By Michael Kaye
A Monster Calls (Review)
Still think January is the dumping ground for movies? Well, with the slew of Awards contenders expanding throughout the month, it doesn't have to be. And even if that wasn't the case, January is actually prime real estate to release a film that perhaps wouldn't be seen by as many people in any other month of the year. That could explain why Focus Features decided to release A Monster Calls nationwide this weekend.
Here's the story. 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is dealing with far more than other boys his age. His beloved and devoted mother (Felicity Jones) is ill. He has little in common with his imperious grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). His father (Toby Kebbell) has resettled thousands of miles away. But Conor finds a most unlikely ally when the Monster (portrayed by Liam Neeson in performance-capture and voiceover) appears at his bedroom window one night. Ancient, wild, and relentless, the Monster guides Conor on a journey of courage, faith, and truth that powerfully fuses imagination and reality.
I absolutely adored this movie, go ahead and call me a sucker for all I care. It feels like a Guillermo Del Toro movie as directed by Steven Spielberg, while taking the best parts from Disney's Bridge to Terabithia. Don't worry, I'll explain all of that in my positives and negatives.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
First off, the real star of this movie is director J.A. Bayona, who's best known for films such as The Orphanage, The Impossible and the upcoming Jurassic World sequel. And no, I do NOT take that Steven Spielberg comparison lightly, as it almost feels like Bayona took on this project specifically so he could collaborate with the man on a big blockbuster franchise such as Jurassic Park. That being said, it doesn't feel like just some cheap greatest hits knock off, but rather something more artistically satisfying. The Monster is a storyteller, so two of the three stories he tells Conor take place entirely in a water color fantasy world that just looks amazing. I can tell it's a mix of CGI and traditional 2D animation, and while I'm still patiently waiting for "Paperman" technology to be ready for a feature film, something like this will hold me over just fine.
Speaking of The Monster, Liam Neeson could not have been the more perfect choice to portray this character, assuming Vin Diesel was busy with either Fast and the Furious or Guardians of the Galaxy. All Groot jokes aside, I really liked this performance, as well as everyone else in the cast. Relax Lewis MacDougall, because of your nomination for Best Young Actor at the Critics Choice Awards, nobody's going to hold Pan against you, especially if you keep up this momentum for the next couple of years. Felicity Jones plays Conor's mom, and she's every bit as fantastic and she always is, playing a few different versions of the character between the present and some flashbacks in the form of home videos. Sigourney Weaver as Conor's Grandma is surprisingly more layered than I realized at first, and Toby Kebbell plays Conor's estranged Dad who now lives in America. So Hollywood, you promise to keep casting Kebbell in good movies that don't just require him to put on digital makeup, right? Please????
The movie was written by Patrick Ness, who also wrote the novel of the same name from an original idea by the late Siobhan Dowd. It's a story that really got me in the feels, mostly because I know what it's like to lose a family member to cancer. I was barely 10 years old when my Grandpa on my mom's side passed away from lung cancer, and even to this day it's still something I haven't completely gotten over. I can't dock points off this film for being emotionally manipulative, because this isn't just some corporate cash cow produced by committee. It's a story that's written with a lot of heart and soul, and even puts storytelling at the center of the narrative. One of my biggest takeaways from watching this was that unlike most movies and/or fairytales meant for younger audiences, this may not be the story they WANT to hear, but one they NEED to hear, as it could help them face their deepest, darkest fears.
That being said, one small nitpick I have to bring up is the bully subplot. It's only a nitpick because in the grand scheme of things, it needed to be there to flesh out the entire story. But just like I mentioned in my Hidden Figures review, you can't just have a bully in your story without putting a different spin on the archetype, or else it just comes off as cliché. Again, that may not be anyone else's problem, but it annoyed the hell out of me.
Finally, the score by Fernando Velázquez is amazing. Oh yeah, I forgot to elaborate on the Del Toro comparison, but it turns out this composer has actually worked with him before on Crimson Peak. He must be a pretty popular composer in Spain, and I can totally understand why. Give him a few more years, and maybe he'll turn out to be in the same league as some of his other contemporaries such as Alexandre Desplat, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Michael Giacchino.
A Monster Calls is another great film that I saw in January. That's right, today I saw two great films in a row, and both had some similar strengths and weaknesses. You're mileage may very when it comes to whichever movie you choose. If you're more of a history buff, I'd send you to Hidden Figures, but if you love fantasy and the craft of storytelling, definitely check out A Monster Calls.
Now, the floor belongs to you. Have you seen A Monster Calls, and if so what did you think? Also, if you have seen the movie, how excited did this make you for Jurassic World 2? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next review.