Tag Archives: Felicity Jones

You Rang?

‘A Monster Calls’ scares away terrors of childhood

A MONSTER CALLS

A Monster Calls
Starring Lucas MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver & the voice of Liam Neeson
Directed by J.A. Bayona
PG-13

J.A. Bayona knows that childhood can be a scary, perilous time.

The Spanish director’s first major movie, The Orphanage (2007), was a poignant, unnerving haunted-house horror tale about ghosts of the deep past. His second, The Impossible (2012), swept a couple (Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) and their three children away in the great Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004.

Now A Monster Calls finds a 12-year-old boy, Conor (Lucas MacDougall), visited in the night by a giant “tree monster” who tells him a series of stories to help him cope with the inevitable consequences of his mother’s incurable cancer and the bullying of his schoolmates.

_MG_5478.CR2Is the monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) a fantasy creature from Conor’s dreams, a figment of his fertile imagination, or one of his pencil drawings come magically to life?

Like the ancient, towering tree that “becomes” the monster every night, just past midnight at exactly 12:07 a.m., there’s a lot going on both above the surface and beneath it in this beautiful-looking film of great depth, heart and soul. It’s a coming-of-age tale of a boy and his mom (Felicity Jones, who’s terrific), and how he gets tangled up by his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) and his estranged father (Toby Kebbell), who’s now remarried and living stateside.

Not to mention those bullies, who tease and threaten him, push him around, ambush him in the schoolyard and debase his artwork.

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Felicity Jones plays Conor’s mom.

Conor is haunted by a recurring nightmare about being on the maw of a dark, seemingly bottomless pit, where he’s holding on for dear life to the hand of his mother, who’s fallen over the edge. Curled up one evening on the couch with her, watching King Kong on late-night TV, it’s no wonder Conor can relate to the great beast, dogged by biplanes peppering him with gunfire until he can no longer hold on to the top of the Empire State Building. The mighty Kong loses his grip and falls to his death.

Conor’s eyes fill with tears and he asks his mom why Kong had to die. Why did people hate him? Why did they kill him? “People don’t like what they don’t understand,” she tells him.

A MONSTER CALLSYoung people will certainly be able to relate to Conor and his plight, an adolescent symphony of anger, resentment and righteous rage that will ring true in a variety of circumstances. Grownups will appreciate the movie’s craftwork and gorgeous artistry, especially when the monster tells Conor his stories; each one is a mini-parable with a lesson, illustrated and animated differently.

Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. If they more of them were as cool as a storytelling tree that sounded like Liam Neeson, maybe the world might not seem like such a scary place.

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We Are Stardust

‘Rogue One’ is Rollicking Prequel to Original ‘Star Wars’ Saga

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luno, Forest Whitaker & Riz Ahmed
Directed by Gareth Edwards
PG-13
In theaters Dec. 16, 2016

Space, science tell us, just continues to expand—endlessly, forever.

How else would it have room for Star Wars, the multi-billion-dollar franchise that just gets bigger all the time? It’s listed by Guinness World Records as the planet’s most successful movie merchandising series, a gargantuan, ever-growing realm of films, TV shows, games, comic books, toys and other products.

It all started back in 1977, sort of. As fans know, the first movie was really the fourth—or Episode IV—in the middle of a much bigger story arc to come, one that would play out over the following four decades. And now, the rollicking eighth film takes us back some 30 years, prequel-style, before the big bang.

Ben Mendelsohn

Ben Mendelsohn

In the new Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Felicity Jones is a feisty fireball as Jyn Erso, the daughter of a brilliant scientist (Mads Milkkelsen) kidnapped by a fascist operations director (Ben Mendelsohn) of the Galactic Empire to complete his ultimate weapon of mass destruction, the Death Star. When Jyn finds out her father has built a secret booby trap, deep inside the device, by which it can be destroyed, she knows she has to help the Rebel resistance find and steal the blueprint of the weapon so the Death Star can be blown to smithereens.

These events, you may recall, preceded and set up the original Star Wars, and are summarized in that film’s iconic opening scroll: “It is a period of civil war… Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans…”

That alone should be enough to send goose bumps up and down the spine of any true fan. British director Gareth Edwards was only 2 years old when the original film—introducing the world to Luke, Han Solo and Princess Leia, and the loveable droids R2-D2 and C-3P0—came out, but he obviously immersed himself in the culture as he grew. While buzzing and humming with new characters, the visually splendid, dramatically stirring Rogue One remains steadfast to the legacy of the franchise and offers some delightful surprise appearances by “old” familiar faces—good, evil, human and droid.

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk)

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk)

Jyn gradually becomes part of a motley, multicultural, Dirty Dozen/Ocean’s 11-esque crew on a mission to steal the Death Star plans. Diego Luno is Capt. Cassian Andor, a veteran resistance spy, this movie’s version of Han Solo. Forest Whitaker plays Jyn’s mentor, Rebel insurgent Saw Guerra. Hong Kong action star and martial artist Donnie Yen is a blind warrior monk guided by the Force.

Riz Ahmed plays Bhodi Rook, a defected Imperial pilot seeking atonement. Alan Tudyk (the voice of the Duke in Frozen) provides the voice of K-2SO, or Kaytoo, a retooled, wisecracking Imperial droid who gets many of the movie’s best lines. Chinese actor-director Wen Jiang is fearless machine gunner Baze Malbus.

There are Imperial Destroyers, gigantic AT-ACT Walkers and fleets of Jedi Interceptors and X-Wings in pounding, eye-popping sky and land battles. Much of the action has strong military vibes, such as a rousing speech to the “troops” before a beach landing preceding a blistering assault with guns, grenades and aerial bombing. Filmed in the tropical island atolls of the Indian Ocean, the sequence is like a gritty, futuristic throwback to classic WWII cinema.

Off the battlefield, Rogue One works the themes of family, camaraderie and loyalty, and how—throughout time—the heavy hand of rule and repression has masqueraded as “peacekeeping.” When Jedha, a Jedi holy mountaintop city and rebel base, is attacked by the Death Star, it’s no stretch to think of the ancient Roman hammer coming down on Jewish cities like Jerusalem or Masada.

“We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion-year-old carbon,” wrote Joni Mitchell in her 1970 song “Woodstock,” her anthem for the hippie generation about how everyone is basically—elementally—connected. Science tells us stardust, originated from explosions billions of years ago, zillions of light-years distant, continues to swirl throughout the cosmos, regenerating in everything in the universe.

In Rogue One, “Stardust” is the nickname given to Jyn as a little girl by her father. It takes on a much deeper meaning as the movie progresses, and especially—quite literally—as it ends.

Who would have thought that a rollicking space opera so “long ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” back in 1977, could make such an impact, such a cultural explosion, still expanding and spreading? The next Star Wars, Episode VIII, is slated for December of next year, another—starring Alden Ehrenreich as young Han Solo—is tracking for spring 2018, and Episode IX is on the launch pad for May 2019.

In space, and just about everywhere else, the Star Wars stardust just keeps spreading, indeed. “We have a long ride ahead of us,” says Capt. Andor as he, Kaytoo and Jyn buckle up when their adventure gets underway. Fans will giddily enjoy every minute of Rogue One’s rousing journey spanning both yesteryear and tomorrow. And when it’s over, they’ll be ready to hop aboard again and again and again, for a ride that may just go on forever.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Hot to Trot

Tom Hanks runs down another cryptic puzzle in ‘Inferno’

Tom Hanks;Felicity Jones

Inferno
Starring Tom Hanks & Felicity Jones
Directed by Ron Howard
PG-13
In theaters Oct. 28, 2016

“Dante—Dante again,” says Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) as he gazes into the “face” of the late, great Italian poet of the Middle Ages. “Why always Dante?”

Well, it’s not always Dante—but it is this time. And it’s always something involving cloaks, daggers, art, religion and old, cold Mediterranean white guys, as fans of Dan Brown know. Brown is the author who wrote the books Inferno and its two predecessors, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, both of which were also turned into movies with Hanks in the starring role. Brown created the lead character, Langdon, as sort of his own fictional alter ego, a globetrotting, puzzle-solving “symbologist” and professor of religious iconography who repeatedly uncovers conspiracies, solves murders and peels back the layers of other murky mysteries.

In Inferno, Langdon wakes up in hospital room in Florence, Italy, with amnesia and a bloody head wound. Soon he and his nurse, Sienna (Felicity Jones), are running for their lives from a Terminator-like policewoman (Ana Ularu) and connecting the dots from Renaissance-era painter Sandro Botticelli’s painting of hell, inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, to a plot by billionaire scientist Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who just committed suicide. Zobrist’s radical idea of overpopulation control was “cleansing” the planet by wiping out most of the people on it with a viral-pathogen bomb, which he has timed to go off—tomorrow!

Langdon must find the bomb before it’s detonated, and before it’s located by anyone who might try to turn it into a weapon of war, ransom or terrorism.

Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sienna (Felicity Miller) study 'The Map of Hell'

Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sienna (Felicity Miller) study Botticelli’s painting of ‘The Map of Hell’

Director Ron Howard, who was also behind the camera for Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, keeps things moving, literally. As they put together the clues that will lead them to the bomb, Langdon and Sienna are constantly on the go—dashing through crowded streets, ducking in and out of cars, taxicabs, trains and planes, and across a gigantic attic, through a garden, over a wall, into side doors, back doors and hidden passageways.

Who can Langdon trust? What’s the deal with that dude from Slumdog Millionaire, Jurassic World and The Life of Pi (Irrfan Khan) and his drawer full of knives, and that mystery woman (Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen, currently starring in HBO’s Westworld) in Langdon’s unsettling flashbacks? Who knew there were so many unlocked doors in Italy?

 And the movie never stays put, either. It’s filled with beauty shots of recognizable tourist highlights from all the places Langdon’s search takes him. In Florence, he visits the Baptistry of Saint John and the palatial Palazzo Vecchio; he runs through Boboli Gardens and the Vascri Corridor. A side trip to Venice lets our characters linger on the steps of St. Mark’s Basilica, pontificating about the history of the four bronze horses standing guard there. In Istanbul, we’re treated to a lovely shot of the walls of Constantinople and the movie’s soggy, splashy climax, which takes place in the subterranean 6th century Basilica Cistern.

It all feels like a ridiculously expensive, high-stakes reality-show scavenger hunt, with a preposterously contrived plot twist. And like all of Robert Langdon’s adventures, it takes place in one tidy, 24-hour period.

Kids, if you want to grow up and see the world, by all means, see the world. If you want to solve puzzles, there are plenty of books of Sudoku and there’s always a daily crossword. I’m just afraid I can’t recommend becoming a symbologist—there’s far too much running involved, it’s very dangerous, and Robert Langdon seems to have the market cornered.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Mind Over Matter

Eddie Redmayne is superb as physicist Stephen Hawking

TTOE_D19_06191_R1409353879

The Theory of Everything

Starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones

Directed by James Marsh

PG-13

 

You may have seen Eddie Redmayne as the young lovestruck movie production assistant who squires the famous Ms. Monroe around London in My Week With Marilyn, or as Marius, the noble rebel fighter who sings the lovely “Empty Tables at Empty Chairs” in Les Misèrables. Those were fine, standout roles, and they got him noticed.

But this role, as physicist Stephen Hawking, will likely get him an Oscar nomination.

Based on a 2007 memoir by Hawking’s ex-wife, Jane, The Theory of Everything stars Redmayne in an amazing, bravura performance as Hawking, who was diagnosed with motor neuron disease—similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known as Lou Gehrig’s disease—at the age of 21, while working on his doctorate studies at England’s University of Cambridge in the early 1960s.

His physician delivers the news without much hope; he gloomily gives Hawking only a couple of years to live, during which time his body functions—movement, speech, breath—will slowly, inexorably shut down. Hawking wants to know about his mind.

“The brain isn’t affected,” the doctor tells him. “Your thoughts won’t change. It’s just that, eventually, no one will know what they are.”

How wrong that doctor turned out to be. Hawking, now 72, went on to become a superstar in the world of theoretical physics, writing a bestselling book (A Brief History of Time) that sold 10 million copies, communicating through a speech-generating device and advancing his groundbreaking theories wrapping around time, space, black holes and the mind-bending mechanisms of quantum physics.

As Hawking, Redmayne is phenomenal, starting out as a gangly, chipper young university student, looking for “one single unifying equation that explains everything in the universe,” eventually morphing into the crumpled genius in the wheelchair who can only move one finger…and then nothing but an eyelash.

TTOE_D04_01565-01568_R_CROP1409353846British actress Felicity Jones does a fine, forthright job as Jane, the charming coed who becomes Hawking’s first wife. And although Stephen’s hard “science” doesn’t mesh with Jane’s hopeful “faith,” the movie paints a sweet, sweeping picture of their courtship, marriage and young parenthood, and of the intense devotion that Jane brought to the increasing needs of Stephen’s debilitating physical condition.

It would have been nice for the movie to dig in even a bit deeper to Jane’s side of the story, especially when she’s tugged away to stray from her years of love and sacrifice with the young church organist who becomes the family’s friend and Stephen’s caretaker (Charlie Cox). Likewise, it feels a bit glossed-over and rushed when Stephen falls for the doting nurse, Elaine, who becomes his second wife, in the mid 1990s.

But one thing that’s never less than rock-solid is Redmayne, who makes you believe every minute he’s onscreen that he is Stephen Hawking, with all his genius, wit and determination intact even as his body withers around them. He never quite nails down that one, single unifying equation that explains everything—but this one role may be everything Redmayne needs to take home the first major awards of his acting career.

—Neil Pond, Parade and American Profile Magazines

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