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

People Places Things

People Places Things movie poster

Release: Friday, August 15, 2015 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: James C. Strouse

Directed by: James C. Strouse

Bittersweet comedy features Jemaine Clement calibrating his typical absurdist humor to bring warmth and tenderness to a story that both pleases and frustrates in almost equal measure.

People Places Things won’t be the next career-defining gig for the Kiwi but it’s such an affable film little doubt remains as to whether the Flight of the Conchords performer is multitalented as well as a genuinely good guy.

In it he plays Will Henry, a 30-something-year-old comic book creator and teacher who discovers his longtime girlfriend has cheated on him on the day of their twin daughters’ birthdays. He subsequently moves into a one-bedroom apartment and must learn to juggle the emotional turmoil with his daily responsibilities such as being a good father and inspiring his students to become better artists.

Will also finds himself having to put himself back out on the market, a proposition he isn’t so quick to embrace until he meets the mother of one of his students, a Columbia University professor who doesn’t initially share Will’s passion for comics, uncertain they are an integral part of American literature. Diane (Regina Hall) is a beautiful woman well-versed in heartbreak. Her daughter Kat (Jessica Williams) highly regards Will as an artist. But what about him as a person?

People Places Things doesn’t set out to rewrite the rules of romantic comedy. But then, it has no obligation to do so when it’s this damn enjoyable. Clement turns in a brilliantly understated performance that effects a fully realized portrait of a father whose love for his children never comes into question. That’s not to say he’s the perfect role model. He struggles with falling into routine, and that’s particularly problematic when he convinces the ex to let him spend more time with the kids.

Stephanie Allynne plays Charlie, the other half of the equation. Her life hasn’t turned out to be what she envisioned. Call the opening scene the manifestation of a midlife crisis from which the film may or may not ever recover. What was once presumably a stable relationship disintegrates in a single scene, although some backstory would have given the revelatory moment the oomph it clearly lacks.

Writer/director James C. Strouse compensates for the awkward cold open by developing the father-daughter relationship in the middle third. The majority of the film finds Will trying to adjust to a life in a new environment, where he tries to impress Clio and Colette (real life twin sisters Aundrea and Gia Gadsby) with his laid-back parenting, a strategy that soon breaks down and calls into question his ability to do all that is necessary to be a truly responsible parent. Meanwhile, Charlie claims she’s been doing that all along. It would have been nice to actually see her being the more matured adult rather than getting glimpses of her having a nervous breakdown.

Despite some hiccups, Strouse constructs a simple tale of mature relationships that certainly could benefit from some expansion but it’s the emotional depth that lifts the film several feet above forgettable.

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Recommendation: Performances are key. Jemaine Clement is wonderful, as is his support. Most notable are Regina Hall and Jessica Williams as Will’s student whose mother he ends up seeing. Story is slight but heartwarming and incredibly re-watchable. Fans of Clement and ‘realistic’ romantic comedies need apply. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 85 mins.

Quoted: “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just having a bad life. It’ll be over eventually.”

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 

What We Do in the Shadows

wwdits-movie-poster

Release: Friday, February 13, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Jemaine Clement; Taika Waititi

Directed by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

It’s once again cool to bust out your vampire get-up for the next Halloween party because these guys have just made being an ugly, putrefying member of the undead so totally hip. Even I, one of Dracula‘s biggest naysayers, wants a sweet cape.

If you’ve been entranced by musicomedy duo Flight of the Conchords, a televised show/live performance featuring the inseparable Kiwis Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie this film has your name written (in blood) all over it. Their brand of humor runs amok in this mockumentary about several vampires struggling to just get by in the 21st Century, all while anticipating and preparing to attend the annual Unholy Masquerade hosted in their fair town of Wellington, New Zealand. This film is such an amusing spin on the vampire legend that being a dedicated fan isn’t a matter of eternal life and death.

What We Do in the Shadows sucks-eeds on a number of levels. Aside from that being possibly this blog’s worst pun yet, it’s also paramount to understanding why you’ll walk away from this fangtastic comedy feeling completely refreshed and satisfied with how you’ve spent your money. Consistency is difficult to find in comedies, much less those of the contemporary variety, but there is no better word to describe Shadows, apart from echoing critics’ chosen adjective: hilarious. From the performances to the frightful wardrobe; the subversion of vampiric lore to the commitment to being ridiculous, this is a product that delivers on its promises from the opening frame of being a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The film invites you in with a frank discussion between two roommates attempting a diplomatic approach with a third, much lazier roommate, the 183-year-old Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), who hasn’t done the dishes in at least five years. Clement’s Vladislav and Taika Waititi’s Viago, both several centuries Deacon’s senior, are understandably upset. Tensions have literally risen to the ceiling and added to this the fact that their fourth roommate, 8,000-year-old Petyr (Ben Fransham) doesn’t exactly try to voice his concerns. Quickly the tone of the film is set, although direction is a little harder to nail down.

Shadows, while thoroughly ridiculous, knows not to forsake tradition, however. Some of its funniest moments come from demonstrating the “mild inconveniences” of having to suck blood to stay alive. Because they cannot expose themselves to sunlight the gang has to prowl the streets at night looking for new “friends,” and also because of other technicalities, they often find themselves denied the chance to enter night clubs since they’re never invited in. A friend of Deacon (a human female, as it so happens) tricks her ex-boyfriend Nick into coming over to their house to eat what he thinks is a hearty bowl of spaghetti. Uh, it’s not. It’s actually pasghetti, thank you very much, and it looks remarkably similar to a bowl of live worms. A chase ensues when the guest refuses to eat and Nick, despite his best efforts, may never be the same again.

Several other humorous vignettes transpire before we get to the main event: the Unholy Masquerade, and I refuse to reveal anything more about those sequences. While tensions among the roommates are being documented in each scene, this is where things really start to unravel for Vladislav in particular. As he’s expecting to become the featured guest of this year’s Unholy Masquerade, it’s no surprise he is crushed when he hears that not only is he not the guest of honor but instead it’s none other than his ex, whom he describes — in a scene that had me crying from laughter — as “that damn Beast.” All hell breaks loose at the dance when Pauline (a.ka. “The Beast”) quickly sniffs out the human members among Vladislav’s crew — Nick’s computer engineer/dorky friend Stu is one such individual, as are the people filming the documentary — but luckily enough our gang escapes the angry mob of undead.

Shadows may be loosely strung together in terms of plot, but when the gags come in such rapid succession and the characters are this entertaining, basic structure fades into the background. It’s easy to sit back and eagerly anticipate the next twist in the adventure. The addition of human Stu is a brilliant reflection of our own wide-eyed reactions to these bloodthirsty drama queens. He’s also someone the vampires actually take kindly to, as he introduces them to the conveniences of Skype and smart phones, assimilating these creatures slowly into the modern age.

It’s a pretty difficult world to get by in if you’re a mere mortal, but if you’re a vampire good luck trying not to go insane figuring out what the point is of things like Twitter and Instagram.

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4-5Recommendation: What We Do in the Shadows pulls off an impressive feat of remaining funny, engaging and clever from beginning to end while creating several interesting riffs on the vampire genre. For fans of anything Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have done this inspired documentary is an absolute must. It basically is for anyone in search of one of the year’s better comedies. The sun hasn’t come up yet, but this has a good chance of staying alive for a long, long time. Fantastic bit of creative energy out of New Zealand. Check it out.

Rated: N/R

Running Time: 86 mins.

Quoted: “What are we?” / “Werewolves, not swear-wolves . . .”

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