Sunday 25 February 2018

Film review: The BFG deserves to be seen and savoured

Cert PG; Now showing

Mark Rylance and Ruby Barnhill in Steven Spielberg's BFG.
Mark Rylance and Ruby Barnhill in Steven Spielberg's BFG.

On the centenary of his birth, it is right and fitting that Roald Dahl's most beloved fable should get a big-screen outing under the caring eye of that other great 20th-century exponent of childlike wonderment, Steven Spielberg. While the film had a shaky opening in the US, where it couldn't compete with the gigantic momentum of Disney-Pixar's Finding Dory, hopes are that audiences this side of the water may be more receptive.

After all, it deserves to be seen and savoured by younger viewers, for whom the idea of a lonely but plucky girl escaping the tyranny of adults in the company of a magical friend will never go out of fashion. Gorgeous little newcomer Ruby Barnhill is Sophie, who is snatched out of her dull London orphanage by the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance, who hit it off with Spielberg after Bridge of Spies) one night while he is out harvesting dreams.

He whisks her back to Giant Country, where the BFG is routinely preyed upon by bigger, dim-witted giants who like gobbling up humans. With such a risk to mankind looming, Sophie and her big-eared friend hatch a plan to thwart Fleshlumpeater (Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement) and his cronies. If you've read the 1982 book, you won't bat an eyelid. The late screenwriter Melissa Mathison sprinkles on the same irresistible fairydust she laced E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial with all those years ago, while the geniuses at Peter Jackson's Weta Digital create a dazzling vista of creatures and landscapes. Rylance (in a performance-capturing role) and Barnhill mesh together beautifully, but later scenes involving Queen Elizabeth (Penelope Wilton) and her minders (Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall) do creak a little under the suddenly crowded frame. 4 Stars

Hilary A White

Finding Dory

Cert G; Opens July 29

It’s been 13 years since Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), the forgetful blue tang, found fame in Finding Nemo. In the intervening years Nemo (Hayden Rolence) doesn’t appear to have grown much, but he, his dad Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Dory remain firm friends, a kind of family.

Time has not made Dory any less forgetful, and Marlin — who is no less of a stresshead — treats her, as do most in their community, with an attitude of benevolent forbearance.

Dory has always lamented not remembering her original family, and when she starts to get flashbacks to her childhood and her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) she is moved to go on a quest to find them. Marlin, naturally, is against such a reckless adventure — but Nemo pushes and the three set off.

Inevitably, they get separated almost instantly, Dory going solo by accident with Nemo and Marlin in hot pursuit.

They all end up in a benign aquarium in California where they seek each other — as well as Dory’s parents — guided by a series of flashbacks and star-studded helpers like Hank (Ed O’Neill) the reluctant hero Octupus, and Bailey the hypochondriac whale (Ty Burrell).

Written by Victoria Strouse and Andrew Stanton (who also co-directed), Finding Dory has a nice message about running with your strengths and self-acceptance. The film has a lovely feel and DeGeneres, like the rest of the cast, is excellent. Another Pixar mega success, it’s almost as good as Finding Nemo and fab for viewers of all ages. 4 Stars

Aine O’Connor

Author: The JT LeRoy story

Club Cert; opens July 29 IFI

Truth is indeed often stranger than fiction, but sometimes, as in the case of cult author JT LeRoy, truth and fiction get even stranger. In an age obsessed with celebrity, the moral of the story is all the more pertinent; but while this documentary is fascinating, it suffers from being one-sided.

Jeff Feuerzeig’s film opens with footage of Winona Ryder introducing a JT LeRoy reading. She gushes about the writer, whom she claims to have first met as a boy, and describes him as “an inspiration” whose work had “profoundly affected so many of us”.

She was one of the many celebrities who jumped on the JT bandwagon in the late 1990s and early 2000s, embracing the teenage writer. The son of a truckstop prostitute, LeRoy had been abused from childhood, became a drug addict, but found catharsis in writing.

Initially very slow to appear in public, when LeRoy eventually did — shy, always in shades and a wig — he was frequently in the company of his former boyfriend Alton and his ‘British’ manager, Speedie.

However, it emerged in 2005 that JT LeRoy did not actually exist. The JT LeRoy who had been appearing in public was a young woman, Savannah Snoop. Her brother’s partner was in fact the real author – 32-year-old Jewish New Yorker Laura Albert – who had been accompanying Knoop/LeRoy in the guise of Speedie.

Many celebrities — Madonna, Tom Waits and more — had been taken in. So it followed that the fall, when it came, would be mighty.

In this documentary, Laura Albert, who had indeed suffered a difficult childhood, tells her side of why she invented JT and how it took off. The film is fascinating but needed more voices. 3 Stars

Aine O’Connor

Star Trek Beyond

Cert 12A. Now showing

With JJ Abrams tied up in the small matter of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, his hand was removed from the directing tiller of Star Trek after two hugely successful reboots to the franchise renowned within geekdom as the more chipper, primary-coloured alternative to George Lucas’s heaving opera.

Abrams stays on as producer, but his backseat role means the loss of both a distinct visual flair and an exuberant, bubbly quality to the high-pace action. Fast & Furious stalwart Justin Lin is mostly concerned with zipping everything about the place and smashing flying objects into stationary ones. So be it.

What does remain perfectly intact is the cast, always a major strength of Abrams’ preceding instalments. Chris Pine is still tailor-made as Captain Kirk, halfway through the Enterprise’s five-year voyage of discovery when we join him and his crew. Their stopover at a head-spinning space city is rudely interrupted by a distress call from a distant planet, where they are attacked by Idris Elba’s growling baddie, Krall.

Crash-landing on said planet, the scattered crew (Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as Dr McCoy, Simon Pegg as Scottie) team up with Sofia Boutella’s formidable renegade to stop Krall.

There is plenty of selfless derring-do, cliff edges and last-gasp escapes with the bond between Kirk and Spock providing the usual emotional core. One crewman is revealed to be gay, and there are many tinges of sadness during the screentime of the late, great Anton Yelchin (as Chekhov). Touchingly, the camera cuts to his character during a toast to “absent friends”.

But for all its high-velocity fun and the charm of that cast, your gut tells you that Lin’s formulaic contribution to Star Trek could be the perfect way to sign-off before the law of diminishing returns really kicks into gear. 3 Stars

Hilary A White

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