Tag Archives: Disney

FILM REVIEW: The BFG

Roald Dahl’s childrens’ (and adults’ for that matter) favourite, The BFG, has made it to the big screen, and Disney have certainly pulled out the big guns. Not only do we have the magic of Roald Dahl’s imagination to work with, but Steven Spielberg is in the director’s chair, with his trusty sidekick and master of the soundtrack, John Williams, on board once again to provide that crucial sonic sparkle.

It’s not the first time that The BFG has been turned into a film. Brian Cosgrove’s 1989 TV movie / animation, complete with David Jason’s voiceover, paved the way, but 2016’s big budget extravaganza is an altogether different beast.

A big fan of Roald Dahl’s darkly devious stories, myself, and being from that generation when Anglia Television – they of the rotating knight on a horse – adapted many of Dahl’s short stories for television in the unforgettable series, Tales of the unexpected, my own experience of Dahl’s childrens’ stories, whilst relatively comprehensive, somehow didn’t include The BFG.

Nevertheless, as with any film, a prior lack of knowledge of the storyline can so often be beneficial, dispensing with the need to constantly compare and contrast with the inevitably much better book.

Not having read it, I went in fresh for Spielberg’s vision of the Roald Dahl classic.

For those of you in a similar boat, The BFG tells the tale of a little orphaned girl, Sophie (the excellent Ruby Barnhill). Strong of mind and with a wise old head on rather young shoulders, she’s a proper vivacious little madam, living at an orphanage in her own little world of make believe.

One night, on hearing a commotion outside her window, she gingerly peeks out and spots a giant ‘going about his business’ in the shadows of the street; the only problem being that he spots her too. Taking no chances, he whisks her away with him, for fear that she might speak about what she’s seen.

Deaf to her protestations and promises of silence, he carries Sophie off, and trekking through wild and rugged terrain, they finally find themselves in the giant’s rather rustic cave-like dwelling where The BFG insists Sophie must remain for the rest of her days.

For a feisty little thing like Sophie, this is no proposition whatsoever, and so she sets about plotting her escape.

It’s only once she realises who The BFG really is, that he is in fact nothing like the ogre she had imagined him to be, and that he is actually the victim of systematic bullying by a group of other much taller and stronger giants that inhabit the same valley, that Sophie decides to remain with The BFG and give him the help that he clearly needs.

Spielberg has opted to use motion capture animation to bring The BFG to life. It’s an inspired move and Mark Rylance’s softly spoken, cuddly portrayal of the big fella with the West Country accent is nothing short of the perfect fit for the part.

A special mention too for young Ruby Barnhill, that rarest of rarities, a British child actress that is not only wholly believable in her role, but absolutely excels within it. A big future awaits there, no doubt.

Whether The BFG is a faithful rendition of Dahl’s book or not, there is no denying that it certainly works very well as a film in its own right.

It’s a film that, much like so many of Dahl’s marvellous, imaginative and magical books, champions the child, giving them the power and belief that they really can be Kings and Queens of the world, whilst cleverly teaching them the value of love, respect, tolerance and friendship at the same time.

Awash with genuinely funny jokes to bring out the giggling child in you, and just the right level of sentimentality so as not to overdo things, you’ll come away from The BFG with the very warmest of warm glows. If you don’t, let’s face it, you probably have a twitch-tickling problem understanding words, babblements and such.

Don’t worry – it happens.

Far and away the best children’s film I’ve seen in quite some time.

Hats off to one and all for The BFG. A hugely charming piece.

 

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FILM REVIEW: The Finest Hours

There’s nothing like a great, epic sea-faring yarn. And, that’s right, this is nothing like a great, epic sea-faring yarn.

Based upon a true story; one that is still heralded to this day as the greatest sea-faring rescue mission by the U.S coastal guard to ever have happened, The Finest Hours chronicles the daring exploits of ‘unlikely’ hero, Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), and his rag-tag assortment of inexperienced seamen on their mission to save a number of stricken crew members aboard half of an oil tanker – that’s right, half of an oil tanker – the other half having been shorn away by 70 foot waves in uncommonly rough seas during one of the worst storms ever to have hit the U.S east coast.

You certainly can’t argue that The Finest Hours has all of the ingredients to make an engaging, albeit straight forward piece of cinema, so quite how director Craig Gillespie and Disney have come up which such a damp squib of a film, is a bit of a head scratcher.

Right from the off, a limp set of sequences introduces us to a set of characters so beige, poorly drawn and uninspired, that you’d swear you were watching a made-for-TV matiné movie on the Hallmark channel. Add to this a ‘by-the-numbers’ script of massively contrived dialogue and a lead character, Bernie, whose soft voice, bowed head and bashful mannerisms, make him perhaps the least convincing ‘heroic’ boat captain since Laurel and Hardy stepped aboard in Saps at Sea.

Unlike the impressive, rolling waves of this 1952 storm, The Finest Hours, with maybe a handful of notable CGi-infused exceptions, is, in stark contrast, largely flat and lifeless, failing to hit the mark spectacularly on occasions. Indeed, even the effects are at times suspect. Not quite, ‘the studio’s summer temp, on set, flinging buckets of water at the boat’s crew from stage left’ suspect, but suspect none the less.

Rarely has such a relatively stella cast, (including the likes of Casey Affleck, John Ortiz and Eric Bana), ever been rendered quite so uninspiring  and disengaging, barely lifting this drab, salty saga into the realms of even the mundane.

I’d imagine I’m not the target audience for this two hours of sanitised marine driftwood, and it’s only fair to admit that it’s not bad in that Roland Emmerich, 2012 – angry at the mere thought of it – sense of the word, but let’s just say this; in marine terms, The Finest Hours is a piece of seaweed, bobbing limply on a still ocean; and not even one of those vaguely interesting pieces with the poppable air pockets in it.

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Listen Up Philip

There’s a small scene, late on, where one of Philip’s students is asking for a letter of recommendation, but Philip (well cast – played by Jason Schwartzman), in his half-arsed arrogance,  stamps a few staples into a scrap of paper, hands it over and insists that that’s the best he can do.

A rare moment of amusement.

When dark, Indie comedies are done well, they can be little gems; when they’re not, they are long, drawn-out affairs.

Welcome to ‘Listen Up Philip’ (LUP).

On paper at least, this film really should work.

A self-absorbed writer refuses to promote his new novel believing it to be beneath him – which is a little ironic considering self-promotion is what he seems best at, much to the constant chargrin of those that pass in and out of his life.

Instead, he looks to satisfy his need for solace, artistic concentration and most importantly, personal prioritisation, by retreating to the country house of his new friend and mentor, Ike, (played nicely by Jonathan Pryce) for a large dose of ‘me time.’ Ike, constantly berated by his twenty-something daughter, appears to be the only person Philip has encountered, more self-indulgant and selfish than Philip himself.

Philip takes off and leaves behind him a bewildered girlfriend, struggling to figure out where she fits into his life.

She doesn’t. The term second fiddle springs to mind.

It’s a tale of a selfishness and the pursual of goals at the expense of everyone else, with little or no concern for the impact of such actions.

As I said, with the right script and a good idea for comic timing, the ingredients really are all there.

So why doesn’t it work?

Director Ross Perry has shot the entire thing on 16mm film, made use of a very mid-twentieth century, retro titles font and opted for a sultry jazz soundtrack as a backdrop. The use of a narrator linking us between the various scenes is an interesting touch, though it’s arguable whether it really works, or is even necessary for that matter.

It did bring to mind the overall ‘feel’ of two films from yesteryear; a 1950s/60s Disney offering called something like ‘The Bear and the Raccoon?’ – a heart-warming, narrated sentimental wildlife amble through the American countryside and Woody Allen’s early slapstick affair,  ‘Take the money and run.’

LUP however has neither the charm of the former, nor the laughs of the latter.

Everything about LUP frustrates:

The annoying, hand-held, jittery camera work, the scarcity of actual humour throughout, overly-long focused attention on each of the film’s main characters – almost separate short films in themselves and at times feeling completely detatched from the film as a whole – and above all, the sheer damn self-indulgence of it all.

Yet, through all of this, there is something hidden in here which I suspect will, in time, win LUP a bit of a cult following. Just a hunch.

It’s not enough though to salvage what is a painfully long, meandering, wasted opportunity.

Disappointing.