Kubo and the two strings – A Review

Image result for kubo and the two strings posterFirst 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.

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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.

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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.

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Interstellar – A Spoiler free Review

A Christopher Nolan movie is an event movie – it deserves tonnes of press and an even greater amount of hype and excitement as Nolan rarely disappoints. The man who single handedly revived the super-hero genre, the one who dabbled in magic and memory loss and dared peer inside our dreams is revered among cinephiles and for good reason. And when this man sets off on an inter-galactic voyage you simply strap in and join him for the ride on the biggest screen possible. To say I am a Nolan devotee would be a gross understatement. I have devoured every tidbit of information that came out while Nolan worked away on his space sojourn and Interstellar was the number 1 most anticipated movie for me for this year. I was back in 2010 when I was waiting with bated breath for Inception to unfold and for it to silence all Nolan critics and it did in spectacular fashion. Would Interstellar be able to continue Nolan’s winning streak or will the law of averages finally catch up with this auteur. Read on to find out more – there are no spoilers in this review

The story starts in the near future where science is all but forgotten, the school teach students that the Moon landing was a hoax perpetrated to bankrupt the Soviet Union and trained astronauts are left to plough the field for crop. This is the caretaker generation, struggling through dust clouds and crop blights to survive while staring extinction in the face. Through curiously encoded messages Cooper played by Matthew McConaughey and Murph played by Mackenzie Foy end up at NORAD a clandestine NASA mission run by the Nolan-regular Michael Caine playing Professor Brand. He asks Cooper – the best pilot they ever had- to join the mission along with his daughter Amelia played by Anne Hathaway, Romily played by David Gyassi and Doyle played by Wes Bentley. The mission is to follow 3 of the 12 previous astronauts who left our galaxy to travel through a mysterious wormhole to look for other planets which could be used to sustain human life.  No more story-wise, lest I risk the spoiling of the surprises that are in-store.

Nolan is a master of visuals. His association with Wally Pfisher was what elevated his movies to the next level. With Hoyte Van Hoytema donning the cinematographer’s hat I had a feeling we won’t be let down because he filmed the wonderful Her last year and made the future very accessible and believable. The visuals Van Hoytema creates of the inter-galactic voyage are stunning in their grandeur but as one wired article evidences they are also based on a very real scientific equations which Kip Thorne the theoretical physicist from Caltech collaborated on with the team behind interstellar. The wormhole, the blackhole, and the Endurance spacecraft passing alongside Saturn are all stunning in their detail and scale. Where the visuals however are let down are with the background score. Hans Zimmer who has provided very complementary scores for previous Nolan movies plays it too heavy handedly this time around. The loud klaxon based soundtrack takes away from the scene and makes it almost unbearable. A Clint Mansel or Alexandre Desplat score would have served Nolan better giving it the Kubrickian feel of using the classical compositions. With the thunderous riffs and booming drums of Zimmer the crescendos come quick and fast but there is no payoff visually or story wise .

Nolan had me scratching my head when he announced that Matthew McConaughey would be the lead actor in Interstellar and my worst fears have come to fruition. Every time Cooper opens his mouth to speak out comes the stoner cowboy drawl that will dull anyone to sleep. Half the time his words are illegible and the other half just unbearable. He is unbelievable as someone who understands and can hold a conversation about quantum physics and he puts in no efforts to the contrary either.  Anne Hathaway is still stuck being Fantine from Les Miserables and cannot seem to turn the tears out. If we had a whiny bio-physicist and a stoned out southerner to rely on to save the fate of humanity our chances look grim. Thats where the grown up Murph, Jessica Chastain comes in – she is the only one that manages to come across as someone with a sane mind but her interaction with her brother played by Casey Affleck make little sense. But my biggest grief is with David Gyassi who plays fellow astronaut Romily who waits on board Endurance when Coop, Amelia and Doyle go to the planet of the Tsunami waves. He ages 22 years when they get back on the spacecraft and I for one instance thought he was just hamming it to tease Coop and Amelia on the passage of time but he wasn’t and he had really aged and he acts really weird too, walks with a slouch and sounds defeated. The whole effect is jarring and not entirely believable.

For a movie that is nearly 3 hours long there are key scenes which feel rushed and unresolved. The initiation of Cooper into the Save-the-humanity program, the travel to the different planets to find the data, the climax which holds the key to the human survival seem hurried and rough. If more time was spent on these, more technical aspects of what is essentially a sci-fi adventure it would have felt like the Nolan movie I have come to expect. Instead we spend an inordinately long time setting up the doomsday scenario in the first half with the dustbowl and the father daughter bond that will be Cooper’s driving force. Also once onboard the time spent whining about personal issues is almost juvenile and for Nolan standards unpardonable. Instead of Cooper and Amelia talking I would much prefer a lively chat between TRAS and CASE the two robots who are nods to HAL9000 from 2001 : A Space Odyssey.

There is little doubt that this movie is not all that it could have been. A majority of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of Matthew McConaughey who I hope Nolan never collaborates with ever again. But this is still a Nolan movie it is big on Ideas and huge on visual impact. For a director who dares to take such huge risks and break away from the formulaic big-budget franchise movies it deserves a watch. It won’t redefine the sci-fi genre in the way that 2001 did. But like Inception it is an idea that needs to be explored and discussed and it makes the most complicated science easily accessible and it makes you think. And I want Nolan to break the bank on this one so he can get back to the long-gestating Howard Hughes biopic.

Oscar 2014 Predictions!

Roll out the red carpet and put on your best ball gown the little golden man is rolling into the nokia center this Sunday night.Another year rolls by and the 86th annual academy awards are upon us. While there is more mindless franchise trash than the previous year, there are also several leaps made in terms of meaningful cinema with artistic and technical prowess on full display. A casual glance at the best movie category validates this assessment where we have a futuristic love story competing against a love story and a story of human triumph set against the dark days of black slavery, we have a story of personal greed and depravity set to square off against a space adventure which tests the limits of human resilience. And plus when there is Ellen DeGeneres hosting it is bound to be a party. Plus P!nk is going to perform her aerial acrobatics so you cannot miss this Oscars night (early Monday morning YAWN!!!) .

This year’s Oscar race is a little more curious than most years – there is a clear cinematic landmark in the shape of 12 years a slave but it is a movie that most people are finding hard to watch and there is a possibility that this might hurt the film’s chances at a major win. The best actresses race which is usually the most fiercely competitive field seems to have the most talented actresses this year too with Blanchet, Dench, Adams, Bullock and Streep competing and with such stellar performances it should be a more closely fought race – but it seems to not be the case and the one with the lobbying power of the Weinstein’s will win. The best actor’s race which is generally a lone horse race seems to be the one that is too close to call with a 3 way fight between DiCaprio ( long overdue), McConaughey( on a comeback) and Ejiofor ( the most demanding role of them all).
Each year I try and come up with a list of who I think should win and will win and in most cases it matches but in some it doesn’t. This year too I will take you through the categories and draw up my list of winners and on the morning of 3rd March you will either hear me fist-pumping and cheering as my favorites win or hear me hurl abuses or laugh out loud (if the undeserved ones trip on their way up to the podium – I am looking at you Lawrence)

Actress in a Supporting Role
Sally Hawkins in “Blue Jasmine”
Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle”
Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave”
Julia Roberts in “August: Osage County”
June Squibb in “Nebraska”

This is one of my favorite category as usually in an ensemble cast the supporting actor’s role can easily be swapped with that of the leading actor’s and that is what makes this a very prestigious award indeed.
Who Should Win : Roberts for August: Osage County – any actor who can say “Eat Fish B*tch” to Meryl and lives to tell the tale should win the award. But jokes aside, she delivers a phenomenal performance the likes of which were only seen from her in Erin Brokovich.
Who Will Win: This is a tough one – Nyong’o or Lawrence . I don’t think Lawrence should firstly because she walked away with the leading trophy last year and also because her role in American Hustle isn’t that substantial. Nyong’o certainly was the reason why we felt as bad as we did for Solomon. Tough call indeed but I would be happy if it was either Roberts or Nyong’o

Actor in a Supporting Role

Barkhad Abdi in “Captain Phillips”
Bradley Cooper in “American Hustle”
Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave”
Jonah Hill in “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club”

Who Should/Will Win: Jared Leto if you physically transform yourself to a point where you are unrecognizable and you deliver a smashing performance you should start practicing your acceptance speech from the minute the production wraps up.

Animated Feature Film

“The Croods” Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco and Kristine Belson
“Despicable Me 2” Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin and Chris Meledandri
“Ernest & Celestine” Benjamin Renner and Didier Brunner
“Frozen” Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Peter Del Vecho
“The Wind Rises” Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki

This is one category that almost always baffles me with the inclusion of a French animated movie – do the laws of foreign language film not apply to this category? anywho!

Who Should/Will Win : Frozen it has everything that is the hallmark of a Disney classic – a princess, a dashing prince, talking inanimate object and a brilliant song “Let It Be”.

Cinematography

“The Grandmaster” Philippe Le Sourd
“Gravity” Emmanuel Lubezki
“Inside Llewyn Davis” Bruno Delbonnel
“Nebraska” Phedon Papamichael
“Prisoners” Roger A. Deakins

This is one aspect of filmmaking that more often than not finds a mention in my reviews because to be this is one of the most important components that makes or breaks the movie. The director’s vision is only as good as the DoP being able to translate it to the big screen. I loved Deakin’s work in prisoners and am so glad he found a nomination here but…

Who Should/Will Win : Emmanuel Lubezki the man who took us to space and tossed us around like a lone sock in a tumble dry washing machine! Gravity is a visual phenomenon and makes perfect use of every inch of the IMAX screen space.

Visual Effects

“Gravity” Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk and Neil Corbould
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds
“Iron Man 3” Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash and Dan Sudick
“The Lone Ranger” Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier
“Star Trek Into Darkness” Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton

Who Should/Will Win : Gravity to me the beauty of the visual effect is in it being so inseparable from the main visuals that it does not feel unnatural and jarring and that was achieved by the team behind Gravity who transformed a giant sink tank into the unending blackness of the space.

Documentary Feature

“The Act of Killing”Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
“Cutie and the Boxer” Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher
“Dirty Wars” Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill
“The Square” Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer
“20 Feet from Stardom” Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers

Another fantastic genre in movie making that turns in some of the most amazing films – the Act of Killing is a disturbing look into the psyche of the khmer rogue leaders who perpetrated some of the most heinous crimes against humanity. 20 feet from stardom is a fantastic feature about the background singers which had me experiences many bouts of goosebumps with some of the most amazing voices ever heard but hardly recognized.

Who Should Win : Act of Killing
Who Will Win : 20 Feet from Stardom

Foreign Language Film

“The Broken Circle Breakdown” Belgium
“The Great Beauty” Italy
“The Hunt” Denmark
“The Missing Picture” Cambodia
“Omar” Palestine

The category that many a times reflects the political affiliations of the members of the academy more than the technical merit of the winner .

Who Should Win : The Hunt
Who Will Win : The Great Beauty

Sound Editing

“All Is Lost” Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns
“Captain Phillips” Oliver Tarney
“Gravity” Glenn Freemantle
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Brent Burge and Chris Ward
“Lone Survivor” Wylie Stateman

Sound Mixing

“Captain Phillips” Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith and Chris Munro
“Gravity” Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick and Tony Johnson
“Inside Llewyn Davis” Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland
“Lone Survivor” Andy Koyama, Beau Borders and David Brownlow

The two categories that make the least amount of sense to me but still turned out to be the biggest shocker last year with tie. I think the sound editing and mixing is probably going to go to the one that sweeps the most technical awards and in that case Gravity seems like a natural choice

Who Should/Will Win : Gravity

Music (Original Score)

“The Book Thief” John Williams
“Gravity” Steven Price
“Her” William Butler and Owen Pallett
“Philomena” Alexandre Desplat
“Saving Mr. Banks” Thomas Newman

The category that has me wondering always why the academy hates Hans Zimmer – he either gets shut out of the nominations entirely or gets nominated and doesn’t win even though he deserves it. Here too he got shut out of 12 Years a Slave. However with the wonderful music by Arcade Fire I am hopeful that I will not be too disappointed.

Who Should Win : Her
Who Will Win: Gravity

Music (Original Song)

“Happy” from “Despicable Me 2”
Music and Lyric by Pharrell Williams
“Let It Go” from “Frozen”
Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
“The Moon Song” from “Her”
Music by Karen O; Lyric by Karen O and Spike Jonze
“Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”
Music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen; Lyric by Paul Hewson

Idna menzel performing at the Oscars – after Adele performed last year – it’s like my dreams are coming true! Her performance of Let It Go would have to win the gold! If only she can switch into the witches outfit with green makeup and do an encore of defying gravity – now that would be PERFECT!

Who Should/Will Win : Let It Go

Film Editing

“American Hustle” Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten
“Captain Phillips” Christopher Rouse
“Dallas Buyers Club” John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa
“Gravity” Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger
“12 Years a Slave” Joe Walker

This has got to be Gravity – a film so tightly cut that not one moment feels bloated or unnecessary

Who Should/Will Win: Gravity

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

“Before Midnight” Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
“Captain Phillips” Screenplay by Billy Ray
“Philomena” Screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
“12 Years a Slave” Screenplay by John Ridley
“The Wolf of Wall Street” Screenplay by Terence Winter

Who Should Win : Before Midnight show some love to the troika of Linklater, Delpy and Hawke who have worked for 18 years to come up with a trilogy that is essentially a personal journey in the lives of two amazingly written characters.
Who Will Win : 12 Years A Slave

Writing (Original Screenplay)

“American Hustle” Written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
“Blue Jasmine” Written by Woody Allen
“Dallas Buyers Club” Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack
“Her” Written by Spike Jonze
“Nebraska” Written by Bob Nelson

This has got to be Her – it cannot be anything else – a story so original yet so beautifully written that it feels almost commonplace , the future does not feel completely alien and love gets a whole new meaning.
Who Should/Will Win : Her

Now come the big guns!

Directing

“American Hustle” David O. Russell
“Gravity” Alfonso Cuarón
“Nebraska” Alexander Payne
“12 Years a Slave” Steve McQueen
“The Wolf of Wall Street” Martin Scorsese

It is a crying shame that Russell and Payne find a place here and Jonze is shut out of a nomination. In a perfect world Russell and Payne would get replaced by Frears and Jonze or even a Linklater for his phenomenal third movie in the Before/After series.
Who Should Win : McQueen/Cuarón
Who Will Win : Cuaron

Actress in a Leading Role

Amy Adams in “American Hustle”
Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine”
Sandra Bullock in “Gravity”
Judi Dench in “Philomena”
Meryl Streep in “August: Osage County”

A 5-time nominated actress, 2 previous winners, A Dame and a goddess with 18 nominations and 3 wins – this one heck of a category to choose from. With each of the actresses turning in a stellar performance it becomes a question of who wants it the most and who has the ability to campaign the most, And more importantly than not who has the weight of the Weinsteins behind her. If anyone has seen Meryl’s performance as Violet Weston and thinks she does not deserve to win this award then that person is delusional.

Who Should Win: Meryl Streep
Who Will Win: Cate Blanchet ( I love you Cate but watch out for the steps girl)

Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale in “American Hustle”
Bruce Dern in “Nebraska”
Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave”
Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club”

Replace Dern with Robert Redford for “All is lost” and even though I love Bale but replace him with Joaquin Phoenix for “Her” we would have the most perfect leading man’s nominee club in a long long time. But be that as it may of the 5 nominated here it is a 2 horse race between McConaughey and Ejiofor with the possibility of DiCaprio pulling an upset ( seems unlikely )

Who Should Win : Chiwetel Ejiofor – Physical transformation may be hard but getting into the psyche of Solomon Northup would’ve been harder.
Who Will Win: I am going to stick my neck out on this one and say that Ejiofor takes home the gold.

Best Picture

“American Hustle” Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison and Jonathan Gordon, Producers
“Captain Phillips” Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca, Producers
“Dallas Buyers Club” Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter, Producers
“Gravity” Alfonso Cuarón and David Heyman, Producers
“Her” Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze and Vincent Landay, Producers
“Nebraska” Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, Producers
“Philomena” Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan and Tracey Seaward, Producers
“12 Years a Slave” Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen and Anthony Katagas, Producers
“The Wolf of Wall Street” Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joey McFarland and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

My top 5
12 Years a Slave
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
The Wolf of Wall Street

There is an interesting article out in the blogosphere about how many academy members are unable to bring themselves to see 12 Years a Slave because of the unrelenting nature of McQueen’s portrayal of slavery and how this might ruin its chances of winning the best picture and how Gravity might take it home instead. While I loved Gravity I do not think it is worthy of a best picture win, it is a landmark for cinema no doubt but I find it hard to believe that it can take home the big prize but then its got Clooney so stranger things have happened.

Who Should Win : 12 Years A Slave
Who Will Win: like with Ejiofor I have faith that 12 Years A Slave will win the big prize and McQueen will be vindicated for Hunger and Shame.

So there you have it! My predictions for the 86th annual academy awards

Category Should Win Will Win
Best Picture 12 Years a Slave 12 Years a Slave
Best Director McQueen/Cuaron Cuaron
Best Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor Chiwetel Ejiofor
Best Actress Meryl Streep Cate Blanchet
Best Supporting Actor Jared Leto Jared Leto
Best Supporting Actress Julia Roberts Lupita Nyong’o
Best Writing – Original Screenplay Spike Jonze Spike Jonze
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay Before Midnight -Delpy/Linklater/Hawke 12 Years a Slave – Joe Walker
Best Animated Feature Film Frozen Frozen
Best Foreign Language Film The Hunt The Great Beauty
Best Documentary – Feature Act Of Killing 20 Feet from Stardom
Best Documentary – Short Subject (havent seen any and the will win is based on buzz) The Lady in Number 6
Best Live Action Short Film (havent seen any and the will win is based on buzz) Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything).
Best Animated Short Film Get A Horse Mr Hublot
Best Original Score Arcade Fire – Her Steven Price Gravity
Best Original Song Let it Go – Frozen Let it Go – Frozen
Best Sound Editing Gravity Gravity
Best Sound Mixing Gravity Gravity
Best Production Design The Great Gatsby The Great Gatsby
Best Cinematography Emannuel Lubezki – Gravity Emannuel Lubezki – Gravity
Best Makeup and Hairstyling Dallas Buyers Club Dallas Buyers Club
Best Costume Design The Great Gatsby 12 Years a Slave
Best Film Editing Gravity Gravity
Best Visual Effects Gravity Gravity

I will be for the first time attempting to live tweet the event so come follow me on twitter and join in on the madness! Don’t forget to let me know what you think in the comments below!