Kubo And The Two Strings Review

For all of the shoddy sequels and comic book movies this year, animation has been on point. With Disney’s excellent The Jungle Book and Zootropolis, Studio Ghibli’s final film, When Marine Was There, and the incredible Anomalisa, 2016 is looking up in terms of animation. And now, a new one, Kubo And The Two Strings.

Kubo And The Two Strings stars Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes and Rooney Mara and is directed by Travis Knight. The film follows Kubo (Parkinson), a young boy who must find a set of magical armour bequeathed to him by his samurai father, while being chased by evil forces.

The animation is some of the best of this year, which is really saying a lot. Laika, the team behind Kubo, is the same team that made ParaNorman and Coraline, two recent greats for animation buffs. The level of detail and the production design is part of the reason to go see Kubo right away. The incredibly smooth stop-motion animation, along with the 3D printed faces turns even the small down time in between the big action set pieces into a jaw dropping display of craftsmanship, you completely forget the massive human effort it took to create something so magical. One of the first big fights in the film includes what is apparently the largest stop-motion character ever animated. Be sure to stick around during the credits, which includes a “see how we did this” behind the scenes moment that shows how ridiculous the task must have been.

Kubo is heavily influenced by Japanese folklore. While the story is a grab bag of several different legends and tales, it’s more in the mood rather than the plot. Little wisps of fog coat lakes, half forgotten statues to Shinto and Buddhist religions are throughout the land, it does a good job of creating a world, and not just a succession of places in a line. The music helps settle us into the world, with the strings of Kubo’s guitar, along with flutes and chimes constantly coming and going from the film, highlighting some scenes as being instant favourites of the year so far. The plot though is very by the numbers. A little boy finding magical armour and defeating dark gods, it’s a story that’s been told before (mainly Legend Of Zelda). The story has a few twists that might be easy to figure out for the older viewers, especially reveals about Kubo’s companions Monkey and Beetle, but overall it’s more a dressing than the central point.

Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey are excellent as Kubo’s friend Monkey and Beetle respectively. Theron is doing her usual badass performance, with McConaughey playing a bit against type as the rather slow-minded Beetle. Ralph Fiennes does his sinister charm in a small role as Raiden, and Rooney Mara, playing dual roles as a pair of evil witches is remarkably menacing for how little she is on-screen. Art Parkinson though as Kubo is who deserves the high praise. Most notable as Rickon Stark from Game Of Thrones, the young actor carries the majority of the first act mainly by himself.

I always feel that when animation goes dark, due to it being animated, it adds to the scariness. Kubo And The Two Strings is rated PG for “mild fantasy violence and scary scenes”. The scary scenes are mainly supplied by Rooney Mara’s excellent twin sisters (who never actually get names), who appear at night in a swirl of black smoke. Their black robes and their constantly smiling facemasks add a genuine deal of creepiness to the film, and leave a distinct impression that will be remembered long after it’s finished.

In short, Kubo And The Strings is one of the best of the year and one that will be enjoyed both by young and old. Go see it now while it’s still in cinemas, then go push it on all your friends. You will not be disappointed.

Score: 10/10 Genuinely awe-inspiring.

Mad Max: Fury Road Review

Preface

This review come courtesy of Galleon newspaper film critic Zach Lockwood, who after coming back from the opening day screening offered to write a review for the website. Thanks Zach!

Review

If there was one thing that was consistent in the original Mad Max trilogy, it would be the madness. The post-apocalyptic madness of Australian policeman Max, played by Mel Gibson, setting out to track down a vicious biker gang in the first part of the trilogy Mad Max.  Then the sequel The Road Warrior (and very much the best of the three) is basically a futuristic Seven Samurai. Finishing with Beyond Thunderdome whose narrative is so convoluted its barley possible to give a 50-word synopsis. One key theme follows all of these movies, madness. The outlandish design of the cars, costumes and landscape paints a horrifyingly punk-western future of the human race. Mad Max: Fury Road has that same element of madness, that takes the normal action movie, and blows it completely out of the water, and for the first time, George Miller (director, writer and producer) has got it right.

Max, played by Tom Hardy, is a survivor, living through the apocalypse that’s seen the world vying for commodities such as oil, water and bullets. Captured by the warrior slaves of Immortan Joe, self-elected God of the Citadel, Max finds himself tied to the front of Nux’s (Nicholas Holt) Death Race style desert car, leading the tirade of post-apocalyptic gothic vehicles in pursuit of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who’s escaped from the clutches of Immortan Joe with his slave wives (Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee).

If I’m entirely honest it is one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen. As it’s a continuation of the original Mad Max trilogy, and not a prequel/reboot, it would seem odd to cast Tom Hardy who looks nothing like Mel Gibson. He also seems to be channelling an even more silent and grizzly Harrison Ford from Blade Runner. The film is also near silent, with very little dialogue, which may seem a wise decision post-casting four catwalk models as leads. The film has the look of Rodríguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn, powerful reds and oranges highlighted by long wide shots of the deserts and the multitude of vehicles smashing and crashing into each other. The cinematography is breathtaking, and I would advise anyone to see this film in IMAX if they have the slightest opportunity. Saying that the 3D as usual is interesting in the first twenty minutes with multiple in your face action, but after that it just serves no purpose. There are many flashback scenes that Max has, hinting at the original trilogy with the murders of his wife and child, but other than that it doesn’t really delve into the original that much.

This film is not only one of the best of the years so far, I would find it very hard to think of any film other than the forthcoming James Bond film SPECTRE and the Star Wars sequel that could challenge Mad Max: Fury Road for best film of the year. Tom Hardy in his dialogue-free acting is electrifying. George Miller has assembled and directed a fantastic female cast, giving new voices to the action genre. Few people were expecting powerful feminism from the Mad Max franchise, yet here it is, and it’s refreshing to see. But most of the fun is in watching the magnificently eccentric and crazy world that Miller has created over four films. The cars that are just a mish-mash of what can be found at the nearest scrap yard with an engine attached. The violence is revolutionary for the action genre, evoking the films title, ‘mad’ in every punch, explosion and gunshot. It’s very surprising to see a clear blockbuster explosion film deliver so well without having to leave your brain at the door. The dialogue is punchy and the visual effects are spectacular. This isn’t just a great summer blockbuster; it’s a great film.

Score: 9/10 Thirty years on, George Miller still has it in him to create a great action film