MOVIE REVIEW: A MONSTER CALLS (J.A. Bayona, 2016)

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About a boy that occasionally lived in a fantasy world to escape the harsh realities of his sad life that included a sick mother, a loathing grandmother, and an absentee father.

The transitions between the actual world and the glorious animated landscapes were superb. I was easily drawn to the fairy tales that may or may not have been manifestations of the boy’s depression.

In a cast that had such fine performances (Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, the voice of Liam Neeson), it was Lewis MacDougall that delivered the heartbreak and pain in a breakthrough role, reminiscent of last year’s Jacob Tremblay.

The humans here were indeed complicated beasts and by the time someone spoke the truth, I was sobbing loudly in my seat.

Bring a box of tissues.

Rating: ★★★★★

(Originally published November 2, 2016.)

MOVIE REVIEW: WONDER (Stephen Chbosky, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

I would usually advise people to bring a box of tissues to an obvious tearjerker, but this time I would also suggest that you include a bottle of water. I was probably crying on every littlest thing from start to finish that I was completely dehydrated by the time the end credits rolled.

Hearing the thoughts and watching the experience of Auggie Pullman (wunderkind Jacob Tremblay from Room), a kid with major facial deformities trying his best to survive in the real world was just heartbreaking. He referred to his birth as a punchline in his parents’ lives. He walked the school halls face down to avoid the blatant stares. He was subjected to severe bullying and branded as contagious. One kid even asked if he only ate special food. Completely depressing stuff.

The magic of the film though was that even if it occasionally wallowed in emotional manipulation, it was still an uplifting and heartwarming story about love and support from family and friends and that whenever we’re given the choice between being right or being kind, we should always (always!) choose kind.

I really liked that the story was told from different perspectives and showed how the lives of the people around Auggie were affected as well. My favorite point of view was from his selfless sister, a teen that often felt neglected because her sibling understandably needed more attention and compassion. Why couldn’t we all be like her?

And could the Academy please give Julia Roberts a much-needed nomination for her fantastic performance as the patient and occasionally overbearing mother? The scene where she was explaining that our face was a map that showed us where we’ve been could have been incredibly cheesy, but it worked because of her innate sensitivity as an actress.

The film did need a bit more trimming especially towards the end and it would have been more realistic if it didn’t have such a clean resolution where everyone suddenly transformed into better versions of themselves.

Even Auggie will agree that at the end of the day, no matter how flawed we may be, we all deserve a standing ovation, at least once in our lives.

Rating: ★★★★☆

MOVIE REVIEW: ROOM (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Room:

1. If I were ever kidnapped by a cult and kept in an underground room or any tight, secluded space for the remainder of my life, I would immediately die within the first 48 hours from asphyxiation. Even the thought of it made me reach out for my inhaler. I had always been claustrophobic with the terrible luck of often getting trapped in elevators. My worst experiences involved long-haul flights inside the most spacious airplanes (and not even the strongest Benadryl could knock me out).

2. This movie reminded me so much of my favorite TV show of 2015, the hilarious Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt where a kidnapped woman reclaimed her freedom and slowly adjusted to her new life after 15 years of living in seclusion. Sadly, Room was no laughing matter and the pain and trauma felt by the mother and son victims were completely harrowing and depressing.

3. I loved how the film began with little Jack (played by the terrific Jacob Tremblay) saying good morning to everything inside the said room (“Hello plant! Hello chair!”). It was a clear sign that he had already adjusted in that cramped space and considered it his only world. Aside from his limited books and toys, his sources of entertainment were the old TV showing reruns of Dora the Explorer and the small skylight separating them from the outside world (which didn’t even exist for him). As an observer, it was really hard not to feel sadness, but also amazement by this kind of innocence.

4. The brilliant (now Oscar winner) Brie Larson played Ma, the dutiful mother held captive by a stranger and now struggling to keep the two of them alive while shielding him from the harsh realities of the world. When she decided to free themselves on Jack’s fifth birthday, I immediately understood all those nights of reading The Count of Monte Cristo and Alice in Wonderland.

5. I wasn’t at all surprised that Jack didn’t want to leave his tiny world. I got why he threw a tantrum and defended that the room wasn’t stinky and was only such whenever Ma farted. The succeeding scenes showing them planning his escape (with a fiery shouting match) was completely heartbreaking.

6. I usually do not get excited in thrillers but I was literally on the edge of my seat during that escape sequence. It was so tense that people really screamed inside the theater. By the time Jack saw the sky for the first time, I was sobbing hysterically.

7. Brie’s parents here were William H. Macy and Joan Allen. With those genes, no wonder she was such a good actress.

8. After the adrenaline rush, I’m sure a lot of people will get turned off by the slow second half depicting the long-term effects and trauma of the captivity. I actually loved that part more because it showed all of the emotions and humanity of Ma and Jack and the other people around them (e.g. Ma’s father could not accept that Jack was a consequence of rape). One of the most painful realizations was when Ma got probed if she should have released Jack instead, saving him from further damage, and she accepted with much guilt that she wanted him to stay with her and that was the better (albeit selfish) decision.

9. “We all help each other stay strong. Nobody’s strong alone.”

10. I believe it was Jessica Zafra who mentioned that this kind of situation will never happen in our country given the nosy neighbors that we all have, where even our personal business is everyone’s business. As soon as they see someone going to a shed every day, tongues will start wagging and an investigation will immediately start. Hooray for our resident chismosas!

Rating: ★★★★★