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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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The Grand Budapest Hotel – Review

20 Mar

Personally, I believe that Wes Anderson is a genius when it comes to film, although I’m sure many would disagree with me. The way he writes, builds characters, and composes shots are just some of the most brilliant examples of film making as an art that I have ever seen. From Bottle Rocket to Moonrise Kingdom, there has not been one film of Anderson’s that I have disliked. Now there’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, a film that shows Anderson’s growth as a film maker and can and will be labeled as his masterpiece.

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In the fictional European region of Zubrowka lies the Grand Budapest Hotel that is run by the oddball concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), who spends most of his free time giving sermons to the employees during dinner and sleeping with the old women who come to the hotel, with a special relationship that forms with Madame D. (Tilda Swinton in some ridiculous makeup). When Madame D. turns up dead, Gustave enlists the help of his new friend and lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) to go to her estate to hear her will. When it is revealed that an extraordinarily valuable painting is left to him, her son Dmitri (Adrian Brody) and his assassin friend J.G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe) start a quest to reclaim the painting, while Gustave and Zero have to work to clear the concierge’s name after he is accused of Madame D.’s murder.

This was one of the most difficult summaries I’ve had to write because so many characters do so many things over the course of the film. This films shows Anderson stepping completely outside his comfort zone and making a much bigger story, all while keeping his trademark visual style. One of the most interesting aspects of The Grand Budapest Hotel are the constant allusions and allegories to the start of Nazism and the early invasions that sparked World War II. Wes Anderson does this in such a way that is humorous in his own quirky way. The Nazis aren’t Nazis (aptly being called the “Zig Zag Party”), but we all know who they really represent.

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The cast in this movie could be described as remarkable, but that would truly be an understatement. Ralph Fiennes shows true comedic timing that was only briefly seen in his small, villainous role in In Bruges. Now he gets to show it off in it’s full potential. Newcomer Tony Revolori seems to have been made to be in a Wes Anderson film, and I’m excited to see where his career goes. Brody and Dafoe are comically evil and provide some of the funniest scenes in the movie. I could go on and on about this cast, but there isn’t enough time to talk about everyone. Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel and others all bring their A-game here, and while their roles may be small, they use whatever screen time they have to help make The Grand Budapest Hotel as memorable as it is.

How could I not mention how beautiful this movie looks. Every one of Anderson’s movies surprise me somehow. The awesome viewpoint of seeing every room of the boat in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou to his stop motion landscapes in The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson has one of the best eyes in modern day film making, and is part of why he really is a genius. The Grand Budapest Hotel shows some of the best examples of his obsessive mise-en-scène. The perfect camera swivels and the blocking of its various different characters in relation to each other makes this one of the most picturesque films I’ve ever seen. Some shots look like they could have come out of a post card or a painting.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is nothing short of a masterpiece, and pretty much the ultimate Wes Anderson movie in terms of dialogue, character, themes, and visuals. I hope in the deepest parts of my hearts that this movie will still be remembered long enough for nods at next year’s Academy Awards. This is a beautiful movie that is well worth a trip to the theaters. I’d say two trips to the theaters. Maybe eight…