Tag Archives: Parade Magazine

Land of the Giant

Spielberg’s touching ‘BFG’ has big, friendly message

THE BFG

The BFG

Starring Mark Rylance & Ruby Barnhill

Directed by Steven Spielberg

PG

OMG, it’s a BFG!

Director Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of author Roald Dahl’s 1982 children’s book about a big, friendly giant—and the young orphan girl he befriends—comes to the big screen with humor, heart and a big, friendly message about the magical, mystical power of dreams.

Set in 1980s London, the movie wastes no time in establishing its tone or introducing its characters. We meet Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill) just moments before she spies a giant in in the darkness outside her upstairs window. Seconds later, his massive hand reaches into her bedroom, sweeps her up and takes her away to Giant Country, far away from the city—and beyond the edges of any map.

Sophie, understandably, is concerned that she’s about to be eaten—but that’s not the case at all. This giant isn’t like the other giants. They eat people, but he doesn’t, subsisting wholly on a diet of foul-smelling vegetables called snozzcumbers.

The other, much bigger, much nastier giants bully the BFG.

The other, much bigger, much nastier giants bully the BFG.

At first, she tries to run away from the “big, friendly giant,” whom she calls BFG. But gradually, Sophie is charmed, especially as the kindly, introspective BFG hides and protects her from the much bigger, nastier giants—a gang of behemoth beasts with names like Bloodbottler, Butcherboy, Gizzardgumper and Meatdripper, who storm into his home, bully him and toss him about like a plaything.

nullShe learns BFG mispronounces and mangles words because he’s had no formal education, that he goes out at night to catch firefly-like “dreams” and then blows them into the sleeping heads of Londoners at night—and that he has a deep, sad secret. She finds out he had to take her away from the city because, he says, if anyone had found out she’d seen him, there would have been widespread panic about giants spread all over the “teletelebunkum box and the radiosqueaker.”

Spielberg, of course, is one of Hollywood’s leading storytellers, and Dahl (who died in 1990) was the marvelous British novelist who also wrote Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryJames and the Giant PeachMatilda and Fantastic Mr. Fox. In The BFG, Spielberg’s signature touches—spunky kid; misunderstood outsider; adults who slowly come around to understanding—fit perfectly into Dahl’s narrative, which combines lightness and whimsy with whirls of darkness and spikes of danger.

THE BFGMark Rylance, who won an Oscar earlier this year for his role in Bridge of Spies, is the long, lanky BFG, augmented by digital effects and motion-capture wizardry. His BFG face is a marvel—aged beyond years, alive with expression, ever guided by his gargantuan, oversize ears. He tells Sophie that he hears everything, from the spinning of spiders in the grass to the “singing” of the stars in the sky, and “all the wondrous and the terrible, secret whisperings of the world.”

In one of the movie’s best sequences, Sophie and BFG end up in Buckingham Palace, where they dine with the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton, who played Isobel Crawley on Downton Abbey) and her staff (which includes Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall). There BFG toasts everyone with a concoction he calls frobscottle, a fizzy homemade drink with some immediate, hilariously explosive gastro-after-effects—BFG gleefully dubs them “whizpoppers”—that even send her majesty’s Corgis into uncontrollable comedic spinouts.

“He’s magnificent, your giant,” one of the queen’s men confides to Sophie.

As they treat the BFG like a BMOC and a VIP, you’ll have to agree: Yes he is!

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Jungle Swinger

New ‘Tarzan’ a rollicking tale of adventure, romance and eye candy

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The Legend of Tarzan

Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz & Samuel L. Jackson

Directed by David Yates

PG-13

You probably know Tarzan, one way or another. Edgar Rice Burroughs launched the “ape man” into popular culture in magazines and novels in the early 1900s. Several other actors had already portrayed him before former Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller put on a loincloth and grunted his way though the 1930s and ’40s for a dozen films, which ran endlessly on TV in the following decades.

Ron Ely and others played him on television. Walt Disney turned him into a cartoon. And there were other Tarzans, too, in some 200 movies and TV shows between 1918 and today.

Now the original “Lord of the Apes” returns to the big screen in a sumptuous, sprawling epic that blends his backstory with a rollicking new tale of adventure, romance and enough eye candy to attract audiences of all sorts.

Christoph Waltz again makes a dandy villain.

Christoph Waltz again makes a dandy villain.

Swedish-born actor Alexander Skarsgård (from TV’s True Blood series) stars as British nobleman John Clayton, raised as a feral child by mighty apes of the African Congo after the deaths of his parents. Now an adult for years resettled in his ancestral home with his beautiful wife Jane (Margot Robbie), he’s lured back to the Dark Continent by a plot of deception involving slavery, revenge, railroads, diamond mines and a corrupt Belgian megalomaniac (Christoph Waltz).

Director David Yates, who made his bones with all four movies of the Harry Potter franchise, works with all the tools in his impressive kit—and what must have been every nickel of his mega-budget. The visuals are grand: mist-shrouded mountain passes, jungles with impenetrable foliage; armies of Congolese warriors; fearsome gorillas; a stampeding herd of hundreds of wildebeest. Even though most of the film was reportedly shot on soundstages and sets in England, you’d never know it: When the action shifts to Africa, you’re transported there, too.

Margo Robbie

Margo Robbie

Margot Robbie is terrific as Jane, who was raised in the jungle, as well, the daughter of a missionary teacher. A real spitfire of spunk and spirit, she’s so much more than a “damsel in distress.” Samuel L. Jackson plays George Washington Williams, an American envoy to Britain who accompanies Tarzan and Jane on their return trip to Africa. He’s got a backstory of his own, and though he may not be in prime shape to keep up with Tarzan step for step, he comes in pretty handy with a gun.

Waltz, as usual, makes a dandy villain, and Djimon Hounson (from Gladiator and Guardians of the Galaxy) has a necessary, if somewhat nasty, role as a tribal leader looking to stage a major grudge match.

LEGEND OF TARZAN

Ladies will swoon—as Jane does—when Skarsgård initially reveals his sexy, sculpted torso, in a flashback scene that recalls their first steamy jungle encounter. And moviegoers in general will thrill when Tarzan finally gets around to doing what he does best: working those jungle vines, baby!

Late in the movie, we get to hear the iconic Tarzan yell, rolling across the miles—he’s coming. “Tarzan,” says Waltz’s character, relishing the moment, knowing the man he’s been trying to catch is close. “It sounded different than I thought…better.”

Different, and better, like this movie. After years of musty, rusty so-so and too-many Tarzans, now there’s a new, sexy big-screen Lord of the Apes—and he’s swinging again.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Laughing All the Way to the Bank

Melissa McCarthy stars in raunchy rags-to-riches tale

The Boss

Starring Melissa McCarthy & Kristen Bell

Directed by Ben Falcone

Rated R

Steeled and shaped by a childhood of rejection in an orphanage, Michelle Darnell grew up to become a she-wolf of self-made business savvy. Now she’s a superstar investment titan and motivational-mojo guru who descends to the stage of frenzied fan events atop a giant golden phoenix in a spray of dollar bills, celebrating her brazen, competition-crushing excess like a carrot-topped combination of Donald Trump, Suze Orman and Richie Rich.

But the bigger they come, the harder they fall. And Michelle (Melissa McCarthy) tumbles with a titanic thud when she’s arrested for insider trading, loses her company and her home and has to serve a stint of white-collar jail time. When she’s released, with no friends and no family to call on, she bullies her way back to her former assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell), and her young daughter, Rachel (Ella Anderson).

Since making her film breakthrough as part of the ensemble in Bridesmaids (2011), McCarthy moved confidently into the lead for Identity Thief, Tammy, The Heat and Spy, proving her comedic bravura and her raucous adaptability for broad physical humor. She’s a cherub-faced spark plug who’ll go to just about any lengths for a laugh. The Boss is the second of her movies directed by her husband, actor-comedian Ben Falcone, who also makes a brief appearance (as he’s done in several of her films).

Film Title: The Boss

Claire (Kristen Bell) gets some unwanted fashion advice from Michelle (Melissa McCarthy).

Hollywood has always loved a good rags-to-riches tale, and McCarthy and Falcone (who also collaborated on the screenplay, along with Steve Mallory) wring this one for raunchy, R-rated guffaws and give it some crisp contemporary pops that seem deliberately, satirically timed and tuned for the Age of Trump. But it’s also a bit of a flopping mess, a hammy hodgepodge of crude jokes, awkward slapstick gags and sometimes mean-spirited, vulgar humor that just isn’t funny.

As Michelle plots her comeback, she poaches Rachel’s Dandelions scout troop to spin off her own group, Darwin’s Darlings, and creates a bustling new enterprise—built on Claire’s homemade brownies—to compete with the Dandelions’ cookie sales.

Forget Batman v Superman. When it’s Dandelions v Darlings, things get really ugly. If you ever wondered what a Quentin Tarantino-inspired, Kill Bill-esque tween cookie-brownie street brawl might look like, well, The Boss has it.

Film Title: The Boss

Peter Dinklage (from TV’s Game of Thrones) gets chuckles as Michelle’s spurned lover, now himself a preen-y mini-mogul obsessed with samurais. Saturday Night Live’s Cecily Strong plays Claire’s quirky supervisor at her depressing new office job. Kathy Bates has a scene as a wealthy mentor from Michelle’s past.

There are underlying themes about family and belonging, about rebuilding and reconnecting, about trust and ethics. But mostly The Boss is about laughing—all the way to the bank.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Superhero Smackdown

Batman and Superman duke it out in jam-packed double-bill epic

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Starring Ben Affleck & Henry Cavill

Directed by Zack Snyder

PG-13

In this corner, Gotham’s grim reaper—the Dark Knight! Opposite him, in blue tights and red shorts—the Kryptonion clobberer!

Two of pop culture’s most iconic superheroes face off in the year’s first comic-book-inspired double bill, director Zack Snder’s meaty, muscular epic in which Henry Cavill reprises his Superman role from Man of Steel (2013) and Ben Affleck capably becomes the latest actor to answer the big-screen Bat-Signal.

But why are two “good guys” fighting each other? What has brought them to this?

In this worlds-collide combo platter, people have mostly learned to put up with Batman’s fly-by-night vigilante crime fighting, even though he seems to care even less about “due process” than ever (especially when dealing with scumbags like human traffickers). With Superman, on the other hand, the honeymoon is over. People know he swoops in and saves people—but they’ve begun to question the heavy toll of his heroics, the death and destruction that often follow in his sonic-boom wake. And they’re worried about his true motives, his “alien” status (he did come from another planet, after all) and what he could do with all that power if he ever decided to use it against them.

Even Batman—and his billionaire/socialite/playboy alter ego, Bruce Wayne—thinks we’d be better off without Superman. Spurred by a dastardly plot twist, an even bigger crisis and a rising global tide of public opinion, the fight, as they say, is on.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN

Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) menaces Lois Lane (Amy Adams)

Jesse Eisenburg has a fidgety ball as Lex Luthor, a refreshingly younger version of the iconic DC über-villain and perennial pot-stirrer. Amy Adams returns as Daily Planet star reporter Lois Lane, Superman/Clark Kent’s love interest (their bathtub scene is surely one of the sexiest rub-a-dub moments in any superhero flick). Holly Hunter is a U.S. senator who supports the Man of Steel. Jeremy Irons is the “new” Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s hi-tech butler.

Gal Godot—from the Fast & Furious franchise—debuts as Wonder Woman in a blatant plug for future D.C. movies, including her own spinoff (next summer) and two Justice League flicks stretching into 2019. (You’ll also see quick cameos by a couple of other new, upcoming DC characters.) Anderson Cooper, Soledad O’Brien, Nancy Grace, Charlie Rose and Neil deGrasse Tyson play themselves, as talking heads talking about Superman.

It’s long (two and a half hours), jam-packed, sometimes overly so, mostly humorless and generally a bit grim. But at least it’s not all crash-boom-bam. The solid script by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer often steers into think-tank territory—about gods and demons, politics and paranoia—and Synder (who directed Man of Steel and also steered Sucker Punch, 300 and Watchmen) pumps up the religious allegory and symbolism that have always been part of the Superman mythos.

And of course, there’s the Big Event itself, the “greatest gladiator match in the history of the world,” as Lex Luthor calls it, the sprawling slugfest when the Bat and the Son of Krypton actually come to blows—before their superhero smackdown is eclipsed by an even bigger call to arms. It’s big, all right, epic and operatic. Who wins? I certainly won’t spoil it.

Except to say the real winners will be viewers who keep eyes totally glued to the screen for the split second just before the screen goes dark and the credits roll.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Water Water Everywhere

Chris Pine pilots true tale of Coast Guard heroics

The Finest Hours

Starring Chris Pine, Casey Affleck & Holliday Grainger

Directed by Craig Gillespie

PG-13

In an early scene of The Finest Hours, shy Cape Cod Coast Guardsman Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) gently tries to coax his new girlfriend, Miriam (Holliday Grainger), into a nighttime boat ride. But she’s afraid of the water after dark. “You can’t see what’s underneath,” she says.

“Just more watah,” Bernie reassures her.

Just more watah, indeed, in this splashy true tale of against-all-odds nautical heroics almost 65 years ago, by four Coast Guardsmen who responded to the distress signal from an oil tanker that had been split asunder by a treacherous nor’easter, one of the worst winter storms ever in Massachusetts. What happened on that snow-piled, water-water-everywhere February evening is still considered “the most daring rescue in Coast Guard history.”

The Finest Hours

Chris Pine & Holliday Grainger

After we meet Bernie and Miriam, and watch their romance sweetly blossom into marriage plans, we’re introduced to the men onboard the soon-to-be-doomed vessel. There the chief engineer (Casey Affleck) quickly becomes the de factor leader after the captain goes down with the front half of their ship.

By the time news of the greatly distressed, disabled tanker reaches the Cape Cod Coast Guard station, Bernie hardly seems like the man for a daring rescue. Some of the locals won’t let the soft-spoken coxswain forget a previous mission in which a life was lost, and Bernie is also teased by some of his fellow, more seasoned Coast Guardsmen when they find out that the “take-charge” gal he’s planning on marrying proposed to him, not the other way around.

“You sure you got your pants on, Webber?” one of them asks him.

All of this is to set up the “perfect storm” of circumstances for Bernie to prove himself a man, and a hero, when he’s asked to round up a crew and head into the maw of the storm, find the troubled tanker shell and attempt a rescue.

Others in the Coast Guard station consider it “a suicide mission.”

After seeing Chris Pine command the starship USS Enterprise across the universe in two Star Trek movies (with a third, Star Trek Beyond, coming in July), he looks a bit odd, teeny and constrained behind the wheel of a small boat, even one battling monstrous, mountainous CGI waves. And even if he’s playing his character true to what the actual Webber did, for the star and hero of the story, he doesn’t get a lot to do—it’s not terribly exciting to watch a “good guy” stand up and steer a wooden lifeboat, squint and shout into the darkness and get splashed with water for most of half an hour.

Casey Affleck

Casey Affleck

Onboard the floundering back half of the tanker, Casey Affleck fares a bit better, bringing some gung-ho realism and a sense of cool-headed determination to his role as he figures out a way to build a massive makeshift rudder and steer the broken hull of the ship.

And with a passionate, firecracker temperament to match her red hair, British actress Holliday Grainger provides a feisty onshore grounding for the salty seafaring action.

This clam-chowder winter drama won’t win any awards, but it does stand as a rousing Hollywood salute to a little-known incident in nautical history and a stirring tale of Greatest Generation heroism “rescued” from obscurity by the big screen.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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