In an unavoidable change to our regularly scheduled episode, we are bringing you instead a bit of a retrospective of some of our favourite reviews from the start of the second year of our podcast. If you’re relatively new to the podcast, we hope you find this informative, and if you’ve been with us from the start, firstly, thank you, and secondly we hope you enjoy this walk down memory lane, or feel free to instead contemplate something beautiful for an hour and a half.

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Gods of Egypt

On a personal level, the thing about Alex Proyas movies is that no matter how poor the general consensus of them is, I’m still going to watch them because at one point he made Dark City, and there’s always the chance that might happen again, even if what we actually get is I, Robot or this dumpster fire.

In the midst of a nice orderly transition of godly power between Osiris (Bryan Brown) and his still somewhat hedonistic, irresponsible son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), all-round bad apple Set (Gerard Butler) reappears from exile, seizing the Egyptian throne, killing Osiris, defeating Horus, stealing both his eyes and his girl, Hathor (Elodie Yung). Bad times.

Horus is exiled, and while Set and his cronies wage war against other gods refusing to kowtow to Set’s brutal regime, two mortal lovers Bek (Brenton Thwaites) and Zaya (Courtney Eaton) are separated in the chaos. Bek eventually tracks Zaya down, finding her enslaved to Egypt’s master builder (Rufus Sewell). After taking a swatch at the plans for the more devious traps in Set’s treasure vaults, Zaya asks Bek to steal back Horus’ eye and return it to him, in the hopes he will fight against Set.

Bek meets with some success, retrieving one of the eyes, but on returning to Zaya to break her out of enslavement she’s killed during their escape. Arriving at Horus’s distant temple, he bargains with Horus to return Zaya from the dead in exchange for returning Horus’ eye and helping to obtain the other. Horus promises he can do this, but only after defeating Set and reclaiming his position as rightful King of Egypt. The two team up against the overwhelming odds of Set’s forces, in what I’m sure in at least one draft seemed like an entertaining action adventure.

It’s difficult to know where to start with Gods of Egypt, really. Casting isn’t the main problem, and most of the people working here I like or, at worst, don’t really mind, but there’s an indication very early on that something’s badly wrong as soon as Bryan Brown opens his mouth. And I don’t really mind Bryan Brown, but the role clearly calls for a measured, stately, and, well, regal, tone, and that’s not the primary fire mode on Bryan Brown’s acting arsenal. He does his best, and it’s hardly embarrassing on its own merit let alone relative to the rest of the film, but there just seems to be no thought behind the casting decision.

Or most of the rest of the details. There’s a general overarching concept that, to be honest, isn’t too bad of an idea. It’s the same as fellow clunkers Clash and Wrath of the Titans_, doing something along the lines of Jason and the Argonauts, but with the CG horsepower available to us in space year 20XX. It ought to be a welcome change of pace from the tentpole comic book adaptations that dominate the landscape of late, but this is poorly executed on pretty much every level.

As mentioned there’s a lot of actors in here I like, but they are to a person terrible in here, and in particular the double act between Coster-Waldau and Thwaites is a charisma vacuum, and as that’s pretty much the lynch-pin of any human interest in the story that’s a problem. I’m reluctant to apportion any blame, as the dialogue they have to work with is sub-standard, to put it politely.

Likewise the supporting cast is given no help script-wise and understandably flounder, in particular the exceptionally poorly written God of Knowledge Thoth (poor Chadwick Boseman). There’s perhaps a few moments where the patented Butler brand bombast ties in well with the overblown dialogue, but not many of them, making Set a roundly average antagonist.

Clearly the bulk of the money handed over to director Alex Proyas has went into the CG, of which there is all of it, and of which nary a single frame looks convincing. A decision was made for Gods to be substantially taller than humans, which is again the sort of decision that seems reasonable in the abstract, but someone should have taken one look at the first composite scene with Little and Large and rethought the idea. I’ll give it this – throughout the two hours it never stops looking laughable, which is some small achievement, at least.

The politest thing I can say about the CG style is that it’s consistent – unfortunately it’s consistently ugly, brash and cheap-looking, but at least they’ve remained true to their aesthetic. To be fair some of the virtual sets and landscapes pass muster, but the action scenes certainly do not, particularly in the Godo-a-Godo fight between Set and Horus at the film’s conclusion, against a backdrop of the sandworm from Dune eating the Nile after Set backstabs his Grandfather Ra (Geoffrey Rush) for reasons I’m not sure were ever explained, apart from “Set’s a total dickhole”.

Now, I’m no longer the roundly negative bucket of anger and hatred that I was in my earlier years, and as such I’m not often prone to crucifying films any more. I’m very tempted to make any exception for this, but it veers too often into ‘boring’ rather than ‘horrible’ to truly lay into this. But even giving Gods of Egypt my rosiest possible write-up, it’s still challenging for the title of “Worst Film I’ve Seen This Year”.

Just leave it. He’s not worth it.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars

Speaking of the more fanciful era of Mars, Robinson Crusoe on Mars presents us with a representative sample and also a rare instance of the elevator pitch surviving to become the title of the finished film.

The core attraction for me in this film was a screenshot of Adam West and a monkey, so it’s a bit of a downer to find out that the pre-Batman TV Show West wasn’t a big enough star to make it past the first ten minutes, as his Col. Dan McReady doesn’t survive a crash landing after their vessel takes emergency maneuvers to avoid a rogue comet and makes an unintended trip to the surface.

All is not lost, as Paul Mantee’s Cmdr. Christopher ‘Kit’ Draper survives the crash, along with ship’s monkey Mona. Don’t ask. Like all good shipwreck survival stories, they must overcome the odds and find at least the first few levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. So, while recording infrequent logs describing his activities, he goes about trying to find sources of food and water, then starts exploring the surroundings, making a startling discovery that he is not alone on the Red Planet.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars raises far more questions than it answers, or even addresses in any form at all. Why is there a breathable atmosphere on Mars? Why do the the rocks produce oxygen when heated? What’s the deal with these randomly roaming fireballs? Why is there water on Mars? Why is there a race of human slaves on Mars? Who’s enslaving them? Why, when it seems very much like they have more advanced spacecraft, don’t they care that much about humans invading their territory? Why is there a plant on Mars that grows pepperoni sausages? Why are the pepperoni sausages safe if eaten raw but powerful hallucinogens when cooked? Why did they bring a monkey to Mars?

Now, as the film doesn’t seem to spend any time at all considering these questions, I don’t suppose it’s worth our time doing so either. This film very much takes advantage of the question marks over what conditions on Mars were at the time, which is perhaps its greatest failing for modern audiences. If we can politely put these concerns to the side for one minute, perhaps we can see the rationale for putting this in the Criterion Collection…

Nope, this is a boring pile of twaddle that’s aged poorly, and the content has been revisited to better effect in more recent films. Avoid, unless you’ve a thing for the kitsch 60’s adventure sci-fi that’s heavier on the fi than the sci.

The Deer Hunter

Having proved himself with a commercial hit in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Cimino was tapped up to develop a script that turned into the multiple Academy Award winning, AFI top 100 bothering movie The Deer Hunter. And yet, despite its fearsome reputation, it’s a film that’s completely failed to engage me the couple of times I’ve made an attempt to watch this. So, if nothing else this podcast presented a rationale for revisiting it.

The outline of the story, for those few who haven’t seen it, concerns itself with three Pennsylvanian steelworkers drafted into the Vietnam War, Mike Vronsky (Robert De Niro), Steven Pushkov (John Savage), and Nick Chevotarevich (Christopher Walken). The first act establishes some characterisation through the act of Steven’s wedding, although for him it’s not much more than “guy who loves his wife”. Nick’s more of the shy, retiring type, although it’s not like Mike is overly rambunctious himself. The main difference seems to come from Mike’s love of and respect for the act of hunting, and is reluctance to put up with his other friends, particularly John Cazale’s Stan’s, lack of preparation and general tomfoolery.

The second abruptly moves to the chaos of Vietnam, with Steve, Mike and Nick being unexpectedly reunited in the heat of battle only to be captured by opposing forces who aren’t exactly abiding by the Geneva convention. They keep the gang in a POW camp that’s not so much riverside as submerged, pulling them out to play Russian Roulette against each other. Mike and Nick stage a daring escape, taking Nick with them, and eventually make it to the relative safety of the US Bases.

The third act starts with Mike’s troubles adjusting to domestic life as he returns to Pennsylvania, but after meeting the now amputee Steve he realises that Nick hasn’t returned home, but is sending Steve money from his earnings in what turns out to be the underground Russian Roulette circuit in Vietnam, which is a thing, apparently, as far as this film is concerned. Mike resolves to go back to Vietnam and extract his buddy, who’s clearly been more mentally affected than they realised.

Now, there’s two hours of great drama in The Deer_Hunter, but unfortunately it’s a three hour long film. I found the first hour no less boring this time around, and by itself that’s bad enough. I’d also argue, and I think I’m in the minority here, that it doesn’t serve its intended purpose of setting up the main characters all that well. For my money, it does a better job featuring John Cazale, Chuck Aspegren and Meryl Streep’s characters none of whom serve any particularly important purpose in the wider narrative. John Savage in particular gets very short shrift in the opening act, and I don’t think he’s grossly under-utilised over the bulk of the film.

Once the film has finished grinding you down with its tedious wedding procedural and hunting scenes that are as much about scenery porn than character development, there’s an immediately arresting and impactful drama that may not have any basis in realty, or make any attempt at balance, but as a statement of the horrors of war it’s hugely compelling.

The turns from Walken and De Niro really sells the story so well, especially those roulette scenes, and it reaffirms how great both these guys are when at the top of their game- both seeming content to slide into good humoured self-parody these days.

Cimino has a Kubrickian reputation for exactness, with all the reshooting and budget overruns that entails even from his days as a commercial director, and here without the notoriously efficient Eastwood on his back he didn’t leave until he got the shots he wanted. Generally that should be good news for an audience, as it proves here, as it frequently looks stunning indeed, across all its locations.

And, of course, this was a brave film to make at the time. There’s no shortage of films now that will tell you of the horrors of the Vietnam War, but there was thought to be no audience stomach for it, with it also being a little too soon for a mirror to be held up. Also here we see the questioning of how the American dream is holding up these days, in a way that’s clear but not overly explicit, again, somewhat controversial and not deemed audience friendly at the time. But this was a big success for Cimino, critically and commercially, and perhaps opened doors that were best left barred given what’s coming up next.

While I now have a much better understanding of what the fuss is about in the film, I still cannot wholeheartedly recommend people watch a film I think a full third of is garbage. So, I suppose that I two-thirds of a heartedly recommend it, and even then I think I’m screaming into the wind on this one.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The only film on this list deemed so horrific that it was banned in the UK, becoming one of the small band of “video nasties” that were surreptitiously passed around as many-generationed VHS copies from the one shop in the region that imported a laserdisc in the mid 80s before the BBFC belatedly came to its senses. It seems particularly egregious in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s case, but we’ll get to that.

After disturbing reports of graverobbing that may affect their grandfather’s burial ground, Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain) return to their old hometown to investigate. Along for the ride are their friends Jerry (Allen Danziger), Kirk (William Vail), and Pam (Teri McMinn), further planning to take a jolly jaunt up to the Hardesty’s old homestead.

The initial signs that things are about to get really strange in the backwoods come, well, firstly from the weird old geezer sitting in a tyre, but the first hints of danger come from a goofy looking hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) who starts lamenting the (arguably) more humane methods of cattle killing at the local slaughterhouse, much preferring the simplicity of battering the cows with a hammer rather than this newfangled bolt-gun to the head idea, or the Chigurh method as I believe it’s called.

After Franklin refuses to purchase an unasked for polaroid, the hitchhiker slashes out at Franklin with a pocket-knife, leading to the freak being ejected from the campervan. They use the last of their petrol to continue on to the now dilapidated old home, despite the warnings of the apparently kindly old petrol-less petrol station owner (Jim Siedow), and set about exploring the surroundings. Kirk and Pam go off in search of a nearby swimming hole, only to find it as dry as a bone. They do however hear a generator in the middle distance, and hoping to buy some petrol from them, I guess, they head towards the ominous shack, Kirk entering only to be greeted by the hulking Leatherface (the splendidly named Gunnar Hansen) and a crushing blow to the head.

And so begins the congaline of the damned, as one by one they try to investigate where the other members of their party have gone only to find the beast that’s the reason for their disappearance, and the creepy, bone-strewn home he lives in. It seems like Sally may be able to escape after a daring dive through a second story window, but it transpires that the petrol station owner she pleads with for help is the father, I assume, of both Leatherface and the disturbed hitchhiker who returns for the final act, and he recaptures Sally for a very uncomfortable family meal along with their surprisingly not-dead, given the state of him, Grandpa (John Dugan).

Now, certainly in the UK, given its prohibition, the reputation of this film very much precedes it. It was held up as the apex of nasty violent horror, so it’s surprised me when finally watching this sometime after its debanning in 1999 to find that there’s almost no explicit violence in the film at all. Director Tobe Hooper has cleverly shot this such that, I think with the exception of one vehicle/manflesh interface scenario, the only on-screen violence is one minor knife wound and that bloodless, mid-to-long shot of a boy getting stop-hammer-timed.

You might think you saw Franklin being sliced and diced with a chainsaw, but actually, you didn’t. You might think you saw Pam being impaled on a meathook, but you actually saw someone standing on a box in front of a meathook saying, “Oh dear, how frightfully inconvenient this meathook impalement is. I shall most certainly miss my luncheon appointment with Abernathy.” That might have been the Kensington Chainsaw Massacre, actually.

Anyway, this is not to downplay the violence in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, explicit or implied, which is essentially the point of the film, Hooper reflecting the cold, graphic, heartless coverage of the outcome of violence both domestically in news footage and from Vietnam with the act of violence in the film, and unwittingly set the template for every slasher film that followed it, each upping the ante until we’re left with something like blood drenched annoyance_Hostel_.

Unquestionably, this is worth watching for the shadow it cast over every slasher film that followed it, and it’s a masterclass in effective low budget filmmaking. I do not, however, find it remotely scary or threatening in this day and age, perhaps a result of me coming to this significantly later in the day. In fact, I find much of this film unwittingly hilarious. Bar maybe the incessant whining of Franklin, I’ve no real issue with the victims, particularly Marilyn Burns who’s as good at screaming and looking scared as anyone I’ve seen, but the things she’s reacting to creates an unintended humorous juxtaposition for me.

While the masked Leatherface is a looming, monstrous presence most of the time, the lengthy scenes of him chasing Sally through the woods swinging a chainsaw just begs to be speeded up slightly with Yaketty Sax played over it, and Edwin Neal and Jim Siedow’s final act gurning is so over the top that it’s halfway through no-man’s land, getting blown up by a German landmine. True slapstick, however, ensues when Grandpa is given the honour of attempting to kill Sally with a hammer, which would be worthy of any Buster Keaton routine, were it not about attempting to kill someone with a hammer. The Korean Buster Keaton, perhaps.

So, comedy gold, for me at least. If it’s thrills and spills you’re looking for, and you’ve become accustomed to the gratuitous, explicit violence the genre’s devolved into it’s going to be tough to take this seriously. It’s historical footprint, however, does mean that this warrants viewing, but more as a historical artefact than an instrument of horror.

The Man Who Wasn’t There

Quite what the point of this Coen Brothers Noir-Comedy about a roundly indifferent barber being drawn into a bunch of escalating blackmail, murder and UFO-abduction plots (!) is a matter entirely open to debate, but it’s certainly cutting a distinctive figure while doing it.

Backed by a clutch of great performances and some sharp dialogue, this is an enjoyable and great-looking outing that defies easy categorisation, or expectation, and is one of the more overlooked Coen films. It shouldn’t be – despite its madness, it’s very enjoyable. Open your heart to it.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

It feels like quite a while since a Tim Burton film felt particularly Tim Burton-y – Big Eyes, for example, was good, but lacked pretty much anything of the director’s distinctive style – but , for good and for bad, much of his style is present in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an adaptation by Jane Goldman of the best-selling young adult novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs.

After his grandfather (Terrence Stamp) is killed by mysterious creatures, Jake (Asa Butterfield) begins to discover that there is a hidden world that his grandfather was a part of, a world of “peculiar” children, with strange and unusual gifts, if gifts you want to call them, like being lighter than air, the ability to control fire, or the ever useful and desired abilities to animate corpses or breathe bees. These peculiar children live in bubbles of time, where they must live through the same day over and over again, making the whole thing seem a bit like a school for the crappy X-Men on Groundhog Day.

As he tries to learn more about this world, Jake learns that he, too, is peculiar, his own ability being rather more useful than many of the others, in that he is the only person who can see the invisible “Hollows” – mutated peculiars who now hunt for the children in order to consume their eyes. When the children’s protector, Miss Peregrine – Eva Green, once again sporting that excruciating almost-English but mostly inhuman accent through which the French is continually fighting to escape – is captured by Samuel L. Jackson’s sinister Mr. Barron, it falls to Jake to protect the other children, and then to rescue Miss Peregrine from Barron’s sinister and evil laboratory which is, naturally, in Blackpool.

While calling it unoriginal sounds harsh, much of it feels too familiar, a combination of Burton reworking and reusing his previous tricks, and the story sharing some elements with other works. It is also a little long as it does begin to drag a little towards the end.

It’s more Burton in style than in substance, but for fans of the director it’s worth checking out for that alone, but it’s still a decently entertaining, if slight, diversion quite apart from that.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

I suppose the capsule review of “Bill Shatner meets God and punches him” isn’t enough? Oh well…

William Shatner takes the reins for this outing – the moment we’ve all been waiting for, or at least the moment that he was waiting for, with a script developed from one of his ideas.

The Nimbus III Project was a dream, given form. Its goal: to prevent another war, by creating a place where humans and aliens can work out their differences peacefully. It’s a port of call – home away from home – for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs, and wanderers.

Humans and aliens, wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal . . . all alone in the night. Hang on, that’s not right. That’s Babylon 5.

Nimbus III was the same idea, with Klingons, Romulan and human settlers theoretically banding together to build an idyllic new world, but the planet turned out to be a barely inhabitable dustbowl where the prevailing aesthetic is very much Wild West with Touchscreens. Used as a dumping ground for criminals and washed up diplomats, it’s in no condition to defend itself when a small cult-like force ultimately revealed to be under the control of Spock’s half brother Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) shows up and takes over the joint.

Taking the ambassadors hostage, they demand attention, and it falls to Cap’n Kirk and the Funky bunch to cut short their shore leave, complete with perilous mountain climbing and gravity boot rescuing. On reaching Nimbus III, Sybok reveals his true intentions, wanting to hijack the Enterprise and head off to the centre of the galaxy, passing through a supposedly impenetrable barrier with the intent of finding Sha Ka Ree, the cradle of creation, and along with it, God.

Sybok has rejected the strict compliance with logic and suppression of emotion that the rest of the Vulcans have somehow managed to impose on the entire planet, which saw him exiled from his homeworld and family. He’s now using his mental powers to revisit the defining moments of pain and upset in people’s life and helping them deal with this, which for reasons not entirely explained makes people rather compliant with Sybok’s schemes.

Kirk’s having no part of this procedure, claiming his pain defines him as though he’s a character off Hellraiser or something, but Sybok’s party trick convinces the other key members of the Enterprise to go along with it, apart from Spock – whose essential response of, “Yes, and?” seems to be the only appropriate one for everyone, but hey ho. So, with that pair suitably restrained, off they go to Sha Ka Ree. Unfortunately the effects budget runs out on the way.

They find, at least as far as the script is concerned, a alien that takes on the aspects of divinity to trick them into releasing him, with only Kirk seeing through the ruse with his penetrating question of “What does God need with a starship?” – angering “God”, and showing the others the error of their ways and getting the heck out of there. It’s a horrendously cheap sequence, replete with polystyrene rock monsters and special effects that are basically a floodlight on a stick to represent the supposed creator of all things, and it’s very much an ending where the reach has exceeded its grasp and a pretty amateurish, farcical note to end a film on.

I consider that a bit of a shame, as in the early running there’s evidence that the lessons of the previous films had been learned. The outdoor shots of Yosemite and the Mojave desert location used for Nimbus III look pretty good, and lends some authenticity to a franchise that’s not exactly been teeming with it. Initially, at least, the cast again show the mix of camaraderie and needling, particularly in the Kirk/McCoy/Spock trifecta, that’s difficult not to like.

I have the feeling that Laurence Luckinbill was cast primarily on his physical resemblance to their first choice, Sean Connery, but again in the early running he’s crafting a very different, interesting antagonist. In fact, throughout the piece I’ve no real complaint with his performance, but rather the writing. It’s in no way clear why having some dude essentially say there, there, it’s all right, would make him worthy of becoming instantly convincing as a leader the way this script relies on. It’s daft. Really daft. I might have let that slide were it the daftest thing in the film, but it’s not.

The final act lacks all credibility. From the ten thousand feet view, it makes a sort of sense, but the actuality of it is such a dreadful effects boondoggle that it really kills it. However, the worst of it all is that when you hear Shatner’s vision for it, it wouldn’t really be any better. A shade less embarrassing, perhaps, but the main flaws are structural, not cosmetic.

Science fiction’s taken several cracks at dealing with religion, and I can’t really think of any off hand that’s been particularly successful at it. Of all the vehicles to examine it, though, there’s scarcely a less suitable vessel than Star Trek. It wasn’t until Deep Space Nine that there was any attempt at characterisation of aliens at all apart from the hat their species wears – Klingons are warriors, Romulans are devious, Vulcans are emotionless and logical, Ferengi are obsessed with money, etc, – let alone have characters complex enough to start talking about their foundational beliefs one way or another.

I’ve never held this in as terrible a regard as most other people do, in part because I think the first half of the film’s okay, but mainly because I welcome Shatner’s attempt at tackling something a little more ambitious than the franchise had been shooting for thus far. He’s missed by a mile, obviously, but he deserves a little credit for trying.

That partial defence aside, though – it’s by no means a film I could to recommend a casual observer. It’s not even one I could in all honesty recommend to a Star Trek fan. Hell, I’m not sure I’d recommend it to a fan of this film.

Kubo and the Two Strings

From the moment stop-motion masters Laika arrived with their debut, the excellent Coraline, they have done two things that so many other films for children typically fail to do: allow for quietness (Coraline was particularly notable for this, at a time when “mental breather” in western animation meant “going at 80mph with a thousand things happening on-screen, rather than 100mph”, Coraline dared to be measured and calm, with periods of little to no action to allow both character and audience moments for contemplation), and treated their audience with respect and intelligence, both intellectually and emotionally. Both of these traits, particularly the latter, are on display in their latest outing, a Japanese-inspired tale called Kubo and the Two Strings.

“If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see and hear, no matter how unusual it may seem. But please be warned, if you fidget, if you look away, if you forget any part of what I tell you, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish,” Kubo warns us over the film’s stormy beginning: portentous, humorously admonishing the audience, both young and old not to be distracted, yet also prophetic, as, pay attention to the meticulously crafted scenes, and you will see clues of what is to come.

During the aforementioned storm, baby Kubo and his mother are drift on the ocean, finally coming to be washed up on the shore near an isolated village. Fast forward a few years, and we see young, one-eyed, Kubo as care-giver to his mother, who is suffering from depression. Kubo makes a few coins by performing in the village square, dazzling the crowds with his (actually) magical displays of animated origami characters, driven by the playing of his shamisen, who tell the tale of the evil Moon King and the noble samurai Hanso. Except that, for Kubo, it’s not a story. It’s his family history.

One day, failing to follow his mother’s instructions to always return home before sunset, he is rediscovered by his mother’s evil sisters, who want to take Kubo back to his grandfather so that he can take Kubo’s other eye. Using the last of her magic, Kubo’s mother transports him to a far way mountain-side, from where he must set out to find a legendary sword and set of armour, the only things that will allow him to defeat the orb-desiring tyrant. His companions on this quest will be a living origami samurai model, a talking monkey brought to life from his wooden monkey charm, and a former samurai who was cursed into being a giant beetle with no memory. All very ordinary, really…

Set in Samurai-era Japan, and incorporating or referencing numerous Japanese art forms, archetypes and stories, it feels every bit like it could be an authentic, ancient, Japanese tale, despite being a newly created story. Kubo is fantastic, thrilling, beautiful and pretty damn ambitious: think animating small puppets frame by frame is a chore? Now imagine doing it with a massive skeleton whose torso alone is nearly 3 metres tall. It’s a truly marvellous technical achievement. It is also astonishingly beautiful, every scene a wonderful place to spend some time, and so many! But all of this is in service to the story, and while it is, at its core, a traditional hero’s journey, it also has plenty of other material into which to sink your teeth: it’s charming and amusing but also at times sad, thoughtful and melancholy. And to return to my earlier point about treating its young audience with respect, it never talks down to them, and never feels the need to bring out Johnny Exposition to explain just what’s going on. But perhaps it’s the emotional intelligence it credits children with that matters most, with the themes of young caregivers and parental loss, amongst others.

Overseeing all of this is first-time director Travis Knight, lead animator on Laika’s three previous features (oh, and he also happens to be CEO), and if he’s been working his way up to direction, then he’s achieved it with remarkable aplomb – this is most assuredly not a case of the boss using his influence unduly and screwing things up.

It’s not all technique, artistry and design that make Kubo so effective, though – the voice talent really helps, too. Matthew McConnaughey (though apparently half-doing a George Clooney impression, sound-wise) as Beetle and Charlize Theron as Monkey give sufficient heft to the two main adult roles, and Art Parkinson (Game of Thrones‘ Rickon Stark) gives an extremely assured performance as Kubo.

Exceptional work, and our film of the year for 2016.


Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.

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