A Monster Calls

It’s January, so I’m ready for my annual dose of Liam Neeson kicking someone’s ass. So today we saw this and he did it, the only problem is that it was my ass he kicked. This is a sad story about the worst thing that can happen to a kid. As it builds up to the climax, I became more and more effected by it. At first I thought I was withstanding the story pretty well but then I turn around and there is Mr. Neeson’s voice, ready to help knock me down and remind me that I am a human being who is a big cupcake.

This is a story that seems like it should be familiar but it is told in a very unique way. As I mentioned, the arc of the narrative concerns the loss of a loved one and the young man that has to face this truth is struggling with a way to confront it. The Monster that comes is not friendly but in a strange way is very supportive. The story is direct but there are three specific moments when the monster tells a tale to young Conor. Much like A Christmas Carol, Conor is visited on separate occasions and each time he a story is shared with him. Buried inside of each tale is a lesson, but it is never a clear lesson and Conor finds the stories increasingly confounding to the task he has of finding a cure for his mother.

A third of the way into the film, Conor’s Grandmother appears. She is played by Sigourney Weaver, using the slight British accent that she probably picked up in “The Year of Living Dangerously” or “Half Moon Street”. The Grandmother is stern and foreboding in young Conors life. He sees the future that he despairs of in her and does not sense the warmth that he and his own mother have. Part of the story will have to manage that relationship more delicately. His father is an expatriate living in Los Angeles. He does not appear to be a practical lifeline even though he wants what is best for his son. Mom is played by Felicity Jones  and she is suitably beautiful and haggard as the path of her disease progresses. Louis MacDougal plays Connor and his most affecting scenes are with his Father, the bully who abuses him, and ultimately the two women who have and will dominate his life.

The real story here is a child trying desperately to reconcile himself with the loss of the most important person in his life. The Monster represents the turmoil and the tragedy that he is facing, but it never acts exactly the way you expect the story to go. Ultimately there is a turning point, and we can see that coming, but the path there is torturous and may leave some audience members a bit slack jawed. One of my favorite things about the film is that it contains some beautifully animated sequences that illustrate the tales being told. I suspect the water color paintings are based on the illustrations used in the book from which this film derives. Although containing some fairy tale elements, they are not really Disney friendly. Conor has to try to make sense of them and it is a final turn in the story that helps bring it all together.

Neeson is the voice of the Monster but his image does appear in a photograph that suggests Conor’s Mother in her childhood with her own father. Neeson has done voice work before. As Aslan (or God if you like) in the Chronicles of Narnia he was suitably ponderous. His two faced cop in the Lego Movie was just the right touch of sardonic indifference. In this film his voice is ferocious and soothing and sometimes harsh. In the end it is a comforting voice, maybe like all of our fathers, a bit scary at times but also a voice that we feel we can trust. Grief and guilt need to be met with a purposeful and supportive figure. Until Conor can find that in the adults around him, he has a Monster to call upon. This is a sad story that may be tough for children to endure as well as soft hearted adults. It is however a worthy drama and ultimately redemptive, but in a painful way.

Singin’ in the Rain Fathom/TCM 52 Essentials

This event was scheduled prior to the death of Debbie Reynolds. The host Ben Mankiewicz, did not mention her passing in the intro or the conclusion of the presentation, so that material was already in the queue, but there was a dedication card before the movie began. It is certainly a deserving tribute because you can clearly see in every scene she appears in, Debbie Reynolds was special. It’s interesting that at one point in the story, R.F. the studio head takes notice of Reynold’s Kathy Seldon. He calls her out of the chorus line for having that something special and unique. That is exactly what you can see in Reynolds. Her smile is effervescent, her face just glows, even when buried in a crowd of other actresses, and her line delivery is spunky and confident.

This movie does not need any defending. Mankiewicz suggested it might be one of the greatest musicals of all time, he qualifies that by pointing out that many would say it is “The” greatest musical of all time, present company believes that to be the case. For almost two hours I sat with a smile on my face, a laugh in my heat or a tear in my eye. Evey time you turn around there is another great number. As far as I can tell, other than the compilation film “That’s Entertainment”, this is the only movie where Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly worked together. That is almost incredible to believe when you watch the “Fit as a Fiddle” or “Moses Supposes” sequences in this film. They perform with such synchronicity, you would believe they’d been working together for years.

Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont is a hoot and a half. The opening segment where Kelly as Don Lockwood tells the background of their Hollywood “Romance” is so great because they hold her voice until the perfect moment. She still plays a bitchy star with her silent performance up to that part, but once she starts speaking, the laughs become bigger. Last year the whole scene with Ralph Fiennes and Alden Ehrenreich in Hail, Casar! was cribbed from Lina’s diction lesson. Hell it was funny sixty-four years earlier, it should be funny again. Both films are tributes to old Hollywood and they make us aware of some of the foibles that the star system presented to the studios.

There were more than a hundred and fifty people at the afternoon screening today and I am happy to say they were not all of retirement age. I saw a Mom with her two little girls, maybe six and eight. There were four kids who came in together in their late teens, an couples of every age throughout the theater. “Singin’ in the Rain” is a national treasure to be taken out and shared on a regular basis. In fact the last time I saw it on the big screen was a Fathom Screening from five years ago for the 60th Anniversary. 

My Daughter and I are working up a project for this year where we will be posting on the 52 films from the TCM Essential Book we purchased last year. Instead of working through the films in order of the year they came out like the book did, we are going to try to do screenings of the movies as much as possible and let that dictate some of the order. “Singin’ in the Rain” was  up this weekend, an we just thought of doing this project last week, so this is a natural to start. I Think most of our posts will be Vlogs on Youtube, but I will link them here and put up a page to list all of the links as well. The loss of Debbie Reynolds is a sad way to begin the project, but the joyous film she starred in will live forever and she and it should be celebrated.