The BFG

'The BFG' movie poster

Release: Friday, July 1, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Melissa Mathison

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Great Gallywampers and fiddly tweezlesticks, I is very pleased indeed that Steven Spielberg has delivered the goodles in his very first venture into Roald Dahl‘s brilliant imagurnation. The BFG is breathtaker beautiful, and not just thanks to its scrumptioutious imagery, neither. It recalls the warminess and serenity of Brian Cosgrove’s 1989 animated adventure and ‘n fact it mighty jus’ be more endearin’ because of the live-action interplayery.

No, don’t worry, I’m not gonna speak in Dahlian tongues for the entire review. That’s just my overly dramatic way of expressing relief that The BFG turns out to be the real deal, rather than a pale imitator. The story is clumsier than you might expect with a Spielbergian production — we find as many lulls in the story as we do frobscottle-induced farts (excuse me, whizzpoppers) — but that’s merely the product of a director’s faithfulness to the source material. Spielberg otherwise hits every major note with an assured and playful touch, his knack for conjuring powerful feelings of wonder and awe giving this sweet summer diversion a personality all its own.

Indeed, The BFG is mostly a success in that it doesn’t create any new problems. It merely inherits those of its ancestor — namely, the aforementioned inconsistent and at-times sluggish pace and a few leaps of faith in logic in service of a narrative that just may well be Dahl’s strangest and most fanciful. Story concerns a young girl named Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill) who is whisked away one night from Mrs. Clonkers’ Orphanage by a huge, hooded creature and to Giant Country, a wondrous place filled with beauty. Do I smell a Best Visual Effects nomination? I do, as a matter of fact: that sequence in Dream Country by the dream tree is simply mesmeric.

But Giant Country isn’t total paradise, it’s fraught with danger as well. The other giants among whom the BFG ekes out a quiet existence as a Dream Blower are much larger, meaner and they eat human beings (or, beans, rather). After learning she’s not leaving Giant Country anytime soon, Sophie encourages her big friendly giant to stand up for himself and to rid the land of these brutes, led by Jemaine Clement‘s Fleshlumpeater, once and for all. The pair seek the help of the Queen (Penelope Wilton) and her Royal Army back in the real world to do just that.

As is the case with a great many Dahl adaptations, the suspension of disbelief is a requisite and that ability serves viewers well here, especially as the fearless Sophie encourages the two worlds to collide. The performances anchoring the film are so good they allow us to overlook many a flawed concept. And there are more than a few. Spielberg’s potential new muse in Mark Rylance loses himself in the role as the titular giant and very well might have upstaged David Jason’s original voice performance that made the larger-than-life being an unforgettable creation. His spoonerisms and awkward turns of phrase were a highlight of that original as they are here as well, and once again it’s a joy watching ten-year-old Sophie trying to update and expand his childlike vocabulary.

Rylance doesn’t do it alone, though. He gets tremendous support from the young Barnhill who embraces Sophie’s wide-eyed curiosity about the strange world surrounding her with real gusto. She’s also brilliant at balancing the heartbreak of growing up without parents with a sense of maturity that makes her as well-rounded a character as you’re likely going to find with a child actor. All those years ago Sophie had already been made a strong character thanks to Amanda Root’s precociousness and intellectual curiosity, and those qualities are only bolstered by Barnhill’s live-action incarnation. Most importantly, the quasi-parental bond between the two isn’t lost in translation. The problem of loneliness is resolved with respect for Dahl’s affinity for the weird very much intact come the tear-jerking conclusion.

One of the challenges Spielberg is up against with his take on a Dahlian classic is finding an audience outside of those loyal readers and those who keep the 1989 made-for-British-television special close to their heart. The BFG is certifiably obscure material but perhaps with names attached like Spielberg and Rylance it can reach for broader audiences. This uplifting, sweet tale of bravery and dream-making certainly deserves them.

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Recommendation: The BFG, as I have suspected since the announcement was first made, represents an ideal union of director and material. The world created by Roald Dahl is practically tailor-made for one of the world’s best when it comes to imaginative, inspiring filmmaking and the end product, while not perfect, is about as good as could be expected. The performances are wonderful and if you’re tired of the summer blockbuster trend, I have to recommend The BFG. Like, immediatarily. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “Why did you take me?” / “Because I hears your lonely heart, ‘n all the secret whisperings of the world.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.joblo.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Big Short

The Big Short movie poster

Release: Wednesday, December 23, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Adam McKay; Charles Randolph 

Directed by: Adam McKay

When it was announced Adam McKay would be putting his comedic muse Will Ferrell in time out so he could make a film not only steeped in but specifically commenting on the 2008 financial crisis (and the events that precipitated it), I knew there could only be two possible outcomes.

This was boom or bust. The Big Short was either going to be an exciting new direction for the guy who gave us a NASCAR driver with two first names and the Channel 4 News Team    . . . or it was going to be an unbearable misfire, proving the limitations of a director who likes to keep things casual.

It turns out I was wrong. There was actually a third option, a middle ground — the dreaded ‘it was just okay’ territory where you’re not sure whether what you’ve just watched is something you’re going to care about by the time you get to your car. But The Big Short lingers in the mind for at least that long because you just can’t shake the weirdness. It is a weird experience; I mean, really weird. Not in a Rocky Horror Picture Show or Guillermo Del Toro kind of way, where weirdness is beneficial, even a signature.

It’s a film in which weirdness is just off-putting. Events are rooted very much in dramatic realism but tonally McKay prefers going for that whole meta ‘breaking the fourth wall’ thing that made Scorsese’s commentary on the wealth of Wall Street a couple of years ago oh so much fun. He douses character dialogue and interaction with an arrogance that would make Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby proud. And, okay, even Jordan Belfort. Key players are more caricatures than characters and they’re this way because McKay doesn’t want to be lecturing audiences with characters who aren’t fun and in that way, relatable.

It’s a film where strippers lament having to pay multiple mortgages and Ryan Gosling can almost pull off the fake tan and hairstyle á la Bradley Cooper in American Hustle. Christian Bale doesn’t have the gut or the really bad wig this time around though.

Working from a script written by Charles Randolph and himself, one based upon Michael Lewis’ 2010 book of the same name, McKay zeroes in on three groups of finance geeks who predict the destabilization and eventual collapse of the national and global economy several years in advance, paying special attention to the precarious state of subprime mortgage loans. The borrowing of money was an issue further compounded by big banks’ frivolous selling of what are known as collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), ways of bundling together poor loans in a package those banks would sell to their investors as a way of transferring any responsibility of debt repayment.

Those key players probably could use some sort of introduction. There’s the eccentric Dr. Michael Burry (Bale) who is first seen in the film doing his homework on the health of the housing market in 2005. He’s the guy who realizes he too could profit immensely off of the blindness (or is it just ignorance?) of suits who don’t realize how faulty their investments actually are. He also doesn’t wear shoes in his office and blares loud music whenever he’s crunching numbers.

Sometime later a slithery, opportunistic investor named Jared Vennett (Gosling) catches wind of Burry’s idea and, realizing just how right he is, wants in. Vennett smells blood in the water and taps stock traders like Mark Baum (Steve Carell) to join in on the action. Carell colors Baum as a self-righteous, idealistic man who’s cynical so far beyond his years the question has to be asked: what are you still doing here on Wall Street? His wife Cynthia (Marisa Tomei) repeatedly tells him he shouldn’t try to fix every problem in the world. Baum experiences a crisis of conscience when he realizes how much money there is to be made off of the greedy bankers’ investments, and also realizing the parallels between that reality and the white collar crimes that have been perpetrated to create this entire mess.

There are also two young hot shots who discover the credit bubble and are eager to gain from it. Otherwise . . . it’s back to living at home with mom! Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) are seeking a way to establish their own names so they enlist the help of retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) — this is the wizened old fool who has been sickened by corporate greed and has sworn off of the trade — to help them short up (a.k.a. buy bonds cheap now to sell them for profit later) several high profile accounts.

I know, doesn’t this movie sound like so much fun? It is a credit to McKay and his entire crew that The Big Short maintains any semblance of energy whatsoever, as the story becomes far more bogged down by industry jargon than by the emotions this still raw subject matter is liable to generate in viewers.

Setting aside the inherent complexities of the story, The Big Short is just too much. It’s information overload, and on top of that it’s a whole lot of opinion flying in from all directions. Gosling’s character is entirely condescending and annoying — even more so than the dictionary definitions we must read occasionally on screen (McKay knows most people would be lost without them). Carell is a nervous wreck who challenges his own Michael Scott for most grating characters he’s ever played. Performances are otherwise, for the most part, not all that notable.

Somewhere buried deep inside this hodgepodge of statistics, dramatic license and comedic interplay there is genius. McKay embraces a challenging story with confidence that can’t be ignored, but just as unavoidable is the fact his dramedy is about as strange a concoction as I had presumed it would be, what with a cast that it is essentially split 50-50 in terms of comedic and dramatic talent. If you want to talk about big bailouts, The Big Short definitely benefits from its high-profile personnel.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 6.36.54 PM

Recommendation: An odd and mostly unsatisfying blend of comedy and dramatic realism, The Big Short could very well divide the Adam McKay faithful as it doesn’t quite offer the memorably quotable scripts from times past, but it does suggest the man can do more than just provide a couple of comedians a line-o-rama for 90-plus minutes. Fact-based story is ultimately bogged down by jargon and dizzying editing that makes the whole thing kind of a headache. Disappointing. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 130 mins.

Quoted: “Tell me the difference between stupid and illegal and I’ll have my wife’s brother arrested.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is strictly prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Legend

Legend movie poster

Release: Friday, November 20, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Brian Helgeland

Directed by: Brian Helgeland

Otherwise known as the notoriously boring true story of the Kray twins.

Much to the displeasure of anyone who might fairly assume Tom Hardy playing two roles in the same movie means that movie should be twice as fun, Legend delivers not even half the entertainment it promises in its enthusiastic, bonkers-looking trailers by venturing down a street paved in romance rather than the bloodlust of two notorious British criminals.

The good news is that, despite the content, Tom Hardy is still a good reason to shill out the money to see screenwriter Brian Helgeland‘s directorial debut. He shoulders the weight of having to play both Reggie and Ronald Kray — a set-up that indeed implies he would have to act and then react to himself in certain scenes — with aplomb.

But hearing Hardy is really good in Legend isn’t all that surprising. Is it even interesting? Call us spoiled, for the Londoner has pretty consistently demonstrated in times past he can turn on the intensity, and if there were a film that ever tested the limits of that intensity, it would be this one. He inhabits both roles with completely different energies and that in itself is the mark of an actor who is scary good at their job.

Legend certainly requires a lot of the mild-mannered-in-real-life Hardy. His character(s) is/are constantly subject to volatility. As Reggie, “the gangster prince of the East End,” Hardy is subtly menacing; behind Ronnie’s glasses he wears a perpetually sour face, mouth agape like a child’s when he’s not spewing out profanities in the general direction of anyone unfortunate enough to be close to him. There’s nothing subtle about Ronnie just like there’s nothing apparently bad about Reggie.

Generally speaking, there’s very little that’s subtle about the Kray twins. They operate with almost complete autonomy, owning everything from night clubs to casinos to, apparently, small pubs. The cops aren’t very good but they are still on to them. Christopher Eccleston gives some oomph to the powers that be behind the badge and gun, though he’s too infrequently seen to make that much of an impression. Meanwhile, Reggie’s brushes with Scotland Yard feel more like weekend visits than serious consequences.

At film’s open, the Krays’ reign of terror in London has already been established. We know this because we’re told explicitly so in a voiceover provided by Emily Browning’s Frances, the girl Reggie quickly courts and even more quickly marries. Helgeland, rather than showing the rise to power, chooses to tell us about it, a rather disappointing strategy considering the Tom Hardy-shaped weapon he has in his arsenal here. Legend is less about the uniqueness of the Kray twins’ exploits as it is about the personal cost of being a gangster.

There are some benefits to the story shifting to a smaller focus. As Frances becomes more entangled in Reggie’s dealings — despite the fuss her mother makes over her daughter dating a gangster — she also becomes our eyes and ears into the parties and exclusive hang outs that occur. There’s a real vulnerability her character introduces that allows us to get just a little bit closer to Reggie, even though we might not want to. She reveals a tenderness to Reggie that he wouldn’t admit he had to anyone else, much less express it.

Browning manages to draw out a surprising amount of sympathy because she fortunately isn’t a cardboard cutout of a person, unlike the many who supposedly comprise the criminal syndicate known as The Firm. Most of these characters hang like Christmas decoration around the Krays, having very little input but coloring the background just enough so Hardy isn’t just standing in a room alone, talking to himself.

Unlike these thugs, we do feel for Frances when things start getting bad. She didn’t have to marry a notorious criminal of course, but that’s immaterial at this point; Helgeland adapts John Pearson’s ‘The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins,’ and the facts are the facts.

One thing is pretty obvious: Brian Helgeland has been wanting to make a movie about these characters, and, yes, in the loosest sense of the term he has made a movie ‘about’ them. It’s just a shame that proceedings play out so predictably, that there’s not more to this story about crazy powerful, crazy violent mobsters. We never do get that sense these people are legends in their community. I suppose it’s also not fair to expect another Bane, but still. Sparing Hardy’s mad performance, Legend isn’t anything but a shadow walking behind the next big gangster biopic.

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Recommendation: Well-acted but very predictable and unengaging in its focus on a standard love story that doesn’t do much beyond confirm our suspicions that maybe Reggie isn’t quite as charming as he first looks. Legend appeals to big fans of Hardy but the story isn’t anything a gangster/crime thriller aficionado hasn’t seen before.

Rated: R

Running Time: 132 mins.

Quoted: “Never mess with a man’s genitals, mate!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Windsor Drive

Release: Friday, August 28, 2015 (limited)

[Vimeo]

Written by: T.R. Gough

Directed by: Natalie Bible’


This review happens to be my fourth contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. I’d like to thank James for giving me the chance to check this one out!


While there are some momentary glimpses of inventive horror film-making, there’s little doubt the short format would have served Windsor Drive‘s purposes better and that’s the only thing that’s clear after sitting once through.

Obscured by an overwhelming number of confusing and convoluted scene changes and music video-style edits, Windsor Drive strives for conjuring a moody, noir-esque vibe but instead results in an exasperating experience lacking in logic and inspiration. Knoxville, Tennessee native Natalie Bible’ has something on her mind about the degree of psychological asylum people are willing to sacrifice for the sake of a shot at the big time (specifically for an acting gig in this case) but unfortunately whatever that message is supposed to mean to anyone not in showbiz is extremely difficult to access.

In fact, trying to deduce what Windsor Drive is saying — other than that crazy people are drawn towards crazy professions like acting — is like digging through a stack of needles to find a single straw of hay. It’s painful and damn tedious. I’m having flashes of Shawnee Smith in Saw II, rummaging through a knee-deep stash of filthy syringes dumped into a pit in that decrepit home. I may not have bled as much (or at all), but the effort to keep going was, well . . . cut to the shot of her Amanda falling to the ground after finding the key and having completely expended her physical and psychological strength.

Film features a bevy of soap opera stars who are as easy on the eyes as they are grating on the ears. These relative unknowns unfortunately aren’t convincing in the slightest; luckily T.R. Gough’s haphazard script doesn’t have much time for dialogue, so most of the awkwardness presents in the stiff way these people carry themselves. With the exception of star Tommy O’Reilly fully committed to the fragile actor role — his River Miller’s archetypical tall, dark and handsome physique offers a fairly threatening character — supporting roles, mostly female, are sketches of actual people. Samaire Armstrong’s Brooke, one of River’s exes, is relegated to line rehearsals like, ‘No, please don’t leave. You should stay and have sex with me again,’ only the dialogue isn’t quite as profound.

River moves to the L.A. area to find a proper acting gig, wanting to leave his past behind in which a girlfriend tragically took her own life. He takes a room in a house run by two hipsters, hipsterly named Wulfric (Kyan DuBois) and Ivy (Anna Biani) who have, I don’t know, something weird going on. Most of the narrative is spent in this place, a brooding ground where the three roommates occasionally interact and ruminate on how hard it is to find a good gig as an actor. Then River finds out there’s a small part in a remake of the Windsor Drive movie. Bible’ teases out a few of the lines he has to rehearse in a sequence of admittedly brilliant shots that blur the line between the head space he gets in in character and the one he leaves behind in the real world. There needed to be more of that.

Should Bible’ have gone the short film route, one of the piece’s most nagging issues would have most assuredly been eliminated: feigning creativity in order to reach a certain run time. Shots cut and re-cut so that they play over and again upside down, in reverse and in different color palettes (all semi-related, of course) and framing speeds become so commonplace it’s clear that passing time is the primary objective. Best case scenario, Windsor Drive is amateurish with a bit of potential; at worst it’s one of the more pretentious bits I’ve seen. Condensing the timeline might not have guaranteed its salvation, but tightening the focus would have steered the project away from pretense quickly.

Recommendation: Windsor Drive features a few pretty cool scenes but there are far more minuses than pluses to this one. I can’t really recommend the film on its acting or directing pedigree but it does look good despite the horrible decision to cut it like an extended music video; and the lack of dialogue in favor of visual cues makes for occasionally stimulating viewing. Though rough, this film won’t stop me from keeping an eye out for Bible’ going forward.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 78 mins.

Quoted: “Some might find it a little odd, strange perhaps, but there is a method to the madness. There are only two relevant human emotions, love and fear. All others are meaningless.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.traileraddict.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Gift

Release: Friday, August 7, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Joel Edgerton

Directed by: Joel Edgerton

The Gift is a kind of addictive drug. The more of it you consume the more of it you want.

Considering this is the first time Australian actor Joel Edgerton has been in full control of a project, that may seem hyperbolic. However, the logic follows. Edgerton has proven over the course of a 17-year career on the big screen he’s able to do much with a bit of determination. And, well yeah, some pride and confidence. Edgerton’s not just talented but he’s principled. Criticism about projects he has chosen has rarely, if ever, questioned his faith in his own work. With resilience to spare, he continues to bear the marks of a reliable thespian. It would only make sense his efforts would translate to an altogether new aspect of filmmaking. This, the year 2015, would be the time to prove it.

The Gift, now almost three years in the making, is a gift to those who have kept the faith in him. As a mystery thriller it is incredibly tense, well-acted and the epitome of unpredictable. In it Edgerton co-stars alongside Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall, who play a recently relocated married couple settling into the sprawling suburbs of Los Angeles from their native Chicago. While shopping for home supplies, Simon (Bateman, in a compelling, atypically dramatic performance) bumps into someone who claims to recognize him from their high school days, a socially awkward but seemingly harmless Gordo (Edgerton). While the timing isn’t convenient to catch up in the store, Simon promises they will be in touch.

Simon is a partner in a billion-dollar company. His wife Robyn works from home as a designer. From what we gather initially the pair are but two seeds swept up in the current of modern day living, one that all but necessitates independent career earnings to support a family. Their beautiful home alone is but a part of a larger picture of success, and Simon and Robyn seem very happy together. One afternoon Gordo drops in unannounced; Robyn invites him in for a tour of their abode, not wanting to be rude to Simon’s ostensible old friend. This leads to a pleasant dinner later that evening, during which Simon and Gordo finally do some of that catching up. Most of it is casual chit-chat, but Edgerton being Edgerton, his character possesses a depth that jumpstarts his former classmate’s uptightness. An uptightness that gradually morphs into paranoia. Paranoia that evolves into legitimate suspicion.

The Gift is also written by the Aussie. On that front he proves himself a talent to keep watching, crafting a perpetual shape-shifter that creates at least as many questions as it does answers. That should be taken as a compliment of the highest order when it comes to the genre. Beyond an acting showcase — show me the role in which Jason Bateman has been better (or Rebecca Hall for that matter) — the film, particularly in its final moments, offers an adrenaline rush that manifests more as a high than anything else. Indeed if The Gift is a drug, it’s good for both the brain and body.

In an auspicious directing debut, Edgerton provides more than just sound narrative structure and an atmosphere in which his co-stars have clearly flourished — nevermind the fact that he shot his own role two weeks into production and in the span of a single week. He’s made his stance on childhood bullying abundantly clear. And of course he’s not content to stop there, evolving the conversation on the long-term effects of that infuriating reality into a discussion about how it takes a much darker and potentially more harmful turn when applied to adults engaging in such shameful behavior. If someone is looking for a fault in the film it’s that perhaps the issue is handled a little less than subtly in the pulse-pounding conclusion but that’s so incredibly secondary to the fact that he has taken this issue seriously, as it ought to be.

Recommendation: If you’re in the mood to be toyed with psychologically Joel Edgerton has the perfect film for you. Filled with deeply emotional performances and a wicked final (double) twist, his first shot at directing should earn him a score of new fans. This is pretty exciting stuff from a guy who’s always been reliable as an actor, and it’s safe to say this will go on to become a favorite for fans of the mystery thriller and intelligent, provocative filmmaking in general. The Gift is one of 2015’s greats. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 108 mins.

Quoted: “Good people deserve good things.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com