Movie Review: “The BFG”

Starring
Ruby Barnhill, Mark Rylance, Bill Hader, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Penelope Wilton
Director
Steven Spielberg

It’s easy to see why filmmakers are drawn to Roald Dahl’s work. He liked placing his stories in our world while adding something most definitely not from our world, with several of his stories coming with a new language. “The BFG” hits everything on the Dahl checklist, but it has trouble getting out of second gear. It’s sweet, it’s beautifully shot, and it sports another fine performance from Mark Rylance (who, last time he worked with “BFG” director Steven Spielberg, won an Oscar for his work in “Bridge of Spies”), but let’s point out the elephant in the room, shall we? Wes Anderson wrecked the curve for Roald Dahl adaptations with his stop-motion masterpiece “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Following in that movie’s footsteps, even seven years later and multiple generations of technological advancement – something that is clearly prioritized here – “The BFG” didn’t have a prayer.

Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) lives in a London orphanage at a time that is at first undetermined, but we later learn is the early 1980s (Dahl’s book was released in 1982). She has trouble sleeping, and it is on a sleepless night that she sees a giant walking the streets. The giant (Rylance) sees that he’s been spotted and, out of concern that she will tell the authorities and make things difficult for him, he snatches Sophie and takes her to his home in a faraway land. Unlike the giants he lives with, he has no intentions of hurting her (the others love eating children, and would devour her on sight), and he even takes her as he goes to work catching dreams. The other giants are much larger and meaner than Sophie’s giant – whom she calls BFG after he remarked that he’d like to be known as the Big Friendly Giant – and they bully him relentlessly. Sophie encourages BFG to stand up for himself and comes up with a plan to put the giants in their place.

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Movie Review: “The Gift”

Starring
Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Busy Philipps
Director
Joel Edgerton

There is a reason that stalker thrillers fell out of vogue: in terms of story structure, even the good ones have a lot in common with the bad ones. It’s a rigid narrative, which means it’s virtually impossible to surprise the audience. Joel Edgerton’s “The Gift” (in which he also stars) falls victim to the same trappings as stalker thrillers past, but only for the first half of the movie. From there, the movie breaks from tradition, offering several pleasant surprises in the process. There are no ‘boo’ moments in the score, and Edgerton’s script is transparent in ways that these films are rarely allowed to be. It’s almost unfair in how the movie is able to have its cake and eat it, too. And the ending will have people buzzing, and most likely wanting to take a shower.

Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) have recently moved to California for Simon’s new job. As the two are shopping for furnishings, Simon runs into Gordon (Edgerton), a high school classmate that Simon hasn’t seen since they were teenagers. “Gordo” goes out of his way to be helpful to Simon and Robyn, and leaves multiple gifts for the two at their front door. Robyn is touched by Gordo’s generosity, and can relate to his social awkwardness, but Simon isn’t comfortable with the affection that Gordo lavishes on Robyn, and asks Gordo to leave them alone. Gordo does, but in doing so, he leaves a clue for Robyn that suggests that Simon is not being forthright about his and Gordo’s shared past.

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Movie Review: “Transcendence”

Starring
Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Cole Hauser
Director
Wally Pfister

With Easter just around the corner, it’s probably no coincidence that just as the furor over “Noah,” a man who had visions from God, has died down, we are treated to Johnny Depp taking the futuristic steps in becoming a god in “Transcendence.” A cautionary tale about the evils of technology by way of artificial intelligence gets the visual treatment by acclaimed cinematographer Wally Pfister (“Inception,” the Dark Knight trilogy) in his directorial debut, but this is more than just a big budget version of “Siri Goes Wild.”

Johnny Depp plays Will Caster, the leading scientist in the field of Artificial Intelligence. He’s brilliant to the point of being a bit bored with the non-scientific world, not that his flock of geek groupies seems to mind. (Eat your heart out, Reed Richards). Keeping him tethered to people, places and things is his loving wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall). She’s more than Will’s diplomatic arm candy, though. She’s arguably his intellectual equal.

While Will charges down the road towards creating sentient machines, his best friend and part-time conscience, Max (Paul Bettany), reminds him that just because you can play god doesn’t mean you should. Apparently, he’s not the only one who thinks society should pump the brakes on giving Cortina cyber synapses to work with. The anti-tech terrorist organization R.I.F.T (Revolutionary Independence from Technology) – led be Kate Mara’s Bree – subtly voices its opposition with a coordinated attack targeting the Casters’ former mentor, Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman), and killing his entire staff in the process. But Will isn’t spared when the group attempts to kill him as well, and they pull it off… somewhat.

After he’s poisoned by R.I.F.T. and given only days to live, Evelyn does the unthinkable and transfers Will’s mind into his living computer P.I.N.N. (You can’t have science without a couple good acronyms), the Physically Independent Neural Network. As Will tells a crowd before he’s shot, “Once online, a sentient machine will quickly overcome the limits of biology.” And he does just that, initially to the delight of his grieving wife Evelyn and the shock of his pal Max. Will is more than just a ghost in the machine, however, using his near-infinite knowledge to help change the world, effectively becoming a god. Yes, connecting to the internet can make you a god, but the Casters come to find that being a diety power couple comes at a price.

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