“Kubo and the Two Strings” movie review

kuboAbsolutely beautiful! A dazzling display of the best that cinema can be! Laika and Focus Features’ Kubo and the Two Strings is truly a testament to the art of motion pictures! Brilliantly animated in an eye-catching stylistic way, this film provides audiences with a simple and intimate journey through a dynamically epic world of adventure, laughter, and tears. Directed by Travis Knight, from the opening to the final fade to black, Kubo is arguably the best animated feature length film to hit theaters in a long time. It contains the incredible storytelling that few films, live-action or animated, strive for but often fail to accomplish. Rarely, do audiences witness a perfect film, but this one comes very close to being perfectly written, directed, acted, shot, edited, and produced. With an A-list of vocal talent behind the characters in this immaculately animated world, Kubo will surely impress all those who watch this fantastical story. In some ways, I could argue that this film displays signs of being self-aware. Self-aware in that this simple but effective visual story is all about the very concept of storytelling. Cecil B. DeMille said, “the greatest art is the art of storytelling;” and this film proves that, in a world of high concept blockbusters that are produced to simply generate revenue at the sacrifice of storytelling, there are films with beautiful imagery, writing, and even a great message that hold true to the very idea what launched more than 100 years of cinema.

Following a daring escape from an unknown enemy across a treacherous ocean of tsunami sized waves, a young women survives a nearly fatal crash and washes upon the shore of a beach in the shadow of an imposing mountain with her infant. Many years later, Kubo (Art Parkinson) has grown up to be a young man with a passion for storytelling that he learned from his mother. Never having fully recovered from the accident, so many years ago, Kubo has the responsibility to take care of his mother. Harnessing his talent for magical origami, a stringed instrument, and storytelling, Kubo makes a little money each day for him and his mother. Little did Kubo know that his mother’s warning to not stay outside of their home after dark was for good reason. Soon, Kubo will find himself on an epic journey to unlock a secret legacy that he could have only dreamed of. Along his journey, he meets up with a monkey (Charlize Theron) and a man-beetle (Matthew McConaughey) who protect and teach him along the way. Don’t blink, even for one second, because you may very well miss something of grave importance.

The first thing you will observe in this movie is the exquisite and stylistic combination of two different animation methods. Claymation, which most are familiar with, and the lesser used papermation. Although typically used by themselves to tell an animated story, the brilliant combination of both methods to concurrently tell this epic story will leave a lasting impression upon you. There is a beauty in this film unmatched by any other in recent times. In many ways, the visual appeal of this movie reminds me of the early Walt Disney and Pixar animated films. Audiences can easily witness the absolute passion in every movement, detail, and landscape. I was completely sucked into Kobo’s fantastic world of Japanese influence. In addition to outstanding technical achievements in animation, lighting, and cinematography, Kubo is a film that is equally outstanding in its ability to tell a simple but inspirational story. It is the epitome of an ideal relationship between artists and engineers. This film successfully combines an artisan handcrafted charm with the precision of sophisticated visual storytelling technologies in a dazzling display of cinematic art that will surely be cherished for a lifetime.

Simple. The plot is so simple but yet very much profound. While so many studios are cranking out franchises, adaptations, complex plots, and young adult dramas, the Laika production company chose a different route. It chose a route that proves that the mastery of visual storytelling that showcases the art of cinema is still alive. In a world of the business of moviemaking, Kubo returns us to the art of filmmaking. Not confined to art house theaters in Greenwich Village or West Hollywood, this film is evidence that truly artistic masterpieces are still desired by the American audience. “The art of making art, is putting it together” (Sunday in the Park with George). Knowing that just the leaf ship sequence at the turning point between the first and second acts took 19 months to create, design, and produce, it is clearly apparent that a tremendous amount of time, love, and energy went into every frame of this stunning movie. As someone who has a passion for the very concept of storytelling, this film brought tears to my eyes because of the sheer beauty of the film and the experience of watching it on the big screen. Although it is an endearing film filled with love and adventure, it is also quite scary during some of the intense conflict between Kubo and those who wish to do him harm. From Kobo’s magical origami birds and samurai warrior to the playful banter between Monkey and Beetle, I was awestruck at the brilliance of the film in both writing and visuals.

I highly recommend this film for those who have not seen it yet. I only wish I had made it to the movie before last night. After hearing what others have said and written about this movie, I have come to the same conclusion that many have voiced: this film is exceptional by any known measurable means of evaluating a film. If any animated film this year is destined for an Oscar nomination or win, this one is it.

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“Finding Dory” movie review

Finding_DoryA cute but ultimately emotionally static sequel to a beloved animated film. Disney-Pixar’s highly anticipated sequel Finding Dory makes a splash this week. Following the critically acclaimed success and continued popularity of Finding NemoFinding Dory hopes to find a place in your heart as well. Unfortunately, this film struggles to leave as lasting an impact as the first movie. Many film and Disney enthusiasts, approaching this film, knew that it was most likely going to be either a Cars 2 or a Toy Story 2; it falls somewhere between the two, but closer to the former. Not straying too far from from the plot of its predecessor, Finding Dory‘s message about disabilities turned strengths get a little lost in the emotionally static feel and somewhat forced turning points and dialog. The film certainly has its moments of laughter and surprise, but those are few and far between. Using its predecessor as an example, it is highly unlikely that Ellen DeGeneres could have been replaced by any other voice actor and the character of Dory still remain as endearing; however, honestly in this film, not just Ellen, but any of the other voice actors could have been replaced and the characters and plot play out just the same. A film needs to be a roller coaster of sorts–have its ups and downs–but Finding Dory pretty well stays rather somber the entire time. But yes, it does have some funny and pull-at-your-heart-strings moments. All in all, this movie feels like a forced sequel that wasn’t entirely necessary but produced in response to the high demand for a return to the world of Dory, Marlin, Nemo, and their friends.

Many years before Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) and Marlin (Albert Brooks) bumped into each other, Dory was just a baby fish with two loving parents. Struggling with short-term memory loss from an early age, Dory’s parents worked with her everyday to learn and grow. One day, she found herself all alone and couldn’t find her parents. And over the course of years searching, she found her way to the reef where she encountered a frantic dad searching for his son; and well, the rest is history. Moving up to present day. With an inability to shake the feeling that she keeps forgetting something really important, Dory finally remembers that she lost her parents. Although the memories are vague and spotty, she knows for certain that she needs to find them. After begging Marlin to go on another adventure out past the drop off, Marlin and Nemo agree to partner with Dory in search of her parents. From one side of the ocean to the other, nothing will stop Dory from locating her long lost parents to reunite as a family.

Like with Zootopia as well as other Disney films, there is usually a message in the subtext of its animated features and shorts. Finding Dory clearly has a message about perceived disabilities. Perceived in that, what is otherwise a physical or emotional disability, can be used to develop strengths. Most of the characters that you will encounter in this movie have some kind of disability. Dory and her memory is the main one, but there are definitely others. I don’t want to give much away, so we’ll just leave it at that. Although I feel the approach to writing this message into the diegesis of the film was a bit forced or heavy-handed, it doesn’t take away from the fact that it was handled very well and is mostly seamlessly integrated into the plot and mild character development. The two characters who offer the audience the most, in terms of character arc and development are Dory and her septopus friend Hank (Ed O’Neill). What’s a septopus? Just watch the film and find out. Both characters are mildly entertaining but lack that magical spark that was so much a part of Finding Nemo. One area that sequins sometimes find themselves in, is pulling from the first movie so much that you leave the sequel wondering why it was even necessary. Thankfully, that really isn’t the case with Finding Dory. But you’ll be happy to know that you will see some familiar faces from the first one, including everyone’s favorite sea turtle and stingray. Among the new characters in the movie, my absolute favorite was Becky!! Such a hot mess and quite possibly a little disturbing. Those eyes, though. She was so instrumental in my enjoyment of the movie!

I had the fortune of screening the film with one of the lead vocalists from Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Finding Nemo the Musical. And I won’t disclose who it was, but he “totally” eats, breaths, and sleeps Nemo and his friends. This was a fantastic opportunity to include an analysis of, not only my point of view on the film, but someone else’s who has a lot of time and energy vested in this property. I half expected him to disagree with me after the movie ended when we began discussing it. But, it turns out that he feels very much the same as I do. He was able to point out some elements that were actually taken from the show at Animal Kingdom, which was really cool! It’s a show that I watch fairly often as well, as I am a former Cast Member myself and current Annual Passholder. Having the ability to discuss Finding Dory in regards to how it fits in with not only its predecessor but the live show was fantastic! He echoes many my same opinions on the movie, but also adds that the kid behind us told their mom that it was amazing. So, in terms of how well this film plays out for children, it does a great job. Many of the young people are about the same age I was when I saw the first one. I think what I missed most in Finding Dory as opposed to Finding Nemo is the lack of comedy. There is definitely some funny moments in the film but the comedic timing and structure simply doesn’t hold a candle to its predecessor. Reminds me of a quality just above a straight to DVD/BluRay or a commercial-free Disney Channel Original Movie. Let’s remember this: Toy Story 2 was also a fairly week sequel–albeit entertaining and heartwarming–and then it came back with the phenomenal tear-jerker Toy Story 3, so it is entirely possible that the Nemo property will go through the same evolution.

Competing against Central Intelligence and a handful of limited releases, Finding Dory is sure to beat out the competition this weekend. And for what it’s worth, it is a fun movie that warms those of us in our 20s and 30s with childlike nostalgia of when we first saw Nemo. Is this destined to be the next great Disney-Pixar film? Probably not. However, that doesn’t mean that you cannot enjoy it with your friends or family. Certainly, it is a wonderful movie to be enjoyed with those who love seeing familiar characters and meeting new ones. I just wouldn’t go into the movie looking for an excellent and dynamic story.

“Inside Out” movie review

InsideOutThis is what we get from the creators of the beloved Disney-Pixar masterpiece Up? Prepare for a journey that not even Ms. Frizzle and the Magic School Bus could take you on. Finally get up close and personal with those little voices in your head. Only, despite the prolific amount of “joy” in the movie, you will likely exhibit a moderate ‘meh’ following the close at the denouement when all is better for Riley. Unlike the emotional rollercoaster in Up, this is a pretty well a straight forward ticking-time-bomb structured movie. Fairly predictable and lacks the magic of past Disney-Pixar films. Think Cars 2. The only redeeming quality of the movie is Amy Poehler’s character of Joy. If you loved Parks and Recreation, then you will love the character of Joy because she is pretty much the effervescent Leslie Knope. There are no extreme highs nor extreme lows…the movie fails to arouse a great deal of emotion from the audience. You will definitely not find yourself crying like you did in Up, and the characters of Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust won’t find a place in your heart like the cast from Toy Story. 

Inside Out is the latest movie from Disney-Pixar and is about Riley, an 11 year-old, girl from Minnesota who moves with her family to San Francisco in order for her dad to pursue a career with a startup company. Deep inside the conscious of Riley, the personified and anthropomorphic voices in her head are busy managing her emotions during this dynamic transition in Riley’s life. Joy (Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black) all work together to see that Riley is feeling the way she needs to at any given moment while she is awake–or at least try to. Joy is the leader and attempts to see to it that Riley is joyous all the time. During a rough transitional period, emotions run haywire and Joy is unable to manage Riley’s feelings. Not meaning any harm, Sadness touches an otherwise happy core memory and the domino effect that leads to the destruction of feelings, memories, and emotions begins. After getting sucked from Headquarters into Riley’s longterm memory, Joy and Sadness must retrieve all the core memories and get them back to Headquarters before Riley retreats into a dark place and never returns.

This is Pixar’s big summer movie, but it feels more like a movie that should’ve been released during the spring or fall. It lacks that uniquely Pixar quality that we have come to love and expect from such masters of animated storytelling. The narrative struck me as something much closer to a DreamWorks film than a Pixar. Not that DreamWorks hasn’t had some hits–quite the contrary–they produced the Golden Globe winning film How to Train Your Dragon 2 last year and certainly had a major hit with Shrek and the first How to Train Your Dragon. But, typically Pixar movies stand as the epitome of the best in compelling animated storytelling. Visually, the film is quite colorful and personifies the voices in our head quite well. Unfortunately, the movie suffers from an inability to inspire the audience to fall in love with any of the respective characters; but the opposite is also true because there is not a deep dislike for the antagonist (which is essentially ‘time’) or opposition either. As most screenwriters will tell you, movies–even if time is truly the opposition or enemy–need the antagonist to have some type of physical representation. Simply stated, a movie needs a clearly defined external goal, and this film concentrates mostly on the internal goals.

Although not exemplary, we do have sufficient character development in Joy. She truly shows a great character arc that goes from someone who thinks she knows everything and how to keep Riley’s mind under control to knowing that all the various emotions need to work together in order to provide Riley with a healthy state of mind. The movie is definitely cute, and it has some great humor here and there. There are also many Easter Eggs from other Pixar movies as well. One of the funniest parts that most children will miss is the cliche imaginary boyfriend from Canada. In many ways, this movie feels like a filler movie to bridge the gap between movies until the highly anticipated Finding Dory and Toy Story 4. For those of you who really enjoy the Disney and Pixar shorts prior to the feature presentations, you will get a cute short film about two volcanos who fall in ‘lava.’ Although moderately entertaining, it was a cute way to begin Inside Out. The moderate cuteness and entertainment value in the short film is definitely indicative of the storytelling quality in the feature. It was a foreshadow of what was to be expected in Inside Out.

If you’re the parents of kids or you just love Disney-Pixar films, no matter the storytelling or entertainment value, then you will likely enjoy watching this movie. If you are looking for another Disney-Pixar movie to generate strong emotions and maybe even “joyous” tears, then this is may not be it. However, it has received high praise from other critics so far, so maybe there is something in this movie that I may have missed.

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Home (2015) Review

HomeWhile there have been many live-action and animated movies in the alien encounter/invasion genre, 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks’ Home is a family-oriented colorful and fun addition to the pantheon of alien-based films. Although messages such as conquering fear, understanding others, and commitment are commonplace in the friendlier variety of alien movies, this film combines the fanciful plot with rich subtext that acts as social commentary on issues such as ethnocentrism, imperialism, and colonization. These social issues are as real today as they were centuries ago. Just like Dr. Seuss was a master at breaking down complex adult issues into a form that a child could understand and adults could appreciate, DreamWorks provides us with a movie that pairs a comical narrative with real-life societal issues from which we may be able to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to be the nation invaded by another for a supposed greater good.

Home is about an alien race, known as the Boov, who has decided to invade earth and relocate the human ace to Australia. The Boov are running from another alien race, known as the Gorg, and need to find a new home. Upon invading earth, the Boov setup new neighborhoods on the Australian continent and relocate all the “humans persons” to their new “home” as the Boov move in to claim this new planet for their own. Evading the forced human transport, Tip (voiced by Rihanna) hides from the alien race in an effort to buy time so she can develop a plan to find her mom (Jennifer Lopez). Whilst on her mission, Tip encounters an outcast Boov named Oh (Jim Parsons) who is running from his own race because of a massive eVite he sent out to the entire galaxy for his “warming of house” party. Unfortunately, this eVite is also sent to the Gorg. Hot on the trail of Oh is traffic cop Boov Kyle (voiced by the incomparable Steve Martin). During their respective missions, Oh and Tip must learn to tolerate one another and understand one another if they are ever going to find Tip’s mom and Oh stop the Gorg from invading planet Earth.

Home is the type of animated alien movie that will likely evoke nostalgic memories of Disney’s Lilo and Stitch and possibly, to some extent, DreamWorks’ Shrek. However, after How to Train Your Dragon 2 lost to the lesser film Disney’s Big Hero 6 at the Academy Awards BUT won against it at the Golden Globes, the embattled DreamWorks needed its only offering for 2015 to come in like, not to quote Miley Cyrus, a wrecking ball. Instead, it played it safe; and in doing so, it did not capture the imaginations and attentions of audiences like it should have. DreamWorks needed Home to be its Lilo and Stitch. But, instead, it will likely go by way of the Croods. Somehow, a lonely Hawaiian girl and ill-tempered koala bear-like alien creature found its way into the hearts of audiences but Home will not likely do the same. This is probably because Home plays too close to Lilo and Stitch instead of breaking new ground and living on the edge.

On the surface level, it is all too easy to see Home as a movie that is a tastes great but less filling version of Lilo and Stitch, but a closer look will reveal subtext that the Disney classic could only dream of. While both films deal with the idea of understanding one another and learning to cooperate, Home provides us with a deeper meaning behind the one-dimensional, vapid plot. It takes the idea of learning to understand one another and friendship development further by allowing us to view the invasion/encounter from both sides. In an effort not to spoil the twist at the end of the movie, I will no go into great detail. But, it is very clear to see that this movie can be read as social commentary on the U.S. invasion in the various middle-eastern countries. Note: this movie is not suggesting it is wrong to fight those who aim to harm you, but it is suggesting that in an effort to do good that there are sometimes negative consequences that may occur to a people or society. Sometimes, while a nation believes it is BRINGING civilization to a people, seen as lesser, it is entirely possible that they are actually TAKING from the native people instead. For the anthropologists in the audience, you will greatly enjoy the themes in the movie that will likely get missed by the typical movie-goer.

After the previews of Home built up a general interest and excitement for the animated movie, it will unfortunately disappoint most movie patrons who choose to see it this weekend. However, it is still a very cute movie that will keep you and your kids mildly entertained for the appropriate runtime of an hour and a half. I hope that after this movie does not perform as well as projected, that it inspires DreamWorks to rethink their approach to the next movie. I’ve seen great potential in the stories DreamWorks tells, and many of them are better cinematically than the Disney-Pixar ones; but, they need to bring the creative geniuses at their studio together to focus on rebranding despite the fact the Oscars always favor Disney-Pixar just because of the brand.