Mississippi Grind 2015 ****

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Ryan Reynolds has put his snark to good use as Deadpool; it’s a little frustrating that he’s using the same mannerisms for everything from Detective Pikachu to Fast and Furious, because he can play straight just as well. Similarly, Ben Mendelsohn is a terrific actor who has been typecast as a baddie in Ready Player One, Rogue One and Robin Hood; both of them need to be a bit more creatively cast. Writers and director Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck provide proof of concept that both men have the chops to do great work with Mississippi Grind, a downbeat but hugely impressive character study of who men under the narcotic grip of gambling. Gerry (Mendelsohn) is a poker player who imagines that hanging out with the younger, better-looking Curtis (Reynolds) might change his luck; he’s right in a way, but not the way he imagines. Both men are weak; a key dialogue scene hinges on their willingness to place a bet on something as random as the appearance of the next person to walk into a room. Robert Altman’s California Split was an inspiration, but Mississippi Grind has an energy and a loucheness all of its own; if you’ve only seen these actors paying the rent in blockbusters, it’s something of a revelation to see what they can do in a small-scale drama like this.

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Pokemon; Detective Pikachu 2018 ****

Pokemon movies are 40 miles of bad road for the unwary; unimpressive animation, convoluted stories, and a sense that all the information required for a basic comprehension is not on-screen; the Pokemon animations feel like an accessory to the game, rather than the other way round. But those who deny the power of Mewtwo will have to adjust their thinking after Rob Letterman’s film, a far more imaginative and involving effort than anyone might have expected. Justice Smith plays Pokemon trainer Tim, who teams up with the deer-stalker sporting bundle of fur named Pikachu to solve a case; voiced by Ryan Reynolds, Pikachu offers a PG version of Deadpool’s trademark snark, which works well here to deflate any potential cuteness. Kathryn Newton also makes an impression as cub-reporter Lucy Stevens, but it’s the Pokemon themselves which are the real stars. While the plot takes a few steers from Zootopia and Happytime Murders in terms of a detective investigating a world balanced between furry creature and humans, it also provides plenty of opportunity for huge fantasy set-pieces, with the effects team on point to create an inflatable-strewn city parade and a massive chase through the Scottish countryside that literally makes the earth move. Franchise starters are many and standard; Pokemon; Detective Pikachu is one of the few which leave audiences keen to catch a few more. And goodness knows what Bill Nighy thinks he’s doing here, but he rips through his dailogue in the best traditions of a pantomime baddie.