Too Old To Be A Kid, Too Young To Be A Man (A Monster Calls review)

Why is the stories from our youth always seem to have the most impact on us as adults? They leave a legacy all their own and one which compounds over and over again, creating ripples in the lives of those around us.

 

A Monster Calls (2016)

Cast: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Liam Neeson, James Melville
Director: J.A. Bayona
released on blu-ray March 28, 2017
********* 9/10

IMDB: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, Audience Score 88%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Juan Antonio García Bayona, better known as J. A. Bayona, is a Spanish film director. He is the guy responsible for The Orphanage, The Impossible, and now A Monster Calls. Which should probably have been called The Monster. Just saying. Anyway, he is now set to direct the fifth instalment of the Jurassic Park film series, Jurassic World II.

Bayona is now going three for three, so I’d say it’s a safe bet that this is a heartfelt and glowing review. Just look at the plot, if you don’t believe me. Taken from Wikipedia…

Young Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) must face his mother’s (Felicity Jones) terminal cancer, his strict grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), his estranged father (Toby Kebbell), and his school bully, Harry (James Melville). One night at 12:07 a.m., Conor encounters the tree-like Monster (Liam Neeson), who tells Conor it has come to relate three true stories, after which Conor will tell the Monster his own story, the truth behind his nightmare. They continue to meet at 12:07 to tell the stories.

First story

An old king who has lost his entire family, save a young grandson, remarries a beautiful young woman. He dies before the prince comes of age, and many believe the queen poisoned the king. Not wanting to hand the kingdom over to the prince in a year, she plots to marry the prince and remain queen. The prince runs away with a farm girl he loves. They stop and sleep under a yew tree (the Monster), but in the morning he finds the young woman murdered. The prince tells the villagers that the queen, a witch, must have done it, and they rally to overthrow her. The monster awakes and joins the mob. Before the commoners can reach the queen, the Monster carries her away to a far-off land where she lives out the rest of her life in peace. Though she was indeed a witch, she did not kill the young woman or the king. The prince had murdered the young woman in order to inspire his people to back him into overthrowing the queen.

Second story

An apothecary follows old traditions and beliefs, using herbs and brews to cure ailments. His business becomes less popular as a local parson tells his congregation not to accept the apothecary’s old ways. When the parson’s two daughters become sick, the parson asks the apothecary to save their lives 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 promises to give him the tree and deliver the parishioners to him as customers. Yet the apothecary says that he cannot help, 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 greedy man, he was a healer and would have saved lives, including the girls’, if the parson had allowed him his way of life. The parson was a man of belief, but was willing to discard his beliefs when they were in the way. 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. Belief is half the cure.

Third story

A man was invisible because no one ever saw him. Tired of this, he summoned the Monster to ensure people would take notice.

Fourth story

Conor must confront his nightmare to tell the fourth story. His mother has been pulled to the edge of a cliff by a sudden collapse of the ground, and Conor must hold her hand to save her from falling. Eventually, his grip fails and his mother falls. The Monster forces Conor to confess the truth: Conor loosened his grip on purpose. While he could have held on longer, he let go in order to stop the pain of having to hold on. Conor ultimately understands the complexities of human beings, and that though he doesn’t want his mother to die, he understands it is inevitable and something he must accept, and that he wants the experience to be over.

After this, Connor returns, with the Monster by his side, to comfort his mother one last time, and she dies at 12:07. He returns home with his grandmother, who becomes caring towards him and gives Conor a room of his own, a room that used to be his mother’s. In the room he finds his mother’s old art book, which depicts the characters of the stories that have been told by the Monster, and a drawing of his mother as a child with the Monster.

Sad, thoughtful, and penetrating, A Monster Calls tells a story that we can all relate to, or at the very least, one which means something for the kid in all of us. I don’t know about you, but films which feature the loss of a parent always get me tearing up, but whether that is true for you or not, I can say with damn near perfect timing that Lewis MacDougall has the acting chops necessary to get you to feel the pain of bereavement. It simply is worthwhile.

Pros: The message is accessible, ushering away the monsters of youth with wonderment and fateful stories. Even the darkest moments of the film are made brighter by the authenticity of it’s narrative. Lewis MacDougall shines.

Cons: It can be a struggle to see Sigourney Weaver as a grandmother, and the bullies of the film feel more like pieces to be moved then real characterizations.

Runtime: 1 hour 48 minutes

Points of Interest: Liam Neeson appears as Conor’s grandfather in the photo of Conor’s mother as a little girl being carried by her father. The sixth time that Liam Neeson has voiced a CGI character –  three times as Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia franchise, Phango in Khumba, and Good Cop/Bad Cop in The Lego Movie.

Too old to be a kid, too young to be a man. That’s how this films opens on the story of Conor, who is watching is mother die of a terminal illness. Where the fantasy intersects with reality is the beauty of this story, and it reminds me of the widely underrated film, Bridge to Terabithia, which also took advantage of childhood fantasy as a device for growing up amidst personal tragedy.

theories Summarized

The stories the Monster tells are really and truly for Conor’s sake, to aid him in his healing. It’s all beautiful and symbolic given that the Monster is a yew tree (known for it’s healing properties), while the Monster and the stories he tells are in fact derivative of Conor’s mothers own childhood drawings.

Most of all there is something moving in knowing that Conor doesn’t understand everything yet, and that might not ever, and the theory that monsters aren’t always what they seem.

Tim!

Meet the Family (Easter)

I’ve written about Easter traditions before AND even included some perspective as it relates to the history of the arts… but today I decided to write about Easter as an influencer on life. My life in particular.  Because I was born in the spring and Easter is a movable holiday, sometimes it falls before my birthday, sometimes it falls after, and very rarely it happens on my actual birthday (read: two times) and I suspect won’t happen again in my lifetime.

This is because according to Catholic traditions, Easter follows the first full moon of the vernal equinox. A pattern unbroken.

Certain events are like that though. Even though they don’t happen on the same day of the week each year, they happen on the same calendar month or in some fashion which guides their timing on a yearly basis.

Secondhand Firsts

But not this weekend.

This Easter season I’m visiting my girlfriends family for the first time. Yay! I’m supposed to meet a lot of the family all at once, cousins, aunts and uncles, and close family friends. But not her immediate family.

You see dear readers, my girlfriend is a planner with a system for introducing partners to her family. She does this because she has a young son and doesn’t want to create too many waves for him in her personal life. Now, as for meeting the whole family. My girlfriend had an unconventional childhood, because for most of her childhood, her parents didn’t raise her. Shock. Gasp. Well at least not ever at the same time, and it was not them alone that did it.

Mysticque was also predominantly raised by her aunt for quite a few years. And so her aunt has served as a surrogate mother along with her aunt’s three children who affectionately become her younger brother and two younger sisters.

No big deal right? I’ve meet parents before, and I’m a fairly charming, clean cut guy who likes to bring flowers, give a big greeting, and make a great first impression. In fact, I think it’s because I’m so secure in my own identity that I can assure the men in the room of my good intentions, plus I dress sharply and get to know the family, which goes over well with the female family members.

But I’m nervous, because I love her. I want to get along with them and make sure she gets the approval, because I know in my heart of hearts I’m going to be with her. And that’s the first time I’ve written that down, and shared it with world.

Whew.

timotheories Summarized

I think this is a good time to meet her family. Because Easter is supposed to represent a time of Christ’s rebirth, the time of my own birth, and a time to begin again. Cause you know sins are forgiven if we accept Jesus as our Saviour. I’ll just say for now that I’m glad that I met Mysticque Moore. I love her, and no it’s not theoretical – she’s the muse of my life.

Tim!

Return of the Prequel (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story review)

Let me tell you a story from when I was a young lad. A story that always reminds me of the past, but not because it is of my own past, but because it is a story of another history, one of long ago and far away.

I first really and truly watched Star Wars when I was eleven years old. At Christmas time, no less. But I was actually exposed to it in would be one of many common experiences of my childhood. My dad was in the living room on a weekend evening  and I strolled in to find him just in the midst of a Star Wars marathon. I sat down and was enthralled immediately.

An odd kid looking to escape from the doldrums of youth. I had found one of my many happy places. Then again, as I mentioned, the next Christmas I found a box set of Star Wars under the tree with my name on it.

Thus began a lifetime of fandom.

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed
Director: Gareth Edwards
released on blu-ray April 4, 2017
********* 9/10

IMDB: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, Audience Score 88%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Gareth Edwards is a fairly young director. At age 41 he has directed only three major films. The first was Monsters, an independently made science fiction feature, followed up by the 2014 Godzilla remake, and now, the first of the Star Wars anthology films – Rogue One.

Rogue One is the original Star Wars fan film. It hits all the major heartstrings, while providing enough visual interest to feel different than the the original trilogy – a future that has already happened.

Now, I’m going to do my best not to retell the whole plot of Rogue One, because I think that this story deserves to be seen first rather then read. But I will give you a brief overview out of consideration for what this movie does.

Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson) has hidden his family away from the Empire. One day Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) arrives to get assistance in completing the Death Star. In the process Galen’s wife Lyra is killed, Galen is captured, while daughter Jyn escapes and is taken to safety by Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

Jump forward fifteen years, and Empire cargo pilot Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) has defected, and smuggled a message from Galen to Saw… One that will set forward the next three films in the main Star Wars story. During this story we see adult Jyn (Felicity Jones) meet fellow rebels Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), and Jedha temple monks Chirrut Imwe () and Baze Malbus ().

Cassian is on a mission to kill Galen, and prevent the Death Star from being completed, while Jyn wants to get Bodhi to the Alliance to prove her fathers worth. Because of this conflict Krennic does everything he can to tie up loose ends, destroying cities, killing members of the Empire and Rebel Alliance alike, even gaining the attention of Lord Vader.

In one of the most epic wartime sequences ever, we witness The Battle of Scarif, where the Alliance fights to gain essential intel on the Death Star. There are heavy losses on both sides, but in the end the Rebels gain a victory and set up the beginning of A New Hope – mere moments later.

 

This is a movie for the fans, made by someone who is a fan of the Star Wars mythology. With direct tie-ins to Episodes I, II, II, IV, and the animated series Rebels, Rogue One is Star Wars. Which probably seems vague, but what I mean is that it is so clearly miming the 1977 Star Wars film, before it became Episode IV, that it can’t help but make us happy. Because it looks new but retains that retro future aesthetic we’ve come to love.

Pros: The fast pacing and limited interactions we get with each character only further demonstrate the impact of war on life, appearing at once fully, and then suddenly gone. It expands upon the universe in a very satisfactory way.

Cons: After the bleakness and the hard won battle are over, you have to wonder if you really experienced anything new at all. Plus where is the charm? Also, I didn’t like Vaders red eyes, like at all.

Runtime: 2 hours 13 minutes

Points of Interest: The Rebel base at Yavin IV features the same kinds of cardboard cutout ships that the original movie did back in 1977. The is the first Star Wars movie to not mention the name of Skywalker in it.

Rogue One is a mad dash to the finish action-adventure film, and one where we know how it all ends. But it’s in the journey that we get to enjoy new characters like Chirrut and Baze, and witness Saw Gerrara as he fits into the mix, as a sort of de-powered Darth Vader.

theories Summarized

In light of my recent Cross Talk episode wherein we discussed movie Easter eggs, I would like to point out that this film is absolutely riddled with them – and some cameos too! Now to be clear, that doesn’t mean that I want to spoil the rest of my review by pointing them all out, but yes, R2-D2 and C-3PO do make a very brief appearance.

Is Rogue One perfect? No, but I can gladly admit that it holds true to canon, is entertaining, and if you are a fan, like the vast majority of the world is at this point, you’ll enjoy it too.

Tim!

Family Matters (The Flaming Lips, Oczy Mlody review)

Families are weird. And almost everyone thinks they have the weirdest of all, but let me assure you, they’re dead wrong.

These guys are the weirdest.

 

 

 

The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody
released February 13, 2017
********* 9/10

The Flaming Lips are an American rock band that loves their alternative, experimental, post-punk, psychedelic style, and I don’t expect them to give it up anytime soon.

Also, I’m just going to throw this out there, because I’m quite confident that it’s true. When I hear the songs on this album I can’t help but hear that distinctive Gorillaz sound intermingled in there, which makes me ponder upon the past for a minute or two… The Flaming Lips have been around for the better part of 3 decades, first forming in 1983, right? And Gorillaz only came to be in 1998, a definitive fifteen years later. So they have to have been influenced by The Flaming Lips right?

Which tells you something about me. This is my first Flaming Lips album.

I mean, I know about them. I’ve been fortunate enough to know they’ve made fourteen studio length albums in their career, but I never picked them up, mostly because I wasn’t too sure whether I’d like their sound.

It’s always the surprise albums that take your breath away.

What starts as a rather slow foray into the the fantasy world of castles, unicorns, wizards, frogs, et al. slowly becomes a backdrop for a message about the resurgence of hope. This is because Oczy Mlody, roughly translates to “eyes of the young,” from a Polish phrase these guys found. It makes sense given present company.

Over recent years Miley Cyrus has become something of an unofficial muse for The Flaming Lips. They even helped produce a twenty-three track album called Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz with her back in 2015. So it’s fitting that the old solidify the reputation of the young, and the young provide energy and relevance for the old. Best exemplified in closer track, We A Family, it is here that we get to witness some serious leg stretching on the part of The Flaming Lips.

As a track, it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the album, but is also the best part of it. It serves as an anthem of love, but it also ties all of us together into one big happy metaphor family.

Some of my other favourite tracks are The Castle, a perfect semblance of all that is sow and somber on this album, which is most of it. For instance, James Earl Jones delivers a monologue on unicorns in There Should Be Unicorns. It’s one of the saddest and loneliest space operas I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.

I don’t care that Metacritic scored it as a 6.9, most of those reviewers missed the mark here. This is a slowburn which only gets warmer and brighter upon subsequent listens, this I can be sure of.

 

The Flaming Lips have been experimenting for years, and I wish I had seen them for the loving weirdos they are so much earlier in my art career. Because I would have fit right in with them. And now they’ve managed to make me appreciate Miley Cyrus as the weird sister I never thought I wanted. Through the eyes of the young we are reborn. A beautiful melody indeed. But that’s just a theory right?

Tim!

Chick Chickadee, Chick Chickadee, Chick Chick Cheree (The Family Tree series)

Sharing is caring.

At least that’s what the old adage says.

It’s an indication that you are choosing to share something, whether physical or otherwise. But recognizing that you care about the person enough to volunteer something to them, to willingly give without hoping of receiving anything back in return, but knowing that when that feeling is reciprocated, it is all the sweeter of a bond.

That’s probably why my mom pushes us so hard to participate in the family Secret Santa gift exchange we hold each Christmas eve. The intention of the exchange is to draw a name and then make something for another family member on a limited budget. I think the reason she enjoys it so much is that it’s important to her that we do something special for each other, its how she shows love and also the way she feels the most love from others.

It took me a lot of years to realize that fact about her.

Commercial VS Personal

Which is why today I’m going to share one of my most dearly held theories with you.

The theory that there are only really two kinds of art to be made out in the wilderness.

Art that is primarily focused on it’s message or which comes direct from the author, and sometimes  is known as fine art.

The alternative, and this is not a bad thing… is art that is primarily focused on realizing another’s vision and which is paid for by another party upfront, also known as a commission or commercial art.

You see dear readers, you can either make art with the intention of getting paid first or about making a statement first, but you cannot do both. And it is possible for both components to be satisfied, but whatever path you choose will determine the pace of which each component is nurtured first and most. In other words, you can be a successful artist which path you choose, but it takes time to grow that tree.

Kickstart My He(art)

Which is why I made the choice long, long ago, that all of my art would have intention first and be about making a sale second. That was my decision to make, and mine alone, but every creative thing I have made since that decision has been far more rewarding for me and has led to some fantastic opportunities in other areas of my life.

It’s where I came up with the phrase “start with heart, then you’ll make art”

And now the tie-in.

I started this post writing about our family Secret Santa tradition because in 2016 I finally got an opportunity to fulfill a wish for my mom. To build a tree which would support her chickadee drawings that I made for her over six years ago. My mom loves chickadees and the last time I drew her name for Secret Santa, I made a group of them to represent our family.

So over the course of a few weeks this past December, and with a little luck, I was able to sneak into my parents house, borrow her chickadee drawings and determine how best to construct a tree for them.20161213_194924

20161213_19555020161213_195616

After I measured everything, I quickly determined that this project wasn’t going to be done in time no matter what I did. You see dear readers, by deciding what to do with the tree, I had effectively created a theme and an artist statement to go along with it, which made the project incomplete no matter how I resolved it.

The Family Tree

As I later wrote down in a handwritten card to my mother, this tree now represents her and the chickadees on it are her immediate family.

My dad, my two brothers, my sister, myself, and now my brother’s fiancee. So the project may be complete, and yet, it isn’t. As each of the children grow and potentially come into relationships, we’ll add more chickadees to the tree for her to support and love. And as grandchildren show up, there will be even more chickadees to fill that tree. A testament to her strong roots and protective branches, nurturing us with the leaves and berries that grow up and outward.

20170112_182136

So as you can clearly see, and as I have already mentioned, this is a project that while now completed, really has no end in sight, but the intention makes it all the more meaningful. And on top of that, as you are beginning to see, all of my artwork is related to conceptions of identity self-imposed, self-reflective, self-directed, etc.

I hope that this post has inspired you for yet another week out there in the wilderness, creative cuties. I’m out of theories for now. I’ll see you on Sunday with an interview preview, featuring a friend of mine named Byron.

Tim!