Double film review: A Monster Calls and Manchester By the Sea

Double film review: A Monster Calls and Manchester By the Sea

The Swindonian film writer Dan Roberts offers up his latest film reviews. A Monster Calls and Manchester By the Sea.

A Monster Calls

From director J.A. Bayona (next set to branch out with 2018’s Jurassic World sequel) comes this tragic-to-be tale about facing inevitable loss, through the eyes – and deeply unsettling dreams – of young Conor (Lewis MacDougall), as we drop in more than halfway through his mother’s failing battle with cancer. But as Conor deals with the crushing weight of her illness, while also fending off his otherwise LA-based father (Toby Kebbell), his estranged grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) and school bullies, he is visited by a giant, powerful tree (a godly-voiced Liam Neeson, of course), who has apparently come to help Conor by offering three seemingly-irrelevant fairy tale stories, all the while encouraging Conor to lash out wherever possible. The film is as beautiful in its story-telling as it is in its visuals, and these aren’t just through Hollywood’s love affair with sentient trees (Ents, Groot, Baby Groot) but also through the film’s striking animated mini-stories. Felicity Jones is convincing as Conor’s spirit-strong, loving mother, while Lewis MacDougall steals the show with a heart-breaking performance, and one which echoes some of our worst fears, no matter our age. A Monster Calls might be a fantasy on the surface, but there’s a real heart in its roots.

Manchester By the Sea

Casey Affleck delivers another solid performance in this kitchen-sink drama which sees him play Massachusetts-based handyman Lee Chandler, who suddenly loses his brother, forcing him to relocate to care for his teenage nephew. Naturally, drama ensues, but Lee carries with him an unimaginably-dark past which delivers a heavy blow to the guts when it finally hits the screen. Though remarkably-patient in its pace and painfully-realistic (as such films are and should be) with its long, awkward, drawn-out silences and characters talking across one another, Manchester by the Sea is a small drama but with a big, beautifully-told human story that resonates. And as with The Town and Gone Baby Gone, Affleck is on top form, while Michelle Williams, as is also usually the case with her, delivers a performance that encapsulates indescribable and irreparable heartache uncomfortably-well.

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