Author Archives: reelgirl

Netfix: Casting JonBenét

casting_jonbenetThe murder of JonBenét Ramsey will probably go down in as one of the saddest, strangest unsolved murders in American history. Despite all that science can give us, 20 years later we still don’t know who killed JonBenét. The Netflix original documentary, Casting JonBenét, takes an original look at one of our nation’s most speculated upon murders.

What makes this documentary so interesting is that it’s not so much a documentary as it is a deconstruction. No actual associated parties are involved – it’s all reenactment. This method  is incredibly appropriate, considering that this case is pure speculation.

From the moment they made their public appearance, Patsy and John Ramsey were judged unscrupulously by the public, and would be judged for the rest of their lives. Additionally, there would be little to no personal time to grieve, let alone process this atrocity, while being prime suspects for the police.The beauty of this documentary is everything we witness is that spectacle.

On the whole, this is an exploration of mass perception and how it shapes our views of others, while reflecting on our own inner troubles. During a powerful point in the story, when John and Patsy are meant to be making their statements to the police, the actors spill their guts about their darker character manifests. The finale is an emotional cacophony, which renders the viewer overwhelmed, and ultimately very sad.

The Good
In the end, I found this film to be haunting. The spectrum at the end – every possibility played out to its fullest – cements that this was a real tragedy that actually occurred to real people.

The Bad-ish?
As much as I appreciate the idea of a speculative documentary about a news spectacle, it’s really an anti-documentary. Though an exploration of emotional gravitas, one can’t help but feel it hides behind the Ramsey’s limelight to create an art piece. …Not that there’s anything wrong with that, is there?

After all, art is inspired in the strangest or bleakest of places, and there’s hardly any exploitation to be had – the performers are of their own bias and the filmmakers do not portray any opinions on the matter. It’s less about the Ramseys themselves and more about reflecting on theoreticals. So in a sense, the film is false advertising. An additional ironic cherry on top is that JonBenét is hardly even in the film at all – after all, the parents are the real stars of the show.

The Bizarre
…Does that sex-ed guy just carry those flails around with him everywhere?

Get Out

Usually I put a synopsis first, but I’ll put a trailer here instead – as it captures the intensity and atmosphere of this film much better than I could:

From beginning to end, this movie keeps you hooked. Jordan Peele uses a racist lens to focus on social discomfort and biases, in order to imbue a terrible, persistent dread over the viewer, which I believe is a new kind of horror experience.

The trailer actually captures a lot of the movie – just go see it, then read this. Here there be spoilers.

Rather than being about straight-up racism, it seems to be more about correlation, if not “accidental racism,” which are due to the effects of social standards overtime, which is the much more unfortunate elephant in the room. Except for that cop. And the brother. And half of those old people…

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Betty Gabriel’s performance is absolutely haunting.

It would seem that this film, while focusing on bigotry, highlights the “whitification” of African Americans in a near comically uncomfortable manner. But as the twist is revealed, it can also be argued that Get Out is more of a cheeky stab at cultural appropriation – all these rich white folks are practically dying for a chance at being black.

Either way, Peele captures the annoyingly contradictive nature of white America: “either be more white or let us be more black.”

Something I am unsure of though: Was the film implying that white people think black people are easy to manipulate? Or, that it’s the privileged white man’s responsibility to use the black man (going off of Dean’s spiel about Chris’s “purpose”)? Furthermore, are both parties expected to partake in this kind of relationship due to institutionalized racism? I dunno, but it’s food for thought.

After building on all of these implications and inferences, I felt that the most terrifying scene was when the flashing lights approach our bloodied protagonist. The cop angle would have been the absolute nail-in-the-coffin as far as this film’s social commentary goes. Fortunately, the actual ending is much better.

Get Out is a refreshing take on horror-comedy, chocked full of tension, intrigue, and most importantly, creative criticism.

A Cure for Wellness

Literally working oneself to death is far from a new concept – in fact, Japan even has a word for it: karōshi. With the ever-daunting stress of the working world, it’s no wonder that those privileged enough would seek whatever means necessary to find a sense of ease, namely in the form of “wellness retreats.”

cure-wellness-1130-jpg-824x0_q71_crop-scaleWhen the CEO of a million-dollar-bigwig-somethingorother, finds himself lost in the wiles of the Volmer Institute, the company sends their youngest board member, Lockhart (Dan DeHaan) to fetch him back.

Tucked away in the Swiss Alps, the Volmer Institute is a private establishment that prides itself in the finest in quality care, taking advantage of all the environment has to offer – namely the water source.

Once Lockhart finds getting his boss out is more difficult than imagined, it becomes far more clear that these doctors are up to a much more sinister agenda.

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As much as I hate to say it, I think there’s such a thing as atmospheric over-saturation. If you want a movie that looks like a beautiful screensaver, you got it. Well, if you like eels, that is.

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Why did it have to be eels?

Initially, I was intrigued. The trailer did it’s job. That and I’m a sucker for institutional psychological thrillers. As the story progressed, I was drawn in even more. However, there was a noticeable drag. In fact, there’s really no reason for this film to be 2.5hrs long – we could have easily lost an accumulative hour of atmospheric shots and Mia Goth being ogled.

Admittedly, it was the story that kept me interested, as opposed to actual character development – which is to say there was none. The protagonist remains static, the obviously evil doctor is evil, and the doe-eyed damsel is the personification of the virgin-whore complex.

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Pictured: Depressive pixie dream girl.

Hannah’s character is innocent while curiously alluring – locked in an ivory tower like a depressive pixie dream girl, wistfully humming and wandering barefoot.

And on the note of women in this film, I’m pretty sure Gore Verbinski doesn’t know how periods work. (I’m just saying, there was a concerning amount of blood…but I guess it is a horror movie…)

Snark aside, A Cure for Wellness is a gorgeous movie. It does its best to channel new-Hollywood atmospheric horror while playing up visceral scares for maximum discomfort (albeit, the CGI was not good). Though it has the makings of a successful horror story, the results leave this story rather underwhelming.

As a Mighty Boosh fan, this was running through my head throughout the film – enjoy.

Reflecting on ‘Roanoke’

I recognize I’m terribly late on this write-up, but near the end of this season I was terribly distracted by Channel Zero, Westworld, The OA, and most recently, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. But considering the news dropping for Season 7, better late than never, right?

Season six of Ryan Murphy’s on-going horror escapade was easily the most divisive: Between the show-within-a-show framing and found footage over-saturation, this is probably the most unique season to date. But does that make it good?

Usually I’d start with the opening theme, but controversially, there wasn’t one for Season 6. Fortunately I found this fan-video, which might be better than the actual season itself:

Let’s get down to it
When approaching this season, there’s a lot to wrap one’s head around – namely the meta-quality of “My Roanoke Nightmare.” Initially I was against this method of story-telling, because as much as I love cheesy ghost story shows, it is common knowledge that reenacting is seldom relied upon. So for “Roanoke Nightmare” to not only consist of 90% reenactment, but to have such a crazy fandom after the fact, that’s fairly hard to believe. All you can really do is accept that this branch of television is widely accepted in this universe (the “Murphyverse,” if you will).

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And yet they managed to make reality tv drama interesting.

Once it’s understood that there are many-a-layers, it’s easy to roll with the punches on this one. That doesn’t mean there still aren’t any inconsistencies. (I still don’t know what the teeth are all about.) But, it does hit on all of the previous AHS tropes: Mommy Issues, Monster, and Something Incredibly Uncomfortable (my vote goes to the Polks, followed by first-person immolation). Not to mention, this is the first season to reference all of the previous seasons (well, the Hotel one was kinda loose, but I’ll let it slide).

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My favorite part of this season was when we as viewers finally saw the ghosts as they were meant to be seen – and they are hella spooky. Initially, it is a cheap trick to rely so much on the popularity of found-footage, but to use this technique to alter the viewing experience as such was a fantastic  exploit of the medium.

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Love you.

My second-favorite part, what I like to call the redemption of Kathy Bates. Her character, Agnes Mary Winstead, was genuinely uncomfortable to witness. I felt like her contribution to this season was a way to show younger, or unfamiliar, viewers her prowess.

Speaking of younger viewers, when Dominic Banks goes on his soliloquy about being a reality villain, is Real World still relevant?  Does anyone under 20 know who Puck is? Either way, the second act is my favorite part of this season, hands down.

Where it drops the ball
Personally, I really didn’t care for the third act. As glad as I was to see Lana Banana again, I wasn’t terribly interested in Lee Harris’ fate.

The trouble is, I’m not sure where the show would have gone afterwards.

Perhaps the larger issue is that the more interesting part of this season wasn’t so much the main characters, but the ghosts themselves – like if Murder House didn’t have Jessica Lange to ground it.

In all, AHS: Roanoke was a great deviation from the rest of the series, albeit a tad half-baked.

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Goddamn Chens

Netfix: Yoga Hosers

Roughly a year ago, Kevin Smith released Tusk into the world. Though it was not received kindly, behind the scenes of the grotesque adventure  was an entirely different scenario – a time of family bonding and friendship, as it were. After seeing his daughter and her best friend behind the clerk’s counter, Smith was inspired to weave a new story just for them.

And what a tale it is.

Yoga Hosers stars Harley Smith and Lily-Rose Depp as Colleen McKenzie and Colleen Collette, respectively. These two sophomores love to hang out, jam, and practice yoga. The only thing spoiling their precious youth is their part-time job at the local convenience store Eh-to-Zed.

 

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Glamthrax is an awesome band name.

One fateful day, everything changes for the Colleen Coalition: they are unexpectedly invited to a Year 12 Party! OMG! 😂

Frankly the first half-hour of the movie is pedantic teen nonsense with some Smodisms tossed in – but when Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp reprising the role) steps in, things get really weird, and so much more fun. What begins as a teen romp snowballs (heheh) into a cascade of B-movie mayhem, with bratwurst Natzis. Bratzis.

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Justin Long as Yogi Bayer

The Good
This film was a family affair – chocked full of cameos (including both the girls’ families), references and easter-eggs. It’s obvious everyone was having fun on this one. Needless to say I am still looking forward to the final chapter of the True North Trilogy, Moose Jaws (which is like Jaws, but with a moose).

The Bad
Though the intentions were good, this portrayal of teenage girls was painfully pandering, to the point of being embarrassingly condescending. Also are undergrads trying to get into senior parties still a thing? (Was it ever a thing?)

Considering this was aimed towards modern teen girls, but features 80’s/90’s references, it’s hard to figure out who this movie’s really aimed at.

The “What the f*ck?”
Is it weird that I thought the bratzis were strangely adorable? …Did you know that is the same voice he uses to speak to his dogs? (Coincidently, Smith’s dachshund, Shecky, also makes a cameo.)

In all, this movie’s pretty fun. Dumb, but fun.

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Two gals, a Guy and a sausage party.

Arrival

Aliens have finally made contact, and the first thing we need to know is, “Why are they here?” In order to find out, the military commissions linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to head a team to break the enigmatic creatures’ code. As Louise draws closer, the rest of the world grows weary, edging on the brink of an intergalactic war.

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Invasion of the Lakrisbåts

Arrival is an incredibly refreshing take on the alien genre. Rather than focusing on the fear, the overall narrative is based knowledge through communication. Usually the rule for filmmaking is “show, not tell,” so to have a story based around speaking, this grand undertaking is anything but boring.

Of course, fear comes into play – and when it does, it’s absolutely infuriating. In fact, I think it was wrong to demonize the military/government as this film did; yes, they couldn’t inform the public of anything in the event that they were terribly wrong, but – as we’ve established with the power of communication – words are better than silence, but it takes time to produce the right words.

Additionally, I feel that a lot of subtlety was lost in this story – and frankly, I’m not sure how to feel about it: Between the circular nature of their language/time, to crossing literal barriers, it’s that fine line between clever and overdone.

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Denis Villeneuve marvels us again with his gorgeous cinematography.

Many folks claim that this is a film that will restore your faith in humanity. I say that’s a stretch, but it’s certainly a story we could use right now. In all, Arrival is an unexpectedly lovely film worth the watch.

…This has been stuck in my head ever since.

Looking Through ‘Black Mirror’

Ever since its arrival on Netflix, I have been completely enthralled with Black Mirror. If you are under a rock and unfamiliar with the series, I think it’s fair to call it Twilight Zone meets futurology/media commentary; All but the first episode are based in a gritty sci-fi future – not gritty in the Mad Max sense, more that the series not only displays fantastic concepts, but also dour consequences.

Black Mirror is an anthological series, consisting of six episodes original episodes, six “Netflix original” episodes, and a Christmas special. For the heck of it, I decided to rank them from my least to most favorite – because lists are fun! There will be spoilers as we go, but hey, if you haven’t seen any of it, this may (or may not) persuade you. But here’s a hint: I definitely dug the original British run over the American involvement – for the most part, anyway.

13. S3E6: Hated in the Nation
Kinda coincidental, I suppose. Once you follow through the harrowing fantasies of this series, the finale is disappointing, to say the least.

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Bees?

One of the biggest critiques regarding the Netflix expansion is that these episodes stray from the formulaic pacing of the originals – also the narrative tends to lean more on characters than world-building. Hated in the Nation offers neither. Personally, I felt this to be a drawn-out sci-fi Law & Order episode rather than an introspective commentary on society.

Okay, sure there was the whole twist where the public put their money where their mouth was, but it all felt very shallow, if not boring, compared to the girth of previous episodes. Also just a waste of Kelly Macdonald. Moving on.

12. S3E2: Playtest
As much as I appreciated the Twilight Zone-esque zinger at the end, I feel like that wasn’t enough to warrant sitting through 30 minutes of travel montage. The AR was cool and all, but ultimately mediocre when set against heavier subjects. As mentioned, since this season had more character focus, I think it’s worth mentioning that this protagonist didn’t really garner much empathy from me either.

11. S2E3: The Waldo Moment
waldo-600x399Picture Triumph the Comic Insult Dog on acid, and then place him in this year’s election. That’s pretty much this episode. Being a more character-focused episode, this one lost me a little bit, because I found myself more interested in how the government was to be run rather than the comedian’s spiral into dissociative madness. Maybe I’m a little heartless, or maybe I just wasn’t that into it.

10. Black Mirror: White Christmas
There are many things to appreciate about this Christmas special: the accumulative use of technology, multiple emotional gut-punches, Jon Hamm… But really, this is an episode that sends you reeling. My only issue is wondering how Hamm’s character is supposed to survive if he’s completely blocked out (maybe he can just order groceries online), but at the same time, this is an incredibly interesting take on solitary confinement – more about “blocking” later.

The story itself is enjoyable (in that edge-of-your-seat sense), and was ultimately a great one-off. Definitely finish the series before watching this, if you haven’t yet.

 

9. S3E3: Shut Up and Dance
Much like a later entry on this list, Shut Up and Dance is a more realistic parable rather than morose fantasy. Extreme realism sure, but still frightening. I feel like this is what my parents thought would happen if I had a Myspace.

8. S2E2: White Bear
One of the grimmest episodes (arguably), that makes one wonder what kind of punishment is truly justifiable. The tension is pretty fantastic throughout, with a twist that sends you reeling. I really did enjoy this episode, alas there were others I liked more.

7. S1E2: Fifteen Million Merits
This was an episode where things started getting cool. We have a distopia, set with multiple commentaries of daily life: reality tv, fat-hate, living through social media, etc. Take all of this and crank it up to 11 and you have Fifteen Million Merits – sort of. This is an episode that truly needs to be seen and experienced. It’s surreal enough but still has heart.

6. S3E1: Nosedive

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Welcome back, Bryce Dallace Howard.

This episode was a great start for a new season (especially aiming for an American audience); despite the social downfall of our protagonist, she rediscovers the power of self-expression…albeit behind bars. So yes, a cringey high-note, but a high-note nonetheless. If Charlie Brooker decides to do another holiday special, I’d love to see a cameo of Lacie doing some sort of menial job with a smile on her face.

5. S1E1: The National Anthem
The National Anthem is less about futurism and more a satire of modern media, and frankly, it’s a weird start for the series. It’s the perfect “what would you do?” scenario where truly no one wins, but it’s such an amazing stinger: the world would rather watch a man screw a pig rather than ensuring a woman’s safety. It’s so devastatingly dark, not to mention played to my Dogme 95 fandom. Why I prefer The National Anthem over Shut Up and Dance: That twist was more satisfying than bad wolf internet trolls.

4. S3E5: Men Against Fire
As Agent Teddy Daniels once pondered, “Which would be worse – to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?” Take this question and mix in some warfare, a massive dash of augmented reality, and you have Men Against Fire. This episode was an incredibly heavy experience, especially considering that the AR didn’t end in the warzone.

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3. S3E4: San Junipero
This episode has led to some rifts between cohorts, but I’m standing my ground on this. Yes, it is comparatively “too happy,” but I love the amount of depth in these characters. The end of this episode sparks all sorts of discussion of theology and second-chances. Despite the heavy-handed nature of these topics, it was so nice for this episode to breathe some levity and hope – even if a massive hack or crash could destroy everything, but we’re not thinking about that. Let’s keep riding that nostalgia wave, just for a little bit longer.

2. S1E3: The Entire History of You
I personally see this episode as the flagship for the series. It’s got a crazy concept with tons of societal implications, and we get to see everything go wrong for someone because entire-history-of-you2of their own paranoia. You know how right as you fall asleep, the most embarrassing memory pops into your head? Imagine having access to that and being able to zoom and enhance.

This concept also allows people to be “blocked” and forgotten, taking selective sharing to a whole new level. It’s interesting to think about forcing someone out of your head so literally, especially when they are trying so hard to be there. It’s these ideas, as well as the imagery, that makes this episode so haunting.

1. S2E1: Be Right Back
In an age where facebook profiles become literal, living shrines, people are finding new ways of coping with loss. Be Right Back essentially personifies the struggle of letting go in a time where reminders of lost loved ones are just a click away. This is an episode that brought me to ugly tears, and thusly I tell everyone to watch.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Roughly two years ago, I discovered a new series as soon as it’s cover met my eye:

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Much to my pleasure, I found that not only are there dozens of ooky-spooky vintage photographs within this book, but the story’s narrative is woven by mentioned photographs – how cool is that? I’m still on the third book, and the series isn’t all that bad. It’s dark and whimsical, just as I like it – lots of cool characters too. The love angle’s a little weird, but that can be discussed another day.

Naturally, like most hit young adult novels, a film adaptation was inevitable; between the eerie imagery and semi-period setting, Burton was an apt choice. As for the remainder of the adaptation, considering all of the deviations… it got kinda weird.

Miss Peregrine follows Jacob Portman (Asa Butterfield), a teenager who discovers that the amazing stories his late grandfather raised him with may had lead to his mysterious, gruesome death. Jacob uncovers a hidden world lost in time and space, occupied by people known as “peculiars,” (not unlike X-Men‘s mutants) protected by the enigmatic Miss Alma Peregrine (Eva Green).

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Costumes by Colleen Atwood, naturally.

Jake soon finds that he unknowingly lead danger right to his new friends’ door, for though this world is wondrous, it’s is also wrought with horrors.

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Horrors such as Slenderman, apparently.

Sometimes it’s easy to put the source material out of mind, but in the case of Miss Peregrine, something really bothered me about Emma (Ella Purnell). For those unfamiliar with the book, Olive and Emma originally have the opposite abilities (Olive is also a much younger, so that was weird).

As someone who can manipulate fire, Emma is an incredibly strong presence for Jacob, and thusly they have a more complex, interesting relationship. She’s also much braver and more fierce, and downright pretty cool.

By giving Emma the air ability (a tweaked one at that), she seems so much more fragile (if not useless) than necessary, which lends this movie’s greater issue: there are so many characters here, there’s hardly any development. By the end of it, sure Jacob’s got some more guts and gumption. Awesome. And I guess the rest of the kids do too, but can we really say?

Basically what I mean to say is that this film, as fun as it was to see these characters, was terribly shallow. Granted, I figured the studio was shooting more for a one-off rather than a trilogy, but this adaptation felt awfully muddled. Even if I wasn’t familiar with the source material, I feel as if this story would have felt lackluster in the end – not terrible, just really okay.

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Stick with the books kiddos.

The Lobster

In a world where people are defined by their relationships, we follow one man on his search for compatibility. David (Colin Farrell) is confined to the Hotel, where must find love in 45 days. If he fails to do so, he will be transformed into an animal of his choosing and banished to the forest.

Alas, there is another hope – a group of loveless rebels, “Loners,” also inhabit the forest in order to escape the tyranny of the Hotel, the tyranny of love. Falling in love as a Loner has some gnarly consequences. But of course, we all know that romance can be found in the most unlikely of places.

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Oh, and Hotel patrons hunt Loners for prizes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It’s surreal, dark, and clever – not to mention, social commentary galore. And it prominently features music from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, so bonus points there.

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Will you give me your loss and your sorrow?

When David flees the Hotel, he is stripped from society’s preconceptions, and like the surrounding fauna, is ruled by instinct. Though forbidden amongst Loners, David finds himself drawn to a nameless near-sighted Loner, who I’ll call “Lady” (Rachel Weisz). Of course, Lady is sweet on him, too.

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As expected, things get pretty dark.

We as people have such strange views on relationships in our society. Decades of advertising have taught us that sex is something we preen for and deserve, lest we end up a sad, lonely loser. The Lobster takes parts of this concept and adds base commentary on objective matchmaking, as well as the addition of children to unhappy homes.

And yet, despite what he and Lady go through in order to pursue what we could deem a “normal” relationship, David is driven by societal standards to make everything worse. This decision in the end is bittersweet: he changes because that is what society has taught him to do, but also by doing so, he can wholly share a world with Lady. Though an abstract portrayal of the things we do for love, I think it’s fair to say that the metaphor is an apt one.

Twisted, strange and oddly beautiful, The Lobster offers all sorts of allegories between the lines. It’s a film that must be watched and discussed. Undoubtedly, it’s something you’ll either get or you don’t – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

 

 

Kubo and the Two Strings

Just look at this trailer.

At first glance, I fell in love: the stop-motion mixed with a gorgeous cover of one of my favorite songs made my heart and imagination soar. Not to mention the hype in more recent ads, commending the film’s beauty and depth – I was stoked, to say the least. Alas, I left my seat feeling …well, underwhelmed.

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Even with these spooky badasses.

It’s strange to have a Japanese story with a predominately white cast – well, maybe not strange, after all, this has been happening for decades, why stop now? (Despite his appearance in the trailer, George Takei had maybe five lines.)

Though I do have to say that the film is objectively lovely – an absolute spectacle, but suffers under the weight of its own mythos; I found myself begging for more mysticism and lore, but I was only met with the same run-of-the-mill lessons of the importance of story-telling and familial commemoration. Not that these things aren’t important, but maybe I was expecting more depth or at least some deviation of some sort – or hey, maybe some sort of recognition of the shamisen’s significance and history?

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More on Kubo’s mom would have been fantastic.

Speaking of the shamisen, the score and tonality was gorgeous. I’m not sure if it was an issue of time or studio restrictions, but I would have appreciated this film a lot more if it revolved around more myth and magic – I want to know how Kubo learned about his gifts and if and how he was taught these abilities.

And as I mentioned, this is a spectacle – especially in 3D. Director Travis Knight and Laika are no strangers to the third dimension, and they work to capture the potential of this extra space. After all, this is a physical, hand-crafted medium, and I think that deserves some extra respect.

I felt pretty divided at the end of this one. It was lovely, but needed a lot more oomf. There’s a lot of heart to be had, but stops short of definition.