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Movie Review: 'The BFG' And 'Legend of Tarzan'

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I have two words for you - holiday weekend, which means the appeal of a nice cold, air-conditioned movie theater. And we have the perfect person to talk to us about what movie options are out there this weekend. It's Justin Chang, who reviews movies for the Los Angeles Times. Hey, Justin.

JUSTIN CHANG: Hello, David.

GREENE: So for people who have kids, I guess Steven Spielberg has a big new movie coming out this weekend, Big Friendly Giant. Tell us about it.

CHANG: Yes. "The BFG," or Big Friendly Giant.

GREENE: "The BFG." I like that.

GREENE: Yes, the acronym. And it's a lovely movie about the friendship between a young orphan and the Big Friendly Giant, who kidnaps her. But he's a good guy and befriends her. And they defeat his evil giant brothers. This is adapted from a brilliant novel by Roald Dahl. It's kind of a slightly sweetened, even sanitized version of it. And it's got a very dreamy, visually-lush feel to it that I think is something that Spielberg brings to it.

GREENE: You know, I think we have a little bit of tape here of the Friendly Giant, the friendly kidnapper as it were, and the little girl.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BFG")

MARK RYLANCE: (As BFG) Those giants - they would swallow you up like a piece of frumpkin fry (ph).

RUBY BARNHILL: (As Sophie) It's pumpkin pie, not frumpkin fry. And jiggy-raffs are giraffes. Croco-down-dillies are crocodiles. And hippo-dumplings are hippopotamuses (ph).

GREENE: OK, I love it. I want to go. I'm a little too old, maybe, for a Spielberg new kids movie. But I want to see it. Here's some tape of - here's some - well, let's just play this. This needs no introduction.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Tarzan, vocalizing).

GREENE: That old Tarzan tape, Justin, in case you didn't know. But the new movie...

CHANG: Very well - very well deployed.

GREENE: Exactly. The new movie is "The Legend Of Tarzan." What's different? What's this one about?

CHANG: Well, gosh, the scream - the yell isn't quite as good as that, for one thing. You know, and I think - you know, there actually is a yell that comes late into the movie. This is sort of a revisionist take on the Tarzan myth. It's almost kind of apologetic - we're-sorry-for-colonialism Tarzan, you know, politically correct Tarzan, you know? So, you know, Alexander Skarsgard plays the character. And he's a perfectly fine Tarzan. His abs are remarkable. They do not...

GREENE: Just go for the abs.

CHANG: ...I'm - just go for the abs. And his abs, I'm convinced, are not of a kind that, you know, occurs in nature. But the trouble I have with this movie, David, is I think it's so kind of straight jacketed by some of the things that are essentially problematic about the Tarzan story, namely a white hero on the African continent. The sort of the racial problematic aspects of that have made it kind of hard to tell a Tarzan story in this day and age when people are rightly much more sensitive about those things. And so it's a more enlightened version of the story. But I'm not sure that it's a better one.

GREENE: Well, is there a movie that's not joyless that you would give a huge two thumbs up to and recommend people go see?

CHANG: Yes, absolutely. One of the most joyful movies I've seen in the past few months actually is "Love & Friendship." This is adapted from a Jane Austen novella called "Lady Susan." It's directed by Whit Stillman. He has his own kind of comic touch, his own sense of timing, his own way with dialogue. And he's really opened up this story in a way that's really, really delightful. I've seen it once. I can't wait to see it again, actually.

GREENE: Justin Chang reviews movies for the Los Angeles Times. Justin, thanks as always, and enjoy the holiday weekend.

CHANG: Thank you so much. You too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.