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Watched: 25 February

Obviously it’s unusual to see a predominantly black cast and a black story in a big-budget blockbuster, as well as an African setting (or rather a quasi-African setting), and in that sense Ryan Coogler’s exciting and often thoughtful, incisive Black Panther very much stands out from the pack. (If I were a person of colour myself I expect I’d be happy – possibly thrilled – at finally seeing greater representation in this kind of movie, and while yes there have been other black superheroes before Chadwick Boseman’s Panther, this does feel more like a watershed moment; a game-changer.)

The second obvious thing to say about Black Panther is that it’s still very much Another Marvel Movie in other respects, hitting the exact same beats as many of the preceding films (well, it is a cog in the wheel of a franchise and a wider story, of course), suffering from really poor CGI on occasion and following the same basic tenets in the way it goes about telling an origin story and introducing new characters. Still, Boseman proves once more that he’s a capable leading man, Coogler regular Michael B. Jordan impresses as villain ‘Killmonger’ and the three most prominent female members of the cast – Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright – add plenty of warmth, toughness, charisma and humour. Despite the similarities that exist between them I’ve been enjoying the Marvel films again during the past couple of years, by and large. This one is a fun, entertaining adventure; and possibly their best origin film since Guardians of the Galaxy. (***)

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Watched: 25 February

Loving Vincent is an impressive technological and artistic accomplishment; it has oft been said already, but I think it’s worth reiterating that this film took ten years to complete, with 125 artists creating close to 65,000 paintings in doing so. That’s an amazing commitment. Piecing together the final days and death of Vincent Van Gogh, it plays out a bit like a detective story, which I hadn’t expected at all. It’s quite gripping, but I think it’s let down a bit by some fairly average voice acting (I’m really not sure why Douglas Booth pushes the cockney accent so hard, for example). Anyway, it looks great and Clint Mansell‘s score is beautiful. And if nothing else you get a good idea of what a Van Gogh portrait of Jerome Flynn might look like. (***)

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Watched: 23 February

I want to like this film more than I do – but the main point is that I do like it. It’s absolutely true that it’s extremely entertaining at times – much more so than some of the other ‘awards season’ contenders that I’ve seen so far this year – and there are terrific, big performances to enjoy by Margot Robbie as the figure skater Tonya Harding and Alison Janney as her aggressive mother LaVona. Plus, it’s also true that this is a really fascinating story, and one ripe for the Hollywood treatment – incorporating as it does tabloid scandal, crime, a period of domestic abuse, conflicting and therefore unreliable testimonies, a sporting rise against the odds (and certainly one with some interesting class issues and snobbery to pore over) and a similarly spectacular fall from grace. Yet I think that ultimately it’s just too busy, too unable to sit back and allow its excellent actors a bit of space, and time, to bring a little more nuance to their roles. Also, the Scorsese-mimicry (whip-zooms, quick cuts, 70s classic rock soundtrack, etc) eventually makes you want to watch the real thing instead of an imitation, the incredibly patronising commentator voiceovers grate throughout and the mockumentary stylings are tired. On the whole, though, a hit. (***½)

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Watched: 22 February

Set in 2003, Richard Linklater’s sequel-but-not-a-sequel to The Last Detail sees three ‘Nam vets (Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carroll) set off on a road trip together, ostensibly at first in order to attend a funeral. It contains its fair share of sentimental moments as they reminisce about old times and their lives since the war, and there are also scenes of lighthearted comedy (which didn’t really work for me at all) as they trade banter on trains and attempt to catch up with changes in technology and culture, which seem to have passed Cranston’s character Sal by in particular. I’ve seen plenty of praise for the performances but I thought the acting was patchy – poor at times, good at others. It’s slow, though that’s not intended to be a criticism, while Linklater’s screenplay – co-written with Darryl Ponicsan, adapting his novel – contains some hard-hitting emotional moments and smartly critiques the American military’s treatment of veterans and current soldiers alike. (**½)

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Watched: 20 February

Often very funny, this abortion-related rom-com rests largely on the shoulders of SNL’s/Parks and Recreation’s Jenny Slate, who delivers a really likeable turn as a stand-up with a penchant for delivering extremely personal routines in front of crowds that lead to painfully awkward silences. There are some very good comedy club routines, so it would make a good double bill with the equally sharp The Big Sick. (***)

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Watched: 19 February

The first of this year’s two Steven Spielberg films is perhaps more typical of the director’s later period than his other big release, Ready Player One: like 2015’s Bridge Of Spies, The Post is the kind of movie you probably won’t love, but it’s serious and forthright and concerned with historic events and it feels important as a result, so basically it’s both asking for and worthy of your admiration… if not your heart. And, as such, The Post has elicited all kinds of vague phrases from people keen to point out that it is ‘solidly crafted’, ‘well-made’ and ‘superbly put-together’, which are also things that dads say while admiring the coffee tables at OakFurnitureLand. And even though I like the film very much, there’s no doubt that The Post is very coffee table.

I’m being a little disingenuous. The acting in this film – which tells the story of the Washington Post’s reporting of the Pentagon Papers (um… five days later than the New York Times) – is very good indeed, with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks doing most of the legwork as the Post’s Publisher Katharine Graham and Editor Ben Bradlee respectively. This is a film that initially concerns itself with the furrowed brows of a small-ish number of people as they weigh up the potential impact of what they’re about to do, but as they and their New York counterparts seek counsel and eventually publish articles many more organisations and people become involved, not least the Nixon administration, who try to stop the papers from publishing their articles (and indeed there’s a superb ensemble here in addition to Streep and Hanks, including Bob Odenkirk, Tracey Letts, Sarah Paulson, Alison Brie and Michael Stuhlbarg). Let’s be honest, montages of printing presses aside, if your film is going to include lots of meetings in rooms and late night conferences over the phone, you’re very much reliant on the quality of acting to make it cinematic enough, and worthwhile – and this is very much a film to enjoy on account of its acting, and its script. So, lower-key Spielberg, timely and worthy given the attacks on the free press that are being carried out by Trump and his cronies, and solidly-crafted, well-made, superbly put-together, etc. etc. (***½)

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Watched: 18 February

There are excellent, naturalistic performances by some relatively inexperienced actors (and one experienced actor) here, and a sugary, colourful look that captures perfectly the way that the pastels of the Walt Disney World Resort – once known as the ‘Florida Project’ during the planning stages – seep beyond its boundaries and across the Floridian businesses that surround it (and which rely to a certain degree on the megacomplex’s draw). The setting here is a hotel where many of the residents – single mothers and their children, predominantly, or at least those are the people director Sean Baker focuses on – are apparently fighting to raise enough money to keep a roof over their heads, the irony being that there is a block of empty, repossessed homes just down the road. Baker’s film is sympathetic and non-judgmental, but it doesn’t shy away from showing the consequences of a certain character’s actions either – and indeed it also subtly criticises the way figures in authority are forced by their employers to view other people’s situations purely in black and white terms. The director presents the candy-coloured world from a child’s point of view before effortlessly changing to the points of view of the stressed adults who also inhabit it, which is a masterstroke. One of the year’s best. (****½)