FlixChatter Review – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020)

I heard about the new Netflix movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga much sooner than most casual Netflix streamers and American audiences. The reason for this was my loyal following of the Eurovision Song Contest, or just “Eurovision” – a contest that started in Europe in the mid 1950’s, around the time of the formation of the European Broadcasting Union. It is the European Broadcasting Union that puts on the yearly contest, starting with just seven countries in 1956 and expanding each year to a maximum of 44 countries participating at once. I had first heard of Eurovision back in 1998, when Dana International, a transgender singer from Israel won the contest with the song “Diva.” Since she won the contest, Israel won the rights to host the contest the following year in 1999. That summer, I was on a summer trip to Israel and all I heard about was that spring’s 44th annual Eurovision Song Contest taking place in Jerusalem.

Fast forward 20 years, the year is 2018 and the Eurovision Song Contest is taking place in Lisbon Portugal. This year even my birth country of Bulgaria is taking part in the contest, even though the favorite to win the contest is a performer named Netta from Israel with her me-too-movement themed song call “Toy.” It was a hard fought contest with a singer from Cyprus, but Netta ended up winning the contest and bringing back the Eurovision Song Contest to take place in Israel the following year. So as events moved along in 2019, I had heard that Will Ferrell – yes that Will Ferrell from SNL and countless movies – was going to Israel to shoot a comedic movie about the entering the Eurovision Song Contest. That movie would later be titled Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga and it would star Ferrell as Lars Erickssong and co-star Rachel McAdams as his best friend Sigrit Ericksdottir, making music together as the band Fire Saga.

The two best friends live in the small Islandic town of Húsavík, and perform for the locals in the town their music, especially a local favorite called “Jaja Ding Dong” which is great to sing, dance and drink beer to. But Lars’ dream has always been to represent Iceland in Eurovision, and it finally becomes a reality when they become the only contestants available, due to some unfortunate circumstances. The Islanding broadcasting committee has no choice but to send Lars and Sigrit to the contest, taking place in Ireland. *While we know, from earlier, that Ferrell and Rachel McAdams shot scenes with the live audience in Israel at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, director David Dobkin and producers Will Ferrell, Jessica Elbaum, and Chris Henchy decided to switch the location of Eurovision to Edinburgh, Scotland. When the duo arrive in Edinburgh, they are greeted by other contestants, including Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens), a flamboyant singer representing Russia. At one point, Lars and Sigrit have a great sing-a-long at a mansion party with other seemingly current Eurovision singers. Those singers are in-fact some previous real life Eurovision Song Contest contestants and winners such as Jamala, Conchita Wurst, Salvador Sobral and Netta.

Watching from home is Lars Erickssong’s widowed father Erick Erickssong (Pierce Brosnan), who is always disapproving and disappointed with Lars. When others at the bar want to watch Lars and Sigrit perform at Eurovision, all Erick wants to do is drink and watch soccer. But when Lars and Sigrit seem to be having a decent performance, all hell breaks loose and the wheels start to come off the truck, quite literally. Lars starts feeling quite embarrassed and humiliated and storms out, leaving a distraught Sigrit behind. Before Lars could be found, Sigrit learns to her shock, however, that Iceland is voted through to the finals on a sympathy vote. Lars is long gone; already back on the plane to Iceland.

Once back in Iceland, Lars talks with his father and confesses his love for Sigrit, and Erick tells him to go back and fight for her love. SPOILER [highlight to read]: Lars makes it to the grand finale just in time to perform, after hitchhiking with some initially unwilling American tourists. Instead of their official entry, Lars encourages Sigrit to perform a song she has written for him. Fire Saga are disqualified for changing their song during the contest, but both Lars and Sigrit have lost interest in winning the competition, realizing that their relationship is more important and they finally share a kiss.

Back in Iceland, Fire Saga is performing at a wedding when Lars ask if they should perform their Eurovision song or the popular “Jaja Ding Dong” to which the crowd chants “Jaja Ding Dong, Jaja Ding Dong, Jaja Ding Dong!” While the movie is not groundbreaking or visually unique, it does provide plenty of laugh-out-loud and sing-along moments with the cast. It did provide me personally with nostalgia from watching the actual Eurovision Song Contest, which got cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was a great movie for Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams to star in and play off each other in the musical performances. Also, it was fun to see Pierce Brosnan act in a comedy and play opposite Ferrell. But most definitely, it’s Dan Stevens who steals the show as Alexander Lemtov, who cannot express his sexuality and fears the fact that his country does not accept homosexuality. Stevens plays the role almost to perfection and become much more vulnerable than in any previous role he has played.

While Netflix is probably not going to see very many new subscriptions solely from the movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, they will leave their audience satisfied (for at least that night). I was pleasantly surprised at the way the movie pulled at the heartstrings and made you feel compassion and sympathy for Ferrell’s character Lars. It’s probably the only time I’ve had those feeling when watching a Will Ferrell movie. So, next time you’re sitting at your couch, I would suggest everyone check this movie out when scrolling through the seemingly endless list of titles, and catch this flick on Netflix.

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen Eurovision Song Contest? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Doctor Strange (2016)

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I have to admit I wasn’t really anticipating this movie at all. I wasn’t familiar with this character at all and honestly, I have grown a bit tired of seeing Benedict Cumberbatch, though I did like him before he was super famous from playing Sherlock. Now it’s no fault of his but I tend to lose interest fast when an actor becomes overexposed.

In any case, I still went into the screening expecting to be entertained. To a degree, Doctor Strange was a pretty fun movie with some humorous moments. Yet I feel that it treads such familiar grounds. It’s basically similar to Iron Man‘s origin story, but with magic thrown in. We also got a hero who started out as a rich, arrogant genius who suffered a major accident. They also extend their hand just so to exert their power. Perhaps because Iron Man was still a bit of a novelty when it came out 8 years ago in 2008, it made a lot more impact to me and Robert Downey Jr’s performance was quite indelible.

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Stephen Strange’s journey all the way to the Himalayas also reminds me of Batman Begins. But instead of an East-Asian character as The Ancient One, Strange’s spiritual mentor is now a bald woman of Celtic origin with posh British accent (Tilda Swinton). To be honest, all the quantum physics and mysticism concept are lost on me. It was some gobbledygook that never became involving enough to me, though I did get a kick out of the rather comedic Cloak of Levitation. I think my favorite part in the entire movie is when the cloak attaches itself to Strange as he walks on, it was a moment he sort of becomes a superhero.

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Just like the lead, the supporting cast are full of massively accomplished actors. Fellow Oscar-nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor and British actor Benedict Wong are both in the camp of the Ancient One who became Strange’s allies. It’s rare to see an actor named Benedict to begin with, let alone having TWO of them in the same movie! I love the interactions between the two Benedicts, though the Beyonce/Adele joke seems rather out of place in this universe. There’s also the talented Mads Mikkelsen, once again sporting weird eye makeup as a villain, but he’s nowhere near as menacing nor effective as he did in Casino Royale. There is very little character development in this movie and none of the relationships elicit any kind of emotion, especially the one between him and fellow surgeon Christine (a wasted Rachel McAdams). That said, Cumberbatch himself acquits himself well in the role. He certainly has that ‘cocky genius’ thing down pat, though I wouldn’t call Doctor Strange my fave Marvel superhero by a long stretch.

As for the visual effects. I think it’s to be expected that a $165 mil movie would deliver something great to look at. The space visuals is reminiscent of Guardians of the Galaxy, whilst the whole folding architecture thing is slightly more robust than what we’ve seen in Inception. The movie has a a Groundhog day-style finale with a character encountering death over and over again, going against an entirely CG character, a nemesis called Dormammu that’s apparently also voiced by Cumberbatch. It was kind of a ho-hum ending to me, it was neither intriguing nor emotional in the slightest. The plot seems predictable and seems rather ‘convenient,’ and not once do I feel that the hero was in any great danger.

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I generally like Marvel movies, even those I was initially skeptical about like Thor. But overall I was underwhelmed by Doctor Strange. I think it could’ve been a much better film, or at least just a tad more thought-provoking instead of just mildly entertaining. The script (partly written by director Scott Derrickson) just wasn’t provocative, thought provoking nor memorable. I’m feeling generous in rating this one because I do like the cast, though the movie probably more of a 2.5/5 for me. I think it’s one of the weakest MCU movies so far, and I’m honestly flabbergasted by the high Rotten Tomatoes rating! (But then again I think their algorithm is botched. I mean the same exact rating from two reviewers can be fresh or rotten, huh??) In any case, there’s a post-credit scene but by then I have lost interest in this inevitable franchise entirely.

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So, what are your thoughts on ‘Doctor Strange’?

Philip Seymour Hoffman Blogathon – A Most Wanted Man (2014) review

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This review is part of Epileptic Moondancer’s PSH blogathon. I selected the second last completed movie by Hoffman before his death. He died a week after the premiere of the film at the Sundance Film Festival.

A Most Wanted Man

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A Chechen Muslim illegally immigrates to Hamburg, where he gets caught in the international war on terror.

It seems that spy movies in Hollywood often fall into two camps, the high-octane action thrillers a la James Bond and Jason Bourne, or the slow-burn, analytical style you’d find in John le Carré‘s work. This one falls into the latter, and I feel that one must have a certain patience to fully appreciate these kind of slow-burn film. The last film based on le Carré’s work I saw was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The main draw for me to see that one was Gary Oldman. Similarly, I was drawn to see this for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead role. It’s set in the city of Hamburg, Germany, where my late mother went to college for a couple of years.

The film opens with a mysterious hooded man sneaking into the city whom we later learn is a half-Chechen, half-Russian refugee, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin). An espionage team led by Günther Bachmann (Hoffman) suspects from Russian intelligence that Issa is a potentially dangerous terrorist. There’s also a matter of a Muslim philanthropist the team is monitoring as there’s reasons to believe he might be funneling funds to terrorist activities.

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Honestly, the way the plot unfolds is pretty slow and I had to turn on the caption. It’s something I wish I could’ve done when I was watching ‘Tinker Tailor‘ on the big screen as the plot was pretty complex for my little brain to discern. But what’s fascinating to me is how the whole spying thing seems rather uneventful. For the most part, it’s a lot of eavesdropping, observing, and a whole lot of talking. No shootouts, foot/car/boat chase or physical fighting for a good chunk of the film. The protagonist Günther isn’t exactly built for THAT kind of action, though he did punch a guy for being abrasive to a woman at a bar, but that’s about it. Yet the story was still quite engrossing and it kept me curious to find out just who this Issa guy is. One of the main reasons is Hoffman’s acting.

It still pains me to realize he’s gone. He was such a skilled thespian who could *disappear* into his roles. Here he totally became the character — a chain-smoking, world-weary, astute, yet compassionate intelligence agent, complete with a believable German accent. Even his voice sounded different, slightly lower than I usually hear him speak, and he managed not to overdo the accent that might resort to simply an impersonation. It’s a testament to his charisma as an actor that I enjoyed watching him do mundane office stuff or simply conversing with people.

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McAdams with Dobrygin

As I mentioned above, this film doesn’t paint a glamorous life of a spy. It’s a grounded, more realistic look at the business of espionage where everyone has secrets and it’s all about maneuvering through shrewd, calculating and duplicitous people so you don’t fall into their trap. Apparently John le Carré was a member of British Intelligence at some point, so the plot definitely rang true. I have to admit I had to really pay attention and try not to miss any details. It was rewarding as you became invested in the journey, though the ending was quite a frustrating one. Not that it was badly-written, but it’s more about me expecting a hopeful ending that’s tied neatly with a bow. Well, if you don’t like endings that get you all riled up, this is not a movie for you.

This marks the first Anton Corbijn film I saw, but looking at his filmography, the Dutch filmmaker seems to specialize in slow-burn, measured thrillers (Control, The American). So I guess he’s the perfect director to adapt le Carré’s work. He assembled a pretty solid supporting cast here, starting with the always watchable Robin Wright. She had a key role as an American diplomatic attaché who also took a keen interest in both of Günther’s cases. I enjoyed watching two excellent character actors bantering and outsmarting each other. As a German banker, Willem Dafoe played quite an understated role here, which kinda messed with my head a bit as I kept expecting him to do something totally bonkers.

I was quite impressed by Russian actor Dobrygin in his English-language debut. I actually thought he was a UK actor as he has one of those familiar faces. It’s key for his role to keep the audience guessing whether he’s a good or bad guy and he certainly pulled that off. He kept us at a distance but somehow able to garner our sympathy. I hope to see more of his work so hopefully Hollywood would cast him in more English-speaking roles. As for Rachel McAdams, though she did her best, somehow I didn’t quite buy her in this role. I guess I pictured someone with a bit more edge as an immigration lawyer, someone like Noomi Rapace perhaps? 

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As the film gives us a glimpse into the bureaucracy and intricacy of espionage, it’s apparent that it’s a world full of gray and not much black/white. “To Make the World a Safer Place” is a line uttered in a couple of key scenes by two different characters. It may sound like a simplistic, even clichéd line, but the second time I heard it, I realized the significance of it and what it was intended to be. This film astutely illustrates that in the world of secret intelligence, nothing is ever what it seems to be.

This film is not for everyone as the deliberately slow pace might be considered boring to some. I can’t lie that there are times I feel it’s perhaps too slow-moving, though the quiet moments are still charged with suspense as the stakes get higher and higher. The stunning cinematography, especially the night shots, give a foreboding, atmospheric feel that help immerse you into this world of intrigue. The thematic elements and relevant subject matter definitely stay with you after the end credits. I highly recommend this for fans of slow-burn espionage films, but even if you’re not, it’s still well worth a watch just for Mr. Hoffman’s electrifying performance.

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Have you seen A Most Wanted Man? Well, what did you think?

Music Break: Five great songs/theme from Richard Curtis’ films

AboutTimePosterI haven’t done a Music Break post in a while but today I might as well hit two birds with one stone to highlight Richard Curtis. Today the British writer/director turns 57 and his time-travel rom-com About Time starring Domhnall Gleeson & Rachel McAdams opens today in the US as well, so I thought why not highlight some of the music from his films.

You could say Mr. Curtis is the King of British Rom-Com, he’s also the man behind great comedic shows like Blackadder and The Vicars of Dibley (my personal fave). He often works with Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) and Hugh Grant, in fact, all of the films I highlighted here have Grant in them! His films are quintessentially British, filled with wacky British humor and cultural references which I really enjoy, but another thing I love about his movies are the great soundtracks.

Here are five from some of my favorite movies written/produced by Richard Curtis:

She – Notting Hill

I’ve never even heard of Elvis Costello’s music before this one but I LOVE, LOVE this song and I like how it plays in the beginning to sort of introduce Julia Roberts’ movie star character. It has such sweet, melancholic melody that


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– Notting Hill

The song choice is just perfect for this scene, it’s as if R&B star Bill Withers knew exactly what broken-hearted William (Hugh Grant) is thinking at this moment as he goes through each season missing his sweetheart Anna. I’m not a huge fan of Hugh Grant generally but too is perfect for this role.


Love is All Around – Four Weddings & A Funeral

I remember playing this song over and over when this film first came out. The song was originally recorded by The Troggs but in this soundtrack it was performed by Scottish band Wet Wet Wet. Apparently it was so popular it remained at number 1 in the British charts for fifteen weeks and was then the ninth biggest selling single of all time in Britain (per Wikipedia). Playful and romantic, just like the movie!


PM Love Theme – Love, Actually

There are a lot of great themes in this film, I also love the Glasgow Theme but this one has such a swooning quality about it but not in an overly sappy way. It has such a rousing and ‘stately’ feel about it too that fits the fact that Hugh Grant’s character is a British state leader.


Have You Met Miss Jones? – Bridget Jones’ Diary

I initially didn’t realize that this song’s part of Bridget Jones’ Diary. I LOVE it, it’s so my kind of music as I was just telling Michael and Jack in this awesome music post. I had no clue that swing jazz is Robbie Williams’ genre, I thought he’s more of a pop star. Originally sung by Sinatra, of course it’s tough to beat the real deal, but still, it’s a lovely song that I can listen to over and over.


Hope you enjoyed the Music Break. Which Richard Curtis’ movie(s) are your favorites?

Weekend Roundup: ‘Midnight in Paris’ review

Happy Monday, everybody! It’s actually a Columbus Day holiday here, but no, I didn’t get a day off 😦

Hope you had a wonderful weekend, wherever you are. Well, mine was quite lovely. I took a much-needed blogging/computer break on Saturday to spend the entire day outdoors starting with a jog around the beautiful Lake Calhoun with friends, then off to a small town south of the Twin Cities to go hiking and take in the gorgeous Fall colors. This has got to be the best Autumn season ever with hardly any rain and temps holding in the 70s and 80s!

But guess what, despite my hectic weekend, I actually had time to see not one but two movies, no, NOT the weekend box office winner Reel Steel, not even sure I want to rent that one. I finally caught Midnight in Paris at a local indie theater, and The Beaver that’s been sitting on our counter for a whole week.

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I feel that the less you know about this film the better, which is why I’m not going to go into the plot details too much and just leave you with this IMDb description:

A romantic comedy about a family traveling to the French capital for business. The party includes a young engaged couple forced to confront the illusion that a life different from their own is better.

For most people, the appeal of this film is likely to be the ever-so-prolific Woody Allen. But his work has been hit and miss for me so the appeal of this film for me is the enchanting city of Paris and boy, this film practically doubles as a tourism video for the City of Lights. Seems like Allen’s love affair with Europe continues [his last few films were filmed in London & Barcelona] and cinematographer Darius Khondji indulges him with gorgeous shots of his city muse.

I had some doubts about Owen Wilson in the lead role but he turned out to be perfectly cast as a disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter who calls himself a ‘hack’ and longs to finally finish his novel. His comic timing as Gil generates plenty of laugh in the scenes spent during the day with his fiancée Inez’s family and friends, but his wide-eyed bewilderment when the clock strikes midnight is even more fun to watch.

Again, I’m glad I didn’t know much about the plot as what Gil encounters from midnight until the wee hours is full of surprises! Checking out the characters’ name on its IMDb would easily give it away but I suggest you refrain from doing that unless you don’t mind being spoiled.

Like most of Woody Allen’s films, this one is comprised of a large ensemble cast including Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody and also feature a small cameo of French first lady Carla Bruni. I also didn’t know Tom Hiddleston [Thor‘s Loki] is in this one, so it was a pleasant surprise! The usually likable Michael Sheen and Rachel McAdams portray their unsympathetic characters quite well, Sheen especially as the smarty-pants college professor friend of Inez. Marion Cotillard is lovely as always and her role as the free-spirited French beauty Adriana seems tailor-made for her. Her scenes with Wilson are easily the highlights of the movie for me.

I’m so glad I finally caught this film before its theatrical run is over! My hubby was initially reluctant to see it but he ended up loving it as much as I did. It’s truly an enchanting and magical film that’s full of whimsical yet poignant dialog complemented by beautiful scenery. It’s quite predictable how Gil will come to his senses by the end, but his journey to get there is wonderful to watch. I’ll definitely be seeing this one again.

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What did you think of Midnight in Paris? 

Pitt/Aniston for Time Traveller’s Wife? Say it ain’t so!

TimeTravelersThe Time Traveller’s Wife is one of my must-see flicks before year’s end, mostly because it’s got Eric Bana as the lead. So I was flabbergasted when I read this bit from Digital Spy that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were the couple screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin had in mind when he wrote the script. Well, apparently he wrote the adaptation from Audrey Niffenegger’s novel before their divorce in 2005, but still!

Speaking to OK magazine, he said: “I thought they would be perfect for this film. I just saw them as a perfect version of Henry and Clare. I just found them equally attractive and equally compelling, and in terms of the Hollywood arena at that time, they were as good a couple as you could find. I was writing it in my mind for them.”

Meh, I’m glad it didn’t turn out that way as I wouldn’t have been at all excited to see it with the two of them as the lead. Regardless of their relationship and love life drama, I don’t think much of either of them as an actor. I’m probably in the minority here, but I’ve never been a fan of Pitt nor do I fathom what all the fuss is about the guy. There are a plethora of better looking and far more talented actors than he, but like Rod Stewart says, some guys have all the luck. As for Aniston, well let’s just say she will forever be ‘Rachel Green’ as she can’t ever seem to shake that role out of her psyche, no matter what character she plays!

In any case, I think the movie will be much better with Bana and Rachel McAdams on board, whom Rubin labeled “wonderful embodiments of who I envisioned would be on screen.” Judging from its trailer, I think both of them are perfect for the roles.