For the final Film Fight of the year, we have five films.
First up, Black Mass tells the story of real gangster, Whitey Bulger, and his secret pact with the FBI. The film is fairly fragmented with no clear or interesting vision as to where it is going to go; with each scene more like a way to fill out the timeline in patchwork than form a cohesive whole. Johnny Depp puts in his first good, serious performance in years as the lead. He’s genuinely brilliant: compelling, frightening, ruthless, and cold. It’s very easy to forget who you’re watching. Depp aside, there’s not a great deal to recommend this. Probably not worth seeing. (See my Black Mass Twitter review).
Bridge of Spies is another collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, so you probably know what you’re going to get: a safe Hollywood drama, great production values, well-acted, and with masterful direction. The story (of a lawyer forced into defending a Russian spy, then into a trade negotiation for an American spy) has measured pace and quiet tension. You know things will likely work out, but there are enough bumps along the way to keep it interesting. Of note, Mark Rylance has a stand-out performance as the exceptionally calm Russian spy, never cracking and always being entirely believable. An unnecessary epilogue aside, this is worth seeing. (See my Bridge of Spies Twitter review).
While Pixar have done exceptional work over the years, it feels like they phoned in The Good Dinosaur. To be clear, it’s not a bad film. It’s pleasant enough, and looks incredible. However, it lacks any of the magic of a Pixar film. The plot is uninspired and unoriginal, the pacing is a little leaden, and the lead character is fairly dull. Spot, the caveboy who joins Arlo on his adventure, is the film’s highlight: fun, wild, and sympathetic. Overall, the movie is forgettable. (See my The Good Dinosaur Twitter review).
Amy Poehler and Tina Fey have made some great comedy separately, and have been in a decent film (Baby Mama) together before, so expectations were somewhat raised for Sisters. It doesn’t quite live up to that. The characters are thin, even for a comedy, and much of what you see plays out a little predictably. That said, the central house party is funny, even when it is failing to surprise. Okay, but not great. (See my Sisters Twitter review).
Finally, Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is a return to form for the franchise, following the largely awful prequel trilogy. We get interesting characters, fun dialogue, some excellent action sequences, some great little character moments, and everything else we found in the original trilogy. It’s far from perfect. There are plot elements that are a little tired and others that stretch credulity too far, even given the premise, but these are very much forgivable in the context of this family adventure. Very good. (See my Star Wars: The Force Awakens Twitter review).
The winner for December is Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It may not have won a stronger month, but is worth seeing.