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Entries in Disney (3)

Sunday
May152016

THE BFG

Stars: Ruby Barnhill, Mark Rylance, Rebecca Hall, Bill Hader, Jemaine Clement, Matt Frewer, Rafe Spall and Penelope Wilton.
Writer: Melissa Mathison; based upon the children’s novel by Roald Dahl.
Director: Steven Spielberg

Premiered Out of Competition at 69th Festival du Cannes; screened at the Grand Lumiere Theatre.

Rating: 2/5

Steven Spielberg has been open about his adoration for the classic Roald Dahl children’s novel The BFG, of how the 1982 book was standard bedtime reading in his household and how an adaptation has been in development for close to 20 years. He is not alone; the book is a publishing phenomenon that impacted a generation of young readers, just as Spielberg’s body of work is arguably the most fondly favoured American film output of the last half century.

Reteaming with the late writer Melissa Mathison (E.T. The Extra-terrestrial) and long time producing partners Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, Spielberg at least delivers on his promise to get it made. Unfortunately, the only element of the entire production that inspires any kind of wonder is just how far from a satisfying adaptation the film proves to be, given the potential held by the pairing of these two great storytellers.

The heroine is Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), a little girl with big dreams who wanders the halls of her 80’s era London orphanage (looking very Harry Potter-ish, as does much of the film) well into the witching hour. Barely 10 words have been spoken in the film when we meet Oscar-winner Mark Rylance’s not-yet-friendly giant, who abducts Sophie from her bed and takes her to a faraway land. The trauma of the abduction barely registers on Sophie and soon a type of accelerated ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ kicks in. The pair chatter away interminably in the giant’s home at the expense of plot establishment, the now friendly giant instead introducing her to such wonders as The Tree of Dreams and a workshop where he mixes the tree’s pickings to create happy night time visions.

The BFG is the runt of a large band of horribly ill-tempered, one-dimensional giants (just like the ones in Bryan Singer’s dud Jack The Giant Slayer), many times larger and with a cruel hunger for human flesh. Sophie convinces The BFG to come with her to Buckingham Palace, resulting in the film’s liveliest, funniest sequence, and advise The Queen (Penelope Wilton, the film’s best asset) and her offsider Mary (an entirely ill-fitting Rebecca Hall) that the giants are a real threat and a military first strike against them is the best option. Nocturnal kidnapping, the threat of cannibalism and the upside of a tactical airborne offensive all make for a modern family movie, apparently.

The absence of any discernible narrative for a great swathe of the film may not bother the real littlies; colour and movement abound and Barnhill is cutey-pie enough to connect with the tots. On the other hand, parents (in fact, anyone over 10) will be driven to distraction by the sweetness-over-substance approach. The BFG and his clan also speak in a broken ‘pigeon English’-like dialect called ‘gobblefunk’ that is often impossible to understand, ensuring a ponderous 115 minutes of young ones pulling at your shirt sleeve and asking, “What did he say?”

Steven Spielberg has rarely ever let the technology at his disposal do the work for him. Jaws, Close Encounters of The Third Kind, Jurassic Park, A.I. and Minority Report broke new ground in almost every frame, but Spielberg steadfastly put story first.  The BFG more readily recalls his lumbering over-produced misfires 1941, Hook and Always. It also bares witness to just how fallible the director is in this late-career stage; for every great work (Munich; Lincoln; Bridge of Spies), he persists at shoehorning storylines into experiments with CGI and performance capture tech, resulting in stinkers like Kingdom of The Crystal Skull, The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse.

The occasionally pretty images captured by DOP Janusz Kaminski and omnipresent orchestral work of John Williams keep demanding that we feel for Sophie and her gargantuan friend, but Spielberg’s erratic tonality, overly-familiar technique and heavy-handed graphics renders what should have been a soaring adaptation of Dahl just plain dull.

Monday
Oct272014

BIG HERO 6

Voice Cast: Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr, Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, Maya Rudolph and Stan Lee.
Writers: Robert L Baird, Daniel Gerson, and Jordan Roberts; based n the Marvel comic by Duncan Rouleau and Steven T Seagle.
Directors: Don Hall and Chris Williams.

Rating: 3/5

Wondrous feats of new generation effects technology service some old school tropes in Big Hero 6, the latest exercise in brand expansion from the Disney/Marvel monolith. An all-but-forgotten property from the comic giant’s distant past is resuscitated by Mouse House magicians, who apply dazzling digital wizardry to bolster a narrative that borrows from just about every family hit of the last half decade.

Co-directors Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh, 2011) and Chris Williams (Bolt, 2008) are tasked with creating an Avengers-style super-hero pic within the thematic parameters of the Disney canon. In their favour is raffish boy-whiz protagonist, Hiro (Ryan Potter), a spunky, spiky-haired tween with a head for state-of-the-art robotics and a rebellious attitude that threatens to derail his future. Raised without parents, it becomes the role of his big brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) to guide his sibling’s future, introducing him to ‘The Nerd Room’ – a free-thinking, high-tech workspace where Tadashi creates mechanical wonders alongside lab buddies Go-Go (Jamie Chung), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr) and Fred (the ubiquitous T.J. Miller).

Tadashi’s special project is a medical droid named Baymax (Scott Adsit), a based-in-fact ‘bot whose joints and limbs are protected by soft-to-the-touch inflatable nylon. Soon, Baymax is in the sole care of Hiro and both are hurtled into a mystery that involves corporate espionage, a hurriedly constructed revenge plot and the mass destruction of a shimmering cityscape (again). Littlies may find a confrontation set in the baddies lair a tad confronting, although parents will appreciate the dexterity and craftsmanship as all creative elements meld into the film’s best sequence.

The action takes place in San Fransokyo, a richly textured, beautifully rendered world that melds the architecture and ambience of the northern Californian city with the neon aesthetic and ancient Asian influence of Japan’s capital (it is never clear whether this is a future world or an alternate reality). Disney Animation, applying in-house technology developed for the project, have created a truly artistic palette of detail and colour that is at times breathtaking to behold.

And yet Big Hero 6 manages to dull its impact by overplaying the influence of superior works. Both visually and narratively, The Incredibles, How To Train Your Dragon, ET The Extra-terrestrial, Iron Man and ParaNorman are invoked; surging microbot weaponry looks to have been derived from the same software used for The Green Lantern or Spiderman 3; as stated, the broad daylight demolition of a metropolis recalls Marvel tentpoles The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy (and seems like overkill in a kids flick). Big Hero 6 has dreams beyond the corporate landscape from which it has emerged, yet remains bound to the template set by its creators.

The ace in the hole is Baymax, who scores big laughs and generates warmth and good will that ultimately proves more crucial to the film than it should have to be. The core relationship between Hiro and his synthetic surrogate guardian pans out warmly and should play well with all audience quadrants, as it was clearly intended. Suffice to say, toy sales will soar over Christmas.

Friday
Apr262013

IRON MAN 3

Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Jon Favreau, Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall, Don Cheadle, William Sadler, Miguel Ferrer, James Badge Dale, Stephanie Szostak and Ty Simpkins.
Writers: Drew Pearce and Shane Black.
Director: Shane Black.

Rating: 2.5/5

Though the top brass at Marvel Studios and their new Disney cohorts are positioning the third Iron Man instalment as a four-quadrant ‘Avengers’-size blockbuster, writer/director Shane Black’s underwhelming take on Tony Stark’s heroic alter-ego is very much a fanboy’s-own adventure.

Despite a central character steeped in cutting-edge technology, Iron Man 3 creaks through an overly familiar structure and blah tropes that hurtle the series back into the world of 80s action flicks. Brought on board to punch up leading man Robert Downey Jr’s smart-mouth dialogue between scenes of generic mayhem, Black achieves a modicum of success with some well-played one-liners. If Iron Man 3 outdoes the first two instalments in any significant way, it is with a welcome and surprising shot of non-Downey inspired humour in the form of Ben Kingsley’s Bin Laden-esque bad guy, The Mandarin.

But there are too many moments that recall Black’s past works (most famously, Lethal Weapon, Last Action Hero and The Last Boy Scout, as well as punching-up tough-guy talk on Predator, The Hunt for Red October and Battle Los Angeles, too name just a few). Those familiar with his over-played beats will recognise such clichéd tools as the smart-mouthed kid sidekick (here, played well by Ty Simpkins), the hero’s fractured mental state (in one of several nods to the events in The Avengers, Stark has PTSD-like anxiety attacks), a cartoonish villain prone to monologue-ing (an OTT Guy Pearce) and the necessity for our protagonist to hit rock bottom (here, represented by snowy, small-town America) before ascending once again to full hero status.  

Where Black falls noticeably short is in his depiction of the franchise’s key relationship between Stark and Pepper Potts (a game but under-served Gwyneth Paltrow). Keeping the pair separate for much of the film robs the mechanical vision of much needed humanity. Oddly, Black keeps the principal characters in different corners for long stretches – Favreau’s Happy Hogan is taken out of the action early-on; Don Cheadles’ own iron-suited soldier, War Machine, is off in Pakistan seeking out insurgents. Even Stark is separated from his suit for much of the films mid-section (not unlike the recent third instalment of The Dark Knight Rises, during which Bruce Wayne spent a long time sans suit and which resembles Iron Man 3 in its portrayal of a troubled tech-heavy hero).

Action set-pieces are top-tier, though exhibit no particular auteuristic vision (unlike, say, those of Black’s longtime collaborator, John McTiernan, in his heyday). A helicopter attack on Stark’s home (previewed heavily in the trailer) represents desktop effects work par excellence; a drama aboard Air Force One allows for some old-fashioned stunt work and green-screening; the hero-villain standoff finale has a been-there-done-that blandness. The scenes, like the rest of Shane Black’s perfunctory, fatigued film, will suffice for the fans who have to have their regular cinematic superhero fix, but will leave others generally unmoved.