Playing Catch-Up: A Monster Calls (dir by J.A. Bayona)


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As our regular readers are undoubtedly aware, I was born in Texas and I grew up all over the Southwest.  I don’t believe in trigger warning and quite frankly, I lose respect for anyone who I hear whining about having to have one.  That’s the way we are down here.  If you can’t handle potentially being upset by something or someone, that’s you’re own damn problem.

That being said, I do feel like I should give everyone a heads up about A Monster Calls.  Don’t consider this to be a warning because a warning suggests that something bad is going to happen and A Monster Calls is actually a very good movie and one that I highly recommend.  But I do think I should say that I sobbed almost all the way through A Monster Calls and I wasn’t alone.  When I saw this movie on Sunday, there wasn’t a dry eye in the Alamo Drafthouse.

That’s just the type of film it is.  It’s a movie that deals very sincerely and very forthrightly with what it means to lose someone who you love.  It’s a coming-of-age story that deals with fear, loss, guilt, and those moments when — even while dealing with unbelievable pain and sadness — we can still find happiness in the moments that we have and in the imagination that all people — especially young people — possess.

Technically, A Monster Calls is a fantasy though it actually deals with very real emotions and events.  Conor O’Malley (Lewis McDougall) is a shy and introverted 13 year-old who is haunted by nightmares, one in particular.  His parents are divorced.  His father (Toby Kebbell) lives in America and is barely a presence in Conor’s life.  His mother, Lizzie (Felicity Jones, giving an amazing performance), gave up her own artistic ambitions when she became pregnant.  Now, she’s sick and every day, Conor is told that his mother is starting yet another new treatment because she’s “not responding as expected” to the previous treatment.

With Lizzie growing more and more ill, Conor finds himself living with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver).  To Conor, his grandmother appears to be overly strict and unemotional but, as the film makes clear, she’s not.  If she seems strict, it’s because she knows that she will soon have to take over as Conor’s guardian.  If she seems unemotional, it’s because she’s trying to stay strong for both her daughter and her grandson.

Meanwhile, at school, Conor finds himself targeted by a strange bully named Harry (James Melville).  The scenes with Harry are some of the oddest in the film.  At times, Harry seems to look at the perpetually miserable-looking Conor with almost an expression of empathy and you wonder if he feels some sort of guilt over what he’s doing.  But whenever Harry approaches Conor, a viscous sadism emerges.  Though Harry always seems to be the one who is staring, he continually demands to know why Conor is always looking at him.  When another student tries to hit Conor, Harry announces that only Harry is allowed to hit Conor.

And then there’s the Monster.  At night, the Monster visits Conor.  A gigantic, humanoid tree, the Monster speaks in the voice of Liam Neeson and he alternates between being threatening and being almost paternalistic.  When Conor gets angry, the Monster encourages him to destroy things.  When Conor gets sad, the Monster taunts him for thinking that his sadness is somehow different from everyone else’s sadness.  The Monster is frightening but, at the same time, he seems to be the only thing in Conor’s life that he can depend on.  The Monster’s words may be harsh but there’s also something oddly comforting in their harshness.  It helps that he sounds like Liam Neeson.

The Monster tells Conor three stories, all of which are full of ambiguity and end with uncertain lessons.  The Monster tells Conor that, after he finishes the third story, Conor will be required to tell him about his greatest nightmare.  Conor finds himself both frightened and fascinated by the Monster but, as quickly becomes clear, his main fear is talking about his nightmare.

A Monster Calls is a beautifully done story about dealing with loss, one that will make you cry but, at the same time, will leave you feeling almost grateful for those tears.  The Monster is a truly spectacular creation and Liam Neeson does a perfect job voicing him.  What makes A Monster Calls so special is the way that director J. A. Bayona deftly balances Conor’s apocalyptic encounters with the Monster with the small, every day details of real life.

It makes for a powerful film.

Just make sure you’re ready to shed some tears.

Playing Catch-Up: Sing Street (dir by John Carney)


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The Irish musical comedy drama romance (that’s a lot of genres to take in, I know) Sing Street was one of the great and most sadly overlooked films of the previous year.  Fortunately, it’s on Netflix now and I seriously recommend that you watch it.  I watched it last night and I absolutely loved it.

Well, actually, it took me a while to realize that I loved it.  When the movie first started, I was kinda like, “Well, that’s cute and sweet but it’s not exactly blowing me away…”  It tells the story of a 15 year-old boy named Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who is growing up in Dublin in the early 80s.  His father (Aidan Gillen) and his mother (Maria Doyle Kennedy) are constantly fighting and Conor suspects that they’re on the verge of separating.  His older brother, the charismatic but bitter Brendan (Jack Reynor), has dropped out of college and moved back home.  Brendan spends his days stoned and talking about music.

Because the family is short on money, Conor has been transferred to a free school, Synge Street.  It’s a far rougher school than what Conor is used to.  Bullies target him as soon as he arrives.  Meanwhile, the principal, Brother Baxter (Don Wycherly), has taken a somewhat disturbing interest in his newest student.  When Conor can’t afford to buy the black shoes that he’s required to wear to school, Baxter forces him to spend the school day in his socks.

Perhaps the only positive in Conor’s life is Raphina (Lucy Boynton), a 16 year-old who lives across the street from the school.  Raphina is an aspiring model with an older boyfriend and plans to move to London.  Conor tells Raphina that he’s in a band and that he wants her to star in a music video.  To Conor’s surprise, Raphina agrees.

Now, Conor just has to get a band together…

Sing Street was directed by John Carney, the same man who previously gave us the wonderful Once and the somewhat-less-wonderful-but-still-good Begin Again.  Much like those previous two films, Sing Street is a deliriously romantic and rather bittersweet little film, one in which love and emotion are expressed through song.  As a director, Carney has a real skill for capturing the excitement of creation.  The scenes in which Conor and his friend Eamon (Mark McKenna) work on their songs are just as enthralling as the scenes of Raphina and Conor falling in love.

And the music itself is wonderful.  While the soundtrack never quite reaches the heights of Once, it is a definite improvement over Begin Again.  The songs are all catchy and enjoyable but, even more importantly, they sound like the songs that actually would have been written by a talented but confused 15 year-old who has just started his own band.  There’s an aching sincerity to Sing Street‘s songs and they stay with you.  They remind you of how wonderful it is to know that you have your entire future ahead of you.

As I said, I didn’t realize how good Sing Street was until I had nearly reached the end of the movie.  Sing Street is one of those low-key films that kind of sneaks up on you.  At first, you think that you’re just watching another well-made coming of age film and then suddenly, you’re in tears.  You’re hoping that Raphina will make it to London and that Conor will find some sort of happiness.  The film ends on a somewhat ambiguous note but, in the end, you realize you really don’t need to know the exact details of what happened to Raphina and Conor in the future.  Instead, what’s important is that they had this wonderful experience when they were young.  Regardless of what happens to them in the future, you’re happy that they had the experience.

The whole film is undeniably well-acted but I want to make special mention of Jack Reynor, who brings a wounded dignity and rueful humor to the role of Brendan.  He dominates his few scenes and you find yourself happy that, regardless of how messed up the rest of his family may be, Conor has a brother like Brendan.

As I said at the start of this review, Sing Street is on Netflix.  And you should definitely watch it.

Here Are The Nominations of the Cinema Audio Society!


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The Sound Oscars are often the hardest to predict, largely because few of us are sure what the difference is between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing.

However, if you’re filling out your Oscar ballot and hoping to make some money in your Oscar pool, you’re going to need some guidance!  So, here are the just-announced nominations from the Cinema Audio Society!

MOTION PICTURE – LIVE ACTION

Doctor Strange
Production Mixer – John Midgley, CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Tom Johnson
Re-recording Mixer –Juan Peralta
Scoring Mixer – Peter Cobbin
ADR Mixer – Doc Kane, CAS
Foley Mixer – Scott Curtis

Hacksaw Ridge
Production Mixer – Peter Grace
Re-recording Mixer – Kevin O’Connell, CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Andy Wright
Re-recording Mixer – Robert Mackenzie
Scoring Mixer – Daniel Kresco
ADR Mixer – Diego Ruiz
Foley Mixer – Alex Francis

La La Land
Production Mixer – Steven Morrow, CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Andy Nelson, CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Ai-Ling Lee
Scoring Mixer – Nicholai Baxter
ADR Mixer – David Betancourt
Foley Mixer – James Ashwill

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Production Mixer – Stuart Wilson
Re-recording Mixer – Christopher Scarabosio
Re-recording Mixer – David Parker
Scoring Mixer – Joel Iwataki
ADR Mixer – Nick Cray
Foley Mixer – Frank Rinella

Sully
Production Mixer – Jose Antonio Garcia
Re-recording Mixer – John Reitz
Re-recording Mixer – Tom Ozanich
Scoring Mixer – Bobby Fernandez
ADR Mixer – Thomas J. O’Connell
Foley Mixer – James Ashwill

MOTION PICTURE—ANIMATED

Finding Dory
Original Dialogue Mixer – Doc Kane, CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Nathan Nance
Re-recording Mixer – Michael Semanick, CAS
Scoring Mixer – Thomas Vicari, CAS
Foley Mixer – Scott Curtis

Kubo and the Two Strings
Original Dialogue Mixer – Carlos Sotolongo
Re-recording Mixer – Tim Chau
Re-recording Mixer – Tim LeBlanc
Scoring Mixer – Nick Wollage
Foley Mixer – Darrin Mann

Moana
Original Dialogue Mixer – Paul McGrath
Re-recording Mixer – David E. Fluhr, CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Gabriel Guy, CAS
Scoring Mixer – David Boucher
Foley Mixer – Scott Curtis

The Secret Life of Pets
Original Dialogue Mixer – Carlos Sotolongo
Re-recording Mixer – Gary A. Rizzo, CAS
Re-recording Mixer – David Accord
Scoring Mixer – Frank Wolf
Foley Mixer – Jason Butler

Zootopia
Original Dialogue Mixer – Paul McGrath
Re-recording Mixer – David E. Fluhr, CAS
Re-recording Mixer – Gabriel Guy, CAS
Scoring Mixer – Joel Iwataki
Foley Mixer – Scott Curtis

MOTION PICTURE—DOCUMENTARY

13th
Re-recording Mixer – Jeffrey Perkins

Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words
Re-recording Mixer – Mark Fragstein
Re-recording Mixer – Marvin Keil
Re-recording Mixer – Armelle Mahé

Gleason
Production Mixer – Mark A. Rozett, CAS
Re-recording Mixer – James Scullion

O.J.: Made in America
Re-recording Mixer – Keith Hodne
Re-recording Mixer – Eric Di Stefano

The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble
Production Mixer – Dimitri Tisseyre
Production Mixer – Dennis Hamlin
Re-recording Mixer – Peter Horner

The Visual Effects Society Snubs Arrival, Those Bastards


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The Visual Effect Society announced their nominees today.  Now, there were quite a few categories and a lot of nominations and they’re actually kinda interesting to look at but, in the interest of space, I’m not going to post all of the nominees.  Instead, I’m going to post the three main categories because these are the categories that could potentially give some guidance as far as predicting the Oscar nominations is concerned.

If you want to see a full list of nominations, please click here and check out this list on AwardsCircuit.

Looking over the nominations, what’s interesting is that Arrival, the most acclaimed Sci-Fi film of the year, was totally and completely snubbed.  I don’t know if that’s a bad sign or not.  Arrival is a great sci-fi film and it features some great visual effects.  But — and this is especially true when compared to films like Rogue One and Dr. Strange — the visuals are also rather low-key.  Arrival is not a splashy film.  That’s one reason why it’s also a great film.

Anyway, here are the nominations!

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

Doctor Strange         

Stephane Ceretti

Susan Pickett

Richard Bluff

Vincent Cirelli

Paul Corbould

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Christian Manz

Olly Young

Tim Burke

Pablo Grillo

David Watkins

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children       

Frazer Churchill

Hal Couzens

Andrew Lockley

Jelmer Boskma

Hayley Williams

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story        

John Knoll

Erin Dusseault

Hal Hickel

Nigel Sumner

Neil Corbould

The Jungle Book       

Robert Legato

Joyce Cox

Andrew R. Jones

Adam Valdez

JD Schwalm

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

Allied  

Kevin Baillie

Sandra Scott

Brennan Doyle

Viktor Muller

Richard Van Den Bergh

Deepwater Horizon

Craig Hammack

Petra Holtorf-Stratton

Jason Snell

John Galloway

Burt Dalton

Jason Bourne

Charlie Noble

Dan Barrow

Julian Gnass

Huw Evans

Steve Warner

Silence           

Pablo Helman

Brian Barlettani

Ivan Busquets

Juan Garcia

Bruce Steinheimer

Sully   

MIchael Owens

Tyler Kehl

Mark Curtis

Bryan Litson

Steven Riley

Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Feature

Finding Dory 

Angus MacLane

Lindsey Collins- p.g.a.

John Halstead

Chris J. Chapman

Kubo and the Two Strings   

Travis Knight

Arianne Sutner

Steve Emerson

Brad Schiff

Moana           

Kyle Odermatt

Nicole P. Hearon

Hank Driskill

Ian Gooding

The Little Prince       

Mark Osborne

Jinko Gotoh

Pascal Bertrand

Jamie Caliri

Zootopia        

Scott Kersavage

Bradford S. Simonsen

David Goetz

Ernest J. Petti

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Here Are The Producers Guild Nominations!


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The Producer’s Guild of America, who are traditionally one of the most reliable of the Oscar precursors, announced their ten nominees for the best film of 2016 earlier today!

Not on the list: Martin Scorsese’s Silence.  Last year, at this time, Silence was the most anticipated of the potential Oscar nominees.  Now, 12 months later, whatever momentum that Silence had seems to have fizzled.

You know what film was on the list?

Deadpool!

Somehow, Deadpool has emerged as a legitimate Oscar contender.  That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be nominated, of course.  Last year, a lot of people made the mistake of getting excited when both Carol and Straight Outta Compton showed up among the Producers Guild’s nominations.

Here’s what we have to remember — every years, the PGA nominates 10 films.  However, the Academy never nominates a full slate of 10 films.  While the best picture nominees probably will all have received a PGA nomination, that doesn’t mean that every PGA nominee is going to be nominated for best picture.

Still, Deadpool is coming on strong with the guilds.  It has some support among the industry.

A best picture nomination for Deadpool?  Normally, I’d laugh that off.  Then again, at one time, I also laughed off the idea that Mad Max: Fury Road would get a nomination, despite the fact that I thought Mad Max was one of the best films of 2015.

In the end, anything can happen.  That’s one reason why Oscar watchers like me are always a little disappointed when the Oscar nominations are announced and the precursor season ends.  During the precursor season, anything is possible.

Anyway, here are the PGA nominations:

The Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures:

 

  • Arrival

Producers: Dan Levine, Shawn Levy, Aaron Ryder, David Linde

 

Producers: Simon Kinberg, Ryan Reynolds, Lauren Shuler Donner

 

Producers: Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington, Todd Black

 

Producers: Bill Mechanic, David Permut

 

Producers: Carla Hacken, Julie Yorn

 

  • Hidden Figures

Producers: Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin & Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams, Theodore Melfi

 

Producers: Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt

 

  • Lion

Producers: Emile Sherman & Iain Canning, Angie Fielder

 

Producers: Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Lauren Beck, Kevin Walsh

 

Producers: Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner & Jeremy Kleiner

 

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures:

 

Producer: Lindsey Collins

 

Producers: Arianne Sutner, Travis Knight

 

Producer: Osnat Shurer

 

Producers: Chris Meledandri, Janet Healy

 

  • Zootopia

Producer: Clark Spencer

 

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures:

* The PGA previously announced the nominations in this category on November 22, 2016.  The list below has been updated to include eligible producers.

 

  • Dancer

Producer: Gabrielle Tana

 

  • The Eagle Huntress

Producers: Stacey Reiss, Otto Bell

 

  • Life, Animated

Producers: Julie Goldman, Roger Ross Williams

 

  • O.J.: Made in America

Producers:  Ezra Edelman, Caroline Waterlow

 

  • Tower

Producers:  Keith Maitland, Susan Thomson, Megan Gilbride

A Movie A Day #10: The Longest Yard (1974, directed by Robert Aldrich)


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Once, Paul “Wrecking” Crewe (Burt Reynolds) was a superstar NFL quarterback.  That was until he was caught up in a point-shaving scandal and kicked out of the league.  When a drunk Crewe steals his girlfriend’s car, gets into a high-speed police chase, and throws a punch at a cop, he ends up sentenced to 18 months at Citrus State Prison.

The warden of the prison, Rudolph Hazen (Eddie Albert), is a football fanatic who, at first, is excited to have Crewe as an inmate.  The prison guards have a semi-pro football game and Hazen wants Crewe to coach the team and help them win a national championship.  Though initially reluctant and just wanting to do his time, Crewe relents after witnessing and experiencing the cruelty of the prison system.  Crewe forms The Mean Machine, a team made up of prisoners, and agrees to play an exhibition game against the guards.

At first, the members of the Mean Machine are just looking for an excuse to hit the guards without being punished but soon, they realize that they have a chance to win both the game and their dignity.  But Hazen is not above blackmailing Crewe to throw the game.

When it comes to understanding the Tao of Burt, The Longest Yard is the place to start.  Starting with a car chase and ending with near martyrdom, The Longest Yard is the ultimate Burt Reynolds film.  Paul Crewe ranks alongside Deliverance’s Lewis Medlock and Boogie Night‘s Jack Horner as Reynolds’s best performance.  Before injuries ended his athletic career, Reynolds was a college football star and, on the prison’s playing field, he holds his own with the large group of former professional football players who were cast to play the guards and the prisoners.  The Longest Yard’s climatic football game takes up over an hour of screen time and reportedly, the action was largely improvised during shooting.  Unlike most movie football games, the one in The Longest Yard looks and feels like a real game.

The Longest Yard was directed by Robert Aldrich, who specialized in making movies about anti-authoritarians fighting the system.  The scenes of Crewe recruiting and training The Mean Machine are very reminiscent of Aldrich’s best-known movie, The Dirty Dozen.  With its combination of dark humor, graphic violence, rebellious spirit, and Southern-friend melodrama, The Longest Yard is a movie that could only have worked in the 1970s.  The Adam Sandler remake may have made a lot of money at the box office but it still comes nowhere close to matching the original.

For tomorrow’s movie a day, it’s the best film of 2016, which also happens to be about a football player in prison.

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Stage Fright: THE HYPNOTIC EYE (Allied Artists 1960)


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The Hypnotic Eye (1960) Directed by George Blair Shown: Lobby card

Evil hypnotists have been a movie staple since Svengali first mesmerized Trilby in 1911, but THE HYPNOTIC EYE is in a class of its own. This demented little tale is sufficiently creepy enough to overcome its meager budget limitations, and features the Ice Queen of Horror, Allison Hayes, in the pivotal role of Justine, assistant to master trancemaker Desmond.

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We start with an opening shot of a woman, thinking she’s washing her hair, sticking her head directly into the flame of a stove pilot. That’ll get your attention! A series of horrible self-mutilations have left a dozen beautiful women disfigured and the police scratching their heads. Detective Dave Kennedy discusses the bizarre cases with police psychologist Phil Hecht: “One of them stuck her face in the blade of an electric fan. Thought it was a vibrator. Another one sliced her face with a straight razor. Thought it was a lipstick brush”.

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Dave’s girlfriend Marcia…

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