Film Review: “The BFG”

Starring: Mark Rylance and Ruby Barnhill
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Rated: PG
Running time: 1 hour 57 mins
Walt Disney Films

Our Score: 5 out of 5 Stars

Film Review by Mike Smith

In 1982, director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison teamed up to create one of the greatest family films of all time, “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial.” Both earned Oscar nominations for their work, with the film earning a nod for Best Picture and taking home the prize for John William’s amazing musical score. More than a quarter-century later, the band is back together and history just may repeat itself.

London in the early 1980s. As the city sleeps, young Sophie (Barnhill) walks about the orphanage she calls home, taking in the various sights and sounds of the night. It’s 3:00 a.m. The Witching Hour. Sophie recites the three rules: Never Get Out Of Bed; Never Look Out the Window; Never Look Behind the Curtain. Sadly she doesn’t follow them, and in doing so spots a rather tall shape making its way through the dark streets. Realizing that the “shape” has seen her she retreats to her bed. First place they look!

Based on Roald Dahl’s book, in the hands of director Spielberg, “The BFG” becomes a new masterpiece that the whole family will enjoy. And while Spielberg is obviously the captain of this amazing ship, what makes it great is the performance of Mark Rylance. Revered on the stage, Rylance had done a total of eleven films in 30 years before he rose to fame with an Academy Award winning performance in Spielberg’s Cold War-era thriller “Bridge of Spies.” I wouldn’t be surprised if this film makes him the first actor nominated for a vocal performance only.

The story follows Sophie as she ends up in Giant Country, only to learn that the BFG (which is what she calls the Big Friendly Giant) is really rather small in the neighborhood. There are nine giants must bigger than BFG and they love the taste of little children. Which surely proposes a problem for young Miss Sophie. As we follow the mismatched pair, we learn about the magic of dreams and nightmares and even spend a little time with Queen Elizabeth II. Rylance’s performance helps the film jump off the screen and Spielberg shows he is still a master behind the camera. To use the BFG’s own words, “The BFG” is “Scrumdidilyumptous!”

Film Review “Bridge of Spies”

Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance and Alan Alda
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 2 hrs 21 mins
Touchstone Pictures

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

I was born in 1960. By the time I was old enough to understand the state of the world, President Kennedy had been assassinated and the Russians were the bad guys. I don’t think I ever had a genuine fear that one day my Cleveland neighborhood would just evaporate in a nuclear explosion but I do know that to the generation before me, the Cold War was very real.

1957. We are introduced to a man who spends the majority of his days painting. Occasionally he will journey to the local park, paints in hand, to take in the beauty of the day. He is also occasionally followed by various members of the United States government. This man is Rudolf Abel and he is a Russian spy.

The second collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Joel and Ethan Coen, who co-wrote the script with Matt Charman, “Bridge of Spies” jumps to the top of my “Best Film of the Year” list. Three-plus decades after “Bachelor Party,” Tom Hanks continues to add classic characters and performances to his resume’. Here he plays insurance litigator James Donovan, an attorney approached by the US government to represent Abel in his upcoming espionage trial. Donovan appreciates the fact that the US wants the trial to be transparent to the world…to show that Abel’s rights are not being violated. He doesn’t appreciate that he will soon be known as the guy defending the spy. Assured that things will be handled swiftly he remarks, “Great. Everyone will hate me, but at least I’ll lose.” Things get even more hectic when the U2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers is shot down over Russia and Powers is declared a spy.

Hanks’ performance is complimented by a star-making performance by Rylance, who in his native England is regarded as the greatest stage actor since Laurence Olivier. He is amazing here, his gentle manners and quiet demeanor lulling the audience into caring about him. The supporting cast is equally strong, from Alan Alda as Donovan’s boss at his law firm to Amy Ryan as Donovan’s supportive wife.

Visually the film is brilliant. Director Spielberg has recreated East Berlin in the early 1960s down to the razor wire on the wall. The mood is perfectly reflected in the screenplay by Charman and the Coens. Thomas Newman’s musical score also helps convey the feelings of the time. This is Spielberg’s 28th full length feature film since 1974. With the exception of “The Color Purple,” the previous 27 had been scored by John Williams. A short illness, and composing the score for the upcoming “Star Wars” film, prevented Williams from working on “Bridge of Spies.” Newman’s score is fine accompaniment to the story but I did, on occasion, catch myself wondering how Williams would have scored certain scenes.

As fall fades into the holiday season, “Bridge of Spies” has thrown down the first gauntlet in the season’s Oscar race.


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