Tag Archives: Sigourney Weaver

A Monster Calls (2016)

I’m frankly a little stunned at how poorly A Monster Calls has performed at the box office. I remember the film getting a lot of buzz early on, and the trailer made it seem like the kind of emotionally-charged fantasy drama that critics adore . And the critical response was indeed kind (86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 76% on Metacritic). With a cast featuring Jynn Erso (ie, Felicity Jones), Sigourney Weaver and Aslan’s voice (ie, Liam Neeson) and directed by Spaniard JA Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible, and the upcoming Jurassic World sequel), you would think the film would draw in big numbers. Yet, the film has yet to make back its low budget of just US$43 million.

Personally, I liked A Monster Calls a lot. It’s perhaps not as amazing or enjoyable as I hoped it would be when I first encountered the initial buzz, but it’s nonetheless an unusual and original fantasy film with wonderful visual effects, powerful performances, and a good dose of heart.

Based on the eponymous novel by Patrick Ness, the film is essentially a coming-of-age story of a young boy (played magnificently by Lewis MacDougall from Pan) who conjures a giant tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) as a way of dealing with his single mother’s (Felicity Jones) struggle with cancer. Sigourney Weaver plays his traditional and strict grandmother, while Toby Kebbell plays his absent father.

As you can gather from that premise, A Monster Calls is a heavy film — dealing with death, bullying, and generation gaps — and I can understand if some people found it too emotionally draining to sit through. It also has a strange structure, in which the monster appears to tell fables rendered in stylish animation. Each fable has an underlying message, but it’s vague and subject to interpretation (think The Alchemist, if you’ve read that book), which could be frustrating or enlightening, depending on your perspective.

The colour palette is greyish and the tone of the film is dark — too dark for young children — and there are some scenes that could be described as scary or certainly unsettling. I wouldn’t say it’s anywhere near as creepy, but it does have a tinge of that Pan’s Labyrinth vibe. It’s got an odd feel to it, which I like  because it’s different and puts me on edge, though it could put a lot of audiences — both young and old — off the film. And I suppose that’s where it fails, as the film is too dark and heavy for kids and also potentially too confusing for adults expecting a more straightforward story.

That said, it’s hard for me to not appreciate the movie. The creature design is awesome, with the special effects capturing the weight and size of a moving, walking tree with all the fine details you would expect. The cast is fantastic, especially young MacDougall, who I believe is destined for stardom as he’s only 14. Felicity Jones is lovely as always, and the big surprise for me was Sigourney Weaver. It’s not just her ability to pull off the British accent either — the range of emotions and restraint she puts into the grandmother character is impressive. And of course, you can never go wrong with Liam Neeson’s powerful voice. You know the tree monster is a figment of the child’s imagination, and yet it’s done well enough that it makes you wonder — or is it?

So like I said, I recognise the weaknesses of A Monster Calls as a marketable film that appeals to audiences. It’s an emotional movie experience without a lot of laughs or joy, it’s too dark and it’s too strange. And yet, I found myself engrossed and hit by all the gut punches the film through at me. I like how it paints the cruel realities of the world and life through the eyes of a child and the ways we cope with stress and tragedy. Not for everyone, but if you are a fan of fantasy and like having your thoughts provoked and heartstrings tugged, definitely give A Monster Calls a try.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Abduction (2011)

Taylor Lautner’s Abduction ought to come with vomit bags.  The concept is interesting and the action is actually pretty good, but this film contains romance and dialogue so cringeworthy that it would make even Stephenie Meyer blush.

Now, before you label me a Lautner ‘hater’, I’m not.  Far from it.  I’ve been ‘Team Jacob’ all the way throughout the Twilight fan wars and I’ve even singled him out as the star performer of the last two Twilight films.  However, I’m not sure if it’s because of the overall calibre of acting in Twilight (that made him stand out) or the poor writing in Abduction (that he couldn’t avoid) but Lautner isn’t very good here at all.  Physically, he is impressive and gets to show off his martial arts skills (did you know he was a former junior world champion?), but emotionally his repertoire is limited to not much more than blank faces and heavy breathing.

Let me back track a little.  Abduction is not that bad — if you can ignore the worst offending aspects.  It tells the story of Nathan (Lautner), an athletic (and unnaturally ripped — yes, he does have a couple of gratuitous topless scenes) teenager who has a seemingly normal life until he discovers a photo of a kid that looks curiously similar to him on a missing person’s website.  Nathan begins to question who he is, and before long the CIA and deadly assassins are after him as he tries to piece together the mystery of his life.  It’s a great premise and it’s not hard to understand why the spec (ie unsolicited) script written by Shawn Christensen was sold for $1 million after it started a bidding war.

The action scenes may be unrealistic (they’re all practically indestructible in hand-to-hand combat) but they are occasionally exciting.  Lautner looks comfortable running around and punching things like a young Jason Bourne (is it blasphemous to compare?) and the choreography is fairly solid.  It’s a few notches down fromn Taken territory (most films are) but by the current standards of action films Abduction holds its own.

Super cast as well.  Maria Bello is the mother and Sigourney Weaver is the shrink.  The always welcome Alfred Molina plays a CIA agent and the original Mikael Blomkvist from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Michael Nyqvist) is the big bad baddie.

Unfortunately, Abduction is an obvious Lautner vehicle co-produced by Lautner’s family’s production company, and as such, the filmmakers felt they had to work extra hard at appealing to Lautner’s fan base — ie, teenager girls living in the Twilight dream land.  This meant a corny, persistent romance between Nathan and his neighbour/childhood friend/destined love interest, Karen, played by Lily Collins (the daughter of music legend Phil).

Apart from a pair of crazy eyebrows, Collins doesn’t offer much by way of interest or excitement.  She’s merely there so girls can picture themselves in her place when Lautner goes mentally overprotective on her (like Edward and Bella) and so Lautner’s teenage character can save her from highly trained assassin baddies.  She’s a hopeless character and is cursed with some of the worst dialogue in the film.  I am not kidding when I say I was writhing in agony in my seat during a couple of their conversations and I had to look away during one of the worst make-out scenes of all time.

And don’t get me started on the inconsistencies and continuity errors.  If even I could spot them then surely everyone could (how hard is it to maintain a limp?).

At the end of the day, while Abduction isn’t a good movie, it achieves some of the goals it set out to achieve.  Lautner got to be the main guy and the guy who gets the girl for once, he got to show off his bod and his martial arts skills, and as far as action is concerned, the film is more than adequate.  It’s all the other crap that drags Abduction down.

2.25 stars out of 5

PS: Personally, I’m happy for Mr Lautner.  He seems like a good kid who worked his butt off after he was almost replaced on New Moon by this guy and soared to become one of the hottest stars in the world.

Movie Review: Avatar (2009)

How do you follow up the highest grossing movie of all time?

Spend 15 years and more than $230 million dollars to make a technologically groundbreaking blockbuster!  Well, that’s exactly what James Cameron did with his latest sci-fi action masterpiece: Avatar.

In one word, Avatar is a ‘spectacle’.  Do yourself a favour and watch this movie in 3D because it is an unbelievable experience.  While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the special effects were entirely ‘photo-realistic’, it was pretty darn close.  My wife thought some of the computer-generated characters and creatures were partly built with models and make-up (as opposed to 100% CGI), and I’m sure she wasn’t the only one.  The computer-generated alien world was stunningly beautiful, and at times it was impossible to tell whether it was real or not (because some of it was real and filmed in New Zealand).

Without giving away too much of the plot, Avatar is set in a futuristic world on a distant planet called Pandora.  The title is apt but I won’t say anything more than that.  I was very disappointed with the previews, which, as always, gave away waaaaay too much.  Avoid them like the plague.  The film is predictable enough as it is without a start-to-finish synopsis of the entire storyline.  And besides, it really kills the ‘wow’ factor.

Avatar is the first genuine 3D film that I’ve seen.  The purpose of the 3D is to enhance the movie experience, not to act as a gimmick.  In movies like The Final Destination 3D or My Blood Valentine 3D, the 3D was all about making things fly at you at every opportunity, and it gets old quickly.  But in Avatar, it’s there to bring an amazing fantasy world to life, and it really works.  You become immersed in it.  You start to believe it is real.  The excitement becomes more exciting.  The thrills become more thrilling.  The characters become more believable.  It works.

New Aussie superstar Sam Worthington plays the lead character Jake Sully, and it’s easy to see why Cameron picked him (and recommended him for Terminator Salvation) out of thousands of ‘unknowns’ at the time.  He has this unassuming quality about him – an easygoing, down-to-earth disposition that makes it easy for you to root for him.  The rest of the cast is also solid – Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi and Stephen Lang as the imposing Colonel Miles Quaritch.  Each hold their own, though at the end of the day none manage to steal Worthington’s thunder.

I believe the critics have been less harsh with Avatar than they were with Titanic, though there are certain to be cynics out there.  Yes, it’s easy to point to the character designs and say they are a rip-off of the Smurfs (!).  Yes, the dialogue and jokes are cheesy (though some of it is intentionally tongue-in-cheek), it has stock-standard secondary characters, and the plot is entirely predictable.  And yes, it has the audacity to contain thinly-veiled but uninspiring messages about the environment, nature, and political greed (in particular American arrogance and self-righteousness).

But none of that really matters.  Don’t look too far for a deeper meaning when watching Avatar – just enjoy it for what it is – an awesome, utterly spectacular movie experience.  The action sequences, especially the lengthy final climax, are sure to go down as some of the greatest ever.  Despite being almost 3 hours long, I never once looked at my watch – my trusty yardstick for how enjoyable a film truly is.

Just days into its release, Avatar is doing exceptionally well, and may lead to the development of planned sequels, though I’m not sure that’s such a great idea.  That being said, I am already planning a second helping of Avatar – this time, of course, on IMAX!

4.5 stars out of 5!