Tag Archives: J.A. Bayona

Survive and Advance

Society of the Snow

by George Wolf

2012’s The Impossible proved director J.A. Bayona could recreate a real life disaster with heart-racing precision, and then mine the intimate aftermath to find a touching depth.

Since then, he’s had his big screen mind on monsters, with results both miraculous (A Monster Calls) and mixed (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom). Now, Netflix’s Society of the Snow finds Bayona back in the true adventure business.

And his business in Society of the Snow is heartbreakingly, thrillingly, unbelievably good.

It’s the latest account of the 1972 Andes flight disaster, a legendary ordeal that has been detailed in several books and films over the last five decades plus. Bayona read Pablo Vierci’s “La Sociedad de la Nieve” while researching The Impossible, bought the rights soon after, and now teams with co-writers Bernat Vilaplana and Jaime Marques for a harrowing and fittingly reverent treatment.

Following Vierci’s lead, Bayona makes sure we get to know many of the members of the ill-fated Uruguayan rugby team, who were on their way to a long weekend in Chili when their plane – carrying 40 passengers and 5 crew members – went down among the snowy peaks.

After an introduction that endears the young men to us via enthusiastic friendship and youthful naïveté, Bayona pulls us into the crash experience with a spectacular, terrifying set piece almost guaranteed to whiten your knuckles and quicken your pulse.

It’s a stunner, as it should be, because it anchors the film in a survival mode that will be tested beyond what most people could ever imagine.

The ensemble cast, filled mainly with newcomers, is deeply affecting. The survivors will be pushed to their physical, moral and spiritual breaking points, and these young actors make sure not one exhausting second of it feels false.

Bayona and cinematographer Pedro Lugue present the Andes as a beautiful monster in its own right, capable of majesty and menace in equal measure. The smaller you feel, the better, so experience this one on the biggest screen you can find.

Forget what you know. Even if you’re aware of what these people went through, Society of the Snow will reframe the tale with a deeper level of humanity and courage. And should this legend be new to you, resist the urge to research until after you’ve seen Bayona’s take.

It’s one unforgettable journey.

Dinosaur Poetry

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

by Hope Madden

If you don’t know director J.A. Bayona, that’s unfortunate. His first three feature films—The Orphanage, The Impossible and A Monster Calls—emphasized storytelling skills that were equal parts visceral and poetic.

He picks up the Jurassic mantle with the latest in the franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The visceral part seems likely, but dinosaur poetry? Sadly, no.

It’s been a few years since toothy, carnivorous hell broke loose on the island theme park Jurassic World. Though the un-Jurassic world has left those dinosaurs alone on their island—mostly—the island itself seems to be self-selecting extinction for the beasts, its now-active volcano an immediate threat to their very survival.

Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) wants to save them. But how? I mean, dinosaurs are really big. Many of them bite. Interacting with them has proven dangerous and silly four different times. What’s a girl to do?

Well, put on some sensible shoes, for once, and take a deal from a dying old billionaire with a Hogwarts-style estate and a guilt complex. Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), one-time partner of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough from the original film), wants to bring as many beasties as possible to a secluded island he owns where they’ll be safe.

Or is this just another example of idealistic lefties falling prey to greedy capitalists and scientists with their cadre of guns-for-hire?

It’s basically The Lost World with more volcano and less Vince Vaughn.

Howard’s Dearing—point of such contention in the previous installment with her severe hair, white pumps and icy demeanor just waiting to be melted by a real man—is simultaneously softer and stronger this time around. Howard, though, is mainly just dewy-skinned and earnest.

Chris Pratt returns as the real man in question, and he is as charmingly Chris Pratt as ever.

The real problem, besides the hackneyed and derivative story penned by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow (who both penned Jurassic World, which Trevorrow directed), is Bayona’s tired direction.

Though he does not shy away from showing human carnage, there is not a fresh or compelling set piece in the film. What doesn’t feel directly lifted from earlier works plods along blandly, the only tension coming from the real curiosity about why the character hasn’t yet a) closed the door, b) climbed the ladder, c) run.

Yes, the sight of a volcano exploding on Hawaii (location for the filming) does generate some anxiety, and the sound of a child crying out near images of anything being caged against its will is even more horrific. It’s hard to credit Bayona for having his finger on the pulse of current events, though, given that he’d have completed shooting at least a year before our latest American shame.

Hell, dinosaurs would be a welcome change of pace at this point.

A Poignant Beauty

A Monster Calls

by Hope Madden

There is something deeply brave in A Monster Calls, director JA Bayona’s cinematic presentation of Patrick Ness’s understandably praised young adult book.

A boy of 12 – no longer a child, not yet a man, as these tales often go – finds himself trapped in a period of tremendous discomfort. Not adolescence – although that is rarely fun for anyone. Never mind the bullies who routinely beat him, or the balance of his schoolmates who don’t notice him at all.

True, these are real problems that often litter angsty pre-teen dramas. But Bayona and Ness are prepared to more closely examine something far less frequently explored because it is untidy, uncomfortable and hard to look at.

Conor’s mom is going to die, and we spend 108 minutes – brilliant, honest and profoundly sad minutes – with him as he deals with that sad reality.

A monster (Liam Neeson) – in the form of a walking yew tree – visits Conor (Lewis MacDougall) every night and tells him stories. But like everything else about this film – and about life, for that matter – the stories are messy and frustrating. They do not fit the tidy, black-and-white fables Conor wants to hear.

“Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary,” explains the monster.

Simply and beautifully, A Monster Calls articulates so many insights about adolescence and about grief.

What is so startling about A Monster Calls is now true it is to this particular time in life: the baffling behavior of adults, the suffocating aloneness, the disconcerting rage and guilt.

MacDougall steers clear of clichés with a courageous central performance. Though Sigourney Weaver’s accent is noticeably weak, supporting turns are uniformly strong.

Neeson – who narrates one of every three documentaries produced on earth – knows how to employ his voice alone to bring this thrilling beast to life.

But the real stars are Ness, who adapted his novel for the screen, and Bayona.

As he did with his breakout 2007 film The Orphanage, Bayona takes his time and lets his story take its own shape. Of course, part of that shape comes courtesy of a darkly imaginative animation department.

As splendid as the film is, minor faults stand out – the sound is sometimes garbled; sick-bed make up could be stronger; Weaver’s no Brit.

And like Spike Jonze’s underappreciated 2009 masterpiece Where the Wild Things Are, A Monster Calls is in many ways a better fit for adults than for children. It is such a refreshing and intelligent departure from traditional family fare that it’s hard to even see it as part of the same category. This poignant beauty is in a class all its own.