Movie Review: “A Monster Calls”

Starring
Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Liam Neeson
Director
J.A. Bayona

“A Monster Calls” is unflinchingly honest, a harrowing tale of a boy who yearns for escapism but instead receives an unwanted but much-needed dose of reality. There isn’t a wasted word in its script, the cinematography ranges from gorgeous to bleak to terrifying, and at its core is an outstanding performance by 14-year-old Lewis MacDougall, starring in only his second film. In fact, he upstages a sci-fi legend without even trying.

The life of English boy Conor O’Malley (MacDougall) is, well, shit. His mother (Felicity Jones) is suffering from terminal cancer (his father left the two of them long ago), he is bullied at school, and as his mother gets sicker, he is forced to spend more time with his stuffy grandmother (aforementioned sci-fi legend Sigourney Weaver). He stays up late drawing as a means of avoiding his recurring nightmare. One night shortly after midnight, he is visited by a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson), which comes to life from the yew tree that is visible from his bedroom window. The monster tells Conor that he is going to tell him three stories, and then Conor is going to tell the monster a fourth one, and the story must be true. The stories the monster tells Conor do not offer him any comfort, and as his mother’s condition worsens, the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred to the point where Conor has difficulty separating the two, acting out in one world when he thinks he’s in the other.

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Movie Review: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Starring
Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tuydk, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang
Director
Gareth Edwards

With “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” director Gareth Edwards has made an entertaining and intense, if mildly frustrating, war picture set in a galaxy far, far away. As a huge blockbuster, its tone, morally ambiguous characters and often bleak resolutions set it apart from standard studio fare. The first standalone Star Wars picture is sometimes as admirable as it is enjoyable, but it also has some glaring problems that are clearly holding the movie back from reaching its full potential. The good news is that it’s still a fine start to this new branch of standalone Star Wars stories.

The story opens with a young Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) seeing her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), being taken away by the Empire’s Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) in order to complete construction on a powerful space station called the Death Star. After her father is kidnapped, Jyn is raised by rebel-turned-extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a standout character who’s barely human. Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s script then cuts to an older, more dangerous Jyn in custody of the Empire. She’s been living much of her life under pseudonyms until she’s intercepted by Rebel forces and commanded to lead them to Saw Gerrera. Leading the mission are Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who doesn’t trust Jyn, and a quippy, rewired Imperial droid named K2-SO (Alan Tudyk), who calculates that the odds she will betray them are strong. In the end, however, Jyn agrees to join the small band of rebels in an attempt to steal the plans for the Death Star.

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Movie Review: “Inferno”

Starring
Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy, Ana Ularu
Director
Ron Howard

It’s been seven years since the world last saw a film based on author Dan Brown’s renowned symbologist Robert Langdon. The last installment, “Angels & Demons,” had a worldwide box office gross nearly $300 million less than its predecessor, “The Da Vinci Code.” That sounds bad, but to be fair, “Angels” still took in nearly half a billion dollars, so even if the idea of a Langdon film in 2016 seems unthinkable for a number of reasons (time, diminishing returns), money clearly did most of the talking when it came to green lighting the latest film, “Inferno.” And for a while, the movie distances itself from the first two films thanks to a breakneck opening pace, only to turn into the Dan Browniest Dan Brown adaptation to date halfway through and grind to a screeching halt.

Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up dazed in a hospital, suffering from head trauma and trying to put together the missing pieces between the present and his previous memory from three days earlier. Almost immediately after he wakes up, there is an attempt on his life by a policewoman, but Robert’s attending physician, Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), helps him escape and brings him to her apartment, where Robert discovers that in the pocket of his coat is a vial used to transport lethal pathogens.

Inside the tube is a clue left for Robert by billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who’s known for his incendiary speeches warning against the overpopulation of the planet and the need for a correction in order to prevent the complete extinction of the human race. Robert concludes that Bertrand, who committed suicide two days earlier, has created and hidden a deadly virus designed to “solve” the overpopulation problem, but in his search for the clues to find the virus, Robert has the police, a compromised World Health Organization and a third party of questionable intent hunting him at the same time.

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Movie Review: “True Story”

Starring
Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Ethan Suplee, Robert John Burke
Director
Rupert Goold

Jonah Hill and James Franco have shown off their dramatic chops in a variety of projects over the past five years, earning Oscar nominations along the way (Hill for “Moneyball” and Franco for “127 Hours”), but for some reason, it’s still difficult to imagine the pair starring together in a movie that isn’t a comedy. Perhaps it’s their association to Seth Rogen’s all-star group of friends, yet no matter how weird it might be to see them sharing the screen in a starkly serious drama like “True Story,” they do a commendable job with the material. The film is pretty standard fare that, considering the crazy-but-true nature of the story, deserved something a little more memorable than this, but it’s to no fault of the actors involved.

In late 2001, journalist Mike Finkel (Hill) was fired from his job at the New York Times when it was revealed that he fudged some of the facts in his latest feature about child slavery in West Africa. Around that same time, Oregon resident Chris Longo (Franco) was arrested for the murder of his wife and three kids after briefly hiding out in Mexico where he had been posing as Finkel. The reason? He was a fan of his work. When Mike learns about these strange events, he contacts Chris requesting to speak with him, who agrees to tell Mike his side of the story in exchange for writing lessons and the promise that nothing will be published until after the trial. For Mike, it’s a chance to redeem his career, but as he spends more time with Chris and becomes convinced that he may actually be innocent, he’s unwittingly pulled into Chris’ game.

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