*NEW* THE BFG REVIEW *NEW*

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The BIG FLOPPIN’ MESS

On paper, the dream of Roald Dahl’s works and Steven Spielberg’s direction should have spelled perfection BUT despite Rylance’s brilliant performance, there was something missing.

A girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) encounters the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) who, despite his intimidating appearance, turns out to be a kind-hearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because, unlike them, he refuses to eat children.

Definitely one for the little ‘uns. It has been a long time since I read The BFG. I loved Dahl’s books as a child and genuinely enjoyed the film adaptations. Some I still watch as guilty pleasures BUT this won’t be one of them.

The opening 30 minutes was everything I expected. It was exactly how I remembered. The animation and cinematography (from regular Spielberg stalwart Janusz Kaminski) were fantastic. The BFG’s introduction was lifted straight from the book. His eyes twinkling in the dark alleys. The giant hand clambering through the curtains. The sweeping shots across the beautiful English countryside.

It was delightfully easy going. Barnhill carried the role as well as she could. It’s an incredibly difficult task for a child actor to get the balance right. Whether it was the script or her performance BUT there were moments where the poor girl just got on my nerves. BUT it was still a commendable debut for the little lass.

After his Oscar winning turn in Bridge of Spies, Mark Rylance reunited with Spielberg yet again. The animation and effects were impeccable; mixing live animation with Rylance’s facial expressions. His delivery really made all of Dahl’s insanely ridiculous jargon almost believable. He really was the BFG. Perfect.

However, the main issue was the pace. It went on far too long. This would have been much better if it was reduced by a good 30 minutes. If anything, the meandering pace gave me time to pick at how nothingy the story of the BFG really was. Apart from catching dreams and eating whizpoppers (a horrible looking cucumber), there wasn’t really much going on.

What was originally a beautiful scene with the BFG and Sophie chasing after the pixie like dreams flying around the trees, I found myself nodding off. I hate to blame the twinkly lullaby score of John Williams. The maestro providing yet another wonderful score. It just didn’t grab me. The CGI and effects were marvellous BUT it wasn’t enough.

NOT even the giants made enough of an impression for me. Considering the talented supporting cast voicing the eclectic bunch of fantastically designed beasts, the only one that made a memorable impression was Flight of the Conchord’s Jermaine Clement as Fleshlumpeater. The only giant with any depth or dialogue.

I didn’t even realise until the closing credits that Bill Hader (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) was voicing Bloodbottler! I wanted more of them. There were opportunities for the BFG to overcome the years of bullying. I know it was only a kids’ films BUT I couldn’t help but ask endless questions; Why did the giants hate rain so much? (Especially when the BFG wasn’t fazed at all). Why catch dreams and give them to people while they sleep?

The giants weren’t really as intimidating as I’d hoped. If anything, they were irritating. Despite a wonderfully animated sequence with the dimwitted dirt dwellers throwing the BFG on a digger and Sophie in a battered car and racing them around the hill, they didn’t do much at all.

It was the meeting with the Queen that made me feel my age. For the first time, I actually felt uncomfortable watching a children’s film. I always enjoy family films because they always have something for everyone. BUT this time, it really was just for the sprogs.

Penelope Wilton (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) was brilliant as Her Majesty. It’s just a shame she was playing her in this. Rafe Spall and Rebecca Hall were completely wasted (and unnecessary in their roles). And once everybody was guzzling frobscottle (a strange fizzy drink with bubbles that float down) and farting green smoke including the bloomin’ Corgis, I knew I was getting too old for this.

I know I’m heading towards my thirties and I’ve become an older and more cynical movie goer BUT I can still watch The Witches and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Wilder version, of course. RIP) as guilty pleasures. BUT the meandering pace and silly little gags just didn’t deliver. The giants were barely used and weren’t really as much of a threat as they could have been.

It was watchable guff BUT I’m afraid to say that Spielberg’s dry spell continues. The little ‘uns will love it BUT the older Dahl fans will be disappointed.

2.5/5

THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL REVIEW

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These old dogs need to learn some new tricks if there’s going to be another one.

As the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has only a single remaining vacancy – posing a rooming predicament for two fresh arrivals – Sonny (Dev Patel) pursues his expansionist dream of opening a second hotel.

Now, I loved the first film. It was fun, easy going, a charming little affair with a fantastic cast. When I heard that there was going to be another, I was excited. Hardly surprised after the reception the original received.

However, this outing seemed to suffer from the dreaded sequelitis. The charm offensive just about pulled it off to make it watchable. BUT I was left wanting more. A phrase I’m using far too often lately.

The opening didn’t really build my hopes up as Patel’s Sonny and Dame Maggie Smith’s Muriel barter with a boardroom of corporate drones about financing the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Smith’s rambling and raving about how Americans never serve tea properly didn’t really deliver the laughs. If anything, it annoyed the hell out of me and was dreadfully clichéd.

Look, I’m English. (What?!) Tea has always been a recurring joke but come on, we’re better than that! I still had a little guilty chuckle but when the gag kept popping up; it soon died of death.

Patel played Sonny well. But I found him a lot more irritating this time round. However, what did keep me watching was Sonny and Muriel’s relationship. A surrogate mother/son dynamic that made for hilarious and heart-warming viewing.

I felt Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle’s story line was a little too silly. I was interested in Norman and Carol’s relationship as the pair struggle to adapt to a monogamous lifestyle after playing the field for so long.

BUT all I got was a subplot that was taken out of a bad Carry On film with a drunken conversation between Norman and a taxi driver unwittingly setting up a “hit” on his partner.

I only really got some enjoyment or drama out of the pair in the closing moments. BUT it was resolved far too quickly for my liking. A shame.

Bill Nighy. A comedy legend and a talented actor in my eyes. Disappointing. He just seemed to dither and normally it worked to his advantage but I found myself getting bored of him. The whole tour gag with a young Indian lad feeding him information with a dodgy wireless ear piece has been done time and time again.

His subplot only got interesting when Penelope Wilton made a surprise appearance to upset the apple cart.

It was a surprise that Douglas (Nighy) and Evelyn’s (Dench) characters were still courting and not properly together. Inevitably a spanner is thrown in the works as Evelyn is given an opportunity to work again.

This is where it killed things for me. Dench’s absence was missed. Merely reprieved with little scenes in which we see her and a market trader bartering and dealing with the local community.

Celia Imrie’s love triangle story line was a little nothingy. Her inevitable brewing romance with the chauffeur that drove her to the two men she was seeing was predictable but easygoing.

However, she seemed to be pushed further into the background. If not for a memorable quote upon Gere’s arrival, “God have mercy on my ovaries”, I wouldn’t have known she was there.

Patel’s business venture ambitions and impending wedding certainly spiced things. Sonny’s best friend’s questionable friendship with his fiancee certainly ignited some much needed tension and drama into the mix. BUT to the same old infuriating and predictable results.

While we’re talking about predictable; the red herring hotel inspector subplot was naff. Richard Gere did his best and played the mystery man well BUT it was all so hokey. Sonny “pimping” out his mother to try and improve his review got the odd chuckle. BUT Tamsin Grieg and her shady American accent just didn’t work.

Hardly spoilerific but what was the purpose of David Strathairn’s role? He had the easiest job going. A waste of an incredibly talented actor.

It wasn’t all bad. Maggie Smith was on fine form as usual. Her sniping and complaining delivered the better moments. One perfect example being when Evelyn shares some wonderful advice with her and she simply looks at her, baffled and asks; “I’m sorry. Were you talking to me?” Priceless.

The ending certainly left things open and wasn’t without a few surprises (Don’t worry. No spoilers). And dare I say, I had a little tear.

I was able to walk out with a cheeky little grin after seeing the geriatric icons jumping up and down at the wedding reception without a care in the world.

BUT it just didn’t carry it off as well as the first. A film I went in expecting nothing and was rewarded with much more.

Maybe I went in with too high an expectation this time. It was certainly watchable and there were laughs to be had, “Why die here? When I can die . . . there”.

A mixed bag of spice and naff tobacco for me. Tobacco being the stodgy story lines.

2.5/5

*THROWBACK REVIEW* BELLE

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Pride and Racial Prejudice or Frownton Abbey. A stellar British cast uplifts a syrupy biopic that you’d expect to see on ITV. 12 Years A Slave, this ain’t. It’s certainly watchable and zips along but it doesn’t really make full use of the cast or the subject matter and inevitably leads to the same old predictable schmaltzy finale.

So what’s it all about? Inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy captain is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and wife (Emily Watson).

Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the colour of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. However, she soon falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son (Sam Reid – The Riot Club) bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.

Well, at least gets the ball rolling . . . sort of, kinda.

The beautiful Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Touch) takes the fold and delivers a strong performance. One to watch for the future. Matthew Goode (Stoker/The Good Wife) applies enough charisma to make a memorable impression as Captain Sir John Lindsay, who plucks an orphaned Belle from poverty and much worse. A shame that he is only in the film for five minutes before departing on a long voyage.

To be honest, anyone could have played him. Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) seems to be typecast of late as the uptight old prune of an aunt but if she delivers the goods, does it matter? To me, just a bit.

Even Tom Felton is playing a Victorian Draco Malfoy, complete with “mudblood” attitude in tow. Don’t get me wrong, he plays the slick toothed snob to perfection. As does James Norton (or Tommy from the highly acclaimed BBC TV series Happy Valley) as Felton’s smug brother and partner in crime.

They are both the weasel-y twins (What?) as they try and weave their way into Belle’s fortune. Miranda Richardson (Blackadder) is also brilliant as their conniving matriarch. Emily Watson plays her part well, even if her character is completely unnecessary.

Merely, a commentator sitting on the side lines. Commentary that is self-explanatory as, to be honest, there is not a lot going on. The beautiful Sarah Gadon (Dracula Untold) is making an impression. She plays the dibby cousin Elizabeth well. You do feel for her character as she appears to be used as pawn in a game of rich chess or left lingering in the shadow of the “exotic beauty”.

I appreciate the concept and direction the film took. This is a completely different story to 12 Years A Slave that deals with the issue of race within the aristocracy. The fact that Belle was awarded the stature and position of any rich member of power and is unable to use it, says it all.

However, it all feels a little petty in comparison to the visceral gritty torture that Solomon endured. He was beaten, whipped and hung. Belle was made to eat in a separate room to the rest of the family and was perceived merely as an exhibition piece, an exotic jewel, nothing more.

Tom Wilkinson is fantastic as Lord Mansfield whose position is compromised in between fulfilling the law. The law that does not treat any person of colour with respect or even see them as people.

He works well with Mbatha-Raw which allows for some heartfelt moments. After the initial introduction and set up in an easy going half hour, the film seems to be happy to tend with the mundane gossip of petty rich Victorian folk while the inevitable romance blossoms between Belle and John Davinier (Reid). The awkward exchanges, the subtle glances and turning aways. Check, check. All there.

It all feels like by the end it is merely ticking the boxes for all the clichés of a period drama. Any chance of making statements are crushed by an inevitable corny love story. The finale is merely a revelatory court case with the verdict relying on Mansfield’s overriding decision.

A decision that is so obvious and unbelievably predictable that all the grandiose speeches mean nothing. I expected so much more.

It’s well-acted, easy going but doesn’t seem to be sure on whether to be a hard-hitting drama or a slow burning love story.

If you’re a period drama fan, then you’ll love this but it brings nothing new to the genre. Weaker episodes of Downton Abbey have done a better job (There’s never been a weak episode of Downton? That’s scandalous!)

If you’re already going in making comparisons and expecting 12 Years A Slave, then . . . watch 12 Years A Slave. Such a shame. Not bad but not great.

2.5/5