The origins of ‘Artemis Fowl’, Hulu’s ‘Love, Victor’

Holly Short (Lara McDonnell), Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad) and Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw). © 2020 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
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By Richard Roeper

Signal Contributing Writer

‘Artemis Fowl’

Rated PG. Running time: 95 minutes.

The journey of “Artemis Fowl” from young adult novel series to major motion picture took some 20 years and entailed many starts and stops and bumps in the road, including a delay in its theatrical release from May 29 to June 12 on Disney+

Recognizing how cumbersome it would be to try to incorporate elements from all eight of the original “Artemis Fowl” books, director Branagh wisely opted for an origins story based largely on the first of Irish author Eoin Colfer’s novels. Thanks to the gorgeous and lush cinematography (“Fowl” was shot at Longcross Studios in England, in Northern England, in Ireland and in Ho Chi Minh City) and the screenplay by the Irish playwright Conor McPherson and the British comedy writer Hamish McColl, the film adaptation does a marvelous job of capturing the decidedly Irish tone of the adventure.

“Artemis Fowl” starts with a media frenzy outside of Fowl Manor in Ireland — home to generations of antique collector/adventurers. The famous Artemis Fowl I (Colin Farrell) is suspected of stealing some of the world’s most priceless artifacts, including the Rosetta Stone and the Book of Kells, but that’s fake news. As Artemis has long told his 12-year-old son, Artemis Fowl II (Ferdia Shaw). Ever since young Artemis was a toddler, his father has been telling him elaborate stories about an underground world beneath the surface of the Earth — a world populated by fairies, trolls and goblins. Of course, the stories are just that — bedtime fables. Or are they?

Josh Gad is a scene-stealing delight as one Mulch Diggums, an oversized dwarf and career thief who is hauled into a special MI6 interrogation unit and offered a deal if he’ll tell what he knows about the whereabouts of one Artemis Fowl. This plot device sets up Mulch as the narrator for our story, as he begins to spin the wondrous and quite unbelievable yet true story of young Artemis Fowl, a most different kind of boy genius.

When Dad goes missing, the authorities assume he’s on the lam and is guilty of the thefts, but he’s actually been kidnapped by a rogue rebel fairy and is being held underground for ransom. Just like that, young Artemis Fowl springs into action, and with the help of the family’s loyal and quite lethal butler (Nonso Anozie), Artemis is soon infiltrating the world of the fairies, and vice versa.

Dame Judi Dench, clad in emerald green armor and sporting elfin ears and yet still looking infinitely less silly than she did in “Cats,” has a grand time playing the crusty Cmdr. Julius Root, who is over 800 years old but still in charge of the Lower Elements Police. Lara McDonnell is a winning presence as Holly Short, a resourceful LEP fairy cadet who strikes up an unlikely alliance with young Artemis, as they band together to save both of their worlds.

Much of the humor in “Artemis Fowl” centers around the catastrophic possibility of people learning the underground world exists. (As Mulch puts it: “Most human beings are afraid of gluten. How do you think they’d handle goblins?”) And there’s some “Men in Black”-style humor, e.g., when fairies are spotted by humans, they erase their memories with a “mind swipe,” not to mention a passing reference that David Bowie was in fact a magical fairy living above ground.

The plot about the battle to obtain possession of the obligatory glowing knickknack that is the source of life for the fairy world but could destroy the world in the wrong hands is ho-hum and familiar, and really just an excuse for us to meet this wonderful and diverse collection of characters, and for Branagh to stage some gigantic action sequences, most notably a well-executed but overlong battle featuring a gigantic troll who has invaded Fowl Manor. I actually prefer “Artemis Fowl” in the quieter moments, whether young Artemis is learning the truth about his father, parrying with the butler who doesn’t like to be called a butler, or bonding with the winged and determined Holly Short, who looks to become his best friend for life.

‘Love, Victor’

Hulu Series. Comedy, Drama, Romance

W

hen I saw “Love, Simon” in 2018, I wanted to wrap my arms around the movie and give it a great big hug. This was a sweet, knowing, funny and emotionally involving 21st-century take on a John Hughes high school movie — only this time the romantic lead was a closeted gay teen searching for his soulmate, known only as “Blue.”

Simon was living in upper-middle-
class comfort, and he had the most understanding parents in the world and eventually the support of pretty much the entire school when he set up a meeting with Blue at the Ferris wheel. It’s a groundbreaking and lovely gem.

Now comes the Hulu series “Love, Victor,” a spiritual sequel featuring a whole new cast of characters. We pick up the story with Creekwood High School still buzzing about the magical night when Simon learned Blue was in fact a classmate named Bram whom he had a crush on.

Enter Latino high school sophomore Victor (Michael Cimino), who has just moved from Texas with his parents, Isabel (Ana Ortiz) and Armando (James Martinez), his younger sister, Pilar (Isabella Ferreira), and little brother, Adrian (Mateo Fernandez). Victor is unsure of his sexuality, but he knows if and when he does come out, it will come as a shock to his religious parents and even more religious grandparents.

He connects with Simon on Instagram, saying: “Dear Simon … I just want to say, screw you. Screw you for having the world’s most perfect, accepting parents, the world’s most supportive friends. Because for some of us, it’s not that easy.”

Throughout the 10 episodes (each about a half-hour), Victor pours his heart out to Simon (with Nick Robinson of “Love, Simon” providing the voiceover for his replies). There’s even a road trip to New York City in which we reconnect with a couple of main characters from the film. Mostly, though, “Love, Victor” is a sequel that almost plays as a reboot, despite the cultural and economic differences between Simon and Victor.

On Victor’s very first day of school, he strikes a connection with Rachel Naomi Hilson’s Mia, a beautiful, popular and kind rich girl who swoons the moment she sets eyes on him. Victor likes Mia, but HE swoons when he catches a glimpse of the handsome Benji (George Sear), who has come out relatively recently. Not only that, Victor already has a new best friend in his geeky upstairs neighbor Felix (Anthony Turpel) AND he cringes when he hears casual homophobic comments in the locker room AND he’s bullied by the macho jock Andrew (Mason Gooding), who publicly humiliates Victor.

Whew. What a first day!

With fade-outs and fade-ins reminiscent of an old-fashioned broadcast program, “Love, Victor” follows multiple storylines, from the increasing tension between Victor’s parents; to Felix secretly hooking up with Mia’s wisecracking and social media-fixated best friend, Lake (Bebe Wood), who is too embarrassed by Felix to be seen with him in public; to the budding romance between Victor and Mia, even as Victor dreams of connecting with Benji. 

At times, characters talk as if they’ve been scripted by adults trying to sound like teenagers, but for the most part, “Love, Victor” has a breezy, likable vibe.

As was the case with “Love, Simon,” we feel for the protagonist, but we’re ticked at him for not considering how much he’s hurting others by living a lie.

“Love, Victor” ends on a cliffhanger note that makes it all but certain it’ll be back for a second season. We wish Victor the best, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing if season two made room for a “Love, Mia” storyline as well.

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