REVIEW: The BFG

28 06 2016

The BFG PosterThink back to your favorite Spielberg movie. How did it open?

Jaws” began with the shark taking its first victim. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” had our hero creeping through the forest towards an unknown bounty. “E.T” started with the titular creature evading the authorities for the first time. “Saving Private Ryan” plunges us into war with the immersive, innovative D-Day sequence. Many chide the director for choosing stories that wrap up neatly and morally, but he certainly knows how to kick things off with a bang.

So given this penchant for great beginnings, it feels more than a little disorienting when Spielberg’s latest directorial outing, “The BFG,” opens on a relative whimper. The first fifteen minutes operate as an introduction to our two main characters, young London orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and the towering “Big Friendly Giant” colloquially known as the BFG (the personage of Mark Rylance). Yet in that period, scarcely nothing comes to light about them.

We see that Sophie lurks around her orphanage unhappily in the wee hours of the morning. We can discern that the BFG quietly lurks around the streets of London, performing some unspecified action. It’s likely Sophie has sensed his presence before, and “The BFG” merely begins on the night in which they first make contact. But in order to sell her wonder and fear – or his menace – something else is needed. The first 10 pages of Melissa Matheson’s script might well have slipped out upon delivery to Spielberg. It just does not feel complete.

Without this base-level emotional entry point, “The BFG” must be experienced through the events rather than the characters. In this case, that might not be such a good thing. The film is probably Spielberg’s most sparsely plotted work since his first feature gig, 1971’s “Duel” (or, if you really want to dig deep in his archives, the most thinly plotted since the short film that provided the name for his production company, “Amblin'”). Most, if not all, of his movies thrive on a constant forward momentum that propels characters through physical, emotional and supernatural perils. “The BFG” mostly boils down to a spunky young girl exploring a new world with a timid, lovable giant who speaks as if his lines were spat out like a bad Google Translate result.

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REVIEW: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

24 06 2012

As the all-star team of British thespians entering their twilight years disembark from their plane in India at the beginning of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” the particularly closed-minded Jean (Penelope Wilton) claims to know a little something about the native culture from reading Rudyard Kipling.  Of course, she is referring to “The Jungle Book” and other works that famed British author Kipling wrote about his country of birth.

However, if there was one thing I learned from all three of my high school history classes, it was that Kipling appears in textbooks for something else he wrote.  It’s a little ditty called “The White Man’s Burden,” and the first verse goes like this:

Take up the White Man’s burden-
Send forth the best ye breed-
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need…

Kipling’s poem was written to encourage the United States to join Britain in its endeavor to colonize the uncivilized East at a time when it was said that “the sun never sets on the British Empire” because their holdings were so vast and widespread.  While I doubt this poem crossed the minds of director John Madden or the rest of the cast, I found it beautifully ironic. “The White Man’s Burden” would explain the troublesome undercurrent of neo-colonialism that runs throughout the movie, just as it can persuade them into thinking their adventurous escapade to India is just and noble.

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