Movie of the Week: Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Tim Miller directs Linda Hamilton, MacKenzie Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger in this legacy reboot of the time travelling killer cyborgs saga that brings back the original Sarah Connor to save the new saviour of the future.

A thrilling blockbuster that slows down a little too much in the second half. That first hour though we get a blistering, seat gripping chase that matches T2’s action highlights. Maybe not in cool but certainly in destruction and relentless pace. We get Davis as the convincing super soldier and a “can of peaches” worth dying over to boot. Linda Hamilton does grizzled and cynical and unhinged brilliantly… welcome home. This is the first Terminator where Arnie gets dialogue yet doesn’t say “I’ll Be Back” maybe there’s a point there. This version of the T-800 is a deadpan hoot and enlivens the action-free parts of the backend. Gabriel Luna makes for quite the sinister upgrade on Robert Patrick. I’d see him return again as villain next chase. Will you like it? Clearly I’m more forgiving of the non 5* Terminator entries than you lot. But this really pumps, the ropey bit of CGI stunt work aside, I can’t think of anyone but a message board humbug who’ll not enjoy this for what it is. Big, violent mayhem.


Official Secrets (2019)

Gavin Hood directs Keira Knightley, Matt Smith and Ralph Fiennes in this true story of a GCHQ interpreter who leaks an email that proved the UK and US were attempting to strongarm U.N. members by blackmail to ratify the last Iraq war.

Katherine Gun is an unwritten hero of modern history. Taking a uniquely principled stance that risked all her freedoms and comforts when most of us merely went on a march, maybe signed an e-petition and definitely didn’t stop using oil. We all knew what that war was about. None of us risked our lifestyle and boycotted the black gold though, did we? The first hour is your standard whistleblower ruins their life in favour of the truth biopic. It is presented cleanly, the acting is solid and doesn’t stink of Oscar grandstanding. But in the final stretch you find your stomach lurching as “they” try to break Gun with all the legal, bureaucratic means at their disposal. “They” are presented quite matter of factly as everyone in power – they all know each other, their connectedness and civility is quietly disgusting. The race to destroy her grips, the few that try and find a way to shield her shine in their quiet admirability. You leave the uncertain closing moments genuinely shaken. What Katherine Gun did should be taught in schools. What she went through should be taught in schools. This calm, measured film presents it with an expert unfussiness. Tight, unsensational filmmaking reminiscent of Ken Loach’s equally superb Hidden Agenda.


Zombieland 2: Double Tap (2019)

Ruben Fleischer directs Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone in this horror comedy where the protagonists of the first film leave the safety of The White House to find their zombie infested world is changing.

A little test. Do you like / love Zombieland? Do you like / love Ghostbusters II? If your answer was a “Yes” to both questions then you’ll be happily entertained by this. It is gleefully content just being a straight continuation of the vibe and jokes of the original. Zoey Deutch is such a welcome addition she should have made the poster. Business as usual, business is good.


Serenity (2019)

Steven Knight directs Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Djimon Hounsou in this neo-noir where a struggling fisherman is revisited by his glamorous ex-wife with a murderous request.

I used to stay up late watching movies like this on Moviedrome. Imperfect genre films that were so off key they were fascinating. Works where auteurs had overreached. Star vehicles that were bafflingly uncommercial. Here’s the thing. Something is revealed an hour into the story that completely warps what you are watching. Most of the audience will switch off as it is such a ludicrous shift from the rental they were sold on. Other might appreciate the effort to mix things up as ham fisted as it is executed. A few will love the plot earthquake. The clues were all there, it has a cult audience waiting… dormant… to celebrate this as a misunderstood cult classic a decade hence. Me? I was really enjoying the film for what it was. A Hemingwayish take on The Lady From Shanghai. McConaughey gotta catch that elusive fish. Hathaway vamping about like Jessica Rabbit. I missed that film once it was aborted. What took over wasn’t anywhere near as fun or up my alley. Until Serenity pulls the rug from underneath us all… It was a great day to catch that fish!


El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)

Vince Gilligan directs Aaron Paul, Charles Baker and Jesse Plemmons in this cinematic epilogue to groundbreaking TV series Breaking Bad, that features an on-the-run Jesse Pinkman trying to get out of town and restart his life.

Two mid tier episodes of Breaking Bad squeezed together, not always flush with the lateral problem solving set pieces that defined the original. This works best as fan service, with Jesse dropping in on and remembering key characters. The narrative itself works as a neat little noir, watchable even to the uninitiated viewer. What they might make of all the flashbacks is anyone’s guess but for an avid viewer who was hooked from the very start this is a welcome if unspectacular return visit. Closure, bitch!


A Touch of Zen (1969)

King Hu directs Feng Hsu, Chun Shih and Ying Bai in this kung-fu ghost story epic where a calligrapher falls for an on-the-run warrior woman who is hiding out in the “haunted” monastery next door.

That above precis of the plot isn’t half of it. The second half is a series of year long chases and battles through the sun soaked forest with wandering monks intervening and transcending existence. Yep? Yep! There’s also comedy, soapy romance and shifting antagonists. It is quite the overwhelming experience, and I’ll admit I was a little tired from a late night shift to fully be patient and alert throughout its indulgent three hours running time. Yet the care and beauty imbued in A Touch of Zen does stand out among its generation of fight flicks. It echoes more in Crouching Tiger than it does Enter the Dragon. Next time I’ll drink three coffees before getting absorbed in King Hu’s expansive, unfettered big one.


The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

Steven Spielberg directs Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis and Daniel Craig in this motion capture animated adventure where Herge’s plucky boy reporter meets Captain Haddock and hunts hidden treasure.

Some of the fluid camera movements and tricks in this are mind blowing. There’s a grand finale set-piece, involving a race around the fictional North African port town of Bagghar, that is exemplary in its demolition derby playfulness. Everything else has that Spielbergian magic, that urgent sense of building peril, his light visual wit… and yet you know he can do all this in a live action production. The Indiana Jones series proved this fabulous cliffhanger infinity storytelling is possible on this scale. To watch it cartoonified feels a slight gyp. There’s nothing in here to match the heartpounding wonder of the minecart chase in Temple of Doom. Yet by being animated, surely all rules of physics and limitations of human endeavour are off. You just don’t see that new sandbox being played in effectively up on the screen…


Out of Africa (1985)

Sydney Pollack directs Meryl Streep, Robert Redford and Klaus Maria Brandauer in this epic romance following the loves and struggles of white colonialists in Edwardian Nairobi.

Not my kinda movie. It idealises the poachers and land barons who exploited Africa. Thinking we should care about their affairs and breaches of protocol, their uncommon kindness to random black individuals who served them. God, I’ve just thrown up in my mouth. The film does have a beautiful adventurous epic sweep, Streep and Redford make for a complex pairing and the script is at least self aware of its troubling politics even if it feels these white devils are somehow exempt because of their occasional spikes of humanity.


Iron Man (2008)

Jon Faverau directs Robert Downey Jnr., Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow in this selfish billionaire weapons manufacturer turns armour clad flying superhero origins story.

Not quite the blast I remember. The middle act where Tony Stark finds his feet modifying his suit is still witty and energetic. Everything else feels a little perfunctory. Maybe as this was the wild experiment that would eventually be defined into the uncrackable Marvel formula you expect more from it. I just see a decent summer blockbuster, poppy but no more outstanding or spectacular than Indy 4, Hellboy II or The Incredible Hulk.


Action Point (2018)

Tim Kirkby directs Johnny Knoxville, Chris Pontius and Eleanor Worthington-Cox in this slapstick comedy where a rickety 1970’s theme park faces closure so the owner decides to take all the safety features from the rides to stand-out from the crowd.

An undeserved flop on release last summer. Sad to think we no longer live in a world where people want to see a middle-aged man get hit in the dick every few scenes! If this was released in the 80s it would be cherished by a young lad called me, recorded off the telly on a LongPlay VHS tape, nestled securely between Police Academy 3 and Naked Gun. It is a sweet, stupid, stunt-filled daftie with a beer drinking bear and a soft punk soundtrack. You are missing out on an absolute, heart rather than head, laughter treat. Based on a true story.