NEW THIS WEEK
An animated fantasy epic from acclaimed animation studio Laika (Coraline, ParaNorman). Kubo, a young hero with a gift for story telling and music, accidentally summons up ancient threats from the spirit world who seek revenge on his family. Kubo then teams up with the stern but caring Monkey (Charlize Theron) and the bumbling hero Beetle (Matthew McConaughey). Together, they must journey through the mystical landscape of monsters and demons to defeat the evil Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and redeem Kubo’s family name.
We Said: “There will always be room for sunnier movies about talking pets or whatever, but Laika transports you to unimaginable new worlds that can be a little dangerous. That's part of the fun. There's some stiff competition this year but I have a hard time believing anything can best Kubo and the Two Strings.” Rating: 4 out of 5
The Good: Not only is Kubo and the Two Stings one of Laika’s best films, it’s one of the best movies of the year in general. The animation is absolutely stunning- every movement of each character is a detailed and beautiful work of art. The voice actors also give surprising and nuanced performances, with Charlize Theron in particular standing out. The best aspect of Kubo, though, is absolutely its heart. This is an incredibly emotional and powerful story, handled with all the care and complexity audiences have come to expect from Laika. I loved Kubo and the Two Strings.
The Bad: With such an emotional, character driven plotline, Kubo’s reliance on action set pieces and slapstick humor sometimes falls flat and feels out of place. The high fantasy plot and grounded personal drama occasionally clash and muddy this otherwise brilliant movie’s tone and focus.
Overall: Kubo and the Two Strings is an incredible new step for animation. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s full of heart, with jaw-dropping imagery and interesting characters.
Based on a true story, War Dogs tells the story of Efraim and David (Jonah Hill and Miles Teller). Childhood friends with questionable morals, the two take financial advantage of the ongoing war in Iraq, smuggling arms to military contracters for million dollar rewards. Of course, this bussiness practice can’t stay afloat forever, and soon the two bros find themselves in dangerous situations with very powerful people.
We Said: “Is there a moral to this story that [Director Todd] Phillips and his co-writers hoped to impart? If so it's lost in a hail of bullets and one-liners, and that's not such a bad thing.” Rating: 3 out of 5
The Good: Writer/Director Todd Phillips steps a bit out of his bro-movie comfort zone with this rather serious action dramedy, and for the most part it works. There’s a great deal of War Dogs that is actually rather exciting and well handled. Fans of his previous films will find a lot to enjoy, though, as the comic relief is still rather bro-centric. This is clearly a war movie by way of The Hangover, and it pays off much better than one would expect. Many people singled out Jonah Hill’s performance as a comic highlight, and Bradley Cooper’s cameos are a fun wink back to his history with Phillips. It’s nothing ground-breaking, but for the most part, War Dogs is fine.
The Bad: Unfortunately, while the fun aspects of Todd Phillips’ style do appear in the film, they are greatly outnumbered by his negative traits as a filmmaker. It’s plagued by underwritten women, shock jokes, and a runtime that far outstays its welcome. War Dogs could have been worse, but perhaps, in the hands of a storyteller more comfortable with handling drama, it could have been so much better.
Overall: Not every based-on-a-true-story bro-dramadey can be The Big Short. Sometimes you just get the C-student War Dogs. Good effort, but it doesn’t quite pay off.
One of the best reviewed films of the year, Hell or High Water sees single father Toby (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) down on their luck, and about to lose their family ranch to foreclosure. Fighting back in the only way they can think of, they begin robbing banks to pay off their debts. When a top Texas cop (Jeff Bridges) begins to track them down, the brothers try to stay one step ahead of him in this tight, modern western.
We Said: “Hell or High Water goes out guns blazing in exactly the fashion a film like this should. What's impressive is that the Scottish-born [director] Mackenzie has such a firm grasp on American culture, both its past and contemporary context. He's made a film that is as American as they come; a pure Texas thrill ride that is vitally relevant and yet wildly entertaining.” Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Two teenage practitioners of yoga (Lily-Rose Depp, Johnny Depp’s daughter, and Harley Quinn Smith, director Kevin Smith’s daughter) team up with a bounty hunter to fight sentient Canadian Nazi breakfast meat. Yoga Hosers is a spiritual sequel to Tusk, in which Justin Long was forcibly turned into a walrus-man, so it seems that Kevin Smith’s mission to confuse the world is continuing just fine.
We Said: “Unfortunately, [Director Kevin] Smith doesn't seem to care enough what other people think, anymore. It's perfectly okay that he's making movies for himself at this point, and perhaps for those who will forgive him any horrible trespass. It's just sad because Smith used to have a lot more to say, and in a way that brought people together. Yoga Hosers seems like Smith doing his best to drive audiences away once and for all.” Rating: 2 out of 5
Based on a true story, Édgar Ramírez plays famed boxer Roberto Durán, who works with a deeply-respected coach (Robert De Niro) to develop his own unique fighting style. It all leads up to the climactic fights against undefeated Sugar Ray Leonard in this sports drama biopic.
We Said: “Maybe it's unfair that Hands of Stone exists in a world where so many great boxing movies have come before it. If they didn't exist we may look at it in a different way. But they do exist, and the best fighters should always rise to the level of their competition, not be defeated by them..” Rating: 2.5 out of 5