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From marilyn.ca: “If you love going to the movies, but you’re never sure what to see, Richard Crouse has the answer! Check out these sure-to-be blockbusters to keep you entertained all summer!” They argue about “Finding Dory” and preview “The BFG,” “The Secret Life of Pets,” “Jason Bourne,” “Suicide Squad” and “Ghostbusters.”
If you are not a Roald Dahl fan the term The BFG almost sounds like something you might call someone you don’t like.
If you’re familiar with the Dahl’s work, stories like James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and Fantastic Mr Fox, you’ll already know The BFG stands for The Big Friendly Giant.
Just in time for the 100th anniversary of Dahl’s birth, Steven Spielberg brings the towering tale of an orphan girl who befriends a taller-than-tall giant to the big screen.
Mark Ryland, last year’s best supporting Oscar winner for Bridge of Spies, plays the BFG but he’s not the film’s only leviathan. Giant Country is filled with “cannybully and murderful” goliaths with fanciful names like The Childchewer and The Gizzardgulper.
They are the BFG’s brothers, behemoths so huge if six-foot eight-inch Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lebron James stood next to them he’d only come up to their ankle. They’re fearsome but Meatdripper portrayer Paul Moniz de Sa is quick mention, “There’s still a lot of joy in the giants.”
“We were going more for goose bumps,” says Michael Adamthwaite who plays the Butcher Boy. “The film does a good job of showing [kids] how to overcome that fear and finding confidence and being brave and standing up for what you believe in.”
Creating a world for the giants to inhabit involved groundbreaking technology to blend the live-action elements with performance-capture techniques. The richly detailed Giant Country, where swords are used as sewing needles and sailing ships double as beds, was brought to vivid life on soundstages in Vancouver last year.
“It was a big empty space and you had to use your imagination to feel the different elements,” says Daniel Bacon who plays Bonecruncher. “There was tape on the floor and it was explained that something would be here, and something would be there. We relied on Steven telling us and being very descriptive about what it would look like.”
“We also had the wonderful concept art to fall back on,” says Adamthwaite. “For all the locations there was a big concept art poster and then there was the virtual camera which is technologically way beyond my brain power, but it is so crisp and the technology has advanced so quickly that now we are at a point that even though we were in a carpeted room with tape on the floor we had the benefit of being able to look over to a large screen monitor and see these almost real time, almost full renderings of our characters.”
The result of the high tech work is a film that has so little to do with today’s kid’s entertainment it feels as though it’s a relic from another time, a singular holdover from a day before Minions gurgled and everything was awesome. Adamthwaite credits Spielberg for finding the right tone.
“While some directors may be pushing the boundaries of being cutting edge. He always sees the film through the audience’s eyes. He’s very aware and astute of what will work in terms of what the audience appreciates.”
The Tarzan yell, a familiar sound to anyone who grew up watching Johnny Weissmuller movies on Saturday morning television. Created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912 as a feral child raised in the jungle by Mangani Great Apes, he has inspired dozens of films, radio and television shows, comic books, Baltimora’s hit song Tarzan Boy and even appeared on a GEICO TV commercial. When The Lord of the Jungle wasn’t doing the famous yell Carol Burnett would often close her variety show with the jungle holler.
That was then. Those Saturday morning matinees are a thing of the past and it’s been some time since Tarzan made any kind of rumble in the jungle. “True Blood’s” Alexander Skarsgård and his finely honed abdominal muscles hope to change that with “The Legend of Tarzan,” a revamped look at the chest-thumping hero.
The story begins with a history lesson. It’s 1862 and King Leopold of Belgium has gone broke trying to sap the Congo’s considerable resources. In a last ditch effort to find a valuable diamond mine, Belgian envoy, the vain and ruthless Captain Rom, (Christoph Waltz) has left a trail of carnage across the land.
To access the gems Rom must make a deal with Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou). “There is one thing I despise above all else,” says the chief. “Bring him to me and you shall have your diamonds.” That “him,” of course, is Tarzan ak.a. John Clayton, Earl of Greystoke, a fella raised by apes when his aristocratic parents perished in the jungle. (Luckily there were no trigger-happy zookeepers nearby so the apes could safely take the child.) Mbongo wants revenge, Rom wants the jewels and a plan is hatched to lure Tarzan, who now lives the life of a lord in London with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie), back to Africa.
US trade ambassador George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) convinces Greystoke to accept Rom’s “goodwill” invitation but he has an ulterior motive. “How does a bankrupt monarch keep the Congo in business?” he asks. “Slavery?”
And that’s just the first half hour. In short order Jane is kidnapped from the warm embrace of her African family so Tarzan must not only rescue her and stay away from Mbonga but also stop Rom and the king from enslaving all of the Congo. It’s a tall order, but he’s a big guy. “A normal man can do the impossible to save the woman he loves,” says Jane. “My husband is no normal man.”
Not content to simply introduce a franchise-able Tarzan to millennials, “The Legend of Tarzan” is also a treatise against man’s injustice to man. Slavery, colonialism and the slaughter of America’s native people are all covered but the political and historical subtext tends to be outshone by the shiny-as-a-new-dime leads. In the tradition of the great Tarzan and Janes of the past Skarsgård and Robbie bring otherworldly abs and cheekbones and some sexual tension—she apparently really likes it when he imitates animal mating calls—to a movie that jam packs in story but works best when it sticks to the basics. Beautiful cinematography, exciting jungle chase scenes and cliff jumps are the stuff Tarzan movies are made of and the new films has those in spades. When it embraces its ape man legacy it swings on all vines. When it steps outside those lines its less successful.
Director David Yates, best known for helming the last four “Harry Potter” movies, seems to have a sense of campy humour regarding his characters—why else would he have Rom sneer cartoon villain lines like, “Your husband’s wildness disturbs me”?—but the emotional moments seem just out of his reach.
Absent any real feelings “The Legend of Tarzan” relies on snazzy filmmaking—lots of flashbacks and highflying action—and fetching leads to keep things interesting. Even then it feels as if Yates is holding back to ensure a young demographic friendly PG rating. There are fights and some violence but much of the actual action happens just off screen. It’s less graphic, I suppose, but takes away the visceral thrills that could have amped this story up.
Will “The Legend of Tarzan” ingratiate the Lord of the Jungle to a new audience? As one character in the film says, “I don’t think so, wild man.”
“The BFG,” new kid’s film from Steven Spielberg and based on a much-loved book by Roald Dahl, has so little to do with today’s kids entertainment it feels as though it’s a relic from another time, a singular holdover from a day before Minions gurgled and everything was awesome.
The story begins at a London orphanage. Insomniac Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is a preteen urchin awake at 3 AM when she hears a noise in the street. Rather than stay safe in her bed the youngster breaks her three rules. “Never get out of the bed. Never go to the window. Never look behind the curtain.” Looking out into the street she locks eyes with a giant (Mark Rylance), a taller-than-tall man with a shock of white hair and hands the size of bulldozer scoops.
Realizing he has been seen, he grabs the girl, taking her back to Giant Country before she can tell anyone about his existence. “There’d be a great rumpus dumpus,” he says, “if you went on the tele-tele bunkum box and the radio squeakers.” Sophie soon gets that he isn’t going to harm her, that he is The BFG, Big Friendly Giant. “You think because I’m a giant that I’m a man eating canny-bal?” Unfortunately in Giant Land the neighbours are less friendly. Goliaths with names like Butcherboy and Gizzardgulper have a taste for young humans, and it soon becomes BFG’s job to keep Sophie safe. When the threat becomes too great this odd couple asks the most powerful person in Britain for help.
“The BFG” is a fantastical story that respects its audience. Spielberg understands not every second of the movie needs to be tweaked to a high, irritating squeal. Instead he immerses the audience in a new world, taking his time to set the scene and introduce the characters. Frenetic it is not. The director goes for a more classic approach, gently and methodically laying out the story. State of the art effects mix-and-mingle with old-fashioned storytelling to produce a beguilingly imaginative tale of friendship, family and flatulence. That’s right, like all great kid’s movies “The BFG” is a gas, including inventive and funny flatulence jokes.
Small children may find the film’s opening moments to be the stuff of bad dreams. The image of BFG’s giant hand coming through the window to snatch Sophie from her bed is memorable. It’s a timeless image of nightmarish terror, but may keep the kids awake at night.
The young’uns, however, will likely love The BFG’s unusual way of speaking. A Giant patois that sounds like Pig Latin filtered through Olde English, it’s addictive so expect the kids to be buckswashling and sqiubbling around the house for weeks to come. I’ve already introduced the term veggiterrible into my daily routine.
Rylance and Barnhill are an engaging pair—for much of the film they are onscreen alone—but the star of “The BFG” is Spielberg whose sense of wonder is infused in every frame.
By default “Our Kind of Traitor” will probably be listed under the “thriller” section on Netflix and elsewhere simply because it was written by spymaster John le Carré but don’t be fooled. Labelling this Ewan McGregor film a thriller simply because of le Carré’s involvement is like calling “One Hour Photo” because Robin Williams took the lead.
McGregor and Naomie Harris are Perry Makepeace and Gail Perkins, an English couple on romantic holiday in Marrakesh. When she leaves him alone in a restaurant Perry meets flamboyant Russian oligarch Dima (Stellan Skarsgård) who takes the uptight poetry professor to a wild party resembling something out of a Fellini film. Inside a large mansion half naked women ride horseback and there’s enough drugs and booze to make Keith Richard do a double take. It’s a wild night that goes on until the sun rises, followed by a tennis match at Dima’s expansive villa.
Perry and Gail meet Dima’s family and nothing seems too odd until later that night at a cocktail party when the Russian asks Perry to smuggle a flash drive filled with very sensitive banking information to London. Turns out Dima is a money launderer whose usefulness to the mob has come to an end. He fears they may kill him and his family and his way out is to get the flash drive to the MI6 in return for safe passage to England.
Sounds like a plan until MI6 agent Hector (Damian Lewis) is less than entirely enthusiastic about the whole situation. Thus begins the intrigue, what little there is of it here, with Perry channelling his inner James Bond to become a Citizen Spy.
From buttoned down poetry professor to le Carré hero in a matter of days. It’s a leap, a gaping chasm even, which requires a well-oiled suspension of disbelief. The main problem is that the movie doesn’t offer up many clues as to why this couple would risk everything to come to the aid of a man they barely know. It’s a well-worn cinematic staple, the everyman as hero, but here it falls flat.
“I’ve BLEEPED up your life Professor,” says Dima. “Why are you still here?”
This would have been a good time for screenwriter Hossein Amini to offer up some kind of rational explanation as to why Perry has laid it all on the line. Instead we get this: “I’ve no idea.”
The rest of “Our Kind of Traitor” is about as riveting as that answer. Skarsgård’s boisterous performance is worth a look and Lewis is multi-layered enough to carry the whole thing but they are inexplicably pushed to the background behind the bland leads.
“Swiss Army Man,” a new film starring Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, will exceed your expectations. No matter how odd you think a movie about a lovesick, stranded man and his dead friend will be, “Swiss Army Man” is odder. It’s “Hope and Crosby On the Road to Self Awareness,” and it is weirder than you imagine it will be, but also wonderful and rather sweet in its own strange way.
The surreal saga begins with Hank (Dano) marooned on a Pacific island. On the verge of suicide, he has lost hope until he sees a man wash up on shore. “Don’t be dead,” he says, rushing to examine the body. It’s Manny (Radcliffe), and he is dead… or, perhaps more rightly, deadish. Manny’s body may be lifeless but it’s not useless. His flatulence lights fires, his erections sub in for a compass, he becomes a gun, a fountain and even a showerhead. “You’re a miracle,” says Hank, “or I’m just hallucinating from eating starfish.” As they journey toward civilisation the two men dig deep finding reasons to keep one another reasons to stay alive.
This story of a hopeless man and his dead buddy is a tale of friendship and what it means to be alive, really and truly alive. Unconventional and even occasionally off-putting, the easy thing would be to describe it as “Cast Away” meets “Weekend at Bernie’s” but that doesn’t grab the poetic essence of what the film is trying to achieve. Using a premise Monty Python might have rejected as too silly, “Swiss Army Man” uses the relationship between its characters to shed light on everything from stifled machismo and loyalty to unrequited love and the need for compassion. It’s a big order for a film that so whole-heartedly embraces its own eccentricity and it won’t be for everyone but adventurous viewers may enjoy the sheer audacity of it.
As for Daniel Radcliffe fans, if you can accept the idea of Harry Potter’s body being used as a jet ski, propelled through the water by the power of his own flatulence, then this movie will be for you. If not, perhaps stick to “Prisoner of Azkaban.”
A new Australian drama titled “The Daughter” tackles a variety of topics. Everything from a small town decimated by the closing of a lumber mill to infidelity, the nature of parent’s relationships to their kids, young love, addiction and class divides are explored but despite the busy schedule of events the film is very focussed.
Loosely based on Henrik Ibsen’s 1884 tragedy “The Wild Duck,” the movie is set in a dying Australian logging town. Christian (Paul Schneider), son of the town’s lumber magnate (Geoffrey Rush), hasn’t been home in years. On the occasion of his father’s wedding to a much younger woman (Anna Torv) Christian brings his swirling mass of daddy issues and personal problems home for the first time since his mother committed suicide.
He reconnects with his best chum from university, Oliver (Ewen Leslie) and jovial but unemployed lumber worker, husband to Charlotte (Miranda Otto) and father to teenager Hedvig, played by Odessa Young. Over the course of the wedding weekend some dangerous truths are revealed, family secrets that threaten to blow families apart and destroy an innocent life.
To be any more specific would do a disservice to director Simon Stone’s storytelling. He skilfully brings together a small group of characters, overlapping their lives to bring them to a devastating conclusion. You won’t leave the theatre with a smile on your face but you’ll exit having seen an uncompromising but engaging look at personal dysfunction.
Naturalistic performances from a who’s who of Australian actors, Rush, Leslie, Otto and Sam Neill—who now plays old cranky grandfather parts—draw the viewer in but it is newcomer Young as Hedwig who is at the center of the action. Leslie has the showiest part but Young’s work gives us a reason to care about the personal politics.
“The Daughter” is a gem, an emotionally affecting film that transcends melodrama to cut to the core of how people react and regret in the face of fidelity and betrayal.
“If you don’t like what’s being said,” stated “Mad Men’s” Don Draper, “change the conversation.” I don’t know if Anthony Weiner was a “Mad Man” fan, but he certainly took that advice to heart and with good reason.
The former U.S. representative, who resigned from Congress in 2011 over a sexting scandal, fell from grace with a resounding thud heard round the world. Mocked by late night television hosts and on the front cover of The New Yorker, the sordid details of his cyber affairs—he sent provocative pictures to porn stars and people he met online—coupled with the comedic possibilities of his unfortunate last name made him a laughing stock. The collateral damage in the whole affair was Huma Abedin, Weiner’s wife and long-time aide to Hillary Clinton.
“Weiner” picks up its fly-on-the-wall coverage with Weiner’s re-emergence into public life. Co-directors Josh Kriegman (who once worked for Weiner) and Elyse Steinberg chronicle the candidate’s New York City mayoral run in May of 2013, warts and all. Just as it looks like the worst is behind him, that he is personally and professionally rehabilitated another sexting scandal erupts—this time he used the online avatar Carlos Danger—effectively derailing his chance at becoming mayor.
It’s here that “Weiner” becomes less a ripped-from-the-news doc and more an up-close-and-personal look at a person whose carefully constructed life is falling apart. He stays in the game, long after it becomes clear his political career is kaput. A bubbling stew of indignation and resentment, the hot-headed ex-politician tries to argue and bully his way into he public’s good graces. Under Kriegman and Steinberg’s steady gaze he tries desperately to change the conversation, deflecting unwanted questions—Lawrence O’Donnell pointedly asks Weiner “What’s wrong with you?”—with a combination of bluster and self righteous anger. It’s not all flattering, but in its cringe-inducing candour it may be the most honest behind-the-scenes doc of recent years.