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.