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.