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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.

Netfix: Frank

I should not have waited as long as I did to see this.

I should not have waited as long as I did to see this.

Bored with his dull suburban life, aspiring songwriter Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) stumbles upon a grand opportunity when an experimental indie band, Soronprfbs, is in sudden need of a keyboardist. Though the gig does not go particularly well, Jon earns the attention of Soronprfbs’ masked frontman, Frank (Michael Fassbender). Jon is invited to join the band, much to the chagrin of Frank’s girlfriend and band theremin-player (thereminist?), Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

As a film, Frank serves almost as an inside look as a achieving art, or perhaps more of the perception of becoming of artist. Throughout the quirks is a story of anguish and expression, with Jon as an apt creative everyman. This is a story of fame versus respect, combined with the internet celebrity zeitgeist – wrapped up in a musical shell. From Jon’s perspective, his venture with Soronprfbs is not unlike a trip to Oz – even with the ending, but I won’t spoil anything.

The Good
Pretty much everything. I’m thinking about getting the soundtrack, even.

The Bad
…I’ve got nothing. Maybe the use of social networking will age terribly in the next few years, but that’s about it.

The Best
It goes without saying that Michael Fassbender is fantastic (as if that’s a surprise anyway); his performance as Frank is wrought with sincerity and a sort of delicate tact. Really the whole ensemble works wonderfully – I really just enjoyed watching them play together and jam.

WYSHW: I’m Not There

In case you are unfamiliar with the legendary artist formerly known as Robert Zimmerman, I would suggest you take a good day to discover all that you’ve been missing out on. It’s okay, I can wait – because if you have no knowledge of the man’s life and career, this film is practically inaccessible. Now, if you think Bob Dylan’s one of the worst song writers of all time, you can see your way out.

Unlike with Howl, it helps to know a bit about Bob Dylan before diving into this layered collage of a “bio-flick.” Not only does I’m Not There undertake multiple depictions of Dylan’s actual life, but also depicts his figurative personas and influences in a unique fashion. It also helps that none of these characters are referred to as “Bob Dylan.”

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I’m Not There is a different kind of non-linear story, considering it shows the many faces of one person, which is not to say that Dylan himself had anything to do with this film, because he didn’t. In fact, I think the charm of this feature is that it follows an icon of many musical movements, and each character takes on a given persona:

Woody Gunthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin, the child) is Dylan’s displaced musical beginnings (an anachronic “imposter”); Arthur (Ben Whishaw) is the interrogated poet; Robbie (Ledger) is the superstar who struggles with his family life; Jack (Bale) is the documented folk singer turned born-again Christian; Billy the Kid (Gere) is the mythic wanderer and outlaw; finally, Jude (Blanchett) is our surreal musician – the closest to matching the perceived 60’s Dylan, played with both delicacy and ferocity.

Sorry Franco, David Cross is the best Ginsberg.

Sorry Franco, David Cross is the best Ginsberg.

Though I’m Not There can easily be dubbed as a pretentious mess, I beg to differ. Okay, so maybe I have my Dylan goggles on, big deal. This aside, I can’t get over this intertwining construct – it’s just full circles upon full circles with amazing musical intervals. Another bias: I really love intertwining nonlinear stories. This aside, I’m Not There beautifully depicts each era almost as a genre of its own design.

So yes, it does help to know a thing or two about Bob Dylan, but I guess you could easily enjoy this film as perhaps a schizophrenic portrait of the everyman, caught in the midsts of his desires and obligations. As well as the occasional trip with Allen Ginsberg.

If you dig on Dylan, I’m Not There is a prime choice. Or if you’d rather have some colorful background noise with some choice covers, that works too. It’s a win-win.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, let’s talk about that fat Kev Smith.