A MONSTER CALLS – the story of a son and grief

by Ruby Chingu

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What is it all about? 

The story of a son and grief.

Prior to watching the movie, I had no clue what A Monster Calls is all about. A friend wanted to watch it and out of boredom, I tagged along with him. What I did not expect was to almost bawl my eyes out, crying and had tears streaming down my cheeks by one and half hour into the movie.

It struck a terribly personal chord within me, the movie, this supposedly children’s movie about imaginary monster and fairy tales.

Oh, children films. I look down on you no more.

It tells the tale of Conor, a young boy whose mother is dying of a terminal disease. To say that his life is pathetic is an understatement. Our Connor has no friends, gets bullied in school, teachers do not give a shit about him and has a strained relationship with his grandmother, a strict blunt elderly woman. Worse, he has been suffering bouts of insomnia or sleep deprivation – he would be visited by the same nightmare each time he closes his eyes. He finds solace in drawing (don’t they all?) dark figures and characters, living in his own world.

In front of his house was a gigantic yew tree, an ancient tree located at the top of the hill. One fated night, the tree turned into a monster (more like a walking wooden figurine, to be honest), came to his house and declared (in his commanding Liam Neeson voice) that he would be paying Connor four visits – he would also be telling Connor three tales and wanted the latter to tell him the fourth tale. After a few times dismissing this experience as a delusion, Connor began to accept it as a reality. Now, the stories told by the monster – I initially thought it would be the usual good vs bad lot – prove to be so much more than that. Each of the stories were of good characters who ended up doing evil things. They were of death, power, retribution, faith and so on. That the line that separates both good and evil is indeed blurry after all, showing us how complex humans can be.

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I was mind blown right away.

The climax of the story is when it was Connor’s turn to tell the fourth tale. I was a bit confused at first – now why would the monster want Connor to do that? What tale was he talking about? Only when Connor finally confessed it that I was like – whoahhh! Damn!! This is dark shit! But beautifully written shit! But dark, nonetheless.

Clue – All of Connor’s struggles go back to the most important person in his life.

Why I love the movie –

  1. Writing, pace and overall tone

The director did not shy away from making the film dark right away. Despite it being a children’s film, there was no effort to make it all rainbows and unicorn, as if saying – some childhood can be dark and this is one of it. Dark does not mean bad, though. Dark means reality, strength and character.

The shots of the vast English countryside contributed greatly to the mood. The music is often dramatic and stretched, an indication of Connor’s heightened emotions as his mother was nearing her death.

2. Acting 

Connor is played by a young actor, Lewis MacDougall, who is so on my radar. Lewis’s big intense eyes expressed the conflicts he kept suppressed in him so well that he needed no words to convey what he felt. Connor’s life is all about being someone he is not out of necessity. Connor is a young boy in need of his mother’s love yet he has to wake up every morning, prepares his own breakfast, does the family laundry and takes care of his own self while his mother is fighting cancer. He also pretends to be calm – at school, he barely says a word. Yet deep inside was a boiling heart filled with rage, grief and sadness.

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And the mother – the spiritual core of the story, I’d say – is none other than Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything, Star Wars – Rogue One). The final scene where she looked at the monster in the eyes as her son hugged her on her deathbed is profound. That was when my heart screamed, “you can see him! You know him! Good God, did you send him?”

3. Grief, Bereavement, Loss, Acceptance and Strength

Watching this film in the cinema was indeed an emotional journey for me. It wrecked me and, I’m quite sure, other audiences who have experienced loss. Connor was the avatar used by the director to relate to us these emotions that bind us together. With his mother battling cancer, he is not only robbed of his guardian but also his childhood, sense of security, happiness and trust (for he has an asshole father who left his mother and visits him only a few times a year). However, at the end of the movie, Connor learnt to accept all of these struggles instead of fighting against or denying them.

I believe that the monster is a form of his mother – a being created by her to help him deal with her pending death and the guilt that comes with the desire for all of his sufferings to end. In a way, his mother is telling him, “It is alright to want the pain to be over, Connor.”

Deep, people, so deep.

 RATING: 4/5

Because it deserves it. It is a great watch. It teaches me to not underestimate the experiences of a child and the power of everything between good and evil.

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The Deep Blue Sea (2011)

By The Gorgeous Palah Chingu

Freddie & Hester
Freddie & Hester

‘I love you but I’m sorry we can’t be together’.

Among all the phrases of love that I’ve heard, this is one phrase that I am unable to understand. If you truly love me, why in the seven hells we can’t be together? I find it beyond my comprehension to understand how leaving someone you love can make him/her to be happy for the rest of their life. I just don’t get it. (am sorry for being so emotional!! haha)

The deep blue sea told the story of Hester (who is a married woman) is having an affair with Freddie (an ex pilot during World War 2). They still continued having an affair even William (Hester’s husband) knew about it. William may not grant Hester a divorce but he let Hester live with Freddie as he made it clear he does not want to see her wife’s face anymore. Hester somehow compared her dilemma with someone caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. She loves her husband, William but the passion and physical intimacy was not there anymore. He could not provide her that. Freddie, on the other hand, capable to ignite the passion and the burning love inside Hester but he’s not emotionally stable. He was always angry and sometimes lashing it out on Hester.

My Rating: 4/5
My Rating: 4/5

William, after a while, begged Hester to stop the infatuation and plead her to return to him. He after all would make Hester comfortable and never in a million years would make her cry. Hester insisted that she loves Freddie and told William that being with Freddie make her a whole person. Hester tried to kill herself when Freddie forgot her birthday and she failed as it was discovered by her neighbor. Freddie knew about it when he finds out suicide note that Hester wrote to him. That was when Freddie felt that their relationship is unhealthy. Freddie felt he and Hester are lethal to each other. He then dumped Hester and took a job in Rio.

As much as I would want to believe this is a timeless love story, for me, it is not. Why? Love is a bit of both, you enjoy emotional comfort and support and you feel the passion and the fluttering feelings in yourself. You felt safe with him and being yourself is what defined your relationship with your lover. In this case, Hester had to compromise and sometimes end up crying because of Freddie’s rudeness and indifferent towards her. Sure, she felt alive being with Freddie but where is the feeling that ‘when you are together, that is where your home is’. For me, what happened between Freddie and Hester only a passion encounter. Hester can’t resist Freddie’s charm and she was intoxicated by him. Freddie too felt the same way about Hester. For me, it’s a pure lust story. Judging from William’s age and look, we all can understand why Hester cheated on him.

William & Hester
William & Hester

There’s nothing wrong about that. Sometimes, I think people deserve to take a break in their marriage especially those who already married in 10 years and above. However, this is my opinion. I don’t know how you guys think about a passion encounter, maybe it’s sinful, maybe it’s wrong but we are human, for god sake. We are bound to make mistakes.

Stuart: A Life Backwards (2007)

By The Gorgeous Palah Chingu

MY RATING: 4/5
MY RATING: 4/5

Where do I start is the question that come across my mind first after watching this film. There’s a mixed reaction on this film that i felt and I somehow couldn’t get it off my head. I was angry, betrayed, sad and depressed all at once. I felt it all right in my chest.

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Tom Hardy as Stuart Shorter

Stuart is a homeless person. He met Alexander in one of the meeting for the homeless person. Let’s just say that meeting created the friendship between them. I was not convinced how Tom Hardy can pull off the homeless look. I mean, He’s a stud. He’s charming in his own way. That’s where he proved me wrong. He portrayed the character so effortlessly. You can feel the emotion, you feel empathy and somehow, you could blame the world for turning him into who he is in this movie. I wasn’t planning to watch this film any time soon. Believe me, last thing I want was tears on my face and post-effect after watching this kind of film.

Stuart has been abused by his own brother for 3 years. His brother sometimes brought friend to join him in the act. At the age of 9, Stuart lost his innocence. I can’t stand the abuse especially when it involves kids. I don’t like kids personally, but nobody deserved to be treated like Stuart had for 3 years. It was inhumane, cruel and evil. The most shocking truth is that his own brother, to whom Stuart put his trust, was the one who violated him. There are a series of awfully unspeakable thing that happened to him. He finally lost it and went on rampage, demanding that his mother put him in the children’s care.

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Alexander and stuart

I always wonder when this thing occurred to kids, what did they do to deserve this? Sure, they can be annoying as hell and sometimes could be irritating, but a few punishments are more than adequate. Being sexually abused for years really flipped people in a way that ordinary people can’t fathom. After being put into the children’s care, he was not exactly saved either. He was abused (once again) by the pedophile in the care. I cried. I really cried my heart out when Stuart confessed in the tape that he was abused when he was 9 years old and stated that he never understand how could people inflicted harm on him.

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Benedict Cumberbatch as Alexander Masters

Alexander, on the other hand, has no interest in working for homeless shelter. He told Stuart he only did it because the pay was good. However, the more he spends time with Stuart, the more he wanted to know about him. He told Stuart he wanted to write about Stuart and it was Stuart’s idea to write a biography about him but in backwards style. It was to appeal the readers. Benedict Cumberbatch was never a disappointing actor. He played as Alexander Masters, the one who wrote the biography of Stuart shorter. He discovered what really happened to Stuart after listening to the recording tapes that given by Stuart and a series of interview by his own family’s members. In the beginning of the film, you can see how Alexander felt disgusted and even felt uncomfortable to be around Stuart. What can you expect? I bet we all would feel the same way. He changed afterwards. He’s accompanied Stuart everywhere and so used to his present around him.

However, right after the draft of book finished, Stuart committed suicide in front of the train. Alexander told that he was not sure why Stuart did it. I don’t blame him for taking away his life. Sure, there a lot of people can say that they can help, gives support and everything but in the end, the one who felt it is the victim. How can you take the misery, pain, hatred that they felt right after they experienced the abuse? Nobody can. The only comfort I had after watching this film was the perpetrator; the Stuart brother’s committed suicide. I don’t know why he did it, but I’m glad he did.

The book written by Alexander Masters:

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THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL – 2012 Film Review

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REVIEW BY RUBY CHINGU

RATING: 8/10

May I begin the review with the poignant dialogues by the character Evelyn, said at the end of the film:

“The only real failure is the failure to try. And the measure of success is how we cope with disappointment. As we always must. We came here and we tried, all of us in our different ways. Can we be blamed for feeling that we are too old to change? Too scared of disappointment to start it all again?

We get up in the morning. We do our best. Nothing else matters.”

I am an emotional being. I am over-dramatic. I over-think and any unhappiness that has befallen my way has been deemed as a rightful symptom of depression.

Then came films such as this to make me feel better, always, like there is so much more to life than just sitting up and whining about being trapped within our own circumstances.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel tells the story about 7 elderly British citizens who decided to spend their retirement years in a city called Jaipur in India. Each from different walks of life, they settled down in a less-than-perfect almost-crumbling retirement hotel. The characters encountered challenges as they tried to make themselves comfortable and hopefully, adapt to the country of India, filled with its colourful cultures, noisy streets and crowded, just crowded alleys and markets.

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From clockwise: We have the kind husband Douglas aka Mr Ainslie, the bitter retired housekeeper Mrs Donnelly, the hedonistic Norman, on the motorbike are Sonny (the hotel’s young manager) and Sunaina, his girlfriend, then Marge, who was on the lookout for a new rich husband, the whiny Mrs Ainslie, the humble former judge Mr Dashwood and last but not least, the recently-widowed Evelyn.

I love these ‘aftermath’ films. The aftermath to their younger years – they had achieved what they had wanted to. Now, how shall they spend the years leading to the end of their lives? But who can actually say that the end is to come? What if the story is a beginning to something? This is what this film teaches us – that life and the joy to live can be revived in the most extraordinary manner. What more so in a country away from the home you have ever known, with new people, new places and a new culture altogether.

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My favourite character here is Mr Graham Dashwood, whose decision to return to India after retiring from the judicial service came quite abruptly. Even though he was the obviously most successful one of the crowd, he was a humble soft-spoken man. However, beneath that personality was a sad yearning to see the long lost love of his life, an Indian man who used to work for his family household when he was a teenager living in India. It had been forty years or so since he had moved to Britain and last saw his lover. Nevertheless, he never really stopped loving him and when his heart told him to retire and go to India to look for him, possibly ask for his forgiveness for abandoning him, he did. There was that calmness about him as he strolled around the city of Jaipur and his familiarity with the place – being the only one who was in harmony with Indian culture – was wonderful to see.

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My second favourite character is Evelyn, a housewife who had just lost her husband, brilliantly portrayed by Judi Dench. Prior to the move to India, Evelyn had been a devoted wife, trusting her life decisions to her late husband. Only after he had passed away that she realized he had used up all of their savings and incurred debts, thus forcing her to sell her house in Britain, leaving her, in the end, with almost nothing. It is so exciting to see her, quite innocent and naive, as she faced the challenges to be independent – not in her home country but in a country she had never visited before. Knowing that her savings were not enough to pay for her monthly bills, she got herself a job in a call centre near the hotel as an advisor to the telephone operators. I kind of wished for a love live between Evelyn and Mr Dashwood at the beginning before I found out that the latter was gay. However, Evelyn did get a romantic story-arc with another character, our kind-hearted Mr Ainslie, played by Bill Nighy.

The characters’ interaction with their new surroundings are very funny. They are polite, good people. However, they are so used to the way things are at the place where they came from. Compared to Britain, India is different. Or compare any other two countries for that matter. We will never feel as secure as we are at our home country. However, that does not mean settling down in a new one is a bad thing. Changes are certainly not a bad thing, especially if they are for the better. We may falter and make mistakes. The important part is that we allow ourselves to try something new and waste no opportunity in living our lives, like what the characters in this film did.

IMG_8314.CR2The story may not be adventurous or thrilling However,  I can confidently say that it is a terribly exciting one. The story is unpredictable for me because rarely do I get an insight of an elderly people’s minds. I do not know how they think (and other people as well, I confess). They oozed certain aura of confidences because they have lived their lives and they have all the experiences that we, young people, are lacking. However, that does not mean that life would stop surprising them with unpredictable occurrences, sad tidings and unexpected happiness.

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Always, people say that they are afraid to grow old. Even me, in my personal opinion, worry about what is to happen when I reach that stage. Nevertheless, films like this give me a little bit of hope. That with good health and a positive mind, you can conquer anything, rise up, explore and learn new stuffs no matter what age you are.