Thursday, May 24, 2018
Things To Do

Review: 'A Monster Calls' a sophisticated look at grief through a child's eyes

Tragedy can be magical through the eyes of movie children, from primal tears for Old Yeller to wartime fears fantasized in Pan's Labyrinth.

J.A. Bayona's exquisite A Monster Calls blends pathos and sophistication, fairy tales and harsh realities into a small masterpiece. Inspired by Patrick Ness' novel and adaptation, Bayona crafts a treasure to be rediscovered through the years, as time and loved ones pass.

A Monster Calls is about grief but upliftingly so, a child's lesson not only in how to mourn but how to cope at any age. Tears don't come cheaply in Bayona's movie; neither do any morals to the story. They're earned by rich characters, impeccably portrayed, framed by cine-magic. A Monster Calls gripped this cynic on sentiment and wouldn't let go.

"Where do all fairy tales begin? With a boy and a nightmare," rumbles a voice inside the mind of Conor O'Malley, an Irish lad remarkably played by Lewis MacDougall whose Mum (Felicity Jones) is dying. That is Conor's nightmare to be exorcized by a tree monster (voice of Liam Neeson), a figment of the boy's imagination.

Bayona begins with the symbolic nightmare: a church toppled by collapsing earth, Mum slipping toward oblivion, Conor hanging on for his dearest's life. The images will return, more emotionally real and resonant than usual in fantasies about terrified children. There is no last minute rescue for Mum or any of us. A Monster Calls makes that okay.

Conor's waking life has issues feeding his dream. Mum's condition brings his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) who'll take him away when fear becomes real. He's preoccupied at school, with artistic talent displayed in notebook doodles. That makes Conor a target for bullies thinking him odd, mocking his mother's illness after Dad (Toby Kebbell) left for another marriage. Ness spins familiar elements in unique directions, always crucially depicted from Conor's perspective. We must be inside this boy's head and heart in his well-being, for Conor's most essential doodle to convince us when it comes alive.

In daylight, the tree sits outside the O'Malley's countryside home, majestic and content. At 12:07 a.m. each evening it uproots, its trunk and limbs morphed into an ember humanoid crashing into Conor's bedroom, taunting his fear. He will return each night to tell Conor three myths reflecting the boy's reality, gradually urging him to scary actions and what Elizabeth Kubler-Ross would call acceptance.

Bayona's master stroke is depicting the monster's legends in animated watercolors, as Conor practices and imagines. A Monster Calls is striking in its reality designed by Eugenio Caballero — who also conjured Pan's Labyrinth — and its digitally drawn realism, especially its redwoodian creature therapist.

In live action roles, Neeson doesn't offer a particularly expressive face. This role allows one to be CGI-crafted around his marvelous voice, a low brogue rolling any consonant, soothing or threatening in a syllable's time. Ness' fairy tale thanatology requires an inner voice not to be doubted. Neeson's is it.

Some viewers may not grow emotionally invested in A Monster Calls. They may be envied for never losing a loved one or expecting to. That's more preposterous than a tree dishing out life and death lessons. This is grownup fantasy through a child's mind eye; tragedy made magical as ever.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

Comments
Sunset Music Festival, more outdoor concerts could be soaked by weekend rain

Sunset Music Festival, more outdoor concerts could be soaked by weekend rain

  Your Memorial Day weekend weather forecast is not looking good, with a big low pressure system, Invest 90L, hovering out in the Gulf of Mexico and threatening to dump several inches of water on Saturday. For music fans, it couldn't be coming at a...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Hooper: More than a restaurant, Lee Roy Selmon’s was a meeting place

Hooper: More than a restaurant, Lee Roy Selmon’s was a meeting place

It’s where former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Doug Williams had lunch with current Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston.It’s where University of South Florida fans often gathered to watch the program’s biggest road games.It’s where folks showed up in...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Review: Family matters in David Sedaris’ ‘Calypso’

Review: Family matters in David Sedaris’ ‘Calypso’

David Sedaris gets right to the point in the opening of the first essay in his new book, Calypso: "Though there’s an industry built on telling you otherwise, there are few real joys to middle age. The only perk I can see is that, with luck, you’ll ac...
Published: 05/24/18
Review: Strait-laced writer Michael Pollan explores psychedelics, and leaves the door of perception ajar

Review: Strait-laced writer Michael Pollan explores psychedelics, and leaves the door of perception ajar

Microdosing is hot. If you haven’t heard — but you probably have, from reports of its use at Silicon Valley workplaces, from Ayelet Waldman’s memoir A Really Good Day, from dozens of news stories — to microdose is to take small amounts of LSD, which ...
Published: 05/24/18
9 things to do indoors on this rainy Memorial Day weekend

9 things to do indoors on this rainy Memorial Day weekend

It’s hard not to think of the Forrest Gump line: "One day it started raining, and it didn’t quit for four months." If you are looking for something to do while the current deluge continues, we have some suggestions. There are obvious choices, like ma...
Published: 05/24/18
Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

ST. PETERSBURG — Chuck Prather, owner of the Birchwood in St. Petersburg, returned from his daughter’s Maine wedding this week with an exciting announcement of his own. On June 7 the St. Petersburg City Council is expected to sign off on him being on...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Want to drink free whiskey with country star John Rich in Tampa?

Want to drink free whiskey with country star John Rich in Tampa?

Here's an offbeat way to start your Memorial Day weekend right.
Published: 05/23/18
New restaurants: Metro Diner and Zoes Kitchen in Tampa, Trophy Fish and Oak & Stone in St. Pete

New restaurants: Metro Diner and Zoes Kitchen in Tampa, Trophy Fish and Oak & Stone in St. Pete

Some new eats on the horizon in Tampa Bay.
Published: 05/23/18
Top things to do this weekend: Margarita Festival, Rays’ Kiermaier as Star Wars figure, Nintinder

Top things to do this weekend: Margarita Festival, Rays’ Kiermaier as Star Wars figure, Nintinder

LIME TIME: Tampa Bay Margarita Festival This year, there are twice the bartenders and a new RFID wristband system for less waiting at the two-day Tampa Bay Margarita Festival with a margarita flavor for every taste. Music headliners are the Wallflow...
Published: 05/23/18
Well, it's different: Porn stars are doing stand up comedy this weekend in St. Pete

Well, it's different: Porn stars are doing stand up comedy this weekend in St. Pete

Plus everything else to see on stage this week in Tampa Bay.
Published: 05/23/18