Kubo and the Two Strings
Kubo and the Two Strings comes from the same studio (Laika) that brought us Coraline, Paranorman and The Boxtrolls. These darker stories have struggled to become household names, even when the quality often surpasses standard animated box office successes. This may finally be the movie that escapes the dark subject matter and reaches a wide audience.
Kubo is a young Japanese boy who spends his days entertaining the villagers with elaborate tall tales filled with adventure and spends his nights taking care of his ailing mother. Before long, he is sought by two terrifying specters and this event kicks off his journey to find legendary armor once worn by his father. The journey is anything but easy, but he is helped along by two traveling companions, Monkey and Beetle.
First off, the voice acting is incredible. Kubo is voiced by Art Parkinson (Rickon Stark from Game of Thrones). Voice acting may be his true calling. He provides the young Kubo a dynamic voice that never seems immature, but always keeps its youth. He manages to never be outshined by the well-known actors voicing the rest of the cast, which is an impressive feat, as they do so well.
It may seem odd that characters named Monkey and Beetle could be fleshed out. Yet, they are unforgettable animated creations. This is in large part due to the voices of Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey. Theron’s voice is unrecognizable, as it always stays subtle with a hint of authority. I was worried that McConaughey would play the dumb male figure, but it came off more as an arrogant innocence that left the crowd laughing.
The dialogue between these characters provides amazing comedic timing. The writing throughout Kubo keeps the pace moving quickly and makes it feel like Japanese folklore.
There are so many great messages within Kubo and it never forces an agenda upon you. That is, unless you hate movies about honoring those who have come before you. This film is guaranteed to leave you smiling, whether it’s due to the humor laced perfectly throughout or the heart that is brought through Kubo, Monkey and Beetle.
Laika has always had a hard time balancing out making a movie for kids, as elements can be terrifying in movies like Paranorman, for example. And while there are creepy elements in Kubo and the Two Strings, they play into the adventure. Kids will love the visual journey, while adults will devour the score, humor and environment.
Laika has created the best movie of the summer and the animated film of the year. There’s little chance it’ll take the animated Oscar from Finding Dory or Zootopia, but it deserves it. Make time for Kubo and the Two Strings and see it immediately. A
Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water is the modern day Western that you never knew you needed. It is also the movie you probably knew nothing about.
In Hell or High Water, two brothers, Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster), only have a few days in order to pay off the loan for their mom’s ranch in West Texas. With minimal planning, they set out to rob small banks in order to avoid notice of the Feds. However, an aging Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) has their number.
A slow-moving Western may not be the movie you’d seek out at the tail end of summer, but this movie will immediately change your mind. It jumps right into the action as these brothers are knee-deep into their low budget heists. The real reason for the crime spree is explained later.
The magic here takes place because of the two connected stories. Brotherhood is the common theme. Toby and Tanner feel nearly invincible as they follow through with their plan. Toby has personal reasons and feels that he has no other choice than to finish what they started. Tanner, clearly the more impulsive brother, has spent little time outside of prison bars, and doesn’t mind if he ends up behind them again. Meanwhile, Ranger Hamilton (Bridges) and his partner, Ranger Parker (Gil Birmingham) are quickly figuring out the brothers’ plan. The dialogue between these partners is fantastic. Hamilton is purposely racist and doesn’t want to quit unless he knows that Half Native American/Half Mexican Parker is offended. As strange as that may sound, their pairing is hilarious, while also showing an incredible amount of heart.
Hell or High Water proves that a tight story can be told in 100 minutes with well-established characters. These two brothers aren’t great people, but a movie that can make me worry for their plight and safety is effectively written and acted. Foster is one of the best character actors around and does not disappoint. Pine excels in a role that is the furthest thing from his standard polished roles we’ve seen before.
Westerns aren’t for everyone, but they’re so rare now, that they need to be seen. I can’t even view Hell or High Water as a modern day love letter to the genre because, spiritually, it’s a perfect fit to everything that’s come before. It’s not a perfect movie but it provides an ample amount of fun, tension and sadness. B+
From the outset, there’s a decent amount of things to not like about War Dogs. For starters, the pairing of Jonah Hill and Miles Teller seems like a match made in the second circle of Dante’s Inferno. Both actors celebrate a very spotty cinematic track record. For example, Teller is coming off of last year’s Fantastic Four remake. Add to that, one of the most tonally inconsistent directors, Todd Phillips (The Hangover trilogy, Due Date), is directing and writing.
In War Dogs, David Packouz (Teller) is going nowhere in life. It’s not until he reconnects with his childhood friend, Efraim Diveroli (Hill), that his life begins to turn around, for better and much worse. Diveroli has made a small fortune trafficking weapons for the US government in war-torn regions of the world. Together, these two amateurs land big contracts and they seek to fulfill them in any way possible.
The movie seemingly tries to convince you about how annoying it will be from the start. Teller, as the story’s anchor, provides narration talking about how war is constant and whether you care for it or not, it’s a substantial part of the economy. Teller’s voice is so passive, that its nihilism feels boring.
That overture is followed by the introduction of Hill’s Diveroli, an overly-confident scumbag with a laugh that can tear paint from the walls.
Sounds terrible, right? The pairing of these two social degenerates should drive any viewer away. However, just as you decide to hate these characters, War Dogs will catch you off guard. Their story of quick success and inevitable failure is completely entertaining. There is a mix of Wolf of Wall Street/Moneyball as far as the explanation of what is actually done in the business (basically, vague descriptions of the actual business). Yet, it’s not the contracts that are fun, it’s the people they are dealing with and the unrealistic demands placed on Packouz and Diveroli.
Phillips has yet to find his feet as a filmmaker. He so badly wants to make this a comedy throughout, but may not understand that some of the more understated moments get the bigger laughs. It takes a solid 20 minutes before a joke lands, not for lack of trying. Essentially, War Dogs works far better as a satire, than a stoner comedy. It unsuccessfully tries to balance both, until it finds its legs.
So, consider me surprised. Jonah Hill puts his heart into playing a despicable braggard that can say whatever he wants. Sure, that’s Jonah Hill in reality, but there’s something captivating about the character. Teller may not quite be the John Cusack-type that the story calls for, but it’s easily his second best performance and movie (Whiplash is his best).
War Dogs is not for everyone. It is overly confident and tells much of the story through vague explanations. The real reason to watch this flick is for the surprising chemistry between Teller and Hill. Worth a rental. B-