Tag Archives: medieval

Kubo and the Two Strings – Review

8 Sep

Since it’s foundation, animation company Laika has been behind some of the best animated movies in recent years. Their first three films, Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls, all have very unique stories and designs while also taking an alternative route to how family movies are made and the themes involved. Their latest movie, Kubo and the Two Strings, fits in very well with the rest of their filmography in that it tackles heavy subject matter and also isn’t the kind of happy go lucky animated movie you can expect from companies like DreamWorks. While it is a very alternative kind of family movie, it’s still a beautiful looking movie with great characters and is full of adventure which is what makes fantasy movies like this all about.

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Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a boy growing up secluded from most of civilization in medieval Japan. He provides for his sickly mother by going down from the mountain where he lives and performs shows with his magical origami paper and playing his shamisen. One night, after being in the town after dark, his evil aunts (both voiced by Rooney Mara) find him and attempt to bring him back to his evil grandfather, Raiden, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). Now on the run, Kubo meets his guardian, a monkey aptly named Monkey (Charlize Theron), who is tough as nails and will do anything to protect the boy. They soon meet Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a man cursed to live in the body of a beetle. Together, Monkey and Beetle aid Kubo on his quest to find the missing armor and sword of his deceased samurai father, which are the only means of defeating the Moon King and securing a safe future.

What really drew me into this movie was the beautiful stop motion animation, which is my absolute favorite form of the art. There something about the otherworldly, yet fluid movement of stop motion that makes it perfect for a fantasy film like this. After seeing Kubo and the Two Strings and reading a little bit about its production, I feel like it’s an absolute miracle it even exists. The patience required to make a feature length stop motion film is far greater than I can even perceive. Kubo and the Two Strings was painstakingly filmed over five years. That’s unbelievable to me, especially someone who doesn’t know the first thing about animating. The result is a beautiful world full of color and darkness, movement and breathtaking stillness. It lives and breathes in its own unique way, and is some of the best animation I’ve seen in a long time.

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While this is a gorgeous movie to look at, the story sometimes faltered for me. The main quest of Kubo and his companions traveling to find the lost armor of Kubo’s father is all well and good, and I was intrigued with it for the most part. My only problem is that the real threat doesn’t make itself known until near the end, and instead it is only talked about. I didn’t need Kubo to confront his enemy, the Moon King, right away, but it would’ve been good if he had more of a presence. On the flip side, Kubo’s ghostly aunts had some really cool scenes, and were probably my favorite part of the movie. If I’m talking about the story, I have to talk about the end. Without spoiling it, the end left me scratching my head. I’ve tried really hard to figure it all out, and I’m pretty sure I did, but I can’t say that my knowing what they were trying to do made the ending better. It all just kind of comes from left field without any warning.

While the story does have its flaws, there’s this mood that pervades throughout the entire movie that really hits you in the feels. For being a family movie, this is a very mature film that deals with mature themes and scenarios. In my opinion, there should be more families like this that don’t rely on cuteness and bright scenery to make a successful film for kids. I feel something like Kubo and the Two Strings is the movie that will provide the younger folk more about the truths of life. There’s a light side to Kubo and the Two Strings, but there’s also this pitch black darkness that sticks with the viewer all the way to the end credits. To put it in the simplest of terms, this is very mature family movie that is full of things for both adults and children to think on.

Kubo and the Two Strings is not a perfect movie, in fact I kind of wanted to like it a little more than I did, but it’s still a very strong and intelligent movie. The animation is out of this world and the content can get a lot heavier and more mature than you might expect. The only problem I can think of is a story that grew a little weak over time and a villain that didn’t make himself known nearly enough. Still, this is a movie that’s good for families of all ages to see. Who doesn’t love a good fantasy adventure?

Final Grade: B+

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Ironclad & Ironclad: Battle for Blood – Review

14 Apr

Movies about knights and medieval warfare and castles and kings and all that can be really awesome. There’s so much historical material to choose from that finding something and successfully making a movie about it can be a daunting task, especially making it in such a way that impresses an audience. One major success that comes to mind is Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. But let’s step away from a director of that magnitude and a budget that big. Instead we’ll be looking at two movies with much smaller budgets, these being Jonathan English’s Ironclad and the sequel Ironclad: Battle for Blood. One is a gleaming example of budgeted film making. The other is an absolute waste that unfortunately is stuck existing for all eternity.

Let’s start in 2011 with the original, as I deem that to be the most appropriate place to begin.

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After pissing off everyone in England, plunging the country into a civil war, and eventually signing the Magna Carta, it seemed obvious that King John (Paul Giamatti) was going to chill out. Unfortunately, he only seemed to get worse. After hiring a group of Danish mercenaries, John went on a rampage of revenge in a quest that would give him absolute control of England once again. Baron William d’Albany (Brian Cox) hires Thomas Marshal (James Purefoy), who is a member of the Knight’s Templar, and a group of other soldiers to defend Rochester Castle, an area that controls most of England. As the soldiers set up the defenses at the castle, King John and his mercenaries soon arrive, and the two sides engage in a bloody battle that lasts many months.

I’ve seen this movie described as Braveheart meets Seven Samurai, and to that I have to say slow down. It isn’t anywhere near those two movies, but I see what they’re saying as they all share similar characteristics in story. As far as Ironclad goes, however, it isn’t destined to be a classic. The movie’s fatal flaw is the absolute bottom of the barrel bullshitty camera work. Every fight scene is shot like the cameraman is having a life ending seizure. It made me sick and made the fight scenes way less awesome than I feel they were intended to be. It made some of the movie nearly unwatchable.

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Although it’s shot pretty miserably, I have to give it a lot of respect. Jonathan English wasn’t working with a huge budget, so the fact that he got good costumes and sets is really impressive. Also, Paul Giamatti and Brian Cox bring their best, as usual. Paul Giamatti especially really gives an amazing performance, which is reason enough to watch this movie. Also, I found it refreshing that instead of relying too heavily on CGI blood and gore, the film makers used prosthetics and other practical effects, which made me smile from ear to ear. Ironclad isn’t an especially good movie, but it is impressive considering the budget constraints. If you’re a fan of medieval movies, I might be inclined to say check this one out.

In 2014, Jonathan English returned to the director’s chair for Ironclad: Battle for Blood. The result is something best left forgotten.

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After the events of the first film, we find Celtic warriors raiding England, terrorizing and murdering its citizens. After a devastating attack on his castle, Gilbert de Vesci (David Rintoul) has his son Hubert (Tom Rhys Harris) track down his cousin Guy (Tom Austen), one of the survivors from the Battle of Rochester Castle, to enlist a group of fighters to help defend the castle. Guy, along with Hubert and other fighters, arrive at the castle and engage in bloody battles with the Celts and their vengeful leader Maddog (Predrag Bjelac).

Does this movie sound familiar to anyone? Wait… doesn’t it sound exactly like the first Ironclad? Well, that’s because it pretty much is a rehash of the first movie except without all of the cool parts. Remember the awesome gore effects? Gone. Remember the incredible acting by Giamatti and Cox? Gone. Remember the really horrendous shaky cam action sequences? Fear not! They’re still here and worse than ever. I don’t know what frame rate was used to shoot these sequences, but holy hell it made the camerawork so much worse than it already was.

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The only thing I really have to say about Battle for Blood is that everything that made the first one even a little bit worthwhile is completely gone. Instead we have pretty much a shell of a movie that shouldn’t even exist. I still can’t believe Jonathan English would return to direct and mess up everything he did before. The only semi cool thing is that Michelle Fairley of Game of Thrones fame had a role, and she’s not even in it that much. This was more than disappointing, it was downright stupid. Skip this mess.

Well, there you have it. The first Ironclad movie is pretty good and well worth checking out if you like the genre. It’s sequel, however, may rank as one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a while. Stick with the first movie, and you should have a pretty fun few hours.