[Early Review] Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

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Director: Travis Knight

Cast: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Matthew McConaughey

Screenplay: Marc Haimes, Chris Butler

Runtime: NA. Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril.

 

Well, I just got out of an advance screening for the upcoming Laika film Kubo and the Two Strings. Now Kubo has been hotly anticipated as a unique and original film for the stop-motion crew at Laika and the trailers have only furthered the excitement. So how does it stack up and should you see it on August 19th?

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Kubo (Art Parkinson, TV’s Game of Thrones, Dracula Untold) is a young boy who lives on an island with his mother. Their lives are secluded and peaceful, until the vengeful Moon King (Ralph Fiennes, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Hail Caesar!), who stole Kubo’s eye as a baby, finds him once again. Kubo’s mother sends him away to find three pieces of mystical armor to defeat the Moon King and his daughters, The Sisters (both played by Rooney Mara, The Social Network, Pan). Along Kubo’s journey, he comes across companions like Monkey (Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Huntsman: Winter’s War) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar, Free State of Jones) who aid him in the perilous and difficult path that lies before him. But can he defeat the Moon King, the evil force who killed his father?

Kubo and the Two Strings is the fourth film from Laika, and it may just be the best work yet. This is a gorgeously animated and stunningly told story steeped in classic Japanese folklore. Each of the environments actually breathe on their own, and function as a beautifully laid out tapestry of incredible visuals.

Kubo’s story directly takes from the Hero’s Journey, and he is given an interesting and action-packed set of tests to stop him from gaining the armor in time. Thankfully, it is the chemistry between Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle that make this movie a must-see. There is heart and soul, enough to compete with the lovely imagery.

The voice work is solid from Parkinson, and he is aided nicely by Theron and McConaughey. In fact, there isn’t a whole lot to turn one away from the film.

Now, Kubo can be seen as an animated film more so than a family or kid’s movie. There are some frightening images and sequences, but I’m not trying to tell you that younger children should avoid it.

My faults with the film? Really only one. There are a few story beats near the end of the film that I didn’t see the point in. But that didn’t take the enjoyment out of the experience.

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You need to see Kubo and the Two Strings. It is breathtaking in its sights, but also wonderful in its sounds. Make sure to stay through the entire end credits. These animators put in hard work, and you get a chance to see how much. There’s also an amazing rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by Regina Spektor. When Kubo hits your theater, take the whole family on an adventure that is original and spectacular, aided by a striking attack on the senses. Seriously, you should be standing in line for it right now.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 5th Birthday!] A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

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Director: Samuel Bayer

Cast: Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Katie Cassidy, Thomas Dekker, Kellan Lutz

Screenplay: Wesley Strick, Eric Heisserer

95 mins. Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror and language.

 

Earlier this month, I discussed Platinum Dunes and their remake of The Amityville Horror. In that review, I mentioned that I believe a remake was an unsuitable idea for that franchise and, indeed, the entire horror genre. Most horror fans understand that the endless barrage of sequels boils down to mostly remake material, but we love the thrill of an unstoppable horror that keeps coming back. By hitting the remake switch, we get stuck with a new thread that may not be strong enough to carry a film. I happen to think that, if you want to bring back a franchise, do it like Star Trek did, where the new film could constitute a beginning of a series while being honest to the fans. Easy? No, but did we ever want easy? No. Even Friday the 13th’s remake was a better choice than just the same movie over again. Friday the 13th took the route of rebooting the series by the taking the best parts of remaking the franchise rather than just the inciting film. In A Nightmare on Elm Street, we get a straight remake, so we don’t get scared, because we’ve seen it all before.

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The teenagers in town are dying when they fall asleep, and there’s not much that can be done about it. Quentin Smith (Kyle Gallner, American Sniper, Dear White People) and Nancy Holbrook (Rooney Mara, The Social Network, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) are willing to try anything to stay awake as they attempt to uncover the dark secret about their town, their parents, and the man who haunts their dreams, Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley, Watchmen, RoboCop).

I really enjoy Jackie Earle Haley’s work here. I’ve often found him to be an interesting character actor who specializes in the darkness within humanity. As Freddy Krueger, he found a menacing voice and strong physical performance that adds something new to the character. He even improvised some truly disturbing dialogue to keep the actors unhinged during shooting. I particularly like the unsettling line about the how the brain still functions seven minutes after death. The problem with his character is that his face is half-CGI’d and that lead to a more wooden character than we should have had. The irritating part was that the reason for the CGI (from the same group involved with Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight) was meant to be true to actual burn victims. Then, at the last minute, they scaled it back, hindering Haley’s work without a reason, and effectively crushing the intensity of the film.

As for the teenagers of Springwood, I can’t be as happy about. Gallner and Mara tune in flat work, bolstered by some pretty good (if not completely cheesy) acting from Katie Cassidy (TV’s Arrow, Monte Carlo) and Kellan Lutz (TV’s The Comeback, Twilight).

The new addition of micro-dreaming is cool, but it boils down to jumping the shark here. Where does the story go if they can’t even stay awake.

New director Samuel Bayer takes his touch for music videos and applies it well to the cinematography of this film. He absolutely can’t handle using practical effects which result from the over-shiny quality of the picture. Where’s the brooding darkness? Good question.

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There is a lot of good that A Nightmare on Elm Street did (I don’t agree with Rooney Mara speaking out against the film once she “made it” as an actress). There, unfortunately, is too much that this remake did wrong. The entire film comes off as a flimsy reminder that we had better 30 years ago. It can’t carry the weight of a franchise, and now fanboys like me are waiting around to see if we will ever get another tour of Elm Street.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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