Drama

A MONSTER CALLS

Director / J.A. Bayona (THE IMPOSSIBLE, THE ORPHANAGE)
Stars/ Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell and the voice of Liam Neeson

A monster is indeed calling, but not with the same intentions that most monsters are noted for. 

The original idea for A MONSTER CALLS began with British writer and activist Siobhan Dowd, who was sadly unable to finish her novel of the same name due to the terminal illness that claimed her life. From there, the writer of this film’s screenplay, Patrick Ness took over.

The monster that inhabits A MONSTER CALLS comes in the form of a very large and branchy motion-captured tree voiced by Liam Neeson. In a tone that is just as potent as he adopted over the phone in TAKEN, the tree monster sternly advises twelve year-old Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) that he will tell him three true stories, each with a separate meaning very relevant to Conor’s current existence. After the three stories have been told, Conor must tell a fourth, which will reveal the truth behind his greatest fear.

Featured on the 2013 Blacklist of most liked unmade scripts, A MONSTER CALLS is a beautifully rendered motion picture.

As most of you reading this will likely be aware, one of the central characters in this film is succumbing to a terminal illness. Understandably, parents may feel that a movie with such a sombre theme that also features a monster as the main character is definitely not for children. Though there should be considerations made for younger audiences heeded as suggested by its PG classification, A MONSTER CALLS is in fact a mightily accessible, involving and valuable film for most age levels. Just how this has been achieved is why this is such a great film. The writing is honest and mature, the visual work has been compellingly detailed and young Lewis MacDougall gives a gutsy lead performance, to name a few reasons.

Quite astonishingly and respectably, A MONSTER CALLS refrains from being saddening throughout. Rather, emotions are kept at bay until just when the timing is right for the inevitable emotional catharsis that awaits. However, thanks to its structure and fine execution, even these heartfelt moments of the film are therapeutic in nature. Any concerns that may be had regarding what sort of mood this wonderful film will leave at its conclusion can be erased by the role of another essential character, played by Sigourney Weaver. Although she possesses a hardened exterior, Weaver’s kind-hearted grandmother is a vital contributor towards enabling Conor to overcome those fears in his own story. 

This film is definitely worth seeing, even if that has to be once its run at cinemas is complete.

3 ½ stars

Viewer Discretion/ PG (Mild themes and violence, some scenes may scare children) 

Trailer / A MONSTER CALLS

Moviedoc thanks entertainment One for the pass provided to see and review this film.

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THE BIG SICK

Director / Michael Showalter (HELLO MY NAME IS DORIS, THE BAXTER)
Stars/ Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, Aidy Bryant and Kurt Braunohler

Boy meets girls. Girl meets boy. You have seen it many times before. Though new comedy THE BIG SICK has a few big slick and unexpected developments in its story that cure it of all symptoms of being a clichéd affair.

The boy in the picture is Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), a Pakistan native living in the U.S who is a struggling stand-up comedian that politely rejects potential brides for his arranged marriage, as organised by his mother. The girl in the picture is Emily (Zoe Kazan, who was Ruby Sparks in RUBY SPARKS!), a white American who is working towards becoming a masters-level therapist and falls for the charms of Kumail during one of his stand-up routines.

As you may have cottoned on or already heard, THE BIG SICK is based on the real life story of how Emily V. Gordon (co-writer of this film) and her real-life husband Kumail Nanjiani (co-writer and star) meet and fall in love.


It is certainly refreshing and even reassuring to be in the presence of a genuine comedy that triggers laughter in such an unforced manner. Rather than concocting forced scenarios to base the remainder of the film around, THE BIG SICK derives much of its humour from the conception of its characters and the awkwardness of a developing romance. By doing so, THE BIG SICK rapidly becomes a broadly appealing and wholly accessible comedy that features wonderful acting performances and sharp writing that work together harmoniously.

With laughter occurring frequently and so naturally throughout, the husband/wife writing team behind THE BIG SICK are evidently aware that they never need to try harder than they do to generate tasteful humour. This is exemplified by the way they showcase the cultural differences that both lead characters are faced with. Earning further respectability are a few bravely, yet again tastefully written interjections of dialogue that centre on Kumail Nanjiani’s probable faith and extremism. Given Nanjiani’s origin and the world we live in today, our writers are clearly conscious of the elephant in the room and they address this with daring humour and honesty. Hats off! 

The latter half of the film introduces co-stars Ray Romano (TV’s Everybody Loves Raymond) and Oscar-winner Holly Hunter (THE PIANO), as Terry and Beth, the parents of Emily. The importance of their contributions cannot be underestimated as a minor bump in the plot earlier in the picture later becomes an essential development. Though it must be said that this significant segment of the story is somewhat solemn in nature, much of this film’s excellence comes to the fore here as it impressively never loses touch with its comedic roots. THE BIG SICK just keeps delivering humour that is truly meaningful and memorable.

An exceptional comedy. Definitely recommended!

4 stars


Viewer Discretion/ M (Coarse language and sexual references) 

Trailer / THE BIG SICK

Moviedoc thanks Roadshow Films for the invite to the screening of this film.

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CHOCOLAT

Director / Roschdy Zem (OMAR KILLED ME/OMAR M’A TUER)
Stars/ Omar Sy, James Thierrée, Clotilde Hesme, Frédéric Pierrot and Noémie Lvovsky

In the late 1800’s, former Afro-Cuban slave turned circus performer Rafael Padilla, aka Chocolat (Omar Sy), entertains moderate sized audiences in the Northern parts of France. He earns his living playing a cannibal on stage, much to the amusement of a crowd who have never seen a man of colour before! During one of his routine yet lively performances, Chocolat is discovered by a reputable circus artist named Georges Footit (real-life circus performer and grandson of Charlie Chaplin, James Thierrée), who sees potential for success by forming a duo act to perform during the Belle Époque period in Paris.

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There is both a triumph and a tragedy to be shared in this biographical film that chronicles the life story of the first-ever successful black circus artist in France. The true story of a man who broke a barrier that needed to be broken for generations to follow, even if it had to be at his own expense.

As an entertainer and a man of colour, Chocolat’s success always had its limitations. Given the time and place he is situated, the willingness to play the submissive half of a duo slapstick routine intended to be of comedic nature to its audience was the only option he had at making ends meet. Unfortunately, this shameful and derogatory treatment was not restricted to the stage alone. When not in character, Rafael’s vulnerabilities would subject him to manipulation by colleagues and employers. What must be emphasised to this point regarding this French drama is the fact it is not depressing to watch at all. Actually, it is often delightful viewing and the story is consistently engaging. This is largely due to the superb performance from Omar Sy and the characterisation of who he portrays. Chocolat, quite admirably, never truly succumbs to playing the victim. He adds value to his choice of employment that rewards him and even enjoys life by pursuing some romance. Therefore, witnessing Chocolat’s growth as a performer and as a person does bring a sense of joy, as does Omar Sy’s best role and performance since 2011’s THE INTOUCHABLES.

3 ½ stars


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Viewer Discretion/ M (Mature themes, violence and coarse language) 

Trailer / CHOCOLAT

Moviedoc thanks Transmission Films for the invite to the screening of this film.

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LADY MACBETH

Director / William Oldroyd (Feature film debut)
Stars/ Florence Pugh, Paul Hilton, Cosmo Jarvis, Naomi Ackie and Christopher Fairbank

Make no mistake, LADY MACBETH bears no resemblance to any work associated to William Shakespeare. Based on the 1865 Russian novella, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov, the only reference from this film that could be made to the namesake character created by Shakespeare is of a purely symbolic nature.

Set in rural England in 1865, the film opens as 17 year old Katherine (Florence Pugh) is forced into marriage with the older Alexander (Paul Hilton). Katherine, who loves the outdoors, doesn’t so easily accept her husband’s wishes to be his subordinate, after he orders her to remain locked indoors at all times. When Alexander leaves his estate for several weeks to attend to a business emergency, the rebellious and free-spirited Katherine begins a dangerous affair with a young man working at the estate, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis).

Courtesy of its remarkable and transformative lead female character, LADY MACBETH turns the period drama genre on its head in near flawless fashion.

Lady Katherine isn’t just the stand-out character in this sublime film, it is one of the most conceivably written, daring and exciting transitions of any character we’ve seen in recent years. Immediately upon moving into her new residence with her husband, Katherine recognises the misogynist she has married and the submissive life that she’s contractually obliged to fulfil. Rather than succumbing to her dreadful fate, Katherine fights back. Almost every command ordered at her is answered in return with wilful disobedience. Any expectations that existed prior to her arrival are now met with contemptuous disregard and are dead and buried. With each bout of resistance she sends forth, Katherine is brimming in confidence. Anyone who dares to throw a conventional line her way will become her bait! As delicious as this is to witness, audiences are very much aware that Katherine’s recklessness is going to have its consequences.

This is an outstanding feature-film directional debut from William Oldroyd, who has collected seven of the eleven award wins LADY MACBETH has so far received. He unearths a scintillating performance from his star, Florence Pugh (who has won the remaining four awards), in what truly is a breakout performance in every sense of the word. It is a display of acting that will not be forgotten in a film that produces fierce, fearless and electrifying drama. Make no mistake, LADY MACBETH is an unmissable film.

4 ½ stars



Viewer Discretion/ MA15+ (strong sex scenes and coarse language)

Trailer / LADY MACBETH

Moviedoc thanks Sharmill Films for the invite to the screening of this film..

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UNA

Director / Benedict Andrews (NATIONAL THEATRE LIVE: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE)
Stars/ Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed and Ruby Stokes

UNA is based on a play written in 2005 by Scottish playwright David Harrower, titled Blackbird. It won the Laurence Olivier Award in 2007 for Best New Play and is partly inspired by a real-life event from 2003.

A number of years ago, something happened to the 28 year-old Una (Rooney Mara – CAROL, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) that has left her scarred and unable to move on with her life since. The only person that may be able to help her is Ray (Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn from ANIMAL KINGDOM and TV Series Bloodline), who is a warehouse manager that once knew Una. Their pasts collide with the present when Una surprises Ray at his workplace, confronting him with unanswered questions that have burdened her for long.

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Having also written the film screenplay, David Harrower’s play seamlessly transitions from the stage to the screen in UNA, a tense drama featuring a strong performance from Rooney Mara. 

As it begins, the script only alludes to that past issue that is triggering the current actions of Una. It has no intention to keep this detail privy from viewers for very long at all though. Shortly after our lead characters conversation heats up, most of the existing questions that were asked are now answered. However, there are no intentions for UNA to depart from its setting any time soon. As it becomes evident that there is plenty of deep-digging emotional wreckage to unpack at Ray’s workplace, the focus swiftly shifts to the complex and sometimes puzzling objective being pursued by Una. As for Ray, it is in his best interests to keep this information in the past.

This is such a confidently and maturely written work that is always grounded and fairly-reasoned. That is no easy feat, for UNA is willingly exploring a theme that is sensitive in nature and also raises some highly debatable topics subject to controversy, without hesitancy. Even though specific details will understandably differ with varying perceptions and opinions, the open-minded and sensible approach that is adopted here invites thought from viewers and is worthy of respect. A final compliment goes to a handful of tense passages that ignite this drama, which ends on just that note courtesy of its thrilling conclusion.

3 ½ stars

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Viewer Discretion/ M (mature themes, sex and coarse language)

Trailer / UNA

Moviedoc thanks Madman for the invite to the screening of this film..

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THE PROMISE

Director / Terry George (HOTEL RWANDA, RESERVATION ROAD)
Stars/ Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale and Shohreh Aghdashloo

One promise that is made and will be kept by THE PROMISE is its goodwill. This historical drama has been produced for a single purpose – to educate its audience of one of the greatest and least known catastrophes of the 20th century. Any doubt surrounding its genuine intentions can be erased by the confirmed news that all proceeds from its theatrical run will be handed straight to not for profit human rights and humanitarian organisations.

THE PROMISE weaves a fictional love-story set during the harrowing true events that happened during the early days of World War I. In Constantinople, during the last years of the Ottoman Empire, 1.5 million Armenians were systematically exterminated by the Turkish military. An event that to this day is still denied by many in Turkey, where it is illegal to discuss the Armenian Genocide! Caught among the conflict is Mikael (Oscar Isaac), who leaves his ancestral village in what is now Southern Turkey to study medicine in Constantinople. It is there that he meets Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), an Armenian artist who is romantically attached to Chris (Christian Bale), an American journalist.

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THE PROMISE shares a few commonalities to the recent release VICEROY’S HOUSE. Adding a fictitious love story to tragic real-life events for similar reasons is certainly one of them. Though the on-screen romance depicted in THE PROMISE never truly ignites, it certainly fares better here than in Gurinder Chadha’s film. To be truthful, at 133 minutes in length, this production is quite laborious and considering the extremely upsetting scale of its content, is a little emotionally bland. Various aspects of its quality do equal that of a midday movie on television. Nevertheless, much of the deserved respect coming the way of THE PROMISE will be earned by the factual details it discloses and the awareness it raises. Many Hollywood celebrities including George Clooney, Sylvester Stallone and Leonardo DiCaprio have loudly and proudly boasted their praise for this film too!

A special mention must be made to Kirk Kerkorian, who is of Armenian descent and is the former owner of film production company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). THE PROMISE was shot in 72 days across 20 locations, including Spain and New York. It cost almost $100 million to produce, all of which was fully financed by Kirk who sadly passed away during the beginning of its production. This film would not have been made without him.

3 stars

THE PROMISE

Viewer Discretion/ M (Mature themes and violence)

Trailer / THE PROMISE

Moviedoc thanks Entertainment One for the invite to the screening of this film.

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CHURCHILL

Director / Jonathan Teplitzky (THE RAILWAY MAN, BURNING MAN, GETTIN’ SQUARE)
Stars/ Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, Ella Purnell and James Purefoy

CHURCHILL is the first of two films that dramatise one of the most defining moments in the career of United Kingdom Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. The other film to be released later in the year will be DARKEST HOUR, starring Gary Oldman.

Directed by Australian filmmaker Jonathan Teplitzky, CHURCHILL revolves around a tense four day period that happened during the first of two terms that Churchill served as Prime Minister. In June, 1944, the Allied forces are ready to make their move on unsuspecting Nazi Germans, who are occupying territory in north-western Europe. The only person opposed to the invasion is Churchill himself, who is still heavily traumatised by the consequences of similar plans that were carried out during the First World War, fearing that history will repeat.

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CHURCHILL is an intimately shot and gently scored portrait of a dreadfully important and volatile short period of time in the life of the iconic PM, who was best known for his rousing speeches.

Alex von Tunzelmann’s screenplay ostensibly renders an accurate portrayal of the inner demons that Churchill grappled with and the pressures and frustrations he endured. Another side explored in this fact-based story surrounds the relationship that Winston shared with his wife, Clementine (Miranda Richardson) and the support that she provided to her husband. This component of the script is less convincing due to the rather one-dimensional observation it makes, which I doubt is the real intention here. Questions pertaining to the truthfulness and fairness of its construction and development do remain. While the story may not offer most viewers many new insights, CHURCHILL does offer Brian Cox one his most significant roles yet and he makes his performance a career-best one that is reminiscent of Bryan Cranston’s Oscar-nominated work in TRUMBO.

When comparing this biopic to other politically-themed films, CHURCHILL isn’t of the same high quality as THE KING’S SPEECH or FROST/NIXON. Nor is it produced with the artistic integrity that made JACKIE such a hit with critics. Nevertheless, its matter-of-fact style and concise writing on the focal subject matter should not be mistaken for blandness.

3 ½ stars

© Graeme Hunter Pictures

Viewer Discretion/ M (mature themes)

Trailer / CHURCHILL

Moviedoc thanks Transmission Films for the invite to the screening of this film..

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