*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

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*NEW* THE GIFT REVIEW *NEW*

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Joel Edgerton’s debut is a gift that needs returning.

Slow, dreary and dreadfully predictable. Disappointed doesn’t even come close.

A young married couple’s lives are thrown into a harrowing tailspin when an acquaintance from the husband’s past brings mysterious gifts and a horrifying secret to light after more than 20 years.

That synopsis makes it sound so much more interesting that it really was.

Now I’ve been a fan of Edgerton for some time ever since his turn in Kinky Boots and Warrior. I really had high hopes for his directorial debut. A great cast do their best BUT you can’t hide a lifeless thriller with a surprisingly flat twist.

The opening got the ball rolling quite early. It set up the premise within five minutes. Couple. House. Creepy friend. Excellent. Let the game of cat and mouse begin.

The first half hour I was happy to allow the characters to develop. Always remembering that the inevitable was creeping around the corner. BUT by the hour marker, I was praying for it to come quicker (Steady now).

It was great to see Jason Bateman tackle a serious film for a change. I just wish he had a meatier role. He really excelled in the darker moments (which tragically there wasn’t enough of) and had good chemistry with Rebecca Hall.

Rebecca Hall is a very good actress but has this knack of featuring in mediocre films. Transcendence, anyone? She had an impeccable accent and carried the film for me. Lucky. Considering the film was very much focused on her character. The pawn in a very boring game of chess.

Edgerton was perfect as the troubled Gordo. The film picked up every time he appeared. To be honest, his numerous drop-ins at the family home felt like a minor inconvenience more than a stalkerish obsession.

I was impressed with Edgerton’s supporting cast. It’s just a shame that he didn’t give them better characters. Alison Tolman (Fargo) was wasted as the neighbour. It was extremely annoying because there was a strange moment in which Edgerton suggested something more suspect about her.

When Robyn (Hall) first meets Tolman’s character, she notices the baby is left crying in the back of the car. Hidden behind a veil. There was a slight Rosemary’s Baby vibe. BUT in the next frame, we have Robyn cradling the baby. It could have been a play on Hall’s paranoia BUT more should have been made of it.

How did Busy Philips from Dawson’s Creek get in this? She might as well have NOT been. Wendell Pierce was pretty much playing Bunk from the Wire. The same tired face and exasperated expression. Great for a Wire fan. Poor for anyone else. And he was only it in for 30 seconds and was completely redundant.

Eduard Grau’s cinematography may have provided a murky look to this supposedly “murky” thriller. But you can’t a polish a tur- turgid drama.

I’m happy to allow a slow burning thriller to unfold. If the pay-off delivers. The inevitable creepy tension as Gordo’s numerous appearances go from annoying to unsettling was too predictable. I could feel myself ticking everything off a check list. It was too formulaic. They have a pond. He buys them fish. They throw him out. He kills the fish. Oh no, they have a dog. What’s going to happen there?

It was inevitable that Gordo was a ticking timebomb. If anything Bateman’s reaction was more questionable as he finally lets his new guest know that he has overstayed his welcome. This is where the film did get a little more interesting as Simon’s (Bateman) past is called into question.

The cheap jump out of your seat scares felt desperate as the film continued to stagger along. I thought the shower sequence was merely a ploy to make sure the audience were still awake. Quick jump. Aaah! Right. Still with us? Back to the film.

The closing fifteen minutes finally delivered what I had expected from the rest of the film. A tense slow burning stand-off with the inevitable twist rearing its ugly head. And credit where it’s due; the twist was actually an interesting one. And I did appreciate Edgerton’s little nod to the Usual Suspects.

It did leave you pondering as the credits rolled. A nice touch. But once I got out of the cinema and into my car, I realised I had still wasted two hours for a mediocre conclusion and the revelation hardly matched all the mystery and hype.

Patchy at best but very disappointing for all the promise. Mr Edgerton, spend less time on wrapping and more time on picking a better present, eh.

2.5/5

TRANSCENDENCE REVIEW

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Transcen-dunce or dense. A mind numbingly drab affair of a concept that has just enough meat to be a generic TV movie you’d expect to see on late night SyFy. You know you’re onto a loser when the opening five minutes pretty much tells you what to expect and an established cast sleepwalk their lines and fail to make an impression. The list of contenders for worst film of 2014 keeps growing.

*WARNING POTENTIAL SPOILERS* A surprising . . . ly slow and spoilerific post-apocalyptic opening made for strange viewing, followed by a flashback piecing together the aftermath. Slow but go on. This is soon hit with mind numbing techno gobbledygook that even the normally prolific powerhouse that is Johnny Depp is so bored of explaining. Basically the gist is that controversial scientist Will Caster (Depp) is the foremost researcher in artificial intelligence who is working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. ZZZZZZ! However, this has made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him. A crazy sporadic two minute killing spree soon stopped me fidgeting in my seat. Unexpected (if you don’t remember the trailer) and engaging, I thought here we go. Boy, was I wrong?

Their attempt to destroy Will inadvertently becomes the catalyst he needed to succeed. Fighting for his life, Caster becomes a participant in his own “transcendence” by uploading himself and becoming a power mad information feeding virtual freak. If I had known, the journey that was in store, I would have stayed at home. There is a surprisingly stale chemistry between the beautiful Rebecca Hall and Depp. It was as if writer James Paglan thought; well they are a couple, you must feel for them. We won’t enforce the feelings or develop them. Just insert some corny, generic couple-y moments that take up too much screen time. Once Depp is uploaded, he becomes a monotone and incredibly droll menace that dithers in the background. Hall does her best to carry the film with an impeccable accent. The divided loyalty and questionable motives behind the rebooted Depp made for potentially engaging viewing but it didn’t really go anywhere. An elongated and drawn out 45 minutes building up to Depp’s upload did not do any favours for patience. His drawn out complexion and wirey helmet (easy now) was reminiscent of a demented Hellraiser. Again, nothing surmountable.

I mean the battle and debate about the ever-growing potential of AI is always an intriguing one. “Was Caster really there at all or did the AI get too clever?” was intriguing at certain points. But at a whopping two hours, there just wasn’t enough with the inevitable ending vastly approaching. Fantastic to look at. The visual effects were good. A redeeming sequence in which “Caster” has managed to develop nano bots to create an army of super soldiers delivered the little action that appeared to be on offer with some more familiar supporting faces; Clifton Collins Jr (The Event, 24) and Josh Stewart (Criminal Minds, The Dark Knight Rises). However, there is one scene which had me in stitches, whether they ran out of budget or poor editing, one of the enhanced nano bots shows off his incredible talents by jumping up two steps on a ladder. If I could find it, I would show it. Hilarious.

That’s not all that’s hilarious. The story makes no sense at all. Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman do absolutely nothing to uplift this mess. Because their characters do absolutely nothing. Even though they are aware of the dangerous effects of Caster’s ever-growing power, they just look at charts, mumble some data mumbo jumbo, rush about at the end and . . . watch from the sidelines. Freeman proved one thing. That even with his dulcet tones, he can make any bad line good. “With one of the most advanced security measures in the world, my own team got killed by poisoned cake”. Paul Bettany’s character gets imprisoned by a terrorist cell. Sits about staring blankly into nothingness while being lectured at by Kate Mara’s cyber hippie terrorist. His motives become dreadfully unclear in which it skims forward two years and he’s joined the cell. Freeman even asks him how they got to him. A shrug. That’s all we get. A shrug. Something I fear the writer or director did while making this.

A dreadful directorial debut for Wally Pfister. Now Pfister is a talented cinematographer who has worked extensively with Christopher Nolan for the last decade on some of his biggest hits to date. With Nolan as executive producer, no one would have expected this. Pfister delivers a mess, a beautifully shot mess, but a mess all the same. Perhaps stick with the cinematography? Harsh, maybe. The idea was an intriguing prospect but a lack of pace, a plot holed story line with an inevitable ending is hardly going to make this a memorable film. I mean I’m going to remember this for the two hours I lost. This also marks another step down for the prolific Depp. He is still a talented actor and the argument that he has been poor since Dark Shadows is harsh. His performance redeemed The Lone Ranger in my opinion but it was still a flop. And this film will do him no favours. Perhaps a better look at the script before accepting the wonga. That’s the only reason why I think, or hope, that the cast took this.

It just proves that a little thing called story, along with some others called character, plot and interest still count. Sleep walking performances, along with a by the numbers story line, relying on the popularity of familiar actors does not a good or profitable movie make. I fear the memory of the film will transcend, evaporating like the little nano-bots into nothingness. Avoid or upload at your own peril. 1/5

Currently ranks #168 out of 169!