Tag Archives: ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’

Q&A: NECA’s Randy Falk talks vintage movie licenses, SDCC exclusives

Founded in New Jersey in 1996, the National Entertainment Collectibles Association (NECA) has not only long been associated with excellent product, but lauded for its ingenuity to produce action figures for films that didn’t get a toy line when they were released in theaters.

Currently, NECA is preparing for its annual pilgrimage to the San Diego Comic-Con next week to reveal upcoming products and sell exclusives figures from such licenses as “Coraline,” “Aliens” and “Predator.” In the middle of the madness, NECA’s director of product development, Randy Falk, answered a few questions by email about the company’s vintage offerings and SDCC exclusives.

 Tim Lammers: Thanks for your time, Randy. I have to admit, I was so thrilled to hear NECA was going to produce “The Lost Wave” of “Prometheus” figures. What factored into that decision? Was it because of the pending release of “Alien: Covenant” or the continuing success of the your “Alien” line? 

Randy Falk: Thank you! For the “Prometheus” Lost Wave, it was little of both, actually. There was continued interest from a small but vocal fan base that five years on still wanted to see these figures happen, and with the release of “Covenant” on the horizon it felt like the right time to do it. This is really a gift for the loyal fans.

TL: Could this signal the beginning of more “lost waves” being produced? Is there another example of something NECA had in the prototype phase that didn’t make it to store shelves, which you would like to see completed now?

RF: I don’t know if I would go that far… the tooling is the biggest expense in manufacturing figures of this kind, and usually if something does not get produced it’s for a good reason, so it’s tough to justify those costs.

TL: What are the chances of the first waves of “Prometheus” figures being reproduced to compliment the “Lost Wave” of figures?

RF: Slim to none, unfortunately. The audience has not grown much since release and as far as the toys are concerned, the sales were never near the level of our “Alien” line.

MORE: Tim’s articles on NECA for Screen Rant

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Paul Reiser ‘Proud’ of ‘Aliens’ action figure

‘Alien: Covenant’ action figures revealed

TL: I think what separates NECA from so many other toy/collectible companies is their commitment to develop figures on vintage licenses whereas other companies concentrate solely on current releases. What drives that mindset to produce vintage licenses?

RF: Honestly, I would be thrilled to work in what I call the golden era/decade of ’77 – ’87 as much as I could. That 10-year period encompasses all the best in film, music, and video games and the nostalgia factor makes these brands successful 30 to 40 years on, not only with the people who grew up with them but the younger audience that has discovered that greatness on video or Netflix or cable. I love the classics and for the most part there isn’t much in modern entertainment that comes close. There is a reason Jason or Freddy or “Alien” or “Predator” still resonate today, or why a 4-year-old loves Gizmo as much as a 40-year-old who saw “Gremlins” in the theater in 1984.

A Rocky

TL: I’m thrilled that you’ve reissued the “Rocky” figure line (and I especially love the “Rocky IV” Apollo Creed). Given that these figures were popular enough to reissue, is there any desire to expand the line to include Mickey, etc?

RF: Thanks, and these are a lot of fun to create. It is unlikely we would do a Mickey or Adrian because of all the new tooling costs involved, added to their limited appeal compared to Rocky, Apollo, Clubber, etc. We do have a fantastic set of maquettes coming, though, based on the puppets used in an old iced tea commercial. These are great versions of Rocky and Mickey.

TL: Perhaps one of the biggest surprises for exclusives being produced by any company for SDCC is the “Coraline” Display and figure. Is that tied into the 10th anniversary of LAIKA, and, is it possible NECA will be reissuing any of its previous “Coraline” figures?

RF: I can’t elaborate too much on this at the moment, but yes, we are definitely celebrating Laika’s 10th anniversary. We love all of their films and are thrilled to be working with them again. “Kubo and the Two Strings” was one of my favorite movies last year, in fact! We have a lot of things in the planning stage now, but for the moment I can only say there will be new figures and more.

NECA

TL: It’s great to see that NECA is offering the Jungle Briefing Dutch as an exclusive at SDCC. Any chance we’ll get Carl Weathers’ Dillon at some point?

RF: We would absolutely love to produce a Dillon figure and have made many attempts to reach an agreement with Carl for the use of his likeness as Dillon. Fox, which holds the license for “Predator,” does not have any of the likeness rights to the actors within the film. We were able to make a separate agreement with Arnold to include Dutch in the line, but that happened around the 7th series in the “Predator” line, so as you can see it can take a while. This year we celebrate “Predator’s” 30th anniversary, so we have some Dutch figures and classic Jungle Hunter Predator figures back out in the market. We would still love to include Dillon and hope that one day it can happen, but that is still to be negotiated with Carl Weathers.

Copyright 2017 DirectConversations.com.

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At the movies: Top 10 of 2016 (and worst)

From comedy, drama and mystery to action, animation and adventure, 2016 produced a lot of great movies from several different genres. But perhaps the best came from true-life historical tales that haven’t been unearthed for the masses until now.  Find out what the best of the best were in this look at the top movies from last year.

10. “The Finest Hours” An incredible true story of a Coast Guard member’s (Chris Pine) act of selflessness over selfishness – a heartening tale from the 1950s that has amazingly been lost at sea until now.

9. “Kubo and the Two Strings” Laika’s latest and greatest – this time about a boy’s mystical quest in ancient Japan – is a stop-motion masterpiece.

8. “Fences” Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are a powerhouse duo in the big-screen adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

7. “Deadpool” Ryan Reynolds redefines the superhero genre with a bombastic, laugh-out-loud R-rated look at the origins of the Merc with a Mouth.

6. “Nocturnal Animals” Writer-director Tom Ford takes a big step away from the fashion world with an ultra-intense story within a story about lost love and revenge.

5. “Eye in the Sky” Helen Mirren is a force to be reckoned with and Alan Rickman takes his final bow with grace in this heart wrenching war drama about a dilemma surrounding a pending drone strike.

4. “Manchester by the Sea” Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams deliver two of the best performances of the year in this heartbreaking family drama where a man is forced to return to his hometown and must confront his tragic past in the process.

3. “Hell or High Water” Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster command your attention throughout in this smart, intense crime thriller about a pair of bank robbing brothers on a collision course with an aging Texas Ranger.

2. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” The best “Star Wars” film since “The Empire Strikes Back” cleverly fills in the gaps between “Episodes III” and “Episode IV,” with a prequel about how exactly rebels stole the plans to the Death Star.

1. “Hacksaw Ridge” Director Mel Gibson has created an enduring masterpiece with this compelling true story of forgotten World War II hero Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), a battle medic who single-handedly saved 75 soldiers, one by one, in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. An inspiring, in-depth look at Doss — the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Congressional Medal of

Honor – “Hacksaw Ridge” not only best film of the year but maybe the best film in years, and its message of courage, selflessness and sacrifice will echo for generations.

Honorable mentions: There are at least a dozen other films worthy of praise, including “Sully,” “Moana,” “Finding Dory,” “10 Cloverfield Lane,” “Don’t Breathe,” “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” “Deepwater Horizon,” “The BFG,” “Jackie,” “The Jungle Book,” “Captain America: Civil War” and “Patriots Day.”

Worst of 2016: The 10 worst films of 2016, in no particular order: “Independence Day: Resurgence,” “Office Christmas Party,” “X-Men: Apocalypse,” “Blair Witch,” “Keanu,” “Zoolander 2,” “The Divergent Series: Allegiant,” “Rules Don’t Apply,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” “Warcraft” and bonus pick, “Bridget Jones’s Baby” (wife’s pick).

Most overrated of 2016: Most critics loved these movies, but I simply didn’t get the fascination: “La La Land,” “Arrival,” “Midnight Special.”

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Summer at the movies 2016: The best and worst

CBS Films/LionsgateBy Tim Lammers

There’s no better way of putting it: Most of this summer’s movie offerings were pitiful. Loaded once again with sequels, remakes and reboots, the obvious lack of originality this summer movie season seemed to finally affect the box office, which at one point, was more than 22 percent down from last summer.

This summer yielded a slew of decent films, a few obvious winners and some huge disappointments. Here’s a look at the best and worst films to hit the big screen since summer movie kicked off in May.

  1. “The Conjuring 2″/”Don’t Breathe” (tie)

Horror movies usually do well at the box  office, usually due to low budgets and normally large enough turnouts over opening weekend to make back their production budgets. Often, though, low budgets equate to cheap thrills, and “The Conjuring 2” and “Don’t Breathe” defied convention. Yes, the films have their fair share of quick scares to make jump, but layered within were actual stories and the novel approach by directors James Wan (“The Conjuring 2”) and Fede Alvarez (“Don’t Breathe”) to allow intensity to build towards suspenseful and exciting conclusions. If the studios are smart, they’ll rush these out on video in time for Halloween viewing.

  1. “Kubo and the Two Strings”/”Finding Dory” (tie)

The animation genre provided the most steady returns this summer, and the Laika stop-motion wonder “Kubo and the Two Strings” and Pixar’s long-awaited “Finding Dory” were easily the two best. The key to the success of both films is that they respected the intelligence of kid audiences and equally entertained adults audiences with smart scripts, loads of excitement, lots of humor (especially in “Dory”) and healthy doses of emotion (“Kubo”). The two films are shoo-ins for Best Animated Feature Oscars.

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  1. “The BFG”

It’s odd that one of Steven Spielberg’s most magical films in years turned out to be one of his biggest box office disappointments. Sadly, Spielberg was the only marquee asset available to market the film, a live-action/motion capture animation hybrid that delightfully brings late author Roald Dahl’s enchanting tale to life. Fresh off his Oscar win for Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies,” Mark Rylance is brilliant in his motion capture performance of a big, friendly giant (hence, the BFG), who teams with an orphan girl (Ruby Barnhill) in a ploy to prevent his fellow not-so-friendly giants from wreaking havoc with the children of London. The film features a bittersweet reteaming Spielberg and his “E.T. the Extraterrestrial” screenwriter Melissa  Mathison, who died before filming was complete.

  1. “Captain America: Civil War”

The third and easily the best film in the “Captain America” movie arc, “Civil War” is arguably one of the best in the entire “Avengers” saga. Expertly directed once again by brother Joe and Anthony Russo, “Civil War” boasts a brilliant mix of action, emotion and effective storytelling that’s not undermined by the film’s thrilling visual effects. Grounded in real-world storytelling that infuses contemporary issues, the film pits Captain America (Chris Evans) against Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) – who are at odds over an international accord that would impose government oversight on the Avengers’ actions. Unlike the two “Avengers” film chapters, the film doesn’t feel overstuffed with superheroes, even though one massive, entertaining scene features 12 of Marvel’s greatest characters. It’s easily the best traditional superhero movie of the year (“Deadpool” gets its own designation since it’s anything but traditional).

  1. “Hell or High Water”

The biggest mystery behind this brooding crime thriller was the decision to release it in early August when it clearly would have been better served in the fall during awards season. The bank robber thriller feels fresh and exciting with some unique plot twists, and the “Heat”-like narrative is expertly constructed through the taut direction of David Mackenzie complimented by the flawless acting of Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster aids “Hell or High Water” as moves  toward its thrilling (and unpredictable) final showdown. The film, which refreshingly isn’t afraid to be politically incorrect (a rarity these days) is not only the best films of the summer, but one of the best films of the year.

And … the worst

Three films vie for this dishonor, although there are several more that could have easily been included. The ill-conceived “Warcraft” made the disastrous assumption that everybody was familiar with the plot of the blockbuster game series, and the confusing plot only compounded the pain of watching archaic-looking special effects; “X-Men: Apocalypse” was more disappointing than bad, mainly because there were so many expectations after “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” which was arguably the best film in the “X-Men” film series.

20th Century Fox

The worst movie the summer, hands down, was “Independence Day: Resurgence,” an embarrassing follow-up to the blockbuster “Independence Day” from 1996. The dialogue is horrible (“Let’s kick some alien ass!”), the acting is B-movie laughable and talented actors like Jeff Goldblum and Brent Spiner are completely wasted (Will Smith smartly declined to be in the film). Writer-director Roland Emmerich had 20 years to make this film and this is the best he could come up with? “Independence Day: Resurgence” is summer movie formula crap at its very worst.

Interview: Travis Knight talks quest behind ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’

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If Laika has taught us one thing during its 10 years of existence as a stop-motion animation studio that’s produced the Oscar-nominated features “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrolls,” it’s that they respect the intelligence of the people watching their films. Yes, the visuals they painstakingly produce, frame by frame, are stunning to be sure; but first and foremost, Laika’s films are about story — and the studio’s latest offering, the epic Samurai family adventure, “Kubo and the Two Strings,” is no different.

“Our films really come down to the way we feel about our audience. We don’t view the films that we make as product,” Laika CEO and “Kubo” director Travis Knight said in a phone conversation from New York Thursday. “While what we’re in is show business — it’s show and business, and art and commerce — I think it’s important to not discount the art portion of it. In the end, we are making films and telling stories. We ask ourselves, ‘So who are we telling stories for? Who is the audience for these movies?’ We have nothing but the utmost respect for the audience of these movies.

“We will not pander, and we respect the intelligence and the sophistication of audience, and we don’t talk down to them. That comes through in our movies,” Knight added. “If you look at a lot of other movies, and that is not the case. That is not the way producers are looking at their audience. But for us, that is how we look at our audience. They are our families, these are our people, these are our children that we are making these films for. We love and respect them, and we want to make something worthy of them. That’s the approach we take to our movies.”

Opening Friday in theaters nationwide in 2D and 3D, “Kubo and the Two Strings” takes place in ancient Japan, where it follows the fantastical adventure of Kubo (voice of Art Parkinson), a humble boy with an ailing mother who accidentally summons spirits from his family’s past that target him to exact an age-old vendetta. His only hope of successfully combating the spirits comes in a quest to obtain three pieces of armor that belonged to his late father, the world’s greatest samurai warrior.

Joined by Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), the magically-gifted Kubo, armed with his stringed musical instrument known as a shamisen, embarks on the quest to face the spirits. But the quest isn’t merely about confronting the malevolent Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and evil twin sisters (Rooney Mara); in the process, Kubo strives to discover the truth behind the loss of his father.

Marking Knight’s directorial debut (he’s also serves as producer and lead animator on the film), “Kubo and the Two Strings” took about five years to produce, a time period much longer than most computer-animated features. However, Knight feels that it’s not the extra time Laika’s artists put into their work that separates them from their computer-animated colleagues, but their ability to put a human imprint, so to speak, on their films.

“There is certainly a timelessness to stop-motion. When you look at a stop-motion film, you see the will and the skill, and the imagination of an artist who’s brought something to life with their hands,” Knight said. “The computer is an extraordinary tool, but there’s no humanity in a tool. It’s all in service of its operators. So, the stuff you see that comes out of comes out of computers is a bunch of ones and zeroes and  I think you can do amazing things with a computer — and we’ve seen it with exceptional effects and beautiful films — but it’s just sitting there, waiting to be worked with by its operator.”

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On the other hand, it’s about, well, the hands, as well and hearts and minds behind the drive of a stop-motion animator.

“Inherently in stop-motion there’s this hand-crafted quality, which really does give it its humanity,” Knight said. “These objects become alive because of the will and imagination of the animator. It’s magical to me because it almost evokes this primal feeling. My youngest son is 3 years old, and sometimes I watch him from across the room when he’s playing with his action figures, with one in each hand and doing little voices, creating scenarios – I recognize what he’s doing is telling stories. Nobody taught him to do that. That’s just an innate part of who we are as storytellers. That’s just who we are as humans.”

Laika, Knight said, is essentially an extrapolation of that.

“What you see with stop-motion films is that they’re essentially toys,” Knight said. “They’re dolls brought to life as if they have an inner-life and they’re moving around, and living and telling these stories — they’re creatures with their hopes and dreams. I think it really is evocative of imaginative play like when we were kids. Stop-motion taps into an aspect of that that is very primal.”

Ellen Ripley Alien Sixth Scale Figure

One of the many keys to the success of “Kubo” is that the story and the way it’s told is strikingly original. True, it is inspired by the such storytelling luminaries as Akira Kurosawa and Joseph Campbell — and to a greater extent how those storytellers influenced “Star Wars” — yet “Kubo” manages to forge its own identity.

“Unfortunately, originality is rare in this business these days,” Knight lamented. “We are in an industry right now where the pendulum has swung in one direction and where old presents are re-wrapped and offered up as new gifts. Old ideas are being dusted off and being regurgitated, but we’re fighting the good fight of trying to tell new and original stories, which has become increasingly difficult in this atmosphere.”