ATOMIC BLONDE review

Aww yeah, son. It’s finally here. All that hype is about to be tested. I love a good action film, and I love a good spy film. Combine the two with a kick-ass female to helm the project, and you’ve got me saying, “Shut up, and take my money!”

The story looks like your typical betrayal-revenge thriller, but the action does look pretty awesome… eh, for the most part. I don’t know, some of the action looks a little too… choreographed. Like once someone throws a punch, it’s like there’s an obvious pause between moves so the actors and stuntmen can get into position for the next attack. The kitchen scene feels particularly heavy in this as well as that hyped up stairway scene, albeit on a smaller scale. But who knows, maybe the finished product is much more streamlined.

Let’s take a look at this on screen talent. Starring, we have the incredible Charlize Theron (THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS [2017], KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS [2016], and HANCOCK [2008]) and James McAvoy (SPLIT [2017], X-MEN: APOCALYPSE [2016], WANTED [2008], and upcoming films X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX [2018] and M. Night Shyamalan’s Split/Unbreakable crossover, GLASS [2019]). In support, we have John Goodman (VALERIAN [2017], PATRIOTS DAY [2016], RED STATE [2011], and the upcoming TV revival ROSANNE [2018]), Sofia Boutella (THE MUMMY [2017], STAR TREK BEYOND [2016], KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE [2015], and the upcoming TV film FAHRENHEIT 451, due out… who knows when), Toby Jones (MORGAN [2016], CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER [2011], THE MIST [2007], and upcoming horror film THE SNOWMAN [2017] and JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM [2018]), Til Schweiger (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS [2009], FAR CRY [2008], and LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE [2003]), and in a bit role, Daniel Bernhardt (LOGAN [2017], THE MATRIX RELOADED [2003], and TV show MORTAL KOMBAT: CONQUEST [1998]).

Now for the talent behind the scenes. Directing, we have David Leitch, a former stuntman who has been a part of countless action films. His career stretches from HITMAN: AGENT 47 (2015), all the way back to Marvel’s BLADE (1998). He’ll be directing the upcoming DEADPOOL 2 (2018). Penning the screenplay is Kurt Johnstad, known for 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (2014), ACT OF VALOR (2012), and 300 (2006). And… wait a tick, this movie is based on a graphic novel? Hmm… news to me. Apparently, it was a series titled “The Coldest City.” Anywho, the composer for the score is action film veteran Tyler Bates, known for GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017), JOHN WICK (2014), SUPER (2010), and Marvel’s upcoming Netflix show THE PUNISHER [2017]. Last, but not least, the cinematographer is Jonathan Sela, known for TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT (2017), LAW ABIDING CITIZEN (2009), THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN (2008), and the upcoming DEADPOOL 2.

Overall, yeah, this could be pretty bad-ass, so I’m stoked for this.

This is my honest opinion of: ATOMIC BLONDE

(SUMMARY)

Set during the Cold War in 1989. Lorraine (Charlize Theron) is a British spy and being called in by her superiors for a mission debriefing, detailing her assignment of tracking down a missing list that contains the names of every operative working for British intelligence.

(REVIEW)

Apologies for the delay in this review’s release. I did actually see it last week, and I had to see this again. Not because it was that good, but because I had a miserable experience watching this the first time. So before I go into the review, I’m going to start with an enraged rant about being on your fucking cell phone in the movies. So if you want to skip that and go right to the review, CTRL-F and type “HPOR”. So here we go.

So I’m watching the movie and during an important exposition scene, this woman behind me starts talking on her phone. Allow me to really describe what I mean by this. Her phone is on SPEAKER, high volume so everyone can hear, and you’d swear to God that this bitch was in the middle of an important business meeting because she’s not even making an attempt to whisper. She’s talking like normal. My favorite part of the entire conversation she’s having with who the fuck cares, at one point, she apologizes. Not to the audience who is being horrendously inconvenienced, mind you, but to the person she’s talking to, as if all the people screaming at her to get off her phone are interrupting their important conversation. It took me a good five, maybe even ten minutes to finally get up and track down an employee at the AMC that I frequent and told them exactly where to find her. By the time I got back in the auditorium, everyone was in an uproar at this bitch, WHO IS STILL ON HER PHONE!!! You know what it finally took for her to hang up? Some dude got up from his seat and got right in her fucking face. Of fucking course, in that specific moment, that’s when the employee comes in, just narrowly missing out on the mayhem.

The experience, for all intents and purposes, was fine afterward, but the sheer amount of inconsideration from this incident is beyond baffling. Fine, a phone goes off, it happens. Like me, I don’t have many people who call me and talk to me, so there’s almost no reason to care about, “Alright, one last thing. Using your phone is distracting. Don’t ruin the movie!” Oversights happen and most people are generally understanding of that. But these people (she was with a companion) literally paid twenty-plus dollars just to watch half the flick and spend ten minutes of the remainder of their time there on a conference call. People, I don’t pay money to see these movies to hear your phone chats. I don’t pay money to see your cell phone screens light up. And to go so far as to talk, whispering or full blown outdoor voices? Are you fucking kidding me? How did FIREFLY’s Shepherd Book put it?

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And to everyone else who is as pissed off with this shit as I am… don’t be like me, waiting ten minutes for them to stop without telling the theater staff. I know, maybe you don’t like confrontation, or don’t like missing any part of the movie, but… if you don’t take some sort of action, they won’t stop talking. You’re going to miss out on the movie one way or another. Don’t miss out on more than you, or the rest of the audience that has a set of fucking manners, need to.

(HPOR) Now for the review.

I’ve probably said this before, but spy films can be a hit or miss for me if they’re not comedies. This is because the ones that you’re supposed to take seriously, James Bond, Jason Bourne, they have a tendency to have complicated plots that my brain isn’t calibrated to follow. I eventually tune out the politics, ramifications, and junk in lieu of waiting for the action scenes or attempting to connect with the character relationships, which is always the crux of why I end up liking them. A few one-liners never hurt either. So how does this movie rank among them? It’s good. Not great. I don’t argue the “Kick-ass action,” or “…totally badass,” comments. Hell, I don’t even argue the whole, “We now have our female 007!” comments either. But… yeah, I don’t love this movie.

The smaller issue that I have with this movie is just how drenched in neon colors this movie was. This is personal, obviously, but the very aesthetic of this film is a struggle. If it’s not bright neon colors, it’s pale white and blue. I know, I know, snow and shit, and I don’t know if I could properly explain why it bugs me. But couple that with the 80’s techno music, or whatever it was, it sort of made my eyelids heavy. It succeeds in making itself distinguished among other action-spy films, but it does it in a way that didn’t agree with me. It’s that same sensation that I get when I play a first-person shooter video game; I just get a headache after awhile, which ruins the experience some. Like I said, the majority of viewers likely weren’t bothered by this, but I was.

Another smaller complaint was the lesbian scene. Now before you feminists get your pitchforks and torches, hear me out. Setting my man-brain aside who absolutely adores two attractive women having sex, pure titillation is something I reserve for porn. That’s what it’s for. However, gratuitous sex and nudity in a movie is exploitative and, frankly, annoying. It’s there just for marketing and to get asses in seats. Now, if the story is about sex and relationships, trying to do it in an artistic way, that’s perfectly acceptable. In coming-of-age films, the exploration of sexual awakening, a character who doesn’t believe in monogamy learns to fall in love, that sort of thing, then of course, the sex and nudity is more warranted and understandable. But that’s for those movies. Action films don’t always put that kind of effort into the romantic relationships. The exceptions for me are the Bourne films and the occasional Bond film. I do not believe this film does the relationship between Lorraine and Delphine justice. While both Theron and Boutella are outstanding actresses to be sure, Lorraine and Delphine barely share any screen time together before they bang and I don’t believe the sex was truly organic to the story. It’s certainly a lighter exploitation, mostly because there are good scenes between them later, which I’ll get to, and it’s not over graphic with either the nudity or the physicality, but I feel like for the relationship to carry more weight, more time should have been dedicated to them. Unfortunately, that could have also derailed the film and not kept the story in focus if not done well, but it could have been done. The two ladies could have ran around Berlin solving pieces of the puzzle together, fighting together, it could have worked.

A bigger issue that I also had was, as predicted, some of the fight scenes felt a little too choreographed. Like I said above, the action looks like… punch! Pause. Punch again! Pause, wait for stunt actor to get into place. Punch! Okay, it’s not as bad as I’m making it out, but I feel like I could literally see the actors trying to get back to their marks and waiting for their cue. It more prominent in the kitchen during the apartment fight, and pretty brief in the balcony scene toward the climax, but it’s still there and pretty distracting. Again, this may be something most won’t notice, care about, or agree with me on, but it did feel a touch distracting to me.

The biggest issue I had with the film was how complicated the story was that I could barely follow it. Okay, so a list of all the MI6 agents is now in the hands of the bad guys. We learn that the latest agent killed was a lover or boyfriend of Lorraine’s. We also learn that there’s a traitor within MI6, code named Satchel, whom Lorraine is tasked with finding as well because it’s this person who’s leaked the list to their enemies. I know that these plot point intersect and how they’re related to each other, but… why was Lorraine in that apartment? She says she was looking for clues to Satchel’s identity, but… what was she looking for specifically? We’re not filled in on her plans or strategies, so it just looks like that scene was there to showcase another action sequence. I guess she finds that picture with Percival (James McAvoy) and her dead lover, revealing them to be friends. But that information is never brought up after he admits to it and doesn’t play a further role in anything, so what’s the point? Beyond that, characters seem to take themselves from one location to the other when it feels like it should be as simple as finding the missing Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), who committed the entire list of operatives to memory. It never truly feels like anyone is on point with their objectives. And if I can’t follow the actions and motivations of the characters… it can easily bore me. So yes, outside of the action scenes, the movie is pretty boring and not overly interesting. The pieces are there, but they don’t fit very well.

But before anyone starts thinking that I hate this film, I don’t. So let’s dive into the good aspects.

First and foremost, yes, the action is great. I’ve already mentioned how I felt the action was a little too choreographed, but I do give it some credit that the action is visceral. Dude gets hit in the face with a pot or a freezer door, it really looks like it hurts. Someone gets shot in the stomach, but still attempts to fight, it looks like a real struggle. People getting punched, or thrown around onto wooden furniture or getting whacked with lamps and shit, stabbed in the neck with a cork-screw, the action is undeniably intense and gritty. Especially with all the cuts, bruises, and blood, you feel just as exhausted as the actors do. Hell, especially in the balcony scene, I know if it were me, all battered and beat up, I’d just be like, “You know what, just go. I’m done. Have a good Wednesday.” It’s pretty awesome.

The actors also churn out solid performances and work incredibly well off of each other. Lorraine and Percival are pretty funny and I enjoy their banter. I also liked the connection that Lorraine and Delphine shared. Despite the unnecessary sex, there is a really good scene with the two of them in bed together and they’re talking, Delphine comments that her eyes change when she tells the truth and the dialog goes something like:

LORRAINE
Thanks for the warning. Now I know to not do it again.

DELPHINE
Why?

LORRAINE
Because someday it’s going to get me killed.

That’s a really poignant line. It shows that someone can spot a weakness that could potentially be exploited and she now has to compensate for it in order to cover her ass. But more than that, it’s a detail that was told to her by someone that has always tried to be on her side, and wouldn’t exploit her weaknesses. So of course, I love Boutella’s performance as this semi-innocent and inexperienced field agent who is clearly way over her head. But I really liked Delphine as a character and the impact she had on Lorraine.

There’s also a deep level of appreciation for the details. I mean, in that reveal scene with Theron, Lorraine coming out of that ice cold bath tub, every inch of her body covered in bruises and cuts. It really gives you that sense of how bad-ass she is and you feel every bit of that bruising as she does. Except everyone in the audience is a pussy because y’all be squirming in your seats and she’s just all, “Smokin’ my cig, poppin’ my pills, fuck this job, I’m a bad-ass, mother fuckers.” Pretty sure I’d be on the ground crying like my mother if a swarm of spiders were just crawling over her. And boomeranging back to the stairwell scene, I’m pretty sure Theron started that scene without a scratch, but then the bruises and cuts were all over her by the end of it. I’m curious, were those bruises… real? I mean, according to the trivia on IMDb, she cracked two teeth during filming. She really was getting slammed into walls… albeit padded ones, but how far off the mark can I possibly be? Maybe they’re digitally inserted? Either way, it’s fantastic and it’s made to look like it’s all done in one take. I can probably safely assume it wasn’t, but it’s not quite quite easy to spot where the cuts may be.

Fun fact: That tunnel when Lorraine is in the car and beats dudes with her shoe? That’s the same tunnel used in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016) when Black Panther is chasing down Bucky Barnes. I part of me thought I’d recognized it, but I didn’t think much of it until I read that.

Overall, I can’t say that this is a bad movie. It’s very well done and well-executed, but I just don’t love it, or like it all that much. The visuals literally hurt my eyes and head, so it’s already hard to get enveloped by the film. Bits and pieces of the action don’t look right, and some of the character choices don’t always make sense to me, so I can’t climb on the band wagon that everyone has a ticket for. But there is a real passion behind the project that I can’t deny. To my understanding, this is a passion project of Theron’s and it really shows. It’s hard hitting, beautifully shot, fantastic acting, it’s no wonder why so many like it. I say if you like your action-spy flicks, or enjoy the cast, this is a good one to check out. It’s not a movie that I can personally see a third time, but I acknowledge it’s merits and I recommend it.

My honest rating for ATOMIC BLONDE: a strong 3/5

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THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS review

The never-ending franchise continues to not end, y’all.

Some history with me and this franchise. Would you believe me if I told you that I didn’t start watching these movies until the most recent one, FURIOUS 7 (2015)? Yup, never saw a single one of ’em before that\. It wasn’t until this one’s announcement that I decided it’s time to catch up on this franchise. So let’s belt out some quick reviews. SPOILERS if you haven’t seen the previous movies and have an interest.

***SPOILERS***

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THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001): It was a POINT BREAK (1991) knock off. Predictable and not very interesting, but I understand its popularity. If you like hot people and cars, then you’re good. But since I don’t, I didn’t care about this movie. Not bad, not good, definitely not original, whatever.

2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003): A bad sequel to an already not-great movie. So forgettable, I forgot everything that happened the moment the credits started rolling.

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT (2006): The first five minutes were so bad that I’ve never actually seen the movie as a whole. Only thing that kind of tickled me was that the eldest son from TV show HOME IMPROVEMENT was in the beginning. Plus, if you expect me to believe that thirty year old protagonist is eighteen years old, you’re on quaaludes. Only other thing I know is that this actually takes place somewhere between the sixth and seventh movies.

FAST & FURIOUS (2009): Now the franchise finally gets good. It goes back to its original cast and embraces a more over-the-top action feel that these movies should have been about all along. I still can’t say that I remember much about the movie though. Oh, this is the one that Letty was killed off screen? That makes sense. I do remember a movie where she straight up wasn’t in it.

FAST FIVE (2011): Um… wasn’t this the one where we were introduced to Hobbs, Gizelle, and some others? Yeah, still having a hard time remembering these movies. Still, had a lot of fun watching it.

FAST & FURIOUS 6 (2013): Letty’s alive and has amnesia! And Luke Evans is a bad guy!

FURIOUS 7 (2015): Jason Statham joins the cast and kicks The Rock’s ass… somehow. Oh, and Djimon Hounsou! Well, to be fair, I do remember this one a lot more, mostly because of the tragic passing of Paul Walker.

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***END SPOILERS***

They all sort of blended together to be honest. But even though I don’t remember all the movies as a whole, I remember enjoying them far more than the first three films, so I guess it’s safe to say that I know I won’t remember this movie, but I’ll probably enjoy it enough. Especially with this new gimmick, having long time protagonist Dom becoming the villain of the movie, or at least one of them.

Let’s take a look at the ensemble cast. We have Vin Diesel (XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE [2017], BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK [2016], RIDDICK [2013], and upcoming films GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 [2017] and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018]), Charlize Theron (KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS [2016], MAD MAX: FURY ROAD [2015], YOUNG ADULT [2011], and the upcoming ATOMIC BLONDE [2017]), Michelle Rodriguez (SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE [2017], MACHETE KILLS [2013], and S.W.A.T. [2003]), Dwayne Johnson (MOANA [2016], SAN ANDREAS [2015], BE COOL [2005], and upcoming films BAYWATCH [2017] and JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE [2017]), Tyrese Gibson (RIDE ALONG 2 [2016], TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON [2011], and LEGION [2010]), Jason Statham (MECHANIC: RESURRECTION [2016], SPY [2015], THE EXPENDABLES 3 [2014], and upcoming films MEG [2018] and THE EXPENDABLES 4, due out… who knows when), and so many more.

Now for the crew. Directing is F. Gary Gray, known for STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015), LAW ABIDING CITIZEN (2009), and THE ITALIAN JOB (2003). Penning the screenplay is Chris Morgan, known for FURIOUS 7, 47 RONIN (2013), and WANTED (2008). Composing the music is Brian Tyler, known for POWER RANGERS (2017), THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM (2016), INTO THE STORM (2014), and the upcoming THE MUMMY (2017). Finally, the cinematographer is Stephen F. Windon, known for STAR TREK BEYOND (2016), G.I. JOE: RETALIATION (2013), and DEEP BLUE SEA (1999).

Overall, I am expecting a fun, awesome, and overblown action movie. What else is there to expect from these movies at this point? Story? Pffft! Ha! Good one.

This is my honest opinion of: THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS
PS: Why isn’t this officially titled the obvious, “F8 of the Furious”? Wasted bad pun.

(SUMMARY)

Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are finally on their honeymoon and already making waves. But their fun is interrupted when a woman, simply known as Cipher (Charlize Theron), a cyber terrorist who wants him to work for her and has something to hold against him to keep him not just in line, but to go rogue against his beloved family. This coincidentally comes into play when Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is told to retrieve an EMP bomb from a terrorist group and calls upon Dom and his crew for help. The job is done, but Dom betrays the group, steals the EMP bomb for Cipher, Hobbs is thrown in prison next to Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), and now the team has the resist against the best of them.

(REVIEW)

These movies should really consider changing their titles to “OH SHIT!!!” because there’s very little you’ll be saying otherwise, as this movie is that over-the-top bad-ass. Heads up by the way: the film is nearly two and half hours long. But trust me, it earns that run-time.

Perhaps I should get the few flaws out of the way. Family, family, family, family, family family family family, familyfamilyfamilyfamilyfamilyfamily SHUT UP!!! We get it! This has been a theme from movie one! Shut the hell up! We get it! This subject is constantly beating you over the head, but there is nothing left to milk from. This franchise is literally grabbing handfuls of sand and squeezing the life out of this topic when there hasn’t been anything to squeeze out of for years. Piss off!

Oh, and Roman is still not good comedy relief. Well, okay, he got one or two good lines in this, but for the most part, he’s still annoying.

And… that’s it. The rest of the movie is pure awesome. Hell, I wanna rave about the opening sequence before the title pops up on screen.

So Dom and Letty are enjoying themselves on their honeymoon when we get our ceremonial street race between Dom and some Cuban douche. The asshole is driving a nice car, whereas Dom has to drive with a piece of shit that he literally rips the hood and doors off of in order for it to stand a chance. Of course, he has his booster tanks hooked up and shit, but you can’t possibly see how this race is going to turn out. Er… actually, yes you can, you know Dom’s going to win the race, but it’s the manner in which he wins that sets up what the audience should expect for the rest of the movie. Also, I love how easily these street races can be set-up in these movies; just have a couple folks ride around in motorcycles, hold up your hand to oncoming traffic like Neo in THE MATRIX (1999) stopping bullets, and the townspeople don’t honk of shout or anything, like this is any ole other Miercoles. Of course, asshole doesn’t play by the rules and tries to ram Dom off the road, and I don’t care who you are, PEOPLE DIE IN THESE STREET RACES!!! They’re never depicted, but there’s a few dozen dead civilians in each street race alone. But who cares? EXCITEMENT!!! And just in the last stretch of the race, Dom’s car is overheating, glowing orange and shit, and then his engine catches fire, breaking through the windshield, and then he’s forced to drive in reverse, and wins the race! But if that wasn’t enough, he drives the flaming piece of shit winning car right into a crows of spectators, again, no one dies, but seriously, someone died, and then jumps out of that same death-trap car, and lets it go right off the side of a wall, sending the four-wheeled fireball into the ocean, to which those same spectators are cheering the show! It’s amazing! How can you not love a scene like this?! It perfectly sets the tone, reminding the audience what kind of movie this is and what makes Dom the best of the family, since you know no one else could do what he did, making him all the more threatening when he has to do battle against his crew.

The rest of the action doesn’t disappoint either. You have wrecking balls, submarines and torpedoes, gunplay, dueling cyber hacking fights, armies of hacked cars crushing and literally raining down on people, Rodriguez reminding men to wear armor around their balls when around her, The Rock lifting concrete benches like free weights, and one-liners, “I’m going to punch your teeth so far down your throat, you’re going to shove a toothbrush up your ass to brush them.” Even the movie laughs at how ridiculous these one-liners are! Self-aware humor! Among my favorite bits of comedy. I love little touches like that.

The acting is also what you’d expect from these characters. Dom and his nauseating love for his family, Hobbs and his one-liners, Rodriguez being… well, Rodriguez, all that good stuff. But let’s talk about the new addition, Theron. She really stands her ground in this flick and does have a serious intimidation about her. While on the one hand, I do have this irritation toward her bed voice, there are moments where that voice works incredibly well and goes full-on scary. She is ruthless as hell and is not afraid to threaten anyone or anything and will use anyone and anything to get her way. To make matters worse, she’s not just one of those villains who sits comfortably in their leather seats petting their pet cats and dishing out commands through an intercom, she’s gotten in on the action too. Theron owns the screen as Cipher just as much as her jacked-up male counterparts and has even reduced the best of them to their proverbial knees.

But I do have one criticism about her character. Cipher is supposed to be this ghost slash boogey man type character who has had a hand in these movies since the sixth movie. Yet, look at her methods. Hacking thousands of cars to drive out of parking garages to rain down on her targets, or slamming cop cars, subtlety isn’t her specialty. How is she only known by Mr. Nobody and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and no other government agency? You can’t convince me that the game has somehow changed and it’s only been these recent events that have forced her hand to become this brazen with her hacking abilities. Don’t get me wrong, I like her character and hope to see her in a future installment, but this isn’t very well-explained.

There’s also some really awkwardly written and contrived moments, but this is a much smaller problem because let’s face it, it’s the Fast and Furious franchise. Only FURIOUS 7 deserves tears and only for very VERY specific reasons. The most recurring problem that bugged me was Roman, Cipher’s backstory, and the incessant “family” thing.

Beyond that, if you like your action movies over the top, implausible, and hard-hitting like I do, then boy howdy are you going to get your money’s worth here. Will it be the most memorable action film of the year? Probably not. Like I said, the Fast and Furious franchise does kind of blend together, but it’s a rockin’ good time and I do recommend it for both fans and general action-junkies alike.

Oh, and quick disclaimer: unlike the previous films, there is no mid or post-credit scene.

My honest rating for THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS: a strong 4/5

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KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS review

Laika, probably one of the most exciting newcomers to the animation scene, responsible for creating such stop-motion animated hits like CORALINE (2009), PARANORMAN (2012), and BOXTROLLS (2014). Each of these movies are wonderful, kind of like if Aardman went the Tim Burton route. They’re so creepy, yet visually compelling, I still haven’t met anyone who dislikes them. So as you can see, I’m pretty damn stoked for this latest addition to their library.

The voice cast consists of some pretty big names, including Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei, and Rooney Mara. Two other notable talents would be Art Parkinson from the TV show GAME OF THRONES, as well as two time Shang Tsung actor, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa from MORTAL KOMBAT (1995) and season 2 of YouTube’s Machinima’s MORTAL KOMBAT: LEGACY. Not gonna lie, the talent alone gets me pumped, as I love everyone’s work.

Behind the scenes, we have a few names to go through. Directing is Travis Knight, making his directorial debut (congrats, dude), but still a veteran of Laika’s animation department: their lead animator for all three previous movies. So, alrighty, something’s telling me this dude will be sitting rather comfortably on the head-honcho chair. The story of this film comes from the minds of two folks, Shannon Tindle and Marc Haimes (also co-writer). Tindle is a veteran in animation character design having worked on such CartoonNetwork cartoons FOSTER’S HOME FOR IMAGINARY FRIENDS and a few episodes of SAMURAI JACK, as well as Nickelodeon’s FAIRLY ODDPARENTS. Loved all those cartoons as a kid. Now, Haimes has more of a producing background. Some have been solid works like TRANSFORMERS (2007) and COLLATERAL (2004), but mostly some pretty lousy films too, like, MEN IN BLACK II, THE LEGEND OF ZORRO (2005), and A THOUSAND WORDS (2012). Whether or not he’s to blame for those train-wrecks, who can say? But what with an early 8.3/10 rating on IMDb (as of 8/17/2016), I’m sure he did just fine here. Haimes’ co-writer is Chris Butler, who previously wrote and directed PARANORMAN, as well as having been a storyboard artist for CORPSE BRIDE (2005) and supervisor for CORALINE. I’m taking a wild guess and saying that he did most of the heavy lifting and Haimes had enough influence on the script to get his name in there. Finally, the music is being done by Dario Marianelli, whose done the music for movies like EVEREST (2015), BOXTROLLS, and even V FOR VENDETTA (2005). Not a bad set of films, I’d say.

Overall, I’m going in with uber high expectations. I love the look of the film, all origami-looking and stop-motion is always a treat. Plus, with talent like this in front of and behind the camera, I’d say this is going to be one to not be missed. So without further adieu, this is my honest opinion of KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS.

(SUMMARY)

Set in ancient Japan. Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) is an eye-patch-wearing young boy living with his sick mother (voiced by Charlize Theron) in a cave outside of town. During the day when she sleeps, he goes to the town to tell stories about a great samurai warrior that does battle against the legendary Moon King and his forces, exciting the crowd with his magical shamisen and bringing his origami figures to life to enact those stories. But when the sun goes down, he must return home to where his mother will appear to be coherent for awhile, as she warns him to never stay out of the cave when it’s dark. But learning of a practice that is believed to allow communication with dead loved ones, Kubo sets out to try, but his efforts are in vain. Things are only made worse when he stays out too long and the moon comes out. Immediately, Kubo is met with a pair of vile masked twin women (voiced by Rooney Mara) from the heavens who refer to Kubo as their nephew, seeking his last remaining eye. They lay waste to the village in pursuit of Kubo, but just before the twins catch him, his mother appears and with the last of her magic sends him away from danger. As he awakens far from home, he is met with Monkey, a totem of his brought to life by the last of his mother’s magic in order to protect him as they go and search for the legendary suit of armor that Kubo’s father wore; said to be all that can protect him from the Moon King.

(REVIEW)

Oh man, this is probably one of the most beautifully made stop-motion films of all time. Laika really outdid themselves in one of the most glorious and epic animated films I’ve seen in awhile.

The art department alone needs to be swimming in Oscars because you can watch this movie on mute and it is visually breath-taking. The sheer size of it and how authentic it feels in this fantasy world, the character designs, even the background work, all of this was worth the price of admission alone.

So let’s get down to the voice cast. Parkinson is wonderful. Every line is he delivers is perfect. He really gets down a kid who’s trying to take care of his mother who fades in and out of her illness. He understands struggle and heartache, but he’s still one for excitement and tall tales. He’s scared, but never wavers from his goals. He’s mature, but never afraid to be sarcastic or silly. This is an example of a great kid character that too many other kids movies don’t get down very well. Theron is fabulous as always. Monkey is almost fanatically protective of Kubo, and despite constantly trying to get him to acknowledge how dire the situation is, she still gets taken with his sense of adventure and his growing abilities to control magic outside of origami, but never afraid to let him know that he still has a lot to learn, which he does. And McConaughey as Beetle is… well, it works for the character. If he wasn’t nearly as enjoyably written as he is, his voice would be a tad distracting. It almost is, but Beetle does stand well enough on his own by being playfully smug, but equally protective of Kubo. Plus, his relationship with Monkey is priceless. Their banter is hilarious. While Monkey is so serious and borderline joyless (not really, but you know what I mean), and Beetle is there to pull her proverbial pigtails. It is really fun to see her guard slowly get chipped away as Beetle’s charms make her smile more. He’s actually pretty solid comic relief.

***SPOILERS***

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But the true genius in this movie is how these characters interact. I know I went into a tangent up above, but let me explain a bit more. Kubo’s spent his entire life asking about his father that he never met, but his mother has always given him the most generic stories or descriptions. But she tells him the story of how she met him. She came down from the heavens and fought him. But he was so skilled with a blade and bow that she wasn’t able to defeat him, until eventually he got her to fall in love with him due to his charm and good looks, and stay on Earth to be with him and eventually have Kubo. Then the story progresses, the sisters arrive, Kubo travels with Monkey, who is introduced as abrasive and kind of mean. Then Beetle is introduced and he’s funny and skilled in weaponry. The movie never tells the audience outright, but Kubo is technically witnessing exactly how his parents first met and how they fell for each other, even though Beetle and Monkey don’t actually hook up because… well, that’s be insanely weird, awkward, and frightening. But that Kubo got a chance to sit with both his parents, even though he didn’t know it was them, is such a cathartic feeling of happiness for the kid.

And this movie is harsh. Like, maybe this movie should be for adults, harsh. I mean, Kubo has a missing eye because the Moon King took it away from him when he was an infant. But there’s no cheating magic that still gives him sight. Nope, he’s got that eye-patch because his grandfather took it from him and he sends Kubo’s aunts to snatch the other one. His mother, I don’t know what the actual condition she’s supposed to be portraying, but I got a serious Alzheimer’s vibe from it: some good days, and some bad days. If I remember correctly, she will even have memory lapses and will question, “Kubo, what happened to your eye?” I’m not gonna lie, it’s actually really hard to watch. In the best possible way, of course. And when his mother dies, she dies. Okay, she comes back as Monkey, but when Monkey dies, she dies. When Beetle dies, he really dies. There’s no retcon happy ending where the Moon King is defeated and his parents come back. No, they’re fo’ realz, dead. That’s rare for a kids film to have to guts to go through with that and have it carry such weight.

I do have to admit that this movie suffers from one problem. Predictability. I doubt there’s a single person who didn’t see Beetle was really Kubo’s dad the whole time. I mean, Kubo’s mom practically gives it away. “Skilled with a sword and bow,” and Beetle is skilled with a sword and bow. Gee, that was about as subtle as a neon sign flashing the twist at me. Also, he was funny and handsome. Well, Beetle’s funny. Can’t really comment on the handsome thing, but… McConaughey has been described as “attractive” in the past, and made a living off of being funny, so… gee willikers, I guess it could be anybody in this movie. *sarcasm*

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***END SPOILERS***

Even though I had one problem with the film, I can’t help but feel like the movie does everything so spectacularly well that it doesn’t matter. In fact, that’s how I’m going to go out  on this. It’s too amazing to let the one downside to matter. This is one for the year, guys. I highly recommend seeing this, with or without kids. It’s a visual wonder, and an emotional trip. I saw it once, but I intend to see it again.

My honest rating of KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS: 5/5

kubo

Upcoming hopeful reviews:

  • BEN-HUR (2016)
    • trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BmeR9GYdDU
  • MORRIS FROM AMERICA
    • trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8HY-6F4Y_I