Happenings

Film Fight 2018: History and Future

I’ve been writing about the films I’ve seen for almost 15 years. The first review was on January 28th, 2003, covering the fairly terrible Jackie Chan movie, The Tuxedo. That was about a fortnight after I started this blog.

I’ve had a Cineworld Unlimited card for almost as long, from around February 2003. It was originally a UGC Unlimited card, but let’s not quibble on the details. Since then I’ve tried to watch at least a film a week in the cinema and have done a pretty decent job of keeping that up.

Two years later, in January 2005, I said I’d stop writing film reviews, at least in part because I was struggling to keep up with writing a few paragraphs on each film. That’s how the first Film Fight was born: a new format to lighten the load a little.

The idea was to write a single paragraph for each film released in a month, and write about all of the films in one post. I can’t remember why, but I decided to pick a “best” film each month and then, from those monthly winners, a best film of the year. Now, this contest aspect has never been something I’ve taken too seriously. There are good and bad films, but mostly films are contextual. I’m not going to love the best drama of the year if I’m in the mood for comedy.

Anyway, in 2009 I decided to tweet about the films too. Within a few days of seeing them, I’d tweet a short 140 character review, and then put a link to that tweet at the end of the monthly Film Fight. That seemed like a good idea.

Jump forward 9 years, and the format hasn’t changed much. It’s still a single paragraph, with a link to a tweet, in a silly knockout competition format once per month.

Well, that’s not quite correct: for the last few years, I’ve struggled to keep up with even the monthly schedule. My time is going into other things (family, tech community, writing talks, other interests etc). With Netflix also putting out far more original movies, the problem is worsening.

(As an aside, the Netflix originals being included meant someone asked me what was eligible for Film Fight. My rule of thumb has always been it has to be the first realistic chance I’d have to see a film. For a cinema release, that’s from the day of release to it disappearing from cinemas. Re-releases don’t count. If I made it to a special advanced screening or preview, that’d be allowed in, but if I didn’t make it the film wouldn’t be excluded at it’s main release. For non-cinematic releases (Netflix, straight to video, or VOD), my rule of thumb has been a month since its original release.)

Given I’m not keeping up with the reviews, it’s time for another change. So what am I going to do? Given Twitter have increased the length of tweets to 280 characters, I’m going to embrace that. Where needed, the Twitter reviews will no longer stick to the 140ish characters as before, and will take up the full space available. The monthly posts will then just be an amalgamation of those longer tweets, with a monthly winner picked at the end. That’s much easier to keep up with, I hope.

Finally, I might start doing something I’ve considered over the years: longer one-off pieces on films that I think warrant it, where the tweet doesn’t feel like enough. We’ll see.

So, that is what’s ahead for Film Fight. Onwards…

Film Fight 2017: Finale

Another mostly very late Film Fight comes to a close for 2017. As per my perennial caveat, Film Fight is done in a knock-out style: it can pick a first place, but everything else is unknown.

First up, the honourable mentions: films that were good but didn’t win their month:

  • Jackie
  • T2: Trainspotting
  • The Lego Batman Movie
  • John Wick: Chapter 2
  • Moonlight
  • The Founder
  • I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
  • Imperial Dreams
  • Logan
  • Burning Sands
  • The Discovery
  • Win It All
  • The Handmaiden
  • In The Shadow of Iris
  • Wonder Woman
  • Spiderman: Homecoming
  • To The Bone
  • The Incredible Jessica James
  • Message From The King
  • Logan Lucky
  • First They Killed My Father
  • The Death of Stalin
  • Bomb Scared
  • 1922
  • Wheelman
  • Bright

And the monthly winners:

  • January: Manchester By Sea
  • February: Fences
  • March: Get Out
  • April: Free Fire
  • May: Colossal
  • June: Baby Driver
  • July: Dunkirk
  • August: Atomic Blonde
  • September: mother!
  • October: Bladerunner 2049
  • November: The Florida Project
  • December: The Disaster Artist

I don’t know if it is a reflection of available cinematic fare or just my own mood and inclination, but it feels like I saw fewer dramas this year and far more easy watches. That’s something that I’ll look to counter next year.

Given what I did see, there are some films that made it through in a weak month but enough solid contenders that this is still tricky.

Denzel Washington was fantastic on both sides of the camera in Fences, with a character he really sun his teeth into. Yes, it always feels like a stage adaptation (it is), but that lets the actors focus more on their performance, delivering some excellent dialogue.

Get Out was an incredible piece of work for Jordan Peele’s debut feature. Part horror, part social commentary, and every bit of it smartly done. There are numerous obvious and subtle callbacks running through it that will require multiple viewings to appreciate. Very satisfying.

Both Dunkirk and mother!, in their own ways, delivered visceral experiences; through sound and movement showing what a cinematic overload can do.

Meanwhile Colossal and The Florida Project tackle big issues in very different ways. The former is fantastical, while the latter is grounded, but no less beautiful.

For the winner, I’m torn between two very different films. The Florida Project stuck with me for a long time, and delivers a fantastic message. That said, I think the winner delivers big too, but juggles a message and entertainment perfectly. That is why Get Out is the Film Fight 2017 winner.

Film Fight 2017: December

The last Film Fight of the year sees five films try to get that final place…

First up, 6 Days is a dramatic retelling of the 1980 siege of the Iranian Embassy in London. It doesn’t quite work. The runtime doesn’t allow it to build out the plot too much, and most of the characters are left as sketches. The attempts to build tension (leaving a critical phone ringing for too long, for example) are ineffective and cliched. It’s not entirely a waste of time, but is somewhat forgettable. (See my 6 Days Twitter review)

James and Dave Franco do a great job of humanising the making of notorious B-movie, The Room, in the strangely good The Disaster Artist. The how and why of The Room is compelling enough, but James Franco is fantastic as Tommy Wiseau, the strange figure who starred in, wrote, and directed it. Worth seeing. (See my The Disaster Artist Twitter review)

It seems like Star Wars: The Last Jedi has divided viewers. Some people seem to think it was amazing and others seem to think it was terrible. I thought it was pretty average. It’s far too long, with a number of aimless b-plots in there to service characters who would’ve been better off left on the benches. The plot holes are glaring from the start, but the universe and main cast are interesting enough to overcome that. It’s fun, but far from the best the series has to offer. (See my Star Wars: The Last Jedi Twitter review)

As Netflix’s biggest bet to date, there’s a lot of interest around Bright. Set in a modern day Los Angeles where fantasy creatures (Orcs, Elves, fairies) have been common-place for thousands of years, Bright follows the first Orc to become a police officer and his partner (Will Smith). At times the world-building is a little expositional, but it helps develop a rich setting around some fun action. It’s flawed, for sure, but is very watchable. (See my Bright Twitter review)

Finally, El Camino Christmas is a low-budget Christmas film, suffering from a so-so script. It’s not TV movie bad, but it’s not great. The most notable thing in it is Tim Allen who, despite having little to work with, delivers a far better performance than was needed. Lightweight, throw-away, okay. (See my El Camino Christmas Twitter review)

The winner for December is The Disaster Artist. It’s not exceptional, but does tell a weird and interesting story.

Film Fight 2017: November

November has six films in the fight…

First up, 1922 is another Stephen King adaptation which, as always, could be great or terrible. Set on a farm in Nebraska, Thomas Jane plays a farmer who connives to kill his wife (played by Molly Parker) for her money. Jane puts in an excellent performance, the character’s quietness meaning he has a lot of work to put in with just his face and posturing. Visually, it’s beautiful, with some fantastic shots. Very watchable. (See my 1922 Twitter review)

Wheelman is a surprisingly good action film, despite its modest budget. A heist gone wrong sees the driver extorted to complete certain tasks, while trying to figure out what happened. Frank Grillo does well in the lead, creating a believable but sympathetic criminal. The action itself is tense and claustrophobic, and cleanly shot. This is as solid as anything you’d get in a larger cinematic release. Worth seeing. (See my Wheelman Twitter review)

It’s hard to watch the films of Yorgos Lanthamos. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is no exception. His style strips the delivery of dialogue of all emotion and presupposition. We’re forced to deal with the reality of the story and the movements of the characters without being allowed to take sides based on their inner state. That’s very weird and uncomfortable. The story itself is familiar but the telling drives us into an unreality. Slow and difficult, but decent. (See my The Killing of a Sacred Deer Twitter review)

The Florida Project is a sad story that is far too close to reality for far too many people. It follows a young girl and her (young) mother as they scrape by in a motel in Florida. The bright palette used throughout is in stark contrast to the dark story. Willem Dafoe is great as a motel manager, who tries to do his best to help. Equally heartbreaking and beautiful. The story ends just at the right moment, on an idea rather than an answer. Must see. (See my The Florida Project Twitter review)

After Wonder Woman managed to do well for the DCEU earlier in the year, how will Justice League fare? Eh… not well. There are some decent action moments and funny bits (mostly revolving around The Flash), but what we get is vapid and awful. It’s expositional, incoherent, and cliched. While it’s not as egregiously bad as, say, Suicide Squad, it’s probably best to just avoid it. (See my Justice League Twitter review)

Finally, Jim & Andy is about what Jim Carrey put himself (and the rest of the production) through to become Andy Kaufmann for the biopic, Man On The Moon. Given it was Carrey who captured the footage, it’s a little one-sided and uneven, but he doesn’t paint himself in a glorious light. It’s interesting enough as his perspective, though. Decent. (See my Jim & Andy Twitter review)

The winner for November is The Florida Project, for its fantastic portrayal of some very real problems.

Film Fight 2017: October

A huge month, with eight films appearing!

First up, Bladerunner 2049 is the sequel I’ve been most worried about in the last few years. I was at least hopeful when Denis Villeneuve, director of last year’s excellent Arrival, was announced as director. I wasn’t disappointed. Let’s get the bad out of the way first: it’s probably a bit too long. That said, the slow and deliberate pacing that lets you soak in the world is a big part of what makes the mood work. We get shown some absolutely immaculate visuals, particularly in the Wallace Corp. building, and a soundtrack that lives up to the original. The story itself and the questions it raises are worthy of this being made. Very worthwhile. (See my Bladerunner 2049 Twitter review)

You never know what you’re going to get with a Stephen King adaptation but Gerald’s Game is on the better end of the spectrum. It’s a small horror, set largely in one room, that manages to build a lot of tension through a simple premise. The coda is completely unnecessary (and detracts from the film), but it’s decent enough overall. (See my Gerald’s Game Twitter review)

Time loop films are some of my favourites so I was happy to see that Happy Death Day was mixing Groundhog Day style loops with a slasher film. A girl is murdered on campus repeatedly, and has to figure out what’s happening. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, despite the subject, making it very watchable. The end is somewhat predictable, it’s not a classic, but I’d still watch it again at some point. (See my Happy Death Day Twitter review)

The Babysitter is a comic book horror that wants to wink to the camera. It tries to ape the visual style of Edgar Wright, without quite pulling it off; I’m more than happy for the attempt, though. It’s a bit cheesey and cheap, but dumb fun. Have with a drink and enjoy. (See my The Babysitter Twitter review)

Armando Iannucci has a tonne of great satire behind him, so it’s initially a little strange that The Death of Stalin isn’t quite that. It’s less farcical than expected, with a much darker vein running through it. That’s not a bad thing. There some great lines and moments, making for a brilliant look at the period. Must see. (See my The Death of Stalin Twitter review)

Bomb Scared is a dark, comedic farce about an ETA unit failing to do anything of note. It’s reminiscent of Four Lions, with the subject matter and style, and that is in its favour. Worth seeing for the sometimes excellent dialogue. (See my Bomb Scared Twitter review)

After the dour Thor: The Dark World, it’s great to see Thor: Ragnarok lighten up. It has a weird comedic tone, that works surprisingly well. It’s probably the funniest MCU film since to date, with some fantastic new characters. It does suffer from some plotting issues, and the villain is ill-defined, but it is still worth seeing. (See my Thor: Ragnarok Twitter review)

Finally, The Meyerowitz Stories is surprising for a few reasons. It manages to get some excellent dramatic performances from comedic actors. Both Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller turn in pretty damn good performances. That’s the only real positive here. It’s a tedious slog of a film. I wanted to like it but found myself bored through almost every scene. Dull. (See my The Meyerowitz Stories Twitter review)

The winner for October is Bladerunner 2049 as, despite the length, it delivers everything you’d want in a sequel.