Film Fight 2016: August

August was an average month, with four films to review.

First up, Jason Bourne is the 5th film in the Bourne franchise, having coaxed Matt Damon back into the lead role after the terrible Jeremy Renner (as Aaron Cross) entry. It’s not a return to form, but a lot of boxes get checked: shaky cam action, improvised plans, and overblown plotting. The dialogue is noticeably spare, with Damon saying very little, but enough is conveyed by others to get the point. Vincent Cassel is also strong as this entry’s bad guy. Watchable, but far from essential. (See my Jason Bourne Twitter review)

Beloved Roald Dahl book, The BFG, is once again being turned into a motion picture, directed this time by Steven Spielberg. Mark Rylance puts in a great lead performance as the titular giant, nailing his odd dialect and mannerisms perfectly. Not much else works. The story is a bit flat and boring, with a good twenty minutes of runtime that could be excised, and visuals that are sub-par. Avoid. (See my The BFG Twitter review)

Next up sees Warner Bros. continue to squander the DC license with Suicide Squad. On paper this should’ve been great: send a well-cast group of baddies on a dangerous mission, with witty banter and threat from both sides. What we get is a solid performance from Will Smith and Margo Robbie, and… that’s it. The story telling is an expositional mess, the stylization is incoherent, and the characters lack any sort of motivation. Generic antagonists make up most of the fight scenes against the squad, who mostly dispatch them with guns rather than any kind of interesting ability. Visually terrible, badly edited, and a turd of a plot. Do not go near this. (See my Suicide Squad Twitter review)

Finally, War Dogs is the story of two young opportunists who inexplicably become arms dealers. The story beats are cliched, but could’ve been enjoyable had they not been told via tell-don’t-show narration. Miles Teller and Jonah Hill are okay as the leads, but the secondary performances are poor. Not worth it. (See my War Dogs Twitter review)

The winner for August is Jason Bourne, an okay film that would’ve struggled in most other months.

Film Fight 2016: July

Four films this month in the fight…

First up, Born to be Blue is a moving look at being a life-long addict, when opportunity to break from your recovery presents itself constantly. Ethan Hawke is excellent as Chet Baker, in this biographical look at the jazz musician’s struggles. He disappears into the role more than in any other that I can recall. Sad, beautiful, and striking, this is a must-see movie. Great. (See my Born to be Blue Twitter review)

Star Trek: Beyond is an odd but engaging entry in the new Trek canon. It feels more like a double episode of the show than a big budget blockbuster, but is all the better for it. It feels tight and coherent, rather than full of empty spectacle. The characters are fun without being stupid. While it never astounds, it doesn’t really disappoint either. A resoundingly decent movie. (See my Star Trek Beyond Twitter review)

Rebirth is a dark satire with a dose of paranoid horror, that shades a little light on the self-help movement. While it’s certainly not a masterpiece, Fran Kranz engages as the hapless lead. It never drags or outstays its welcome, and has something to say, even if it’s not yelling. A decent watch. (See my Rebirth Twitter review)

Finally, Ghostbusters is an odd reboot: it wants to be separate from the franchise’s past but takes every opportunity it can to make big pointed references to things it’d be better served forgetting, falling flat on each cameo. Kate McKinnon is excellent as Holtzmann, lighting up the screen every time she appears, and Leslie Jones does well with the material she gets, but McCarthy and Wiig seem fairly rote. An unnecessary film, but entertaining enough. Worth seeing once. (See my Ghostbusters Twitter review)

The winner is Born To Be Blue for Hawke’s absolutely top notch performance, in a touching movie.

Film Fight 2016: June

A brief month, with only three films in the fight…

First up, The Nice Guys sees Shane Black return to the director’s chair for an offbeat detective, buddy comedy. Russell Crowe’s tough enforcer plays well against Ryan Gosling’s private investigator, who both get a little out of their depth on a missing girl case. There are moments of cliche, but most are confounded by sharp left turns into the unexpected. Fun, light, and entertaining, this is breezy enough to look passed the faults. Worth watching. (See my The Nice Guys Twitter review)

Independence Day: Resurgence is that worst of sequels: one that tries to make connections to a film from 20 years ago, and fails to do anything meaningful beyond making us pine for the days that the original was a blockbuster. The writing is expositional and dull, the characters are flat, and the action is entirely forgettable. There is absolutely no level on which this movie works. Lazy, and best avoided. (See my Independence Day: Resurgence Twitter review)

Finally, The Secret Life of Pets is an animated movie about what pets get up to when their owners are away. The beats of the story (main character is jealous of new character, both get themselves lost, but come together to be friends on the trip home) is straight out of the Pixar book – specifically Toy Story. That said, it’s got enough funny moments to keep the momentum up. Fine. (See my The Secret Life of Pets Twitter review)

As should be obvious, the winner for June is The Nice Guys; decent comedy/drama, challenging detective noir tropes.

Film Fight 2016: May

Yes, I’ve let Film Fight slide extremely late this year, but I’m aiming to get caught up soon. May has six films in the fight…

First up, Captain America: Civil War is a middle-tier Marvel movie: it’s well-paced, funny, entertaining, dumb action. The set pieces work reasonably well, the writing is snappy, and the new additions show promise. Tom Holland, as Spider-Man, is especially fun to watch. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but that’s not really the point. Worth seeing. (See my Captain America: Civil War Twitter review)

After the surprisingly decent original, Bad Neighbours 2 is a fairly unnecessary sequel. It doesn’t retread too much and does have something to say, but it takes a long time to get going. Go in expecting a passable comedy, and you might enjoy it but it is not exactly a classic. (See my Bad Neighbours 2 Twitter review)

Jeremy Saulnier set a high bar with his previous film, Blue Ruin, so it’s fantastic to see him out do it with the suspenseful Green Room. Punk kids get caught in a bad situation, as they engage in a battle of wits with a neo-nazi leader, played impeccably against type by Patrick Stewart. The writing is measured, clear, and exciting, but this film is not for the feint of heart. Expect to see a fair bit of gore. Excellent. (See my Green Room Twitter review)

Everybody Wants Some sees Richard Linklater return to Dazed & Confused territory, with a light-hearted but not light-weight, coming of age piece. Our protagonist joins a new university on a baseball scholarship, and we see how he tries to fit into a group of big personalities, realising he’s no longer the biggest fish in the pond. Fun, but not silly, with a rare tone. Very good. (See my Everybody Wants Some Twitter review)

Money Monster sees George Clooney cast as a TV financial pundit who gets taken hostage, live on air, after some bad advice. After that we get a fairly shallow but entertaining look at the financial crisis. It’s heavy-handed and obvious, but with enough fun moments to make the time pass. Okay. (See my Money Monster Twitter review)

Finally, Special Correspondents sees Ricky Gervais and Eric Bana as a reporting team sending back sensational reports from a warzone, the problem being that they never actually made it there. It’s a decent premise, but the execution is flat and dull, despite an excellent cast. It feels cheap and amateurish on all levels, from the editing, to the music, and even the look. There are a handful of laughs, but not nearly enough for the 90+ minute runtime. Bad. (See my Special Correspondents Twitter review)

The winner for May is Green Room for it’s excellent writing, style, acting, and tension.

Film Fight 2016: April

Another very late post, April’s Film Fight features four films.

First up, Midnight Special is a great sci-fi, indie film that manages its world building with defat and care. You’re shown what appears to be a kidnapping, with the layers of why this act is happening being pulled back over the first half of the movie, before the film takes a different turn. The cast is excellent, with Michael Shannon bringing his usual level of intensity to proceedings. The very last scenes are, perhaps, lacking the solidity of the rest, but not so much as to be off-putting. Odd, but tense. Very worth seeing. (See my Midnight Special Twitter review)

The idea of a filmed first-person sequence has been around for a while, but I don’t recall seeing a full-length movie that commits to the idea in the way Hardcore Henry does. Sadly, the film’s striking and sometimes tense set-pieces are lost in mess of camera movement. If first-person is going to work, it’s going to need a lot more image stabilisation to be watchable. That’s before mentioning the awful dude-bro dialogue, some of the worst I’ve seen in a long time. What starts as a good idea quickly becomes unwatchable, for more reasons than the shaky cam. Avoid. (See my Hardcore Henry Twitter review)

Continuing Disney’s quest to remake every one of their cartoons as a live-action film, The Jungle Book surprises with some nice shots and great performances. However, as with so many remakes, they can’t help but cram it full of shoehorned attempts at nostalgia and ill-advised musical cues. Fine, but very unnecessary. (See my The Jungle Book Twitter review)

Finally, Miles Ahead is Don Cheadle’s feature directorial debut, in which he also stars, about the latter days of Miles Davis. Despite what feels like a tight budget, Cheadle delivers a film that looks, sounds and feels the part. The music, editing, and central performance work together to give us an insight into Davis’ genius and downfall. Very good. (See my Miles Ahead Twitter review)

The winner for April is Miles Ahead, for its strong take on the subject matter.