First look at new Laika movie

The animation world was once dominated by Pixar with Dreamworks coming in second. But now we are at a point where new animation studios are emerging that rival the work of these behemoths. Laika is one that is definitely up there. After successes with Coraline, Paranorman and Boxtrolls, Laika announced their new film Kubo and the Two Strings.

“The new movie, from an original screenplay by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler (ParaNorman) is a sweeping, swashbuckling adventure set in a mythical ancient Japan. It is being brought to life at LAIKA’s Oregon studios via the company’s innovative 3D stop-motion and CG hybrid technique. In addition to directing, Mr. Knight is producing Kubo and the Two Strings with Arianne Sutner (ParaNorman). The all-star voice cast includes Academy Award winners Matthew McConaughey and Charlize Theron; Academy Award nominees Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, and Brenda Vaccaro; and Art Parkinson, who plays Rickon Stark on Game of Thronesand who is providing the voice for the title character of Kubo.

In the epic fantasy, scruffy, kindhearted Kubo ekes out a humble living while devotedly caring for his mother in their sleepy shoreside village. It is a quiet existence – until a spirit from the past catches up with him to enforce an age-old vendetta. Suddenly on the run from gods and monsters, Kubo’s chance for survival rests on finding the magical suit of armor once worn by his fallen father, the greatest samurai the world has ever known. Summoning courage, Kubo embarks on a thrilling odyssey as he faces his family’s history, navigates the elements, and bravely fights for the earth and the stars.”

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Black Mirror: White Christmas review

Just what you need for a proper British Christmas, doom and misery. Any soap fan will tell you, Christmas is the time when the worst stuff happens. And Doctor Who fans will tell you how heartbreaking Christmas can be.  But nothing can match the dreariness of Black Mirror and it was turned up a notch for this Christmas special.

In the past, Black Mirror has been a 3 episode anthology series with each episode telling a different tale. This time we got a longer special with 3 stories intertwined. I’ve never watched Mad Men so my knowledge of Jon Hamm comes from The Town and 30 Rock, but in my view, he smacked it out of the park in this episode, he managed to play the line between creepy and charming so well. We’re introduced to his story in the first segment of the show, he plays Matt, who plays the next evolution of a pick up artist. Seeing how scummy some of these pick up artists are, with the recent hype around Julien Blanc, just adds to the seediness of the character. He helps a young nervous man called Harry using the inevitable next stage of Google Glass, a Z-Eye, which allows you to control what you see. And in this particular segment, allows Harry’s every move to be broadcast not only to Harry, but to a group of 10 other guys who simultaneously add their opinion. However Matt’s opinion is the one that matters, as he guides Harry around a gatecrashed office Christmas party and uses the technology to the fullest, finding out information on people at the party in order to help him blend in, a veiled criticism I’m sure by Charlie Brooker at the amount of information we put on the internet and how easy it would be to use it against us.

Harry takes a liking to one particular girl and Matt uses the typical scumbag pick up artist move of moving to her friend in the hope to make her feel jealous and try to get attention, however Harry has a moment of realisation, he actually likes the girl, he doesn’t want to carry on with this, displaying himself to these strangers on their webcams. She also takes a real liking to him when he discusses making a change in life, and when she sees him talking to the voices in his head, she has found her kindred spirit, because she also hears voices, just not the same kind Harry is listening to. She convinces Harry to go back to her place, much to the delight of his viewers. Then it all takes a gruesome tone, as she sits on top of him she begins to make him drink some sort of poison in a murder suicide that one side thought was actually  a suicide pact. Matt decides not to report the murder/suicide and instead to destroy all evidence it ever happened, with the reveal that this creepy man is actually living a normal life, with  a wife and child, who subsequently blocks him, more on blocking later.

The second segment of the episode was probably the only let down, in that after this, the character introduced was never referred to again where I thought for sure she would be. We are introduced to Greta and learn a lot about her in the first minute or so, a bit of a control freak, lots of anxiety about the age of her surgeon, then she is put to sleep and we get a creepy view of the inside of her mind and then her conscious being removed from her body. Next time she wakes up, she is kept in an egg looking machine, called  cookie. Here we once again see Jon Hamm’s Matt character, in his day job this time, which involves copying someone’s consciousness and placing it in this cookie, allowing it to control that person’s home for them. Sounds normal enough, we have devices now that have very similar features, but this technology is anthropomorphised in which allows to feel sympathy. Greta’s copied consciousness is as real to us as Greta herself is, even more so for the viewer in fact, we never really interact with the original. And Matt puts her through hell in order to break her, he is able to speed up time so she lives 3 weeks while he eats some toast that she made, it’s all very creepy. Eventually breaks and she begins to become the captain of the ship in Greta’s house, saying when alarms will go off, getting the breakfast ready, preparing the schedule.

And this is where I was slightly disappointed, I was expecting a revolution of sorts, Greta’s copied consciousness to break out of this slave labour she has had to endure. Instead Brooker used this as a means to establish the technology and the conscience of our next leading character Joe. Here are must mention that we first meet Joe at the beginning of the episode, him and Matt share a Christmas dinner together in a run down looking kitchen they’ve been in for 5 years, where apparently they haven’t spoken to each other properly at all. Today is the first time they’ve had a proper conversation, and what a weird conversation to have with Matt’s character. Joe however also has a story to tell, one of lost love.

Joe and his girlfriend seem happy, well according to Joe they do, but you can tell something isn’t right, the karaoke scene, the scene at dinner, him saying about another couple “I think she’s more into him, than he is into her” was ironic but also a reflection of his own relationship. One day he finds a pregnancy test, it’s positive. Upon asking her about it, she reveals she doesn’t want it. Joe can’t understand why and loses his temper and she blocks him. Taking what we do in social media and transferring it to real life, reduces a human to a grey static image and a muffled voice. She completely cuts Joe out of her life, even going as far as getting a restraining order against him. Joe finds a way around it by going to see her from his restricted distance at Christmas time at her dad’s house. The first time we see the baby and it has also been blocked from her vision was both heartbreaking and creepy. Then Joe one day is channel surfing (one of the channels looking an awful lot like the talent show from 15 Million Credits, are all the Black Mirror episodes in one big scary universe) and sees that his ex girlfriend has died in a train crash. This is his chance, he can finally see his daughter without being blocked.

Upon arriving at the house, he sees the little girl in the garden, no longer a blur of static, instead she is a ray of hope for him, until she turns around and we get the reveal that she is obviously not his daughter, she is from a difference race, a twist I saw coming a mile off. Joe enters the house and more things to start to click, she see’s his ex’s dad in the kitchen which looks exactly like the one him and Matt have been sitting in throughout the whole episode. In  a fit of rage, Joe hits the old man with a snowglobe, killing him.  That is when things started to make sense for me. We then learn that the little girl, upon finding her grandad dead on a chair, goes out to look for help and dies under a tree, a haunting image which is showed to Joe through the window. Matt, pushes for a confession from him, and finally gets it and abruptly leaves. We see Matt in a police station, having been arrested for a number of things, including not reporting a murder, but attempting to get released by getting Joe’s confession. Joe’s conscience was of course removed in the same way Greta’s was earlier in the episode. Joe is then treated to a hell which many retail workers go through, having to listen to “I wish it could be Christmas everyday” on repeat while stuck in the cookie. Matt meanwhile is released, but on a condition, he is put on a list, which means he is blocked, to everyone.

Matt steps outside to a new world, he isn’t even the grey static that people usually are, he is red, surely a clear sign of the crimes he has committed. So overall a very bleak and miserable ending to a great episode of television. My only regret is, we couldn’t get this on Christmas Day, this would make perfect viewing for that day. Oh well, there’s always next year.

Legend of Korra Operation Beifong review

With a title like Operation Beifong, we knew exactly what the focus of the episode was going to be and from the opening scene we saw that as Toph made herself open to the rest of the world when she comes up behind Lin, Opal and Bolin as they scout and plan for their rescue of Suyin and the rest of her clan. We really got an understanding of the Beifong family dynamic in this episode, Bolin  played the character of an excited fan when meeting Toph andfinally asked one of the questions we’ve always been wondering, who is Lin’s father, to which Toph responds nonchalantly, a man named Kanto, crushing the fan’s hopes that it would be someone we had met before.  This reveal hurts Lin, having wanted to know for so many years, the fact that Toph just tells Bolin, a man she has just met, leads to  Lin understandably becoming very angry and gives an insight as to why she is how she is.

Mother and daughter seemingly put their issues behind them for the time being as they continue their rescue of the rest of the Beifong clan. I said last week that I love the prisons in this show and this one did not disappoint, with Lin, Baatar and the kids being kept in a wooden cage suspended high above the ground, which means we get a very fun and elaborate escape scene with one particular highlight being Baatar’s fear of dropping and Bolin having to catch him.

Meanwhile over on the  darkside, I finally got the news that I wanted, that Zhu Li’s betrayal of Varrick was all a ruse and she was trying to sabotage the spirit vine cannon all along. Kuvira being the most intimidating person on TV at the moment, of course finds out and I legitimately thought that she might just kill Zhu Li right there in front of everyone. I still think Kuvira is going to kill someone this season, I could see it be in a Beifong to test Baatar Jr’s loyalty. Instead, Kuvira does it in a much more humane way and decides to put Zhu Li in the middle of the city which they are about to test the Death Star on. Bolin and Team Beifong hear Zhu Li being captured and decide to go on a rescue mission, well most of them, Toph and Baatar stay back, Baatar then asks “so how’ve you been mother?” Which Toph quickly shuts down.

I mentioned the Baatar Jr/Kuvira relationship and this week we got our first hint at possible dissent, it was very subtle, but it’s there. While so far Baatar Jr has been cold towards his family, when he sees Opal and Bolin fly into the nearby town that is about to be obliterated, he insists on the spirit ray being stopped and manages to knock it out of the way slightly, which causes it to strike the mountain behind the town, blowing a hole straight through and showing how powerful this weapon is.

The rescue attempt includes one of the best fight scenes of the season between Suyin and Kuvira. These 2 really used everything around them and I saw some moves using the barricade that Rey Mysterio would be proud of, Suyin flies around and creates metal armour for herself. The flying around does have it’s disadvantages, as when Kuvira catches her, she is able to knock her down and throws her off the platform where and the rest of the team are surrounded by Kuvira’s soldiers.  All hope seems lost for our heroes until one of the best moments of the episode happens at Toph causes a shockwave. Is this Toph’s final hurrah? I think it might be, I reckon we’ll see her again but not in action. Opal asks her if she will be joining them on the journey to Republic City, to which Toph responds by saying she is going back to her swamp, saying that her back hurts and that’s why you didn’t see Katara get involved in the Water Tribe Civil War. While we love the characters from The Last Airbender, this is a different show, this is the next generation, and it’s only fair they are allowed to shine.

We do get some updates from Republic City, Asami and Varrick continue their production of the flying mecha suits and Korra decides to turn to the spirits for help for when Kuvira attacks Republic City. The spirits however turn away. But all the pieces are now in place for the finale. We have Bolin and the rest of the Beifong clan flying back to Republic City where we will probably get our first shot of the whole team together again this season, we have flying mecha suits being built and the possibility of the Spirits helping our heroes. And the final part, Zhu Li reveals that Kuvira is planning on attacking Republic City in 2 weeks. 2 weeks in story time, and also 2 weeks in our time as the final episodes are going to air December 19th. The end just got real.