MOVIE BUFF-ET: Kubo a strong animated adventure; Don’t Breathe offers little thrill

(Focus Features / TNS)

With Zootopia in the spring and Finding Dory and The Secret Life of Pets this summer, it’s already been an extremely strong year for animated movies. Kubo and the Two Strings made this year even stronger.

By far the most original of the year’s animated fare, the story of Kubo, voiced by Art Parkinson, is an ominous tale of a young orphaned boy’s quest to discover the mystery of his father’s death and possibly earn immortality. Kubo’s journey pits him against his grandfather the Moon King, voiced by Ralph Fiennes, and a gaggle of other demons and monsters before the final showdown.

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However, Kubo, a musically gifted Japanese boy who lost an eye as a baby, is aided by two defenders the cantankerous and always serious Monkey (Charlize Theron) and the slightly dim but fun-loving Beetle (Mathew McConaughey), a human-bug hybrid samurai warrior on his hero’s journey. The duo bickers colorfully as they help protect Kubo as he searches for the Moon King.

The lushly animated film by Laika, the studio that produced Coralline and ParaNorman, combines stop-motion animation and CGI to craft a visually stunning film that perfectly delineates the mythic scope of the tale that blends Joseph Campbell’s iconic story structure with traditional Japanese tales of samurai warriors.

Kubo’s gift is animating origami paper with a lute-like instrument called a shamisen. Once he tracks down his grandfather, Kubo must decide whether he wants to forfeit his lone remaining eye to the Moon King in exchange for immortality or take his chances in battle with his grandfather.

The adventure is thrilling, enchanting, and a little bit scary. Parents of very sensitive children might want to view it first. However, the movie is excellent, one a child might cherish for a lifetime.

(PG) 1 hr. 41 min.
Grade: A

Don’t Breath

(Sony Pictures Releasing)

I may not offer the most helpful opinion on a movie like Don’t Breathe. The movie is generally getting glowing reviews for a horror movie, but it fell flat to me.

Possibly the strong word-of-mouth built my expectations too high, but other than a couple of gotcha scenes, the film was just ho hum.

The movie is filled with violence and brutality, but it left something to be desired on my suspense meter. My highest anxiety was during the opening few minutes and from there the sensation dimmed to curiosity, to complacency and then to sighing boredom. There was nothing there that hadn’t seen done more effectively in other films or TV programs.

Perhaps my problem was that up to a point I had more empathy for the muscled-up, blind veteran Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang) than for the three young punks who broke into his house to steal his money.

At the point when we learn what Nordstrom has actually been up to in his decrepit old home in a nearly abandoned Detroit neighborhood, my empathy didn’t shift to the other characters. It merely evaporated along with any patience I had left for the movie.

I made it through the end of the movie, but walking out of the theater, my main thought was what did I miss that so many other saw?

(R) 1 hr. 28. Min.
Grade: D

Classic Corner

Trouble Along the Way

John Wayne’s best remembered for his Westerns and war movies, but The Duke could do more than amble across the prairie and storm foxholes. Proof is his 1953 romantic comedy Trouble Along the Way, directed by the great Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood, White Christmas among many others).

Wayne plays once-famous college football coach Steve Williams who after a fall from grace is relegated to life as a pool-hall bookie to make ends meet for him and his 11-year-old, tomboy daughter Carole (Sherry Jackson).

St. Anthony’s College is about as down on its luck as Williams. In hopes of pulling the school out of debt the rector, Father Burke, a delightful Charles Coburn, looks pasts Williams’ shady past and hires him to coach the school’s football program.

Burke’s angle is to use his ties within the Catholic Church to schedule other big-name Catholic universities like Notre Dame and Boston College to play St. Anthony’s. The resulting paydays would keep the college’s doors open.

When Williams learns who his team has to play, he hires a crack coaching staff including a former player Steve, played by Chuck Connors of The Rifleman fame, who helps him find more mature players, if you will, to enroll in St. Anthony’s and give his team a fighting chance.

Williams is also embroiled custody battle with his ex-wife over Carol, and is facing an uphill battle because social worker Alice Singleton (Donna Reed) has a grudge against single fathers who have custody of daughters.

Eagle-eyed viewers might spot an uncredited James Dean as football spectator, and Merv Griffin as a P.A. announcer.

The movie’s fast, funny, and heartwarming. Certainly Curtiz, Wayne, and Reed made better films in their illustrious careers, but it’s hard not to get a kick out of Wayne playing a hard-nosed football coach with a marshmallow heart.