A Monster Calls (2017)

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Thematically powerful with a strong emotional message, this is not a typical fantasy film. It’s better than that, cleverly balancing a talking tree with stunning animation sequences whilst retaining the necessary coming of age narrative.

Artistic Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) tries coping with his terminally ill mum Lizzie (Felicity Jones), being beaten up at school and now a huge yew tree (voiced by Liam Neeson) is arriving at specific times to deliver three stories to him. These tales may eventually help Conor in revealing his own truth and understanding more.

Patrick Ness’ novel written from an idea by Siobhan Dowd who died of cancer before completing the book, is a fabulously rich story with a central tug of grief that is handled very well. Ness who also wrote this screenplay ensures the interpretation of the Monster’s stories are clear enough to transfer to Conor’s real life. It’s just a really smartly told plot that keeps you interested and attached.

The water colour animations that arrive with each story are creative, bold and quite dark too. This weaving of human complexity within these sequences are engaging and lifts the film even higher. The CGI and mo-cap of the tree monster is great also, thin branches or wisps of wood curling round items add to the fantastical element, he’s an interesting coach for Conor, looking brutish and menacing but having a kind heart within his trunk.

I’ll openly admit that I found the movie emotional, it never reached that overly sentimental try-hard point. Yes it does go towards that area but the way director and writer handle the subject matter keeps it from being soppy drivel. I will also go further to say that I cried from watching this movie, the film is very affecting because you get wrapped up in the vivid world and it’s certainly a more adult feature than you’d think.

Felicity Jones is gripping during the movie, her condition gets bleak and she becomes a paler gaunter figure but still keeps hold of a hopeful glint in her eye, making her a likeable and strong mother figure. Sigourney Weaver like the witch in the first tale is a see-saw of characteristics but one, ultimately that you know will be good. Liam Neeson’s work playing the booming monster is perfectly cast and he adds gravely gravitas to the part. The show is truly Lewis MacDougall’s though as he carries fear, courage, sadness, confusion and anger through the entire picture with spellbinding conviction.

Only the very ending featuring a book felt like a twee moment, aside from that this is a movie to kick off 2017 in fantastic fashion. The emotional vein running through the story is constant, touching and intelligent.

7.5/10

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Warcraft (2016)

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Now I may not be the designated audience member for this film, as I’ve never played the game or taken an interest in the lore of it, but in general I feel this 2016 fantasy flick doesn’t strike gold for any audience member. It may come under the epic genre but to me it feels sorely one note.

Orcs and humans have had a rivalry for years but they are now separated by worlds, however by the Fel (magic), the orcs step back through to the land of human rule. Durotan (Toby Kebbell) starts seeing this green magic as wrong and thinks siding with people like Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) will ensure he and his clan can overthrow the powerful Gul’dan (Daniel Wu).

The utterly brilliant Duncan Jones of ‘Moon’ and ‘Source Code’ wonderment directs this CGI filled story of battles, honour and magic. These things are all felt and used a lot but everything seems to fade in and out, cutting to different places as if trying to keep the narrative pacy and exciting. There’s no time to get to know the characters and for the uninitiated like myself that’s not a great selling point to immerse yourself into this grand world he and a team of effects specialists have created.

It feels like it’s attempting to capture the loved ‘Game of Thrones’ appeal, and yes at times this feature does have that feel, it’s more of a fantastical and dumb foray into the fantasy realm. At least it does have the amazing Ramin Djawadi of GoT music on hand to provide an epic score that drums away heavily making the pre-battles and fights sound great.

What I had a problem with was the convenient way most aspects of this film were dealt with, people came and went, characters got out of sticky situations down to deus ex machina moments and the nearly 100% cringe worthy dialogue that smothered the film. There’s a camp-fire of exposition, orcs and humans interact as if speaking the plot is all they can do and attempts at humour to fill gaps are so poor I feel for the people that laughed at those times. This is a movie that is so lumbering I think only the true fans will like it and therefore I can’t see any wider engagement to it.

Looking into this film before completing this review I have now found out that the CGI, or look of the orcs was achieved by motion capture. The reason I mention this is because I honestly felt that the way they looked and moved was so distancing and every one of these leather skinned beasts looked like computer graphics, they didn’t become part of the landscape at all. I’m surprised that it’s mo-cap as they don’t come across in the same manner as Caesar or Gollum. The whole vision of the film reminded me of those phone games, like Clash of Clans which was advertised before the movie itself!

Travis Fimmel, a green eyed and cheap Channing Tatum is a mostly bland hero that tries wise cracking from time to time but serves mostly to easily get out of scrapes and hint at a cross breeding romance. Dominic Cooper and his luscious locks are a good appearance as the king, he brings a suitable level of royalty and commander presence to the role. Paula Patton is rather good actually, she’s both a warrior and afraid of what her siding with the humans could do. I felt the most on side with her character unlike Khadgar played by Ben Schnetzer, who the movie liked following a lot unfortunately. To be fair Gul’dan was a cool looking wizard-esque villain that ate up the scenery.

Everything near the end of the film seems to just kind of stop from getting wrapped up as the film-makers are confident they’ll be able to continue with the next outing. Let’s hope that ‘Warcraft: the Beginning’ is also the End.

4/10