Novel-turned-movie ‘A Monster Calls’ offers visually spectacular drama

Renowned actors Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell and talented young actor Lewis MacDougall star in the entrancing drama “A Monster Calls” based on the novel by Patrick Ness of the same title.

Directed by acclaimed and award-winning J.A. Bayona, best known for his nightmare-inducing “The Orphanage” and the catastrophic “The Impossible,” his latest movie “A Monster Calls” is a deeply-felt coming-of-age story of a young boy who must come to terms with her mother’s impending death.

“A Monster Calls’” screenplay adaptation is by the book’s author, Patrick Ness. Mr. Ness wrote the novel from an original idea by the late Siobhan Dowd. The story had originated with Dowd but she succumbed to cancer soon after starting it. Ness reflects, “Siobhan wrote magnificent books, ones that teenagers deeply responded to; A Monster Calls was to have been her fifth. She had an opening; 1,000 words; an idea for a structure; and a few characters.”

Bayona feels that “the book speaks about death in a direct and darker way. For the film, I wanted to transcend what we know is coming – the death of Conor’s mother – and be able to fuse the boy’s need to draw with the strength of legacy. There is light at the end of the story, resulting from the idea that art heals. Patrick’s screenplay has added themes while still being faithful to the novel; in making the movie, there are some elements of the book that we have taken further.”

Young lead actor Lewis MacDougall as Connor was brought to the production’s attention; he had only just finished filming his first movie, “Pan.” Ness was shown MacDougall’s audition video and saw that “he was such a find, so true and so focused. You could read everything on that face.”

Academy Award nominated-actress Sigourney Weaver was sought for the role of Conor’s maternal grandmother. “I’m a huge admirer of Bayona’s earlier films; I found them so powerful,” she reveals. “In the book and in the script, Conor says she doesn’t really look like a grandmother, so that was a wonderful place for me to start!

When Bayona saw Felicity Jones in her breakout role in “Like Crazy” – as her Academy Award-nominated portrayal in “The Theory of Everything” had not yet been screened – he knew he had found the actress to play the role as Lizzie, Connor’s mom. Jones took her character to heart. She states, “Lizzie is a vibrant, active woman who has never stopped loving art. In her home, there are arts and crafts that reveal her creative spirit. She has loved being a mother to Conor, although she’s a little unconventional.”

As part of Bayona’s approach, Neeson (who voices the Monster) worked alongside Lewis MacDougall so that both actors could share ownership of their scenes together. Neeson reflects, “I’ve worked with children who’ve been swamped by the industry, and they’ve lost a kind of childlike innocence. Lewis has all that intact. He’s still a real kid – but also a powerful young actor.”

Further in the production, the director chose not to give his young lead the script page for the very last scene in “A Monster Calls,” so that MacDougall would be able to convey the most natural, authentic response as the events unfolded. “And that’s just what Lewis gifted us with,” says Bayona.

“A Monster Calls” opens November 2 in cinemas nationwide from Pioneer Films.

Vin Diesel inspires fellow soldiers in ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’

Action superstar Vin Diesel works under the direction of Oscar-winner Ang Lee for the first time in Columbia Pictures’ emotionally charged film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

Based on the acclaimed bestselling novel by Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is told from the point of view of 19-year-old private Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) who, along with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad, becomes a hero after a harrowing Iraq battle and is brought home temporarily for a victory tour. Through flashbacks, culminating at the spectacular halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day football game, the film reveals what really happened to the squad – contrasting the realities of the war with America’s perceptions.

Diesel plays Shroom, one of Billy’s sergeants during his tour of duty. “In Iraq, Shroom became one of Billy’s best friends,” shares Joe Alwyn.

“Shroom is written as a Zen kind of soldier who feels things deeply,” observes producer Marc Platt. “He’s a leader, he’s a thinker and a philosopher and has a compassionate warmth about him but he’s no nonsense at the same time. He’s literally the heart and soul of this unit. When I thought about who you’d believe as a Zen philosopher and as a soldier, a big bear of a guy to a group of these Bravos, I thought of Vin Diesel. It was a perfect marriage of an actor and a role. And fortunately for all of us Vin is an actor who loves film and filmmakers, and one of his heroes is Ang Lee. I reached out to Vin and he reached back to me and he said thank you for making my dreams come true. We love having him in the movie and we love that he gets to play a character close to his soul.”

“Shroom’s a very interesting and challenging character in the movie, because he is the older, wiser soldier warrior within this group of kids,” notes producer Stephen Cornwell. “The challenge of the role is to provide that quality of leadership and the sense of mysticism, and Vin’s a perfect fit. He brings acting skills and a presence that really makes that character come alive, which is very important to establish and by choosing to play Shroom, Vin was looking to do something different and very challenging. We’ve come to a very remote place in the world to film the scenes that establish Shroom’s position with the Bravos, and I think that Vin and Ang are having a fantastic time working together.”

Vin Diesel’s upcoming films include xXx: Return of Zander Cage, Fast & Furious 8 and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Opening across the Philippines on November 9, 2016, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.

WATCH: Hugh Jackman is back as Wolverine in ‘Logan’ trailer

Following the teaser poster reveal, the trailer of Hugh Jackman’s most anticipated latest Wolverine movie entitled “Logan” has just been revealed, showing an older Logan at a time where fellow mutants no longer exist.

In an extremely intense and serious tone, the first frames of the trailer revealed a bruised trembling hand while Patrick Stewart’s Professor Charles Xavier and Hugh Jackman’s Logan converse – “Logan, what did you do?” asked Charles Xavier, for which Logan replied, “Charles, the world is not the same as it was.”

Further into the trailer, a young girl joins Logan and Professor Charles who is then revealed to have mutant powers like that of Logan. Soon, the three of them are on the run, with Logan and the young girl forced to fight the enemies trying to pin them down in a series of dizzying chase, brutal and heart-stopping scenes. Finally, “Logan’s” trailer ends with Hugh Jackman standing in the middle of a forest while the young girl approaches and holds his hand.

Directed by James Mangold, “Logan” opens in Philippine cinemas nationwide on March 1, 2017 from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.

Justin Timberlake plays voice talent, music producer for ‘Trolls’

Multi-talented actor and musician, Justin Timberlake who has won nine Grammys and numerous other awards leads an impressive voice cast and serves as executive music producer in the movie for all ages – “Trolls.”

Timberlake is in charge of the upbeat music of “Trolls” and has combined classics from Earth Wind & Fire, Simon & Garfunkel, Gorillaz and Cyndi Lauper, with original songs he wrote for the film, including the number one hit song ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling!’. Also starring in the film are Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Gwen Stefani, Zooey Deschanel and Russell Brand.

“Trolls” can be enjoyed by youngsters as a unique world rich with unforgettable characters, music, humor, adventure and color; as well as by adults, for whom the film’s overarching theme of the search for happiness will resonate long after the end credits have rolled.

Indeed, the Trolls’ all-singing, all-dancing, all-hugging world is all about happiness, which infuses every frame of the film. “Trolls” explores how we treat others and, more importantly, how we treat ourselves. Its emotion-charged message is that happiness comes from within, and can be a powerful and infectious force when it’s spread.

With Justin’s Branch character, long after the Trolls’ liberation from Bergen captivity, he was the only one who continued to see the Bergens as a threat, but no one in town believed him. Branch lives a discontented existence and is constantly preparing for the worst. He’s lost his sense of joy and is flummoxed by the over-the-top positivity of the other Trolls. Branch often wonders if he is the only sane Troll left. Over the course of the film, he is challenged to let go of his past, even if that includes a dreaded burst of singing, dancing and hugging.

Branch represents our fears and how they can envelop us and prevent our inner happiness from blossoming. Ever vigilant, he is consumed with exploring potential dangers and spends his life bracing for the worst instead of enjoying the present. While some of his concerns are well-founded because there are very real dangers nearby, Branch must learn he has to keep living his life and not let fear win.

“Branch isn’t much of a people person,” notes Justin Timberlake. “He doesn’t sing, dance or hug, which makes him somewhat of an outcast—by his own choice—in the Troll community. He’s a hardcore survivalist and a huge contrast to all the other Trolls. He doesn’t connect with anybody,” Timberlake continues.

Citing the character’s relatability, despite—or maybe, thanks to—his persistent negativity, Timberlake jokes that, “Branch is going to be the voice of every dad who sees Trolls.”

“Can’t Stop the Feeling,” written by Timberlake, Martin and Shellback, is a celebratory anthem that brings the Trolls and Bergens together. The song is performed by Timberlake, Deschanel, Funches, Mintz-Plasse, Kendrick, Corden, Icona Pop, Stefani, Nayyar, and a chorus. “It’s full of optimism, which carried over to its creation,” notes Timberlake, adding, “Writing it actually made me feel happy.” Director Mike Mitchell adds that the song “sums up everything we wanted to do with the film. It creates happiness when you hear it.

“Trolls” opens November 2 in cinemas (also in 3D screens) nationwide from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.

‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ launches IMAX poster

Warner Bros. Pictures has just launched the IMAX poster for its new fantasy adventure “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” The film opens in IMAX theaters and regular cinemas across the Philippines on Thursday, Nov. 17th.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” takes us to a new era in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, decades before Harry Potter and half a world away.

Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne stars in the central role of Magizoologist Newt Scamander, under the direction of David Yates, who helmed the last four “Harry Potter” blockbusters.

There are growing dangers in the wizarding world of 1926 New York. Something mysterious is leaving a path of destruction in the streets, threatening to expose the wizarding community to the Second Salemers, a fanatical faction of No-Majs (American for Muggles) bent on eradicating them. And the powerful, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, after wreaking havoc in Europe, has slipped away…and is now nowhere to be found.

Unaware of the rising tensions, Newt Scamander arrives in the city nearing the end of a global excursion to research and rescue magical creatures, some of which are safeguarded in the magical hidden dimensions of his deceptively nondescript leather case. But potential disaster strikes when unsuspecting No-Maj Jacob Kowalski inadvertently lets some of Newt’s beasts loose in a city already on edge—a serious breach of the Statute of Secrecy that former Auror Tina Goldstein jumps on, seeing her chance to regain her post as an investigator. However, things take an ominous turn when Percival Graves, the enigmatic Director of Magical Security at MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America), casts his suspicions on both Newt…and Tina.

Now allied, Newt and Tina, together with Tina’s sister, Queenie, and their new No-Maj friend, Jacob, form a band of unlikely heroes, who must recover Newt’s missing beasts before they come to harm. But the stakes are higher than these four outsiders—now branded fugitives—ever imagined, as their mission puts them on a collision course with dark forces that could push the wizarding and No-Maj worlds to the brink of war.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” also stars Katherine Waterston as Tina, Tony Award winner Dan Fogler as Jacob, Alison Sudol as Tina’s sister, Queenie, Ezra Miller as Credence, two-time Oscar nominee Samantha Morton as Mary Lou Barebone, Oscar winner Jon Voight as Henry Shaw, Sr., Carmen Ejogo as Seraphina Picquery, and Colin Farrell as Percival Graves.

The film marks the screenwriting debut of J.K. Rowling, whose seven beloved Harry Potter books were adapted into the top-grossing film franchise of all time. Her script was inspired by the Hogwarts textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, written by her character Newt Scamander.

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a Heyday Films Production, a David Yates Film, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” The film will open nationwide November 17, 2016, in 2D and 3D in select theatres and IMAX, and will be distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

Liam Neeson voices monster in adaptation of children’s novel ‘A Monster Calls’

Liam Neeson, widely known for his role as Bryan Mills in the worldwide blockbuster “Taken” film franchise, will once again surprise the audience with his newfound skills in his latest film “A Monster Calls.”

Based on the award-winning novel of the same title by Patrick Ness, “A Monster Calls” is directed by highly celebrated director J.A. Bayona wherein Neeson stars in the titular role. As the monster, Neeson’s character is seen by 12-year-old Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) who escapes into a fantastical world of monsters and fairy tales. Dealing with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) illness has necessitated Conor’s spending time with his less-than-sympathetic grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). His daily existence at his U.K. school is one of academic disinterest and bullying by classmates. As Conor’s father (Toby Kebbell) has resettled thousands of miles away in the U.S., the boy yearns for guidance.

Connor unexpectedly summons a most unlikely ally, who bursts forth with terrifying grandeur from an ancient towering yew tree and the powerful earth below it: a 40-foot-high colossus of a creature. Portrayed in performance-capture and voiceover by Neeson, the monster appears at Conor’s bedroom window at the strike of 12:07 one night – and at the same time on nights thereafter. The Monster has stories to tell, and he insists that Conor hear them and powerfully visualize them. Conor’s fear gives way to feistiness and then to looking within; for, The Monster demands that once the tales are told it will be time for Conor to tell his own story in return. Ancient, wild, and relentless, the Monster guides Conor on a journey of courage, faith, and truth.

Director J.A. Bayona and Liam Neeson in A MONSTER CALLS.
Director J.A. Bayona and Liam Neeson in A MONSTER CALLS.

As an actor utterly distinct in personality, voice, and stature, Liam Neeson was everyone’s first choice to portray the Monster, in both voiceover and performance-capture. The Academy Award-nominated actor was drawn to the story immediately, seeing it as “a fable about the complexity of our emotions, and navigating that complexity as we grow up.”

“Bayona is a real cinema talent,” states Liam Neeson. “Occasionally you get to work with directors who are steeped in the love of what they do, and Bayona is one of those. He eats, sleeps, and drinks movies. He’s a walking film encyclopedia. He’s a bit like Martin Scorsese in that way. He’s also very sensitive. He takes care of, guides, and nurtures his actors and that’s what I always hope a director will do. He allows you to experiment, so you both can get at the truth of what a scene is – and he will try for as long as it takes. I love working with a director like that.”

As part of Bayona’s approach, Neeson worked alongside Lewis MacDougall so that both actors could share ownership of their scenes together. Neeson reflects, “I’ve worked with children who’ve been swamped by the industry, and they’ve lost a kind of childlike innocence. Lewis has all that intact. He’s still a real kid – but also a powerful young actor.”

“A Monster Calls” is a visually spectacular and stunning adventure that will open in cinemas on November 2, 2016 from Pioneer Films.

Why John Lloyd Cruz almost cursed after watching ‘Apocalyse Child’

Matinee idol John Lloyd Cruz and blockbuster directors Jerrold Tarog and Erik Matti are among the many admirers of “Apocalypse Child,” a sexy drama about a surfing instructor’s search for his real father and his real self. The movie opens in cinemas nationwide on October 26. The award-winning Filipino film stars an acclaimed cast (Sid Lucero, RK Bagatsing, Gwen Zamora, Ana Abad Santos, Annicka Dolonius, Archie Alemania), features the breathtaking Baler seascape, and a very intriguing premise.

“Apocalypse Child” tells the story of Ford (played by Sid Lucero), a surfing instructor in Baler who is supposedly the love child of Chona (portrayed by Ana Abad Santos) with American director Francis Ford Copolla who shot the film, “Apocalypse Now” in Baler during the 1970s. One summer, the adult Ford needs to confront his true identity when his childhood friend, Rich (RK Bagatsing), now a congressman, returns to Baler with fiancee Serena (Gwen Zamora). Ford teaches Serena how to surf and this upsets Fiona (Annicka Dolonius), a budding surfer who has fallen in love with Ford.

Since its success at the 3rd QCinema International Film Festival where it won Best Picture, “Apocalypse Child” has captured the minds and hearts of viewers here and abroad. The film has been screened in international filmfests in Italy, New York, Korea, Hawaii, Warsaw, and Ireland. It has played to SRO previews in various local venues such as Pineapple Lab in Makati.

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Producers Arkeo Films and Skinny People Productions intially planned to continue the series of screenings but eventually decided on a wide commercial release. “The response of the audience has been overwhelming. There is passionate love for the film,” says director and co-writer Mario Cornejo. “Every time we showed it, people would ask us, ‘When are you going to show it in theaters?’ They want to watch the movie again and bring along their family and friends.”

Actor John Lloyd Cruz and directors Jerrold Tarog and Erik Matti, are just some of those who’ve seen it and have given their “two thumbs up” (along with the Cinema Evaluation Board that gave “Apocalypse Child” a grade of “A.”)

Co-writer and producer Monster Jimenez relates that John Lloyd quietly attended the Pineapple Lab screening of “Apocalypse Child” last August. After watching, he texted his reaction to a friend who passed the message to Monster. “Absolutely stunning and original. One of the best I’ve seen this year. — but what I really wanna say is ‘P*tang Ina! Ang ganda!!”

Jerrold, the director of box-office indie “Heneral Luna” has been posting about “Apocalypse Child” on Facebook page, long before the announcement of the commercial release, urging his friends and followers to watch it. He said, “It’s a rare Pinoy film that gets the dynamics of complex relationships just right. Very real and honest. One of the best local films ever made.”

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Erik was already raving about “Apocalypse Child” in its work-in-progress status and more so when he saw the final cut. Erik said, “As soon as the movie starts with the voice-over talking about myths, I knew I was in for a really good ride.” Direk Erik described “Apocalypse Child” as “alluring, unpredictable, strange and poignant. Mario and Monster craft a film with great performances, editing and cinematography.” Moreover, he praised Mario by saying, “(He) is one of the few Filipino directors who know how to use the elements of film other than just having a good script in hand.”

One viewer who certainly loves the surfing film is actress and former beauty queen Dindi Gallardo whom Monster reveals “Must have seen the movie at least three times!” Dindi told Monster, “It’s a naturalistic film that’s absorbing and powerfully acted.”

“Apocalypse Child” is rated R-16 by the MTRCB and is distributed by Solar Entertainment.

‘Allied’ poster has Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard up in arms

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are dressed to kill in the international poster of Paramount Pictures’ Allied, the World War II romantic thriller from Oscar-winning director, Robert Zemeckis.

Check out the poster below and watch the film when it opens nationwide on November 23.

Written by Steven Knight (“Eastern Promises,” “Locke”), the film stars Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Lizzy Kaplan and Matthew Goode.

“Allied” is the story of intelligence officer Max Vatan (Pitt), who in 1942 North Africa encounters French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard) on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Reunited in London, their relationship is threatened by the extreme pressures of the war.

“Allied” is distributed by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

Sci-fi thriller ‘Arrival,’ based on acclaimed short story

In Columbia Pictures’ provocative science-fiction thriller Arrival, a mysterious spacecraft touches down across the globe, and an elite team – lead by expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) – are brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers – and to find them, she will take a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity. Also starring Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker.

“I’ve dreamed of doing science fiction since I was ten years old,” explains director Denis Villeneuve, who fell deeply in love with the short story Arrival is based upon, Ted Chiang’s ‘Story of Your Life.’ “It’s a genre that I feel has a lot of power and the tools to explore our reality in a very dynamic way.”

“After producers Dan Levine and Dan Cohen first contacted me about doing a movie,” says Chiang, “they sent me a DVD of Denis’ film, Incendies (2010), to give me an idea of what they had in mind. That played a big part in my taking them seriously. If they had sent me a copy of a conventional Hollywood science-fiction movie, I probably would have ignored them. It wasn’t until a few years later that Denis was actually attached to direct, but he was the director they had in mind from the beginning.”

Villeneuve approached Arrival differently for a number of reasons. Even though he thought ‘Story of Your Life’ was “fantastic material” he simply didn’t have time to write the screenplay because he was in the middle of shooting Prisoners (2013). “I had no time to write a screenplay,” says Villeneuve, “and, to be honest, I didn’t know how to crack that short story because it’s very intellectual, in a strong and beautiful way, but from a dramatic point of view it’s a bit difficult to articulate because it’s about process.”

Villeneuve left it with the producers, including executive producer and screenwriter Eric Heisserer, who had already been working on an adaptation of the short story from early on in the production process. “They came back a few months later with a screenplay written by Eric Heisserer that was surprisingly good,” says Villeneuve. “I say surprising because Eric was able to crack it and create a sense of tension and a drama inside of that process of translation.” Villeneuve was on board.

Heisserer was equally taken by Chiang’s story. “Ted’s short story gripped me in a way that very few stories do,” recounts Heisserer. “It wasn’t that I felt that the qualities of the story were inherently cinematic, but it gave me something that I hadn’t had in a long time. It fed my brain and my heart. It made me think and feel, and it treated me with a lot of respect as an intelligent reader. At the end of the day I felt it gave an optimistic message about humanity, and in turn about myself.”

“Eric and I didn’t talk about the script as it was being written,” explains Chiang. “He pitched me his idea for the script early on in order to get me to grant permission. I should note that when I wrote the story, I never envisioned it being made into a film and I had difficulty imagining what a film adaptation of it would look like. When I heard Eric’s pitch I was able to visualize the film he had in mind and I liked it, so I let him go ahead and write a script. After he had finished it, I read it and offered a few comments. Over the years the script has undergone some changes, but in most ways it’s still what Eric originally pitched.”

Opening across the Philippines on December 7, 2016, Arrival is distributed in the Philippines by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.

Award-winning psychological thriller ‘Mulat’ screens with controversial short ‘TheRapist’

Of all the triumphs going for Diane Ventura’s first feature-length film, Mulat (Awaken), its genre-bending narrative style and the ace performances of its actors perhaps take the cake. Chief in this long list are its two lead actors—Jake Cuenca (who plays the morose Jake) and Ryan Eigenmann (who is dynamite as Vince)—both of whom effectively quash any preconceived notions viewers may have of their abilities due to their notoriety in more mass-leaning vehicles. Newcomer Loren Burgos is also not to be shrugged off, and it is her impassioned turn as Sam, in equal doses forceful and vulnerable, which serves as the movie’s anchor. Supporting cast members such as the sparring couple of Logan Goodchild (Logan) and Candy Pangilinan (Cathy), as well as theater mainstay Madeleine Nicolas (Sam’s mom), also deserve kudos.

But let’s not kid ourselves here: Ventura’s material is topnotch, and it is our good fortune that she is adamant in presenting things, well, differently. What in lesser hands will be a straightforward three-way love story gets a shot in the arm with the young director at the helm. What we have instead in Mulat is a psychological thriller, a time-hopping mystery, and a perspective-rich romance rolled into one, where linearity is challenged and logic is refashioned. Some may view it as difficult, but any worthwhile experiment is worth some work. And the critics agree: Mulat is worth laboring over. Since its global debut a while back, Ventura has bagged Best Director for Global Feature, while Jake Cuenca took home Best Actor at the International Film Festival Manhattan 2015. The film also won Best Narrative Feature at the World Cinema Festival in Brazil, where Cuenca once again snagged Best Actor honors. Mulat was also given the “A” rating by the Cinema Evaluation Board.

In retrospect, Diane Ventura’s previous output, the Cherie Gil starrer TheRapist, was a portent of fine things to come. Another psychological vehicle, the short film is yet another triumph in less-is-more craftsmanship, and it approached weighty issues (rape, abuse, sexuality, psychoanalysis) with deft hands. A new trailer for said film, which got a G rating from the MTRCB after initially being deemed unfit for public viewing, will also be shown in local screenings of Mulat.