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.
Louis Leterrier directed Now You See Me brings together the worlds of magic and high stakes heist. Starring Jesse Eisenberg the illusionist, Isla Fisher the escape artist, Woody Harrelson the Hypnotist and Dave Franco as the small type pick-pocket cum lock opener are summoned together by a mysterious benefactor to come together as a headlining act “The Four Horsemen”. What ensues is high voltage magic trick which has you involved from the very beginning and will have you guessing till the very last minute.
The story kicks off as the four horsemen are headlining a Las Vegas show and invite an audience member to participate in the act and teleport him to rob a bank. The way this is accomplished is spectacular and it drew an audible gasp from the audience. The foursome are chatty, witty and absolutely engrossing and that is what draws the audience in, you as an audience feel involved in the magic trick. The subsequent 2 tricks only get successively better and more unpredictable and therein lies the strongest moments of the film.
Of the cast Eisenberg is his Social-network chatty best with cocky arrogance and nerdy charm. Isla Fisher again continues to impress with her enthusiasm and eager portrayal of the magician’s assistance turned into an escapists act. Woody Harrelson is witty and funny and has some of the best lines in the movie. Dave Franco is competent and shows signs of the talent that obviously runs in the Franco family. Morgan Freeman plays Thaddeus Bradley a former magician who now debunks the magic tricks by exposing the magicians and how they performed the trick. He also plays the FBI-consultant when Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent come up short trying to apprehend the magicians. Michael Caine rounds out the cast as Arthur Tresler the Insurance magnet who plays benefactor to the Four Horsemen Act.
Where the movie comes up short is when towards the end it tries to tie up loose ends and in doing so does a rush job of revealing who’s who and why so. It could have been handled so much better. Rather than the reveal of the identities happening in the conversation between 2 characters it would have best suited as a conversation that happens at the very end. Melanie Laurent is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful but is left with an unresolved character, the myth of the eye of Horus which plays such an important role in the overall story is blurted out without context and left hanging there with nothing to move it further and then just as summarily dismissed without much thought.
In hands of a better director and with perhaps a little more attention to the screenplay this could have been truly a fantastic movie instead of just ending up as a pop-corn fare. But make no mistake the time you spend watching this movie will be time spent being entertained and that is purely because of the fantastic star cast and some very witty writing.
While certainly no Prestige or Illusionist Now You See Me is a perfectly entertaining Magic-Heist movie that will not leave you bored for even one second. Watch it for the fantastic chemistry between the four lead magicians and some spectacular effects which truly bring alive the Magic and brings you in closer.