(Netflix Streaming, August 2018) While The BFG was a box-office disappointment, I think it will modestly endure as a decent family movie thanks to some solid directing from Steven Spielberg: He’s been making popular entertainment for so long that he gives the impression of being able to direct them on autopilot and still deliver the same level of quality. Here, his roving camera once again takes centre stage as he tells the story of a young girl and her Big Friendly Giant friend as they fight against less friendly giants. The queen, and then the British military eventually get involved. I’m not going to pretend that The BFG is a hidden gem: there are some basic issues with the film that hold it back—notably the somewhat repulsive character design, non-jolly discussion of children being eaten, some uncanny-valley issues in presenting almost-human CGI characters, the exasperating malapropisms and many of the cheaper jokes. On the other hand, the direction is superb, the special effects are very well done, and the film’s second half becomes wilder and wilder in terms of plotting and incidents. Newest Spielberg muse Mark Rylance is quite good as the titular BFG, while Ruby Barnhill sustains a lot of attention as the teenage protagonist. Meanwhile, my inexplicable crush on Rebecca Hall continues unabated thanks to a minor but solid supporting role. While there isn’t much to the film’s plot, the wall-to-wall special effects are used wisely to heighten the fairy-tale nature of the film and create characters from motion-capture technology. Considering The BFG‘s disappointing box-office returns, it’s likely that we won’t see anything similar for a while … so let’s appreciate what we’ve got.
(Video on Demand, February 2016) 2015 has been a year heavy in spy movies, but most of them emphasized comedy and action at the expense of any halfway realistic look at the profession. Fortunately, here comes Bridge of Spies to compensate for this sensational excess. Written by the Coen brothers and directed by Stephen Spielberg in his more serious mode, Bridge of Spies is a fictionalized account of the real-life Cold War heroics of James B. Donovan, an American lawyer who, almost by accident, became involved in clandestine activities. Selected to defend a man accused of spying in the US, our protagonist (ably played by Tom Hanks, making the most of his everyman persona) ends up ably defending universal values against an American government trying to pillory a target. His troubles aren’t over once that’s done, given how he then finds himself travelling to Berlin to negotiate an exchange of prisoners at a time where the Wall is going up and no-one seems quite sure who to believe. Relatively low in action (although it does feature a harrowing sequence in which Gary Powers’ U2 is shot down over the Soviet Union), Bridge of Spies makes up for it in portraying its hero as a man with a briefcase and strong principles. Mark Rylance provides crucial support with a laconic performance as a curiously sympathetic spy. At times, Bridge of Spies does run too long, and feels just a bit duller than it could have been. Compared to even the best of the other spy movies of 2015 such as Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation or Kingsman, it feels positively adult, though, and that’s a substantial part of its charm. Consider it an antidote when you’ll be tired of seeing spies merely shown as gun-toting action heroes.