Saturday, July 30, 2016

Review: Nerve

Image courtesy of Lionsgate.
I'll give credit where it's due to Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's low budget teen thriller "Nerve" - it's certainly prescient. Made long before than - and released just shortly after the release of - Pokemon Go, the picture follows a group of teens who get swept up in the titular app-based game that involves being a "watcher" or "player" in a competition where participants take part in dares that increase in risk as the game goes on.

There's some decent material to be mined from this scenario, even if the movie doesn't entirely work and has a familiar issue that plagues films of this type in that it tries a little too hard to capture the way people actually speak and act when filming themselves via cell phones and social media. There are, however, a few scenes that are very tense, especially if you're the type of person who does not enjoy the sensation of vertigo.

As the film opens, risk averse teen Vee (Emma Roberts) is coming up with ways to delay telling her mother (Juliette Lewis) that she intends to go away for college when she gets sucked in by her troublemaker pal Sydney (Emily Meade) to play Nerve. At first, Vee agrees to play the game to show her friends that she's not as much of a chicken as they think she is, but eventually stays with it after enjoying her 15 minutes of fame among the thousands who apparently tune in. Also, it helps that the game's winners get money deposited into their bank accounts every time they complete a dare.

So, yes, the logistics of the game may force you to extend your disbelief and the film doesn't do a particularly convincing job of setting up that the group of friends who dominate the film - a school photographer, her dorky male friend, a cheerleader, etc. - would actually be in the same clique, but it has its moments once it gets going.

There are two particularly unnerving scenes involving characters engaging in absurdly stupid behavior at extreme heights that nearly made me want to crawl out of my skin, although some of the other dares - a high speed motorcycle ride involving a blindfold, for instance - veer more toward the silly.

"Nerve" manages to capture the zeitgeist fairly well - from its iPhone and app obsessed characters to the courage gained by certain people when they are able to hide behind an online avatar - even if its final lecture is a bit obvious and a plot hatched by the characters to defeat the game is far fetched, to put it mildly.

Then again, while the film provides a fairly apt portrayal of where our tech obsessed society appears to be heading, the whole thing is pretty far fetched. There are some elements to admire, but "Nerve" might ultimately end up getting on yours.

Review: Jason Bourne

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
This fifth entry into the popular "Bourne" series is at once unnecessary and workmanlike, a pretty decent sequel that has little reason for existing other than cashing in. But although its story feels like something that we've seen at least, well, four times before, it's a well-made action thriller with a solid roster of names attached to it.

For those unfamiliar with the series, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is a super agent and soldier who, as we learned in previous sequels, was trained in a top secret government program, lost his memory and was trying to reclaim his identity. This time around, Bourne has returned to get revenge on a group of men who not only put him through that program, but were also seemingly responsible for his father's assassination some years before.

Meanwhile - and there are a lot of meanwhiles in this densely plotted thriller - a young female agent named Heather (Alicia Vikander) convinces her boss, CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), to let her get involved in the attempt to track down Bourne and a brilliant social media wizard named Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) is struggling with his conscience as to how much he should cooperate with the CIA when it comes to allowing the agency to spy on his company Deep Dream's users.

There's a whole lot going on here - so much so, in fact, that if it actually all ties up at the end, well, I couldn't exactly tell you - and between the nonstop scenes of people attempting to explain what's going on, we have Bourne taking on entire groups of agents in hand-to-hand combat or fleeing a vicious assassin (Vincent Cassel) who has a vendetta against our hero. Rather than kiss-kiss-bang-bang, this film provides a whole lot of talk-talk-bang-bang.

The struggle in reviewing films such as "Jason Bourne" or any other series in which the latest sequel doesn't deviate much from its previous entries is that there's not much more to say than what has already been said. Much like the series' other entries, the picture is well-made, occasionally exciting, often preposterous, well acted - although the great cast is mostly used to spout expository dialogue - and visually stylish.

Paul Greengrass - who has been involved with several of the "Bourne" sequels as well as the terrific "United 93" - is back on board as director and his trademark visual style for the series - jarring handheld camera work, for instance - at least keeps a sense of continuity for this franchise, if not exactly pushing it into any new territory - thematically, visually or otherwise. In other words, it's a decent enough summer sequel with a big name star, frantic pacing and some very well done set pieces. It's the cinematic equivalent of comfort food - if shootouts and car chases bring you comfort - and, on the whole, it does the job.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Review: Lights Out

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.
As moviegoers, I'm sure we've all done this at some point: as you watch a film, you think to yourself how you would behave differently from the characters on the screen, shaking your head at their obtuse behavior.

"Lights Out" is such a film. It's a low budget horror movie with a few genuine scares, a creepy villain, a fair amount of silliness and characters who continually do the stupidest thing imaginable. Most of these characters figure out early on that Diana, the scary woman with long claws that lurks in the shadows, can only kill you in the darkness and cannot come into the light. And yet, nearly every character in this film wanders alone into dark rooms with this knowledge in mind.

The movie, which has been expanded into a feature by director David Sandberg from his 2013 short film of the same name, opens with an especially eerie sequence, during which a man working at a factory that has an abundance of creepy mannequins and poorly lit rooms - seriously, what is this guy's job? - discovers that he is not alone and in short order finds himself attempting to outrun Diana to no avail.

We then meet the guy's family - a young boy named Martin (Gabriel Bateman), who is increasingly disturbed by his mother's (Maria Bello) odd behavior, which involves talking to a shadowy figure - you guessed it - in the dark rooms of their house. Martin turns to his estranged sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), who'd fled years before due to her mom's unsettling manner, and her good natured boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) for help.

I won't divulge why Diana is tormenting this particular family, but suffice it to say that the concept is both intriguing (in terms of setup) and ludicrous (in terms of how Diana came to her present state of being). There's also an unintentionally hilarious sequence during which Rebecca finds a doctor's file on both her mother and Diana that just happens to have an audio recording of a doctor's session with Diana from years before that conveniently fills us in on everything we need to know.

And then, as I've mentioned, there are the countless scenes of people venturing into dark spaces, long after they've realized that the shadows are Diana's safe spaces. So, we have Rebecca wandering into dark rooms and a dark basement, characters sleeping by themselves in rooms that are not properly lit, people opening up dark closets where they hear creaking or scratching noises, etc. Therefore, scenes that should be frightening end up being maddening due to the characters' goofy behavior.

"Lights Out" has a few good scares and also, unfortunately, more than a few cheap jump scares - you know, when the camera pans away to an empty space, pans back to a character and then pans back again to have something jump up in your face. The cast is mostly fine, especially Palmer, who gives her slightly underwritten character a bit of gravitas, and Diana is a pretty decent horror movie villain. But while the film is better than a majority of studio-released horror movies - indies, such as the brilliant "It Follows" or the unsettling "The Witch" are where it's at these days - it's still a fairly formulaic addition to the genre.

Review: Star Trek Beyond

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
"Star Trek Beyond" could possibly be the best of the reboot series of the landmark 1960s TV show and while that may not sound like the most ringing endorsement - considering, in my opinion, that the first two of the series were middling at best - this latest one is not half bad. Despite there being the typical Hollywood summer plot about the universe being threatened by a nefarious character, "Beyond" doesn't take itself too seriously and is silly, but fun.

The picture jumps right into the story as we find Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) pondering an administrative move that would take him away from his crew and Spock (Zachary Quinto) mulling a similar decision that would involve his attempting to help his own people. But the crew of the Starship Enterprise is quickly called out on a mission that involves a rescue, but they soon realize it's a trap laid by a megalomaniac known as Krall (Idris Elba, virtually unrecognizable for much of the film).

The movie, which finds director Justin Lin standing in for J.J. Abrams, may feature Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Bones, Uhura, Chekov and Sulu, but it's less a "Star Trek" movie than a semi-generic outer space action movie that happens to feature the aforementioned characters. Some of their personality traits to which we've become accustomed over the years - via various actors - are there, but "Beyond" focuses more on chase sequences, nonstop action and special effects than it does further developing these characters.

And that's fine. Some "Star Trek" pictures aim for something more - I'm thinking of the underrated "Star Trek: The Voyage Home" - while others are merely boilerplate plots with new villains and settings. "Beyond" is the latter, but it's a fairly entertaining one due to its explosions and action sequences often being alleviated by humor and, on two occasions, music (Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys) that seems out of place in a "Star Trek" film, but allows for a chuckle in terms of how it is being used.

It's often difficult to write about films such as these - franchise pictures that are on their umpteenth entry - because, honestly, what more can be said about them? "Star Trek Beyond" is a mostly enjoyable summer blockbuster that moves by quickly, is occasionally exciting, often funny and well made. It may not be one of the best of its series, but it's a solid enough addition to a very long running franchise.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Review: Cafe Society

Image courtesy of Lionsgate. 
Having made 47 features, 81-year-old Woody Allen's filmography can, at this point, be divided into several subsections - there are the great ones (such as "Annie Hall" and "Radio Days"), the very good ("The Purple Rose of Cairo" and "Midnight in Paris"), the good enough (last year's "Irrational Man" and "Scoop") and the middling (granted, there are only a few flops in the director's career, but a couple of them include "Magic in the Moonlight" and "Shadows and Fog").

Allen's latest, "Cafe Society," is - much like many of his films from the 21st century (not including, of course, the terrific "Match Point" and the very good "Midnight in Paris," "Blue Jasmine" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), a well made, enjoyable and mostly lightweight affair. The picture breezes on by and is a good time spent with a bevy of likable actors. Only in its finale does it take on a slightly heavier tone and more melancholic subject matter.

At the film's beginning, Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg doing the Woody Allen stand-in thing) moves out to Los Angeles from the Bronx and attempts to get his Hollywood big shot uncle, Phil Stern (Steve Carell, to give him a job. The time is the late 1930s, which means that a lot of stars of yesteryear get name dropped and there's a fair amount of jazz on the soundtrack. And, thankfully, the picture gets its least successful sequence out of the way early on when Bobby tries to set up an appointment with a prostitute.

Bobby quickly becomes smitten with his uncle's secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), who is tasked with taking the Hollywood newcomer around the town. Naturally, Bobby begins to fall in love with Vonnie, who gently fends off his affections and tells him that she already has a boyfriend. Several plot twists that are pretty easy to see from a mile away occur and Bobby finds himself in a love triangle.

When his Hollywood dreams are dashed, Bobby returns to New York, manages a nightclub for his gangster brother Ben (Corey Stoll) and marries a socialite played by Blake Lively. While the Hollywood scenes are light and airy and feature some gorgeous cinematography, the New York scenes - Allen's familiar terrain - are even better and funnier. Stoll's crooked ways provide a few laughs and so do Bobby's bickering parents, but the picture's best joke involves Bobby's sister, her husband and a pain in the ass neighbor.

Near its end, "Cafe Society" takes a more serious tone and picks up the theme of regret and how the past can haunt the present and future. For a movie this breezy, it's a bit jarring when it suddenly becomes melancholic - and yet it works.

Eisenberg does a better job than most at being the Woody stand-in, while Carell, Lively, Stewart, Parker Posey and the various character actors portraying Bobby's family all provide solid supporting work. As I said before, this isn't one of Allen's best, but it's enjoyable and slightly weightier than you might originally think.

Review: Ghostbusters

Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
If your enjoyment of a summer blockbuster hinges upon the recreation of an experience you had when you were 7 years old, I'd suggest you find new hobbies. If the thought of seeing a few of the funniest women Hollywood has to offer taking over a beloved blockbuster franchise of years past sounds appealing - and it mostly is - then the new "Ghostbusters" might be for you.

Let's get this right out of the way - no, Paul Feig's rebooting of the "Ghostbusters" franchise is not as good - even not nearly as good - as Ivan Reitman's 1984 film. And one of the main problems is that, despite recasting the picture with four women and acting as if the original never existed, the picture tries a little too hard to appease fans of the original.

So, we have appearances by Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man as well as some bit parts played by original cast members, but not as their previous characters. In fact, the scenes where the film tries to get the most mileage out of appearances by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and others tend to get the least mileage because it feels as if Feig's movie is throwing scraps to those who aren't that keen on the concept of this new film to begin with - in other words, it would have been better to just reboot the series completely without the nods to the original. Seriously, did we need a character to actually say, "I ain't afraid of no ghosts?"

That being said, the film is more often than not funny, even when it unnecessarily relies on an overabundance of special effects in its final 30 minutes. And it helps that the four leading women have great camaraderie. Kristen Wiig brings the dry delivery we'd expect, while Melissa McCarthy, although more restrained than usual, offers up her own brand of comedy.

Leslie Jones gets some great lines and even manages to rise above the ones that don't work as well and Kate McKinnon's Holtzmann is so off-the-wall that her character nearly demands its own movie. The supporting cast is mostly fine, although Chris Hemsworth steals the show in nearly every scene he's in as the Ghostbusters' hunky and air heady secretary. His job interview scene is worth the price admission alone.

In terms of story and character, this new "Ghostbusters" leans a little heavily on the familiar and cliche, although the plotline involving Wiig getting fired from her current job is certainly something to behold. The special effects are fine, although there are too many of them and they occasionally drown out the witty banter between the four women.

For the past few years, Feig has been the go-to filmmaker for comedies about women. "Bridesmaids" remains the funniest studio picture of recent years, while "The Heat" and "Spy," although not quite as fantastic, are also fun, genre-themed comedies. "Ghostbusters" fits in nicely with his oeuvre and while it isn't as fresh as "Bridesmaids," it's a great showcase for the four lead characters, who bring their own brands of humor, personality and screen presence to the proceedings. If nothing else, that makes this new "Ghostbusters" worth your time.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Review: Our Little Sister

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. 
The films of Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda are, much like the works of the great Yasujiro Ozu, gentle stories about families and relationships that are light on plot and heavy on observation as to how humans interact.

His latest, "Our Little Sister," is a kind hearted story about three sisters who are estranged from their mother and whose father, who left them years ago to marry another woman, has just died. While attending his funeral, they meet and befriend the younger girl, Suzu (Suzu Hirose), whom he sired with his second wife.

But rather than feel antipathy towards Suzu, the three sisters invite her to come live with them, rather than stay with her stepmother, who was the girls' father's third wife (Suzu's mother, the second wife, had died).

The three estranged sisters all have temperaments that should clash, but they manage to live together peacefully. Sashi (Haruka Ayase) is serious and works as a nurse at a hospital, while unlucky-in-love Yoshino (Masami Magasawa) is a bank clerk and Chika (fashion model Kaho) works at a shoe store with her likably dopey boyfriend.

Those who enjoy films that are heavy on story may struggle slightly with "Our Little Sister," which gets most of its plot mechanics out of the way in the film's first 15 minutes when the sisters invite Suzu to come live with them. For much of the rest of the picture, Suzu and her three step siblings merely become accustomed to their way of life with one another - eating at a diner where the owner gives them preferential treatment, Suzu excelling at soccer and befriending an eager young man who appears to have a crush on her, Sashi considering how serious she wants her relationship with a depressive man to be, etc.

Kore-eda, who burst onto the Japanese film scene with the lovely 1998 fantasy "After Life," makes films that tenderly observe the rituals of family and how people communicate with each other. There's very little in the way of melodrama or stylistic flourishes, but rather the director parks his camera and allows it to capture human interaction. It's the type of film that takes a little getting accustomed to in terms of its rhythm, but once you're on its wavelength, you get to know its characters and invest in them.

"Our Little Sister" does a nice job of capturing the relationships between siblings - and not the squabbling you might expect, but rather a group of people doing their best to keep the best interests of those close to them at heart. It's a kind hearted, well made drama about good natured people with whom it's well worth spending a few hours.

Review: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Whether or not we actually need another movie in which a pair of randy bros engage in all manner of bacchanalia at someone else's wedding and then later figure out that it's better to be decent people, well, we've got one.

"Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates" is allegedly based on a true story and, as it turns out, there are two brothers - Mike and Dave Stangle - who, known for their wild, partying ways, were required by their family to bring wedding dates to their sister Jeanie's nuptials and so placed an ad looking for two women to accompany them and, eventually, landing a slot on the Wendy Williams Show.

In this movie, however, the two women they meet - Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick) - are just as rambunctious and party-crazy as their male counterparts, but unbeknownst to them at first. Alice, who is the more fleshed out character, was jilted at the altar and we get plenty of opportunities to watch her being ditched via a video that, for whatever reason, she keeps stored on her iPhone. Tatiana is the alpha character who lives an aimless existence. Similarly, Dave (Zac Efron) is the somewhat more responsible of the two brothers, while Mike (Adam Devine), who sells beer for a living, is the more immature one.

After hearing about the brothers' ad, which promises to take two debatably lucky women on a trip to Hawaii for their sister's wedding, Tatiana stages an accident in front of a bar where Mike and Dave are hanging out and swindle their way into being asked to go on the trip.

Much of the film's middle section is of the girls pretending to be nice around Mike and Dave's family, but then showing up the brothers in everything from drinking to riding mopeds at the spot where "Jurassic Park" was filmed in Hawaii.

The film often goes for easy laughs - a nude, drug induced moment involving horses is one of the low points, while Mike and Dave's horny bisexual cousin (Alice Wetterlund) gets a few laughs and a drawn-out sequence involving Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard) getting an out-of-body massage is, well, something - and doesn't actually become funny until the final 15 minutes or so. I actually found myself laughing a few times toward the finale after Mike, Dave, Alice and Tatiana go to apologize to Jeanie and her patient fiance after nearly wrecking the wedding.

After nearly 90 minutes of raunch and borderline tasteless jokes, the picture - as these types tend to do - goes all mushy in its final moments and, as usual, it doesn't exactly feel earned. There are a few solid laughs in "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates" and a couple clever moments, but not nearly enough to recommend it.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Review: The Purge: Election Year

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
The third time is not quite the charm for "The Purge" series as its latest, the politically themed "Election Year," is yet another example of an intriguing concept undone by middling execution. From the start, I've thought that the general concept of the series has been one that could make for a compelling low budget horror movie, but it has yet to yield a successful result.

In this new entry, a senator named Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) who is opposed to The Purge after witnessing her entire family being murdered 18 years before is running on a platform of shutting down the annual night of mayhem, whereas her opponent recognizes that appeasing the bloodthirsty masses allows rich folks like himself to remain in power.

The story features a hodgepodge of characters, including Roan and her steely bodyguard Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo, a survivor of a previous "Purge" film), who intends to keep her safe throughout the course of the night, as well a store owner, Joe Dixon (a very good Mykelti Williamson), who aims to protect his shop from vandalism; his protege, a Mexican immigrant named Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria); and a badass known as Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel), a former criminal turned protector of the innocent who was once saved by Joe.

While the central cast members are all pretty solid, the supporting ones are, well, not so much. The picture is littered with wooden, expository dialogue and some hammy acting from the sinister participants in the event. A group of young women who terrorize Joe's store are completely over-the-top and the evil New Founding Fathers, who lead the government and originally concocted The Purge, are even more so.

Released this year for obvious reasons, "Election Year" has a political bent that is often intriguing. In this populist election season, it's interesting that the Purge's victims are primarily lower income residents and minorities and that those purging are either well armed one percenters or folks who look like they might have just come from a Donald Trump rally. And the film doesn't make the mistake of making the heroes out to be saints - several of them attest to histories of violence. If only the villains were as nuanced.

But while the picture's general politics - the movie unambiguously boasts a tagline of "Keep America Great" - veer populist, there are also some murkier attributes. Roan attempts to dissuade some of the leaders of a rebellion type of group from assassinating leaders of the New Founding Fathers on the grounds that it would make them just as bad. However, a scene late in the film in which the villains stage a midnight ritual nearly undercuts Roan's message, which is what the filmmakers appear to be espousing. It's not as if the film has to have a political persuasion one way or another to make it work, but it occasionally comes off as inconsistent.

There's also some unfortunate dialogue that weights down the proceedings, especially a few stereotypes uttered by a black character about other black people that feels as if it was written by some white folks. I'm sure the dialogue was meant to be funny, but it plummets like dead weight. Unfortunately, much of the film's dialogue is equally as groan inducing, if not as questionable.

"Election Year" isn't a bad film - it's often intense and occasionally astute - but rather a mixed bag. This is a series that could be very good, at least conceptually speaking, but has yet to be executed successfully. If they move forward with another in the series, perhaps they should just focus on Betty Gabriel's Laney - now there's a force of nature.

Review: The Legend of Tarzan

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.
This umpteenth cinematic adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs's classic tale might have you appreciating its occasional ambitions and eliciting groans within the span of a single scene. There are some elements to admire in "The Legend of Tarzan," which has been directed by "Harry Potter" team player David Yates, that include decent visual effects and some thematically intriguing concepts, but they are often overshadowed by the head-scratching inclusion of creaky cliches and stereotypes.

As the film opens, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard, rarely cracking a smile) is going by the name John Clayton and living in a British McMansion with Jane (Margot Robbie). Occasionally, we are treated to a flashback of his growing up in the wilderness - where his parents died - among gorillas and becoming the dude who swings through the treetops and acts as a lion and elephant whisperer.

He is enlisted on a mission to Africa by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson, doing that Sam Jackson thing), a former slave who has been sent on behalf of the U.S. government as a diplomat, but is doubling as an investigator into rumors of slavery in the Congo. Meanwhile, on the other side of the jungle, a slimy creature named Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a Belgian who is attempting to colonize the region, strikes a deal with a tribal leader (Djimon Hounsou) - who wants to avenge his son's death at the hands of Tarzan - to deliver our hero in exchange for unlimited diamonds.

So, not surprisingly, Jane and some of Tarzan's tribal buddies are captured as a means to lure him and he must make his way through his old stomping grounds to save them with Jackson in tow as a sidekick. Some silliness follows, most notably a scene during which Tarzan must prove himself to the old pack of gorillas with whom he grew up by taking part in a fight with one of them.

Working in the film's favor is its obvious antipathy to western colonization of places where westerners had no business being as well as its villains mostly being historical forces of oppression. On the other hand, the film is ultimately about a white guy from England who has dominion over the jungle and all its inhabitants, who seemingly can't save themselves without his help. Oh, and the tribe with whom Tarzan is friendly can't seem to stop singing, dancing and smiling during scenes that would seem to have been chopped out of some movie from the 1950s.

As a summer blockbuster, "The Legend of Tarzan" isn't half bad. It's fast paced, occasionally funny, has some decent visual effects on display, veers off from the tried and true formula of past Tarzan movies and appears to be socially conscious - that is, when it's not enforcing outdated stereotypes. Its finale, which involves an army of stampeding animals, is possibly more likely to cause snickers than gasps of excitement, but a scene that immediately follows on a boat and involves alligators gets the job done. "Legend" may not be the best or, in all likelihood, the last Tarzan movie, but it'll do.

Review: The BFG

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.
Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic children's book "The BFG" is a gentle, good natured fairy tale with a fairly impressive use of motion capture and some decent special effects, although the picture is not among the director's finest works and more for younger audiences as opposed to his classic "E.T. the Extra Terrestrial," which was equally friendly for children and adults alike.

As the film opens, a curious young British girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is living in an orphanage and has difficulty sleeping at night. Hearing a noise outside on the streets, she fails to follow her own advice about not peeping behind the curtain and is snatched out of her bedroom by a gigantic hand that belongs to the titular creature (Mark Rylance), a kind giant whose job is to catch dreams and blow them into the ears and mouths of sleeping children.

The Big Friendly Giant - or BFG as Sophie comes to call him - whisks the young girl back to his small home, which is filled with all manner of gadgets and trinkets. As it turns out, the BFG is the only friendly one of his kind. His neighbors are a gang of nasty, people-eating giants who bully the BFG due to his small stature and begin to suspect that he is harboring a human that they could have for a snack. The BFG, on the other hand, is a vegetarian who only eats gruesome items known as snozzcumbers.

For a movie aimed at children, "The BFG" is often darker than you'd expect as Sophie is often in danger of being discovered and devoured. But Spielberg's picture is mostly a cheerful tale about good people - and giants, mind you - who want to do the right thing. The film takes a detour into slightly sillier territory in the latter half during some scenes involving the Queen of England that, yes, I know, were also in the book. I could also, perhaps, have done without the numerous fart jokes involved when the giant drinks a beverage in which the bubbles float downward, not upward.

But aside from these quibbles, Spielberg's film is a sweet, well made, visually impressive and kind hearted story. My favorite moments in the picture involve the BFG's sneaking around London, hiding in the shadows and pretending to be statues when he is about to be discovered. Spielberg has done a pretty decent job here of capturing the story through the eyes of a child, which might explain why the picture's tone is a little less serious than "E.T." It's a relatively minor film in an impressive oeuvre, but an overall good time.