Humongous holiday humour
The BFG (PG) National release Central Intelligence (M) National release
Steven Spielberg’s The BFG is a marvellous, mood-lifting, word-mangling adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1982 children’s novel. Much of the marvellousness comes from the Big Friendly Giant of the title: the superb English stage and screen actor Mark Rylance, who is perhaps best-known in recent times as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC television version of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. He also received an Oscar for his role in Spielberg’s previous film, Bridge of
Spies, where the famous director and great actor started what promises to be a compelling working relationship.
We first meet BFG in a slickly stealthy opening sequence set in London. He sneaks through the 3am streets, using remarkable camouflage for a man of his size. The music by Spielberg’s long-time collaborator John Williams plays to the skill of hiding when you’re big enough to be in plain sight. BFG is there to do his job: he’s a dreamcatcher who, having snared and enhanced dreams, blows them into the minds of sleeping people, especially children.
But when he is seen by an insomniac girl from the window of the Dickensian orphanage in which she lives (in a nice touch she reads
Nicholas Nickleby) he is bound to capture her. His giant hand reaching through the window to snaffle her is terrific to watch. Sophie (12-year-old newcomer Ruby Barnhill) is whisked off to Giant Country, where she fears she will become dinner. The early moments in BFG’s cavernous lair don’t help, as she skitters in a frying pan. The massive difference between a young girl and a live-forever giant is gorgeously shot by Janusz Kaminski (who won cinematography Oscars for Spielberg’s
Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan). But we soon learn a little bit about perspective. First, BFG is dwarfed in his world. “Twenty-four feet is puddlenuts in Giant Country,” he tells Sophie. Indeed, his derogatory nickname is Runt. Second, he does not eat human beans, as he calls them. “You think that because I am a giant that I am a man-gobbling canny-ball,” he adds. He’s a vegetarian, in fact, existing on a disgusting “vegeterrible” known as a snozzcumber. The truth of BFG’s story is verified when we meet the other nine giants who live near him, all of whom are twice his size and do like chewing on children. As he warns Sophie, “I am sorry to say the boys would eat you up in a doddle.”
Which brings us to the darkness of Dahl, who disliked the films made of his books, such as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, to take one “crummy” (Dahl’s word) example. The BFG is not as scary as the book, though the child munching is lip-smackingly mentioned by the giants and at one point suggested in a newspaper article. That’s probably best for the younger target audience, though I would have enjoyed explaining the lines where the giants describe the taste of different nationalities. The script, which is the final work of Melissa Mathison, who died in November last year, was approved by the Dahl estate. Mathison wrote ET
the Extra-Terrestrial for Spielberg in 1982. There’s a lot to laugh about, too, with Mathison making spiffing use of Dahl’s squiggly language and his fondness for onomatopoeia. BFG bungles words all the time, but kids will understand him because his talk makes perfect sense in this “wonky world”. I’m normally not a fan of flatulence jokes but I laughed at the various incarnations of whizzpoppers, an effect of BFG’s favourite drink frobscottle, where the bubbles move downwards, especially when they emerged from the Queen’s corgis. A game of chicken between BFG and another giant also ends hilariously. And some of the handwritten labels on BFG’s dream jars will be all too familiar to adult viewers.
All of this is brought to beautiful life by Spielberg’s consummate filmmaking and Rylance’s humorous and moving performance. High-level motion capture technology means Rylance becomes the giant and he invests the character with intelligence, love and a little fragility. His quirky monologues are delivered with the grace, warmth and acuity of an actor who was the first artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
This is a simple but endearing story of BFG and Sophie deciding to stand up to the bad giants, who are led by the Fleshlumpeater (New Zealand actor Jemaine Clement). The Queen does become involved and here the timing becomes as weird as BFG’s words. When she calls “Ronald and Nancy”, we assume it’s set around the time the book was published. Yet there are other amusing possibilities.
This is a perfect film for the school holidays, for kids and adults alike. The enjoyable Dwayne Johnson-Kevin Hart CIA action comedy Central Intelligence opens with the sort of torture that defies intelligence of any sort. A much-bullied, unhappily named, overweight kid, Robbie Weirdicht, is grabbed from the shower by a gang of bullies and thrown naked on to the assembly room floor in front of all the students and teachers who have gathered for the end-of-year celebrations. Everyone laughs, except the star of the school, Calvin Joyner, who kindly takes off his coat and hands it to Robbie.
Fast forward 20 years (director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who made We’re the Millers in 2013, shows admirable storytelling speed) and Calvin (Hart) is a skilled but unsatisfied ac- countant. He’s married to his school sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), who is a successful lawyer. He’s determined not to go to the 20th anniversary party for his old class.
He receives a Facebook friend request from an unknown Bob Stone, who turns out to be Robbie (Johnson). When they meet in a bar, there are signs Robbie’s life has changed a bit. “I worked out for six hours a day every day for 20 years straight,’’ he explains, not long before he (rightly) beats up some barroom louts.
Stone says he’s with the CIA and needs Calvin’s help to foil a super bad guy. The CIA tells Calvin that Stone is not only a rogue agent but a murderous psychopath. The action moves from there, but not in an entirely predictable way. The refusal to overplay the buddy film cliches is satisfying.
The size difference between Hart and exw-restler Johnson is well used. The chemistry between the two actors is sparkling. Indeed, they are funnier than the film itself, though it’s funny enough. There’s a lot of droll cultural reference dialogue, such as Stone’s love for the film Sixteen
Candles. “I’ll never be Molly Ringwald,’’ he says. And, strangely enough, there we have an insight into the sensitivity of this wisecracking, jovial he-man. Johnson is a good comic actor. And like BFG, he knows size is relative. There are scenes where he still sees himself as an overweight boy, and that is quite touching. A fine film to watch if you feel like taking an easy break from the real world.
Ruby Barnhill and Mark Rylance’s Big Friendly Giant in The BFG, left; Kevin Hart, left, and Dwayne Johnson in Central