More than a one-note film8/31/2016
Though lacking in a clear standout film like last year’s “Inside Out,” 2016 has seen its fair share of quality kids’ films, including “Finding Dory,” “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Zootopia.” But when it’s all said and done, “Kubo and the Two Strings” might be remembered as the best of the bunch.
Much like “Inside Out,” “Kubo” tackles some heavy topics. Where the former looked at the complexities of emotions and getting older, the latter looks at love, loss, death, grief and the importance of family. The film looks at each in a clear, unencumbered manner and uses all of those themes to weave together a story that is emotionally engrossing and visually gorgeous.
“Kubo and the Two Strings” is set in ancient Japan and is the story of boy and his quest to avenge his family. In events preceding the film, Kubo’s grandfather, the Moon King, came to Earth seeking retribution on Kubo’s human father Honzo and Moon Goddess mother for the sin of their marriage. In the resulting battle, Kubo’s father is defeated, and the Moon King takes one of baby Kubo’s eyes before his mother is able to escape. The film picks up as Kubo and his mother find refuge in an island cave overlooking a small village in the valley below. Kubo, now 11, has become known in the town as a captivating storyteller. His most popular story, aided by magic channeled through his samisen (a three-stringed Japanese musical instrument) that creates origami that comes to life, is of the three magical items a warrior needs to defeat the Moon King: a sword, a breastplate and a helmet.
Every day Kubo must leave the village and return to his cave before sunset, because nighttime is the domain of his grandfather and his two remaining loyal daughters, who have continued their quest to find Kubo and take his other eye. When he fails to return to the cave on time one evening, the sisters find him and battle with Kubo’s mother as Kubo makes his escape. The morning after the battle, Kubo is joined by Monkey — a totem brought to life by Kubo’s mother to guide and protect him — and the pair set off to find the three magical items. Along the way, the pair is joined by an origami version of Honzo that Kubo brings to life, and Beetle, a mysterious warrior who once battled the sisters and was turned into a human/Beetle hybrid with no memories of his past. As the group travels, the story touches upon how we deal with the pain of lost loved ones and the importance of keeping memories alive. Tucked inside a Japanese warrior’s tale, the story’s main themes are artfully executed. The story as a whole is beautifully paced and doesn’t drag or feature moments that feel out of place.
Filmed in 3D stop-motion, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is also one of the most aesthetically pleasing films to come out in recent years. It is a lush, gorgeous film to view, and the experience is aided by tremendous voice work, including Charlize Theron as Kubo’s mother, Matthew McConaughey as Beetle, Ralph Fiennes as the Moon King and 14-year-old Art Parkinson as Kubo. From beginning to end, this film is pitch-perfect, and one of those precious and rare kids’ films that will keep adults every bit as engrossed. Even rarer, “Kubo” does not try to throw adults a bone by slipping in jokes or pop culture references that are over their kids’ heads, and instead holds everyone’s attention equally through absolutely masterful visuals and storytelling.■
|“Kubo and the Two Strings”
Starring: Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Finnes, Art Parkinson
“Sully” is based on true events of the “Miracle on the Hudson” in which Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger guided his crippled airliner to a safe landing on the New York River, saving the lives of all of his passengers. The film looks into the controversy surrounding Sully’s decision to make the water landing versus attempting to return to the airport and focuses more on the aftermath of the landing, rather than the events leading up to it. America loves a good hero story, and there are few actors who are better at bringing emotional, relatable characters to life than Tom Hanks, who has been cast as the pilot. It might not be the finest film of Hanks’ career, and it is not likely to garner him another Academy Award nomination, but the film is practically guaranteed not to waste your money.■
This film is Oliver Stone’s take on the life and times of National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden. One of the most divisive people in modern American history, Snowden is looked upon either as a traitor or patriot, depending on how you view U.S. governmental spy agencies. Snowden rose to infamy when he helped make public the NSA’s widespread wiretapping actions and fled the country to avoid prosecution at the hands of the U.S. government. A potentially gripping and vital story in the shaping of American history, “Snowden” is the product of a director who has been under fire in the past (“JFK”) for a stilted artistic agenda. Edward Snowden himself has taken to Twitter deriding portions of the film, so proceed with caution and healthy skepticism.■
‘The Magnificent Seven’
A needless remake of a timeless American Western (which is itself a remake of an even more timeless Japanese samurai classic), if “The Magnificent Seven” is to be redeemed in any fashion, it will be entirely off the strength of its cast, which is excellent.
Featuring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Peter Sarsgaard, Jason Momoa, Ethen Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio, the film has one of the most talented ensemble casts put in a film this year. Executive produced and directed by Antoine Fuqua, who had his biggest success directing Washington and Hawke in “Training Day,” the film is a big roll of the dice with the potential to either be remarkable or entirely forgettable, with little in between.■