Tag Archives: Steven Spielberg

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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Building a Badder Dinosaur

‘Jurassic World’ takes a big new bite out of the classic franchise

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Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Nick Robinson & Ty Simpkins

Jurassic World

Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and Vincent D’Onofrio

Directed by Colin Trevarrow

PG-13

The ingredients to a new dinosaur movie are a lot the ones for a new dinosaur: Bigger, louder and more teeth.

It’s been 22 years since director Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, which broke new ground in computer-generated special effects and left audiences gasping for air with its romping, stomping tale of bio-engineered prehistoric creatures running amok. But after two sequels, the Jurassic franchise lost much of its roar—and its box-office bite. Audiences were no longer gaga for lifelike, big-screen dinosaurs.

In Jurassic World, the owners and operators of a sprawling new “living dinosaur” theme park, re-established after the downfall of the original facility, are faced with the same problem. “No one’s impressed by a dinosaur anymore,” says Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the corporate operations manager. Visitors are still coming—up to 20,000 a day—but teenagers barely look up from their smartphones at a stegosaurus, investors are clamoring for greater return on their dollars, and sponsors want something with more wow and pow.

What to do? Create a bigger, badder dinosaur. Meet Indominus Rex, cooked up in Jurassic World’s lab from a monstrous mixture of dino-DNA super-traits. It’s nastier, angrier and more nightmare-inducing than any other creature, even the park’s venerable T. Rex.

What could possibly go wrong?2424_SB_00075NBR

Steven Spielberg is executive producer this time around, but newcomer director Colin Trevarrow loads his film with clever and nostalgic throwbacks to him and his craft, from specific camera shots to an original Jurassic Park t-shirt (one character’s EBay find) and a holographic depiction of a dinosaur that had a memorable small role back in 1993. When several characters come across a decrepit building that was once part of the old park, it looks like they’re strolling through the franchise’s long-abandoned prop room.

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Chris Pratt plays a dinosaur trainer working with wily, lethally dangerous raptors.

As Owen, a dinosaur trainer working with a group of wily, dangerous raptors, Chris Pratt is quick with a quip—even when faced with serious, life-and-death situations. Vincent D’Onofrio plays a contractor who wants to use the raptors for military purposes. “These guys’ll run straight into the enemy’s teeth and eat them, belt buckle and all,” he says.

To further stir the perfect storm, two young brothers (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) are visiting the park, sent by their parents for a weekend-adventure getaway. Guess who gets way more adventure than they ever dreamed?

The movie’s underlying theme of modern man’s hubristic drive to control—and commercialize—nature’s ancient, primal power never gets in the way of its full-throttle fun and its cavalcade of chills, thrills, stupendous state-of-the-art special effects and even outright grins and giddy giggles. Jurassic World isn’t quite the revelation that its granddaddy was, some two decades ago. But for pure summer popcorn wow-and-pow dollars, you certainly won’t find much anything bigger, louder or with more teeth.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Time Warped

Matthew McConaughey stars in mind-bending deep-space yarn

INTERSTELLAR

Interstellar

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway & Michael Caine

Directed by Christopher Nolan

PG-13

Outrageously ambitious, deliriously far-out and epically geeky, director Christopher Nolan’s sprawling Interstellar is a space movie with one foot on the ground and one in the stars, a story of both humanity and the heavens, with a thumping heartbeat driving its spewing intergalactic fountain of dazzling, digitized special effects.

In this mind-bending yarn about gravity, time and the power of love, Matthew McConaughey plays a family-man space cowboy on a mission to save the Earth. As its story unfolds, sometime in the not-so-distant future, our planet’s resources have been all but exhausted; the world’s a big dust bowl. McConaughey’s character, Cooper, a former moon-exploring astronaut, is selected for a top-secret, last-ditch NASA dash across deep space to chase down a probe signal that may possibly signal a new planetary home.

Big problem: The widowed Cooper will have to leave behind his sage old dad (John Lithgow) and his two young children, teenage son Tom (Timotheè Chalamet) and spunky young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy). Even bigger problem: Once he takes off, Cooper doesn’t know how long how he’ll be gone—or if he’ll be able to return.

INTERSTELLARCooper tries to reassure Murph—he gives her an old-school wristwatch and tells her that whenever she looks at it, she can know he’ll be looking at his, too, wherever he is, up there in space, for however long, until he comes home. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Nolan, whose other films include the Batman Dark Knight trilogy and the mind-scrambling Inception, sets off an explosion of images and ideas as the tale unfolds both “on the ground” and “out there.” We’re taken through a space “wormhole,” a shortcut expressway compressing and expanding space and time, to a watery planet prone to monstrous tidal waves, where every hour counts for seven years of Earth time, and another that’s so cold, even the clouds are solid ice. We watch as Cooper, whose own aging has been halted by the time-warp of space travel, sees video feeds of his children grown into adults (Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck)—and bitter that their father has apparently abandoned them, “decades” ago.

INTERSTELLARAnne Hathaway plays one of Cooper’s fellow explorers—a key role in more ways than one because of her connection to her NASA scientist father (Michael Caine) back on Earth, and also to someone the astronauts will meet on their journey to the outer reaches of the cosmos.

Along the way, we’re introduced to some lofty concepts: Are we alone in the universe? Is it possible to go backward and forward in time, or to make it stand still? Is love a quantifiable force? Nolan lays out a narrative path between Odysseus, Albert Einstein and Buck Rogers, then paints it with bold cinematic brushstrokes inspired by the masters—Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, John Ford.

It doesn’t always work, but man, is it ever something to see. It gets pretty trippy (and even a bit hokey) in the end, and at nearly three full hours, it’s quite a journey. And this rip-roaring Rip Van Winkle rocket tale is unlike anything else you’ve seen at the movies this year, if ever. Hang on for the ride and you may come out on the other side feeling a bit wobbly and time-warped yourself.

And afterward, you might never look at the tick-tock of your wristwatch the same way again.

—Neil Pond, Parade and American Profile Magazines

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Sounds Like Spielberg

Tale of little crash-landed space alien has familiar extra-terrestrial ring

EARTH TO ECHO

Earth to Echo

Starring Teo Halm, Astro & Reese Hartwig

Directed by Dave Green

PG, 89 min.

E.T., phone home—your cell number’s been hacked.

And your identity’s been stolen. But most of the audience for this adolescent sci-fi adventure yarn, about a crash-landed space critter and the kids who discover and assist him, won’t remember the 1982 Steven Spielberg classic to which it obviously owes its inspiration.

Originally made by Disney then sold off to another company for distribution, Earth to Echo features a cast of unknown young actors in a storyline setup that will feel familiar to anyone who’s seen E.T.—or many other movies, for that matter: Three “misfit” best friends (a nerd, a foster child, and one’s who’s practically “invisible” to his parents and older brother) are about to be split apart by a massive freeway construction project that’s going to pave over much of their suburban neighborhood.

Earth To EchoWhen cell phones in the subdivision begin freaking out (“barfing” on their display screens, the kids call it), the trio discerns something that looks like a map in the digital patterns. They follow the hijacked signals one night, on their bikes, to a deserted field, where they’re led to a crusty canister containing the little owl-like, beep-beeping robotic alien creature they name Echo.

Then come the mysterious white-jump-suited grownups with clipboards and flashlights, a cute female classmate who wants in on the action, and lots of things younger viewers will find funny, heartwarming and exciting as the kids learn about Echo’s plight and band together to help him “go home.”

Making his big-screen debut, director Dave Green keeps things light and basic, setting up most of the action around the search for parts Echo needs to facilitate his journey. The kids and their little outer-space friend—who already, conveniently, looks like a toy in a fast-food kids’ meal—have a series of close calls in a pawnshop, a game arcade and a biker bar, always one step ahead of the men in white.

ECHOThe young, mostly inexperienced cast is convincing as friends who’ve discovered something crazy-cool, and they also work well—and naturally—with the movie’s contemporary format: The entire story unfolds as a movie-within-a-movie, a back story the trio of boys made about their out-of-this-world experience. So we see the ’tweens as they document each other, fiddling constantly with their equipment, their camera phones, cameras mounted on the handlebars of their bikes, spy cams in their eyeglasses—it’s a movie for today’s tech-saturated, digital doo-dad, reality-TV times.

Grownups and geeks may fixate on how much the movie borrows—there’s also more than one nod to Spielberg’s Close Encounter of the Third Kind, and a significant parallel to Super 8, which he produced but didn’t direct, and it will likely make anyone who’s seen Stand By Me recall the potent nostalgia in its tale of childhood pals on a thrilling mission one life-changing summer that bonded them forever.

But kids likely won’t catch any of that—and likely won’t care. Instead, they’ll see a movie that entertains them, makes them laugh, makes them think a bit about friendship and belonging, and makes them root for a little waylaid spacebot just trying to make his way home.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Inside Spielberg’s Fantasy Factory

A guided tour of animated DreamWorks movies

The Art of Dreamworks Animation

The Art of DreamWorks Animation

By Ramin Zahed

Hardcover, 324 pages ($50, Abrams)

 

The movie studio created in 1994 by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen quickly became a major Hollywood player, and this handsome, high-end coffee-table book celebrates the production company’s achievements in animated films including the Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda franchises, as well as single releases such as Chicken Run, Puss in Boots, The Prince of Egypt and the recent Mr. Peabody and Sherman. More than 320 sketches, production designs, computer-animation graphics and still reproductions are accompanied by commentary from DreamWorks artists and movie directors, making for a gorgeous guided tour inside one of Tinseltown’s most successful fantasy factories.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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