Tag Archives: Charlize Theron

Call Me Kubo

Kubo and the Two Strings

by Matt Weiner

Describing the story of Kubo and the Two Strings feels deeply wrong for a film that takes great pains to remind us of the raw power of storytelling—that our lives come and go, and all we can hold onto is the story of ourselves.

But here goes anyway: Kubo (voiced by Game of Thrones‘ Art Parkinson) is a one-eyed boy who spends his days entertaining his village in a magical, ancient Japan. His nights are a lot less fun, thanks to dire if not particularly lucid warnings from his mother about returning home before dark.

As young heroes in mythical tales are wont to do, Kubo eventually stays out past sundown, invoking the wrath of familial specters (twin sisters, voiced by Rooney Mara) who doggedly pursue him through the village, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

Kubo’s mother saves the day, but at great cost, and Kubo soon finds himself on the run with little besides his stringed instrument known as a samisen, a talking monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron) and magical powers that grow stronger by the day.

First-time director Travis Knight makes an impressive debut after years of animation experience. Knight, also the president and CEO of Laika Studios, has given his group another modern stop-motion classic. Laika has never been a studio to tread lightly around adult themes in their animated films—but while Coraline and ParaNorman aren’t short on death, Kubo cuts to the emotional core with a story so saturated with loss that it becomes its own texture, something as visceral as the sumptuously animated hair or backgrounds.

Kubo follows the typical hero’s journey: suffer adversity, embark on a quest, encounter friends and foes, suffer more adversity, conquer evil. (None of this should come as a spoiler for the adults watching who have seen or read… well, pretty much any story before.)

But beneath the surface, Kubo and the Two Strings quietly but persistently makes us confront what it means to be alive, and just how tenuous the bonds we share are with the ones we love in this world. And the script deftly handles this emotional gut punch without getting sentimental.

All the way up to the end, the film continues to ask questions without easy answers. What’s the difference between a story, a memory and a lie? Are we more than that?

Maybe not. But it’s all we have, and if Kubo doesn’t inspire you to seek out new stories of your own, you might as well be dead already.




Do You Want to Build a Sequel?

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

by George Wolf

A magical young princess leaves her sister’s side amid some heavy emotional trauma, taking her cold heart to a frozen environment and staking her claim as the Ice Queen. This one, though, has no interest in building a snowman.

Winter’s War is both prequel and sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, the competent fantasy drama from 2012. You might wonder about the need for another film in this franchise, but it’s hard to argue with the cast.

Chris Hemsworth is back as Eric the Hunstman, along with Jessica Chastain as his beloved Sara and Charlize Theron’s evil Queen Ravenna. Theron was easily the best thing about the first film, and adding the great Emily Blunt as Ravenna’s chilly sister Freya seems like a pretty safe play.

Yeah, um, about that…

Blunt’s unbeaten streak of onscreen chemistry with every living human ends here, as she and Theron can’t get their considerable talents to gel. Instead, Blunt’s “love is evil” act and Theron’s power-mad malevolence wander into a curiously campy section of the castle.

How can you put two actors of this caliber side by side, and end up with scenes this dull?

Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyen is a visual effects veteran making his feature debut, and he seems much more confident presenting Eric and Sara’s woodland journey to recover the magical mirror, mirror no longer on the wall.

The film’s first act is nearly insufferable, ploddingly paced and weighted by exposition shared via the buttery (if uncredited) voice of Liam Neeson.

Things pick up midway as the adventure proper begins, but Nicolas-Troyden and cast stumble again as their tale comes to a close. Though it often looks fantastic, Winter’s War is uneven at best, with a mishmash of ideas that barely hold together, and cannot capture attention.

Worse still, it is an unforgivable waste of three of the most talented women working in film today.

If you harbor a mad desire to see the film, you may want to let it go.



Mad World

Mad Max: Fury Road

by Hope Madden

Holy shit.

To say that George Miller has stepped up his game since he left us at Thunderdome would be far too mild a statement to open with. Mad Max: Fury Road is not just superior to everything in this franchise, as well as everything else Miller has ever directed. It’s among the most exhausting, thrilling, visceral action films ever made.

Powerful, villainous white guys have ruined the planet by way of their greed for oil and their warmongering, and now they are sustaining their power by taking control of women’s reproductive systems. So, you know, pretty far-fetched.

But Max doesn’t belong to any of these festering wounds called societies. He’s feral. Again. No telling how long it’s been since Max saved the kids from Aunty Entity, but he’s lost himself again, wandering the desert hunted by man and haunted by those he couldn’t save.

Again Miller puts Max in a position to redeem himself by helping the vulnerable and pure survive this apocalyptic future. Mercifully, there are no children and no mullets this go-round.

Unsurprisingly, the great Tom Hardy delivers a perfect, guttural performance as the road warrior. As his reluctant partner in survival, Charlize Theron is the perfect mix of compassion and badassedness. Hardy’s a fascinating, mysterious presence, but Theron owns this film.

Like the first two films in this series, Fury Road wastes little time on dialogue or plotting. Rather, it is basically one long, magnificent car chase. Miller adorns every scene with the most astonishing, peculiar imagery and the vehicular action is like nothing you’ve ever seen.

Dudes on poles!

Miller’s magnificent action sequences keep the film from ever hitting the dragging monotony of his first two efforts in the series. While the characters remain as paper thin as they have been in every episode, the vast superiority of this cast from top to bottom guarantees that the marauding band’s excess and abandon are handled with genuine skill.

Fury Road amounts to a film about survival, redemption and the power of the universal blood donor. Clever, spare scripting makes room for indulgent set pieces that astonish and amaze. There’s real craftsmanship involved here – in the practical effects, the pacing, the disturbing imagery, and the performances that hold it all together – that marks not just a creative force at the top of his game, but a high water mark for summer blockbusters.

Shooting from the Lip


 A Million Ways to Die in the West

by George Wolf


Picture Seth MacFarlane cracking wise as he watches an old western, and you’re probably not far from the inspiration for A Million Ways to Die in the West.

So how well do MacFarlane’s modern comedy cow patties work when dropped into a pasture of Old West cliches?

Pretty dang well, pardner.

MacFarlane, who co-writes and directs, also stars as Albert, a timid sheep farmer who’s brokenhearted over losing Louise (Amanda Seyfried) to the dashing Foy, owner of the town mustache emporium (Neil Patrick Harris).

Things start looking up when Anna (Charlize Theron) rides into town, and as she and Albert get friendly, Anna conveniently forgets to mention she’s already married to Clinch (Liam Neeson), the most feared gunslinger in the land.

With MacFarlane, you pretty much know what’s coming:  cutaway gags to reinforce a line, toilet humor, and sex jokes (turned up a notch here by the always-demure Sarah Silverman as a town prostitute). But the film also has good fun with the historical setting, as Albert often reacts to his world like a wiseass who just arrived from the future.

Even so, MacFarlane is wise enough not to resort to outright mockery, always keeping the door cracked open just enough to let some homage shine through.

The chemistry between MacFarlane and Theron helps loads. You saw it when she helped him with a bit during his stint as Oscar host in 2012 and you see it here:  they really like each other, and she thinks he’s really funny. Together, they’re a charming pair.

The middle suffers a bit from comedy drought, but the laughs come faster as Albert nears his final showdown with the evil Clinch. Expect a cast more than ready to poke fun at themselves, some very clever songs, a few inspired cameos and two extra scenes after the credits start rolling.

A Million Ways to Die in the West is a big, broad idea that’s thrown on the screen with more frenzy than focus. But will you laugh?

Darn tootin’.