The late Roald Dahl’s experiencing a hot button moment as the musical Matilda, based on his book, tours North America and the Disney/Steven Spielberg fantasy The BFG opens. Dahl’s known for his children’s books and altogether 200M copies have been sold, featuring themes of “unsentimental, macabre, often darkly comic content, featuring villainous adult enemies of the child characters” (Wikipedia). The BFG follows the Dahl signature in wildly entertaining ways, and gives children credit for intelligence and understanding. Mark Rylance, surely one of the greatest actors working today (Wolf Hall, Bridge of Spies) plays the Big Friendly Giant who has a unique way of speaking cobbled together from things he’s heard over his solitary, lonely lifetime. One magic night, he literally reaches out in friends, become fast friends, battle mean giants and through amazing circumstances find themselves having tea and cucumber wine with the Queen in Buckingham Palace. The timelessness of this film is pure Spielberg, big on charm, ideas, equal measures of light and dark and humanity. It’s got it all, hilarity, heartache and it’s an absolute delight.
THE LEGEND OF TARZAN
I seriously don’t see the purpose of another Tarzan film, there being more than two hundred related productions in circulation. The potential for bigger, brasher effects and greater jolts-per-second through the latest technology may have seemed catnip for ape man lovers or movie studio boardroom habitués who lean on statistics and demographics. Stars Alexander Skarsgård and Margot Robbie as Tarzan and Jane can’t save The Legend of Tarzan from its superficiality, inanity and lack of personality. WE travel between London where Tarzan is his city self, Lord Greystoke and to the jungle, according to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ dog-eared book series. As clichéd and superficial as it is, the film is beautiful in the leads, the exotic locations, jungle creatures and stately life in 19th C London. Digitally beautiful, that is.
OUR KIND OF TRAITOR
Alexander Skarsgård’s father Stellan is absolutely magnetic as a Russian gang boss who is running for his life from deadly international criminal organisations, financial institutions and intelligence agencies. Our Kind of Traitor, although its lacklustre execution is a pity and a waste of a great idea, tells the cautionary tale of a British tourist who naively takes a USB home to England from the Middle East for the Russian mobster whom he has just met. Ewan McGregor is the clueless Brit and in doing the favour, lands in the crosshairs of the same enemies. So why did he do it? It’s that magnetic force and subtle dominance of the charming, manipulative gangster. That’s how terrific is Skarsgård’s performance.
SWISS ARMY MAN
The dark farce Swiss Army Man will polarise audiences and Daniel Radcliffe fans – he’s gone further against type than nearly any actor I can remember here. He continues to distance himself from Harry Potter which is a good thing as he’s no longer an adolescent, but he may have flown a bit too high for his young fans. He is Manny, a dead man in a suit who washes up on a shore, soon to be spied by Paul Dano’s Hank who is in the middle of trying to hang himself. Hank’s suddenly revived by his appearance and further inspection reveals Manny‘s body may provide him a means of survival. Parts of Manny have reflexive power which Hank soon harnesses. The more he uses him, the more sparks of “life in death” emerge and together they build a bond; Hank is cross dressing to more fully become Manny’s girlfriend, which is cool. But I blush to name the ways in which Hank uses Manny. Suffice to say I felt quite nauseated by the time the film drew to a close. It’s presented in the spirit of good clean fun and to appear heart-warming, feel good and “delightful” according to some critics but not this one.
Let’s face it, everyone loves a sex scandal. Remember New York Congressman Anthony Weiner? The one who sent nude selfies to various women and ruined his chances at a mayoralty run? The documentary Weiner is unusually up-close-and-personal, with unlimited access to Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin, one of Hillary Clinton’s closest allies. He seems to relish in the attention, even if it’s not the kind most politicians would crave. Weiner has little trouble pretending nothing happened and moving forward. And then he does it again, and again. While nude selfies are a thing, his Teflon attitude makes his ambitious behaviour something to see. The camera sticks by him in all his humiliations, in the streets, at home, stumping, and hiding in plain sight. One of the most heart tugging elements of the film is the sad presence of Huma, staring at him from various corners with loathing, disbelief, a shattered soul? She quietly, grimly falls to pieces even as she stands by her clown.
The Daughter, based on Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck stars Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush who’s been hitting the blockbuster pretty hard these days, returns to his art roots. Talented newcomer Odessa Young plays his granddaughter and she’s a revelation. Rush’ New Zealand industrialist has reached a crossroad. His business is in trouble and he’s about to marry a younger woman, much to the consternation of his family. His son played by Paul Schneider, returns home for the wedding but sets off further divisions concerning the estate, wills, and seething tensions arising from past misdeeds. Meanwhile the industrialist’s granddaughter realises bad things are afoot but can’t figure them out and then experiences a life changing event. This is a quiet, internal film with nuanced characters and emotional power, the opposite of The Legend of Tarzan. Young is a ray of sunshine and future star.