Film Fight 2016: October

A big October again, with six films in the fight…

First up, The Magnificent Seven is a remake of a remake that didn’t need to be remade the first time. The plot is a little tired but is serviced by a generally great cast; Peter Sarsgaard is particularly notable as the villian, but Chris Pratt appears to be in a different movie from everyone else. The action sequences are so-so, with a slow and dull pace throughout. An almost entirely forgettable film. Skip. (See my Magnificent Seven Twitter review)

Swiss Army Man is a very strange film. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s weirder than that. Paul Dano’s character goes on an adventure with a corpse who may or may not be speaking to him. It’s never particularly clear where the film is headed, or the intent, leaving it feeling unfocussed, yet still somehow enjoyable. It’s slow, weird, and fun. (See my Swiss Army Man Twitter review)

John Michael McDonagh follows up the dark humour of The Guard and Calvary with corrupt cop comedy, War On Everyone. Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Pena are excellent as the leads, fitting into a world that feels like a Shane Black movie but with the darker comedy we expect from McDonagh. The whole thing is well-shot, well-paced, and well-written. The main villian’s plan starts to feel a little contrived, but just go along for the ride. Fun. (See my War On Everyone Twitter review)

Mascots feels remarkably similar to previous Christopher Guest film, Best In Show. Whether that’s a problem depends entirely one whether or not you like his movies. While some of the eccentricity of the characters is a little forced, the mockumentary works reasonably well. There are some good laughs, a decent cast, and a genuinely heartfelt story at its core. Definitely worth seeing. (See my Mascots Twitter review)

Louis Theroux, having tackled other religious fringe groups, turns his attention to Scientology in My Scientology Movie. It’s an odd documentary, revealing little that is new about the group. However, it’s worth watching for the way that he recreates stories about current Scientology leader, David Miscavige. The actor playing the dramatised Miscavige is genuinely frightening, embodying the stories perfectly. A little flat in places, but watchable. (See my My Scientology Movie Twitter review)

Finally, Doctor Strange is the latest entry in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, taking it into some of the mystical places the lead inhabits. As an origin story, it feels fairly rushed and lacks any kind of originality. Strangely, Benedict Cumberbatch comes across as fairly dull, which I can only assume is due to the writing. Others laughed throughout, but the humour didn’t hit for me either. That said, the final action sequence is genuinely inspired: one of the best, smartest sections of a Marvel film in a long time. Not amazing. (See my Doctor Strange Twitter review)

The winner for October is War On Everyone, for its catchy visuals, witty dialogue, and fun action.

Film Fight 2016: September

September was a decent month with five films that are all at least decent.

First up, Bad Moms is a comedy about a mother who decides to act reasonably(ish) rather than live up to the expectations which society (and the PTA, in particular) have for her. It’s got some very funny moments, a mixture of great and fairly bland characters, and fun (if uneven) plotting. It’s good, but not great. (See my Bad Moms Twitter review)

The Infiltrator sees Bryan Cranston as a US Customs agent trying to infiltrate the Columbian drug cartels. As you’d expect, Cranston absolutely nails his part. One scene, where he is forced to berate an unknowing waiter, is as gripping as it is humiliating. Beyond that, it’s fairly disjointed: moving around the plot and tone a little too incoherently. It’s not bad, just not fully formed. (See my The Infiltrator Twitter review)

I have a soft-spot for movies about time-loops, and Arq is no exception. A strange machine keeps resetting a few hours of a young man’s life just as a home invasion begins. Set in a near-future dystopia, we see a great conflict played out again and again in an odd cat and mouse game. I won’t spoil any of the twists, but it seems to do something different from most in the genre. Worth watching. (See my Arq Twitter review)

The Girl With All The Gifts is a new take on zombie movies that works remarkably well. A young girl is being held by the military for reasons unknown, as they try to keep their encampment clear. As we learn why and the plot moves forward, we see a strange new world from the young protagonist’s point of view. Brutal violence is balanced by darkly funny moments, and sympathetic characters on all sides. Well-shot, and with an excellent score. Great.(See my The Girl With All The Gifts Twitter review)

Finally, Sausage Party is a Seth Rogen comedy (animated, this time) with all that entails. If you dislike his other work, you won’t like this. For the rest of us, this film is very dumb and extremely slow to start. It never manages to land any of the big laughs it wants, but is passably funny. Probably one to have a few drinks before seeing. Okay. (See my Sausage Party Twitter review)

A tougher month than most, but the winner is The Girl With All The Gifts: dark, well-written, and refreshingly original.

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.