By Lynn Venhaus
Based on true events, “Six Minutes to Midnight” is a period spy yarn that sounds more exciting than it is.

On Aug. 15, 1939, seventeen days before World War II, an English language teacher disappears from the coastal boarding school, Augusta-Victoria College, where he worked. The 20 pupils are all daughters of Nazi VIPs and tension is high.

The headmistress Miss Rocholl (Judi Dench) hastily hires a replacement, Thomas Miller (Eddie Izzard), who is an undercover British agent trying to find out what happened. But he becomes compromised and is wrongly accused of murder, trying to stay out of jail and not attract enemy attention while the PE teacher Ilse Keller (Carla Juri) is a Nazi sympathizer. Tension skyrockets and everybody is in danger.

A very thin story, co-written by the film’s star Izzard, director Andy Goddard and Celyn Jones, isn’t helped by erratic pacing and dull execution.

The characters are poorly developed, and Oscar winners Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent, as the Bexhill-on-Sea bus driver, are not given much to do, which is a shame.

The August-Victoria College really took in German teenage girls from 1932 to 1939 on the southern coast of England. Izzard grew up in the area, so he has an interest in sharing this little-known tale.

The period production design by Candida Otton and the seaside cinematography by Chris Seager are both first-rate, with an appropriate mix of danger levels in the music score by Marc Streitenfeld.

Izzard, a comic genius whose one-woman shows have earned much acclaim and awards over the years, is a capable actor. He was the best thing about “The High Note,” in a small role as a global rock superstar. But a gentleman spy, who plays the piano, might be a tad far-fetched.

The local lawmen are part granite, part camp — although James D’Arcy as Captain Drey and Kevin Eldon as Sergeant Simmons seem to enjoy stretching their stereotypical roles.

While the intrigue gains momentum in the second half, ratcheting up the tension because no one can be trusted, it still is a choppy mess. At 99 minutes, the film feels as if portions are missing that could have illuminated the story better.

Given what they had to work with, the result shouldn’t have been so stodgy.

“Six Minutes to Midnight” is a drama, thriller directed by Andy Goddard and co-written by Goddard, Eddie Izzard and Celyn Jones, based on a true event. It stars Izzard, Judi Dench, Carla Juri, James D’Arcy and Jim Broadbent. The 2020 film, which runs 1 hour, 39 minutes, is rated PG-13 for some violence. Lynn’s Grade: C+. It is in theaters and video on demand March 26.

By Lynn Venhaus
In the first of eight books in Eoin Colfer’s successful fantasy series, 12-year-old genius Artemis Fowl wants to restore his family’s fortune, so he holds Holly Short (Lara McDonnell), a fairy and captain of the Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance force (LEPRecon), for ransom to exploit the magical Fairy People. In the second book, he allies with the Fairy People to rescue his father. from the Russian Mafia.

Are you with me? At first, he’s a villain and enemy, but as the series continued, he developed and changed into an anti-hero.

The movie, in adapting the first two novels, has substantially changed the story, but if you haven’t read them, you wouldn’t know. However, you can tell that it is a disjointed, disappointing adaptation that will neither satisfy franchise readers nor introduce a compelling story to new fans.

In short, this Harry Potter wannabe is a mess. Resembling bits of Marvel, Star Wars and Fantastic Beasts movies, there is no clear vision in this chaotic mishmash – just a hodgepodge of strange folk that fails to sustain interest, even with all the CGI bells and whistles at their disposal. I am not sure even director Kenneth Branagh knew how to give this story some pizzazz.

Miscasting is a real problem here. Ferdia Shaw is a bland as the lead character who apparently, is a criminal mastermind – but you don’t sense that at all. Josh Gad, as Mulch Diggums, a giant among the tiny folks, and Judi Dench, in a gender-bending role as Commander Root, effect gravelly, growling voices – why? And Gad’s character, in an attempt to make wisecracks and be flippant, got on my last nerve.

Both Colin Farrell and newcomer Lara McDonnel are the film’s saving grace, but they can’t do much about the story’s lack of appeal. Screenwriters Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl do the source material a disservice. It has been in development since 2016. That is the first red flag. The rest of the problems indicate this is a big waste of time.

This film was set to open in theaters but is now available on Disney Plus.

“Artemis Fowl” is a fantasy, sci-fi film directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Colin Farrell, Josh Gad and Judi Dench. It is Rated PG for fantasy action/peril and some rude humor and run time is 1 hr. 41 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: D.
Available on Disney Plus streaming service as of June 12.

This review appeared in Webster-Kirkwood Times.