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Movie Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings is a ridiculous movie title. Who is this Kubo and what exactly are these two strings? Are we talking about a kitten and a ball of twine or maybe this is a story about a kid who can snort noodles? Thankfully it's neither, although they've both got serious potential on YouTube.

This story is set in ancient Japan, where Kubo is an eyepatch-wearing young boy looking after his ailing mother in a village. After a spirit awakens an age-old vendetta, Kubo must find a magical suit of armour worn by his late father in order to survive. Probably better than watching a cute kitten play with string with two hours.

This animated film features a first class voice cast including: Charlize Theron, Matthew McConnaughey and Ralph Fiennes. Each of these actors brings great depth to their characters who draw you into the magic of Kubo's world. Although, it helps not knowing who they're voicing in order to slip further into the illusion. Art Parkinson plays Kubo, bouncing off the name stars quite effortlessly while there's even a credit for Star Trek's George Takei.

The mix of stop-motion animation is mesmerising, giving the film an other-worldly feel and leaving you breathless, wondering how they managed to create such a rich and detailed visual tapestry. The flow is seamless as the lovable characters interact against the backdrop of some dynamic scenes involving beautifully realised origami. The air fills with these paper creations as Kubo uses his shamisen (guitar) to draw life out of sheets of paper and leaves.

Kubo and the Two Strings 2016

"Made it ma, top of the world!"

The filmmakers have managed to concoct an enchanting atmosphere in which anything can happen to the tune of an authentic and beautiful soundtrack. To engender mystery they don't answer all our questions, allowing us to sink further into the enigma as one veil of reality peels away after the other. Japanese culture, symbols and traditions are swathed with a sense of mysticism in a similar way to the video game, Shadow of the Colossus, as our hero is tasked with defeating a series of gods and monsters using his wit.

While it has the epic artistic grandeur of Shadow of the Colossus it remains relatable, drawing the comedy, warmth and appeal of Kung Fu Panda. Our hero learns more about his powers as his quest continues, banding with a group of allies including a monkey, beetle and paper samurai who help him along the way. It's as dark and magical as Coraline, the transcendent spirituality of Miyazaki's films and then keeps us amused by tripping into the enjoyable mix of exhilarating action and clumsy levity of Kung Fu Panda.

It's a truly captivating tale that's set to become a classic. We're whisked away on an enchanting albeit perilous quest that has been so lovingly filmed that you can't help but admire every frame. The characters are endearing: Kubo's melancholic innocence, Monkey's thick-skinned disdain, Beetle's air-headed "Buzz Lightyear" heroics and most notably the kind old woman from the village. The universal themes around the power of memory and mourning are heartwarming and deeply touching for all ages.

Kubo and the Two Strings features the best of Hollywood and Japan. Like Pixar's Up, it's one of those rare films that sees everything come together so perfectly: a top voice cast, mesmerising animation, an enchanting atmosphere, a captivating story, a beautiful soundtrack, timeless themes... making it a definite must-see if you enjoyed any of its many influences!

The bottom line: Mesmerising


 
Talking Movies with Spling - Nobody's Died Laughing, A Lego Brickumentary and Demolition


Spling reviews Nobody's Died Laughing, A Lego Brickumentary and Demolition as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

 
Top Ten Movies with... Robby Collins


Robby Collins is a rising star in the world of stand up comedy, having played to the biggest comedy audiences in South Africa, opening for Marc Lottering, Eugene Khoza and Trevor Noah. A natural born performer, he tried to be "normal" from a young age growing up in Newlands East, Durban before moving from Sydenham to Wentworth and then Musgrace in Kwazulu-Natal. Struggling with dyslexia in a rigid education system pushed him to follow in his sister's footsteps, where he found he preferred the stage more than school work, writing his first comedy skit at 15. He finally dropped out of school in Grade 11 after his teacher discovered he was in a local play and quipped he was "a better actor than a student".

His parents didn't make a big deal about him dropping out of school, but were concerned about his bigger plan. Collins has had a wide range of jobs from working in a call centre and handing out flyers to minding children and fixing cars. The lanky comedian kept himself motivated by reading biographies, in which he found many people's careers only really started at the age of 35. His mom has only attended a few of his shows and while supportive, his dad still insists it isn't a real job... but Collins isn't fazed.

Engaging with people and making them laugh from the stage at school, helped define his life's path as he moved from acting on the Durban theatre circuit to becoming a fully fledged stand-up comedian. He integrates his life's journey into his material, drawing from his human experiences and leveraging his believable stage presence. He's appeared at The Heavy Weight Comedy Jam and Blacks Only. His prolific touring with Trevor Noah's Daywalker show and being repeatedly selected as an opening act by top SA talent, lead to his well-deserved nomination for breakthrough act of the year at the Comic Choice Awards.

Collins performed his own show That Bushman's Crazy, which won an award at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. He likes to tell real human stories instead of using stereotypes and prefers to avoid the "whole black and white thing". He also steers clear of religious jokes because his mom was once a nun and he was an altar boy. While the charismatic entertainer has shifted his focus to comedy, he's also acted in TV shows Scandal, Rhythm City and worked as a writer and performer for Laugh Out Loud and LNN. He's developed a loyal following and wants to continue fine-tuning his acting talent and eventually write and direct.

"My worst movie... anything Leon Schuster has done."

I can't watch movies without...

- ...snacks.

Which famous people share your birthday?

- Freddy Prince Jr. and this other guy Yunus. He sold drugs in Durban. (8 March)

What is the first film you remember watching?

- Oliver Twist, but The Lion King was the first film I saw in the cinema.

What's the worst movie you've ever seen?

- My worst movie... anything Leon Schuster has done.

Which movies have made you tearful?

- The Awakenings and whenever Jackie Chan speaks english in Rush Hour.

Who is the most famous movie star you've ever met?

- Laurence Fishburne, but he just looked like he's from Eldorado Park.

What's your favourite movie line?

- "You talkin' to me?" ~ Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver

Who would you choose to play you in your biopic?

- Jaden Smith. That's only because I want to meet his dad.

If you could produce a movie, what would it be about?

- I'd love to do a remake of Oliver Twist. The story is so universal.

Finally, your top ten movies of all-time...

- City of God ...it’s one of the most original stories.

- Ed Wood ...it’s a reminder of how great Johhny Depp was.

- Flowers of War ...the suspense is amazing.

- Coming to America ...I just remember laughing as a kid.

- Aladdin ...nothing better than an old school Disney movie.

- Rocky ...it's got to be the most inspirational movie ever

- Oliver Twist ...no need to explain.

- The Little Rascals ...childhood favourite

- Carlito's Way ...it's the softer side of scarface

- iNumber Number ...because it was a great local film. Not only good for South Africa standards but world standards.

Top Ten Movies with... is a people series on SPL!NG, featuring a host of celebrities ranging from up-and-coming to established personalities from all industries including, but not limited to: Internet, Radio, TV, Film, Music, Art and Entrepreneurs. It's a chance to discover who they are, find out where they're at and to get a fun inside look at their taste in movies.

 
Movie Review: Our Kind of Traitor


Our Kind of Traitor is based on the novel by John le Carré, an author whose film credits include: The Constant Gardener, A Most Wanted Man and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. His espionage thrillers are thought-provoking - more realistic than James Bond and less action-intensive than Jason Bourne.

Our Kind of Traitor fits into this mold once again, delivering a thought-provoking story about a couple who finds themselves caught between the Russian Mafia and British Secret Service. It's a cerebral drama turned spy thriller, following in the tradition of A Most Wanted Man, letting the performances drive the appeal instead of leaning on explosive visuals.

We're immersed in a holiday, not unlike Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much. Instead of Jimmy Stewart, we have Ewan McGregor, playing a rather demure English professor and instead of Doris Day, we have Naomie Harries, playing a concerned barrister. It's got a slick contemporary overlay, which is reminiscent of the film Runner Runner with Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck, a relational dynamic reflected by McGregor and Skarsgård. The British couple cross paths with a Russian oligarch planning to defect, brought to life by Stellan Skarsgård and take his offer to barter with British Secret Service agent, Damian Lewis.

Our Kind of Traitor movie review

"No... you jump first, you can break my fall."

McGregor is more of a vessel for the audience in this The Man Who Knew Too Much style drama and while the vicarious journey is curious, we never fully immerse ourselves, making the experience a bit too detached to be memorable. There's good chemistry between McGregor and Skarsgård, which could have been leveraged more, but you can't really fault the actors who deliver on their promises with Lewis rounding off a first class cast.

Our Kind of Traitor's directed by British TV and film director, Susanna White, who turns her focus from television to film. Instead of action and suspense, this film is powered by solid performances and slow-burning espionage intrigue. The strong cast and sharp writing ground the drama as we get to grips with Russia-UK inside politics, secret agendas and power plays. It all sounds quite appealing, but despite the film's quality ingredients, it's a little underwhelming.

You get the impression that the film-makers used the BBC's Sherlock as a reference and possibly influence for the look-and-feel of this adaptation. However, instead of break-neck visuals and sharp interplay, there's a lethargic feel to the storytelling, which makes things seem more real, yet rather inconsequential. This could be attributed to le Carré's playground of subtleties or possibly a follow-through from White's wealth of TV experience. Unfortunately, the lack of foreboding danger makes the spy games seem rather pedestrian and routine.

Our Kind of Traitor's good enough to keep watching and has one or two moments, but it isn't recommended if Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and A Most Wanted Man didn't appeal to you.

The bottom line: Intriguing


 
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