Saturday, September 24, 2016

Two Current Flicks: Kubo and the Two Strings, The Magnificent Seven

On Thursday I saw Kubo and the Two Strings. I saw The Magnificent Seven yesterday (Friday). They are very different films, obviously. Seven is live-action and a remake of a remake. Kubo is stop-time animation and utterly original. I liked them both, though the Tomatometer (@ Rotten Tomatoes, natch) puts Kuba at 97% and Seven at 64%, which is fair.

The Magnificient Seven looks good; Denzel is fine in the lead. It’s your standard action flick, with guts, grit, special effects bursting all over the damn place and gorgeous wide shots of the West. But it’s no Mad Max: Fury Road. And it’s probably not as good as the Yule Brenner The Magnificient Seven (1960), its immediate model, or the 1954 Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa. I’ve seen both, but that was so long ago that I can’t claim to make a live comparison with the current film.

I was particularly paying attention to the music. Like, many I’m sure, I was wondering if there would be anything on the sound track as catchy as the soaring Elmer Bernstein theme that we all know so well, with that driving rhythmic riff behind a theme that doesn’t soar so much as it sweeps the horizon. There isn’t, but there is a theme that is obviously modeled after Bernstein’s–and they surely know that we recognize that–and, interestingly, Bernstein’s rhythm riff actually appears in this film, several times. And then, at the very end, as the roll the credits, we get Bernstein’s theme. Clever.

Kubo and the Two Strings is the best-looking film I’ve seen since, well, Mad Max: Fury Road. Yes, better looking that Pixar, which looks plastic and fruity by comparison. LAIKA has combined stop-motion animation with now-tradition 3D CGI to achieve a look that is haunting, glowing, and restful (if not serene) as the occasion requires.

The story is an adventure quest. Young Kubo lives with his (declining) mother in a cliff-top cave near a village. During the day he goes to the village square where he tells stories while strumming his shamisen as paper forms itself into origami figures that act out a story. Well, perhaps it’s THE story, one he tells over and over. It’s the story of his father, who died so long ago that Kubo has little memory of him.

And then, one day, he stays in town after dark–something his mother told him never to do. And so his quest begins. He is under attack and the only way he can save himself is by finding the armor he tells about in his story. The story is perhaps a bit complex, and the metaphysical shape of this world is a bit obscure (the evil is there, but its clear why), but in the end it’s a riff out of the old ouroboros, a snake swallowing its tail.

Here’s how they did it:

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