(On Cable TV, October 2017) There’s an interesting twist at play in A Monster Calls, in which a young boy’s grief for his terminally ill mother is explored through spectacular use of fantasy imagery. It’s not a genre fantasy film per se (in that you can argue for a rational interpretation if you try hard enough), but it’s certainly a drama enhanced with genre elements. The downside of such a distinction is that the film is never as dull as when it’s strictly realist—it’s when the story goes on imaginary tangents and a gigantic yew tree starts intervening in the plot that A Monster Calls is at its best. The stories told to the boy are executed though very stylized animation, and those moments are the highlights of the film … until the ending, in which fiction, dreams and strong emotional reactions all come together in a big catharsis of a conclusion. The art direction of the film is spectacular in those fantasy sequences, and the way the 3D art seamlessly blends itself in scene transitions is reminiscent of the best that 2D animation had to offer. Acting-wise, Liam Neeson impresses with a strong vocal performance at the tale-spinning tough-love tree. Otherwise, director J.A. Bayona’s skill in balancing the various components of A Monster Calls are on display here, all culminating in a conclusion much stronger than the rather pedestrian set-up would initially suggest.
(On Cable TV, November 2013) There are disaster movies made to be entertainingly exhilarating, and there are other designed to make the audience experience going through an ordeal themselves. So it is that watching The Impossible feels like going through a natural catastrophe. Dramatizing the life story of a British family that survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, The Impossible spares no effort in graphically showing the devastation unleashed by the natural disaster. Watching some of the sequences of the film, it’s hard to believe that director J.A. Bayona has found a way to stage this amount of mayhem without destroying an entire country. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star as a couple who find themselves (and their three boys) separated from each other, forced to survive and find each other despite all odds. (Watts gets the most thankless role, including a gory moment in which the extent of her leg injuries are revealed.) It’s a harrowing film –the tsunami sequences are brutal, but they’re the only fun part in a film that graphically portrays an incredible amount of suffering and destruction. The end of the film, as heart-warming as it is, comes as a welcome return to comfortable reality for viewers. The Impossible is impressive, but it’s certainly not a pleasant experience, and anyone looking for easy entertainment may want to push this one further back in the queue of upcoming viewing.