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A Monster Calls – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

A Monster Calls

It wasn’t exactly what I expected, it turned out to be better.  A Monster Calls is about a young boy who has to find a way to deal with his mother’s impending death from terminal cancer, and how his imagination helps him to cope.  The movie was directed by J.A. Bayona and based on the book by Siobhan Dowd which she began writing while she herself was suffering from cancer, but passed away before she could finish it. The book was finished by Patrick Ness who also wrote the screenplay for the film.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is the boy who’s “too old to be a child, and too young to be a man”, but is forced to become one or the other as his mother (Felicity Jones) suffers through a terminal cancer diagnosis.  The disease is rotten and evil, and what better to fight evil than a monster?  Conor doesn’t exactly call the monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) at first, but it appears to him late one night when he should be asleep, and it comes ripping away the wall of his room, telling Conor that it will come to him three times and tell him three truths, and on the monster’s fourth visit Conor must tell him a story and it must be true, or he will be eaten by the towering mass of branches and leaves formed into a human shape.  The stories each parallel what is going on in Conor’s life at the time.  Each night the monster appears at 12:07.

The first story:

An old king who’s lost his entire family save a young grandson remarries a beautiful young woman many claim to be a witch. He dies before the young prince has come of age, leaving the step grandmother as regent. She rules well and fairly, but, not wanting to hand the kingdom over, plots to marry the prince and remain queen.
The prince, who has a lover, runs away with his chosen bride, planning to flee to the neighbouring kingdom. There they will marry and wait out the time until he’s of age to claim the throne. They stop and sleep under the yew tree (the monster), but in the morning, the young woman is dead. Murdered. The shocked young prince covered in blood.
He tells the villagers who find them that the queen, a witch, must have done it out of jealousy and so he would be tried and hanged for murder, allowing her to keep his kingdom. He also tells the yew tree something which calls the monster awake for vengeance.
Enraged, the commoners rally around the prince to storm the castle, and the monster follows. They capture the queen and condemn her to burn at the stake.
The monster arrives to snatch her from the fire, and carry her away to a far off land where she lives out the rest of her life.
While disagreeable and a witch, she was not the one who had killed the girl. The prince had murdered her under the yew tree in order to inspire his people to back him into overthrowing the queen.

The story somewhat relates to Conor’s grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) who seems like a witch to the boy, with her rules and expectations of him, but who hasn’t really done anything wrong to him.

The second story:

A greedy, ill-tempered apothecary who follows the old traditions and beliefs constantly pesters a parson to allow him to cut down the yew tree in the church yard and use it for medicinal ingredients.
The apothecary becomes less and less popular and is nearly ruined, aided by his own foul nature and the parson’s active condemning from the pulpit.
When a sickness sweeps the land and many die, the parson goes to the apothecary and asks him to save the lives of his two ill daughters after all other resources are exhausted.
When the apothecary asks why he should help a man who has turned people away from his skills and denied him the yew tree, his best source of healing ingredients, the parson begs. The parson promises to give him the yew tree, and deliver the parishioners to him as patients. In response to the parson’s promise to revoke his beliefs and give up everything if only his daughters are healed, the apothecary says that he cannot help him and the girls die.
The monster awakens from the yew tree to destroy the parson’s house and raze it to the ground as punishment.
While the apothecary was a nasty, greedy man, he was a healer and would have saved many, including the girls, if the parson had given him the yew tree when first asked. The parson, however, was a man who lived off of belief, but had none of his own and changed beliefs as it suited him and convenience. His disbelief of the apothecary’s skill caused many to die, even his children. The healing traditions followed by the apothecary require belief in order to work; without the parson’s, the apothecary was unable to treat the two girls.

At the conclusion of this story Conor is destroying his grandmother’s sitting room, her keepsakes and her treasured clock.

The third story:

There was a man who was invisible because no one ever saw him. Tired of this, he summoned the monster to ensure no one forgot to see him again. The monster made them see, but there are harder things than being invisible.

As this story ends, Conor has severely beaten the school bully.  I have to admit I loved seeing the bully getting beaten up by Conor, and being chased by Conor/the monster.  I really don’t like bullies.

The final story:

His mother has been pulled from a cliff by a terrifying creature from the darkness below and Conor must hold on to her hand to save her from being dragged down by the creature. Eventually, his grip fails and the creature claims his mother.

The final story is Conor’s truth to the monster, and he relates his nightmare to the monster.  Conor is forced to confess the truth: he loosened his grip and dropped her on purpose.  He could have held on, but he let go in order to stop the pain of having to hold on.  Conor’s desire to let her go and drop her is his secret wish that both his mother’s and his own suffering will end. Ultimately the monster comforts him, revealing that its purpose has been to heal him as his mother dies at 12:07.

First off, there were great performances by everyone involved.  Neeson was great as the voice of the monster, and managed to convey every emotion needed.  Fear, horror, love, compassion.  He was humourous, he was serious, he was perfectly cast.  Felicity Jones is fairly new to me.  I think I’ve only seen her in Rogue One, but she was excellent as well as the dying mother, giving a very powerful but subtle performance.  (I really liked her in Rogue One too, and realize I missed reviewing that a long time ago….) (and I double checked, forgot she was in The Theory of Everything! oops!)  Bringing even more power to the cast was Sigourney Weaver as Conor’s grandmother, but Conor himself, played by Lewis MacDougall really carried the film.  He gave a strong performance that showed a great mix of maturity and innocence, strength and vulnerability.

I loved the animation they used each time the monster told a story.  I’m really enjoying movies like this and like The Little Prince that are employing multiple styles of animation.  Visually the film was fantastic, not just the depiction of the monster, but the lighting of the rooms, the telling of the tales, and really everything else.  A lovely film all around that can be enjoyed by everyone I think.

Bottom Line: I got the story texts from Wikipedia, but am strongly considering picking up the original book now too…


A Walk Among the Tombstones – DVD Review 3/5 stars

3 Stars

A Walk Among the Tombstones; sometimes called Taken 2.5; I thought was going to be another Liam Neeson action flick, where someone is kidnapped and he hunts them down, killing people left right and centre on his way to rescue and vengeance.  What it really was, was a decently scripted crime/suspense thriller starring Liam Neeson as a damaged, former alcoholic, ex-cop who now works as an unlicensed private investigator named Matt Scudder.  Scudder gets hired by the drug trafficker brother of one of his AA friends to help find who kidnapped and killed his wife.  After a little digging, Scudder finds a pattern where other women (all who have husbands or boyfriends with links to the drug trade) have been kidnapped under similar circumstances before being raped, killed and cut up for disposal.  Now determined to solve the case and prevent any more deaths, Scudder races against time to save the daughter of a Russian drug trafficker, who has now also been taken.

This was not an action movie, it was a drama.  There of course were a few fight scenes and a few chases, but it relied heavily on suspense and the characters to tell the story.  The Scudder character is a creation of writer Lawrence Block who has been writing him since 1976 in a series of novels and collections of short stories.  Tombstones is the tenth book in the series, but the first to get a film adaptation.  I wonder about the timing of this movie.  As I recall, it was released to theatres just around the time that Taken 3 production was announced.  I suppose it generated interest, but it also confused a lot of people I think, who expected it to be Taken 3.  A bonus was that Neeson’s acting in A Walk Among the Tombstones is probably a degree or two higher than it is in the Taken franchise which relies more on action and ass-kicking.  A good story overall.

Bottom Line: I enjoyed the film, as it was both gritty and satisfyingly redeeming enough to quench my movie thirst, but didn’t really do anything to make me want to read the books at this point.

The Lego Movie – Theatrical review 5/5 stars

             5 Stars

Simply amazing.  Lots of jokes, lots of in-jokes, lots of Lego, lots of fun, and lots of memories brought back.  I’ve played with built with Lego for as long as I can remember, and I can definitely now relate to the “man upstairs” in the movie.

This Sunday I took my kids, who are also lifelong Lego builders, to see The Lego Movie, and I think I enjoyed it more than they did.  Grace Randolph of Beyond the Trailer, brought up on her show Morning Movie News that it may really be an animated movie for adults.  She had heard of several instances where the adults in the audiences loved the movie but the kids only liked it, and theorized that this might actually hurt the box office appeal of the film.

It had all the pieces necessary for a good movie.  Humour, heart, great characters (a bit of a surprise for an animated film) and in the end, it meant something.  I do need to see it again, and preferably from further back, our third row seats weren’t the best, and I will definitely be watching it again at home where I can pause often, because there was so much going on and probably so many things in the background that I missed and want to see.  Also, because I went with my kids (who are aged nine to twelve) I didn’t get to sit all the way through the credits as I always do.  Smaller bladders and general impatience prevented that.  If anyone knows if there was an “after the credits scene” let me know!

The story was quite fun, as Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt) is a regular construction worker in Bricksburg where he lives life by following the instructions.  Instructions passed down by President Business who is also Lord Business (Will Ferrell) the evil overlord who plans to destroy the world of Lego using the Kragle, his ultimate weapon.  Emmet is soon mistaken for “The Special” of prophecy when he discovers the “Piece of Resistance” the only thing that can stop the Kragle.  The other Master Builders now look to this ordinary guy to lead them and save the world.  Unfortunately Emmet isn’t that creative (his whole life has been lived following the instructions) so he can’t build “outside the box”, he’s not that confident, and fears that he probably isn’t The Special.  Full of great characters from Lego sets past, Emmet teams up with Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), Superman (Channing Tatum), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), 1980s Blue Spaceman Benny (Charlie Day), Unikitty (Alison Brie), Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal), Metal Beard the pirate (Nick Offerman) and Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) to stop Lord Business and his army of “micro managers” and the police lead by Bad Cop (Liam Neeson).  I usually don’t like “big cast” movies because they tend to water down the story so that each actor gets face time, but that wasn’t really an issue here in an animated feature, and each character got to do something fairly important to the story.  My one son’s favourite character was Unikitty, but my favourite was Benny, perhaps because 1980s Space Lego was a big part of my childhood (though we only had the Red, White and Yellow spacemen in my house…).

Yes, it could be that adults will enjoy the film more than kids, but should we adults feel guilty about that?  Is it a problem that we still enjoy our Lego sets?  Is it a problem that we don’t let our kids touch them?  Well, perhaps we all should watch The Lego Movie.  And it’s never a bad idea for me to watch a movie again with my sons.  Being a part time dad, sharing my experience of The Lego Movie with them may have biased my rating.  I have several movies that I enjoy only because of who I watched them with originally, but still I think my rating and enjoyment of The Lego Movie stand.

Bottom Line: I think they have a good enough base here to build up to a sequel….puns intended.

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