Movie Review: “Kubo and the Two Strings”

Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei
Travis Knight

“If you must blink, do it now,” warns the narrator of “Kubo and the Two Strings,” a movie so confident in its eye-popping visuals and brilliant storytelling that it knows you won’t want to miss a single moment. It’s advice you’ll definitely want to follow, because after the disappointment of 2014’s “The Boxtrolls,” Portland-based animation studio Laika is back at the top of its game with this wildly inventive adventure film that’s packed with the kind of sincerity and heartfelt emotion you rarely find in the medium, Pixar excluded. But “Kubo and the Two Strings” is more than just a return to form for the studio; it’s their funniest and finest movie to date – an absolutely delightful fairy tale that will likely go down as one of the year’s best.

In feudal Japan, a young, one-eyed boy named Kubo (Art Parkinson) has been tasked with taking care of his sick mother in their remote mountain home. During the day, Kubo goes down to the nearby village to tell stories about the legendary samurai Hanzo with his magical samisen, a traditional, three-stringed Japanese instrument that can manipulate colorful sheets of paper into animated origami figures that move and dance with the strum of a string. When he doesn’t heed his mother’s warning and stays out after dark one night, however, Kubo inadvertently summons his evil twin aunts (Rooney Mara), who have been sent by his grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), to steal his other eye. Kubo’s mother comes to his rescue just in time, sacrificing herself to save him and using her last bit of magic to bring to life a wooden monkey charm that serves as his guardian. With the help of Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a cursed man-beetle warrior (Matthew McConaughey) with no memory of his previous life, Kubo must embark on a quest to retrieve the three pieces of Hanzo’s fabled gold armor in order to defeat his vengeful family.

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Movie Review: “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”

Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Charlize Theron, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith
Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Snow White and the Huntsman” wasn’t a terrible movie, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that was craving another installment, especially one without its titular heroine. Plans for a proper sequel were reportedly axed in the aftermath of Kristen Stewart’s scandalous affair with director Rupert Sanders, so Universal forged ahead with a Huntsman-centric film instead, relegating Snow White to a mere footnote. (Though she’s still hanging around the kingdom somewhere, she’s only mentioned in passing.) That may seem a bit harsh for a would-be franchise originally built around the Snow White tale, but the studio has tried to distract from Stewart’s absence with the casting of A-listers like Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain. However, while both actresses help to class up the movie, no amount of talent can save “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” from its dull and completely pointless existence.

In a lengthy prologue set before the events of “Snow White and the Huntsman,” we learn that the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) has a younger sister named Freya (Blunt), who flees to the north to rule her own kingdom after a tragic betrayal turns her heart ice-cold and awakens her dormant magical powers. In order to conquer the land, Freya trains an army of Huntsmen using orphaned children from the nearby villages and forbids them to love. But when she discovers that two of her best warriors, Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Chastain), have developed a secret relationship over the years and plan to defy Freya by running away together, she sentences them to death.

Eric miraculously survives, and seven years later, he’s living a peaceful life within Snow White’s kingdom following Ravenna’s demise. However, when her Magic Mirror is stolen while being transported to a place called the Sanctuary, where its dark power can be contained, Eric teams up with a pair of boisterous dwarfs (Nick Frost’s returning Nion and Rob Brydon’s newbie Gryff) to track it down before it falls into the wrong hands. During his journey, Eric crosses paths with a very much alive Sara – whose death, it turns out, was simply a trick played on him by the ice queen – and must regain her trust to stop Freya from retrieving the mirror for her own nefarious reasons.

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Movie Review: “A Million Ways to Die in the West”

Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Liam Neeson
Seth MacFarlane

There’s a reason why there aren’t many comedy Westerns, and even fewer that are actually any good, and that’s because the subgenre as a whole is very difficult to pull off. So you have to credit Seth MacFarlane for not only having the cojones to follow up “Ted” with such an offbeat genre hybrid film, but actually succeed where so many others have failed. “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is probably his most ambitious project to date, and although that may sound strange for a man who made a movie about a talking teddy bear, it’s nice to see a filmmaker with that kind of confidence. Like most things in MacFarlane’s career, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is guaranteed to divide audiences, but it’s a really solid comedy with more than enough laughs to offset its minor shortcomings.

MacFarlane stars as Albert, a cowardly sheep farmer who’s astutely aware of just how horrible life is in 1882 Arizona. After weaseling his way out of a gun fight, Albert’s embarrassed girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him for Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), the arrogant owner of the local moustachery. While contemplating leaving town for a fresh start, Albert saves a beautiful woman named Anna (Charlize Theron) and they immediately bond over their shared hatred of the Wild West. When Albert challenges Foy to a duel in the hope of winning back Louise, Anna agrees to help him become a better gunfighter, falling for the lovable loser in the process. But what Albert doesn’t realize is that Anna is married to a dangerous outlaw named Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), who rides into town upon hearing of Anna’s infidelity to kill the man that stole his woman.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Ivana Milicevic (“Banshee”)

Ivana Milicevic is one of the sexiest dorks you’ll ever meet. Hey, don’t laugh: if you were wise enough to tune in to the premiere of her new Cinemax series, “Banshee,” when it made its debut on Friday, then you already know that my assessment of her sexiness is on the money, but having actually sat in her presence and chatted with her one-on-one for 20 minutes or so, trust me, she’s a big ol’ dork. But if you’re wondering, let me assure you that this is an amazingly awesome combination. During our conversation, there was much discussion of “Banshee,” of course, but we also touched on more than a few of her earlier credits as well, including everything from “Seinfeld” to “Casino Royale” to “Jerry Maguire” to “Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest,” a range which I think we can all agree is very wide indeed.

Bullz-Eye: An obligatory question to start out: how did you find your way into “Banshee”?

Ivana Milicevic: [Places palms flat on table.] Will, let me tell you.

BE: Please do.

IM: I read the script – ‘cause I was reading millions of scripts, because it was pilot season – and I was, like, “Wha…?!?”It was so good. I loved it. And I was madly in love with Greg Yaitanes because I had done an episode of “House” with him. Like, a season-finale “House” episode that was really fun to do, and he was so fun and easy to work with. And I had been touch with him because of…he was getting me on Twitter in the early days. This was, like, five years ago. But I loved “Banshee.” I had to go in a lot of times. I had to fight for it. I met Antony, we had this instant chemistry that just…

Image ALT text goes here.

BE: That’s what he said.

IM: He said that, too?

BE: Yeah. In fact, I think he even made the same hand gesture to indicate “instant chemistry.”

IM: [Laughs.] Did he really? That’s so funny. But we do! It’s kind of true. We get along, but we’re also like black and white. So that makes exactly what you’re looking for: a polarity. It just worked. And I think that’s how come I got the job. And then I was really happy, Will, because… [Drops voice down to a whisper.] I had to play it. I had to play this part.

BE: You don’t say.

IM: I did! Because I get to be a mother, so I get to love my family. And I love my real family, so I just love to play that. And I get to be in love…with two men! [Laughs.] And I get to kick ass. And I get to be sexy. Because if not now, Will, when? When?

BE: I hear you.

IM: Because I’m European, and I like that sexy stuff.

BE: Well, Americans are rather fond of it, too.

IM: Well, sure. Who isn’t? [Laughs.]

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