“Stories are wild Creatures. When you let them Loose, who Knows what Havoc they Might Wreak?” – A Monster Calls (Film Review)

 

So, the year keeps on ticking over, and the cinematic delights keep coming. We’re entering the crux of awards season and that means some of the year’s top releases vying for their moment in the spotlight. A Monster Calls is a film about fairytales and monster, family and truth, and is one of the best movies of the year.

Connor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is a lonely schoolboy trying to deal with his mother’s, Lizzie (Felicity Jones), terminal illness. While Lizzie is ill Connor is forced to move in with his Grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), with whom he has a strained relationship, as his father (Toby Kebbell) has moved to America with his new family leaving Connor isolated. Friendless and targeted by school bullies Connor is struggling to deal with his new living situation when one night the old Yew tree near his house (Liam Neeson) comes alive and visits him promising to tell three stories, but in return he wants Connor to share his deepest secret.

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J.A Bayona has built an impressive filmography in a relatively short space of time including The Orphanage and The Impossible, with his next project being the sequel to last year’s highly successful Jurassic World. It makes sense he would be tapped for the high budget project following his masterful direction in A Monster Calls. He captures the scale and physical presence of the Monster, who is fantastically designed by the VFX crew, whilst also allowing the more intimate moments of the film to flow trusting in the strength of Patrick Ness’s script. Lewis MacDougall is a terrific find, already with numerous credits to his name, he carries the emotional weight of the film with authenticity and his inner turmoil, his rage, his barely concealed anger always seems to be bubbling at the surface. The supporting cast of Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell and Sigourney Weaver all deliver exceptional performances as an ensemble. Jones is almost angelic as the wailing Lizzie, whilst the authoritarian Grandmother played by Weaver attempts to maintain order in the face of disaster. Weaver always delivers as an actor, never one to give anything less than exceptional and this performance is no different. Kebbell’s dilemmic display as Connor’s father is a contemplative, humorous and bittersweet role. A chameleonic performer this is one of his more understated performances and is all the better for it. The one actor I haven’t focussed on yet is Liam Neeson, who voices the Monster. A character who needs to be supportive, yet domineering. Enigmatic, yet intimate. An amalgamation of the various qualities of humanity, otherwise his lectures to Connor would not carry the necessary dramatic weight. Neeson is wonderful in his recitation as a storyteller-cum-guardian. A real delight. Whilst the Monster’s stories are brought to life by beautiful animated sequences evocative of the “Story of three brothers” animation from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One.

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I was lucky enough to catch a preview screening of A Monster Calls, with the film not out till the new year, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. A poignant, touching, charming and endearing tale of grief, sorrow and the unbreakable bond of family. A family drama disguised as a monster movie with a wonderful series of performances, a highly talented director at the helm and a terrific screenplay from the novel’s author Patrick Ness, this is one you should check out.

5/5

Dir: J.A Bayona

Scr: Patrick Ness

Cast: Liam Neeson, Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell

Prd: Belen Atienza, Mitch Horwits, Jonathan King

DOP: Oscar Faura

Music: Fernando Velazquez

Country: USA, Spain, UK

Year: 2016

Run Time: 108 minutes

A Monster Calls will be in UK cinemas from January 1st.

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“How far I’ll go” – Moana (Film Review)

2016 has been a bit of a bust, right? The constant deaths of famous individuals, conflict in Syria and Donald Trump have got a fair few people down. A shining light has been an impressive film year which has constantly delivered a strew of impressive cinematic treats. What have you got to kick off December then cinema? A Polynesian themed, Disney animated, musical directed by the pair behind The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Princess and the Frog starring Dwayne Johnson with music composed by Mark Mancina, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i. Good answer.

Disney are on a bit of a roll right now. In-fact following Pixar’s domination of post millennial animated cinema they have adapted and come back as possibly the strongest studio in CG animation. Pixar continue to make outstanding cinema, though the output has become slightly less consistent, and Illumination have potential but are yet to produce anything of the level of Disney or Pixar. Since Disney’s 2010’s Tangled they have been on a streak that I would argue surpasses the famed Disney renaissance of the 90’s. Moana confirms this. After the wonderful Zootropolis from earlier this year Moana is a beautiful, funny, charming film.

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Moana (Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) is an adventurous teenager with a natural affinity for exploration. She wishes to travel across the sea, however her father (Temuera Morrison) forbids travel of any kind fearing the dangers of the deeper ocean. The Island’s coconuts begin to rot, and the fish have all but vanished from the shallows. Moana’s free spirited grandmother (Rachel House) claims this is due to the Demi-God Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stealing the heart of the Goddess Te Feti. To restore the island Moana must find Maui and get him to put the heart back where it belongs.

With veteran directors Ron Clements and John Musker at the helm it’s no surprise that the film is a visual delight and is structured in an almost textbook Disney fashion. Speaking of textbook Disney, the music of Moana is truly wonderful with contemporary Pacific music band Opetaia Foa’i, acclaimed Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda and experienced film composer Mark Mancina collaborating to produce a set of wonderfully catchy musical numbers and a terrific orchestral score that complement the movie to wonderful effect. Moana rests heavily on the shoulders of 16-year-old Auli’i Cravalho and, the slightly larger shoulders of, Dwayne Johnson with the pairs chemistry and boisterous energy making Moana infectiously delightful. Cravalho is quite the discovery with an astonishing singing voice while Dwayne Johnson shows off some of his lesser known qualities with a song of his own (You’re Welcome) holding his own against the talented teenager. Supporting the two leads is a colourful ensemble of characters, voiced by Jermaine Clement, Rachel House and Temuera Morrison, who are wonderfully animated and brought to life by the actors. Special shout out to whomever oversaw the animating of Maui’s tattoos which are both visually impressive and hilarious.

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The problem with Moana isn’t in its technical prowess or performances but just that sense of familiarity. Unlike its main character, it never strays from the path, and earlier I mentioned that the presence of Clements and Musker gave Moana a textbook Disney feeling and I believe this is both a positive and a negative. It’s a modern updating of the kind of classic tale Disney would have spun sixty years ago, and fits as a great companion piece to their other modern features such as Tangled and Frozen.

Frankly we’ve been spoilt by animation this year to the point where Moana is, in my estimation, the third best animated feature of the year (with Sing still to come out in the next couple of weeks). This isn’t a slight against Moana, but an appraisal of the golden age of animation that we currently find ourselves within. This is definitely one worth checking out with plenty of laughs, great music and beautiful animation, and a chicken called Heihei who is categorically the stupidest character in Disney history.

4/5

Dir: Ron Clements, John Musker

Scr: Jared Bush

Cast: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Temuera Morrison, Rachel House, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk, Jemaine Clement

Prd: Osnat Shurer

Music: Mark Mancina, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i

Country: USA

Year: 2016

Run Time: 107 minutes

Moana is out now in UK cinemas.

“No one has ever Trained for an Incident like that. No one.”- Sully: Miracle on the Hudson (Film Review)

Did you hear about Rules don’t apply? Don’t worry if you haven’t because it bombed hard in the states so I can’t imagine it getting a wide release here. If you’re not familiar with the title then maybe it’s producer/actor/writer/director Warren Beatty will ring a bell. If you’re over a certain age then Beatty is probably recalled as a once great titan of cinema. A multi-talented throwback to classic Hollywood who has written himself into the history books. Beatty retired in 2001 but was finally lured back to the ring to craft a love letter to the golden age of Hollywood (Which would have been fine if the Coen Bro’s hadn’t done the same exact thing in February with Hail Caesar!). It didn’t go well. As Beatty’s possibly final entry to the pantheon of cinema was being quickly forgotten Clint Eastwood, at the age of 86, released Sully. It’s difficult to stay at the top of your game forever, time catches up to the greatest. Even lovers of a legend such as Stanley Kubrick would tell you that Eyes Wide Shut (his final film, released when he was 70) was mediocrity as directed by a genius. Sully is a really good film, not a classic that will be studied by imitators in years to come, but a well-crafted, brilliant acted, moving piece of cinema.

Biopics are a tricky genre to manage. It’s difficult to adapt a life story to cinema which is why the best biopics will have a specific time of focus (Such as that of Ava DuVernay’s Selma). Sully focuses on a few days in the life of Captain Sullenberger, or more specifically on 208 seconds of his life and the effect that has on him and the world. The structure of the film is well thought out, beginning with the aftermath and making the landing itself the second act. This also serves as the film’s highlight. In a subversion of what you would expect there is an eerie calmness to what his happening. You feel the intensity and the dread but Hanks and Eckhart specifically (in the role of Sully and co-pilot Jeffrey Sazlow) are remarkably relaxed and controlled juxtaposing with our expectation of what such a disaster must feel like. The authenticity of the water-landing and the rescue efforts that followed are without hyperbole and imbued with a sincerity that allows us to connect emotionally with the people involved. Hanks is unsurprisingly great, his natural charm and likeability are often mentioned but it’s important to remember that Hanks is a terrific actor of the greatest calibre, and a hardworking one at that. He is perfectly cast here, alongside Eckhart who isn’t dwindled by the presence of Hanks. He too excels. Eastwood’s economical direction is perfectly suited to the vehicle. We don’t need flashy, exorbitant camera sweeps here. Just a man with the experience to know what we need to see, what we don’t and how long for.

The only blight on Sully is that it’s a film. Someone along the line decided we need an antagonist to oppose Sully and that role is played by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) who investigated the incident. You understand their need to investigate but they are portrayed with an almost laughable amount of aggression culminating in a public hearing at the movie’s climax that goes a little bit too Mr Smith Goes to Washington for my liking, cracking the illusion of authenticity.

If Clint Eastwood should decide he has had enough of filmmaking (Something I doubt) and hangs up his hat, then Sully would be a fine epitaph to a phenomenal career. There are legendary directors with more skill, vision and sheer panache than Eastwood, he’s never prided himself on such attributes. Preferring a workmanlike approach that has worked for him throughout his career. Never more than a few takes for a scene, his camera is still and unnerving to match his stare and he always comes back for more. In the 15 years since Warren Beatty’s retirement Clint Eastwood has directed 13 films and won a couple more Oscars, keeping himself in touch with the ever-evolving language of cinema. Whilst Beatty’s accomplishments are undoubtedly written into the history of film Eastwood just keeps on writing. Time catches up to all of us they say, but if it has caught up to Clint Eastwood then he just told it to piss off, he’s got a movie to make.

4/5

Dir: Clint Eastwood

Scr: Todd Komarnicki

Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn,

Prd: Clint Eastwood, Frank Marshall, Allyn Stewart, Tim Moore

DOP: Tom Stern

Music: Christian Jacob, The Tierney Sutton band

Country: USA

Year: 2016

Run Time: 96 minutes