Film Review: Missing Link (dir by Chris Butler)


The year is 1886 and Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is the world’s greatest adventurer.

Or, at least, that’s what he says.  Actually, Sir Lionel may have made a name for himself and gained some popularity as a result of his many adventures but his fellow explorers and adventurers don’t take him seriously.  They view Sir Lionel as being little more than a self-promoter and they’re largely unimpressed with the all the time that he’s devoted to searching for mythical beasts like The Loch Ness Monster and lost lands like El Dorado.  Sir Lionel desperately wants to join the London-based Society of Great Men but the snobbish Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) refuses to accept his application.

When Sir Lionel receives a letter from someone in America who claims to have tracked down the legendary Sasquatch, Sir Lionel and Lord Piggot-Duncey make a bet.  If Sir Lionel can prove that the Sasquatch exists, he will be allowed to join the Society.  Sir Lionel heads off to America while Lord Piggot-Dunceby promptly hires an evil bounty hunter named Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) to prevent him from accomplishing his mission.  As Lord Piggot-Dunceby explains to his assistant, Mr. Collick (Matt Lucas), the world is changing too quickly.  If Sir Lionel isn’t stopped, people might start to believe in things like evolution or women’s rights.

When Sir Lionel arrives in America, he promptly starts searching for the Sasquatch and, amazingly enough, it doesn’t take him very long to find him.  It turns out that the Sasquatch — who Sir Lionel names Mr. Link — not only speaks remarkably good English but he’s also the one who wrote to Sir Lionel in the first place.  As played by Zach Galifianakis, Mr. Link is a rather laid back and good-natured Sasquatch.  In some ways, Mr. Link is surprisingly worldly and, in other ways, he’s rather naive.  He takes everything that he hears literally, which poses a problem since Sir Lionel has a tendency towards sarcasm.  It also turns out that Mr. Link is lonely but he thinks that he might be related to the Himalayan Yetis.  And Mr. Link thinks that Sir Lionel is just the man to help him get from America to Asia!

Sir Lionel reluctantly agrees.  Accompanying them on their journey is Sir Lionel’s former girlfriend, Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana).  And pursuing them, every step of the way, is Lord Piggot-Dunceby and Willard Stenk.

Missing Link is an enjoyable and undeniably cute stop-motion animated film.  It was produced by Laika, the same animation outfit that previously gave us Kubo and The Two Strings.  While Missing Link is never as memorable or emotionally resonant as Kubo, it’s still a good-hearted film and entertaining enough that an adult can watch it without wanting to tear their hair out.  Blessed with impressively detailed animation and the comedic vocal talents of Hugh Jackman, Stephen Fry, Timothy Olyphant, and Zach Galifianikis, Missing Link has enough funny moments and clever lines that most audiences should be able to overlook the fact that the story itself sometimes feels a bit haphazard in its construction.  Much like the Sasquatch at the center of its story, Missing Link is a rather laid back film.  If Kubo was a carefully-constructed work of art, Missing Link feels like it was almost thrown together at random.  The film is at its best once it reaches the Himalayas, where the humor becomes very barbed and Emma Thompson steals the show in a sharp-witted cameo.

I enjoyed Missing Link.  It’s just too sweet-nartured not to like.

Playing Catch-Up: The BFG (dir by Steven Spielberg)


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I heard so many negative things about Steven Spielberg’s latest film, The BFG, that I was really expecting it to be terrible.  When it came out this summer, a lot of critics seemed to take an almost perverse delight in talking about its flaws and some people actually seemed to be thrilled over the fact that it flopped at the box office.

And I have to admit that the commercials that I had seen didn’t really fill me with much desire to actually sit through the movie.  Mark Rylance looked vaguely grotesque as the giant.  Add to that, I spent several months convinced that BFG stood for “Big Fucking Giant.”  Once I was reminded that he was actually a Big Friendly Giant, I was kinda like, “But wouldn’t my way be more fun?”

But anyway, I finally watched The BFG last night and it’s actually not terrible.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not great.  In many ways, this movie is Spielberg at his most sentimental.  Imagine if every triumphant musical cue in Lincoln was stretched out for two hours and you might have an idea as to how he approaches The BFG.  At times, I had a hard time following the film’s storyline, largely because the pacing was totally off.  As a director, Spielberg never seems to be quite sure if he’s making a film exclusively for kids or if he’s trying to make a film that adults can appreciate with their children.  It’s a tonal mess.

And yet, for all those weaknesses, The BFG has enough sweet moments that it feels a little bit churlish to be too critical of it.  Spielberg’s heart seems to be in the right place, even if he is struggling to figure out how to express himself.  As I watched the film, I felt bad about being so dismissive of what I had seen of Rylance’s performance in the commercials leading up the actual film.  Rylance gives a heartfelt and warm performance, playing a giant who, because he is so nice, is bullied by even bigger giants.

As I said, I struggled to follow the film’s story.  I knew that BFG had been forced to abduct an orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) because she saw him and he couldn’t risk her accidentally revealing his existence to the rest of the world.  I also understood that BFG also had protect her from the other giants because the last child he befriended was eaten by those other giants.  But then there was all this stuff about dream time and eventually, Queen Elizabeth II showed up and declared war on the evil giants and I was just so confused.  For once, Spielberg’s skills as a story-teller fail him.  It’s hard to believe that they same director who did the simple and economical Duel also did The BFG.

To be honest, the folks at Pixar, with their trademark mix of sentiment and subversion, would have been the ideal team to take on The BFG.  Spielberg’s instincts are so resolutely mainstream that he doesn’t seem to understand how to best approach some of the story’s more “out there” elements.  But that said, The BFG isn’t terrible.  Mark Rylance does a really good job as the giant and, as you would expect from any Spielberg film, the film is undeniably visually impressive.

The BFG may not be great but it’s not awful.