Thursday, July 28, 2016

LOST: a review of "Star Trek Beyond"

Based upon "Star Trek" created by Gene Roddenberry
Screenplay Written by Simon Pegg & Doug Jung
Directed by Justin Lin
***1/2 (three and a half stars)

You know, I did not have the highest of hopes when I headed into the theater this afternoon.

Dear readers, it has been quite a lousy Summer Movie Season. As I was scrolling through my entries of this year, I realized that for most of the films that I have seen, they have been disappointments in one way or another and lately, I have been going through quite a bad streak as "Finding Dory," "The BFG" and "Ghostbusters," all were sadly underwhelming. Not terrible by any means but not very good, all of them signifying precisely what happens when the movies become more homogenized, either through the presence of unnecessary sequels and reboots, to ones that possessed a more sanitized presentation.

With "Star Trek Beyond," the third installment in the rebooted "Star Trek" film series as helmed and overseen by J.J. Abrams, I did find myself in a bit of a quandary. Now don't get me wrong, I was (and remain) ecstatic about both of Abrams' high velocity entries but for this episode, and certainly more than a little busy working on the latest "Star Wars" trilogy, he has turned over the directorial reins to Justin Lin, most famously known for helming four installments of the improbably long running "Fast And The Furious" franchise. While Abrams has remained as Producer, I was concerned about a certain quality control and those reports of extensive reshoots for this new film didn't help matters either. So, I suppose that as I entered the theater, I was nervous about being let down again.

Most thankfully, "Star Trek Beyond" is a winner. No, the film doesn't break any new ground but it is also not a mere placeholder either. Justin Lin has delivered a rock solid entry, from beginning to end, that often feels like an extended episode of the original series, but in all the very best ways as character development and some political commentary carries the day, giving fuller weight and grit to the spectacular action sequences, and one undoubtedly jump-out-of-your-seat-and-cheer sequence. No simple summer's evening diversion, "Star Trek Beyond" more than earns our good will and undeniably delivers the goods and then some.

"Star Trek Beyond" opens three years into the five year mission of the Starship Enterprise and at this stage of voyaging through endless space, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is caught within a phase of existential restlessness. His birthday approaching, also the day on which his own Father perished, Kirk is ensconced with emotions of self-doubt as well as uncertainly to the meaningfulness of the Enterprise's mission, to the point where he strongly considers leaving the Captain's chair for a desk job promotion to Admiral on the Federation Starbase Yorktown, where the Enterprise stations for the crew's much deserved shore leave.

While at Yorktown, the station receives a distress call from an escape pod dispatched from a nearby nebula. The sole survivor claims that her ship and its crew are stranded on the planet Altamid, housed deep inside the nebula. Kirk and his crew suit up once more for a rescue mission only to find themselves ambushed by the alien commander Krall (Idris Elba), on the hunt for an artifact known as the Abronath, an object the Enterprise had obtained from a recent mission.

During the melee, the Enterprise is destroyed, the crew captured, separated and marooned upon Altamid, leaving our heroes to try to escape and reunite to somehow defeat Krall and his apocalyptic plans for the Federation and the universe.

Justin Lin's "Star Trek Beyond" is a more than worthy installment as well as a seamless addition to J.J. Abrams' adrenalized, alternate time line vision. Filled with brains, brawn, heart and soul, Lin has devised a lusciously visualized adventure that puts his action film credentials to excellent usage. The outstanding, pulse pounding ambush sequence from Krall's army of ferocious "bees" that buzzsaw their way through the Enterprise and viciously snatch away escape pods is...well...furiously paced and executed. And furthermore, the film's climax, during which Idris Elba feels to be fully unleashed, is unabashedly white knuckle.

But, rest assured, "Star Trek Beyond" is not entirely about bombastic explosions and empty CGI pyrotechnics. In fact, it is the film many quieter moments that really make this film sing and more than reminiscent of the original series as the majority of the film takes place while the crew is marooned. The full performances of the entire returning cast remain steadfast with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto as Mr. Spock and Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy expertly continuing their terrific work which eerily emulate their originators but also provide some new, humorous, delicate and some deeper existential notes to play. Quinto, in particular has some truly lovely silent moments, as the film honors the memory of the late Leonard Nimoy (to whom this film has been dedicated alongside Anton Yelchin who, in one of his final roles, again portrays Lt. Chekov).

It is fully within those meditative moments and scenes throughout "Star Trek beyond" where I felt that Lin constructed the perfect bridge between Abrams' ore whiz-bang aesthetic to Gene Roddenberry's original and unquestionably more cerebral vision, as the overall humanity of the piece provides the sumptuous core of the story and film. For all of the intergalactic battles, Lin utilizes "Star Trek Beyond" to have all of the characters relate to each other in ways that explore various sides of the human condition, and how we either succeed or fail at our own hands and intents.

I loved the film's primary theme of solidarity, especially during times of tremendous adversity and the possibility of ultimate defeat. Like Ridley Scott's "The Martian" (2015), Lin also utilized his film to showcase a collective of characters caught in the throes of problem solving and the act of thinking one's way out of a desperate situation. Yes, there are many battles within the film. But what really carries is how we regard characters working together to reach a common goal, something that works in complete contrast to Krall, who operates under a singular vision with an army of unthinking drones to mercilessly do his bidding.

Furthermore, the theme of solidarity also works its magic as we find nearly all of the film's characters caught within a state of being lost, much like the cast of characters upon Abrams' groundbreaking television series "Lost." Certainly, the Enterprise crew is physically lost on a planet contained inside of an unexplored nebula. But, several characters are emotionally lost as well, from Kirk's ennui, to Spock's grief and mourning of his mentor Ambassador Spock's passing in the original timeline, to the character of the scavenger Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), another figure long marooned on the planet due to Krall, who is himself lost within his own unrepentant rage and madness.

And still, I do think those themes of being emotionally lost fuels the relentless action handsomely, relentless action that does indeed carry a specific purpose. Working with Roddenberry's original vision of using his series, stories and characters to comment upon mid to late 1960's society, just as with Abrams' "Star Trek Into Darkness" (2013), the dark chaos and looming violence and destruction presented with Lin's film, whether by accident or design, certainly made me think of the current state of affairs in our very real, dark, chaotic landscape with police brutality, mass shootings, domestic and foreign terrorist violence and increasingly rampant racism all occurring from a weekly to nearly daily basis.

Krall's nefarious plans, once fully revealed, are secessionist at their most extreme and certainly present an exaggerated mirror version of the recent Brexit vote and controversy in Europe, for instance. Additionally, the film is indeed brave enough to ask the question of what precisely does peace time mean to a person who has only known war. But, also, and to a stirring degree, by regarding Kirk and his crew, and against all adversity, somehow retain their collective sense of humanity and overall connection to each other and the human community in which they all share to combat facing the universe alone.

It felt to me to be more than perfect to have seen this film smack in the middle of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, as the tonal quality of each were polar opposites and also, provided a perfect real world mirror to the space fantasy on display in "Star Trek Beyond." Just go with me and think about it for a moment. With both conventions, we have seen Republicans present a "vision" (such as it is) of a nearly post-apocalyptic landscape where violence and chaos runs rampant and in order to make America "great again," all we need is a thin skinned demagogue who proclaims himself to be the ruler of law and order and that he, all alone, will restore that very law and order. In the film, Krall represents such a figure as he is willing to end the universe itself in order to prove his existential viewpoint ultimately correct.

By contrast, Kirk, the Enterprise crew, Jaylah and the Starfleet Federation are committed through an understanding of a symbiotic existence, how one depends upon another and another in order to fully flourish and ascend, much like what has been on display during the Democratic convention in which the word "we" has been spoken constantly, where unity is stressed, where diplomacy is favored over the most vicious form of singular frontier justice.

Trust me...I'm not getting myself carried away for this is truly the purpose of the entire "Star Trek" universe. We are being asked, and sometimes implored, to make these sorts of connections between these very different worlds, so wondrously fantastical and so precariously real. Justin Lin's "Star Trek Beyond" continues to pay warm and reverential homage to the original while also boldly blazing ahead on its own confident path at warp speed, all the while armed with intelligence, skill, heart and just a blast of absolute fun.

For all of my fatigue with most films of the sequel,prequel, remake, reboot, re-imagining variety, if the new collection of "Star Trek" movies remains at this level, then all I am able to say say is, of course...Live Long And Prosper!!!!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

GHOST GIRLS: a review of "Ghostbusters"

Based upon "Ghostbusters" (1984)
Written by Dan Aykroyd & Harold Ramis  Directed by Ivan Reitman

Screenplay Written by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig
Directed by Paul Feig
** (two stars)

And now, I am finally able to weigh in and frankly, it is a shame that so much controversy and so much horrific, vile, sexist and racist vitriol has even launched over something so innocuously mediocre.

Dear readers, as I have been wont to express upon this site (as well as in person if you happen to know me in the real world), my fatigue with all manner of sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, re-imaginings and the like is more than well known. With the case of "Ghostbusters," as co-written and directed by Paul Feig, the creator of the extraordinary television series "Freaks And Geeks" as well as the director of the wonderful "Bridesmaids" (2011), and starring the comedic dream team of Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, my fatigue has indeed increased as well as a healthy sense of skepticism.

You see, I have no problem whatsoever with the idea of the ghost catching quarter being portrayed by women, in and of itself. What I do have a problem with is precisely the fact that with all of this creative talent in front of and behind the scenes, why could they not decide to craft something wholly original? You see, I am old enough to remember a time when thee was no such thing as "Ghostbusters"...and when it was unleashed upon the world in 1984, it...was...SPECTACULAR!!!!

Just think about it for a moment. To go to the movies and to be completely surprised by a viewpoint that you quite had not yet seen before. With the original film, Director Ivan Reitman working in brilliant collaboration with Writers/Actors Dan Aykroyd and the late Harold Ramis and astoundingly anchored by the great Bill Murray, we were given a summer movie treat that was downright magical. A supernatural comedy that blended strong storytelling, a gently anarchistic spirit, consistently funny improvisational comedy and sharp satire, big budget special visual effects, some honest to goodness scares and even an infectiously catchy theme song had just not been accomplished in quite this way just yet, making this very unlikely motion picture a full experience that has withstood the test of time heroically.

We really do not have those kinds of movie going experiences anymore, or at least ones that involve creative risks and remember, "Ghostbusters" was not a sure thing before its release in 1984. But now in 2016, the film's legend and longevity has been complete for generations, therefore, making it a sure thing and then some. But that specialized lightning in a bottle that occurred in 1984? Truthfully, even the originators couldn't successfully bottle it again with the undercooked, underwhelming and sadly watered down "Ghostbusters II" (1989). With Paul Feig's entry, we have ended up with something that is more akin to that undercooked, underwhelming, watered down second film. It's not bad or even awful by any means. It does have its moments. But, ultimately, "Ghostbusters" 2016 doesn't really add up to very much as it seems to be too intimidated by its own pedigree to really break free and become something truly memorable.

Paul Feig's "Ghostbusters" stars Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy as Dr. Erin Gilbert and Dr. Abby Yates, respectively, two former friends who once co-authored a book about paranormal activity and phenomenon but have since drifted apart. While Erin, now teaching for Columbia University and seeking tenure, has distance herself from her co-authored book, Abby has continued her research at a technical college alongside Dr. Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon), an oddball engineer.

When Erin and Abby's book re-enters publication, thus threatening Erin's bid for tenure, she reunites with Abby and accompanies her upon an paranormal investigation in exchange for Abby's agreement to take the book out of publication once and for all. When the two plus Holtzman actually encounter a nasty, slime spewing spirit, therefore proving their theories about ghosts, they are ecstatic. Yet, a video of their findings posted on the internet unfortunately causes all three women to lose their faculty positions, inspiring them to go into business for themselves as paranormal investigators and developers of ghost containment technology while housed inside of an office space located above a Chinese restaurant.

Hiring attractive but painfully dim witted Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) as their receptionist, and further joined by former MTA subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who has also spotted ghosts and has supplied a hearse for their travels, the "Department Of The Metaphysical Examination," soon to be renamed the far catchier "Ghostbusters" is born.

Elsewhere in New York City, we meet the embittered occultist Rowan North (Neil Casey), who has long been formulating plans to manifest and organize the malevolent spirits of the metaphysical world in order to bring about the apocalypse, unless the Ghostbusters are able to stop him.

Paul Feig's "Ghostbusters" is a very odd, intermittently entertaining yet deeply uninvolving film that greatly suffers from quite the identity crisis. Yes, I did laugh out loud here and there and there are some good scenes from time to time and it is well made. But, I did think that Feig's vision was simultaneously sloppy and lazy while also being too busy and cluttered and never fully discovering its own point of view as it is terribly reverential to the original 1984 to the point of distraction.

Feig's film exists as sort of a sequel but not. Or as kind of a remake but not quite. The framework of the film serves as an origin story like the original film and more or less follows the same story beats as the original but some elements are shifted in bits and pieces in order to differentiate itself from Ivan Reitman's film but not nearly enough as Feig spends copious amounts of time inserting one moment or image after another from the original to such a degree that I was unsure if Feig's version was designed to take place in some sort of alternate universe from the one created in '84.

Regardless, Feig's "Ghostbusters" essentially served as an exercise in nostalgia but one that kept reminding you just how special and how good (and again, original) the 1984 film actually is. Even the much reported cameo appearances from nearly the entire main cast of the original film, including the mercurial Bill Murray did nothing to really enhance anything within this new version as none of their moments were terribly clever, funny or even remotely interesting. Even though I had wished the filmmakers would've left enough alone and just created something original, if they absolutely had to make a new "Ghostbusters," maybe it should have just been a pure sequel, a "Ghostbusters III," where Feig and his cast could really throw off the conceptual shackles of the original and just let loose. As it stands, Feig's version is definitely affectionate but it is also just as uninspired.

I felt that Paul Feig, a gifted writer, also dropped the ball within the work on the screenplay which is underwritten and more than a little sloppy. While he and co-writer Katie Dippold certainly poured on the backstories of Erin and Abby, the creation of their technology and even the iconic logo, as characters, all four women were lacking considerably, which led to performances that (mostly) felt dialed down and suffered from the similar fate of many of the films that have starred members from "Saturday Night Live." It was as if Feig turned on the cameras and just trusted his cast to just "be funny." But without a strong base of story and characters, the comedy and thrills cannot possibly be more than long passages of dead air surrounded by a sound and light show

Yes, with the 1984 film, Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis were certainly just playing extensions of their comedic personas but everything worked within the services of a full story and screenplay. With Feig's version, both Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy come off muted and muffled, while Leslie Jones, one of the current "SNL" cast's most dangerous players (and who does have some of the film's best lines) has little more to do than yell and scream. Chris Hemsworth, will having a fine light comedic touch and is more than game, is unfortunately saddled with a character that really goes nowhere fast.

Much to my surprise, I was stunned at how much that I was actually turned off by Kate McKinnon, possibly my favorite current "SNL" cast member, as her unhinged line readings, facial expressions and mannerisms suggested that she was playing almost an Andy Kaufman version of a socially awkward Science whiz and nothing resembling anything natural or even human.To that end, even Cecily Strong's minor role as a member of the New York Mayor's staff is also more annoying caricature than character. And then, with underwritten characters and story, what else is there to do but provide the film with yet another extended, CGI drenched climax  that never excites, transports or even provides real laughter, unlike the original film which delivered all three in spades.

I guess my feelings could be summed up in this fashion: it felt as if Paul Feig's "Ghostbsters" was a film that was wearing a "Ghostbusters" costume playing dress up in the backyard, which just may be the point as the film does indeed give young girls in the audience some big budget heroines to emulate in some way, especially as there are so drastically few. I certainly wouldn't complain or quibble about something like that other than the fact that those very same young girls deserve an actual movie experience rather than an extended sketch masquerading as a film...and not a very good one at that.

And then, there is the controversy to deal with and there were some moments during the film where I was almost wondering if it was somewhat manufactured or at least, a hair disingenuous.

While I do not think that Paul Feig had any sense of a mercenary intent to what was intended to existing as an honest homage, it did feel as if he and his cast were paying close attention to the comments within social media during the filming and weaved it into the narrative, thereby utilizing the building controversy to its advantage by juicing up increased interest...albeit, an interest that was already present. All of this crossed my mind as the film brought its weakest element, the pitifully lame villain Rowan into the mix as his motivations are simply not the stuff from which movies are made. A geek who was bullied? Really? That's it?!

Look, I do appreciate that Feig has also used his version of "Ghostbusters" to showcase the camaraderie, solidarity and friendship between four women working together to save the world but you know, when the film did decide during some moments to disparage the femininity of the film's heroines through internet trolls and especially during the overlong climactic battle sequence when all four utilize their proton packs to blast their adversary in his metaphysical gonads, the controversy almost began to feel a tad...invented, or at least, just unnecessary to address in this film that otherwise never tries to announce any overt calls for feminism.

Paul Feig's "Ghostbusters" is really nothing more than a diversion, a summer movie season place holder to possibly see on a hot day and then, completely forget once you begin to head home. Yes, Feig and his cast certainly tried but all of them were sadly toothless and overly hemmed in by a legacy that maybe should have only had one film to begin with.

I am certain that Feig will hit another film out of the park but how much do you want to bet that it will be with something that emerges with its creative strings untethered to anything that has arrived before rather than the inevitable sequel which is already beholden to the past.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Based upon the novel by Roald Dahl
Screenplay Written By Melissa Mathison
Directed by Steven Spielberg
** (two stars)

Books are books and movies are movies.

This is an adage that I have repeated time and again upon this blogsite in reference to the often turbulent path that books then adapted for movies usually takes in the minds of every individual reader/viewer. Simply stated, when one reads a book the "movie," such as it is, has already been made inside the brain of the reader and very rarely will any motion picture stack up against what we have already envisioned for ourselves. Now, this is not to say that successful film versions are impossible to realize as there have been so many that I have seen throughout my life that have proven themselves to not only serve as fine visual adaptations but as excellent films within their own right some that are able to exist almost independently of the source material and some that have driven me right towards the source material.

Over the last decade or so, for example, what Peter Jackson accomplished with "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy (2001/2002/2003) and even the unfairly maligned "The Lovely Bones" (2009), were faithful and completely inventive. With "25th Hour" (2002), Spike Lee's adaptation of David Benoit's original novel, he delivered not only one of the finest most lyrical films of his career but also a richly solemn lament for post 9-11 New York. Additionally, by taking the risk of re-aligning the narrative and leading character perspective, Lee's "Clockers" (1995), his adaptation of Richard Price's original novel, was altered from a gritty cop and criminals story to becoming a powerful indictment of the inner city drug trade and the destruction of African-American families and neighborhoods. With Stephen Frears' wonderful "High Fidelity" (2000), transporting the action and characters from the original location of London in the original Nick Hornby novel, to leading actor John Cusack's Chicago stomping grounds did nothing to dilute the social commentary and razor sharp perceptiveness of romantic relationships and the lives of near middle aged music obsessives. And of course, there is the "Harry Potter" film series (2001-2011), a series that I originally never even wanted Hollywood to get its hands upon due to the visual splendor that exists within series creator/author J.K. Rowling's exquisite writing, became an increasingly powerful film series, as directed by Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell and David Yates, that magically seemed to pluck my impressions straight from my head and place them directly upon the screen exactly as I had imagined them.

Now, I arrive at "The BFG," the adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl novel, directed by none other than Steven Spielberg and even heading into seeing the film, I knew that this time, I would be in for a quandary. You see, in my real world adventures as a preschool teacher, Dahl's novel is one that I have read out loud to my students for several years, therefore a situation where I have really made the movie already, for my students as well as for myself as my body language and altering my voice to fully bring the characters to life all serve as the "cinematography," "special effects," and most certainly the acting. I wondered if even Spielberg, a master filmmaker and one of my personal cinematic heroes, would be able to help me forget how I had envisioned Dahl's novel and lose myself within the fantasy that he wished to present. Unfortunately, he was not. "The BFG" is not a bad film by any means, but it is a surprisingly uninvolving one. A film where pretty images dance and a full fantasia fills the screen but it never really adds up to terribly much and is also wrongfully toothless considering the acerbic and much darker tone Dahl exhibited within his writings. For what should truly have been a dream, only ends up as an extended yawn.

As with the original novel, "The BFG" opens in London at 3 a.m., otherwise known as "the witching hour," the time of night when the entire world is asleep, allowing the shadows and whatever lives within them to come out and explore. Yet on this particular night, one figure is awake and that figure is 10 year old Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), an orphaned insomniac living in a large orphanage. Serving her curious nature, Sophie unwisely creeps from er bed to take a peek out into the night when she spots a tall, dark figure skulking around concealed by a cloak and adorned with a bag and what appears to be a long trumpet. Suddenly, the figure and Sophie lock eyes and within moments, an enormous arm reaches in through the orphanage window, plucks Sophie straight from her bed and off into the night.

Arriving in Giant Country, Sophie is introduced to the figure she will soon name "The BFG" (as in "Big Friendly Giant"), a 24 foot tall giant (portrayed through motion capture technology by Mark Rylance), whose occupation is a dream catcher who utilizes his trumpet to blow lovely dreams into the minds of children throughout London each night. At first fearing that she will be eaten by The BFG, she soon discovers that he has no interest in eating "human beans," and is actually a vegetarian, somewhat sustained by solely eating the repugnant tasting Snozzcumbers, but is otherwise delighted by his specialized brand of soda, called Frobscottle, where the bubbles run downwards instead of upwards causing riotous, musical flatulence.

Although Sophie is relived knowing that she will not be eaten, he is troubled to discover that The BFG refuses to return her home to the orphanage and will be forced to live in Giant Country forever due to the BFG's fears that if he is discovered by humans, he will be captured and trapped himself and possibly placed into a zoo. Even worse, is the presence of nine fearsome, horrific, 50 feet tall giants, with names like the Fleshlumpeater (played by Jemaine Clement), the Bloodbottler (played by Bill Hader) among others, who by day, bully the smaller BFG and by night after night, venture out into the world to feast upon children in their sleep.

After a few close calls with the Fleshlumpeater, Sophie convinces The BFG to hatch a plot to rid the world of the cannibalistic giants once and for all, but they would need the help of the Queen Of England (Penelope Wilton) as well as a new batch of collected dreams.

Steven Spielberg's "The BFG" is earnestly presented, a true family film that feels designed to serve as an echo to his timeless, iconic "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial" (1982) but it falls far short of its goals, very strange considering the pedigree behind the scenes, including screenwriter Melissa Mathison who wrote the script for "E.T." and who also sadly passed away in November of 2015.

Yes some of my frustrations and criticisms about this film version do arrive from the place of Spielberg's vision not aligning with my own, which should be somewhat fair game. For instance, in the insistence of keeping the proceedings wholesome, Spielberg has softened the tone considerably, sacrificing much of Dahl's darker, rougher edges, which makes the novel a sometimes tougher, more frightening experience, especially dealing with child eating giants as well as dreams and nightmares, essentially making the book more like a Grimm's fairy tale rather than a gentle fairy tale. It is not that the film needed to become more overtly violent or gruesome but to have some genuine terror would have been necessary in my eyes. It was surprising to me how Sophie, as portrayed by Barnhill, never really ever seemed to be frightened at any point in the film, whereas within the novel, Sophie's fear is palpable.

To that end, I also found that Ruby Barnhill was not a terribly compelling young actress, also a surprise considering Spielberg's legendary gift with working with the very young.  She is capable but also very one note to the point of being a little stiff and unnatural. Furthermore, Spielberg's conception of the character for the film version is also a bit lacking and missing the point. Sophie, within the novel, is decidedly brave, empathetic, loving, resourceful, encouraging and often ingenious. The film version also adorns its heroine with all of those attributes as well. But what Sophie is within the novel and not necessarily presented on screen is innocent, filled with an eye popping wonder and amazement with her surroundings and this impossible adventure into which she has been thrown. On screen, Sophie never felt to possess that level of innocence, but she did have a rather oft-putting feisty nature that never felt to be true to her character, and a matter-of-fact nature that felt as if she has been plucked and taken away to Giant Country many times before, thus deflating any sense of awe.

But it is not entirely the fault of Barnhill's performance. I do think that we are now within another film where we are given copious special effects that simply are not special. Spielberg, as a pioneer of working with special visual effects and knowing how to present them in order to make a fully transportive experience, was undone by all of the CGI and motion capture technology on display. Yes, Mark Ryance delivers a firmly enjoyable performance in the titular role but I do, however, wonder whatteh film would have been like through more traditional means of make up, costumes, real world set design and camera effects to realize Giant Country, the giants, and the BFG himself. There was just an aspect about the film that seemed to really separate the human characters and real world from the synthetic that never felt to seamlessly join real and fantasy together terribly well. Not all of the time, mind you, but overall.

One sequence where The BFG and Sophie venture to Dream Country where dreams and nightmares (called "Trogglehumpers") float and fly by like multi-colored fireflies is very lovely. Another wonderful sequence set during breakfast time at Buckingham Palace with The BFG and the Queen is a terrific comedy of manners. But, mostly, we are just given a collection of well choreographed yet slightly overlong near captures, discoveries and escapes that often feel like padding in a story that doesn't need any.

But most of all, I felt to be let down but he central heart of the story which is of course, the relationship between Sophie and The BFG, two lonely outsiders who find each other and formulate a family together. Here is where I felt Spielberg and Mathison overplayed their hands and just should have allowed the source material to fully guide their way. What resulted was a forced presentation of a melancholic core that was already in place It really wasn't necessary to give The BFG a tragic backstory when his existence as is already possesses sadness and pathos. A mid film return to London for Sophie felt completely unnecessary and frankly, did not make much sense considering the narrative, but felt to exist to give an extra tug of the heartstrings when some of the novel quieter sequences between our two heroes would have worked much better and more honestly.

Steven Spielberg, for almost the entirety of my life, has accomplished the miraculous feat of creating cinematic universes where I am transported, either into the past, a conceptualized future or dream world or into a full adventure or experience where I forget that I am sitting within a movie theater. Yet, with "The BFG," I felt to be more than comfortably aware of all of the computers as work when the real special effects should have been to allow Roald Dahl's story, characters and marvelously inventive language set the stage--they really didn't need any extra push and everything is all there on the page.

Again, I say that books are books and movies are movies but in the case of "The BFG," the real giant is indeed the written word.

Friday, July 1, 2016


And so we reach the middle of the Summer Movie Season in the middle of 2016 and frankly, I again find myself not terribly excited about very much at all. Curious, certainly. But excited...excited in the way I used to find myself excited about new film releases in years past, hardly so.
1. Granted, I am curious about Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Roald Dahl's "The BFG," a book that I have actually read to my young students for several years, therefore making this story a "movie" that I have made inside of my head very distinctively. But, we are dealing with Spielberg, one of our unquestionable cinematic masters, so we will see...
2. Justin Lin, most famously known for directing (I believe) four installments in the franchise known as "The Fast And The Furious," has taken over the directorial reins from J.J. Abrams for "Star Trek Beyond," the third installment in the new film series. While the initial trailers of the Simon Pegg co-written film did not impress me in the least, subsequent footage has grown more eye-catching, so again, we will see...
3. And here is the elephant in the room, Director Paul Feig's reboot/re-imagining/not a sequel but maybe it is of the iconic "Ghostbusters," now starring a cast of notable comedic women (Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Melissa McCarthy) as the titular team. Yes, the controversy has existed at a fever pitch among the skeptical and so horribly, among the sexists. As for me, I do have to say that I am indeed one of the skeptical...the extremely skeptical, as none of the trailers have impressed me whatsoever in addition to the fact that I would rather see this director and these women collaborate on something wholly...oh, I don't know...original, perhaps. I truly want them to perform well and I am hoping they somehow can deliver the goods..but you know...I am skeptical.

And with that, let's see how this month at the movies turns out for all of us and as always, I will see you when the house lights go down!!!