There are six films in the Film Fight for April, making it quite a busy month…

First up, Compliance is a worrying look at control, and how someone that seems like an authority figure can cause serious problems without being questioned. Based on a true story, it shows how a man posing as a police officer over the phone talks the manager of a fast food place into some highly questionable behaviour. It explores its theme well, despite overextending a few scenes to pad out the paltry runtime. The performances are reasonable, and the film manages to hold interest despite a few pacing issues. Worth seeing. (See my Compliance Twitter review).

Trance is the latest work by director, Danny Boyle. It’s a typically stylish and slick heist movie about the theft of a painting, with all the hallmarks of a Boyle movie. That includes the expected last-act twist, which is so utterly predictable and surrounded by silliness as to fall apart under its own weight. Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson were both great, but the rest of the film was hampered by the ridiculous premise. Watchable, but not a classic. (See my Trance Twitter review).

Maniac is an entirely forgettable, modern-day, B-movie slasher film. Its one gimmick, the point of view camera, starts to lose its appeal very quickly, and forces the film to rely on cliche: the killer with mother issues, obsession with (essentially) dolls, people that can’t run away or make silly choices etc. There’s nothing in this film that you haven’t seen many times before, so there’s very little reason to see it again. (See my Maniac Twitter review).

A brilliant cast, lead by Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, makes The Place Beyond The Pines a particularly bold movie. It compares the actions and decisions of three men over the course of several decades to show how blurry the line between good and bad is, how only a handful of choices and circumstance keep us from going down much darker paths. The narrative is sprawling, but never confusing, and the arguments it makes are convincing. It’s let down, in part, by a weak final act, focussing a little too much on weaker characters brought together by serendipity. A classic film that deserves to be remembered. (See my The Place Beyond The Pines Twitter review).

Spring Breakers, meanwhile, follows a handful of young girls as they head off the rails in an attempted satire of selfishness and hedonism. It attempts this by painting a dream-like, neon unreality; glitches in the cutting used to put multiple takes together, with a never ending stream of music. Sadly, it fails utterly in its goal. It comes across, for the most part, as sluggish and dull. There’s no substance here, or even a strong message, just vague ideas presented vaguely. Awful. (See my Spring Breakers Twitter review).

Finally, Olympus Has Fallen was being billed by some as a modern take on Die Hard, as the most recent Die Hard films are nothing like the original. It doesn’t live up to that, but it is a surprisingly fun, if utterly dumb, action film. There are a whole heap of big action set pieces to keep you interested (including a surprising opening sequence). These help hide the many plot holes. If you notice those, you’re paying attention to the wrong things. This is an unabashed, straight-up action film; sensible plotting be damned. Enjoyable. (See my Olympus Has Fallen Twitter review).

The winner this month is The Place Beyond the Pines, for its many excellent choices.

A slightly better showing this month than last, with 5 new films…

First up, Cloud Atlas is a sprawling, epic story by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer. It’s made up of six stories, each set in a different time period, but with the same cast members playing roles in each. The stories intertwine to various degrees, but you shouldn’t try and closely follow the logical connections: the film is much more about the thematic connections between the stories, particularly those that lead into the far future. We get some very good performances, particularly from Halle Berry and Tom Hanks who do a wide-range of characters, from the grubby and desperate to relatively heroic. This is an excellent film that is worth seeing at least once, but you’ll probably want to see it again. (See my Cloud Atlas Twitter review).

Stoker, from Park Chan-wook, is that most disappointing kind of film: one for which the trailer does an extremely good job of setting up a mood and atmosphere, which the film itself utterly fails to deliver. Most of the drama is so obviously telegraphed that you’ll see it coming from very early on, which seems to have lead the film makers to believe that they don’t then have to earn those moments. There are a number of places where characters do things that don’t emanate from themselves, but are there because the plot mandated it. This leads to some terribly stilted dialogue, and leaden scenes. All in all, there’s very little redeeming here. Dreadful. (See my Stoker Twitter review).

I’ve never felt that The Wizard of Oz really needed any more backstory, but given the number of people attempting to provide just that, I am clearly in the minority. Oz: The Great and Powerful shows how the great wizard, Oz, came to be ruler of the Emerald City. It’s a nice enough take (he was originally a con-man magician) but, being aimed at children, there’s only so much they can do with the premise. While it doesn’t stand up to the slightest bit of scrutiny, it is at least a fun film with a few decent laughs in there, though I can’t quite remember what they were now. Fun, but entirely forgettable.  (See my Oz: The Great and Powerful Twitter review).

Robot and Frank is the surprisingly sweet tale of a former cat burglar who, in his old age, gets a a helper robot. After the fairly predictable beginning (old man hates robot, old man grows to like robot), it settles down into a lovely story. At times it’s genuinely touching and sweet, and at others it’s very funny, particularly when it does something quite unexpected. The various subplots eventually pay off into a few moments that really make the film. Frank Langella is great as the lead and Susan Sarandon does fine as the love interest, but both James Marsden and Liv Tyler seemed fairly half-hearted. That aside, it’s a wonderful film. (See my Robot and Frank Twitter review).

Finally, The Paperboy is a bit of an in-cohesive mess. There are a number of ideas being progressed, from youthful arrogance, to seeking danger, to not always really knowing those who you should be close to. The setting, a baking hot summer in smalltown Florida, seems like a good boiling pot for the themes, but none of them ever really heat up and turn into the driving force of a film. We end up with a half-cooked stew of bits and pieces that don’t fit particularly well. There are some excellent performances (John Cusack is great as a slimy Floridian swamp dweller) and it captures the feel of the moment well, but there are too many structural issues for that to matter. Disappointing. (See my The Paperboy Twitter review).

A tough month to call, but I think Cloud Atlas wins due to the scope of its vision, and all the moments it does deliver well, even though there are a few that fail to work.

Yes, I know, I’m continuing a bad trend for late posts this year. February has only 3 films, after the big hitters coming out in January leaving slim pickings this month.

First up, Flight is a film about substance abuse that at times works very well, and at other times goes wide of the mark. The first act, depicting a horrific plane crash that ends miraculously, is exceptionally well done; the sound engineers using the increasingly high-pitched engine noises to great effect, as well as a few other neat little tricks. The entire section is gripping. When the film moves on to its real material, that’s when it starts to flounder. The scenes in which it deals with the main character’s alcohol abuse head on tend to work relatively well. However there are too many sections that are either very forced (most of the material with his family) or are comically over-the-top, particularly the religious messages that are, at times, so heavy-handed as to be laugh-out-loud funny. In a movie about such a serious subject, these flaws seriously detract. The entire film could’ve been a lot better. (See my Flight Twitter review).

We tend not to expect too much from animated movies aimed at children, particularly when Pixar aren’t involved, so it’s a surprise to see such a fun movie in Wreck-It Ralph. The initial hook of a videogame villain who wants his life to mean more plays out quite nicely, with a number of great cameos and spoofs of other games. From there it builds into a funny but sweet story of finding where you belong, even if you’re a bit different than everyone else. It’s not going to be a classic, but it is certainly worth seeing. (See my Wreck-It Ralph Twitter review).

Finally, Warm Bodies is a story about semi-conscious zombies who find that love can help them be better people. It’s not particularly well fleshed out (pardon the pun), much of the plot happening because it’s convenient rather than it making any kind of sense, but it is sweet at times. Okay. (see my Warm Bodies Twitter review).

The winner for February, then, is Wreck-It Ralph: a sweet animation about belonging, that manages to be funny along the way.

Feed URL Change

Just a quick note to say that if you subscribe to my site via RSS/Atom, you’ll want to change to the new feed:

I’d been using Feedburner to serve out my RSS feed for a long time, but I think we can all see the writing on the wall for that service, so I’m migrating away ahead of time. Trying to get logged back in over there to close it down and get a redirect back to the new one, but that’s proving tricky.

Again, if you use RSS for my site, the new URL to subscribe to is:

Welcome to Film Fight 2013. I know I’m a little late in starting the main posts, but the Twitter reviews have been up in a timely fashion.

First up, The Impossible is the kind of overwrought, Hollywood, Oscar-bait that rolls around at the start of the year. It’s full of wide awe shots, big orchestral strains over moments we’re supposed to know are Emotional (yes, with a capital letter). That said, there are some fantastic moments of panic where they play things a little bit more subtly and it pays off, and even more where they show the brutal side of a natural disaster and it’s extremely affecting. It’s an okay film, but could have done with a lighter touch: the events portrayed were interesting enough to not need the heavy-handed manipulation. (See my The Impossible Twitter review).

Gangster Squad falls flat at almost every level. At times it tries to be pulp but tries to take too serious a tone for that to work, whilst at other times it really heads into schlock territory. The performances, despite a ridiculously good cast, are all over the chart: Sean Penn chews up the scenery as well as he always does, but the rest of the cast are very variable. Worst of all, though, is the awful colour-grading throughout. It’s not only the over-the-top, offensive, teal-and-orange colouring that grates, it’s how terribly inconsistent it is. Had the film committed to a tone, it might have worked but, as it stands, it’s a mess. Avoid. (See my Gangster Squad Twitter review).

It’s not often you see a sung-through musical being turned into a film, but Les Miserables is that to an extreme: an A-list cast and a large budget, making sure everything you see has sky-high production values. It certainly looks fantastic throughout, and there are some very impressive moments. Anne Hathaway deserves her Oscar, despite her relatively brief appearance, for such an excellent performance, for example. However, the film suffers from a leaden pace. After an initial burst, it seems to take a very long time to get anywhere. Partly good, and partly bad, then. (See my Les Miserables Twitter review).

Quentin Tarantino has a particular style that oozes through all of his movies. Sometimes it’s played a bit more over the top, as it is in Kill Bill pt. 1, and sometimes it’s played more seriously, as it is in Reservoir Dogs, but you can always see it. Django Unchained is unmistakably a Tarantino movie, and one that manages to play both sides reasonably well. When Django is doling out justice as a freed slave there can be a real sense of comic-book heroism, and at other times in the movie the violence can be brutal and horrific. The performances help sell it all, with both Fox and Di Caprio putting in great performances but Christoph Waltz stealing the show more often than not. It’s not always easy to watch, but it’s always a great film; well, maybe not that one bit with Tarantino’s cameo, but we’ll forget about that for now. Very good. (See my Django Unchained Twitter review).

As titles go Lincoln is more than a little misleading. You might mistakenly believe that it’s a biopic about the man’s life but it almost entirely focuses on the month leading up to the addition of the 13th amendment, abolishing slavery. The performances are as strong as the cast is wide, the sheer volume of great actors alone making it worth watching. Daniel Day-Lewis puts in another world-class performance, but it’s Sally Fields who really stands out with her brilliant portrayal of Lincoln’s wife. That said, the film is more than a little slow. While it’s important to be delicate to the subject matter, there are a lot of dead ends that should have been excised. Worth seeing for the performances alone. (See my Lincoln Twitter review).

Finally, Zero Dark Thirty is the mostly fictional tale of the CIA’s hunt for Osama Bin Laden. The earlier acts are marred by their slow pacing, but it’s the final act that makes the movie: a half hour assault on a compound believed to contain their target. So clinical and relentless is the execution of this scene that it is absolutely gripping. Jessica Chastain puts in a great performance but is let down by the film’s pace and structure. Good, but not great. (See my Zero Dark Thirty Twitter review).

It’s a tough month, containing all the big Oscar contenders, but I think I’m going to go with Django Unchained. It’s got the performances and style to make for a classic.

Another year done, so it’s time to find out what my movie of the year was. As always, my caveat from earlier years still applies: Film Fight is done in a knock-out style and, as such, only picks my favourite film of the year; there are no guarantees about second place.

First, the films that were good but did not win their month:

  • The Hunger Games
  • Jeff, Who Lives At Home
  • The Raid
  • Angel’s Share
  • Seeking a Friend For the End of the World
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • Lawless
  • The Man With The Iron Fists
  • Safety Not Guaranteed

Now, the winners:

  • January: J. Edgar
  • February: Carnage
  • March: 21 Jump Street
  • April: The Cabin In The Woods
  • May: Marvel’s Avengers Assemble
  • June: Prometheus
  • July: Killer Joe
  • August: Ted
  • September: Dredd
  • October: Looper
  • November: End of Watch
  • December: Sightseers

I think it’s fair to say it’s been a much weaker showing this year than last year. In 2011, we had a large number of honourable mentions, and the winner’s list was full of stand-out films, with the toughest final decision in years.

In 2012, we have only 9 honourable mentions (and that’s after lowering the bar a little), and an extremely uneven winner’s list. In many other years, Ted, for example, wouldn’t have won a month.

It’s fair to say that Joss Whedon is probably the mastermind of the year, with both Cabin in the Woods and Avengers genuinely surprising; the former with its homage to classic horror, and the latter with a relatively coherent and fun big-budget action film. He’s helped craft two excellent films there.

Biggest surprise of the year is 21 Jump Street: a comedy that had absolutely no business being as funny as it was. In some ways, I don’t want to see it again and find it was only funny because it tickled the right funny bone at the right time, but it was a brilliant film that I didn’t see coming.

While there were a few moments of Prometheus that don’t stand up to much scrutiny, I think on a whole it did something far better and more intelligently than many gave it credit for. Sure, it wasn’t Aliens, but neither was it supposed to be. The answers to almost every question I’ve seen posed is hinted at strongly in the movie, without ever being outright stated. That’s a degree of subtlety and care that we rarely get in films, let alone large sci-fi films.

There can, however, only be one winner and, for me, that was Looper. It’s an intelligent movie about finding love and the transformative effect that can have. It uses quite a clever sci-fi gimmick to explore that theme which forces an unusual structure, but you’d be making a mistake to assume that was the whole. It’s not. This is a film that looks great, misdirects when it needs to, and, above all, tells a very human story. Looper is the Film Fight 2012 winner.

Three films to finish off the year…

First up, Sightseers is, like its characters, an oddity. It’s a dark comedy about finding love, breaking free of the things that hold you back, and murder. From the off, everything feels a little off, but not enough to be ridiculous. Things quickly descend, while staying true to the primary theme of love. It’s funny and slightly horrifying at times, in a way that really works for the move. Definitely worth seeing. (See my Sightseers Twitter review).

The Man With The Iron Fists, on the other hand (pardon the pun), is a very modern take on old martial arts films, with vague mysticism, clans, fighting, slightly camp villains, and general silliness. The fight sequences themselves are as over-the-top as you might expect and always fun to watch, even when some of the acting goes a little bit far for the B-movie joke. It’s as terrible and gaudy as intended. If you can appreciate the style, it’s a decent watch.   (See my The Man With The Iron Fists Twitter review).

Finally, Safety Not Guaranteed is about journalists investigating an advert requesting a partner to travel in time. Expecting a prank or a nutcase, one gets drawn into the world of the stranger who posted the advert, whilst another tries to reunite with a lost love. Gimmick aside, the film is an interesting look at missed opportunities, the things that we wonder “what if?” about. On that level, it’s a good film, but the execution can, at times, be a little indie-by-numbers. You’ll get a feel for how it’s going to play out pretty quickly. Decent. (See my Safety Not Guaranteed Twitter review).

The winner for December is Sightseers. Where the other two flounder at times, Sightseers stays on path, even when things get strange.

As with last month, there are three films in this month’s round-up.

First up, Skyfall is everything that I thought I wanted in a Bond film, but proves that it’s actually not what I wanted at all. It spends a great deal of time building out several of the characters, but does so in a way that only vaguely connects with the rest of the plot. I want to see Bond develop through his actions; not by being told he’s getting old and can’t handle it, but by showing it. The other major issue is that, despite a two and a half hour run-time, the film can’t muster a credible threat. Javier Bardem is an excellent actor and can certainly do threatening (see No Country for Old Men), but here he comes across as a little bit camp and extremely incompetent. His opening monologue is excellent, but throughout the rest of the movie he fails to live up to any of his supposedly terrifying build-up. It’s a far better film than many of the worst Bond films, like Die Another Day or Quantum of Solace, but it’s dull and flabby where the best Bond films focus on being lean and entertaining. Not worth the lengthy run-time. (See my Skyfall Twitter review).

After an excellent first few movies by Ben Affleck, Argo manages to disappoint. First, the good: it looks amazing. Even when it’s filling out with obvious Oscar-baiting establishing shots, it’s a visually impressive movie that feels just right. It also has an amazing cast who do the best they can. From Affleck himself, Bryan Cranston, Clea DuVall, Victor Garber et al, it’s absolutely crammed with fantastic actors. The problem is that it fails to build any interesting or original tension. Because you know that that the various phone calls or checks that might get the cast killed are going to work out at the last second, there’s never any doubt or real sense of threat. It doesn’t help that, Affleck’s character aside, none of the characters really get fleshed out, besides some whining: he could’ve been going to Iran to extract some cardboard boxes of important files, for all the difference it would’ve made to the plot. At no point was I concerned for their safety, and that’s deadly for this kind of film. Finally, the plot set in Hollywood was even worse: having someone point out the absurdity of their plan is one thing, doing it with every character is just dull. Don’t go out of your way to see this film. (See my Argo Twitter review).

Lastly, End of Watch feels exactly as it is edited: very uneven. There are times when the film is very dark and tense, there are moments that it feels genuinely funny, and there’s a hell of a lot of it where not much really happens. Maybe that’s what the film-maker was aiming for, to show that life is a cop in a dangerous areas has at least as much mundanity as it does excitement, but as a viewer it doesn’t make for the most interesting narrative. The whole thing has a conceit where it appears to have been filmed on hand-held cameras that the main cast have on them (explicitly shown in the film) but, oddly, it never sees this through, showing plenty of shots that are taken from no particular point of view. It might have worked a little better had they seen it through, or avoided it altogether. As a whole, it’s an okay movie, but could’ve been better.  (See my End of Watch Twitter review).

I can’t say I particularly enjoyed any of this month’s films, but I think End of Watch probably wins for some of the funnier moments.

Three films in this month’s round-up:

First up is Looper, a brilliantly structured narrative about inevitability, love and sacrifice, seen through the eyes of a killer tasked with the murder of his future self. While that sounds convoluted, it’s not in practice; the film focusses much more on its themes than on the sci-fi mechanics that allow the story to move forward. While having Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing a younger Bruce Willis is a big stretch, the acting through-out is solid. It’s a big and bold tale, often quite pretty, but fantastically paced. Very worthwhile. (See my Looper Twitter review).

The Campaign, meanwhile, manages to undersell what could’ve been a great comedy. The premise is solid enough (a sleazy, corrupt politician takes on a well-meaning, naive upstart), but it never really amounts to anything. In the final edit, it feels like there are a number of segments they wanted to show and they built a fairly flimsy plot around putting those pieces together. It is funny, but it’s just not cohesive enough to be great. Passable, though. (See my The Campaign Twitter review).

Finally, Taken 2 is a bit of a let-down on every level. While no-one would’ve expected a great, character-led plot, it fails to make much of its action sequences. There’s a decent car chase in there, a few little moments, but nothing that grabs you as much as the relentless and breathlessly executed sequences from its predecessor. While that was a well-executed action film, this sequel feels very much like a needless and ill-advised cash-in. Avoid. (See my Taken 2 Twitter review).

The winner for this month is Looper, for its brilliant take on time-loop movies.

Just two films in September:

First up, Lawless is a movie that follows a family of bootleggers in prohibition-era America. It captures the violent nature of the enterprise with style, and a little wit. The main cast put in great performances, with only Shia LaBeouf letting the side down with a fairly stock take on his character. Tom Hardy, however, delivers another excellent showing as the indestructable eldest brother. The whole thing looks fantastic, but the plot is very predictable, nothing will surprise you here. Probably the film’s biggest downfall is an entirely unnecessary and out-of-touch epilogue, that forces a happy ending in where none was needed. Very watchable. (See my Lawless Twitter review).

Finally, Dredd manages to bring the titular character to life in a way that his previous film can only dream of. Despite the obviously miniscule budget, the film deftly introduces the characters, setting and premise, before letting loose with some extremely gory scenes and full-on action set pieces. We’re left with no doubt as to why Judge Dredd is so uncompromising and harsh: he’s a product of a world where crime is so prevalent that almost none of it gets punished. It’s a fun movie and, while it won’t win any awards, it deserves to be seen. (See my Dredd Twitter review).

The winner is Dredd for showing what a well-written action film is capable of.

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