Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

A Monster Calls (2016)

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Image is property of Focus Features, River Road Entertainment and Participant Media

A Monster Calls – Film Review

Cast:  Lewis MacDougallFelicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell, Liam Neeson

Director: J.A. Bayona

Synopsis: A young boy, battling with bullies and his mother’s terminal illness, finds an unlikely companion in a gigantic living tree, who teaches the boy tales about life.

Review: Growing up, no matter who you are, no matter your circumstances, is tough. Of course some may have it easier than others, but all of us as we leave our early years behind us enter a tricky phase in our lives, a period that is not exactly simple to negotiate. Now imagine if you’re in a situation where you’re frequently getting picked on at school, and your life at home is well difficult too, which again is something it is possible many out there have gone through. Yet what if, during these tricky and testing times, you were visited by a giant talking tree monster who came to you when you needed someone to talk to? That’s something certainly no one has ever had to experience, unless you’re the main character in this interesting delve into the fantasy genre, spliced with heartbreaking family drama.

Conor (MacDougall) is the boy in question battling all of these difficult situations in his life. Picked on by bullies, and with his mother (Jones) terminally ill due to cancer, his only solace is the titular “monster” a walking talking tree voiced and mo-capped by Liam Neeson, who in the dead of night, comes to Conor to tell him stories, all the while seeking to make the boy’s life happier. From a screenplay by Patrick Ness who also wrote the novel on which this is based, director J.A. Bayona steers this mesh of fantasy and real life drama and tragedy, into an extremely imaginative tale, that’s visually quite tremendous to watch, and gets some beautiful and emotional performances from its cast.

In what is only his second film role, MacDougall has much of the film riding on his shoulders, and for a young actor he rises to the challenge and does a tremendous job. He really conveys the unimaginable pain that someone in his position would be going through superbly well. Though his performance does wobble in parts, his emotion and rage against his circumstances ensure you feel for his character. Felicity Jones, on the back of Rogue One, gives also a very wounded and powerful performance as Conor’s mother. Though she is battling a terrible illness, she does her best to be positive and upbeat for her son’s benefit, and Jones could just potentially be a dark horse in this awards season race for best supporting actress. Signourney Weaver and Toby Kebbell do shine as Conor’s stern Grandmother and somewhat absentee Father respectively, but its Jones and MacDougall who are the leading lights, and they take home the acting plaudits.

There’s also the not so small matter of Neeson’s Tree Monster, a sort of Groot XL who can say a lot more than “I am Groot.” Through his booming voice and motion capture work, he brings the character to life brilliantly. Neeson has shown in the past he has quite the deep, powerful voice that has lent itself to the deity like figures of Zeus and Aslan, and as a tree like being, his voice and its deep tone is quite effective. It gives the tales that the Monster tells Conor really weight and ensures that they have the impact on the audience that undoubtedly the film makers wanted it to have. The tales themselves are told in a very intriguing manner, and doubt that it is extremely effective, at tugging at the audience heartstrings, and Bayona adapts the story beautifully, so much so that you might find it hard to fight back the tears once the credits begin to roll.

Visually breath-taking, combined with an emotional story that is not afraid to go in some dark and troubling places, that will hit home for anyone who has had a family member battling cancer, or experienced some rough years at school.

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Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Avatar (2009)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Lightstorm Entertainment, Dune Entertainment and Ingenious Film Partners

Avatar Film Review

Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribsi, Joel David Moore, C. C. H. Pounder, Laz Alonso

Director: James Cameron

Synopsis: A paraplegic former marine is recruited as part of a mission on the alien world of Pandora, to drive a hybrid body known as an Avatar, and soon finds himself with conflicting thoughts as to where his loyalty truly lies.

Review: If ever you were to talk about certain directors and their passion projects, then for the mastermind behind Aliens and the first two exceptional Terminator films, James Cameron, Avatar is most certainly his passion project. Back in 1994, the director wrote an 80 page vision for the film, yet his vision could not be realised due to the limited technology that was available to him at the time. As such, the project was put on the back burner, but years later after going through much effort to create a rich and immersive world, and finally that vision was truly realised, and it certainly was worth it.

The world of Pandora is immediately visually absolutely stunning and breath taking to look at, it looks and feels as though Pandora could be a place somewhere out there in the universe. The terrain and the wildlife are all so rich in detail, it is incredible to watch, and the indigenous people of Pandora, the Na’vi are also equally beautifully realised, again they feel as though they could be a species that actually inhabits a planet somewhere out there in the reaches of the universe. Cameron went to great effort to create their language and his endeavour absolutely pays off. It is so authentic and so beautiful, if it was a real place, admit it, you would want to go there. The visual effects are truly magnificent and the film absolutely deservedly bagged an Oscar for its astounding visual effects, it was a game changer when released back in 2009 and remains the absolute pinnacle of what a film can achieve in terms of visual effects.

Of course, a film with pretty visuals looks great but, being all style and no substance wouldn’t be any good to anybody. Fortunately, that isn’t the case as the screenplay, penned by Cameron does have substance to it. At the heart of the story is Jake Sully (Worthington) who after a death in the family is recruited to the Avatar programme, an arm of the human operation on Pandora which is seeking possession of an extremely rare mineral. With use of said avatars, Jake becomes a part of the Na’vi clan and soon falls head over heels for the fierce and strong willed Neytiri (Saldana). Yet the love story is only one facet of the story, with many themes running through it, some of them could be perceived as being very political, but it drives home the message in an emphatic manner, carrying plenty of emotion and suspense with it, and James Horner’s score, is equally brilliant.

As a leading man, Worthington is functional, but he could have been a lot more compelling and less monotone would have been helpful. Saldana though shines as Neytiri, she’s very well developed and a very capable warrior who certainly can hold her own against anyone. The chemistry between the two leads is for the most part, solid, but it is a bit iffy in other parts. Signourney Weaver is also excellent as Grace Augstine, the head honcho of the Avatar programme. The humans here though are the main baddies with Parker Selfridge (Ribsi) and Miles Quaritch (Lang) the principal antagonists, with Lang being the standout as a gruff colonel who won’t take any bullshit from anybody. Cameron is one masterful director and here he helms the action to an impeccable quality. It is a rare feat to make the audience want to see members of its own species fail, but everyone watching should definitely be on Team Na’vi when the shit starts to go down.

Avatar certainly was responsible for the resurgence in 3D, and that certainly helped boost its numbers at the box office, as it smashed records here, there and everywhere taking just seventeen days to make one billion dollars, before eventually ending up with a total of nearly THREE billion, or 2.788 billion to be exact, to earn the title of the highest grossing film of all time, a title it has retained to this day, and it will take an almighty force (Star Wars?) to take that title away. Or maybe given Cameron is planning on return to Pandora at some point down the line, that title will remain with this franchise, whenever that sequel will eventually arrive in cinemas.  One thing is for sure though, is when that sequel does arrive, there will be no shortage of people out there, keen to make a return to the vast and incredible world of Pandora.

An absolute visual masterpiece, rich with gorgeous and vivid detail, with some great characters and a for the most part compelling story with some powerful themes, Avatar remains a wonderful, breath-taking cinematic achievement.

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