Ben-Hur Jack Huston

Romans, Stop-Motion, and War: August 19's New Movies

Friday, August 19, 2016 Rob Samuelson

It’s supposed to be gross and hot this weekend in Chicago, people. Go ahead and take a break for a couple hours to cool off at the movies. There are a few new ones coming out, all three of which are potentially well worth your time. Give ‘em a look-see.

Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Writers: Keith R. Clarke, John Ridley
Starring: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Ayelet Zurer

Family rivalries can get intense. Like, “accusing your brother of treason and sending him off to exile at sea” intense. That’s the basis of the new remake, Ben-Hur. The title character, played by Jack Huston (American Hustle), is the Roman soldier accused of betraying his empire by his brother. Ben-Hur returns to the home country and competes in chariot races as a form of redemption. People fall off horse drawn wagons, things (and people) get mangled, and everyone has a good time.
Director Timur Bekmambetov is known for being more miss than hit. I can only speak to his 2008 effort, Wanted, which looked cool by updating techniques from The Matrix even if it didn’t make a lick of sense narratively. But if you’re into white knuckle action, have at it.

Kubo and the Two Strings
Director: Travis Knight
Writers: Marc Haimes, Chris Butler, Shannon Tindle
Starring: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes

Kubo (Art Parkinson from Game of Thrones) is a little warrior kid who is sent on a quest to live up to his fallen father’s reputation. Joining him is Monkey (Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey, True Detective) in order to take down an evil spirit. The setup is standard hero’s journey stuff, most likely, but when it’s done with stop-motion animation and created by a production company, Laika, with a great reputation for off-kilter animated films in recent years (The Boxtrolls, Coraline), special things can happen. In fact, everything I’ve seen (trailers, Twitter discussion, posters) has made Kubo and the Two Strings sound like a delight, full of heart and humor. That’s tough to beat, folks.

War Dogs
Director: Todd Phillips
Writers: Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips, Jason Smilovic
Starring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper

The Iraq war was bad for humanity as a whole, but for people who make and sell weapons, it was good. Very good. In The Hangover director Todd Phillips’s latest, War Dogs, he profiles the rise of a pair of 20-something grade school buddies (Jonah Hill and Miles Teller) who went from standard young people jobs to selling illegal weapons to people on terrorist watch lists. Because money is the only thing that matters.

War Dogs appears to be Phillips branching out into more dramatic territory, much like his contemporary Adam McKay (Anchorman) did with last year’s Oscar-nominated The Big Short. I’ve thought for a while that Phillips is among the most visually-inclined comedic directors in a long time, so it should be fun to see him get the budget to shoot the action of deals gone bad in Iraq, while adding some wry satire over everything.

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