decision.

As good a courtroom drama as you're going to see anywhere this year. ★★★★ Hilary A White


Fanny Lye Deliver'd

Cert: N/A; now streaming

Three years' delay doesn't usually bode well for films but Thomas Clay's Fanny Lye Deliver'd has not suffered from the budgetary constraints that got it stuck in post production. It's a historical drama with modern, indeed eternal sensibilities and while it slows in places, it is atmospheric and intriguing and features superb performances.

In 1657 Oliver Cromwell's England is a tough place after war and under puritanical religious fervour. Fanny (the always reliable Maxine Peake) is married to devout and devoted Cromwellian John (Charles Dance) who believes that sparing the rod will spoil not only the child, a quiet son called Arthur (Zak Adams), but the wife - both are beaten often. Fanny's survival thus far has seen her learn to adapt, to submit, to obey and to hide her intelligence.

Two strangers Thomas (Freddie Fox) and Rebecca (Tanya Redmond) arrive claiming to have been robbed on the road. Hearing that Thomas too fought for Cromwell, John allows them to stay a while but then a 'popinjay' sheriff (Peter McDonald) arrives and suggests the strangers are not what they seem. The film takes surprisingly gory, but no doubt accurate, turns at times as it wanders through genres to tell the tale of Fanny Lye's delivery from oppression. I enjoyed it.

In 1657 Oliver Cromwell's England is a tough place after war and under puritanical religious fervour. Fanny (the always reliable Maxine Peake) is married to devout and devoted Cromwellian John (Charles Dance) who believes that sparing the rod will spoil not only the child, a quiet son called Arthur (Zak Adams), but the wife - both are beaten often. Fanny's survival thus far has seen her learn to adapt, to submit, to obey and to hide her intelligence.

Two strangers Thomas (Freddie Fox) and Rebecca (Tanya Redmond) arrive claiming to have been robbed on the road. Hearing that Thomas too fought for Cromwell, John allows them to stay a while but then a 'popinjay' sheriff (Peter McDonald) arrives and suggests the strangers are not what they seem. The film takes surprisingly gory, but no doubt accurate, turns at times as it wanders through genres to tell the tale of Fanny Lye's delivery from oppression. I enjoyed it.

★★★ Aine O'Connor


Irresistible

Cert N/A; now streaming

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Steve Carrell and Rose Byrne

Steve Carrell and Rose Byrne

Steve Carrell and Rose Byrne

American comedian Jon Stewart's first original screenplay is released, very deliberately, into the run-up to the US elections. For a large part of the film it is what you expect it to be: a relatively familiar satire of a clearly flawed electoral system. But it reveals layers and makes turns that show up new flaws with the old. It's light and it's funny but it has a point. At the end the title comes up and the middle syllables are clear: irRESISTible.

In the aftermath of Hillary Clinton's presidential defeat, campaign manager Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) sees redemption in a Wisconsin veteran (Chris Cooper) who stands up for immigrants. Gary sees an opportunity to break the deadlock of usual demographic electoral stereotypes; the story takes off, and he and his bitter rival (Rose Byrne, together, above)) find themselves leading the Washington campaign/lobbying juggernaut in small-town America.

Initially I was disappointed to see Stewart trade in such a hackneyed 'sophisticate versus hick' trope, but suffice to say I needn't have been. As a comedy it works, but there is more to it than that.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Also streaming

With news on the horizon of cinemas reopening and a partial return to normality, it will be interesting to see how much movie-watching habits will have changed.

Until then, we’re stuck with the small screen. That shouldn’t be so much of an issue for fans of Downton Abbey (Sky/Now TV), most of whom will have seen last year’s lavish film adaptation. Meringue-light, fit-for-purpose and laced with withering Maggie Smith zingers, this is actually a perfect entry point for newcomers to the big-house franchise.

Curzon Home Cinema will be showing exclusive features from the Edinburgh International Film Festival over the coming days. Among them is Clemency, the winner of this year’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize. It tells of a death row warden played by Alfre Woodard, who is struggling under the weight of her job (which, you’d imagine, is no surprise).

Also available will be Rebuilding Paradise, a new documentary from director Ron Howard about the devastation brought to a Californian community after their town was destroyed by the deadliest US wildfire in a century. Another documentary airing will be Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, which takes a global perspective on the impact mankind is having on this planet, and Young Ahmed, a Belgian radicalisation drama from the always compelling Dardenne brothers.

A bit of Nordic noir for you, this time from Iceland. A White, White Day (BFI Player) places an obsessive cop (Icelandic powerhouse and Cannes winner Ingvar Sigurdsson) in a police procedural against the singular backdrop of that North Atlantic island. Hlynur Palmason’s latest film has the look of being an off-kilter sensory chiller.

Thrills of a more hi-octane (and reportedly schlocky) nature are to be found in The Courier (Netflix), as Olga Kurylenko’s London motorcyclist runs into a spot of bother when she is charged with an explosive package. Somehow, Gary Oldman was convinced to co-star.

Japan’s role as a curiosity shop for Western sensibilities continues with Family Romance (BFI Player). In it, Werner Herzog investigates the weird world of rent-a-family businesses, who can be employed to fill in for underperforming relatives. Don’t say you’re not tempted.

Hilary A White

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