Feudal Japan is a terrifying playground in Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo teaches valuable lessons in film veiwership against a stunning backdrop

‘If you must blink, do it now.’ These words are spoken at the start of Kubo and the Two Strings by our protagonist and set the tone for the rest of the film, which talks to its young audience in a straight forward and non-patronising way throughout. ‘Pay careful attention to everything you see no matter how unusual it may seem,’ it begs active viewing, to watch it intently, to notice all the little details of the world and piece them together. ‘If you look away, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish.’ It is a story about stories, and it drills home the simple idea that a story is nothing without people to hear it. A moral that lends the film an air of sadness due to its current box office shortcomings, having the lowest opening of any of Laika’s previous films (Coraline, Paranorman, The Boxtrolls)

From the very first scene this movie marvels in its visuals and doesn’t stop until after the closing credits. The opening scene fills the screen with wild walls of water, harking back to Hokusai’s Great Wave, which influences every aspect of the film’s design. The world of the film makes Feudal Japan a playground, mixing the mythological with the traditional, placing secular magic side by side with notes strung from a three stringed shamisen that propel origami stage plays.

Kubo is the type of film that transports you to a completely new world, one that is never overly explained but is always dense and detailed in the background. Scenes that take place in ‘the far lands’ are filled with elegant background details that are left to the viewer to interpret, ‘pay careful attention to everything you see, no matter how unusual it may seem’. The history of the world is only spoken about, stories are told of the great Samurai Hanzo but never shown through flashbacks, they are left to the interpretation of the viewer and their surrogate Kubo. The stories of the world are how you make it and you really get the impression that the actions of Kubo and friends are creating a story that will be told about in the same way that stories of Hanzo are lauded around crowds.

But where the movie really excels is in its design. The stop motion is so smooth it can sometimes go unnoticed, but the craftsmanship can be spotted in any frame if you pay attention. The villains are incredibly villainous and nightmarish in a way that would stick in a kid’s mind. There are battle scenes within the film that are loaded with a sense of grandeur, that feel like Zelda boss battles.

I have a keen interest in chidren’s entertainment and the way that the essential morals need to be intertwined with a complete story. The limitations of the media lead to interesting choices and compromises. Kubo impresses me with the way it deals with danger and light horror, it puts you in mind of earlier generation kid’s movies like The Neverending Story or Labyrinth, which blend imagination and fantasy with an undercurrent of real danger. The brutal treatment of the characters has a real weight to it. There is a moment in Kubo that takes place on a ship in the middle of a storm where I was genuinely concerned for Kubo, Monkey and Beetle’s lives for separate reasons, and this is a feeling I didn’t have while watching any Pixar movie (with the exception of Toy Story 3). The film builds a sense of greatness, dread and stakes while still maintaining its small scale charm, it has few characters so it fleshes them out nicely and keeps the story feeling self-contained and familiar along with a grand overarching plot.


Go see this movie, give it your money, let studios know that this is the type of entertainment that is needed for kids. Real danger, high stakes, iconic design that will last that is not just loaded down with pop culture references and cutesy talking animals.

The film transported me as a grown up and should last for years in the mind of any children who see it. Scare your children, teach them a lesson.

Hell or High Water adds grey clouds to the Western landscape

Hell or High Water feels in love with the western and embraces it’s origins

There’s a fine line between action and saturation, and an even finer line between anticipation and boredom, many films have trouble with this balance but not Hell or High Water. The film drops you right into post-recession Texas, hitting you over the head with exposition and one moment later you are in a bank, and the bank is being robbed. There’s humour in the scene and thrills and an immediate Coen brothers air of people being way out of their depth. It pushes you right off into the deep end and once you’ve gotten your breath back it pushes your head back under the water. It does this for almost two hours straight.

Being, in essence, a road movie, the story moves pretty fast, hopping from place to place and never repeating itself. It presents itself as a series of vignettes and character moments, fleshing out its two power couples organically throughout without ever feeling too try hard. One scene near the beginning is all it takes, in which bank robber brothers Toby (Chris Pines) and Tanner (Ben Foster) neatly lay out their motivations. The scene is wonderfully framed outside of a farmhouse, a large steel windpump loudly creaking behind all the talking. Their relationship is unwieldly and bound for danger. Officers Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Parker (Gil Birmingham) motivations are simple, they’re cops, they’re going to hunt robbers.

The film feels in love with the western and embraces its origins, the settings being of small towns filled with local people wearing cowboy hats and moustaches. It wears its influences proudly, the brothers gain their head start due to a technological fault at the bank, allowing them to engage in the freewheeling banditry of the old west. The cop and his native American sidekick must put into place old school police work and rely on testimony rather than CCTV footage. The robberies are a response to a ploy to steal land. The film harks back to the past thematically and literally, through the mouth of Bridges’ soon to be retired cop and through the stoic Native American mouthpiece, Parker, which brings me to my biggest criticism of the film.

Through all the subtle touches and symbolism in the movie, the film draws nice little parallels to class struggles and the American frontier without feeling too forced or preachy, that is until the point where Parker points to a Texas bank and basically says to the audience “here is the message of the film. Banks are bad, okay?” The scene was jarring and way too on the nose for a film so restraint. That being said I can’t be upset about this, the film is smartly written, funny and stunningly beautiful at times. If my biggest complaint about a movie is my only complaint, then it’s done pretty well for itself.


A rare type of film that feels both nostalgic and current, pulled together by good performances and funny interactions. Jeff Bridges provides the comedic glue and Ben Foster brings the sleaze.

Western fans should love it; its desert towns are the perfect setting for the crime. The action is spread out so that when it hits it hits hard. Not a fast paced thriller, although the 100 minutes did fly by.

Don’t Breathe makes sound the ultimate villain

Don’t Breathe cuts through the horror movie chaff and gets to the good stuff

Don’t Breathe is a movie that is clearly excited by its own premise, the movie cannot wait to get its audience into the blind man’s house and let the hunt begin. We get as few scenes as possible to identify with our characters before we are locked in to the house and the real story can begin. When the house is broken into all senses are heightened and dialogue is all but thrown out the window. Putting pressure on the non-verbal elements of the film to carry the audience’s attention. It’s a film that succeeds in visual storytelling, keeping viewers aware enough to piece together the narrative without feeling slow or removing any of the mystique.

The film cuts through the horror movie chaff and gets to the good stuff by limiting its clunky dialogue as much as possible. Each silent moment is both a breath of fresh air and a step up a ladder that could be knocked down at any moment. Don’t Breathe treats its disabled antagonist in the way that horror movie monster’s should be treated, keeping him in darkness and in doorways, shrouded in black and hulking over cowering victims, grunting and growling under his breath like an animal. The effect of his blindness lends him an uneasy air as he stands staring just to the left or right of where he should be, making his presence in the scene seem surreal and misplaced.

The movie should be commended for its simplicity, it takes a simple concept and runs with it for as long as it can. Taking place almost entirely in one location, it squeezes as much as it can out of the woodwork of the house, crawling through crawl spaces and checking every window for an escape. The interior of the house is magnificently introduced to us through one long sweeping take which winks to the audience so hard it could burst a blood vessel, pointing out narrative devices with every pan. The film does seem more self-aware than would be expected, it takes its characters to their extremes, imbibing its blind villain with what is essentially sonar, its situations an ever increasing farce of missed chances and close calls. At times almost devolving into silent comedy routines.

Far from being perfect the film does seem to lose steam with its central premise, adding an extra level of villainy to the blind man that feels somewhat tacked on just to prevent every audience member from rooting for brutal murder. The characters are as thinly defined as can be expected from a typical horror movie and the film seems to end four or five times (each less satisfying than the last), but you shouldn’t go to see Don’t Breathe to see a character study, it is an exercise in teeth grinding suspense and in that it succeeds.


A great pick to see while it is still in cinemas. As most people watching will be holding their breath you should avoid people talking during the film.

The film is easy to digest and sink into. Tense from the minute that it wants to be, slow but not boring. Excellently crafted; it is a simple, entertaining and trashy thriller.