Phoning home: “The BFG”

theBFGRoald Dahl published The BFG, his tale of a lonely girl who forms an unlikely friendship with a gangly, otherworldly creature, in 1982, the same year that Steven Spielberg released E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, his tale of a lonely boy who forms… well, you get the idea. If that’s not a parallel enough, these two titans of the popular imagination finally meet 34 years later thanks to a screenplay by E.T.‘s writer, the late Melissa Matheson, to whom the film is lovingly dedicated. Despite the connective tissue, though, the results are mixed—as you might expect, given both the temperaments and very different sensibilities of the respective authors. Continue reading

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Familiar Spirit: An Interview with filmmaker Michael Robinson

TheseHammersIn a pop landscape increasingly oblivious to the traditional demarcation of high and low culture, the work of filmmaker Michael Robinson occupies a unique and fascinating space. Drawing on fields as varied as experimental film, music video, and soap opera to reshape them into new forms, Robinson both interrogates and celebrates the debris of pop culture with an intellectual and formal rigor that doesn’t betray the work’s essential emotional sensation. Continue reading

Craft and Curious: Vin Diesel’s The Last Witch Hunter

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Promoting his off-season fantasy Season of the Witch a few years back, a deadly earnest (or beautifully pranking) Nicolas Cage referred to his then-current acting style as “nouveau shamanic,” while professing his great love for the movie’s disreputable sub-genre. A similar brand of inscrutable sincerity informs the new Vin Diesel vehicle The Last Witch Hunter, which riffs on the gravel-voiced star’s apparent taste for Dungeons & Dragons and reworks it into a creaky action-fantasy thriller. Continue reading

Close Encounters: Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies

Bridge-of-Spies-Checkpoint-720x340.jpgIt’s been historically easy for critics to dismiss Steven Spielberg as a skilled populist devoid of moral complexity (as though mass entertainment was inherently a bad thing), thereby running the risk of dismissing his earlier blockbuster cinema in favour of frantic “mature phase” reappraisal. Yet the director’s new Bridge of Spies offers further proof—if ever it were needed—that Spielberg has always been one of the finest chroniclers of a certain brand of anxious American idealism, a master of refracting the national psyche through the lens of how it wants itself to be seen. Continue reading