Hu­mon­gous hol­i­day hu­mour

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - Stephen Romei

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

In­tel­li­gence, above

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