On DVD & Blu-Ray: November 23, 2016


Sometimes things just click. We've all seen instances where they don't. In fact, most movies seem like they could be examples of experiments that don't always pay off in the way the writers/directors/creative people hope they might, but this feels especially true when it comes to Laika productions. Coraline was a solid venture and a full on experience in the style of animation and kind of twisted tone of story that the production company would come to specialize in. With ParaNorman the studio would essentially excel at achieving what they set out to do. Complimenting the twisted and frightening elements of their storytelling with humorous characters and eccentric production design that was just quirky enough so as to not be legitimately scary. It was only with 2014's The Boxtrolls that the pieces felt as if they were all present and yet the final product didn't come together as those in charge of story and execution hoped they might. There were still elements that were visually stunning about the picture, but the script found trouble communicating its larger ideas with a premise that didn't hook audiences as well as the infinitely comforting ParaNorman did. This brings us to Kubo and the Two Strings and how Laika has more or less again found a balance of all these ambitions it desires to display both visually and story wise. It may not be a perfectly balanced package of all these ingredients, but as a whole Kubo is endlessly charming and to go one step further, wholly enchanting. Whether it be in the outstanding visuals that are abundantly creative at conveying the necessary story points of this folktale like narrative or the fully realized cast of characters that make stop motion animation feel more life-like than ever Kubo is a genuine treat. Why it is so hard to define or provide concrete reasoning as to why something works so well when all the pieces fall into place is simply by virtue of the fact it is more about the emotional reaction it stirs up in the viewer rather than anything analytical. Though Kubo has a few shortcomings in trying to clearly relay exactly what its story is trying to say as well as in the fact it didn't hit me with as much emotional heft as I expected given the first act of the film packs a tough punch it is still too beautiful and very much an achievement in visual storytelling that it would be a shame to hold too much against it. Video review here. Full review here. B

As the wise one, The Notorious B.I.G., prophesied long ago, "the more money we come across the more problems we see." Though Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) lived his life by the codes taught to him in 1983's Scarface it was this piece of knowledge spit in the 1997 hit of the same name by B.I.G. himself that ended up resonating most in Diveroli's life. Diveroli comes to learn this wasn't just a catchy phrase spurned by a rags to riches hip hop artist, but that those words carried real weight in the fact that the more wealth one begins to attain that jealousy and envy are things that simply come with the territory. In War Dogs, director Todd Phillips (Old School, The Hangover) along with co-writers Jason Smilovic (Lucky Number Slevin) and Stephen Chin have taken the incredibly outrageous true story of Diveroli and his childhood best friend David Packouz (Miles Teller) and turned it into something of a strange hybrid of a war drama and comedy where the drama and comedy is inherent to the situation when one has two stoners who become big-time weapons traders. As troublesome as it may be, it is indeed a true story lifted from the article originally published in Rolling Stone by Guy Lawson. It is at one point a case study in all that is wrong with government procurement systems done in satirical fashion as it also criticizes government procurement systems by exploiting how easily two twenty-somethings from Miami secured millions of dollars' worth of weapons contracts from not only the Pentagon, but to arm America's allies in Afghanistan. While Phillips and his co-writers are certainly quick to ridicule and expose this process for how asinine it would seem to give such power to any such individual who wants to sell guns and ammo the writer/director is also quick to supply a throughline of the benefits provided these two young men and the lessons and knowledge they no doubt retained even if much of their time was spent snorting cocaine and hanging out in clubs when they should have been in the office conducting business given it was midday in most of the countries where their clients were located. Phillips simultaneously wants to celebrate that such individuals were able to pull off something as massive as they did, no matter how circumstantial it ultimately was, while at the same time exposing the government for how loosely and even thoughtlessly it spends the tax payer's money. To this point, War Dogs isn't a highly political film and it certainly doesn't have its head in the clouds about ideas or themes it could potentially relay from the insane situation it chronicles, but by more or less delivering a straightforward account of the story and allowing the characters and situations to speak for themselves the larger implications are automatically present.Video review here. Full review here. B

I saw the 2011 Simon West re-make of the seventies era Charles Bronson film, The Mechanic, starring Jason Statham as an elite assassin with a unique talent for eliminating targets and making it look like it was an accident. I'm pretty sure I saw that one. I did. I know I did because I generally enjoy these no-brainer action flicks Statham pops out randomly once or twice a year, but why this admittedly forgettable re-make from five years ago needed a sequel is unclear. Unclear really isn't the right word though, as this thing is totally unnecessary and that's obvious from the get-go. There is no ambition behind the product, there is no flair to the fight sequences, and the bigger action "spectacle" looks so cheap this may as well have run after Sharknado 7 on the Syfy network. Still, we have Mechanic: Resurrection because why not at this point? If one is interested in this sequel it will undoubtedly be due to the fact they either love seeing Jason Statham beat people up or they have a general affinity for bad movies. The thing with Mechanic: Resurrection though is that it's not even a good bad movie. Guilty pleasures, if you will, give audiences something to enjoy despite the obvious shortcomings of the overall product whereas with Mechanic: Resurrection there is very little to enjoy at all. So sure, I like to think of myself as a Statham fan especially when he's given the opportunity to take these archetypal action heroes and turn them into brooding bad asses that actually are action heroes with none of the nonsense that differentiates him from say, the James Bond franchise. Statham doesn't normally mess with the fancy gadgets or the outlandish cars, but more he goes in, takes care of business, and escapes before the cops show up. In short, he's no nonsense, but that's all Mechanic: Resurrection is. Still, I can feel that for people who only venture out to the movies once or twice a year and who, will for some reason pick this as one of the two movies they'll see this year, will inevitably find it to hit all the right spots and send them home happy due to the fact it met their expectations for an action movie with an evil European villain, but to them I say, "please spend your money on anything else-Hell or High Water if it's playing near you or Star Trek Beyond if it hasn't disappeared from theaters yet." Both are prime examples of B-movies done right; utilizing their genre restrictions in fun and refreshing ways whereas the only B-word to describe this latest Statham movie is bad. Just plain bad. Video review here. Full review here. F

Hell or High Water opens with a 360° shot of a small, West Texas town that is more or less deserted. Panning what looks to be one of the main roads through town the audience is meant to note the several for sale signs, the others offering loans, and most prominently a piece of graffiti that states, "3 tours in Iraq, but no bailout for people like us." Hell or High Water immediately tells us its stance on the story it will be relaying in that it concludes this opening, single take with two masked men entering the small town's bank and requesting only loose bills, no stacks or, in other words, the banks money and not the peoples. In this expertly crafted opening sequence director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) displays a knack for visually highlighting exactly what he wants us to focus on. Beyond the visual style Mackenzie adopts for this story that captures the flatlands of West Texas and its expansive plains in gorgeous hues is his adeptness at capturing the necessary atmosphere to complement the specific kind of tone which naturally influences the overall mood of his film. In short, everything falls into place perfectly with the pacing of the picture which is as close to a perfectly paced film as anything I've seen this year. We are thrown into the action of a bank robbery that is quickly undermined by the inherent humor that comes from human interactions while noting specifically the mentality of these Texans in which the movie will very much hang its trust and pride. The setting is established, the framing of this setting's attitude and character is made apparent, and only then are we introduced to the men behind the ski masks-brothers Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine). As with the setting we can see who these two brothers are from very early on. Foster's Tanner is the free-wheeling, living in the moment sort that will take whatever action makes him feel good whereas Pine's Toby lives more by a moral code with his eyes firmly planted on the end goal rather than what feels best in the moment. Toby doesn't like to deviate from the plan, but Tanner couldn't be more primed to be unreliably ecstatic as he's just been released from prison less than a year prior to the events we're seeing. It is in these two characters that Hell or High Water finds its most valuable assets; relaying its many ideas through the guise of two desperate men sticking it to the man. Full review here. A+

More than anything Hands of Stone is frustrating because there is clearly a large scale to the film and real ambition from both writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz and the entire cast, but as is true with many a biopics Hands of Stone tries to do and tell its audience too much in too short a time span inadvertently making the film more about a series of events than the characters participating in those events. In theory this is supposed to be a movie about the relationship between Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán (Edgar Ramírez) and legendary trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro) and while this goal is communicated well enough and understood there are so many extraneous things going on around these two central characters the film becomes distracted by its own plot strands. The word I'm looking for is "scattershot." Hands of Stone is a broad strokes approach to the biopic, but in being so it communicates such key elements in haphazard ways thus forcing the audience to not invest as much as they should or even want to. Granted, the film does certain things right as this viewer in particular had no prior knowledge of Durán or his story yet I was immediately interested in the real life events the film was depicting. That is all to say the film is a little all over the place. This especially becomes true after the film effortlessly builds to Durán's first bout with Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond) and completes that fight within the first hour of the film. While the film could have certainly told us all we needed to know about Durán through the lens of his Sugar Ray fights and all of the drama those entailed Hands of Stone instead feels the need to go further by not only telling us Durán's story as a boxer, but his story as a Panamanian activist, Arcel's story that deals with the New York City mob and a long-lost daughter even going as far to include Leonard's perspective on certain things. Add in the familial drama that Durán creates and deals in with wife Felicidad Iglesias (Ana de Armas) and their five children and there is enough material here for an HBO miniseries. Unfortunately, Hands of Stone is a feature film that clocks in under two hours and while it carries real momentum in the first hour leading up to that first showdown with Sugar Ray that energy is largely lost in the second half of the film leaving us with a movie that might have been something really special and unique did it not try so desperately to adhere to the worn-out sports drama template. Full review here. C

Set in the Great White North of Canada, Yoga Hosers tells the story of Colleen Collette and Colleen McKenzie - two teenage besties from Winnipeg who spend their lives doing Yoga with their faces in their phones, 'Liking' or 'Not Liking' the real world around them. But when these Sophomore girls are invited to a Senior party by the school hottie, the Colleens accidentally uncover an ancient evil, long buried beneath the Manitoba earth.

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