Preview: DJs in the Garden at Mini-Moogfest


Synth you've been gone.

Synth you've been gone.

A good two-thirds of the time that I mention the garden at the downtown location of the AADL to friends, I get a “What? There’s a garden?! Where?" in response.

It can feel like a secret, even though it’s open to everyone. Tomorrow, that very garden so many people have yet to discover will be filled with music by some startlingly talented folks as AADL kicks off its second official Mini-Moogfest.

If you were lucky enough to swing through last year’s inaugural festival, you know that it was not only a chance to listen to some great DJs, but also an opportunity to play around with the breadth of music tools available for checkout at the library.

The ability for all ages to play with all sorts of goodies — from kid-friendly simple instruments to synths to effects pedals to beat-making little boxes — remains a key part of this year’s festivities, and talented, world-class DJs return to play music in the library’s garden.

Catch Mike Dykehouse 12-1:30 pm, Tadd Mullinix (fresh off a performance in Detroit the night before) 1:30-3:00 pm, and Mike Huckaby 3-4:30 pm.

Mariah Cherem is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library, and gets ridiculously happy hearing music in the library, from classic storytime songs on up.

Mini-Moog Fest takes place in the garden area of the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library on Saturday, June 9 from 11am-5pm. In the case of rain, the event will be held inside.

Review: Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers at the A2SF


Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers.

Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers.

Those of you who have followed Bruce Hornsby since the 80s and were prepared for something looser, more genre-bending: you weren’t disappointed. Those of you who remember Bruce from his 80s music and not much else: I hope you were ready for something other than studio album re-creations.

Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers made beautiful noise for two hours on Thursday evening at the Power Center to an appreciative audience that filled about three quarters of the Power’s seats. The Noisemaker’s singular talent -- aside from stunning musicianship -- is to make old new again, and to the audience’s delight, that’s exactly what happened. They also happen to be really good at making entirely new music, and we heard some of that as well. All this, despite a less-than-excellent sound mix and several technical issues that had Mr. Hornsby gritting his teeth.

The Noisemakers are bassist J.V. Collier, a twenty-year veteran of the band, as well as keyboardist/organist John “JT” Thomas and drummer Sonny Emory, who have played with Hornsby twenty-four and twelve years respectively. Summer 2014 marks the arrival of two new Noisemakers — fiddle/mandolin player Ross Holmes and guitarist Gibb Droll — as well as the departures of longtime members Bobby Read and Doug Derryberry. Holmes currently fiddles for Mumford and Sons, has played with hosts of Nashville titans as diverse as Ricky Skaggs and the Dixie Chicks. Droll has played guitar on various projects involving Keller Williams, Kevin Kinney, and Brandi Carlile.

Picking and choosing from their just-released album Rehab Reunion, as well as other Hornsby discography highlights like "The Way It Is," BH&N demonstrated their individual musical prowess through improvisational solos that spanned and twisted jazz, pop, bluegrass, and Americana genres in a way you will never hear in any other band.

More evidence of Bruce’s live concert experience and expertise: the mid-set featuring acoustic duos and trios out front served to mix up the sound, feel, and intimacy of the event. The band’s working motto: “Look at Bruce!” Whatever the song, every band members’ eyes were locked on Bruce as he would often point to a soloist without warning for an impromptu 12 or 24 bars. The band is tight and loose at the same time, knowing their stuff but subject to Hornsby’s split-second diversions.

Above it all, Bruce’s piano skills wowed the crowd as he created improvisational dances on the keyboard. Bruce Hornsby is not a technical perfectionist on the Steinway, but the musical emotion he generates through his from-the-heart meanderings give new life to his classics. The audience would hold our heads to prevent musical whiplash as he’d take an iconic song like "Valley Road" in a unique and re-syncopated direction with dulcimer (Hornsby), mandolin (Holmes) and shoulder-mounted washboard and spoons (Emory).

The evening’s best moment: a wandering, jazz-infused take-off on the 1989 collaboration between Hornsby and Don Henley, "The End of the Innocence." I would need to have recorded the live track to tell you how many improvisational turns this song took as it raced through styles and genres. I can only tell you that Bruce’s emotional keyboard interlude had the crowd ooh-ing, ahhh-ing and hooting approval.

A brief encore followed the satisfying performance with a surprise appearance from Jeff Daniels, who complained, “you guys play all this stuff in E-flat diminished 9th chords” and finished the night with Bruce and band in a rousing 3-chords-and-the-truth rendition of his "Go Henry David Go."

Bruce is my age, and I have grown up with him as he has blessed my life with some of the best music I can remember. Thursday night did nothing but drive my appreciation for him that much deeper. Don’t stop for a while, Bruce. Keep improvising. You’re not finished.

Don Alles is a marketing consultant, journalist, house concert host and musical wannabee, living in and loving his adopted home, Ann Arbor.

Preview: The Suffers Play Sonic Lunch


Suffers with the best of them.

Suffers with the best of them.

Self-coined “gulf coast soul” band The Suffers are gracing Ann Arbor with their presence to play Sonic Lunch on Thursday, July 14 and boy oh boy, the city is in for a real treat. The band brings a fresh and unique approach to soul music, bringing rock and roll, hip hop and Latin tinges to a Motown-like base. The Suffers first visited Ann Arbor in 2015 when they played at The Ark after releasing their EP Make Some Room. Having attended the show, I can attest to the fact that people were truly dancing in the aisles for much of it and I expect nothing less of their performance at Sonic Lunch. Most recently, The Suffers were touring with Lake Street Dive, a near-perfect partnership that stopped by Royal Oak in March.

Hailing from Texas, the 10-member ensemble band is fronted by singer Kam Franklin and her extraordinarily powerful voice. Often clad in something shimmery or coated in glitter, it’s impossible for Franklin not to command the stage as she strides back and forth belting out tunes, flanked by her all-male bandmates who are equally energetic. Particularly fun to watch are the horns—Mike Razo on the trombone, Cory Wilson on the saxophone and John Durbin on the trumpet—who have managed to get most of their movements in sync along with their playing. Nick Zamora and Jose Luna comprise the percussion section of the band, while Adam Castenada plays bass and Kevin Bernier and Alex Zamora play guitar. Pat Kelly rounds out the crew on keyboard.

Needless to say, one of the most interesting early moments of The Suffers’ Sonic Lunch performance will be seeing how they manage to fit the entire band on the stage. What’s most touching about The Suffers is their down-to-earth attitude despite their ability to completely wow crowds with their command of the music they play. You get the impression that when they’re done performing they’re just going to go back to whatever hotel they’re staying in, have a beer and hang out with each other. Franklin typically chats with the crowd between songs asking quirky questions and talking about the band’s life in Texas and what they all did before coming together to play as The Suffers. These casual conversations and overall relaxed attitude of the band make it even more shocking when they launch right back into another hugely powerful song.

Along with being nearly constantly on tour this past year, The Suffers made time to perform an NPR Tiny Desk Concert, play The Late Show With David Letterman, and release their debut self-titled album on CD and vinyl.

Sonic Lunch on the 14th is certainly one of the only chances any of us will have to see the band for free, and although they’ve favored Michigan in the past with their tour dates, who knows when they’ll be back? This is definitely a show not to be missed.

Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library. She also likes to dress in things that are shimmery and coated in glitter.

The Suffers are playing Sonic Lunch in Liberty Square on Thursday, July 14 at 12:00. The concert is free and open to the public.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #604


Calling all bloggers!

"It washed over me for the first time in my life how much importance the world had ascribed to skin pigment..." -Sue Monk Kidd

With references to William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (1936), Suzanne Feldman's debut (and a winner of the Missouri Review Editors' Prize) Absalom's Daughters* is a tale of sisterly adventure through the 1950s Jim Crow South.

Young Cassie helps run the family laundry with her mother and grandmother in the black part of Heron-Neck, Mississippi. She has no idea that Judith who is white, is her half-sister, though she knows that it is her grandmother's plan to orchestrate the births in her family so that her descendants can, one day, pass for white.

When their father Bill Forrest runs off leaving the family destitute, Judith finds a letter from a mysterious sender in Virginia explaining they are heirs to a rumored family fortune, surely enough money for her to run off to New York City to be a singer. Sensing that her grandmother's design on the jazz-playing Albino boy from New York City visiting one of the white families on the hill, Cassie realizes this may be her only opportunity to escape. The girls steal a car, and with a ham, a gun, and a map so old that state lines are blurred, they head north. While getting their first taste of freedom, courting danger at every turn, they are also reminded of the tyranny of skin color, and the heavy responsibility of being the master of your own fate.

"Feldman’s prose blisters and pops with sparks...In this novel, most things are not as they seem, and Feldman doesn’t hew too close to reality. The sisters encounter mules who were once men, discover towns that appear in one place on the map and another on the road, and Cassie even spends a few days as a white girl. Eventually she decides to return to the skin she was born with; as a mysterious woman tells her near the end: 'What’s important is the past.'" (Kirkus Reviews)

* = starred review

Arts Writers! UMS Seeking Candidates for a New Fellowship

Calling all bloggers!

Calling all bloggers!

The University Musical Society (UMS) is seeking applicants for their Wallace Blogging Fellowships. This recently-announced opportunity aims to promote cultural events taking place throughout southeast Michigan, and includes a stipend and special access to UMS events and guests.

So, know anyone in the area who is over 21 and loves the arts? Send the application their way! The deadline to apply is July 15, so get those writing samples ready!

Arts & Culture Events for Your Fourth of July

Fourth of July on Independence Blvd, 1959

Don’t miss the 26th annual Ann Arbor Jaycees 4th of July parade. Featuring musical groups, floats, and a bicycle-decorating contest, the parade starts at William and State St. at 10 am.

Cobblestone Farm is also celebrating Independence Day - 19th century style - with a reading of the Declaration of Independence, patriotic songs, kids games and farm activities, from noon - 4 pm at Cobblestone Farm, 2781 Packard Rd.

Veterans and active duty military members can enjoy a free screening of the classic World War II film The Dirty Dozen at the Michigan Theater at 1:30 pm. All others pay admission.

Capitol Steps, America’s premier satire group performing political parodies since 1981, is back in town this evening for two concerts at the Power Center, 4pm and 7pm. Tickets are $20 for students, $35, $40, $45.

And if you need an extra dose of patriotism, your local public library has a couple special Independence Day-related collections: First, a Star-Spangled Bannercast, featuring U-M Professor Mark Clague talking about the musical heritage and cultural history of our national anthem; and second, our OldNews local history site has a feature of past Tree Town 4th of July celebrations with photographs and articles from the Ann Arbor News.

Happy Fourth, Ann Arbor!

Preview: Summer Classic Movies at the Michigan Theater


The Good rides into the Michigan Theater on July 31 and August 2.

The Good rides into the Michigan Theater on July 31 and August 2.

The Michigan Theater is presenting the "Kerrytown Market & Shops Summer Classic Film series" – and it’s a great way to beat the summer heat with fresh popcorn, the theater’s classic Barton Organ pre-show serenade, as well as unarguable film classics in an equally classic historic auditorium. I’ve seen every one of these films (more than once) and they’re all worth seeing again—especially on the big screen. Here’s the list, and my take on the best reason to see them (again and again):

Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Sunday July 3 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday July 5 at 7:00 pm)
Peter Sellers’ wonderfully weird three-part performance is reason enough. But nothing quite captures our country’s freewheeling Cold War paranoia—or ever ended a movie—like cowboy star Slim Pickens’ yahoo down memory lane: “We’ll meet again, don’t know how, don’t know when….”

The Dirty Dozen (Monday, July 4 at 1:30 pm; free admission for Veterans and Active Duty Military)
Hmm, Lee Marvin in one of his best tough guy roles? Donald Sutherland in his breakout role? John Cassavetes playing the godfather before becoming the Godfather of American Independent Cinema? Nah, see it because dirty rotten American psycho killer bad guys on a suicide mission to beat the real bad guys never grows old.

A Streetcar Named Desire (Sunday, July 10 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, July 12 at 7:00 pm)
Marlon Brando’s tour de force performance volcanically transcends everything else already great about this movie, including its source material (Tennessee Williams), direction (Elia Kazan), and the tragically spot-on fate of Blanche DuBois (played by Vivien Leigh).

Monty Python & The Holy Grail (Sunday, July 17 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, July 19 at 7:00 pm)
“Bring out your dead!” “Here’s one.” “I’m not dead.” “Er, he says he’s not dead.” “Yes he is.” Or “That’s no ordinary rabbit.” “That’s the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on!” Or “Ni!” “We are no longer the Knights who say Ni.” (I could go on, but actually my favorite thing about this screening is that it’s sponsored by Knight’s Downtown restaurant.)

Funny Face (Sunday, July 24 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, July 26 at 7:00 pm)
You can never go wrong watching Fred Astaire dance (as well as act and sing a little) or Audrey Hepburn in trademark pedal pushers. Not enough? Try direction by Stanley Donen with music by George and Ira Gershwin. That’s Entertainment!

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Sunday, July 31 at 1:30; Tuesday, August 2 at 7:00 pm)
A serious serial toss up: The score, Eli Wallach, the Mexican standoff in Cinemascope, or Clint Eastwood finally pulling out his trademark cheroot. Sergio Leone set the bar so high in making this one, the tumbleweed genre might as well be retired. They just don’t make westerns like this anymore.

Horse Feathers (Sunday, August 7 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, August 9 at 7:00 pm)
Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo: The Marx Brothers + football. ‘Nuff said.

Fargo (Sunday, August 14 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday August 16 at 7:00 pm)
Arguably the Coen brothers’ best: A pregnant cop utterly unafraid of both killers and the harsh Minnesota landscape? You betcha! Oh…and you’ll never look at a wood chipper quite the same way again.

Sing-A-Long Sound of Music (Sunday, August 21 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, August 23 at 7:00 pm)
Julie Andrews. Check. “Doe—a deer, a female deer.” Check. Christopher Plummer. Check. “Climb ev’ry mountain…” Check. Aw, what the heck, just go again because singing along with the Von Trapp Family to beat the real bad guys never grows old.

Metropolis (Sunday, August 28 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, August 30 at 7:00 pm)
Fritz Lang’s pioneering sci-fi silent feature, with its Art Deco- and German Expressionist-inspired cityscapes is the only movie to out Blade Runner “Blade Runner”; and wow, is that she-bot still intense even after all these years.

To Catch A Thief (Sunday, September 4 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, September 6 at 7:00 pm)
Easily one of the classiest of the master of suspense: Monte Carlo in the 1950s is divine. But go to watch Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in incandescent Technicolor. It’s a good movie, and it’s Hitchcock and all, but it’s really about Grant and Kelly’s unparalleled luminosity on screen.

Casablanca (Monday, September 5 at 7:00; free admission for students with valid ID)
Let’s not kid ourselves: “A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh….” but not when Bogie and Bergman smolder as time goes by. The Michigan Theater’s annual Fall kick-off (and for good reason), is ... er, reason enough. But see it because watching true love outwit really, really bad guys never, ever grows old. Strike up “La Marseillaise!”

Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library where she enthusiastically selects classic movies for the DVD and Blu-ray collections.

The Kerrytown Market & Shops Summer Classic Film Series runs all summer long, on Sundays at 1:30 pm and Tuesdays at 7 pm at the Michigan Theater.

Review: Fanfare Ciocărlia Lives Up to the Hype


Fanfare Ciocărlia rips it up at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival.

Fanfare Ciocărlia rips it up at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival.

While interviewing Ann Arbor Summer Festival director Amy Nesbitt a few weeks ago, this Pulp correspondent was a bit surprised that Nesbitt designated the Romanian brass band Fanfare Ciocărlia the number-one can't-miss event of this year's festival. In a lineup that included not only major stars like Bruce Hornsby and Bebel Gilberto, but also local powerhouses like Third Coast Kings and George Bedard, who were these Romanian guys exactly?

As it turns out, Fanfare Ciocărlia is known as one of the world's greatest modern purveyors of Balkan brass music, and the ensemble more than lived up to its hype in a blistering performance Thursday night. Seven of the band's 12 members took the stage alongside Canadian guitarist Adrian Raso (with whom Fanfare Ciocărlia collaborated on its most recent album) and Raso's own traditional three-piece rock band. Things got off to a slightly rocky start, as the entire 11-piece ensemble stood around onstage with positively dour expressions during a lengthy sound check.

But as soon as the sound crew finished setting up for the small musical army onstage, the ensemble wasted no time ripping into its first number. Uptempo, minor-key, and thoroughly danceable, the opening tune set the template for much of the repertoire Fanfare Ciocărlia tore through Thursday night–and the band scarcely even allowed the audience to applaud before leaping into its second number.

When the band finally paused for a moment's breath, Raso told the audience that the band would be journeying "deep into the Balkans" in a program entitled "Devil's Tale." But he promised tastes of other cultures as well, and Fanfare Ciocărlia delivered throughout a 70-minute set. The brass instruments left the stage at one point while Raso and his group performed a lively Italian tarantella. Later, the full band performed a Django Reinhardt-inspired gypsy jazz tune entitled "Eric the Baker" (named after a bakery in Raso's hometown of Guelph, Ontario). The most surprising diversion came when the band played "Devil's Tale," a stomping American country-inflected tune, which Raso dedicated to Elvis Presley's recently deceased guitarist Scotty Moore.

Fanfare Ciocărlia

Fanfare Ciocărlia

Raso led the audience through the night with gentle, humorous banter and astonishingly versatile guitar work, executing breathtaking solos on classical and electric guitars while leapfrogging from musical style to musical style. Fanfare Ciocărlia distinguished themselves beautifully throughout, playing with energy and a knowing collaborative instinct born of their 20 years on the road together. The band blasted through dizzyingly uptempo horn riffs song after song, often ending tunes with a long, slightly dissonant, unresolved chord as they grinned widely to each other. Saxophonist Oprică Ivancea, a noted performer in his own right outside of Fanfare Ciocărlia, was a standout in the band both for technical prowess and physical presence, leaning back dramatically for one breathtaking solo late in the show. Trumpeter Costică Trifan was also an engaging figure onstage, singing several tunes and frequently inciting the audience to dance and sing along.

Throughout the show, one got a sense that Fanfare Ciocărlia very literally fed off its audience's energy. Although the band started things off with a bang, the energy onstage only increased over the course of the performance, in tandem with the energy on the dance floor. The bustling crowd was often just as entertaining to watch as the performers onstage. Strangers of all ages repeatedly formed line dances of up to 15 people. One couple tangoed almost incessantly, intensely eyeing each other with a blend of goofy humor and genuine adoration. Fanfare Ciocărlia put on an incredible show for Ann Arbor, and its audience responded in kind.

It would be deeply unfair to end this review without also noting the contributions of Fanfare Ciocărlia's unofficial opener Thursday night: Ann Arbor's own Balkan brass band, Rhyta Musik. Frontwoman and Trombonist Bethanni Grecynski warmly interacted with the audience, explaining the historical background behind each song and singing into a bullhorn, while local man-of-many-bands Ross Huff provided particularly distinguished trumpet work. Rhyta Musik got the dance floor well warmed up for Fanfare Ciocărlia and proved that Ann Arbor can hold its own even against the Romanian kings of Balkan brass. Thursday's night of multicultural energy was indeed a standout for Summer Fest 2016, a night so beautiful as to prompt a pang of sadness that our community's go-to summer event has already nearly run its course for another year.

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in Pulp, the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He would like to join a line dance with strangers, but remains too much of a scaredy cat for the time being.

Strike Up the Band for the Perfect Summer Night


Ann Arbor Civic Band

Ann Arbor Civic Band

When I was a kid, my dad and I watched every single episode of the Twilight Zone. My favorite episode was one called "A Stop at Willoughby." It was a simple tale of a harried ad man (because everyone was an ad man in the 1960s) who dreamed of a town called Willoughby that would be a retreat from his stressful, three-martini-lunch world. Instead, Willoughby would have a small downtown, a fishing pond, and space for an outdoor band concert.

"Wow," thought the young suburban girl who had never contemplated downtowns, fishing ponds, or outdoor band concerts. "I would love to live in a place like that!"

When I got to Ann Arbor, I found the downtown and the river almost immediately; however, seeing as how I came to town in winter, discovering the outdoor band took a little more time. Lucky for us all, the Ann Arbor Civic Band has been providing us with an outdoor summer concert series at West Park for over 80 years.

Conductor Bill Gourley leads the volunteer band members for five or six concerts every summer. There is a slight variation on the themes of the concerts, but there is always a children’s concert with a march of the teddy bears and a salute to the military around the Fourth of July. The 501(c)(3) organization is funded by membership dues, sponsorships, and donations.

This year, residents can wander down to West Park on Wednesday nights at 8 pm and enjoy a concert featuring music from movies such as Star Trek or Batman, a tribute to swing music, Broadway show tunes, and the beloved Children’s Concert (bring your bear!).

Being outside at the park and listening to live music is enchanting. People sit on blankets, chairs, or on the grass. Kids run around, dogs lie at the feet of their owners, and the music echoes off the band shell as fireflies light the paths. The fresh smell of the green grass under your feet tickles your nose. The sun might be in your eyes as it sets, but only for a minute. Then everything is lit in the glow of a perfect summer evening.

These are the nights I think of in mid-February, when everything seems to be dead or hibernating, when the trees are bare, when the snow has turned brown and mushy. When it seems like summer will never get here, and it has always been cold, I think of these magical nights and I am happy to live in my own version of Willoughby.

Patti Smith is a special education teacher who lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and cats. She is the author of two books about Ann Arbor, the most recent is a history of the People’s Food Co-op. She wishes she had even an ounce of musical talent so that she could join the Civic Band! Visit her at or @TeacherPatti on Twitter.

The Ann Arbor Civic Band performances continue at 8 pm, Wednesdays, July 6, 13, 20, and 27, at the West Park Band Shell in West Park, 7th Street.

Review: The BFG


The BFG, all Dahl'd up in CGI.

The BFG, all Dahl'd up in CGI.

Fans of Roald Dahl's 1982 children's book The BFG will find that source text replicated lovingly in Steven Spielberg's new film adaptation–occasionally perhaps with even more detail than they wanted.

Spielberg restages Dahl's tale almost beat for beat, as the stubborn orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is swept away from her orphanage one night by a big friendly giant, or "BFG" (Mark Rylance). The BFG makes an occupation for himself capturing dreams and redistributing them into "human beans'" heads by night, and he takes Sophie back to Giant Country with him for fear she'll expose him to the world. Sophie warms quickly to the plight of the loving but somewhat dimwitted BFG, who is harassed constantly by nine man-eating and considerably larger giants (a voice cast led by Jemaine Clement and Bill Hader). As the giants devour humans by night and plague the BFG by day, Sophie hatches a plan to stop them, requiring the assistance of no less than the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton) herself.

It's a common complaint that cinematic adaptations of books deviate too much from their source material, but there are pitfalls in holding too much reverence for the original text as well. Screenwriter Melissa Mathison, who penned classic family flicks including The Black Stallion, E.T., and The Indian in the Cupboard before her death last year, translates Dahl's material to the screen almost directly. The film thankfully wastes no time revealing its title character and whisking Sophie away with him, but from there it occasionally bogs down. Mathison and Spielberg place Dahl's material on a pedestal and just leave it there to be admired at unnecessary length.

This tendency is persistent throughout the first two-thirds of the movie, most noticeably in an initially lovely but ultimately overlong scene in which the BFG and Sophie collect dreams. The film develops some momentum, and some of its greatest comic energy, when Sophie and the BFG take off for Buckingham Palace, but it takes quite a while to get there.

The two leads are so excellent throughout that you'll wish one of them were more physically present. Barnhill, whose previous filmography includes just six episodes of a British children's TV series, comes off very well here. Not just your average precocious young lead, she plays Sophie with a mature self-assuredness that still has just the right undercurrent of childish vulnerability. Rylance, coming off a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar win for Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, makes an extremely endearing BFG, gently enunciating the character's goofy malapropisms.

How unfortunate, then, that Rylance's performance is motion-captured and his BFG entirely computer-generated. The character is convincing in certain moments–particularly in close-ups, where the effects team appears to have smartly concentrated its efforts–but surprisingly wooden in others. Given Rylance's physical resemblance to illustrator Quentin Blake's original rendition of the giant, which the film closely mimics, Spielberg's decision to create a CGI giant instead of using more practical filmmaking magic to put Rylance onscreen in the flesh is rather perplexing.

Ultimately, Spielberg and Mathison's heads are basically in the right place when it comes to this material. They understand Dahl's sense of humor and his essential warmth, although they also don't shy away from the brutality that underlies much of his work. They just make the mistake of putting too much effort into bringing Dahl's simple but vibrant story to life, whether lingering too long over minor details or throwing millions of dollars in effects money at creating CGI giants where practical effects would have worked better. In the end, The BFG is certainly not a bad movie; it's often charming and sometimes even delightful in its own right. But its humbler source material tops it in both those departments–and you can probably read it in less time.

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in Pulp, the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. If he were a giant, he would certainly choose to eat snozzcumbers rather than small children.

The BFG opens in theaters on July 1 .