Tuesday’s Reviews – A Monster Calls (2017)

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I’ve literally just got back from watching Logan and am desperately trying to finish today’s review. My original plan was to watch something yesterday and write it up ahead of time so I wasn’t rushed. Instead I spent most of my day off asleep and only just had time to watch today’s film. As I have such a small window here I’m waiting until next week to write up Logan because I want to do it justice. Although, spoiler alert, I fucking loved it! I knew I would but it was so good. Despite the fact the we waited for a post-credits scene and there wasn’t one. It was just nice to sit and take events in whilst listening to Johnny Cash. I guess it’s good that there wasn’t actually anything after the credits. It ensure that the ending was as powerful as it needed to be. Gah, it was an emotional experience which means after watching A Monster Calls yesterday means I’ve been emotionally drained for the past 2 evenings. I need to start watching some happier films.

I’ve only ever read one Patrick Ness book and, if I’m honest, I really didn’t think that highly of it. It was The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which has to be one of the most disappointing reads for me. It sounded like such a good concept but it was wasted. So I haven’t bothered with any more of Ness’ works because it just seemed like the type of YA nonsense that gives Young Adult fiction in general a bad name for me. I know there must be good YA out there but I haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of it. Anyway, as a keen member of the Bookstagram community I have heard plenty about his children’s book A Monster Calls. Certainly enough to get kind of excited when I saw the trailers for the film and heard Liam Neeson’s voice coming out of the titular monster. However, I knew it was going to be sad but I wasn’t prepared for just how bloody sad it is.

A Monster Calls is the story of a young boy, Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall), who is dealing with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) terminal cancer, his overbearing and stern grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), the school bully, and his absent father (Toby Kebbell). After waking from the same nightmare night after night, Connnor encounters a monster (Liam Neeson) that springs to life from the Yew tree that he can see from his bedroom window. The monster will visit Connor and tell him 3 true stories. After the third tale, Connor must tell his own story and reveal his truth. The stories help Connor come to terms with his situation and force him to face the awful truth that he has been trying to suppress.

A Monster Calls is such a simple and heartbreaking idea. What must it be life for a young boy who is watching his mother die of cancer? It deals with very dark and mature ideas but does so in such a tender and beautiful way. The fantastical elements and the Monster’s animated stories all work well against the bleak nature of the tale to make it a deeply engrossing and incredibly poignant film. Everything builds toward the final act and when the payoff comes it has the ability to absolutely destroy it’s audience. It may slightly hammer its point home but it never loses sight of what it’s trying to do. It is offering wisdom about an important and horrible topic whilst never losing it’s compassion for the character’s involved. It’s not quite perfect but it does what it needs to.

I think my only thoughts would be that the film is still slightly too dark for a very young audience but older members will be drawn in with the visual aspects and engrossing tale. The monster itself, played by Liam Neeson using motion capture, is incredibly realised. There can be no denying that the film is a technical marvel. Everything integrates together to create something that is very unique but perfect for the story it’s trying to tell. It is a tale about art, legacy, truth and humanity. It is the story of about the love between a mother and child and the impact that can have on the people involved. The visual aspects of the film help give this a sense of fairy tale and allow it to transcend reality.

However, thanks to the fantastic performances from the human characters, the harsh reality of Connor’s situation always remains. Connor is a boy who is having to grow up too fast and deal with emotions that he is not ready to deal with. He has nobody to turn to and is left unsure of where to turn. You can’t help but be drawn to him and Lewis MacDougall’s performance is vulnerable and hard to ignore. Something that works so well with Felicity Jones’ role as his mother. She is both strong and weak. A mother wishing to shield her son from pain but realising that she no longer can. It is a heartbreaking performance that, along with MacDougall’s, will have everyone weeping before the credits role.

A Monster Calls has a difficult job to do and a difficult story to tell. Whilst it doesn’t always manage to establish the type of tone it was striving for or achieve the purpose it wanted. However, it always manages to keep you guessing and always avoid being predictable. It is repetitive and unsubtle but is manages to be something that will keep you watching. It’s the kind of dark and creative kid’s that will no doubt be mostly appreciated by an older audience. I’m just glad that I didn’t watch it in the cinema. It would have been a pretty messy affair.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Felicity Jones, films, fucking tragic, Gareth Edwards, George Lucas, review, sci-fi, Star Wars

I obviously have a lot of love for Star Wars fan. I mean I am one myself and so are a load of my friends and colleagues. They’re a great bunch of people who share an often insane amount of love for a really great set of films. However, they are an infuriating bunch of people. Or, at least, a select group of them are. When The Force Awakens opened last December people were rejoicing that JJ Abrams had undone the damage of the prequels by making a decent Star Wars film but there was still criticism that the film was too much like A New Hope. I can see what they mean but their argument is absurd when you consider how pissed off they were about the prequels: three films that went wildly beyond the scope and lore. So we’ve learnt that Star Wars fans don’t want anything new nor do they want anything old. Well, is it any wonder George Lucas couldn’t do a damn thing right when you’re all so fucking undecided? It meant that there was even greater risk for the newest film Rogue One because it was bridging the gap between old and new. It was telling the, as yet, untold but all too familiar story of how the rebellion got their hands on the plans for the Death Star. With news of its release came the usual questioning of “is it necessary?” and people claiming enough was enough. I can’t help but feel that Star Wars fans needs to take some tips from the Harry Potter fandom. Those guys are always after more: even when it’s absolutely balls.

There are a few questions that have remained unanswered since the opening of Star Wars in 1977. Like how did the rebellion get their hands on the Death Star plans and who exactly put that very convenient flaw that made it so easy to destroy? Rogue One goes out to answer those questions as newcomer Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) finds herself unwittingly caught up in the fight against the Empire. As a child Jyn watched helplessly as her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelson), is taken away by Imperial Officer, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and her mother is shot by Stormtroopers. Turns out that Galen and Krennic are the two scientist that were given the task of creating the Empire’s great weapon, the Death Star and the job needs to be finished. Years later, Jyn is broken out of prison and asked to get them a meeting a rebel extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) in order to find her father. Unfortunately, the deadly weapon has already been completed but an Imperial defector supplies a message from Galen describing a secret flaw that is to be the Death Star’s undoing. With this new information, Jyn must rally the troops to help her steal the plans and get them into the hands of rebel forces.

Really, Rogue One is attempting to fill in certain gaps between the end of Revenge of the Sith and the start of A New Hope. The ending isn’t exactly a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the first film in the franchise but that doesn’t mean it’s not a pleasant journey getting there. I’ve always been the kind of person who enjoys seeing a familiar story from a different perspective: heck I even have a certain love for the third Lion King film, which showed the events of the first film from Timon and Pumbaa’s point of view. So, Rogue One introduces us to a whole host of new faces whilst reintroducing us to a few that we haven’t seen in a long time. A lot has been said about the animation of Grand Moff Tarkin and I really want to address it in an additional post. However, I will say that I was glad to see Tarking back, because it was needed in the time frame, but I think the whole CGI thing just didn’t work. Every time he was on screen it was like the fucking Polar Express. It was just too weird and awful.

Still, as I said, I was glad he came back. Rogue One is full of in-jokes, references, and Easter eggs that will keep fans happy. I’m exactly the kind of person that filmmakers love because I instantly get all giddy when I see someone i recognise or hear someone reference something from the old films. I can see why some people would see it as a negative because it does feel like pandering. But, really, we’re dealing with the same time-frame as A New Hope so it makes sense that all these people are still around. I mean, if Grand Moff Tarkin wasn’t around for the inaugural firing of the Death Star’s laser then you’d have to ask why he was running the space station only days later. And why wouldn’t the rebels that we see in the first film also be debating what to do about the Death Star plans? Yes it’s a film that pays fan service but it’s done so well that it really doesn’t matter.

That’s not to say that there isn’t also something to be enjoyed from the new material. Pretty much all of the new characters are great additions to the Star Wars universe and Felicity Jones has made herself a fine addition to the roster of powerful females in these movies. Her rebel cohorts are equally welcome and, pleasingly, add a certain amount of moral ambiguity to the rebellion. We’re used to seeing Luke and Leia, who are two wholly good characters, fighting against the evil Empire. Whereas, Rogue One introduces us to the people who had to make tough and immoral choices for the greater good. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a rebel Captain, puts even Han Solo to shame in the anti-hero stakes with his willing to kill whenever the need arises. The original trilogy wanted us to see that everything is covered in darkness but it isn’t until Rogue One that we really see the price the rest of the Galaxy has had to pay.

It is great to finally see the dark and depressing consequences of the rebellion and, aside from the people you know from the future, nobody on screen is safe. It’s true that we don’t really get much time to get to know the new group of people putting their lives at risk to save the Galaxy but there are some stand out characters. Alan Tudyk is fantastic as the plucky robot K-2SO. He’s sort of like a mix between C-3PO and Chewbacca and manages to get all of the best lines. Unlike Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind warrior who strongy believes in the force, who basically says the same thing over and over or his friend Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) who is more of shoot first ask questions later kind of guy. Of course, it would have been nice to get more of a chance to get to know these characters and less time on the confusing and unnecessary beach battle near the end. That is, I think, my major criticism of the film. The final battle between Rebel and Imperial fighters just feels out of place. It is kind of distracting to the point and it isn’t as well done as some of the bigger battle in the original triology. It doesn’t add anything to either this film or it’s predecessors.

When it comes down to it though, Rogue One is the best of both worlds. It tells a good and new story without veering too far from familiar ground. It is an exciting Star Wars film with a great cast of characters. It is by no means perfect and, like every Star Wars film to date, suffers from occasional dreadful dialogue and too many ideas. Still, it was an absolutely amazing film and one I intend to watch again as soon as possible. I remember walking out of The Force Awakens and feeling satisfied but not necessarily hungry for more. This film left me stuffed but still willing to reach in for another helping. And, without spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, the final scenes are some of the most incredible Star Wars moments of all time. This just goes to show, we don’t need Jedi, Skywalkers, and Solos to have a great Star Wars film.