Tag Archives: Juan Antonio Bayona

A Monster Calls

“You must speak the most simple of truths.”

This time last year I was rolling out of a preview screening of Room decimated at what I’d just seen. I walked out of that film a complete wreck. This early in the year, I didn’t expect to have a movie comparable if not to the film, at least to the way it left me and the entire audience of screen 11 as we all walked out puffy eyed and blubbing at what we’d just witnessed.

12 year old Connor (Lewis MacDougal) is a boy teetering on the edge. His entire world is crumbling around him: His mother is deathly ill; he’s being bullied daily at school and; he and his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) most certainly do not see eye-to-eye. When he’s at his lowest and he can’t confide in his mum (Felicity Jones), he finds himself with a new friend. An ancient friend. A monster who finds his way to his bedroom window and introduces himself to the not-quite-a-teenager.

The monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) promises the boy three stories. Three tales to teach him the way of the world and by the end of them, the disillusioned kid will have a story of his own to tell; a “truth” that he’s too afraid to speak out loud. The monster is here to give Connor the strength and courage to face what lies ahead, no matter how hard a road he has coming.

No messing around, no silly shit. Go watch this film today.

While it might not be as emotionally affecting as the aforementioned Room, this tale of a young boy searching for courage is definitely up there when it comes to heartbreaking stories. The Orphanage director J. A. Bayona has created a beautiful film that has to be seen to be believed. Set in the grey and melancholy north of England, the only place to showcase your ideas is through the titular Monster and his stories.

Neeson’s monster is a thing of beauty. A giant, walking, talking tree that looks like Groot’s scarier older brother, who engulfs Connor’s house with his spreading branches. He is a magnificent creation. Between the excellent computer work, Neeson’s motion capture and voice performance, the towering beast that appears to wreck everything in its path is an early yardstick for filmmakers to measure their creature work for this year.

The only thing to contend with the Monster, are his stories. Told to us through a series of watercolour paintings that come alive at his voice, the gorgeous artwork is absolutely mesmerising. By the time the first tale is finished, I’m desperate for the reappearance of the creature just so I can hear and see him tell his next story.

Of course, the computer generated monster would be nothing without the character he needs to interact with to bring this story to life; and absolutely nothing should be taken from Lewis MacDougall. The young actor sells his part to us with such conviction that I feel so sad for him at each step. Every single emotion the young boy goes through, we go through with him. He gives it his all from the opening frame to the final scene. Man, that kid drags the tears from you, kicking and screaming if he has to, to leave you in more of a mess than he ever was by the time those credits roll. Supported superbly by Weaver and Jones, what this cast do is nothing short of phenomenal.

A Monster Calls is a beautiful film, on more than just the superficial level where it already thrives. Its superb world is complimented beautifully by those that fill it. Its steady build to its predictable finale doesn’t make it any less gut wrenching. In fact, you knowing what’s coming gives you time to let that pit in your stomach settle in before the boy’s final tale is told.

I’d definitely give this film a watch. Maybe two. The creature alone is impressive enough to warrant a big screen visit. I’d love to carve out a couple of hours to go watch it again, but I genuinely don’t think I’ve got it in me to sit through it twice. I’m definitely lacking the balls for visit number two. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from seeing the magical piece of cinema – just grab a few Kleenex on your way out the door.

The Impossible

The-Impossible

By Mike Shawcross

This review may contain spoilers.

Films depicting real natural catastrophes can be very hit or miss, and mostly they miss. Hollywood disaster movies often descend into melodrama and over-produced stylised action to raise the tension, and flesh out their simple survival plots. When these events are as recent as the tsunami of 2004, which cost the lives of over 200,000 people, and the images are still so vivid in our memories due to the large scale media coverage, is a film what we really need?

Maybe not, but the fact that this is a Spanish film with Juan Antonio Bayona (director of The Orphanage) in charge gave me some hope that the tragic events might be told in a more honest way. It also bodes well that Bayona decided not to specify the nationalities of the main characters, so as to create a universal film in which nationalities were irrelevant to the plot. I can understand the reasoning in casting an English-speaking cast, as if this had been a subtitled film a vast majority of people wouldn’t have bothered to see it. Of course this would lead to the inevitable American remake and the overproduction of the disaster.

Bayona centres his film on one family; a happy, normal family. If there are any tensions we are unaware of them; this isn’t a film about reconciliation or forgiveness. This is a simple story of survival, courage and hope against the odds that the members of the family are still alive. The fact that the film keeps them central throughout  makes it work even more for me. This is their story, their ordeal. It makes no difference that they are not locals, or even that they are Westerners; at the end of the day they were still part of this disaster. They were just lucky enough to survive it.

Maybe that’s why Bayona wanted to take this family’s story, because it is remarkable and it is worthy of being told. I think the director has done an excellent job. It’s an extremely sensitive subject and will invoke quite a few negative feelings and naysayers. I have no idea how survivors will react to it either, but I hope some commend Bayona for his efforts. The scenes of the Tsunami hitting the resort and the aftermath are extremely powerful. I really got an understanding of the force of the water, the speed the wave was travelling, and how helpless people would have been as it hit the land. The aftermath was devastating to look at as well, as Bayona shows us graphic scenes of the victims and the harrowing distress of the survivors from the family’s view point.

Naomi Watts (Maria) in a physical demanding role really delivers. Her emotion never seems false, and she is just superb. Her scenes in the wave are excellent; and we can really see the fear in her eyes. Alongside her, Tom Holland (Lucas) as the eldest son gives a solid performance for such a young actor. This is also the best I’ve seen McGregor (Henry) recently (he was ok in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, but here he really impresses). The score is quite simply beautiful, with pieces of music composed by Fernando Velzquez whose previous works include The Orphanage and Julia’s Eyes. He’s also composed the score for the forthcoming Mama, which is released in February.

My final thoughts are about the emotional connection I had with the story. I’m a family man with three kids, and maybe that’s why I was so emotionally moved by this film. That said, I suspect I would still have been moved by this tragedy if I was single. This is an uneasy watch about a disaster of massive proportions, but it is ultimately a powerful and uplifting story.