The BFG

Director: Steven Spielberg (2016) BBFC cert PG

Prepare to be charmed into submission by the giant heart of this moving and magical family adventure.

Combining the cinematic skill of Steven Spielberg and the resources of Disney, it’s a respectful and delightful adaption of Roald Dahl’s ever popular children’s book (pub. 1982).

A seamless mix of live action, motion capture special effects and beautiful design bring to vivid life the tale of young Sophie who is spirited away to a mysterious world by the BFG, the Big Friendly Giant.

English actress Ruby Barnhill offers an honest, engaging and sweetly unaffected debut, undoubtedly benefitting from Spielberg’s expertise in drawing out the best in his child performers.

Conscientious in her observance of the witching hour, brave and bookish Sophie is snatched from her orphanage after failing to obey the three rules of not staying in bed, going to the window or looking behind the curtain.

Here there are shades of the dark festive feature Gremlins (1984) which was executive produced by Spielberg.

Once in giant country she overcomes her initial fear to establish a deep bond of trust with her new friend. Played with wounded dignity by last year’s best actor Oscar winner Mark Rylance, the BFG has enormous and expressive ears and lives in a fantastical grotto.

He spends his time mangling words, catching dreams and being bullied by a tribe of stupid and even bigger giants. Despite being 50 foot tall cannibals, for all their size there’s sadly not meat on the bones of their characters of Fleshlumpeater and his gang.

These action moments lack the director’s usual invention and feel almost rote by his own high standards. Plus there’s little sense of giant country being more than a field and a hill.

Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall offer reliable support and there’s an entertaining and  possibly treasonous turn from Penelope Wilton as Queen Elizabeth II.

With Spielberg having gathered his usual editor, cinematographer and composer, quality glows through this beautifully crafted adventure. Between them Michael Kahn, Janusz Kaminski and John Williams have 10 Oscar wins, 9 of which were for Spielberg films. This may not be their greatest individual or collective work but it’s fiercely, soaringly professional. Rylance of course won his Oscar for Spielberg’s Bridge Of Spies (2015).

The BFG is Dedicated to its late screenwriter Melissa Mathieson who sadly passed away during production. She also wrote Spielberg’s masterpiece E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and it’s not hard to find familiar elements of lonely imaginative children being befriended by strange creatures.

Spielberg is far more interested in exploring the growing relationship between the girl and the giant than the scant story, choosing to focus not on plot but on the way in which the unlikely friends affect an emotional change in each other.

It’s worth pondering whom of Sophie and the BFG really occupies the parenting role. Sophie encourages the BFG to challenge and improve himself. She mothers this boy who describes himself as old as time; a boy who has never grown up.

There are also visual nods to Peter Pan in a beached pirate ship and Tinkerbell-like fireflies. Spielberg’s take on J. M. Barrie’s tale resulted with the lamentable Hook (1991). This is a superior and more faithful adaption and can be seen as an apologia for that noticeable blot on his CV.

Dreams are presented as sparkling sprites which the BFG catches before trapping them as lighting in a bottle and firing them into the minds of the sleeping public. His cave is a magical dream factory.

This is the BFG as an avatar for Spielberg, his most personal and visible on screen self. The filmmakers biography resonates with the BFG. A lonely child and victim of bullying who seeks to be left alone to work his magic and make people happy. Plus cinema here is presented as a campaigning cultural force when the BFG is able to access government and influence policy.

In this reading the giants become interfering studio executives. Or possibly film critics.

A one time former prodigy of cinema, the BFG finds Spielberg in the mood of a mischievous and avuncular grandfather. This is his glorious gift to the grandchildren of the world.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

The Gunman

Director: Pierre Morel (2015)

Sean Penn is a brain-damaged assassin on the run in this dull and brutal action thriller.

It has a preposterous plot, makes heavy-handed political statements and has no sympathetic characters.

The frequent action sequences are powered by a fistful of heavyweight actors (Sean PennJavier BardemIdris ElbaRay Winstone and Mark Rylance). But they can’t distract you from how staggeringly implausible it all is.

Eight years ago, private security operative and part-time assassin Jim Terrier (Penn) abandoned his lovely girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca) in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He had to leave quickly after being the principal gunman responsible for the murder of the Minister of Mining, which threw the troubled country into renewed chaos.

Now Terrier has returned and is now working peacefully for an NGO but Annie is long gone. This gives Terrier plenty of time to go surfing and show off his impressive physique.

Penn’s body is by Charles Atlas, hair colour by Paul McCartney and skin tone by David Dickinson.

One day he’s attacked by shotgun and machete wielding thugs. After manfully protecting himself with a shovel, he’s jetting off to London to talk to former colleagues to discover why he’s been targeted.

In a swanky office overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral he meets Cox (Rylance). He now heads a multinational security firm and explains the other members of Terrier’s former hit-squad are dead.

So Terrier meets his friend and former SAS soldier Stanley (Winstone) in the pub. After winning a fight with a footie fan, Terrier is diagnosed with a brain condition which causes amnesia, nausea, headaches, dizziness and blurred vision.

It’s incurable but the doctor does provide headache pills and a sweet smile.

Terrier’s amnesia is so bad he forgets to suffer symptoms. Especially after being involved in explosive gunfights of the sort he’s specifically told to avoid, for fear of aggravating his condition.

London is grey so they fly to sunny Barca sunny which is full of bull-fighting. They contact a civilian who ran the Congo assassination, the drunkard Felix (Bardem).

He’s now married to Terrier’s former love Annie and lives in a palatial villa – but keeps his flash car in a nearby farmer’s barn.

Afters some handbags in a restaurant Annie finds Terrier at his secret Spanish Legion hideout. They’re soon making up for lost time before being separated – again.

Cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano aims for epic sweep with helicopter shots and tries to heighten our tension by closing the frame with lots of shallow focus.

The brutal violence but conspicuous lack of nudity and bloodshed suggests a more graphic product was imagined in the filming but the four – count them – four producers compromised the editing of Frédéric Thoraval to chase a lower certificate and a wider market.

The plot ricochets around with betrayals, explosions and a brief appearance by Idris Elba. There’s neck-snapping fist-fights, lots of gun play, more explosions and an angry bull.

There’s lots of bull here and if that weakly constructed metaphor is good enough to be used in the film – then it’s good enough for this review.