Film Fight 2017: February

February was, as always, a busy month, with the remainder of the Oscar hopefuls getting a release in the UK. That means there are 8 films in this month’s fight.

First up, The Lego Batman Movie tries to take one of the funnier side characters from The Lego Movie and see if he works on his own. While a few jokes get run into the ground, it mostly works. It’s pretty much what you’d expect: enjoyable, silly, fun, with a take on Batman that revels in all of the character’s ridiculous history. Worth seeing, with some decent jokes for older viewers. (See my The Lego Batman Movie Twitter review)

Fences sees Denzel Washington direct himself and Viola Davis in an adaptation of a play about the struggles of an African-American family. The lead performances are excellent, rightly gaining Oscar nominations (and a win for Davis) for their well-delivered, wordy, weightiness. While the film feels very much like the stage adaptation that it is, that never detracts: the tension rises to keep the audience captivated throughout. Intense, and gripping. (See my Fences Twitter review)

After the over-the-top silly action of the original, John Wick: Chapter 2 is exactly what we wanted: a story crafted around fantastic action set-pieces, in the weird assassin ridden world to which we’ve been introduced. The opening set-up is overlong, but you’ll quickly forget that as we see sequences like the silent subway gun battle. Dumb, but fun. (See my John Wick: Chapter 2 Twitter review)

Though I saw it before the ceremony, Moonlight, we now know, won the Best Film Oscar this year, so there’s some pressure on the movie. It starts strongly, following a young, poor, African-American boy struggle with a drug-addict mother, and finding a surrogate father. As the film jumps to various point in the lead’s life, we see him struggle to accept himself in circumstances we don’t often see on film. It’s a good character study, with powerful moments throughout, but is perhaps a little muted and slow in places. Worth seeing. (See my Moonlight Twitter review)

The Founder is the fairly straight-forward telling of how, thanks to one man’s vision and greed, McDonalds went from a single restaurant to the behemoth it is today. Michael Keaton puts in a fantastic lead performance, with a solid cast around him. The story is well-told, but not spectacular. Decent. (See my The Founder Twitter review)

Netflix are seriously upping their Original movies game with several coming out every month that are of note: I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is no different. It’s a strange indie film: a mix of oddball characters dealing with some serious events (and some not-so-serious), filled with dark humour and bloody violence. Well-paced, well-shot, and a lot of fun. Definitely worth seeing. (See my I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore Twitter review)

Imperial Dreams is the heart-breaking story of a young father struggling to escape his upbringing and poverty, while making sure his young son is okay. At times devastating, the film (and John Boyega’s performance) does a fantastic job of making you feel the awful pressure on the lead. Great. (See my Imperial Dreams Twitter review)

Finally, A Cure For Wellness is horror schlock. It’s overlong, and ridden with as many cliches as they could cram in. That said, it works reasonably well: by always going over-the-top, we can’t do anything but go along with the characters as they do increasingly bizarre things in almost surreal circumstances. Okay. (See my A Cure For Wellness Twitter review)

The winner for March is Fences, as nothing else comes close to the dramatic tension in the scenes of family struggle in this movie.

Film Fight 2017: January

Another year, and a new Film Fight. As usual, January is a busy month with seven films in the fight.

First up, Assassin’s Creed is one of the greatest films based on a video game ever created… which is to say it’s terrible. The lead performances are reasonable enough, but almost everything else falls flat. The plot is barely coherent, which is surprising given how much exposition there is in the dialogue. The action is boring, and the secondary characters aren’t remotely interesting. A bad story told poorly. (See my Assassin’s Creed Twitter review)

Martin Scorsese has been thinking about making Silence for decades, so it comes with weighty expectations. Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield are excellent as the Jesuit priests send to a hostile Japan to find their old mentor. The film looks incredible throughout, setting the mood as cold and isolated, emphasising the priest’s loneliness and tortured mindset. The last act is excellent but might not be worth the long, slow grind to get there; the film feels every bit as long as its lengthy runtime would indicate. Okay. (See my Silence Twitter review)

Ben Affleck directed films have been worth seeing but his latest, Live By Night, is not. A gangster story with cliched characters, the film never manages to make us care about the lead. The pacing is slow, the writing is all exposition, and, honestly, it’s more than a little dull. Avoid. (See my Live By Night Twitter review)

We’ve seen dozens of takes on the assassination of JFK but few, if any, follow the first lady the way that Jackie does. This is a performance movie: living and dying by Natalie Portman’s absolutely stunning portrayal. We clearly see her mood shift from grief, to pride, to uncertainty and beyond. While the pacing becomes listless in the back half, the performances from Portman and supporting cast never waver. Very good. (See my Jackie Twitter review)

We’re a few days after the Oscars, for which Manchester By Sea picked up a few nominations. Notably, Casey Affleck won for Best Actor. Per my original review tweet, I thought the performances on the whole were strong, Affleck was great at times and somewhat unconvincing at others. More importantly than all that, the film sets a great mood: we see a small fishing town, its people, and their hardships, focussed through the death of someone everyone knows and respects. The editing jumps back and forth between the present and the devastating past, never flinching from another tough reveal. Not perfect, but a very solid movie. (See my Manchester By Sea Twitter review)

Netflix start the new year with a new original in the form of iBoy: a slightly comic-book story about a kid who gains the ability to control technology after witnessing a horrible crime. It’s decent enough but feels like a rushed pilot for a TV show: I’d watch more but it seems like a lot of ideas were thrown out at once to see what worked. Decent. (See my iBoy Twitter review)

Finally, T2: Trainspotting could’ve been that worst of things: a sequel that never sees past the original. Not here. It doesn’t ignore the past, but instead makes it a theme: can we ever go back? How powerful are nostalgia and memory in drawing us back to destructive habits and relationships? The tone is different but the characters are the same… but a little older and more cynical. It never hits the hyperreal highs of the original, but neither should it. That was for the young, this is for the middle-aged. Fun, dark, and decent.(See my T2 Trainspotting Twitter review)

The winner for January is Manchester By Sea, for its overall package of solid acting, modern editing, and atmospheric cinematography.

Film Fight 2016: Finale

A mostly very late Film Fight 2016 comes to an end in time. As per my permanent caveat, Film Fight is done in a knock-out style: it’ll let me select my favourite film of the year, but with no guarantees about second place.

First, the honourable mentions. Films that didn’t win their month but were good enough:

  • The Hateful Eight
  • The Revenant
  • Creed
  • Spotlight
  • Trumbo
  • Deadpool
  • Anomalisa
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane
  • Zootropolis
  • Midnight Special
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • Everybody Wants Some
  • Star Trek Beyond
  • Rebirth
  • Arq
  • Swiss Army Man
  • Mascots
  • Nocturnal Animals
  • Before The Flood
  • Sully: Miracle on the Hudson
  • Star Wars: Rogue One

And now the monthly winners:

  • January: Room
  • February: Hail, Caesar!
  • March: High-Rise
  • April: Miles Ahead
  • May: Green Room
  • June: The Nice Guys
  • July: Born To Be Blue
  • August: Jason Bourne
  • September: The Girl With All The Gifts
  • October: War on Everyone
  • November: Arrival
  • December: Bleed For This

Looking at the winners, most deserve a place with only a few getting very lucky (Jason Bourne).

Two biopic films about Jazz musicians (Miles Ahead and Born To Be Blue) inexplicably got wins, and both deservedly so. They each deal with addiction and fame in interestingly different ways. Worth seeing.

The Girl With All The Gifts is worthy of a special mention: I didn’t know what to expect and what I got was marvellous. Incredible world-building, decent action, good performances, brutal moments, and dark humour. If you missed it, it’s worth finding a copy when it comes out for a home release next month.

In Green Room we got an exciting and well-written thriller, with some unexpectedly brutal moments and Patrick Stewart playing very against type. In Room we see a horrific situation played out through the eyes of an innocent child, and then we get so much more. Arrival plays with structure in strange ways, revealing a bittersweet and heartbreaking story.

As always, it’s tough to pick a winner, especially between Room and Arrival, but I think the best film (though not the easiest watch) is Room. Brie Larson absolutely deserves her Oscar for a fantastic and nuanced performance, helping bring out a surprisingly good performance in her child actor counterpart, Jacob Tremblay. Room is horrific and beautiful, and manages to do far more than the premise would seem to allow. A worthy winner.

Film Fight 2016: December

A huge December this year, with seven films…

First up, Bleed For This is a story you’ve seen before many times: a brash boxer in his peak gets unexpectedly knocked down a few rungs, and has to overcome overwhelming odds to get back on top. That said, this film is done well enough, with strong enough performances, that you won’t really mind. Aaron Eckhart, in particular, is great as the coach in this drama, based on real events. It’s not doing anything new, but it’s doing it well. Worth seeing. (See my Bleed For This Twitter review)

Allied sees Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard team up as World War Two infiltrators who fall in love, but is this just another long game by the enemy? You probably won’t care too much. The tension being built up never works, mostly because their chemistry seems fairly forced. Moreover, the CG is bad enough throughout (from bad lighting to glaring CG objects) that it’ll distract if you have even the slightest eye for these things. It’s fine, but forgettable. (See my Allied Twitter review)

Tom Hanks rarely fails to give a great performance and he doesn’t fail in Sully: Miracle On The Hudson either. This is the true story of a pilot who, seeing his passenger plane fail, decided to take the risky option of landing on the Hudson River. He saved every passenger. The narrative structure here is splintered, showing the post-mortem investigation, the crash, and many other points of view, as a way of showing his fractious state of mind after the event. It’s straightforward, but well-paced. Decent. (See my Sully: Miracle On The Hudson Twitter review)

The first cinematic side-story in the Star Wars universe, Star Wars: Rogue One, follows new characters who were involved in stealing the plans to the Death Star. Set immediately before A New Hope, we see some interesting details sketched out. More importantly, we get a nice little war story once the film settles down from its exposition-heavy first hour. It plays very differently from the main episodes, by showing the more downbeat side of ongoing guerilla warfare. Reasonably enjoyable. (See my Star Wars: Rogue One Twitter review)

Office Christmas Party is probably everything the name suggests: a comedy in which the main characters have to throw an insane Christmas party to impress a client. There’s over-the-top carnage, some very dumb jokes, and a few decent comic moments. It’s not a classic, but it’s fun enough. See once. (See my Office Christmas Party Twitter review)

Billed as Black Hawk Down meets Ghostbusters, Spectral lacks the action and tension of the former, or the humour and world-building of the latter. In fact, it has very little going for it at all. It’s vaguely enjoyable as mindless fodder, but the plot doesn’t make much sense and the CG is pretty bad. A B-Movie without the knowing winks. Meh. (See my Spectral Twitter review)

Finally, Passengers is a big budget glossy space movie, with a small but excellent cast. Pratt and Lawrence carry what they can as the leads, and Michael Sheen is excellent as the charming bartender. It looks pretty, but it’s empty spectacle. The movie is far too light and fluffy to deal with the weighty issue at its core; a shame because that could’ve improved the movie immensely. Ultimately what we get is something amusing to watch, that skirts around the horrible plot point at its centre. Hard to recommend or hate. (See my Passengers Twitter review)

The winner this month is Bleed For This, which would’ve struggled in other months but did fine amongst a bunch of okay films.

Film Fight 2016: November

For November, there are four films in the fight…

First up, Nocturnal Animals sees Tom Ford follow up his 2009 debut, A Single Man, with something more stylish and moody. A story within a story, the film is sometimes beautiful and sometimes sickeningly ugly, terrifyingly gripping and rigidly dull. The performances are world class, with Jake Gyllenhall standing out in his dual role. Very worth seeing. (See my Nocturnal Animals Twitter review)

Environmental documentaries have a tendency to be po-faced, but Before The Flood manages to bring both insight and charm to such an important subject. Leonardo DiCaprio leads us around the world, showing how current global systems are destroying key environmental elements that will inevitably lead to a collapse. Stark, clear, and succinct, this film delivers its message well. Watch. (See my Before The Flood Twitter review)

The second Amy Adams performance of the month, Arrival, sees her as a linguist asked to decipher an alien language following a group of ships arriving on Earth. Beautifully shot and structured, as the layers of story peel back we realise more about what we’ve already seen than what is to come. There are some tricks here, for sure, but it’s so magnificently managed that we buy into the unfolding bittersweet heartache. From the acting right down to the sound design, this is one of the best films of the year. (See my Arrival Twitter review)

Finally, The Accountant sees an exceptional cast play out a fairly dumb premise. Ben Affleck plays an Accountant by day and assassin by night, none of which quite makes sense. It’s predictable, and silly, with some decent action. JK Simmons, Jon Bernthal and Anna Kendrick make things work better than they might have, but you’re going to have to suspend disbelief for a sizeable period of the run time. Fine. (See my The Accountant Twitter review)

The winner is Arrival for it’s gripping beauty, and unravelling narrative.