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Reviews for July 1st, 2016


Directed by Steven Spielberg

      Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), a young orphaned girl, meets a giant (Mark Rylance) she calls the Big Friendly Giant (BFG, in short) while staying up late one night. The BFG takes her to Giant Country and befriends her instead of eating her like the other giants do. To help the BFG to get rid of those mean, human-eating giants, including their leader, Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement), Sophie convinces him to visit the Queen of Britain(Penelope Wilton) along with her to seek assistance.

      Based on the children's book by Roald Dahl, The BFG lacks warmth, wit, sense of adventure and magic that would have elevated it beyond mediocrity. The basic story involving Sophie's unlikely friendship with the BFG shows the promise of sweetness and tenderness, but it never quite reaches the heights of the palpable bond between other unlikely friendships in cinema, i.e. E.T. and Elliott or Ann Darrow and King Kong. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Melissa Mathison feels clunky and resorts to the lowest common denominator and just plain silliness too often---how many times do we really need to see a fart joke as a visual gag? It gets old and tedious pretty quickly. The BFG lags the most, though, especially when it comes to pacing, during the second act before Sophie takes the BFG to the palace. There's too much dull exposition until then, although there's one scene that briefly engages your imagination and attention when Sophie chases a dream in a field of dreams (the BFG, as it turns out, blows dreams into sleeping humans with his giant horn). Once at the palace, the film picks up its pace, but the humor, again, is juvenile and crass rather than funny and clever.

      It's worth nothing that Ruby Barnhill shines in the role of Sophie. She's definitely a young talent who's destined to become a solid actress and perhaps even a star if she wishes to be. Penelope Wilton, in her brief scenes, seems to be having a lot of fun in her role as the Queen. The CGI effects, especially when it comes to the Giant, look impressive and dazzling although, like most visuals done with CGI, they leave you feeling a bit cold in the end. Moreover, The BFG suffers from an ailment plaguing too many blockbusters nowadays: at a running time of 117 minutes, it's overlong. With tighter editing, a wittier screenplay, more warmth and a more poignant bond between the BFG and Sophie, this could have been a new modern classic instead of falling falling very short.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

The Innocents

Directed by Anne Fontaine

      After the end of World War II, Maria (Agata Buzek), a nun from a Polish convent, pleads for help from a doctor, Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laage), at a French Red Cross hospital. Mathilde agrees to break protocol by visiting the convent where she learns that a group of nuns have been quarantined because they're pregnant. The nuns, as it turns out, where impregnated after Soviet soldiers had raped them. Mother Abbess (Agata Kulesza) makes it clear to Mathilde from the get-go that she doesn't want news of the pregnant nuns spreading in order to protect the reputation of the convent. Samuel (Vincent Macaigne), Mathilde's supervisor, also gets involved in the treatment of the pregnant nuns, and concurrently develops an affection for Mathilde.

      Based on a true story, The Innocents is a quietly powerful, poignant, well-acted and captivating drama that feels organic thanks to the sensitive screenplay by writer/director Anne Fontaine, Pascal Bonitzer, Sabrina B. Karine and Alice Vial. Even though the bulk of the story takes places inside one setting, the convent, the film doesn't feel stuffy or stagey. The characters seem like they're lived-in human beings rather than plot devices to move the plot forward. In other words, don't be surprised if you feel emotionally invested in the lives of Mathilde and the nuns.

      The fact that The Innocents also avoids become maudlin, preachy and melodramatic is another testament to the strength of its screenplay. It doesn't shy away from depicting the darker elements of the story while not going too dark at the same time. The very well-cast actor Vincent Macaigne provides some of the film's much-needed, ephemeral comic relief. The cinematography and set designs are superb as is the gentle, non-intrusive musical score. Even though the ending change to a somewhat more upbeat and uplifting tone, it's one that earns its uplift. The Innocents would be an interesting double feature with Ida and Of Gods and Men.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Music Box Films.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

The Legend of Tarzan

Directed by David Yates


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

No One's Life Is Easy

Directed by Kim Jae-Young


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by China Lion.
Opens at AMC Empire 25.

The Purge: Election Year

Directed by James DeMonaco


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Universal Pictures.
Opens nationwide.