1. Life & Culture

Movie Planner: 'A Monster Calls,' 'Underworld: Blood Wars,' 'Princess Mononoke'

Focus Features
Focus Features
Published Jan. 4, 2017

Remember last week's list of my 10 favorite movies of 2016? Make it 11.

As that ranking was being published, I finally had time to watch J.A. Bayona's melancholy fable A Monster Calls (PG) and wanted to stop the presses.

Based on a novel by Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls is the tale of a boy named Conor (Lewis MacDougall), whose tragic imagination runs free, reflecting fear of losing his mother (Felicity Jones) to terminal illness. Conor is visited nightly by a giant tree monster (voice of Liam Neeson) challenging him to face his worst nightmare, unlocking his grief.

A grimmer fairy tale than usual yet thrilling from start to finish. Bayona rebounds from his 2012 disaster The Impossible to craft a blend of childish fantasy and Kubler-Ross stages of grief from denial to acceptance. Neeson's rumbling brogue prods Conor through the stages, telling four stories of the boy's making that Bayona depicts in watercolor animation.

MacDougall impresses in a complex role for any actor especially a child with only a small role in 2015's forgettable Pan to his credit. Jones is lovely even in deathly pallor, and Toby Kebbell makes an impression as Conor's estranged father, now remarried. Bayona's finale left me in tears, and grateful for the soul cleansing.

Click here to read a review.

Poor Kate Beckinsale. Just when she gains industry respect for a tart turn in Whit Stillman's Love & Friendship, she's back on the contractual obligations treadmill with another franchised creature feature.

Underworld: Blood Wars (R) is Beckinsale's fifth rodeo as Selene, a "vampire death dealer" betrayed by her bloodthirsty kind while hunted by Lycans, a fancy name for werewolves. The MPAA rating of R is due to "strong bloody violence, and some sexuality," as if you couldn't guess.

Here's an idea for Screen Gems: Postpone Thursday's release for three weeks and pit Beckinsale against Milla Jovovich's Resident Evil: The Final Chapter; one weekend, loser leaves movies. My money's on the Beck. Underworld: Blood Wars wasn't screened for critics. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter probably won't be, either.

Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki was in his creative groove in 1997 when Princess Mononoke (PG-13) hit theaters. Miramax Films arranged a formal introduction to mainstream U.S. audiences, after a decade of cultish appeal.

Miramax rounded up prime Hollywood talent — Billy Crudup, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, Claire Danes, Jada Pinkett-Smith — to dub Miyazaki's eco-fable in English. Purists prefer the original version but star appeal made Princess Mononoke a modest art house success.

Fathom Events is offering both versions to moviegoers this weekend, each for one showing only. The Japanese version with English subtitles is showing at 7 Thursday at Woodlands Square 20 in Oldsmar, Citrus Park 20 in Tampa and Park Place 16 in Pinellas Park. The dubbed version screens at 7 p.m. Monday at the same locations.

Tickets are $13.38 at, and at box offices.

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Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:

1 A Monster Calls: A grieving boy gets tough love from a tree monster (voice of Liam Neeson).

2 Hidden Figures: True story of African-American women making NASA go 'round.

3 Fences: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are deserving Golden Globes nominees.

4 Jackie: Natalie Portman excels as Jacqueline Kennedy, protecting her late husband's legacy.

5 Lion: An Indian boy is lost, adopted and reunited with his mother by using Google Earth.


(Dates subject to change)

Jan. 13: Patriots Day; Live by Night; The Bye Bye Man; Monster Trucks

Jan. 20: 20th Century Women; Split; The Founder; xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

Jan. 27: Gold; A Dog's Purpose; Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Feb. 3: Rings; The Space Between Us; Collide

Feb. 10: The Lego Batman Movie; John Wick Chapter 2; Fifty Shades Darker