Movie review: The BFG

Movie reviews

Hi!

Welcome to another summer movie review. I’m running out of ways to greet you and introduce the posts, so without further ado, let’s talk about The BFGThe Big Friendly Giant.

IMDb summary: A girl named Sophie encounters the Big Friendly Giant who, despite his intimidating appearance, turns out to be a kindhearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because, unlike them, he refuses to eat children.

Genre

I would say that The BFG belongs to the live action fairytale genre, which is so popular nowadays and especially this summer (we already had The Huntsman, Alice 2, The Jungle Book and Tarzan comes out next week). However, The BFG differs from all of them in that it is a somewhat original film – it is not a sequel or a remake of an animated picture, but the first-time big screen adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book with the same name. Dahl is a famous author who has created such stories as James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda among others.

Spielberg’s filmography and similar films

Back in the 80s, Spielberg made a career for himself, crafting beautiful family films about children who befriend unique creatures. Of course, I’m talking about E.T. (interestingly, E.T. and The BFG share a screenwriter – Melissa Mathison, who, sadly, had recently passed away). However, in the past 5 years, Spielberg have focused on serious historical dramas, like War Horse, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies, so The BFG is kinda his comeback to the family fantasy genre. Another well-known director, who has also recently tried to transition from the awards contenders to family films, is Martin Scorcese, who made the child-appropriate Hugo in 2011. The BFG also reminded me a bit of Peter Pan films (the good ones) and it also had a slight Harry Potter-like feeling.

Writing: the narrative

The BFG’s story was okay. It portrayed a lead peaceful ‘monster’ in Spielberg’s fashion. It had nice things to say about friendship and growing up and also had a strong anti-bullying and standing up for yourself type of a message. The two faults I had with the story were: 1. the pace – the set up was really long and there wasn’t really any buildup: the film dragged on and the final resolution was also kinda disappointing – I did not see the need to involve The Queen – those sequences came out of nowhere and just seemed so bloody British; 2. the jokes – The BFG relied on slapstick humour and fart jokes – I really wish they would have come up with cleverer comic relief, like Zootopia did. In general, I felt that The BFG was not a family but solely a kids movie and not a very good one. It lacked sophistication for adults and didn’t have enough ‘adventure’ for the younger viewers. However, I do believe that this film could do great on TV in like 5 years time – I can definitely see people watching it at home during Christmas or something.

Directing: the visuals + the music

The CGI and the motion capture work on The BFG were both stellar. My favorite visuals were the dreamland and that tree – that whole physical manifestation of dreams was a cool idea and was realized nicely. The eye to sun transition was also a great and memorable shot. The BFG’s score by the great John Williams was breathtaking, heartfelt and suspenseful. He is the greatest score composer and his work will forever live on.

Acting

  • Mark Rylance as The BFG was really good. This was Rylance’s second collaboration with Spielberg – last year Spielberg directed Rylance into an Oscar-winning performance. His manners were really appropriate for the role – gentle yet steel giant like. His look was also on-point: Rylance looks like a really loving grandpa, so The BFG’s role was perfect for him. Next year, Rylance will be in Nolan’s Dunkirk and a year after that he will collaborate with Spielberg once again on Ready Player One
  • Ruby Barnhill as Sophie was a really good child lead. I think that this young lady has a bright future and a long career ahead of her. 
  • Penelope Wilton as The Queen. While I did not understand the need to include The Queen into this story, I was happy that Wilton was the one to portray  her. I’m happy to see her getting more work since Downton Abbey has ended. 
  • Jemaine Clement as The Fleshlumpeater – the main antagonist. Clement was okay: his look was pretty scary and ugly and his performance brought this flesh-eater to life in a believable way.

In short, I expected more from Spielberg. I hoped that he would create another family-friendly classic, which would satisfy both the adults and the children, however, I do think that anyone above the age of 11 will find The BFG kinda boring.

Rate: 3.25/5

Trailer: The BFG trailer

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Movie review: The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Movie reviews

Hello!

I just came back from watching The Huntsman: Winter’s War film, so without further ado, let’s talk about it!

To begin with, I was (and still am) surprised that this movie even exists. The first movie was financially profitable, but I didn’t think that it earned enough money to establish a franchise. The critical reception was also so-so (48% on Rotten Tomatoes). Also, that scandal with Kristen Stewart and the director of Snow White and the Huntsman – Rupert Sanders – really overshadowed the movie itself. Basically, I did not expect to see a sequel/prequel and, moreover, I don’t really think that anybody asked for one.

I have the same problem (the fact that they are not needed or asked for) with all the retellings of the fairy-tale movies. In addition, I still question the choice to retell them in such a dark and grim fashion, when the majority of cinema goers are more familiar with and are fans of the children-friendly Disney versions. Having said that, I do applaud the filmmakers for following their artistic vision and for putting a new spin on a well-known property. Also, a lot of these stories are very adult and dark at their core – just read the original versions of all the popular fairytales (we actually even studied them in English literature class during the last term at university), so portraying them in a darker tone is in line with the original tone of the stories. However, when going to see a fairy-tale based/inspired film, I usually want to escape the grim reality of life. Let’s be honest – we have enough of dark and inhumane stuff happening in the real world, we don’t need more of it in movies. So, on the whole, I have very mixed feelings about these fairy-tale movie remakes.

In addition, Snow-White’s story is a tale, which I have a strong personal connection with because I grew up reading it . I still have the actual copy of the book that I used to read the story from – it is on a shelve in my room, in my parent’s house back in Lithuania with all my other most prized possessions a.k.a. other books. On that same shelve, one would be able to find a book entitled Princesses’ Fairytales by Nicola Baxter – basically, I was a hardcore fan of stories about princesses even before I ever saw my first movie, be it a film about princesses or just a random animated feature

Speaking about other films, based on fairy tales, here is my review of 2015’s live-action Cinderella (that post is more of a personal study of feminism). Later this year, a few other fairy-tale inspired live-action films will hit cinemas: one sequel  – Alice Through The Looking Glass and two new remakes – The Jungle Book and The Legend of Tarzan. 

Lastly, before I went to see this film, I did not rewatch neither the 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman nor the Mirror Mirror version from the same year. However, I revisited the original animated picture Snow White and the Seven Dwarves from 1937 (the first feature length animated picture by Disney), and I gotta say, it still holds up. The hand painted 2D animation is refreshing and nostalgia-inducing in a world of 3D computer generated graphics. The songs are still pleasant (but a bit annoying, though), while the story is just a right balance of silly and sweet to be enjoyable. A must watch for any fans of animation from any generation.

So, I have given you a lot of context for this movie (maybe too much). Nevertheless, I will try my best to treat The Hunstman: Winter’s War as a separate entity and to judge it on its own. Let’s try that!

SPOILER ALERT

IMDb summary:  As two evil sisters prepare to conquer the land; two renegades – Eric the Huntsman – who previously aided Snow White in defeating Ravenna, and his forbidden lover, Sara set out to stop them.

Writing

The film’s script was written by a quite unusual duo of screenwriters: Craig Mazin and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Mazin has written scripts for movies like Scary Movie (3 and 4) and The Hangover (Part 2 and 3)Spiliotopoulos has mainly worked on Disney’s direct-to-video animated features, but he has also written 2014’s Hercules (not the best film) and is writing a screenplay for 2017’s live-action Beauty and the Beast. So, The Huntsman was a union of raunchy comedy (by Mazin) and more traditional animated storytelling (by Spiliotopoulos). The question is: was this ‘union’ successful? Somewhat, yes and no. 

First of all, the film was both a prequel and a sequel. It opened with  a short recap of the first film – really good idea because I don’t think that a lot of people remember what happened in the first film. The opening also kinda set up The Huntsman to be a total prequel – ‘a story that happened long before the happily ever after’. However, the prequel plot ended after the first 25 minutes. Then, the movie time jumped 7 years and told us that the events that happened in Snow White and the Huntsman occurred in that 7 years span. The rest 1 hour and 20 minutes were a continuation and an expansion of that story – a sequel.

  • Continuation

The Hunstman had two storylines/ideas that were very reminiscent of the first film:

  1. In the 2012’s Snow White, the Huntsman was mourning his dead wife – this film shows how they met and how she ‘died’.
  2. In the first film, Queen Ravenna feared that Snow White will grow up to be more beautiful than she. In this film, she was fearful of her sister’s daughter for the same reason.
  3. A few people from the first film also cameoed in the sequel: most notably, Sam Claflin as King William, Snow White’s husband and Snow White herself – at least her back – played by someone who was definitely not Kristen Stewart.
  • Expansion

The world of this series was expanded quite a bit. The film gave us the backstory of the Huntsman and added a few new characters, including a new villain/anti-hero –  Ravenna’s sister Freya, the Ice Queen with the frozen heart (literally). Her whole power set was very similar to that of Elsa’s in Frozen. The sibling relationship between sisters was also another aspect, which made this film seem like a live-action Frozen remake. However, the ‘end-game’ of the sisterly relationship in The Huntsman was completely different from the loving reconciliation between Anna and Elsa in Frozen.

Writing: – | + | –

The film was mostly predictable. It was easy to guess that the death of the Huntsman’s wife was only an illusion and that Freya’s baby daughter was killed by her sister/the baby’s aunt. The only thing that I didn’t predict but should have was that whole supposed betrayal by the wife. However, in the end, it turned out to be double-crossing and not a true betrayal (that part I did predict once again).

The movie’s narrative appealed to me because I am a fan of high fantasy worlds and adventure stories that happen in these worlds, like Lord of The Rings or Game of Thrones. I also can’t help but notice that all fantastical stories are usually set in medieval/historic times. Well, I guess medieval history is a bit mysterious, and the leap from mystery to magic is relatively small.

On the other hand, the film annoyed me a few times. First with the addition of the dwarves, who sounded very Scottish by the way. The comic relief that these characters provided was stupid and unnecessary. Also, that whole thing with competing genders wasn’t pleasant either. Lastly, that whole pairing up of the characters was also a cheap conclusion. Nevertheless, the overarching theme of the film was love (the most overdone topic of all), so maybe the pairing up did work. Maybe I just hate love. Am I secretly Freya, or even worse – her sister Ravenna? Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Directing 

Because of the aforementioned scandal, Sanders did not return to direct the sequel/prequel film. He was replaced by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan – the visual effects supervisor of the first film, who was also the director of the second unit. He also was the second unit director on Maleficient.  So, The Huntsman was the French director’s directorial debut (well, full one). I think that he did quite a good job with the film. The fighting scenes were exciting and interesting. The slower ‘talking’ scenes were also nice. Sanders combined close-ups of the actors’ faces with quite wide establishing and scenic shots. The sets, which were showed in those wider shots, were absolutely gorgeous – both the physical and the CGI ones. The costumes were also wonderful – the character design was impeccable and all actors, especially the two queens, looks breathtaking from head to toe. The liquid gold of the mirror was my favorite visual from the first film and it continued to be my favorite visual in the second film as well. The end credits were also very beautiful, paired nicely with the main theme song  – Castle by Halsey .

Acting

Winter’s War had a very start studded cast, led by the four(!) leads in the main roles:

  • Chris Hemsworth as Eric, the Huntsman. Hemsworth was really good in the role, especially in the fight scenes. I kinda feel that Snow White and The Huntsman is a backup franchise for Hemsworth if MCU doesn’t work out (small chance of that happening). Nevertheless, Hemsworth also stars in other pictures – I recently watched 2013’s Rush, in which he was really good. I also have reviewed his In The Heart of The Sea a few months ago. His other 2015 film Blackhat is also a not bad B picture and he was also in the first 10 minutes of 2009’s Star Trek. Going forward, later this year, Chris will be in Ghostbusters.
  • Jessica Chastain  was also really good in her role of  Sara, the Warrior. I loved the fact that she was an archer (who never misses) because I enjoy archery in my free time. Her back and forth bickering with Hemsworth was also good – they definitely had chemistry. I have only seen the most recent Chastain’s films, like Interstellar, The Martian and Crimson Peak. I also want to watch Zero Dark Thirty and A Most Violent Year, in which she stars.
  • Emily Blunt as Freya, the Ice Queen was a believable villain (well, sort of a villain). Her backstory was a bit cliche, but Blunt embraced the flawed writing and gave a great performance. She first appeared on my radar with 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada, but her best roles have come in the past few years, namely in Edge if Tomorrow, Sicario and my ultimate guilty pleasure film – Into The Woods. I am really excited to continue following her career in the near and far future.
  • Charlize Theron as Ravenna, the Evil Queen. Theron did not have that big of a role in this film. She mainly appeared in the first and last acts of the picture. Theron did a nice job, but her character’s power (tar tentacles?) was a bit weird. If you want to see a different film, in which Theron plays a bad-ass, just watch Mad Max Fury Road. I also recently checked out Prometheus (because I will be traveling to the filming locations of that picture’s opening sequence – Isle of Skye) – she is great in that film as well. Lastly, Theron is listed to be in next year’s Fast 8 – that should be interesting.
  • Other cast members included Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Alexandra Roach and Sheridan Smith as the dwarves who annoyed me. Sam Claflin (Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2; Love, Rosie) also had a cameo. BTW, I am really excited for Claflin’s next film Me Before You. In addition, Testament of Youth’s Colin Morgan had a minor role as well.

To sum up, The Huntsman: Winter’s War was a perfectly enjoyable fantasy and adventure picture. The story was a bit cliche and predictable, but it nicely expanded the original narrative of the first film. The visuals were breathtaking while the acting was also believable. It is not a must-see for the majority of cinema goers, but casual fans of the high-fantasy genre should enjoy it. However, really die-hard fantasy fans might find it too generic. Lastly, I kinda feel that if this film is even slightly profitable, Universal will make another, so you might want to watch this one so as to prepare for the future movies.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: The Hunstman: Winter’s War trailer

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