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The most beautiful movie of 2016.

I saw Pete’s Dragon and Kubo and the Two Strings within a day of each other and they were wonderful companion pieces. Both films represent the very best in movies for kids, even as they give the adults tons of thematic richness potentially too complex for the kids to fully understand. They’ll feel stuff that stays with them, that they won’t recognize as coherent until long after its taken root. That’s the power of movies like these.

I have been a fan of Laika since Coraline and I would argue that ParaNorman is a masterpiece… but Kubo and the Two Strings blows all their other work out of the water. This is a movie that bleeds ambition, beauty, confidence, and grace. Every frame is a work of art and the kind of spectacle that will leave you scratching your head when you realize just how much of this movie is stop-motion with paper dolls and puppets. In Laika films, CGI is used only to enhance and to give backdrops, but you will have a hard time believing that.

Kubo is one of the best adventure movies since The Lord of the Rings, featuring the same tropes of quest narratives that are so well established but also very much taken for granted. It’s also heavy in a way that might surprise you. More even than Pete’s Dragon, which has an indie movie softness of tone, Kubo presents moments of powerful emotional weight that are punctuated by wonder, happiness, and humor. This movie is so well realized that it’s almost shocking how good it is. 2016 has been kind of a dismal year for films, but kids’ movies have consistently been great and Kubo is the best of them.

SPOILERS WILL NOT MAKE THIS MOVIE BETTER Read the rest of this entry »

“No, we aren’t here to molest you.”

Rise of the Guardians looked like a load of Grade A bullshit, a weirdly children-hating (festive!) engine designed to ape the superhero fad and use it against the wee ones. From its uninspired title to the ridiculous conceit that holiday figures are actually magical guardians protecting kids from evil, this seemed like something that could only be made in a creative landscape devoid of all sense of irony or self-awareness. Even the trailer just screamed “trying too hard” with it’s super-warrior reinvention of classic characters like Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, etc and an obvious Hero’s Journey story just like all the rest.

There’s a certain class of critic who, having formed strong preconceived notions about something, will stick to their guns whether the pot of gold at the end of the marketing rainbow is actually shit or gold after all. I am not that guy, I have realized, because I am here to tell you how very wrong I was about Rise of the Guardians. By now, word is coming in from many critics that this movie is actually pretty damn good, one of Dreamworks’ best and yet another annual entry that successfully competes with Pixar’s. I have the seemingly minority view that Brave is one of Pixar’s best movies, and I don’t think Rise of the Guardians is as good, though it’s close. That said, for many people it’s going to be Guardians (or Wreck-It Ralph for the Toy Story crowd) that leads the pack of 2012 animated films. And it’s quite a pack this year. Read the rest of this entry »

Oh noes, Todd Ingram finally broke the Moon!

So this week we’re going to talk about an anime movie. I was sick the other day so I have enough recent Netflix discoveries to last the rest of summer, but this time I thought I’d do something a little different. I’m super picky about anime and Netflix has allowed me the opportunity to test out some stuff I wouldn’t have bothered with otherwise. So far, this is the only full-length movie I’ve been able to bring myself to watch and it was definitely worthwhile.

Origin: Spirits of the Past may be a boring and generic title (the actual Japanese title translates to Agito the Silver-haired which isn’t much better), but the movie is a heartfelt post-apocalyptic story with strong environmentalist themes and an overall texture that would not feel out of place in one of Studio Ghibli’s similar fantasy films. Some people probably feel like Origin is really derivative and would count it against the movie. I feel like I’ve seen the anime (Trigun) and feature fims (Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, and Princess Mononoke in particular) that it most heavily draws from and I don’t really have a problem with it. I mean, Japanese entertainment culture is a lot more (from what I understand) easygoing about “artistic theft” than we are in North America. Ultimately, even if it feels derivative it is still borrowing from the best and that has to count for something otherwise Tarantino is fucked too. Heh. Read the rest of this entry »

An example of a breathtaking shot showing off the design of Gongmen City.

Kung Fu Panda represented a sea-change for Dreamworks Animation. Up til that point, they’d preoccupied themselves with churning out Shrek sequels (which are okay) and lesser works like Shark Tale that basically stunt-casted celebrities to ape whatever motif Pixar was working with that year. It began well enough with Antz, which some argue is still the better of the two CG ant movies, the other being Pixar’s Seven Samurai-inspired A Bug’s Life.

Whatever they were thinking, it seemed like they’d always be that other animation studio forever in Pixar’s shadow. Then came Kung Fu Panda and though the primarily “who’s popular now” casting remains, it was and is a very different sort of beast. Was it a fluke? An honest to goodness kung fu movie with a colorful cast of cartoon animals? With amazing shots and some of the better martial arts fight scenes in recent years? An awesome mystical kung fu tortoise? What the fuck? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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The above image is a promo shot showing the new main character and avatar for a follow-up series to Avatar: The Last Airbender. It depicts Korra, evidently from the Southern Water Tribe, who is the new Avatar and must learn airbending from Master Tenzin, the son of Aang and Katara from the previous series. In the show, the action centers on a sprawling metropolis called Republic City which is multicultural, rampant with crime, and experiencing the throes of an anti-bending movement.

For fans of the original series, that sounds pretty fucking interesting huh? The original producers are back and are also saying that the show will focus on mature themes and might be a bit more sophisticated than the original. They say they aren’t trying to skew older, but we’ll see. The idea of an anti-bending revolution is kind of dark, after all, and will probably reflect real-life issues of intolerance, prejudice, and uprising. It also sounds a bit X-Men, especially if the bending community is forced underground.

From what I can gather from the name and some snippets on the internets, Republic City is independent from the Four Nations, so I guess some kind of city-state. I like the idea of the avatar as an urban crimefighter and it also seems like technology has been developed in the 70 years of peace (I’m assuming!) since Fire Lord Ozai was defeated by Aang. I like the idea of a more genial steampunk style being spread around the world, probably by the Fire Nation who seemed to have more non-bending technology than anyone else. I hope we see some neat bending-tech though, revisiting the episodes that take place in Ba Sing Se whets the appetite for inventive uses of bending. Maybe Toph has taught more people to metalbend?

So after Shymalan’s misguided adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender put a bad taste in my mouth, I began re-watching the series which I’d first seen back in 2008.  It is every bit as good as its reputation, even on a second run. I’ve told a lot of people to watch the show and I’m going to repeat that sentiment now.

There’s really no excuse, guys. Yeah, I know it’s a Nickelodeon cartoon but hasn’t Pixar proven that animation doesn’t necessarily have to equal unpalatable for adults? I mean, even if you don’t like anime or Miyazaki movies, I think we’re way past the era of dismissing animation as unsophisticated or kids’ stuff. Avatar: The Last Airbender was definitely meant for kids, but unlike most programming for kids, it did bother to present a consistent and finite storyline in which there is personal growth, sophisticated psychological exploration, etc. The issues are easy for kids and adults to relate to, and so is the character-generated humor which ranges from punchy sarcasm to visual gags, slapstick, and anime-style exaggerated expressions.

So it’s funny, well-written, has great characters that grow and change, an epic storyline, a fully-realized and unusual fantasy world, etc. What the fuck more can you want?

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