First time director Travis Knight directs the vocal talents of Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey and Art Parkinson in the animated feature film Kubo and the two strings. A young boys adventure to find the mythical armour that would protect him from his grandfather the moon king who killed the boy’s father and left his mother a mere shadow of her former self.
This is an animated movie but by no means a children’s tale. The opening line “Blink now if you must” gives us a precursor of the dark things to come. We are introduced to Kubo a precocious little boy who takes care of his mother who suffers from memory lapse ever since she smashed her head while trying to escape her sisters and her father the moon king. During the day he goes into the market of a village near by and earns a living by telling fantastical tales of a legendary warrior Hanzo. The tales he tells come alive with the origami creatures he creates and the music of his Shamisen. But Kubo must return to his mother in the cave they live in before sundown, one day Kubo stays out beyond his curfew and that’s when all hell breaks loose. His evil twin aunts voiced by Rooney Mara attack Kubo and his mother comes to his rescue and tell him to go find the mythical magical armour to protect him from his aunts and his grandfather. On this quest Kubo is joined by a Monkey voiced by Charlize Theron and a Samurai Warrior trapped in the body of a beetle voiced by Matthew McConaughey. What follows is a journey interspersed with action and humour.
The action is dark and violent and probably not suitable for the little ones and the humour is crisp, dry and perfectly timed and again more suited for a more mature audience. There was a particular joke which after it landed took me a second to get it and had be laughing for a solid few minutes after it. The writing is seriously brilliant. The myths and legends of Japanese folklore are woven into the narrative seamlessly. The animation is spectacular especially the origami bits. The evil twins are truly terrifying with their porcelain masks. The one aspect where the movie suffers is the pacing. In parts the story seems to drag slowly and in others it seems to be in a rush to conclusion. For instance the scene with the giant skeleton seems overlong and the final scene seems rushed to conveniently conclude the story. But it is offset by the brilliant reveal of the true identities of the monkey and the beetle and how wonderfully that plot point is handled.
This year hasn’t necessarily been the most spectacular for animated features. With the exception of Pixar’s Finding Dory the genre has been mostly lacking. Dreamworks is developing silly Trolls script to fuel a toy franchise. Laika studios has thankfully stepped up to the plate and delivered a compelling and adult focused animated feature length film. If for nothing else watch it for the spectacular origami magic sequences and stay for Regina Spektor’s rendition of Beatle’s classic “While my guitar gently weeps” as the end credits roll.
George miller directs Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult in Mad Max: Fury Road. Reinventing the series he first directed over 30 years ago with Mel Gibson as the titular Max Rokatansky, Miller turns up the adrenaline to maximum as Hardy and Theron battle for their lives and their belief in this post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Fury Road is less about Max and more about Theron’s Imperator Furiosa and her escape from the clutches of the evil Immortan Joe who lords over Citadel, a Cliffside community (for the lack of better words). Max who we are introduced to in the opening scene gives us the necessary backstory to those new to the series (like me) and you are led on a crazy chase across what appears to be a cross between the Saharan desert and the bottom of the Grand Canyon. He is captured and brought to citadel where is used as a blood bank for the pale skinned war-boys, Immortan Joe’s army. Here we are introduced to Nicholas Hoult as Nux who is so wrapped up in the mythology as concocted by Immortan Joe that he believes that he is destined for paradise when he crosses the gates of Valhalla when he martyrs himself for Joe. Other notable mentions from the cast include Rosie Hutington Whiteley and Riley Keough whose introduction is quite memorable to say the least. I could elaborate on who they are and what part they play in the story but that would be giving away way too much. Suffice to say that they are the key to the whole story.
This movie is intensely insane – in a good way. For instance when Immortan Joe commandeers his army to go on a chase after Furiosa they do so armed with a marching band of sort! But since this is mad max this is no ordinary marching band – there are 4 tribal drummers and a masked hanging flame-throwing guitarist. The effect is simultaneously ridiculous and awesome. Most apocalyptic movies tend to drain the color out of the scenery to imply the inhospitable conditions but Miller and DoP John Seale turn each frame of the vast wasteland into a work of art. The high contrast high octane morning chase sequences are a burnished orange and the night sequences an eerie blue. The shots of Theron and Hardy in close up reveal not only the hardship that life in this hellish-earth entails but also reflects the inner light that burns bright in these two brave souls. Several wide-panning shots had me gasp involuntarily marveling at their stark beauty. Every frame is memorable and the visuals are second to none.
The production design and the design of the vehicles is a work of mad genius. The makeup and costume is one of the most impactful, especially the work that must have gone into making Hugh Keays-Byrne into Immortan Joe, the few times his visage is visible straight on it has such an impact that the feeling is a mix of awe and disgust. The practical effects that went into all the action sequences are mind blowing and can walk circles around any of the CGI Bayhem or any from the avenger’s multiverse.
While this is an out and out adrenaline fest this movie has an underlying structural narrative which takes on themes varying from cult-worship to feminism. This is a movie that gave me a buzz that I can last recall having felt in the opening sequences of TDKR and Gravity but both those buzzes faded out after the opening sequences were over, here the opening sequence as crazy as it is , is tame as compared to what comes later on. This may not be the movie for everyone but anyone willing to watch or unsure whether to see it or not make sure you rush to the biggest screen there is to soak in the madness. Consider me a convert! I cannot wait for what Max encounters next.