A Monster Calls
Directed by: J.A. Bayona
Run time: 108 minutes
The Lowdown: It’s an interesting quandary – if a film is so emotionally devastating that you aren’t sure you could bear a repeat viewing, does that diminish the likelihood that you would recommend others rush out to see it?
Spanish director J.A. Bayona, who was tapped to helm the Jurassic World sequel on the strength of his artistic vision, has made two exceptional movies, The Impossible and A Monster Calls. Both are emotionally blistering and harrowing at heart, but filled with the type of inventive film wizardry that is sorely lacking from most mainstream motion pictures.
A Monster Calls may well be one of the visually dazzling films of recent memory. It echoes the early work of Steven Spielberg while carving out its own identity and establishing Bayona as one of the best directors working today. Staged like a fairy tale, A Monster Calls details the relationship between a young boy, his dying mother and a mythical entity, known as The Monster, and voiced by Liam Neeson.
The Monster is, simply put, extraordinary. This is one of those rare instances where computer-generated imagery exceeds expectations and delivers a digital creature so fully-realized and expertly rendered that you literally sit slack-jawed in amazement.
Bayona doesn’t stop there. He intersperses his film with smaller parables rendered entirely in animation, but it’s not a gimmick or a cop-out. The animated sequences serve as a portent of the emotional wallop waiting in the third act.
And that’s where the quandary comes in. As much as I loved A Monster Calls, I found myself dreading the inevitable denouement. It’s not some big secret. You know early on what to expect. But damn if even that knowledge can’t lessen the emotional blow when it comes.
Having lost my own mother three years ago, I found myself folding tightly into a ball, my arms wrapped around my knees, tucked tight into the corner of the couch. And when the tears came, it was an ugly cry, but not necessarily a cathartic one.
Bayona has created a moving testament to the power of stories, family bonds and friendship, one that defies easy categorization and rightfully thumbs the eye of conventional narrative filmmaking. It’s a beautiful thing to behold, but not an easy one to watch.
Should you then rush to seek it out? Ultimately, yes, I think so. Just know going in that the journey is paved in heartache as much as it is the wonder of childhood imagination.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Felicity Jones, post-Star Wars hot.
Nudity – No.
Gore – No.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Cancer.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Child Eater (MVD Entertainment Group, 82 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Child Eater is a refreshing throwback and a welcome surprise. It perfectly encapsulates the rush of low-budget horror that defined the 1980s and ‘90s, and it delivers a wonderfully gruesome movie maniac, serial killer Robert Bowery, who eats the eyes of children in order to stave off going blind. Child Eater propels along like an adrenaline blast, thrusting viewers deep in the woods. The practical effects are top-notch, and the ending, especially, will bring a smile to longtime fans of classic slasher horror. This one should be high on your list to seek out.
Arsenal (Lionsgate, 92 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): At some point in a long career, I guess even the most recognized movie stars take jobs when they come, regardless of whether it’s a prestige role or not.
Nicolas Cage has been slumming in the limited theatrical release/direct-to-DVD market for several years, cranking out a slew of action, horror and drama movies that do little to showcase his remarkable talent. And lately, John Cusack as well has been popping up in these types of releases.
Arsenal benefits most from director Steven C. Miller, who burst onto the genre scene in 2006 with his riveting zombie/viral contagion flick, Automaton Transfusion. He followed that with two above-average popcorn flicks, Scream of the Banshee for After Dark Films, and the superior home invasion thriller The Aggression Scale. In 2012, his remake Silent Night (of the cult classic Silent Night, Deadly Night) earned points for its brutal violence, but it failed to surpass the pulpy camp pleasure of the original.
Arsenal isn’t a bad movie. None of these films that lure former A-list actors are bad, per se. They just aren’t very original, and often they suffer most from subpar writing that undermines the acting abilities of everyone involved.
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The Creeping Garden
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
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Story of Sin
MST3K: Volume XXXVIII
Not to be Overlooked:
Bloodrunners (Speakeasy Pictures/Impulse-FX, 95 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): In case you aren’t aware, Ice-T has joined a very short list of ethnic movie vampires (Blacula, Blade, Eddie Murphy) in Bloodrunners, a new period-inspired horror film that’s neither scary nor clever.
We like Ice-T. We liked his band Body Count and thought he was great in New Jack City. But he fails miserably at making you believe he’s an immortal bloodsucker who also leads a big band in the 1930s while thwarting prohibition to sell moonshine.
You’ve seen his Geico lemonade commercial? That’s better (and funnier) than this.
Bloodrunners strives for cult classic recognition. It really tries. But the tone is so uneven that it just never finds a groove. There are moments of Tennessee Williams pathos, followed by long stretches ripped straight from Roger Corman’s much pulpier 1979 cult classic, The Lady in Red, but there’s precious little vampire action for the first 75 minutes, and that’s a problem.
There’s not even much nudity, despite most of the film taking place in a brothel.
Here’s the thing – if you’re going to make the equivalent of a direct-to-VHS vampire movie in 2017, you need lots of boobs and blood and some seriously solid special effects.
The big money-shot moment in Bloodrunners? Ice-T explodes into a whirling mess of CGI bats, many of which get set on fire by the hero, during the climactic battle.
Still, there is an audience for this particular blend and brand of horror, and given it ends with the door open for a sequel, it's very likely we may see Ice-T as a bloodsucker once again.
Now on Video-on-Demand:
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (A24, 93 minutes, R, VOD): Oz Perkins, the son of the late, great Anthony (Norman Bates) Perkins, delivers a taunt, psychological horror thriller for his feature-film debut. It should come as no surprise that Perkins understands the genre. But what is most impressive is the combined strength of both his script and his direction. You would never know he’s a film novice based on his expert manipulation and stoking of our base, primal fears. The Blackcoat's Daughter is currently available on most streaming VOD platforms. It will be released on home media in May.