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!

Life Is… (Li Kunwu)

Like any big meal, it takes some time to digest what you’ve consumed and let the food settle before you can fully appreciate what you just went through.

The wait for a table, the anticipation growing with every waft of food that lingers by on outstretched fingertips as the waitress hustles order number 56 off to table twelve. The decision making process of what to order itself is an experience, and then the final push comes as you promise yourself to limit the dinner roll indulgences as you sit there some more as the food is prepared.

Finally, the food arrives.

You take it all in, and consider the journey you are about to take. It’s never what you pictured in your mind, but any good chef is capable of surprising you, and hopefully she has laid a good foundation for your senses to adapt to dinner.

 

Or maybe this is all just a metaphor for a book I read last month, and finally got around to writing about in early April.

Tracing A Remarkable Journey

The author of about thirty books, Li Kunwu has been a central figure in The Daily in Yunnan for decades now. He is has made painting, drawn comic strips, and published his own works, one of which I personally read recently as part of my monthly book exercise.

Can you guess what theme he fits into?

It’s actually two categories – LIFE and LOVE.

A Chinese Life is an autobiography presented in a graphic novel format, and it chronicles the journey of Li Kunwu throughout his life in China. He was born in the 1950s, so we get to experience the development of the People’s Republic of China through his youthful eyes. A member of the People’s Liberation Army, Li manages to recapture his own memories in a way that is both intimate and large enough in scale to be understood by an average historical student. There are parts filled with humour and with drama, but it never feels too heavy in one camp or the other.

It takes a few sessions of concentrated reading to get through, coming in at about 700 pages worth of content, and to be clear, the combination of text and image is at almost equivalent distribution.

Read Army

 

What I found most interesting in reading this story was not how little I really knew about The People’s Republic, nor how little I knew about Li himself. What I found most interesting was how well his story translated to english and how despite all of the seemingly incredible adversity he faced over his lifetime, that a lot of his struggles were universal.

From learning how to relate to his father, to finding love, to discovering his purpose in life, to simply living and experiencing a host of different things, A Chinese Life is an excellent demonstration of a life lived full. And Li does follow his purpose, all the while choosing to believe in what he has believed in from a young age.

It’s incredibly rewarding to see him make art to serve the purposes of a party member hairdresser, and how he finds ways throughout his youth all the way into adulthood which make him into a better artist, and which often tie in directly with his political climate. Illustrating for propaganda posters and newspaper cartoons alike.

Even when Yunnan has it’s first life model class.

And eventually we reach a point well into Li’s adult life, after his father has died, he has been through a divorce, and is taking care of his child as a single parent, that he meets a French writer and diplomat at a comic book convention. This is the point when the story begins to wrap up, and we have a moment to reflect on what we’ve been witness to.

The Modern Age

This is a story all at once encompassing and yet missing details.

Much like any good story, things have been embellished, while other pieces have been glossed over and left out. For instance, as much as I enjoyed the journey from youth, to adulthood, the final 100 pages or so seem sparse and cover a great period of time. This is intention of course, otherwise we’d be left with a 1400 page graphic novel, and I’m not sure that many people would have picked it up.

It is fascinating to see the world through the eyes of someone on the other side of it, and especially of one who holds a different political viewpoint then we are used to, but then again, life is… complex.

At least that’s my theory.

Tim!

Love On Repeated Viewings (Cross Talk Ep. 20)

Do you believe in love at first sight? Or should I walk by again?

Some people swear by the theory that true love happens once in a lifetime, that love conquers all, that we can fall in love instantaneously, our one and only special someone is always nearby, and a host of other dreamy ideals.

But while we all love to hear a good story about someone reconnecting with an old friend and it working out, that is definitely the exception and not the rule. The rule is pretty much this, love is based on chemistry. Not the intangible ethereal substance which connects one person to another via romance, but literal chemistry based on biological sciences. We tend to be attracted to that which we already know and what we are like ourselves.

Like attracts like.

So if you spend more time understanding what initially attracts you to someone in the first place, you’ll be better equipped for companion love over a lifetime.

Art, Love, and Time Travel

Film does a great job of demonstrating the power of love, both within it’s themes and as a vehicle of interest. For instance, I love some films immediately, but others need a few sit downs before I really engage with them, still others are enjoyable at first but lose their lustre over time, and some will never have my attention.

But today we want to discuss the films which are better representations of enduring and companion type love, films which get better on subsequent viewings and which enrich you over time. These films can be instantaneous winners, slow burn thinkers OR surprising dark horses, but no matter how they hit you, they’re better on a second viewing.

One of the more impassioned debates Chris and I have had in a little while, but rightly so, we’ve discovered that aesthetics, love, and time travel often demand a second viewing before you’ll be committed fully.

Episode number twenty of Cross Talk is surely our best one yet. But don’t take my digital word for it, click on the video and see for yourself. Otherwise you might never learn what two movies got Chris up in arms over my sidewinder commentary!

Enjoy creative cuties!

I bet you weren’t expecting such a huge list of movies in a short twenty minutes were you? You’ll probably have to go back and watch this one again to really experience it all, at least that’s my theory anyway…  But honestly, what did you think of our choices? Would you have suggested something different? Who do you think won the debate? Please join the conversation and let us know what you thought!

Please comment, subscribe, and share this video with friends. We want to hear your feedback!

Tim!

Down And Out (Manchester By The Sea review)

Life is an inexplicably complex thing, which we are constantly striving to simplify for ourselves. Unfortunately this is neither realistic nor healthy for us. We have to confront our problems head on, for fear of losing ourselves to a sea of sorrows.

 

 

 

Manchester By The Sea (2016)

Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
released on blu-ray February 21, 2017
********* 10/10

manchester_by_the_sea

IMDB: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, Audience Score 80%
The Guardian: *****/*****

 

Kenneth Lonergan is an American playwright, screenwriter, and director.

Something of a selective creator, he’s best known for his writing ability, having written the scripts for Analyze This, You Can Count On Me, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Analyze That, Gangs of New York, Margaret, Manchester by the Sea, and an upcoming miniseries called Howard. His directorial offerings are a little more slim but stemmed from his writing career – You Cant Count On Me, Margaret, Manchester by the Sea. I should also mention that while Lonergan is also a little slow to the table with his creative projects, when he serves as both director and writer, something good consistently happens.

Manchester by the Sea is the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), an anti-social janitor and handyman in  Quincy, Massachusetts, who learns from a family friend that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has had a heart attack. Unfortunately Joe dies before Lee arrives at the hospital, and Lee heads to his home-town Manchester-by-the-Sea to bring his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) the news. While arranging the funeral, Lee learns that Joe wanted him to be Patrick’s guardian.

Lee is unwilling to move back to Manchester, but does not want Patrick to be with his alcoholic mother, so he works to move Patrick to Boston instead. Patrick has many friends, two girlfriends and is in a band; he hates this idea.

We also learn that Lee used to live in Manchester with his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and their three kids, but due to a mistake he made while intoxicated, a house fire took the lives of the children. He was never prosecuted, but Randi blamed him and they divorced. Lee then attempted suicide in a police station after he was found not guilty, but was contained. He moved to Boston shortly afterwards.

While they wait for the ground to thaw, Joe’s body remains in cold storage,and Lee stays in Manchester. Uncle and nephew become better friends and eventually Patrick’s mother Elise finds out about the situation. She offers to take Patrick in, but her sobriety is largely the responsibility of her controlling fiance Jeffrey. Lee also runs into a remarried Randi and her newborn. She regrets the things she said and confesses she still loves him. Lee does everything he can not to break down and leaves because he cannot stay in Manchester with her – He later picks a fight at a bar.

After finally arranging for family friend George to act as a legal guardian for Patrick, the pair have a heated discussion about why Lee cannot stay in Manchester any longer. After the funeral, Lee lets Patrick know that he is searching for a place with an extra room, so that Patrick can visit whenever he wants.

Pros: This might be a cliche, but this film is affecting. I was genuinely bummed out after watching it. The combination of raw performances, subtle scoring choices, and a well-laid script that pulls right out of the everyday make this film about death and mourning all the more powerful.

Cons: It takes a really long time to make it’s major points and there are a couple of moments where it feels like more of an exercise then a story.

Runtime: 2 hours 17 minutes

Points of Interest: This is the first film distributed by a streaming service to get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Matt Damon and John Krasinski were originators of the idea, asking for Damon to direct and Lonergan to write, and Damon to star in it, Damon eventually opted out due to scheduling conflicts, but remained on as a producer.

Lonergan understands intimately that life is full of grief. Wrongs which are never corrected plague us and while it can be nice to assume a storybook ending from a film, sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. The character of Lee is an excellent case study of a life unfulfilled, a responsibility not asked for, and working around the pain. A story about life lived in the world as it is, loose ends and all.

theories Summarized

Allegations and personal issues of Casey Affleck aside, the arresting nature of this story, and what it addresses capture the pains of life. It seriously broke my heart to watch this movie, ever so slowly, because I’ve loved and lost, and I’ve been on the ends of good and of bad as well. Affleck never redeems his character, but the glimmer of movement forward despite that unresolved pain makes it a worthwhile story, at least that’s my theory anyway.

Tim!