Kubo and the Two Strings (2016): A Masterpiece of Animation With an Unforgettable Story

Kubo and the Two Strings

  “Kubo and the Two Strings” is my favorite movie of the year. Whether it was hold that place remains to be seen but thus far, it is the most perfect film I have watched this year. Not only is the stop-motion animation and soundtrack amazing but the story and characters kept me involved through the entire story, and the story starts out slow to let know become familiar with the world. You should see this film, I want more films like this to be made and it needs all the support it can get, given it is only Laika studios that is keeping this form of art alive.

   The film was directed by Travis Knight, who was also one of the producers, written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler with the other producer being Marc Haimes.

    The story involves Kubo (Art Parkinson), whose eye was stolen by his grandfather the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and must not go out at night unless his grandfather finds him and takes his other eye. During the village’s festival he stays out too late and finds himself hunted by his two Aunts (Rooney Mara) who have come to take his other eye at his Grandfather’s behest. He must collect his father’s armor, sword and helmet in order to stop the Moon King and is helped by Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a former samurai turned into Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) along the way.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is wonderful and full of amazing monsters! From a Garden of Eyes, Witches and Gods to a Ten Foot Skeleton…this is a world that is lived in and all the powerful for it as it embraces Japanese mythology while creating a mythology all it’s own.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful, Dario Marianelli manages to create a soundtrack infused with magic that is full of power in depth, where you feel each loss and the power behind each action or fight.

The Writing – Marc Haimes and Chris Butler did a fantastic job on the writing! There is powerful drama and humor that gives it a balance that doesn’t really exist in “Deadpool”(which is a favorite film). It is their mixture of humor and drama mixed with a powerful message and characters are what made it my favorite film this year thus far.

 The Animation – “Kubo and the Two Strings” is my first Laika film. Suffice to say after this I plan on watching the rest of the films they’ve made. Stop-motion animation is a lost art that they keep alive and continue to improve upon.

The Characters – The characters are extremely memorable! Each of them is an archetype to some degree, but also manage to get beyond those archetypes in how they are written. They have humanity and flaws and it makes them worth rooting for or makes them feel threatening.

Hosato – George Takei plays one of the people in the village who takes care of his daughter who is Kubo’s biggest fan. He’s a nice solid presence in the film and in a way reminds Kubo of the fact that he believes his father to be dead at the beginning of the story and his mom is only lucidly present of him…

Kameyo – Kameyo is the older woman who is a beggar in town and the soul of the town. She is a mother figure to Kubo a bit as she is one who looks out for him and helps him with his storytelling. Brenda Vaccaro is fantastic.

The Sisters – The Sisters, who are Kubo’s Aunts are amazing! Rooney Mara gives a haunting performance as these two mask wearing witches who are so powerful that they kill both Kubo’s mother and father. They are one of the best animated threats I’ve ever seen.

Beetle/Hanzo – McConaughey is wonderful in the role of Beetle, who we learn was turned into a Beetle by the Sisters and the Moon King to punish him for leading their sister out of immortality. He has a lot of humor to him and isn’t very bright but his heart is in the right spot and he has great humor. His death is powerful too as he risks his life to protect Monkey/his wife Sariatu.

Monkey/Sariatu – Theron plays my favorite character in the film. Monkey and her Sisters are the best parts of the film. In Monkey we get the strength of her personality and her love for her son and husband while as Sariatu she is a traumatized shell destroyed by her family being cared for by her son. The dichotomy is powerful and gives her humanity and depth. She was a God and gave it up to protect Hanzo from her family…She is the best part of this film.

Kubo – Kubo is a great protagonist who feels very much like Link a Zelda game but has so much more depth and layers to him as we see him finally allowed to be a kid after he leaves the village and is collecting his father’s sword and armor. Before that he is forced to be an adult caring for his mother and making money for food. He had no childhood until his life was at risk and seeing how they explore it is something you have to see for yourself.

Facing Loss – He loses both his mother and father twice, both times as they protect him and in the story we see him face that loss and remember the memories as well as honoring them with the lantern ceremony the village does as who they both are live on in him. The missing of another never goes away, but those we lose become a part of us like the strings on Kubo’s instrument.

The Power of Story – Story is a major theme as the Grandfather is trying to force his story upon his Grandson and make him like him, the village story of his Father’s past is never finished until he becomes a literal part of it when myth (his grandfather the Moon and his Aunts) hunt him and the stories of the dead are interwoven through the film. The self and it’s connection to story is powerful…how a story can change or be erased is captured in the story of his family as at different points they lose their story.

The Hero’s Journey – Kubo’s Hero’s journey is powerful as he discovers connections only to lose them and has to adapt to change all around him. From his mother becoming Monkey, his father being a live and Beetle…to losing them both and in the end having to care for his Grandfather who loses his memory as well. Even as he discovers joy and childhood circumstances force him to lose it and from it find himself.

Okay/Pro: Raiden the Moon King – Raiden has great minions in his daughters and I liked the fact that he is like a sympathetic old man until he turns into a monster…in the story it is left open too if he ascended to Godhood and was once human or was forced into humanity by Kubo…there is so much possibility in this character that I can’t just put him as okay as he is interesting in what they do with him.

    Minus the fact that Raiden is a bit underdeveloped (though still interesting)…this is  a film that I can’t really find any faults with. Kubo doesn’t really get his happy ending, his parents are dead and he has to face it. This is a film that is well worth your time and you should really see it if you have the chance. Give strength to these stories that don’t exist as franchises and are timeless and powerful. This is the best film of the year I have seen thus far and is well worth your time, it is in the timeless stories that we are reminded of our own and this story does it with unforgettable power and beauty.

Final Score: 10 / 10. First perfect film of the year.

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The X-Files – Season 10, Episode 4 – “Home Again” – A Voice for the Voiceless

X Files Season 10 ep 4 Home Again

    “Home Again” is another good episode of “The X-Files” that gives us a fascinating “Monster of the Week” while exploring deeper ideas and concepts and further exploring Mulder and Scully’s relationship. It is one of the best of the mini-series thus far.

     The episode was directed and written by Glen Morgan.

     The story begins when a city official dies mysteriously as Scully and Mulder must investigate the existence of “The Trash Man” who keeps showing up in art around the area and explore the homeless crisis in the city.

The Pros: The Artist – The artist is an activist and advocate whose art developed a life of its own. MHes a fascinating guy who seems to a be a little mad or off but is there enough to work with Mulder and Scully to try and write the wrongs of the creature he created, before he leaves his hideout.

The Trash Man – The Trash Man is a great villain as it is a creature that was made from clay that came to life because of the voiceless homeless people who had no advocates and their fear and anger at those who were hurting them became expressed through this monster. The monster is pretty cool.

The Death of Scully’s Mother – Scully’s mother dies this episode and it is rough as we see when Mulder was waiting for Scully recover and fearing for her life and the countless times Scully has lost people finally leading to this. Each of them gets their emotional moment from what happens and you feel for the death of Margaret.

Fox Mulder – Mulder is great in this as both the one who sees why the Trash Man exists and dealing with mortality and death as he remembers Scully being on the bed in a coma. From this he is there for her as we see how close they are after all the loss they have been through.

Dana Scully – This is Scully’s episode as we see her deal with the death of her mother and face loss and mortality. She doesn’t let the loss and what’s going on stop her from working on the case though and we see just how strong she is through all of it and how the past traumas have made her and Mulder close.

   This was the best episode of the mini-series so far and I highly recommend it. The monster is great, the emotion and loss are powerful and our characters feel fully realized. Even the side characters don’t feel like cardboard cutouts. This is an episode worth checking out.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Rick and Morty – Season 2, Episode 3 – “Auto Erotic Assimilation” – Self Destructive Rick and Love Hurts

Auto_Erotic_Assimilation

   Love can be hard and in this episode we get one of the best episode ending songs and scenes and also have an awesome alien (Unity) and all of the Sanchez’s get some sort of exploration. It is easily one of my favorite episodes so far.

     The story involves Jerry finding an alien underneath the garage and it leading to he and Beth fighting over Rick’s role in their lives while Rick hooks up with the Hive Mind Entity Unity who was a former lover while Summer and Morty deal with the consequences.

The Pros: Jerry – Jerry’s insecurities are pretty strong in this episode but he stands up for himself leading to some sort of balance established again and the failing marriage.

Beth – Beth defends her father and we learn that she has abandonment issues and in the end agrees with Jerry on Rick though and how Rick does assume too much and doesn’t really respect their space well at all.

Summer – Summer distrusts Unity at first until she sees the original populace and how they were racist, violent and falling apart as a civilization. She calls out Rick for this reason when she realizes Unity is great but Rick is making her unstable and leading to her populace falling into anarchy.

Morty – Morty is there trying to be supportive of both Summer and Rick but comes around to Summer’s point of view fully after the uninfected populace nearly kills himself and Summer.

Unity – Unity is awesome! She created a peaceful, galactic civilization after assimilating one that had once been violent, racist and falling apart. In this we see that she did so after her breakup with Rick and that she loves him after leaving him when she realizes the truth that Rick brings out all her worse tendencies.

Rick – Seeing Rick happy and in love is awesome! It takes a hive mind to stimulate him and we learn in the end he does love Unity even though he tells Jerry at the beginning of the episode love doesn’t exist. It’s sad and after Unity leaves him to take care of herself he nearly kills himself but breaks down crying preventing it. It is one of the saddest scenes on the show easily.

   This was  great episode with the only con being the alien in the basement who Jerry and Beth run into. The rest of the episode is really strong and I really like the character of Unity. It’s nice seeing a benevolent Hive Mind in sci. fi. I highly recommend this episode.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

The 12th Doctor – Series 9, Episode 4 – “Before the Flood” – A Great Villain, Bootstrap Paradox and Loss

Doctor Who Before the Flood

     “Before the Flood” has a lot of great things going for it, but the ending in regards to our minor characters don’t quite work all the way…at least I didn’t believe the setup and found it contrived…everything else mostly works though making for a great ending to the story and showing us how Clara is changing.

    The episode was directed by Daniel O’Hara and written by Toby Whithouse.

SPOILERS ahead.

      The story picks up where we left off where Clara is with Clara, Cass and Lunn facing the Doctor’s ghost while the Doctor goes back in time to stop the ghosts and find their source as he soon does in the Alien Warlord known as The Fisher King.

The Pros: The Opening – The opening of this episode is great where the Doctor expains the Bootstrap Paradox as someone who goes back in time, finds the person they loved before doesn’t exist so they create the history of that person before returning to the present which than leaves the question of how did the thing they created(Beethoven as the person missing and Beethoven’s 5th as the created piece as an example)  come about in the first place? He then opens playing Beethoven on his electric guitar before it does the “Doctor Who” theme from it in the style of rock.

The Format – I like that it jumps between 1980 and the small town the Fisher King kills in and the future with the underwater base plagued by the threat of ghosts under the Fisher King’s control.

Clara – Clara is great in this! We see her willingness to use others to solve problems that she can’t solve herself as well as her growing detachment from others and her love of adventure and the rush of it all being the core part of her personality. She’s becoming a lot like the Doctor and the side characters point out how that can end up being bad since she is starting to think in a way that doesn’t consider the lives fully of those around her.

The Doctor – The Doctor is wonderful in this and he isn’t able to save everyone! (those who died are dead and his ghost was just a hologram). We also see that not wanting to lose Clara has become a primary motivation, she’s his only real human connection who somewhat gets him and he is a sadder Doctor than before. We see this when he morns the former UNIT person who the Fisher King killed and the fact that the Ghosts are forever unable to die.

Okay: The Crew – The crew is alright. Cassie got some development when she called out Clara and the UNIT individual gave us backstory, they still weren’t super memorable though, they just weren’t bad.

The Cons: Couples – Apparently every male character liked every female character (and it was who they were trapped with too) leading to a contrive loved lost moment (I never believed that the folks who went with the Doctor had feelings for each other or the ones who stayed with Clara). It was stupid and brought down the story. Losing friends is hard enough, you don’t need to add having a contrived crush or love to it as well.

 This was a really good episode overall and a solid arc, though not a favorite. I thought the last 2 episodes were better even with the Doctor playing a long game. The Fisher King was an awesome villain and I hope we see his people again (his people against the Ice Warriors would be awesome) and the episode taking place in two time periods lead to a greater sense of mystery.

Final Score: 8.4

Final Score for Arc: 8.2 / 10

Mr. Holmes (2015): A Reflection on Mortality, Regret, Class and Empathy

Mr. Holmes

    Part of the problem of Sherlock Holmes as a character is that in his stories he never grows. He is the super hero who is static while those around him change, this is a problem with the Sherlock of “Sherlock” too as he never grows beyond his sociopathic tendencies or how he relates to others. This film answers the question of what it would take for Sherlock Holmes to grow and develop and what would happen if he lost the ability to use his mind as he once did before…it is beautiful, tragic and so much more. I will not be surprised at all if this makes my Top 5 Films of 2015 list at the end of the year, it tackles so many issues and does it through showing rather than telling us. What a way to end the first “Sherlock Holmes” week.

      “Mr. Holmes” was directed by Bill Condon, written by Jeffrey Hatcher, produced by Anne Carey, Ian Canning, Emile Sherman and is based off the book A Slight Trick of the Mind (which I really want to read now) by Mitch Cullen.

        The story involves a retired Sherlock Holmes trying to solve the case that made him retire as he is losing his memory and strength as he builds a relationship with the Monro’s (the mother and her son Roger) who are taking care of him and his bees out in the countryside.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning and captures the beauty and wonder of the English countryside. We see Sherlock when he was old and still active and it captures how broken he is as an old man and how for the first time, he truly has to depend on others for help…all this in how a scene is filmed. Tobias Schliessler did a great job.

The Soundtrack – Carter Burwell also did a great job on the soundtrack, capturing the very classic mind of Sherlock (the violin Motif in most Sherlock stories) and the moments of sadness are punctuated by the score.

The Writing – The writing is amazing and actions have consequences. Every scene leads into the next and we are given a story that does not know the meaning of static. Every scene is action which provides a masterful tale.

The Characters – There are only a few characters of importance (some small parts appear to give us new information) the core characters all reveal more about themselves and change through the course of the film.

Roger – Usually child actors don’t do a great job, but an exception can be made here. Milo Parker does a good job as Roger who begins to take on Sherlock tendencies. In this Sherlock keeps him curious and his desire to learn while his mother reminds him to feel for others and that he has responsibilities beyond himself. He has a good arc and is set up to eventually become Sherlock’s replacement as Sherlock teaches him his methods.

Mrs. Munro –  Mrs. Munro distrusts Sherlock for much of it until he shows emotion that he does care about Roger (after wasps attack him) and shows her that her son was a hero trying to protect the bees from the wasps (reason he was hospitalized near the end). It is a powerful scene and we see her want to learn from him after that and also him make her inheritor of his will, showing respect that he had never shown her prior. Laura Linney does a great job.

Tamiki – Tamiki is the man seeking his father and helping Sherlock face death (their time in Hirishoma seeing the victims of the bomb and the bomb site) which help Sherlock face death in the long run as he finds a way to honor the dead. Tamiki treats Sherlock with nothing but respect and sees him as somewhat of a surrogate father figure. it’s a good relationship and it’s great seeing Hiroyuki Sanada outside of “Helix.” He’s a fantastic actor who I want to see more of.

Mr. Holmes – Ian McKellan is truly a master of his art! We see him as classic Sherlock (detached, intuiting and solving cases), broken Sherlock (cut off from the world and living in regret) and a Sherlock losing his mind and body who has learned to live for the first time. It’s powerful and he truly this role. Ian McKellan is one of my favorite actors and this film would probably not be a favorite were it not for his performance as he shows a character who has never really gone through a character arc, go through a powerful one where he learns to empathize, face death, live and grow.

The Case that Broke Sherlock Holmes -In a side plot in Japan where Sherlock is getting the drug he needs to sharpen his mind. It is here he learns Tamiki said he knew Sherlock where Sherlock has no memory and that Sherlock became an adopted father in his stories that Watson wrote. It’s a powerful relationship and in the end we see Sherlock give the Tamiki the comfort he’s wanted since he was a child when his father went missing in his last letter to him.

Critique of Classicism – There is a subtle critique of classicism where Roger criticizes his mother for not being able to read and Sherlock calls Roger out on it (a nice call out on himself as in the books he was pretty classicist).

Growing to Empathy  – The main arc is one of growing to empathy as we see Sherlock learn emotional intelligence (what Watson always had in each case) and from here him to learn to comfort others and offer solace (even if it’s a lie). This is something that none of the other Sherlock’s has ever fully dealt with. Moffat’s kind of does but Series 3 forgets about it and “Elementary” seems to have the same problem of him returning to angry detachment and in the books he never progresses beyond detachment.

Remembering the Dead and Facing Death – The final scene involves Sherlock placing a stone as he saw a man doing at Hiroshima after World War 2 to honor the dead as he remembers all those he’s lost (Ms. Hudson, Watson, etc.) it is powerful and we see him facing death from the beginning as his home, body and mind are falling apart and it is a reality he must face every day and come to feel for himself and for those who have passed.

Okay: Pacing – In the first third of the film there were some slow moments but I won’t be too critical on this because it helps establish how the Munro’s and Sherlock live in the cottage, which sets up when things change.

 This is a film that pulls the heart strings in all the right ways. We see a man who never valued empathy coming to realize how much it means as he realizes just how alone he truly is. It is tragic and powerful as he takes actions to show the Munro’s how much he values them and in the last scene honors all the dead who were all apart of his life and realizes how very much he misses them all. Sherlock solves the greatest mysteries; how to die and how to live.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003): Shooting for a Bigger Point

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

     “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” would make a great min-series. As a film it doesn’t quite work as there are a ton of characters and revenge stories going on and right around the middle it gets really muddled and overindulgent but picks up a lot again at the end while finally having El Mariachi change! As the ending to the Mexico Trilogy, it wasn’t the best…that still belongs to “Desparado” but it was better than “El Mariachi” both in soundtrack and cinematography.

     The film was directed by Robert Rodriguez who also wrote, produced and composed the music for. With the other producers being Elizabeth Avellan and Carlos Gallardo.

     The story picks up where “Desparado” left off with El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) and Carolina living their life with their daughter after they defeat the corrupt General Marquez. The general survives and gets revenge on El Mariachi killing his wife and daughter leading El Mariachi to seek revenge.  Around the same time Agent Sands (Johnny Depp) commissions him to kill the Drug Lord Armando Barillo (Willem Dafoe) leading to a final face off as all the factions come together as both Barillo and Marquez want to overthrow Mexico’s President.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is stark and like a dream sequence making the violence beautiful in how it is presented. It’s not as beautiful as “Desperado” but it still has some very beautiful scenes and color combinations.

The Soundtrack – Soundtrack is the best it has been so far and has a reflective somber tone intermixed with high action beats to reflect the scenes going on.

Armando Barillo – Dafoe does a great job as this drug lord who the CIA is trying to take down. He is emphatic at first and later we see how smart he is when he fakes his own death and even survives past Marquez. It is only a Mexican agent who kills him in revenge after Sands gives him the prompting and opportunity. The agent wasn’t memorable at all though, versus Dafoe.

Ajedrez Barillo – Eva Mendes is wonderful as the daugther of Barillo. She is the one who captures Sands and has them drill out his eyes. She’s cruel and smart and only has a moment of stupidity when she goes to check on Sands body and Sands shoots her in revenge.

Jeffrey Sands – This is one of Depp’s more memorable characters. He is a smooth operator and speaks very calm. I enjoyed his performance as he was a character who was odd and driven and all about the job. He doesn’t let losing his eyes end his mission either and we see that even with loss he can fight and joke making him one of the better action heroes out there. He’s also crazy like most of the characters in this film.

El Mariachi – El Mariachi’s arc goes from taking out small time drug lords in the prior films to taking out Generals in this one. It is here he finds purpose beyond revenge as he gives his money to the people and with his new Band where they take on a Nationalist identity of fighting for Mexico as they protect the President from Marquez and Barillo. He gets Carolina’s locket back and we see him singing for her and fighting for his country. It’s a powerful story.

The Ending – The message is that a person can make their home better. In the first 2 films El Mariachi couldn’t see beyond revenge and himself but later he is fighting for the populace and in this the populace rises up with him against the corrupt General as now El Mariachi has become a folk hero. He embraces this role and it is in that his love for his country and the people keep him going as he is no longer driven by revenge and wishing to die.

Okay/Pros: The Action – Rodriguez has always been good at action and this is film is no exception. A con could even be that it had too much action and was really excessive at times much to the detriment of the story. Specially the hospital attack I was really bored on and it wasn’t until the final confrontation during “Day of the Dead” where I was pulled back in.

The Cons: The Writing – The writing is all over the place. I didn’t care about the Mexican agent, Barillo and his daughter needed more fleshing out and El Mariachi is just kind of there, we don’t see much of his life beyond his music and revenge up until the end. There are a lot of good ideas here they just aren’t clear because of how muddled the script is.

The Use of the Fridge – El Mariachi has now lost his girlfriend, Carolina and daughter as the motivator for each film. This is a tired trope and way overdone. I wish he’d had something more and that we could have seen some of the women in his life kick ass like Carolina did in the flashbacks. The fridge is a terrible trope largely because it is overused. Rodriguez didn’t have to do anything but repeat the plot of “Desperado” for El Mariachi’s motivation and that is just sad.

     Minus the fridging of his girlfriend in the first film and Carolina and his daughter in this one, as well as the muddled script, this was a good film I’d recommend. It is more polished and interesting than “El Mariachi” which felt like a film made by a director just starting to direct but wasn’t as tight and polished as “Desperado” which never felt excessive in any major ways. This one did have a better message though as the vigilante finally looked beyond himself and to the people he should have been protecting all along. That is what made this film really good besides the very colorful characters.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

Also, here are the reviews for “El Mariachi”: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/el-mariachi-1992-a-good-but-rocky-start-to-the-mexico-trilogy/

and “Desperado”: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/desperado/

As we complete the Mexico Trilogy.

First Revolution Week

liberty

This week we’re going to change themes and cover revolution. Revolution is a radical change that happens within a state, culture, nation or society and more often than not involve great sacrifice.

Revolution also, is not always good, though is almost always based in an idealism of wanting to change things for the better. This is one thing all revolutions have in common – they are answering some lack of power a group feels and doing something about it. Doing something about it, most often means violence but that is not always the case. Many revolutions come from a place of civil disobedience and peaceful protests that through the virtue the act reveal the vice and corruption of their enemies or the idea they are fighting against.

For this week, starting today, we are going to cover the films “Battleship Potemkin,” “Brazil,” “Doctor Zhivago.” and “To Live.” In future Revolution Weeks we’ll be covering other films and other types of revolutions.

So without further ado, to to life, liberty and art!