A Monster Calls is a gorgeous film with a big heart and without a thought in its head. It’s a fable of sorts. A type of story that wears what it’s about on its sleeve.
It is what it is and nothing more. A Monster Calls is a simple movie about a complicated moment in Connor’s (Lewis MacDougall) life. His Mum (Felicity Jones) is dying of cancer. That alone would make a dozen movies to be entered at Sundance.
But J.A. Bayona and his screenwriter Patrick Ness have added a Monster (Liam Neeson). The Monster acts as a storyteller. He shows up one night at Connor’s house and intones that he shall tell him three stories and then Connor must tell the Monster his nightmare. He agrees reluctantly. After all, when a Monster calls and tells you to do something it’s generally agreed upon you do it.
From here we know what happens. We know because like all fables it’s a story we’ve heard before. The Monster will tell Connor stories that are tangentially or symbolically related to what Connor is feeling about his Mum, her dying, his Dad, or his Grandma. Connor’s mum, Lizzie, will die from whatever disease she has. It’s never discussed. This is best. People who die of something nameless don’t have to work that hard for our affection.
“Dying is easy” as they say. Coming up with why someone is dying is hard. You tend to have to look up symptoms and talk a lot of medical mumbo jumbo. This is a kids movie. It would not do to talk mumbo jumbo.
I loved the scenes where the Monster told Connor stories. Especially the watercolor visuals that Connor imagined as the Monster weaves his tale. But then the movie would go back to Connor and his dying Mum, and his Grandma (Sigourney Weaver) and I could care less.
Time after time, scene after scene Connor acts out in such a destructive way that would have most other kids committed or at the very least sent to their room. He’s given a pass because as the adults intone, aware of his situation, “What would be the point of that?” Presumably, the point of someone being the adult to this poor messed up, possibly psychotic kid, is not something that occurs to them.
There’s a moment during one of the Monster’s stories he asks Connor to help him destroy a Church. The boy, who we’ve seen loves to destroy things, eagerly agrees. The movie does a jump cut to reveal Connor was not destroying an imaginary Church but his Grandma’s sitting room. This kid absolutely demolishes it. The moment is jaw dropping.
When his Grandma comes in and sees the damage, she is speechless. She lets out a primal wail and then backs out. I get it. It’s meant to show the rage and grief of a young boy, and how he’s so distraught, he can’t comprehend how destructive his anger is. His Grandmother’s reaction is appropriate. She has no idea what to say or do. She leaves before she’ll say or do something she regrets. The next morning Connor’s Dad (Toby Kebbell) shows up and makes him breakfast, but doesn’t reprimand him, saying “What would be the point in that?”. Shouldn’t someone pull him aside and say, “Look I get it you’re angry, scared, and confused. But kid, you just destroyed an old lady’s furniture and mementos of her life. Your pain doesn’t supersede everyone else’s.”?
But Jeremiah you say. “The movie is from the kid’s perspective. He doesn’t know any better.” I get it. But just because he doesn’t know any better, doesn’t mean the adults shouldn’t either. “But isn’t the point that adults shouldn’t treat kids like they’re fragile? Isn’t the point exactly what you’re saying, that someone should do something?”
I don’t think the movie has thought that far. The movie is pretty to look at, but you shouldn’t let that fool you into thinking it has any real thoughts. It’s mainly interested in being “magical” and “profound.” It tells us over and over, people are messy and complicated but never really shows us that they are. Connor and his brood are as generic as possible. His Mum is just Mum, his Dad is just Dad, and is Grandma is just Grandma.
These are not people or even characters. They’re stock personalities. Cliches would be nice. At least they have names.
J.A. Bayona is a brilliant visual storyteller, but when he’s forced to deal with the real world, he stumbles. The actors all turn in respectable performances. Considering what they’re given to play with it’s a miracle, they turn in what they do. The stories within the story are more fascinating and interesting than the story itself.
A Monster Calls is a kids movie, and they’ll probably enjoy it. It’s a dark, visually impressive, and possibly for them, even magical film. You should take your kids to see it. For those without kids, you can enjoy the fact you have no reason to see A Monster Calls.
Image courtesy of Focus Features
‘Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween’ Is Terrifyingly Dull
I have never seen a Tyler Perry movie before. If Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween is any indication I probably won’t be seeing another one for a good long while. In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you the screening I saw had projection issues.
Excusing the projection issues Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween is a startlingly ugly film. There’s a laziness and nonsensical quality to the most basic screen compositions. The whole film has a slip shod quality that makes it feel as if Perry literally slapped it all together the night before. The movie feels more like a rushed student project than an actual film.
One particular moment bothered me because of convoluted blocking that could have easily been solved with simple editing. Joe (Tyler Perry) is in the car, in the backseat. Madea (Perry) is outside with Hattie (Patrice Lovely) and Bam (Cassi Davis). She calls for Joe to get out of the car. Madea, Hattie, and Bam are framed in the right corner of the screen. We see Joe exit the vehicle, his face hidden. Joe then walks around the car in the opposite direction avoiding the trio. He then gets into the driver seat of the car and lays his head down on the steering wheel. He remains there for the rest of the scene.
On the left corner is another character. A little girl in a white dress, with damp strongly black hair. She’s a caricature of the girl from the Ringu series. But she’s just sitting there doing nothing. All the action is coming from Joe, so our eyes follow him. But why? Perry is just wasting our time, and his, by needlessly showing us how Joe moved from the back seat to the driver seat.
Of all the genres comedy is the one that both relies the least on a visual style and the most on visual style. Perry doesn’t need to reinvent cinema. He just needs to put the camera down and let Madea do the work.
As the title suggests, this is a sequel. From what I can gather the original was quite funny. I wish I had seen that one and not this dreadfully lazy inconsistent baffling mess of a film. Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween is more padding than story. It would be one thing if the padding was at all funny but it isn’t. There is almost no joy anywhere in this horrible misfire of a movie.
The story, I’m guessing, is roughly the same as the first. Brian’s (Perry) daughter Tiffany (Diamond White) sneaks out on her birthday the night before Halloween with her friends Gabriella (Inanna Sarkis) and Leah (Lexy Panterra). Once again the trio goes to a frat party, only this time the party is held at Lake Derrick, a riff on Crystal Lake from the Friday the 13th franchise. Madea overhears Tiffany plotting with her friends. She enlists the help of Hattie, Bam, and Joe to go out to Lake Derrick to rescue Tiffany and her friends.
Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween is as dreadful and disgusting as any horror movie. At one point Madea hits a small girl; the Ringu caricature. Madea and her friends debate what it was she hit. Madea suggests it was a deer. One of her friends says she saw a white dress. “Well maybe the deer was transitioning.”
There’s a deep vein of misogynistic patriarchal nonsense running deep through Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween. The young women in this film are forced into the most form fitting and curve displaying outfits while Perry and the movie loudly remind us they are eighteen. The frat boys ogle Tiffany’s chest, even as she is dressed as a schoolgirl because she has just left school.
At one point Leah is hiding in Madea’s Cadillac, alone with Joe. Joe, in the driver seat begins to ramble a string of obscene come ons while she squirms in the back seat clearly uncomfortable. Joe stops and asks if Leah is eighteen. Leah, who we know, is a year older than Tiffany, lies and says no. It’s a moment that made me laugh but it was an uneasy laugh.
Perry recognizes that Joe is repugnant, recognizes that Leah is smart enough to have to deal with men like Joe and can handle herself, but somehow doesn’t recognize he puts the onus on Leah for rebuking and not on Joe for being a dirty old man. Yes, Joe being a dirty old man is the joke, but it’s the type of joke that enforces and shrugs it’s shoulders as if to say “Well if she’s going to look like that and dress like that what do you expect?”
Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween so misses the point that in a scene where Gabriella is being groped by a frat boy and offered beer she cries out “I don’t drink. I’m a Christian.” A woman is being grabbed and touched against her will and Perry seems only concerned with telling us she won’t drink and that she is a Christian. Little is said of the unwanted touching.
There are moments within the film where Madea riffs and Perry’s voice is dubbed over to edit out the cursing. Places where Perry clearly says ‘damn’ are dubbed to ‘darn’. This is a cheap and cynical ploy to get the rating to PG-13 but it’s even more bizarre when there is a string of ‘darn’s’ immediately after Joe has just said ‘mother f*****’. Combine all of this with the vitriol Perry seems to aim at Madea by Joe’s constant mis-gendering of her and you have one of the more uncomfortable comedies I’ve had to sit through this year.
There’s a war going on in the very center of the film. The war of what it wants to be. Does it want to be a Tyler Perry moralistic sermon drenched in the sort of patriarchal patronizing he’s famous for? Or does it it want to be an absurd silly comedy that just allows it’s characters to live and breathe, foibles and all?
I’ll admit to laughing here or there but that’s because despite all the flaws, Tyler Perry is not untalented. Perry has charisma and Madea is a genuine comedic invention grounded in both reality and absurdity. Diamond White has presence and charisma, but her body is given more to do than her character. The movie has no teeth or spine.
Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween is a woeful excuse of a comedy. There’s a meanness and lack of focus that makes for a deeply boring and unsettling experience. Rarely have I complained about projection issues, had them fixed, and then spent the rest of the movie contemplating if I did the right thing.
Image Courtesy of Lionsgate Films
‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’ is a Lush, Nuanced Love Story
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is one of the best movies playing right now. It is a calling card for a new directorial voice in Angela Robinson. She has made a couple of other features but worked mostly in television. But with her latest effort, I can say that she is clearly a director to watch.
William Marston (Luke Evans), the creator of Wonder Woman, and psychologist is happily married to his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall). The two are working on a prototype for what will eventually be a lie detector and hire on a student Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) as a research assistant. Any other director would more than likely write this as a love triangle or some other melodramatic tripe.
Robinson instead takes a nuanced and sensual look at polyamory. The main thing Robinson understands about polyamory is that they are not all that different from ‘normal’ monogamous relationships. Like anything, it takes communication and understanding what the other wants and needs.
One of the great discoveries of Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is Robinson’s gift for dialogue. These are college educated people who sound like college educated people. Modern movies are so shy about having characters that might be smart they end up creating genuinely dumb characters and situations. There is a great dearth of emotional intelligence and dry wit peppered throughout Robinson’s screenplay.
William asks Elizabeth for three minutes of uninterrupted silence from her only to have her interrupting him mere seconds later as he begins to speak for her. “You promised!” He cries. “Well, that was before I realized you were going to be speaking for me.”
William and Elizabeth Marston are a sort of Nick and Nora Charles incarnate. They trade barbs as well as ideas. There is in a deep trust in their relationship as well as an abiding respect for the other’s intellect. The Marstons can take an argument about how William lusts after Olive, in front of her, and have the conversation devolve into Olive’s reaction being the key to fixing their troubled lie detector. Evans and Hall have a rhythm in how they talk to each other, a type of shorthand.
Heathcote’s Olive role is the long-missing ingredient to the happy couple. She amplifies William’s dreamy academia while also tempering Olive’s rueful pragmatism. The magnificent thing is Robinson allows us to see this for ourselves. There’s no hand-holding. We are mercifully spared any scenes where the three hold hands proclaiming their love to some third party as they describe how and why their relationships work. We see it plain as day.
There is one true sex scene. Their first time. It happens on a stage in the university. But Robinson and her cameraman Bryce Fortner don’t frame their lovemaking as lurid and titillating. They frame it less like sex and more like a found connection; a realization of happiness. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women has an immense amount of humor and empathy. There’s a brash confidence to Robinson’s visual. It’s not a personal style so much a style catered to the subject.
I’ve never been a particular fan of Luke Evans, but his William is a wry sincere boisterous live wire. Evans has always had a jawline to be a movie star, but here he finally shows he has the talent of one as well. His movements are exaggerated, but he never overplays it. He gives a loud but subtle performance.
It helps that Rebecca Hall is by his side at all times. If there’s anything anchoring William and Olive to reality, it’s her. Arguably the smartest to the three she is also the least able to articulate her feelings. Hall imbues her with a sense of fearlessness and joy.
Good thing Olive is there to force her to face them head-on. Heathcote’s Olive could easily be played as a vacuous pushover. Robinson and Heathcote choose instead have Olive be a woman still trying to find her way in the world. A young woman taken by the handsome young Professor Marston and deeply in awe of the blisteringly intelligent Elizabeth.
Robinson cleverly and effortlessly allows William’s fascination with BDSM to be genuine and honest. Elizabeth has some reluctance until she sees Olive seems to be taken with the idea as well. The BDSM more than anything seems to strengthen their relationship. When the neighbors walk in on the three one day, we are as baffled as they are at the hostility they discover.
The movie is only tangentially concerned with Wonder Woman as an idea. Motifs and visual homages to the Amazon run throughout, but Robinson is more interested in William, Elizabeth, and Olive. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women cuts back and forth in time from the present to the past. In the present William is giving testimony to Josette Frank (Connie Britton) head of the Child Study Association of America, about the ‘subtext’ of his Wonder Woman comics.
These scenes which are fine are somewhat grating because there’s nothing really interesting going on here. Especially since William seems plagued with Chekhov’s cough. This is something we see in movies all the time. Rarely do people cough in act one, have someone ask if they’re okay, and make it out of the movie alive. Still anytime Connie Britton is allowed on screen could hardly be counted as wasted. She’s a wonderful actress who’s able to convey so much of her character just by sitting.
Angela Robinson has made a quiet truly adult film about complex emotions and relationships. It’s not so much a biopic so much as an attempt to show us there is more than one way to love. Human connection occurs in a myriad of ways in a vast ocean of possibilities. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a sweet, engaging, thoughtful love story that just so happens to be about the guy who invented Wonder Woman and the lie detector.
Critic’s Comment: Though it should be noted, as beautiful as this movie is, Christie Marston, granddaughter of Marston has gone on record to say that Robinson did not talk the Marston family at all for any information on the subjects of this film. This raises the recurring question of many historical biopics as far as accuracy goes. Again, it’s a lush, beautiful film. Just remember that the “facts” presented are Robinson’s interpretation and not necessarily the truth.
Image courtesy of Annapurna Pictures
Ron Howard Reveals the Han Solo Movie Title as…Solo: A Star Wars Story
The renowned director, a late replacement for original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, revealed the title on Twitter in the aftermath of wrapping production. After a tumultuous filming process for the Han Solo film and creative differences between Lucasfilm and Lord and Miller, Howard stepped into the role in June.
As you would expect of a title so…uninspired, the reaction has been lukewarm at best. I can’t blame them. I only needed five minutes in a Reddit thread to find half a dozen titles better. I guess matching something with “a Star Wars Story” part makes things harder. Still, really? Though I suppose they could have named it Fuck You It’s a Han Solo Movie: A Star Wars Story and not lost a single potential moviegoer.
Hopefully, the actual film makes up for that title, or they will at least go back and reconsider. For real, Lucasfilms, that’s just plain terrible.
Solo (ugh) will show us a young Han Solo during his smuggler movies. The movie will show the early days of his adventures with his Wookie life partner Chewbacca and also Lando Calrissian (played by Donald Glover, one of the few encouraging things to come out of this movie’s production so far).
The film is scheduled to release on May 25, 2018. Alden Ehrenreich will step into Harrison Ford’s massive shoes. Woody Harrelson also stars as Beckett, Han’s mentor, with Donald Glover cast as the young Lando Calrissian. Game of Thrones Emilia Clarke will feature as well.