Tag Archives: Travis Knight

Bumblebee (2018) Movie Review By Philip Henry

Bumblebee Review, On the run in the year of 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie, on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken.

Director: Travis Knight
Screenwriter: Christina Hodson
Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, Jorge Lendeborg, Jr., John Cena

When the first Transformers movie came out I thought it was OK. It wasn’t going to become an obsession like Star Wars for me, but it was passable. Unfortunately, like a lot of franchises, the longer they go on the worse they get, so by part three I’d lost all interest in seeing giant robots punch each other and destroy cities as they get thrown about.

So if not for the positive buzz around this film, indicating that it wasn’t just more of the same from Michael Bay, I probably wouldn’t have even gone to see this film, but thankfully I did.

One thing I do remember about the first Transformers film is that Bumblebee was already here on Earth before the rest of them showed up, so this film, set in 1987, explains how he got here and lost the use of his vocal unit.

This film is basically the anti-Michael Bay version of Transformers. Sure, there are still big transforming robots that wail on each other, but this film actually has a human story and more importantly a heart, that was missing from so many of Bay’s attempts.

The cast are all unknowns (to me, at least). So much so, this almost feels like a low-budget indie version of Transformers, if such a thing were possible. The only cast member I vaguely recognised was wrestler turned actor, John Cena who plays the token military guy, but it’s Hailee Steinfeld’s character Charlie who carries the film and she’s very likeable as a sassy, kick-ass mechanic with some family issues. This is what I mean about it feeling like an indie; she doesn’t drive a $200,000 sports car or work for some Top Secret government agency. Her family are lower-middle-class working stiffs just trying to make ends meet, and this makes her a much more relatable hero than these films have given us in a long time.

Initially it’s a girl-meets-car love story, with some nice interplay between them, and even some visual slapstick reminiscent of Buster Keaton or Laurel & Hardy, thanks to Bumblebee’s inability to speak. He’s also lost his memory files temporarily, so the warrior transformer comes across more as an armour-plated Bambi, lost in a strange place and unsure of who to trust.

Unlike Bay who needs to have something blow up every ten minutes, this film moves at its own pace and allows the story to unfold naturally, firstly with Bumblebee and then with awkward love interest Memo, who has apparently been living next door to Charlie his whole life and never got up the courage to talk to her until now.

Of course a couple of Decepticons show up looking for Bumblebee and ally themselves with the military, who are led to believe Bumblebee is the bad guy. That all goes how you might expect, but there is a nice joke about the Internet in there. So all these blossoming relationships have to get put on hold when there’s fighting to be done, but the fact there is only three of them on the planet is a blessing. Some of the later Transformers movies had so many CG robots smashing so much other CG stuff, it just became a mess of pixels to me. When the showdown comes in this movie it’s all perfectly clear what’s happening and where everyone is.

So if, like me, you wrote this franchise off a long time ago, I’d urge you to give this film a try. It’s got a killer 80s soundtrack if that’s your thing – it certainly is mine – and it’s a much better movie than Bay ever made. Giving the story an emotional core and a sense of fun that Bay lost a long time ago, has transformed this ailing franchise into something new and wonderful.


Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) Movie Review by John Walsh


Director: Travis Knight
Writers: Marc Haimes (screenplay), Chris Butler (screenplay)
Stars: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey

Kubo and the Two Strings is the latest film from talented stop-motion animators, Laika studios. It follows the story of a young boy who is forced to flee his evil grandfather with his mother, after having his left eye vengefully taken out. Able to weave magic by plucking away at the strings on his shamisen, he endures a journey full of hardship, loneliness and familial ghosts from his past. Never complaining, however, he shows a wisdom way beyond his years, leaning on his memories and love to guide him through.

It begins with Kubo (Art Parkinson) and his mother fleeing their evil family on a small boat, caught in a choppy and dangerous storm. “If you must blink, do it now” our protagonist narrates as the pair encounter trouble, both being flung into the water before ending washed up on a beach. Kubo’s small form is seen beneath a blanket, his mother quickly rushing to comfort him, before the film cuts to the present.

The two of them are next seen living an isolated existence in a small cave, high upon a large, jutting rock formation, near the shore. Kubo’s mother by this point is a pale shadow of her former self and looking frail, exhausted and extremely forgetful. Kubo’s loneliness is palpable in these early stages, which perhaps explains his regular jaunts to the nearby village. On the first visit we see him make, he puts on a magical show for the residents, using his shamisen (a lute like instrument) to bring wonderful, complex, little, origami characters to life, as he displays quite the talent for storytelling. Time eases by rather quickly, as the travails of the small warrior play out, until finally darkness approaches, forcing Kubo to suddenly end the show and make a quick exit, much to the chagrin of the villagers. Returning to his mother, we are given a small insight into their backstory through her sad stories of his late father, Hanzo, a brave samurai warrior. She then provides a gentle warning to her son not to remain out too late in the darkness or his grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), will come for his other eye.

Kubo then returns to the village, presumably at some point in the near future and speaks with the same kindhearted, old lady, seen previously. He is encouraged to stay later to enjoy the firework shows and other festivities taking places during the celebrations. Ignoring the previous warning from his mother, Kubo becomes distracted, emotional and quickly frustrated at his failed attempts to communicate with his dad. He loses track of time, as he forlornly watches the other villagers lanterns fill with light after seemingly successful contacts are made with their loved ones. Looking up he quickly realises his error as the light within the lanterns extinguish and the cold, shrill, laughs from the Sisters, his two aunts, echo through the wood. A quick chase takes place before his mother makes a intervention and uses the last of her magic to save him, sacrificing herself in the process.

When Kubo awakes, the sight of a snowy tundra meets his eyes and before him is a talking monkey, brought to life from the small token he carried everywhere, who goes by the name of Monkey (Charlize Theron), who’d have guessed it? She tells with him to hurry and follow her or risk being discovered again by his aunts and grandfather. Seeking refuge within a cave, the pair eat, whilst the now inquisitive Kubo is given three questions to be answered by his new guardian. Echoing his mothers last words, he is told that he must find three pieces of Hanzo’s armour in order to defeat the Moon King. These being; The Sword Unbreakable, The Armour Impenetrable and The Helmet Invulnerable. Heading out on their quest, guided by an origami samurai come compass, it doesn’t take long for them to cross paths with the clumsy, multi-talented, forgetful and also extremely likeable half-man/half-beetle creature, known as Beetle (Matthew McConaughey). Sharing a vague connection to Hanzo himself, he’s extremely keen to join in on the whole adventure business.

Together this unlikely trio set about collecting each armour piece, enduring several battles along the way towards the climatic finale. Whether it be fighting a gargantuan skeleton, whilst Kubo tries to find the Sword Unbreakable lodged in its skull or the duel fight in the Long Lake between Kubo, Beetle and an ensnaring underwater creature whilst Monkey battles one of the aunts on a magical leaf boat above the surface. Managing to collect the first two parts, Kubo is tricked by his grandfather within a dream into travelling to his fathers former fortress, believing the final piece, the helmet is there. This in fact turns out to be a trap, with the remaining aunt lying in wait for them. There’s a few good twists at this point, which I’d prefer to not to discuss in the review. But needless to say, afterwards, a lonesome Kubo, filled with more determination than ever and now aware of the actual location of the Helmet Invulnerable, thanks to his origami compass friend, heads back to the village to claim it and set up one last battle with his grandfather.

The Moon King, aka Kubo’s grandfather, predictably appears at the village, trying to smooth talk his grandson into giving up without a fight. When it becomes apparent that this won’t happen, his veil of friendliness soon slips, leading to a thunderous battle between the pair. The Moon King, transforming into a giant serpent, initially has the upper hand, before Kubo decides to ditch the armour and return to his trusted shamisen, now strung with one of his mothers hair strands. He utilises the magic of love and memories of his family within him and his fellow villagers to finally come out victorious. His grandfather doesn’t die however, but merely becomes a mortal man once again, appearing forgetful and frail, much like his mother at the beginning. The villagers decide to forgive him, rewriting an alternate background for the now apparent amnesiac. There’s just one final, poignant scene, involving Kubo returning to the river with a lantern, this time it successfully lights and he’s once again reunited with his parents.

There’s some cracking performances in this film. Art Parkinson does a wonderful job as Kubo, injecting some real emotional gravitas into the character to the extent where you can’t help but bond with him over the course of his journey. Charlize Theron is a real standout as Monkey, the no nonsense, voice of reason within the trio of heroes, whilst McConaughey portrayal of the hapless, good intentioned Beetle, helps to inject just the right amount of humour into what is at times a fairly somber affair. Ralph Fiennes is flawless in his relatively short cameo as the Moon King. He’s proven that he can nail the villain roles numerous time before and this is no different. Speaking of villains. Rooney Mara does a great job doing double duty as the Sisters. And an honourable mention to George Takei who plays a mere villager, which should help give a sense of the overall roundedness of the cast.

I can’t do a review on this film without discussing the visuals. My god the visuals on this film are tremendous. I mean really. Major kudos to Laika studios for the unbelievable attention to detail in the characters, the buildings and the creatures, especially the giant skeleton. The leaves boat that Kubo built using his magic was astonishingly beautiful looking. I really can’t praise the visuals enough here. There’s times when you forget it’s stop-motion, and the brain tricks you into believing it’s CG. I actually read there was 27 separate people working on individual scenes with a weeks work encompassing 3-4 seconds of footage, which just blew my mind.

The score is also extremely good in this film. Oscar-winning composer, Dario Marianelli, does an impressive job of building the score around the shamisen parts played by Kubo, expanding these simple little melodic lines out into a full blown orchestral score. There’s obviously a real Japanese theme, which given the films setting shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but it’s all blended together beautifully and helps add a real emotional layer to the film. As a massive Beatles fan, I have to give a shout out to the While My Guitar Gently Weeps cover by Regina Spector at the end too, which was a cool version.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this film. I was always a fan of stop-motion stuff when I was younger, with James and the Giant Peach and the Wallace and Gromit tv series in particular being firm favourites. Admittedly, animation isn’t a genre I’ve kept up with in my adult years, though I have nothing but respect for the dedication it takes to make this style possible. It’s not just the visuals, however, it’s got a great, little story and features some brilliant performances. I’d highly recommend giving this a watch if you haven’t already.