FlixChatter Review: Kubo And The Two Strings (2016)

KuboTwoStringsPoster

Directed by Travis Knight | Written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler

Featuring the voices of: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, Brenda Vaccaro and George Takei.

This latest film from Laika is a 3D stop-motion animated film. It tells the story of Kubo, a boy who comes across the ocean as a baby, adrift with his mother, fleeing some sort of great danger – one that has left him with only one eye. In hiding, he grows into a young boy and demonstrates a magical affinity for storytelling and origami. He uses this gift to mesmerize the townsfolk with tales of great warriors and monsters for a bit of money. Meanwhile, his mother, also possessing magical powers, is slipping away in a deep melancholia and fading memories. She forbids him to stay out after dark for they are being hunted by those responsible for taking his eye. As the story progresses, this inevitability comes to pass and those forces catch up to him.

KuboTwoStrings5

Kubo and the Two Strings is a gorgeous film. Laika, which builds on its resume of Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls, has slowly and meticulously been perfecting it’s craft in the genre. 4.3 seconds of animation was produced in a day – the film taking 5 years to complete. Its look is stylish and impressive, fooling this reviewer’s eye into thinking it was done completely in the CGI domain.

Even more impressive are the themes the film tackles: love, life, death, rebirth, grief, the idea of memory as sacred and divine, and the power of storytelling. In this sense, “Kubo” strives for Studio Ghibli territory and is much closer to Miyazaki than any Dreamworks/Pixar/Disney offerings of late. It is appropriate to describe “Kubo” as a Samurai film as it has elements reminiscent of Kurosawa especially in its depiction of evil and the supernatural, as well as the hero’s journey.


While the film doesn’t completely succeed in its efforts to address all of these themes, it doesn’t fail either. Kubo should be lauded for not dumbing down its ideas to cater to the lowest common denominator. There is a darkness and melancholia added on to the film’s optimism and humor – and this seems fitting to its execution: simple with a dash of complexity. I also found its un-sentimentality refreshing in the era dominated by the Frozens and the Finding Dorys.

Kubo and the Two Strings is not perfect but it makes a valiant effort in a mature way. The filmmakers should be commended for that.

Note: the film has some scary images and sequences and not recommended for kids under 10.

4Reels

Vince_review


So what do you think of Kubo and The Two Strings? Let us know what you think!

Week in Review: Shaun the Sheep Movie & London Has Fallen

WeekInReview

Happy Monday folks! Boy, in terms of weather, this is gonna be a darn near perfect week for us here in the Twin Cities! Highs in the 50s and 60s every day and it’s only the beginning of March! Well, I ain’t complaining, in fact I’m wearing short sleeves already today.

Well, usually I do a weekend roundup but I figure I should just make it a Week in Review instead so I can include some reviews from the past week. Well, it seems that I saw the BEST new-to-me film of the year, as well as the absolute WORST one. But hey, I hit a TV milestone in that I finally finished Jessica Jones! I’m REALLY s-l-o-w when it comes to tv watching, obviously. I should have my review of season 1 later this month.

So here’s my reviews of the two I saw last week:

ShauntheSheep

I’m a huge fan of Chicken Run, which was created by animators Nick Park & Peter Lord. I hadn’t seen the tv series version of Shaun the Sheep however, but when I saw the trailer for the movie version I knew I had to see it.

Just like Chicken Run‘s female protagonist Ginger, Shaun is a clever sheep who’s the leader of the pack. I LOVE the set up of the movie, how they just wanted a day off from the routine and have some fun… cooking, making juice, watch TV, etc. whilst they let their farmer master sleep in a caravan. Well, things didn’t go according to plan when somehow the van accidentally rolls away and leads the farmer to the Big City with amnesia. So it’s up to Shaun and the gang to rescue him and of course, as soon as they get to the city, hilarity ensues. The stop-motion animation alone is worth a watch, the shape of the sheep makes me laugh instantly and when they all dress up as humans I was on the floor laughing. The restaurant scene had me in stitches, I hadn’t laughed so hard in a long time. I’m glad I didn’t see this on the big screen with a room full of strangers.

ShauntheSheep2 ShauntheSheep1

But what’s so delightful is the story has so much heart. The relationship between the sheep and the farmer and his dog Bitzer is well-developed that I actually teared up when they’re reunited. I love the plot involving the farmer at a hair salon, it’s just so clever and makes for some really amusing scenes. There’s a pretty funny villain in the form of a ruthless animal control worker and the prison-like shelter have some hilarious throwbacks to some classic films like Cape Fear, Silence of the Lambs, etc. It was unexpected but brilliant!

If you hadn’t seen this, I can’t recommend it enough. The animation style is a lot of fun to watch but it’s the heartwarming story and brilliant humor is one you’ll always remember. Glad that this was one of Oscar’s Best Animated Feature nominees, it’s certainly well-deserved.

4halfReels


LondonHasFallen

Well, if Shaun the Sheep will likely end up in my best list of the year, London Has Fallen will undoubtedly be in my worst. It is the most idiotic movie ridden with action clichés and cringe-worthy moments. Seriously, it might as well be an episode out of BBC’s Spooks (MI-5) but without the clever writing and the gravitas of Peter Firth & the talented British cast.

There’s really no plot to speak of other than the reason POTUS Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) is in London is because he’s attending the British PM’s funeral who died suddenly. So the supposedly ‘most protected event’ on earth is going down with a bunch of world leaders gathering in one spot. It doesn’t take long before all hell break loose, as police and even the members of the royal guards suddenly open fire at people in the middle of the changing guard pageantry at Buckingham Palace. But of course his loyal henchman secret service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is always there to save the president the only way he can.

It should tell you something when the only positive reaction I had after seeing the movie is this:

In any case, if you get a kick out of seeing London engulfed in flames and Londoners shot to bits, this is a movie for you. The fact that it’s set in London doesn’t really have any bearing on the plot, it could’ve been set in other big European city like Paris or Berlin [oh boy let’s hope this doesn’t become a trend w/ this franchise w/ Paris Has Fallen and so on].

I have to say the SFX is slightly better than in its predecessor Olympus Has Fallen, which is odd as it actually has slightly smaller budget than the first one. It doesn’t matter though clearly there’s no spare left for the writers. I really can’t recommend this even to action fans as even though there are endless shootouts and car chases, none of it is really memorable as it’s been done better (and in a more meaningful way) in other action movies. It’s relentlessly violent and bloody, and the movie somehow made Banning appears even more bloodthirsty than even the Middle Eastern terrorists.

LondonHasFallen1LondonHasFallen2

Some critics have said that this is the perfect movie for Trump’s America and y’know what, I couldn’t help thinking that as I was watching it. There’s a xenophobia vibe in the way Banning cruelly dismantles his enemies. I mean, what else are you supposed to make of lines like “Go back to Fuckheadistan, or wherever the hell you’re from!” At one point, president Asher remarked ‘Is that really necessary?’ after witnessing the brutal way Banning executed one of the terrorists, to which he casually replied, ‘no.’  Is sadistic behavior supposed to be funny? It’s really tough to even sympathize with a character like that. There’s not much we know about the protagonist to begin with, other than the fact that he’s about to be a dad but even the scene of him with his expectant wife has no emotional resonance whatsoever. That whole bit about him wanting to retire from his job and stuff is so corny and irritating because of course he won’t retire because Butler wants to keep this franchise going.

I wish I could say the movie has some redeeming qualities, but really there’s none. Even as good actors like Morgan Freeman and Angela Bassett showed up, I kept thinking how much they got paid to keep doing this kind of rubbish. There’s no memorable catchphrases or anything resembling wit or good humor. In fact, the better title for this movie should be ‘Gerard Butler Has Fallen: How Low Can You Go’ [face palm] Suffice to say this will end up in my Worst of the Year list.

1Reel


So did you see anything good this weekend? If you’ve seen any of these movies, I’m curious to hear what YOU think. 

TCFF 2015 Day 6 Recap + Reviews: Anomalisa and Too Late

TCFF15

We’ve passed the halfway point of TCFF already, with just four more days to go in the 11-day cinematic festivities. There are still a whole bunch of great films coming in the next few days!

The highlights of the past few days are definitely meeting the talents and filmmakers attending the film fest!

JohnHawkes_TCFF15
Director Dennis Hauck, John Hawkes & Jatin Setia

It’s especially gratifying to see Alexandria, MN native John Hawkes being honored with a North Star Award for Excellence after the screening of his film Too Late (review below). TCFF will screen other Hawkes films, including Winter’s Bone and Me and You and Everyone We Know“It’s our version of the lifetime achievement award,” TCFF executive director Jatin Setia said of the North Star Award for Excellence. “It’s a brilliant, brilliant body of work thus far in his career.” Amen to that. I had hoped he’d be nominated for his performance in The Sessions, which also screened at TCFF in 2012.


TCFF15reviews

Anomalisa

This is one of the most anticipated screenings at TCFF and the theater is packed. The film has received unanimously positive reviews out of other major film festivals, and Charlie Kaufman is a beloved writer/director. I’m not terribly well-versed in his work however, having just seen Adaptation, but I’m definitely familiar with his work. I think it’s safe to say he is one of those writers with a distinct style that it’s more of an acquired taste. Anomalisa is his first stop-motion film and it’s definitely not an animated feature for kids. It deals with a rather heavy subject matter about a man crippled by the mundanity of his life.

As the film opens with the protagonist Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) on a plane, I was immediately amazed by how good the stop-motion quality. Though the lines of the puppets’ faces are left in, the expressions are quite realistic and even the skin textures and hair are meticulously done. The eyes are especially interesting to look at, as they truly convey human emotion. Kudos to Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson for crafting something that, despite not actually having real people in it, has a very human story about existensial crisis.

Anomalisa
This is the only still image I can find of this film

Michael seems to be one of those people who have it all (as is the case in many Kaufman’s stories), he’s a successful customer service expert with a best-selling book ‘How Can I Help You Help Them?’ He’s in town in Cincinnati for a conference, and it’s apparent he’s very disillusioned with his soul-sucking corporate job. The film takes place mostly in a single night in an upscale but impersonal hotel that only aggravates Michael’s feeling of isolation. To illustrate the humdrum life seen through Michael’s eyes, everyone else he comes across (both men & women) have the same voice, voiced by Tom Noonan. That is until later on in the film when he meets a fretful customer service rep staying on his floor named Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh). She struggles with self esteem, always thinking that she’s not at all special, but Michael assures her she is unlike any other he’s ever met… anomalous Lisa, hence the film’s title.

To say that the film is bizarre is putting it mildly. But it’s to be expected from Kaufman, and there’s definitely surreal elements in the way the story unfold. It’s also hilarious in parts, most notably when Lisa sang a Cindy Lauper song for Michael. The sexual themes are prevalent right from the start, with Michael witnessing a guy in the next building masturbating and later we see a fully-realized sex scene. The scene is eerily realistic and not at all comedic, which is a technical feat considering it’s puppetry. I have to say it creeps me out a bit and I bet I’m not the only one squirming in my seat watching that.

I also find that though I can relate with the theme of isolation and loneliness, it was hard for me to get into the character who is downright unlikable and frankly, unrelatable. I remember a line from the documentary A New High that plays on TCFF’s opening night where a character said ‘Though life doesn’t always go my way, I choose joy’ and throughout the film I felt that life is about what we make of it and Michael chooses to dwell on the banality of his life.

Ultimately, Anomalisa is a film I appreciate and even admire, but not love. It just doesn’t connect with me emotionally, and I find the petulant manner of its hero aggravating. But on a technical level, the animation quality is top notch, given its relatively small budget (crowd-funded via Kickstarter), that is no small feat. It lives up to its title in that there is nothing else like it, a uniquely-told and crafted existensial drama that no doubt will get people talking for years to come. How profound this film really is however, is up to the viewer, but I think Kaufman’s fans will be pleased with this one.

TCFF_reviewer_Ruth


Too Late

TooLatePoster

Good things come in small packages. Last night, Twin Cities Film Fest attendees were treated not only to a new indie film noir starring Minnesota native John Hawkes but also a post-show Q&A with the actor and writer/director Dennis Hauck. It’s always interesting to see actors in person after you see them on screen, and my usual reaction is how much smaller they are in person. But I digress.

TooLateStill1

Too Late, Hauck’s debut feature film, stars the Alexandria-born (and Oscar nominated) Hawkes as Mel Sampson, an L.A. private detective haunted by his past. In a recent Star Tribune article, the author said Hawkes has a history of playing bleak characters (“Winter’s Bone,” “The Sessions”) and this one is no different…but he plays them so well. The film begins and ends in a very “Pulp Fiction” type fashion (and then, as if to prove the connection, Robert Forster, star of Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, came on screen while I was thinking this) with a mix of the romanticism of Once thrown in the middle.

TooLateStill3

If you’re confused it’s okay because that’s not really the point. Not to say this movie doesn’t have a coherent plot (it’s one of those you want to watch again once you reach the end to get everything straight) but I found myself wondering what would happen next. Part of this is because the movie was shot with only five, single shot, uninterrupted scenes. (The film is about 100 minutes long so each “section” of the movie is about 20 minutes.) In the post-show Q&A Hauck talked about how the camera equipment was often too heavy for one person to handle for 20 minutes so there are slight jiggles in each scene where the camera was shifted from one camera person to another. Yes, in addition to the story, this movie is a treasure trove of unique filmmaking.

TooLateStill2

Taking the classic tapestry of old Hollywood from the beginning scene overlooking the city to the middle scene in a projection room at an old drive through, the cinematography of shooting this movie on 35mm film adds to its appeal. I also found it to be expertly cast – Hawkes injects his world weary character with a sweet, unassuming charm (in the post-show Q&A Haucks mentioned that he wrote the script with Hawkes in mind) and Crystal Reed (Dorothy) and Dichen Lachman (Jill) both avoid the “stripper with a heart of gold” mentality to give their characters a relatable depth.

The movie was very well received with the sold-out crowd spontaneously applauding as the credits rolled and I hope it gets wider release as it’s a worthy addition to any moviegoers list.

TCFF_reviewer_Sarah


Here’s what’s coming up next on TCFF! 


What do you think about either one of these films?