The BFG (2016)

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The BFG remembers what its like to see the world through the eyes of a child, whisked away into the fantasy fairy-tale world of giants. The BFG is a trifling, pleasant film, which sees director Steven Spielberg attempting to reconcile the scale and dazzle of modern filmmaking with the mischievous charm of Roald Dahl’s enduring classic. The BFG lessens the darkness of Roald Dahl’s classic in favour of an entirely good-natured, visually exquisite and largely popular family adventure.

The Giant, although at first an embodiment of childhood terrors, turns out to be a gentle soul with expressive ears, a melancholy countenance and a nonsensical flair of speech. After his accidental encounter with young orphan girl Sophie, he plucks her captive to a faraway valley with his much larger fellow giants who roam the wilds nearby. Spielberg opted to eliminate Dahl’s depiction of lumbering monsters eating humans, thereby transforming them into relative buffoons with fewer associations to terror. But when Sophie discovers the Big Friendly Giant has spent his entire life succumbing to his aggressive child-gobbling siblings, she hatches an elaborate plan to stop them.

Mark Rylance takes his role as BFG cautiously here, rolling words around to create an ordinary fully rounded character out of a children’s book invention. His face and body have been enhanced and distorted by digital magic, but his unique blend of gravity and mischief imbues his fanciful character with a dimension of soul the rest of the film lacks. For her part, brown-eyed beauty Ruby Barnhill is bossy, fearless and well spoken, but her personality rarely leaps off screen or nests in our hearts. As a whole, the movie represents Spielberg in a more pensive and philosophical vein, less interested in propulsive cinema and more reflective of what matters most; the power of dreams and the ability to bring them to life. Unfortunately, that’s all you can get with his generous measure of explicitity. But of course the digital effects that render the story are exquisite in their shimmer and glow, and childhood wonder floats vividly from the screen to enchant all the little kids.

The BFG lacks the strident messaging of children’s films, drawing melancholy from the compromises of adulthood. In particular, Sophie’s latter conversation with her giant about the future feels like the film’s one strange concession to subversiveness and sadness. There’s little silver lining in this one, showing its entirely possible for a film to completely inert, even if its constantly in motion. The BFG is hopelessly charming and hopelessly dull, but if I can sum it up; it is a kind-souled movie about kind-souls for kind-souls.

★★★☆☆

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Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

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Into the dark you tumble into Alice Through the Looking Glass; James Bobin’s wild, witty and extravagant take on Lewis Carroll’s illusory hallucinations. Visually, the certainty that the two imaginative artists were made for each other is realized exquisitely, matched with a haunting design for Wonderland, a seamless meeting of live action with animation and picturesque charm. But the story is now far less Carroll and Burton than Bobin taking flight with a script crafted by Linda Woolverton, who references and incorporates characters in a way that answers our curious and curiouser childish wonders.

Replacement director James Bobin takes the reigns for this sequel, following Alice’s travels into the past to prevent the Jabberwocky from roasting Mad Hatter’s parents. Frolicking with other whimsical wonderland creatures, Hatter is suddenly triggered by discarded trash that reminds him of his estranged, long-gone family. Hatter pleads and finally convinces Alice that she must find them and bring them back … even if they are now long passed. Hatter’s whacky crazy madness is in the fabric of this film, and Alice’s journey of restoring harmony to wonderland again will leave you asking for more. Trust me, by the conclusion of the film you will know all of the little secrets you didn’t even know you wanted to know. Looking Glass is a dream come true.

Bobin takes Burton’s film and escalates it in an effort to not only continue the Disney run of adaptations, but to potentially recapture the immense success of the first film. But above the film’s strenuous attempts to resonate with larger personal themes of loss, strife and time, Looking Glass is a selling spectacle … and a good one at that. Bobin has a fantastic eye for visual effects, but this often pushes him from diverting tedious to deafening, as the bright colours and movement strain to draw the illusion of a film with a story to tell. But Sacha Baron Cohen doesn’t fail to bring an outstanding performance as Time. He’s derisive, obnoxious and crazy about the Red Queen. Time is truly spectacular. It serves as yet another reminder that the Borat actor is proficient in depths rarely explored by other filmmakers. Otherwise, character development is mind-numbing, conflict is dull and the backstories are painfully predictable.

Alice Through the Looking Glass is pervasive of the blockbuster model in painful ways. But stemming from my never failing love of Alice in Wonderland, I still enjoyed it immensely. Bobin applies more absurdity and more surrealism into Alice’s sense of fantasy, while weakly contributing to the overarching central story. He creates magical spectacles and forefronts in a world-class tech reel, capturing the dreamlike wonderland we know and love in an earnest and spectacular way. But if I can sum up Alice Through the Looking Glass in one sentence: it’s like holding a vivid, colourful balloon that deflates a little more every second you hold onto it.

★★★☆☆