By BRUCE DENNILL
The BFG / Directed by Steven Spielberg / PG 8.5
Eye In The Sky / Directed by Gavin Hood / 13PGV 8.5
Barbershop: The Next Cut / Directed by Malcolm D Lee / 13L 6
Take Care / Directed by Liz Tuccillo / 13L 7
There are a good many excellent film adaptations of Roald Dahl stories. They’re not easy to make, mind, given the mixture of wistfulness, humour, pathos and profound darkness they combine. So noting the success of the alchemy involved in bringing The BFG – one of the most lyrical of the author’s works – to the screen is immensely satisfying. Steven Spielberg’s involvement suggests a level of technical competence and storytelling acumen that many similar projects would not have access to, and that suspicion plays out as the narrative unfolds. He brings his customary mix of personal character interaction, exciting set-pieces and yarn-spinning to this tale of an orphan girl named Sophie (the excellent Ruby Barnhill) and a gentle, dream-catching giant, named the “Big Friendly Giant” (BFG) by a young human friend and “Runt” by his enormous peers. There is adventure, delight, fear, loneliness and joy, and despite all the gobblefunk – BFG language – spoken, the message of the piece; that gentleness, loyalty, courage and friendship are desirable traits, worth investing in despite the challenges, is clear. One of the major strengths of the film is its casting. The choice of Mark Rylance as the titular giant is perfect – so much so that anyone trying to reprise the role in a future re-imagination of the story will face an impossible task keeping up. As a veteran stage actor, he has an added level of ability and experience to call on when it comes to bringing authenticity of the huge avatar he inhabits. And the actor’s facial features seem a perfect fit for the expressive countenance of the BFG – it’s an incredibly effective mix, wonderfully stirred together by the Dreamworks animators. Voice work in lesser roles by Jemaine Clement and Bill Hader, among others, is equally good and well-matched to the visual characteristics of the creatures they speak for, but the focus remains firmly on Rylance’s BFG. This is another reminder of the unique gift that Dahl had as a writer, and of the literary traditions in which he was steeped. Despite being a story about a giant, with all the visual trickery that entails, it is still, at its heart, a fable that does, and will continue – in book or film form – to resonate with audiences across the age spectrum.
Eye In The Sky is a war film that, by virtue of not being a widescreen drama involving thousands of extras on a battlefield, manages to seem more accessible, more intimately real. And that just makes the whole scenario more disturbing. The narrative explores a possible terrorist cell in Kenya, being monitored by a military officer in England (Helen Mirren), whose instructions are relayed to a drone operator in the US (Aaron Paul), whose job it is to either place a drone in a position to spy on his targets or, if all the necessary boxes are ticked, to fire a missile at them. These distant and disconnected forces, extraordinarily sophisticated as they are, still rely on humans – eyes and ears on the ground in the areas in which their operations are playing out – for certain intelligence, or to fill a gap a machine simply can’t. And much of the film’s considerable pathos lies in this part of the story: international superpowers are strategising and point-scoring in far-off boardrooms and control centres, while people whose day-to-day lives are directly affected by all the parties involved in the exchange risk everything at the will of their unseen handlers. Director Gavin Hood lets the tension build slowly, giving viewers a chance to understand the perspective of each of the groups involved (willingly or otherwise) in the operation and to ally themselves to one or more of those views or develop an alternative stance. Unsurprisingly, not everything goes according to plan, particularly when time differences and the availability of specific personnel make communication difficult, and improvisation when people’s lives are at risk is no cakewalk. Eye In The Sky asks its audience to make judgments about ethics, about respect for life and about the way our societies interact. The likely effect is a hollow sorrow regarding the meaninglessness of it all and the tragedy of hurting, maiming and killing for political gain. As a marker of where we are – at least in a high-level military sense – this is a terrifying story, superbly told. It will not make you feel safer; it will make you feel sadder.
The first Barbershop film was a slick, smart dissemination – via snappy, non-stop punchlines – of a number of themes facing America and African-Americans in particular. Primarily a vehicle for Ice Cube (who plays Calvin, the owner of the eponymous establishment), the dialogue-driven comedy also featured a long list of other big names including Cedric The Entertainer, Eve, and Anthony Anderson. This third instalment uses the same callsheet in terms of both its cast (though it adds Common and Nicky Minaj) and concept, though in the latter regard it hones in on the challenges faced by South Side Chicago – a gang violence-riven area in which Calvin’s freshness of the original idea has been diluted by repetition, but the script here is still yards better than the clichés spouted in many of the more mainstream films in this genre and, even if not all of the jokes work, there is a serious enough theme to give the piece gravitas and enough chemistry quick repartee to hold attention, if not to consistently delight.
Take Care is an unconventional love story in a number of ways. In production terms, it takes two well-known but not A-list actors – Lesley Bibb (Zookeeper, Iron Man 2) and Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom) – thus taking out the distraction that comes with trying to see past heavy-duty celebrity to the characters beneath. Then, it has a script that paints Bibb’s Frannie as quite difficult to like initially, making it easy to believe that, when she is injured, she finds it difficult to convince anyone to spend any time looking after her. An unlikely and reluctant saviour emerges in the shape of her ex-boyfriend Devon (Sadoski), who is still deeply hurt by the breakdown of their relationship (even though he is now engaged to another woman). Thanks to this set-up, the film has an enforced intimacy – Frannie can’t move around, so most of the action takes place in a couple of rooms in her flat; and after a certain point, the only person she can chat to is someone with genuine cause to ignore her, who also happens to speak fluent sarcasm. Writer-director Liz Tuccillo gives her protagonists plenty of time to chat and ensures that the quality of their conversation is excellent – genuine and convincing, occasionally allowing for dark humour in the midst of the melancholy and awkwardness. Both actors do good work as their characters slowly rebuild their fractured relationship, both making multiple mistakes along the way. This piece is not built around a traditional Hollywood formula, and is much the better for it.