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.

Carol Review

I have been hearing great things about Carol for a while. It’s been bouncing around film festivals for all of 2015, so I was all for watching it when it finally got a cinema release. Let’s have a look at it.

Carol stars Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson and is directed by Todd Haynes. Based on the novel, The Price of Salt, the film follows Carol (Blanchett) and Therese (Mara) who after a chance encounter strike up and adulterous relationship.

I was all for loving Carol, it’s got so much admiration and appreciation from the festival crowd and hordes of critics, but when I finally got down to watching it, I was bored out of my mind. In every film I check my watch at least once, at the beginning to try and gauge at what time the film will end, and then maybe a second time if it drags on a tiny bit. I can’t remember how many times I looked at my watch during Carol, but it was nearly every five minutes.

The performances are alright. Cate Blanchett plays Carol as a sultry older woman, subtly seducing Rooney Mara’s young and innocent Therese with ease, but I can’t tell you anything about her personality at all, she’s a shell of a character. Rooney Mara plays Therese as a shy and awkward girl, but sometimes she falls into being bland and uninterested. For a few frames we see her bawling her eyes out over her being apart from Carol, but other times she’s crying for no logical reason, only that the script called for it. Both actresses look good in 50s glamour fashion and makeup, but apart from that the period setting has no real bearing on the story.

The only really good actor is Kyle Chandler as Carol’s husband, Harge. Chandler plays completely against type as a drunk, angry husband, suspicious of his wife’s constant companionship with Therese. Chandler has always played a “nice guy” character, so it’s good to see him break type.

Many critics have been comparing Carol to 2013’s Blue Is The Warmest Colour, mainly due to the similar narrative of a blossoming lesbian relationship. I have my problems with Blue Is The Warmest Colour, but at least that film was compelling and a great romance film, Carol just potters around trying to compete but can’t deliver. I thought the sex scene in Blue Is The Warmest Colour was crass, but I liked it for is ballsy approach to display it on film. Carol tries to do this as well, but it feels like the film is ashamed to have in it, with it cutting away and clunky editing, leading to a weak climax to the film. All in all Blue Is The¬†Warmest Colour does a much better job at everything Carol was trying to do in terms of a romance film.

The one shining grace I can find in Carol is the score by Cater Burwell. It’s a fantastic string accompaniment, and actually makes the few scenes where it plays quite good. I’m listening to it as I write the review, and it is the best thing of the film. It manages to be forlorn and melancholic, symbolising the almost certainly doomed relationship but also charmingly hopeful that Carol and Therese might be able to live happily ever after once the credits have rolled.

In the end, I was disappointed with Carol. After hearing such rave reviews I was hoping for a stellar love story, but what I got was two characters with hardly any charisma and no audience through-line (none that I could find anyway). But I guess with every other critic putting Carol in their top films of the year, it’s going to find its way to the top of the box office and the Awards season.

Score: 3/10 How did something so lauded have such a negative response with me?