A Monster Calls
Rated PG-13 for mature themes and scary images
Beleaguered Boy Befriended By Tree In Bittersweet Escapist Fantasy
Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is understandably miserable. First of all, the 12-year-old’s divorced mom (Felicity Jones) is terminally ill. Second, they’re both estranged from his father (Toby Kebbell) who has long since started another family over in America.
Third, Conor is tired of being mistreated by his cold-hearted grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) who cares more about her prized possessions than his welfare. And finally, he’s routinely teased at school by a bully (James Melville) about always being off in his own dream world.
So, it’s no surprise when Conor starts being plagued by nightmares on a daily basis. A few minutes after midnight, the giant yew tree (Liam Neeson) standing in the graveyard outside his bedroom window turns into an intimidating, anthropomorphic monster.
Despite its imposing presence, the beast gradually gains the kid’s confidence, agreeing to tell a trio of insightful allegories on the condition that Conor reciprocate with one of his own. The idea, ostensibly, is that there will be a meaningful lesson to be learned from each of the parables.
That is the point of departure of A Monster Calls, a bittersweet escapist fantasy directed by J.A. Bayona (The Impossible). The movie is based on the illustrated children’s novel of the same name by Patrick Ness who also adapted it to the big screen. Ness’ award-winning book was inspired by the late Siobhan Dowd, who passed away before she could tackle the semi-autobiographical project herself.
The film is less a feel-good flick than a picture about making the best of a bad situation. For, the monster’s stories paint a sobering picture of life that’s anything but rosy. However, they do ultimately enable Conor to own up about his deepest fear, when it’s his turn to share.
Given the mature themes and the dire plot developments, it’s hard to recommend A Monster Calls for vulnerable youngsters. Nevertheless, it is unique in its approach to preparing a tweener to processing an impending tragedy.
A visually-enchanting, if fateful, fairy tale.
Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 108 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening January 6, 2017
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The Ardennes (Unrated) Reconciliation drama revolving around a repentant robber’s (Jeroen Perceval) helping his recently-paroled brother (Kevin Janssens) readjust to society after serving time for a brutal home invasion they’d both committed. With Veerle Baetens, Jan Bijvoet and Viviane de Muynck. (In Flemish, French and Dutch with subtitles)
Arsenal (R for graphic violence, pervasive profanity and drug use) Crime thriller about a successful businessman (Adrian Grenier) who enlists the assistance of a private detective (John Cusack) after his mobster brother (Johnathon Schaech) is held for ransom by a ruthless crime boss (Nicolas Cage). Cast includes Lydia Hull, Heather Johansen and Christopher Coppola.
Banking On Bitcoin (Unrated) Financial documentary examining the disruptive effect that the alternative currency Bitcoin has had on the mainstream economy. Featuring commentary by Wences Casares, Nathaniel Popper and Senator Rand Paul.
Between Us (Unrated) Romantic comedy chronicling an eventful day-in-the-life of a couple in crisis (Ben Feldman and Olivia Thirlby) dealing with their fear of commitment as well as social pressure to tie the knot. With Adam Goldberg, Analeigh Tipton, Lesley Ann Warren, Peter Bogdanovich and Scott Haze.
Master (Unrated) Action thriller revolving around the white-collar crime detective (Dong-won Gang) leading the investigation of a multi-level marketing company suspected of perpetrating a massive fraud all across Korea. Supporting cast includes Woo-bin Kim, Byung-hun Lee, Dal-su Oh and Ji-won Uhm. (In Korean with subtitles)
Railroad Tigers (Unrated) Jackie Chan stars in this action comedy, set in occupied China during World War II, as the leader of a ragtag team of freedom fighters who ambush a Japanese military train for some desperately needed provisions. With Jaycee Chan (Jackie’s son), Zitao Huang and Kai Wang. (In Chinese with subtitles)
Retake (Unrated) Homoerotic drama revolving around a lonely, middle-aged businessman (Tuc Watkins) who hires a male prostitute (Devon Graye) to accompany him on a nostalgic road trip to the Grand Canyon. Featuring Derek Phillips, Kit Williamson and Andrew Asper.