Tag Archives: stop motion

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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Anomalisa – Review

26 Jan

I’m proud to say that we are once again looking at one of Charlie Kaufman’s pieces of work. With films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindBeing John Malkovich, and Synecdoche, New York under his belt, it’s pretty safe to say that he is one of the most brilliant screenwriters alive, and quite possibly of all time. Now we have Anomalisa, a startlingly quiet film that comes at you like a sucker punch to the cerebellum. The joy of this movie comes from not only watching it and seeing what Kaufman has to say, but also the hours and days after that you will spend thinking about it.

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Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a self-help author who has traveled to Cincinnati to speak about his new book about becoming the best customer service representative you can be. While spending the night in his hotel, Stone becomes completely disassociated with reality and begins to see everyone as just one person (all voice by Tom Noonan). His night takes a hopeful turn when he hears a beautiful voice coming from down the hall. While investigating, he finds the source of the voice to be a young woman name Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is actually in town to see Stone speak. What follows is a night that may end up changing both of their lives, that is if Stone finally opens up about who he is and realizes the truths of other people.

Much like Kaufman’s other movies, part of the genius of Anomalisa is that it forces you to examine yourself and how you see the world and other people. What may turn some people off is that you may not like what you see when you actually look. This is exactly how I felt after I watched Synecdoche, New York, and even though these movies can make you feel a little bit less than spectacular, they do teach a very important lesson. Anomalisa, compared to his other work, isn’t quite as strange or complicated on the surface but once you think about it for a few days, you find many more layers that you never recognized before.

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When I first heard that Anomalisa was going to be a feature length stop motion film, I was thrilled. It seems like a such a perfect way for Kaufman to tell a story, and I honestly don’t think this movie would’ve packed the punch that it did if it wasn’t stop motion. This story was originally done as a sound play with the actors on different sides of the stage just reading the lines, and then it was conceived by both Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson as a 40 minute short film. The final run time ends up being an hour and a half, and my only gripe is that it might have worked better as a 40 minute short film. There’s a lot of scenes of Michael Stone just sort of sitting in his room, and I get that it’s supposed to show how mundane he views his life, but the movie might have progressed a little better as a short film.

Back to the stop motion. The animation in Anomalisa is really something to behold and I’ve quite honestly never seen anything like it. My experience with stop motion films are mostly things like The Nightmare Before ChristmasThe Boxtrolls, and Coraline, which of course aren’t the only stop motion features, but they’re the ones I feel the most familiar with. The animation and puppets in this film are something completely different in that they feel so close to being real people. This kind of goes with the themes of the movie. It reinforces the question the movie is asking about what it means to be human and what separates us from just being these walking machines programmed to mindlessly go about our everyday lives without question.

Charlie Kaufman knocks it out of the park once again with Anomalisa and has shown that the most human stories can be told without humans actually being onscreen. This is a movie that forces you to look at yourself and possibly even learn a thing or two. It’s a sad film, but in some ways it’s also a happy one. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s an exhausting emotional roller coaster that won’t be easy to forget.

King Kong (1933) – Review

12 May

I feel like it’s fair to say that most people know the story of King Kong. Boy meets girl. Boy falls for girl. Giant ape takes girl into jungle. Man saves girl. You know, that story. This is where it all began, however, in the year 1933 with its original release. Studios weren’t too excited about getting this movie made since the executives thought that a story like this wouldn’t make them any money. Directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, on the other hand, were determined to get it made. With two years of their lives dedicated to this movie, audiences both then and now get the pleasure of experiencing one of the most inventive and exciting movies ever made.

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Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is a big shot film maker who specializes in traveling to exotic locations to get the most interesting shots imaginable. He finds the beautiful Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) on the street and recruits her to come with him and his crew to Skull Island to shoot his most recent film. On the ship ride over Ann meets Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), and they both fall for each other. Once they are on Skull Island, the crew runs into the natives who prompt kidnap Ann and offer her to their god, Kong, a giant gorilla. Jack and the crew lead an escapade to find and reclaim Ann, but Carl has another goal entirely: to capture Kong and bring him back to New York City and make millions off of his prize.

The first thing that I need to touch on is the outrageous special effects that are in King Kong. In Peter Jackson’s version, which I really enjoy despite a run time that is way too long, Kong, the dinosaurs, and a lot of the scenery was done through the usage of computer graphics. In the 1933 version, all of Kong’s movements, the dinosaurs, and the jaw dropping fights that happen between them is all stop motion effects using models that were made and moved by hand. Giant limbs and heads were also built for close ups of Kong that strike me as a little off putting compared to how awesome the full model is. The forest is also all built or drawn and is absolutely mesmerizing. Finally, to make it seem like the actors were actually there during some of the major moments of the film, they would composite the actors in, super impose, use matte shots, or use rear projection. All very difficult, all very time consuming. Now, I don’t want anyone jumping down my throat here. The work put into the computer graphics of Jackson’s King Kong is also remarkable and very difficult. I’m just a bit of a freak for stop motion and puppetry.

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While the effects are my favorite part of the movie, I need to touch on the story since it has become a classic tale. The whole idea of a giant ape taking a woman away who is part of a film crew sounds pretty preposterous when put that way, but when you actually see it play out, it’s actually a very touching story. Sure, there’s a lot of action and adventure, but Kong’s character is a very interesting one. He’s an ape who understands beauty and will fight and kill to protect the woman he finds so beautiful. Certainly not a love story in the most traditional of senses, but definitely a deep one. While Kong may seem like the “villain” (and I’m using that word pretty loosely), we find out during the film that mankind is the real “villain.” Denham and his crew want to exploit beauty, but Kong wants to appreciate and cherish it.

The story of how this plot line came to be is pretty remarkable when you stop and think of the history of it. From 1933 to 2005, there has been two other King Kong movies and a sequel, Son of Kong, also from 1933 which didn’t do nearly as well as its predecessor. There was even a Toho produced movie that is wonderfully titled King Kong vs Godzilla. How cool is that? Anyway, back to how the story came to be. According to Merian Cooper, he had a dream that a giant gorilla attacked New York City. From there, he started at the infamous scene on the Empire State Building and worked backwards. So that’s it. The idea for this movie simply came from a dream. Maybe I need to start keeping a dream journal. Food for thought.

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Simply put, King Kong is a masterwork of American cinema whose legacy speaks for itself. It has been remade, copied, parodied, but above all, it has been appreciated. Production companies may have been nervous upon its original release, but this is the movie that single handedly saved RKO. I understand that movies from this time period may not be everybody’s cup of tea, however, if you haven’t seen the original King Kong, it is pretty much a must see. The effects, the acting, and the chance to see the story in its original format shouldn’t be missed. If you’ve seen it already, why don’t you watch it again after you’re done reading this? You know you want to…