Encanto (2021, dir. Jared Bush & Byron Howard, with Charise Castro Smith)

A Columbian family fractures when their magical powers weaken. Great-looking but derivative animation with too much tickbox Disney stuff, saddled with dull songs. Moments amuse, and the small scale gives focus, but there’s nothing here that Moana or Coco didn’t do ten times better.

Here’s the trailer.

The Suicide Squad (2021, dir. James Gunn)

Convicted DC supervillains are recruited to undertake a covert mission. Splashy flip splattery slapstick action comedy sequel, developing into a Ghostbusters variant. Some poetic moments help, though the crowded cast needs more time to breathe than can be given here.

Here’s the trailer.

The Amazing Mr Blunden (2021, dir. Mark Gatiss)

A family is invited to become caretakers of a haunted country house. Solid and entertaining second version of the story, balancing the 1972 original and Antonia Barber’s source novel The Ghosts. No surprises, perhaps, but Gatiss’s control of the material and his affection for it is well in evidence throughout.

Here’s the trailer

The Princess Bride (1987, dir. Rob Reiner)

A grandfather reads a fairy story of true love to his ill grandson. Excellent distillation of the William Goldman novel, with the right balance of thrills, jokes, well-sketched characters, and a cast that knows exactly the movie they’re in. Lots of fun throughout.

Here’s the trailer

A Boy Called Christmas (2021, dir. Gil Kenan)

A woodcutter’s son journeys to find hope to save his father and his kingdom. Very straightforward festive origin fantasy shamelessly lifted structure-wise from The Princess Bride. A decent cast helps no end: the flick relies on professional support for its scant charm.

Here’s the trailer.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021, dir. Destin Daniel Cretton)

The son of an immortal warlord must face his father. Patchy and nigh-plotless superhero action-adventure origin story, drawing on allsorts. Incidental pleasures aplenty (a poster for Walter Hill’s The Warriors) but this is for fans of the character and Marvel completists only. Still, some fun details are to be found, and there’s one gleeful supporting performance.

Here’s the trailer.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial [AKA E.T.] (1982, dir. Steven Spielberg)

A boy befriends a stranded alien. Still-powerful Christ allegory dressed up as a child-friendly sci-fi comedy. Works in all kinds of ways, and is technically astounding throughout. What shines is the quiet confidence on display, and Spielberg’s ability to tell story through character moments and shot composition. Recommended.

Here’s the trailer

Monster Hunter (2020, dir. Paul WS Anderson)

An army ranger is transported to another dimension, where she must battle giant creatures. Okay and often handsome video game franchise adaptation, efficiently-enough riffing on everything from Aliens to Beetlejuice via Starship Troopers: well-tailored for an international action market, if a touch po-faced in execution for the most part.

Here’s the trailer.

Jungle Cruise (2021, dir. Jaume Collet-Serra)

A scientist-adventurer and an irascible tugboat captain journey up the Amazon in search of a fabled tree. Labourious action-fantasy cribbing from allsorts: The African Queen, Aguirre: Wrath of God, various Pirates of the Caribbean flicks, the Brendan Fraser iteration of The Mummy. Not great, and a disappointment from the usually sure Collet-Serra.

Here’s the trailer.

Black Widow (2021, dir. Cate Shortland)

Natasha Romanoff reunites with her estranged fake family to disrupt a post-Soviet Russian agent programme. Patchy Marvel SF/spy adventure (the first Phase 4 movie) awkwardly balancing dysfunctional familial bickering and action set-pieces. A strong cast helps, as does a relatively low-stakes approach and some attempts at character.

Here’s the trailer.