Saturday, January 7, 2017

"A Monster Calls" Review

The writer and his thoughts

The critically-acclaimed fantasy novel A Monster Calls makes the vivid leap from page to screen courtesy of author/screenwriter Patrick Ness and visionary director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible, the upcoming Jurassic World sequel). Coming-of-age drama and B-movie homages combine to create a "monster movie" unlike any this reviewer has seen before. 

A Monster Calls tells the story of young Connor (newcomer Lewis MacDougall) who has trouble coping with the deteriorating health of his mother (Felicity Jones). His struggle is amplified by school bullies, an overbearing grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), and a father (Toby Kebbell) who has been away for most of the boy's upbringing. Guiding Connor through his grief is a walking, talking yew tree (voiced by Liam Neeson) that looks an awful lot like some freakish evolved form of Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. The monster ultimately tries to convince Connor that the only way to move on is to "speak the truth" of his feelings. 

It's a bit difficult to tell who this film is trying to tell its story to. It's far too cerebral for families, yet most of its big ideas are communicated through gorgeous, "Disney-fied" animated sequences and characters. It's also not violent enough to satisfy the Comic-Con crowd. Having said that, the film makes several nods to B-movie classics such as King Kong and The Invisible Man. When "the Monster" first appears, the score (beautifully composed by Fernando Velasquez) builds to a crescendo that evokes the reveals of many a fearsome Ray Harryhausen beast. Also, both King Kong and The Invisible Man represent crucial motifs that define Connor's grief. Kong and "the Monster" are both literally larger-than-life "protectors," for lack of a better word, and H.G. Wells' character serves as an allegory for how Connor wishes to be perceived by his classmates. He's fed up with being "invisible" to everyone, even eventually to the school bullies. 

Another beautifully handled motif is that of "time." "The Monster" always arrives when the clock turns over to 12:07. Connor's grandmother has an old clock that she warns him not to touch because it always tells the correct time. Obviously all of this relates to Connor's mum and her worsening condition. Time is rapidly running out for Connor to, as he originally thinks, "save" her.

So, with its heart in seemingly several different places, and its emotions firmly on its sleeve, it would be safe to call this Monster a bit of a mess. But, in the end, that may be the whole point. The story constantly reminds us that life isn't, and shouldn't always be, squeaky clean. "If you feel the need to break things, then, by God, you break them," says Connor's tearful mum some time after the boy makes mincemeat of his grandmother's sitting room. Heck, the whole crux of the film is about overcoming everything we fear most. That's always tricky business. 


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

My Day with Film (Wednesday, January 4th, 2017)

Wednesday 1/4/17

Dear Diary,

It's now two days after the fact, and I still haven't watched Happy Birthday to Me. I got caught up in yesterday's Blair Witch hysterics, so I ended up watching my begrudgingly purchased Blu-ray with the director's commentary that I had been looking forward to. I rather enjoyed it! Wingard and Barrett share something of an endearingly edgy mood since the film made no money at the box office and was critically reviled. They revealed a handful of secrets without sacrificing the film's entire mystique, which is actually pretty awesome.

Moreover, I didn't realize that Happy Birthday to Me was responsible for this scene:

I've seen this image before but never knew where it came from. I love it because not only is it a unique kill, but it also plays into everyone's latent fear of swallowing a toothpick. 

Or is that just me..?

Anyways, the big story that got my attention today was that Apple is planning a "Theatre Mode" for iPhones and iPads. I'm rather upset that this was pretty much the second or third headline I read this morning because I haven't been able to quit thinking about what an atrocious idea it is, and in turn, my day hasn't been up to snuff. Cell phone use in movie theaters has always irked me. If you can afford to spend your time at a movie, then there is no text message or godforsaken Twitter update so important that it should tear your attention away from the much larger screen in front of you. If an emergency should arise, it should come in the form of a phone call, at which time it is prudent to walk out of the auditorium before answering. If there truly is a text that's so crucial to you that you must take your phone out and risk ruining the experience for everyone else, likewise, take it out into the lobby. Also, the "Silent" and "Do Not Disturb" buttons are your friends. Learn to use them. Please don't be that person whose ringtone blares in the middle of an important scene. It's extremely embarrassing for you and painfully distracting for everyone else.

If Apple includes this feature, it sets another dangerous precedent for exhibitionists who have a tough time as it is trying to pry people away from their couches. This new feature attempts to normalize aberrant behavior that, by its very nature, devalues the theatrical experience. In all seriousness, why would I continue to drop $10-15 just to watch people with no attention span or respect for art or creativity use their phones for two hours? It truly is that distracting. I pray to the cinema gods that Cincinnati gets an Alamo Drafthouse, where they have a stringent zero-tolerance policy on phone use. Now I hate to be so harsh as to say "Take it outside, shut it off, or don't come at all" because I normally encourage everyone to see as many movies as possible regardless of how good or bad they are. But there is no place for cell phone use inside a movie theater while the film is playing. If you can afford to be there, you can afford to turn your phone off. 

Okay, rant over for now. I've got Happy Birthday to Me on finally. 

Until tomorrow, 


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

My Day with Film (Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017)

Tuesday 1/3/17

Dear Diary,

It's been a hot minute since I've written. Christmas is big in my house, and then we left town the next day to visit family in Pennsylvania. After returning home it was nice to just sloth around for a few days, but now it's a new year packed with fresh opportunities for success! As some idiot said, "It's gonna be 'uge."

Okay, well, the first thing I want to get off my chest is my frustration with "rental copies" of home media. I mean, I suppose I understand the logic behind "rental copies." If you were given all the content with a $2 rental, literally nobody would ever buy movies for their personal collection ever again. Warehouses would be piled floor to ceiling with unsold Blu-rays. I get it, but that doesn't make it any less shitty for the consumer looking to save a buck.

I went down to Redbox today to pick up the piss-poor rehash of Blair Witch. That movie is such a letdown, but when I heard that Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett were doing a commentary and an hour of featurettes, my curiosity was piqued. Wingard and Barrett are known for putting together stellar supplemental material for their films, and with so many secrets and mysteries left unresolved in the film, I had to get my hands on the Blu-ray in order to gain some sense of closure. I step up to the kiosk, hand over my $2 plus tax, and head home to my player just to make sure the bonuses are there and that I don't have to spend full-price to get the closure I so desperately have been seeking.

Imagine my frustration when I scroll through the menu to "Special Features," and all that's listed is a collection of trailers marked "Also from Lionsgate" and a tab for "Bookmarks," which are spots in the film that you can mark and go back to at any time without scrubbing through scene selections. Futility be damned, I cursed Lionsgate in that moment. "Now I have to go spend my hard-earned money on your garbage film because I care too much about movies and figuring out the end of the story," I thought to myself. It comes as little consolation that Target is currently running a 15% off coupon through their Cartwheel mobile app, which I highly encourage everyone to download.

Seriously, do not go shopping at Target again until you download Cartwheel. It will change your life.

So now I have Blair Witch on my shelf. I didn't want it to be this way. I could've spent the money on the far-superior Ouija: Origin of Evil in a couple weeks, yet here we are. I'm sure I'll have some thoughts on the bonus material later this week after I watch everything. Don't let me down again, Wingard! 

Lastly, Dr. Hollyfield recommended I watch Happy Birthday to Me in honor of my birthday yesterday. It's available on Shudder, so I'll be watching that tonight. 

Until next time,