Each week on the nationally syndicated Richard Crouse Show, Canada’s most recognized movie critic brings together some of the most interesting and opinionated people from the movies, television and music to put a fresh spin on news from the world of lifestyle and pop-culture. Tune into this show to hear in-depth interviews with actors and directors, to find out what’s going on behind the scenes of your favourite shows and movies and get a new take on current trends. Recent guests include Ethan Hawke, director Brad Bird, comedian Gilbert Gottfried, Eric Roberts, Brian Henson, Jonathan Goldsmith a.k.a. “The most interesting man in the world,” and best selling author Linwood Barclay.
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Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Lois Lee to have a look at the weekend’s big releases including the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-ness of “Mary Poppins Returns,” the Transformers prequel “Bumblebee,” the underwater adventures of “Aquaman” and Natalie Portman as a pop star in “Vox Lux.”
The “Transformers” franchise revs up the engine for the sixth time in eleven years with a movie that feels fresh out of the body shop. Pimping the Ride this time out is director Travis Knight, founder of LAIKA studios and director of the wonderful animated fantasy “Kubo and the Two Strings.” Knight puts his own stamp on it, doing away with most of former franchise mastermind Michael Bay’s bombast in favour of a more humanistic approach.
That’s right, “Bumblebee” is a special effects driven story starring a talking robot car that emphasizes the story’s less mechanical aspects.
The action begins with a battle on Cybertron between the Autobots—the rebellious bots—and the evil Decepticons. To save themselves the Autobots, including scout B-127 (Dylan O’Brien), make a run for it, scattering across the galaxy. “We will fight on,” declares Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen), “but we must find safety first.”
B-127 lands on earth, only to be found by a Decepticon operative who disables his vocal processors and damages his memory chip. Beat-up and alone, the robot car hides in open sight at a junkyard as a yellow 1967 Volkswagen Beetle. He’s destined for the car crusher until teenager Charlie Watson (Steinfeld) rescues him from rusting away in her uncle’s junkyard, nicknames him Bumblebee and applies some tender loving care to his dented metal and dusty interior. Charlie and her late father were car nuts who spent their time together refurbishing an old Camaro. Since his sudden death she has worn the sadness of her father’s passing like a shroud.
When she switches on the car for the first time she inadvertently sends a signal to the Decepticons setting into motion an invasion of earth. Enter the military who initially co-operate with the Decepticons, hoping to garner some space age technology tips from the alien beings. “He’s a machine,” snarls Agent Burns (John Cena). “He’s more human than you’ll ever be,” replies Charlie.
I wouldn’t call “Bumblebee” restrained by any stretch but it feels positively Bergmen-esque compared to Michael Bay’s five loud ‘n proud instalments. Bay’s “Transformers” left viewers with scorched eyes and ringing ears. “Bumblebee” does have giant action scenes but it doesn’t forget to spend time with Charlie and her family, mom (Pamela Adlon), bratty brother Otis (Jason Drucker), stepfather Roy (Lenny Jacobson) and neighbour Memo (Jorge Lendborg Jr.). The main relationship, however, is between Charlie and a big chunk of metal.
That relationship is the film’s beating heart. “Bumblebee” is not just a tale of good vs. evil; it’s a story of how friendship can mend a broken heart. Set in 1987, this is a throwback to 80s movies like “ET” that paired kids with fantastical creatures with heart warming results. Knight pulls it off, creating a believable relationship between the two. Bumblebee’s eyes—or at least in the blue bulbs that substitute for his eyes—radiate wonder and tenderness. That’s quite a trick to pull off in an action movie.
“Bumblebee” is a welcome change of pace for the “Transformers” series. Knight brings tenderness, humour—“They literally call themselves Decepticons,” says Agent Burns. “How is that NOT a red flag?”—and action that owes more to the style of the 80s era “Transformers” cartoons and Amblin films than Bay’s bombast.
Richard and CP24 anchor Karman Wong talk about the weekend’s big releases, including the remake of “Ben-Hur,” the neo-western with Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster “Hell or High Water,” “War Dogs,” starring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller and the stop motion animated “Kubo and the Two Strings.”
Richard sits in with Todd van der Hayden to have a look Jonah Hill as a twenty-something arms dealer in “War Dogs,” the magical stop-motion animation of “Kubo and the Two Strings,” the neo-western “Hell or High Water” with Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges and the pointless remake of “Ben-Hur.”
“If you must blink, do it now!” So says Kubo (voice of Art Parkinson), a young street performer in his village. He doesn’t want anyone to miss a moment of his show, but he might have been talking to the theatre audience watching “Kubo and the Two Strings.” The fourth feature from stop motion animators Laika the others are is a marvellously engaging tale that sits comfortably on the shelf beside their other films “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrolls.”
An original fantasy masquerading as an ancient Japanese myth “Kubo and the Two Strings” centers on Kubo, a one-eyed boy who lives with his mother in a cave. By day he performs in the local fishing village, spinning fantastical musical stories about a samurai warrior, but, whether the tale is done or not, when night falls he must hurry home so as not to reveal his location to his grandfather, the mystic and evil Moon King (Ralph Fiennes, once again playing a supernatural baddie) who has pursued the boy from birth.
Running late one evening he gives away his position. To protect himself and friends he goes on a Joseph Campbell-esque mission to assemble a magical suit of armour. The suit has been dispersed because, as legend has it, “any man who finds the magic armour would be too powerful.” With the help of Monkey (Charlize Theron), a wooden toy come to life, and a goofy bug warrior named Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), he goes on a quest and discovers his true nature. “Do you ever say anything encouraging?” Kubo asks the irascible Monkey. “I encourage you not to die,” she says.
“Kubo and the Two Strings” is a mix of the sublime, the surreal and the silly. The beautiful stop motion animation (with some computer generated images) perfectly compliments the film’s fanciful elements—like a giant skeleton monster—while bringing with it a handmade, organic feel that compliments the film’s use of exotic, DIY origami creations as characters. It’s a wonderful blend of form and subject that allows director Travis Knight to indulge in wonderful visual artistry. It’ll make your eyeballs dance, but some scenes may be too intense for very young viewers.
Big lug Beetle is the film with comic relief, mainly providing the silly when things get intense.
This story of magic, monsters and memories works on two levels. Visually it will engage and impress, but it doesn’t skimp on the emotional content. Kubo’s journey is ripe with primal energy. Betrayal, melancholy, greed and evil are touched on in a new story that already feels like a classic.