Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Bumblebee (2018)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures, Di Bonaventura Pictures and Allspark Pictures

Bumblebee – Film Review

Cast:  Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Dylan O’Brien, Peter Cullen, Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux

Director: Travis Knight

Synopsis: With war ravaging Cybertron, the Autobot Bumblebee arrives on Earth in 1987, where he comes into contact with Charlie (Steinfeld) a young woman who is desperately to adapt and find her place in the world in the wake of personal tragedy….

Review: Flash your minds back to 2007, when for the very first time, a film that featured cars transforming into giant robots ready to do battle, made its way onto the big screen. The expectation was sky high, and though it started out fairly promisingly, the live action Transformers franchise quickly deteriorated. With each new entry, it was starting to feel this series had run out of fuel (and ideas). It was time for some much needed new blood and metal.

For as long as he was in charge of these films, Michael Bay certainly knew one thing, how to blow a lot of shit up. Though there were some undeniably entertaining moments, the familiarity with which Bay told each of his films became extremely tiresome. Thankfully, new director Travis Knight of Kubo and the Two Strings fame comes in , making his first foray into live action film-making. Right from the opening moments of this prequel, you just know that this is going to be a completely different and refreshing experience when compared to the previous films.

For one thing, Knight has significantly dialled back the action scenes (and the explosions) in favour of more heart and character. For a bot that cannot talk Bumblebee certainly showed plenty of heart, and here once again he is brimming with that friendly personality that makes Bumblebee the lovable Autobot that he is. Right in the middle of all this is Charlie, a teenager trying to get her life together and in desperate need of a car. When she stumbles across what she suspects is your run of the mill VW Beetle, she gets caught up in a devastating and deadly conflict between the Autobots and the Decepticons.

Since this is before the time of Samuel Witwicky and his annoying parents, Steinfeld as Charlie is a very warm and welcome presence. She isn’t exactly in the most comfortable or easiest of places in her life but with Bee by her side, he is there to be a figure of support for her when she needs it most. Christina Hodson’s screenplay gives plenty of time for their relationship to develop and to grow into something truly unique that the previous movies really struggled to capture. Though her parents and brother can get marginally annoying at times, John Cena’s portrayal as a Sector 7 gives him a chance to flex his military tough guy muscles, and he’s clearly having a lot of fun with this role.

Though of course, it wouldn’t be a Transformers film if there wasn’t a scrap between Autobots and Decepticons and we get a much more in depth look at that conflict, with Peter Cullen once again voicing Optimus Prime in all of his Generation 1 glory. As usual there are a few up-to-no-good Decepticons seeking to hunt down and destroy Bumblebee and put an end to the Cybertronian Civil War. Knight’s direction is a lot more refined, choosing his moments when it comes to the action, which is a refreshing change from Bay’s wanton appetite to just blow everything to smithereens, whilst giving little thought to anything else.

By adding a plethora of 80s pop culture references into the mix, Knight and Hodson have hit upon a winning formula that provides the franchise with the CPR it needed to ensure it didn’t end up on the scrapheap. This is the film that the long time fans of the series have been wanting to see. The “Bayhem” of the previous five films are hopefully now consigned to the past, the future of the franchise now looks a lot more promising, and hopefully more films of this calibre will be transforming and rolling out in the not too distant future.

Full to the brim with heart and emotion, and a superb performance from Steinfeld ensures gives this franchise a much need course correction, whilst ensuring it is the best film in the series by a considerable margin.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

kubo
Image is property of Laika and Focus Features

Kubo and the Two Strings – Film Review

Cast: Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey, Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes

Director: Travis Knight

Synopsis: After a terrible accident in his past, young Kubo sets off on an adventure to retrieve some valuable items from his past to help defeat a sinister force.

Review: Animation is such a staple of modern Western cinema, largely thanks to the work of animation powerhouses like Disney and Pixar, using computer animation to create magical and exciting adventures for all generations. Yet for animation studios like Laika and Studio Ghibli, in these cases, they use somewhat more unique methods to tell their stories. For the former, the use of stop motion animation is their party piece, and their latest film reinforces their growing reputation as an animation studio that is certainly showing its credentials with each new film they release.

Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy with a magical musical instrument who is looking after his sick mother, who warns him of the perils of being out at night, as Kubo is being hunted by some deeply sinister forces who want to take something from him. Due to these sinister forces, Kubo is sent on a mission to hunt for three valuable artefacts that will enable him to defeat those that are pursuing him. Aiding him on this quest are the appropriately named Monkey (Theron) and Beetle (McConaughey).

Original films are something of a rarity in modern cinema, and this story is a wonderful breath of fresh air, that’s mysterious, magical and exciting all rolled into one. There are elements of Ancient Japanese history without any doubt and maybe a hint of influence from Ghibli, but the screenplay, written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler is rich in detail and boasts some very compelling characters, and an adventure that packs plenty of heart and humour, not to mention some absolutely flawless animation. Kubo is our young hero and Parkinson’s work bringing him to life is so stellar that you just want to root for him and defeat those evil forces who are trying to take something from him.

Along with a compelling lead, the side characters are also extremely compelling and well developed. Monkey is certainly a “take no nonsense” kind of character but she has plenty of heart and compassion for Kubo. Likewise for Beetle, though he comes across as something of a bumbling idiot, he too certainly shows spirit and a fierce desire to aid Kubo on his mission. Likewise with Parkinson, the voice work of Theron and McConaughey is so on point that as an audience, you are on the side of these heroes, and although their voice work is equally stellar, you are most certainly not on the side of Rooney Mara’s Sisters  and neither that of the primary antagonist, Ralph Fiennes’s Moon King.

Despite being an extremely well made and beautiful film to watch, the screenplay isn’t perfect, there are a few points where the film stumbles a bit, and while his voice work is great, when casting such a brilliant actor in Fiennes, who can certainly do bad guys very well, you would hope his character is sinister and terrifying, and while he can be, certain elements of his design did leave something to be desired. Nevertheless though, Kubo is another fine string to add to Laika’s bow of really well made animated storytelling. The studio is certainly on a roll right now, and definitely one to keep an eye on in the years to come.

Beautiful detailed animation, combined with an enthralling story and tremendous characters, Kubo is an animation that will tug at the heartstrings of everyone, no matter how young or old they are.

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