Grudge Match/ 12 Years a Slave/ The Book Thief

First up this month, Grudge Match (January 24), which looks and sounds a little bit like a – this time intentional – comedy remake of the last Rocky movie.

The plot, which isn’t really a plot and more of flimsy premise – ‘what would happen if Rocky fought Raging Bull? Wouldn’t that be totes awesome?!’ – expanded to feature length, follows retired boxers Billy ‘The Kid’ (Robert DeNiro) and ‘Razor’ Sharp (Sly Stallone) who have an unresolved thirty year grudge.

Both men (looking like they’ve gone ten rounds with Father Time already) are encouraged by social media pundits to put their grudge to rest by gassing up their mobility scooters and heading for the ring for a final showdown. Think Rocky meets Last of the Summer Wine. Forgettable but mildly amusing, switch-your-brain-off fare.

Next up this month, intense Oscar shoo-in and much discussed, 12 Years A Slave (January 24).

The story – terrifyingly based on real-life events – follows Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a “free negro” in living 1840’s New York, who suddenly finds himself deceived, kidnapped and sold into slavery in the deep South.

Solomon is given the name of an escaped slave ‘Platt’, shipped to the dreaded South and passed amongst new masters until landing on the plantation of sadistic slave owner Edward Epps (played with malevelont menace by Micheal Fassbender). Things – which admittedly have been bad until this point – suddenly get a lot worse as Solomon witnesses and experiences the cruel vagaries of life as a slave, all while trying to alert the (Northern) authorities to his plight and get home to his family.

An unflinching, well-acted and masterfully-directed look at the most shameful chapter of American history. Watch and weep but be warned – this is not for the faint.

Finally this month, The Book Thief (January 31), also based on an historical book, though thankfully, a fictional one (the über-realism of 12 Years was more than enough realism for one month, thank you very much!)

The Book Thief tells the story of orphan Liesel who is sent to live with foster parents Hans and Rosa (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) before the outbreak of the war. Despite not being able to read, she settles in, quickly makes a little Aryan friend and even learns to read courtesy of doting Papa Hans. However, the peace is shattered – along with all the windows in the Jewish Quarter – when a Jewish man named Max, escaping the madness of Kristallnacht, shows up seeking refuge.

Over two years, Max and Liesel – who is forced to “borrow” books in order to indulge her passion for literature – bond over a shared love of books and hatred of Hitler. Their scenes play sort of like an intergenerational episode of the South Bank Show.

Oh, how I wish the story ended at this point, with Max and Liesel discussing books in the basement as the bombs drop above, but this is war and happy endings are hard to come by. Still, excellent performances – particularly by Sophie Nélisse as Liesel and Emily Watson as the curmudgeonly Rosa – make The Book Thief an emotional and entertaining War flick.