HACKSAW RIDGE (15)
D: Mel Gibson
Summit/Icon/Cross Creek (Bill Mechanic & David Permut)
W: Robert Schenkkan & Andrew Knight [based on the 2004 documentary "The Conscientious Objector"]
DP: Simon Duggan
Ed: John Gilbert
Mus: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Andrew Garfield (Desmond Doss), Vince Vaughn (Sgt. Howell), Sam Worthington (Capt. Jack Glover), Hugo Weaving (Tom Doss), Teresa Palmer (Dorothy Schutte), Luke Bracey (Smitty Ryker)
Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist and conscientious objector who became a hero of World War II without even firing a single weapon.
The biographical picture starts before Doss' army days, growing up in rural Middle America and wooing a childhood sweetheart, while the middle act focuses on Doss' training for combat before the last third of the film thrusts the man into the heat of battle in Japan. It's quite obvious that the film sheds a bit of the true story in favour of some Hollywood gloss, but the story still details a remarkable achievement.
The film provided a comeback platform for Mel Gibson's directorial career, and Andrew Garfield is deserved of the praise he received in the lead role. Both men would be honoured with Oscar nominations for their work, while the film itself was nominated as one of the best of 2016. It probably deserves a spot in or around the Top 10, but not much higher.
D: David Gordon Green
Universal/Miramax/Blumhouse (Malek Akkad, Jason Blum & Bill Block)
W: Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride & David Gordon Green [based on characters created by John Carpenter & Debra Hill]
DP: Michael Simmonds
Ed: Tim Alverson
Mus: John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter & Daniel Davies
Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Judy Greer (Karen Nelson), Andi Matichak (Allyson Nelson), Will Patton (Frank Hawkins), Haluk Bilginer (Dr. Ranbir Sartain), James Jude Courtney (Michael Myers)
Although it shares the same title, 2018's Halloween is actually a sequel, rather than a remake, to 1978's Halloween and although it's the 11th film in the long-running horror series, its storyline retcons all previous sequels... including 1981's Halloween II (which wasn't actually too bad).
40 years on from the events in the first movie, Laurie Strode lives with the trauma from her ordeal as Michael Myers spends his days incarcerated in a high security prison for the mentally unsound.
Dr. Loomis is no longer alive, but Michael's case is studied by Loomis' 2018 counterpart, Ranbir Sartain, who introduces a pair of obnoxious journalists to the psychopath in the film's pre-credit sequence.
The meat of the story follows Laurie's granddaughter, a high school teenager who wants to party with her friends on Halloween, but the night takes a turn for the worst when Michael Myers escapes a prisoner transfer van and goes on a killing spree in his old neighbourhood (again) and Laurie comes out of hiding to protect her family and hunt down the killer responsible for causing her years of torment.
Though this film seems proud to retcon all previous sequels and claims it isn't a remake, it's the same old shit again and again. There's no originality here, and it even recycles elements from the 1978 classic, using mirrors in the scene set up as if to say "we've flipped it, aren't we clever". Unfortunately, it isn't clever. It's just jump scare after jump scare and a little atmosphere in-between, and though some scenes are reasonably well executed, it's a far cry from John Carpenter's seminal slasher classic.
The first film was genre-defining. This is just Hollywood cash-grab xeroxing at its most cynical.
D: Joe Wright
Sony/Focus Features/Babelsberg (Leslie Holleran, Marty Adelstein & Scott Nemes)
W: Seth Lochhead & David Farr
DP: Alwin H. Küchler
Ed: Paul Tothill
Mus: Tom Rowlands & Ed Simons (The Chemical Brothers)
Saoirse Ronan (Hanna Heller), Eric Bana (Erik Heller), Cate Blanchett (Marissa Wiegler), Jessica Barden (Sophie), Tom Hollander (Isaacs), Olivia Williams (Rachel)
Saoirse Ronan plays the title character, a sixteen year old assassin raised by her father in the woods of Finland to be a strong, effective killer. She is subsequently dispatched on a mission across Europe and becomes tracked by intelligence operatives headed by a ruthless lead agent.
The film starts very promisingly, but does become less and less feasible as it continues. The acting performances are good, and there are a handful of decent action set pieces, but it's not as good as it could have been. The music from electronic duo The Chemical Brothers is probably the film's biggest highlight.
HAPPY DEATH DAY (15)
D: Christopher Landon
Universal/Blumhouse (Jason Blum)
W: Scott Lobdell
DP: Toby Oliver
Ed: Gregory Plotkin
Mus: Bear McCreary
Jessica Rothe (Tree Gelbman), Israel Broussard (Carter Davis), Ruby Modine (Lori Spengler), Rachel Matthews (Danielle Bouseman), Charles Aitken (Gregory Butler), Rob Mello (John Tombs)
The premise of Groundhog Day is reimagined for a teen slasher genre, starring Jessica Rothe as Tree, an ignorant and bitchy sorority girl who is murdered on her birthday and has a chance to relive the day over and over again until she discovers her own murderer.
The horror film is not without its faults, of which there are plenty, the biggest being that it's very difficult to care about such an unpleasant lead character, even when her character does arc, it appears disingenuously false.
Another problem is that is simply isn't scary, with only a handful of jump scares that you can predict a mile off. The true identity of the killer won't be much of a surprise either.
The premise could have worked with a little more work, but this is aimed solely at a teenage audience, who probably won't care too much for more than a dumb, colour-by-numbers horror flick.
THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS (15)
D: Brian Henson
STX/Black Bear/Henson Alternative/Huayi Brothers (Brian Henson, Jeff Hayes, Jason Lust, Ben Falcone & Melissa McCarthy)
W: Todd Berger & Dee Austin Robertson
DP: Mitchell Amundsen
Ed: Brian Scott Olds
Mus: Christopher Lennertz
Bill Barretta (voice of Phil Philips), Melissa McCarthy (Connie Edwards), Maya Rudolph (Bubbles), Joel McHale (Agent Campbell), Elizabeth Banks (Jenny), Dorien Davies (voice of Sandra White)
If you're the sort of person who finds the idea of watching Kermit The Frog getting wanked off by Miss Piggy hilarious, then you'll probably enjoy The Happytime Murders. If however, you go into this film expecting L.A. Confidential with a Who Framed Roger Rabbit twist, then you're certain to be disappointed.
Set in a Los Angeles where sentient puppets and human beings co-exist, puppet P.I. Phil Philips takes on a blackmailing case from a femme fatale, a case which has links with a string of murders targeting the cast of The Happytime Gang, a successful television show in the vein of Sesame Street.
This film had the potential of having allegorical parallels with racism, or merely being a Sam Spade-esque detective mystery with puppets, but instead it goes for the low-hanging fruit of vulgar humour at every opportunity, with puerile sex joke after puerile sex joke ejaculating over the screen like a constant stream of silly string (this actually happens).
There's a reference to Basic Instinct which does raise a smile, and the puppet work is quite well executed, despite the puppets being incredibly ugly.
Peter Jackson did this before, in Meet The Feebles, and the detective angle had already been covered with The Great Muppet Caper. This could have been a hugely entertaining subverted version of a medium which is usually for kids, but it's nothing but a tawdry mess.
A razzie for Fozzie wouldn't be a huge surprise.
A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (PG)
D: Richard Lester
United Artist (Walter Shenson)
W: Alun Owen
DP: Gilbert Taylor
Ed: John Jympson
Mus: The Beatles & George Martin
John Lennon (himself), Paul McCartney (himself), George Harrison (himself), Ringo Starr (himself), Wilfrid Brambell (Grandfather)
A day in the life of The Beatles, as they journey from Liverpool to London in this comic fantasia filmed at the height of Beatlemania.
Though the plot simply has the Fab Four playing themselves, they don't dumb down their on-screen counterparts in a way we've seen in other promotional films for pop bands (Spiceworld, a fine example). In fact, the screenplay has several funny moments, and was even good enough to be nominated for an Oscar.
It helps to like their music, but even if you don't, this makes for a fine piece of classic British cinema. The album isn't too shabby either.
THE HATE U GIVE (12)
D: George Tillman, Jr.
20th Century Fox/Temple Hill/State Street (Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Robert Teitel & George Tillman, Jr.)
W: Audrey Wells [based on the novel by Angie Thomas]
DP: Mihai Mãlaimare, Jr.
Ed: Alex Blatt & Craig Hayes
Mus: Dustin O'Halloran
Amandla Stenberg (Starr Carter), Regina Hall (Lisa Carter), Russell Hornsby (Maverick Carter), K.J. Apa (Chris), Algee Smith (Khalil Harris), Lamar Johnson (Seven Carter), Common (Uncle Carlos), Anthony Mackie (King)
Are you woke? If you don't know what I mean by that phrase, it's how social media phrase the awareness of racial or cultural issues and the disparity between people based on this. Personally, I think it's a bullshit buzzword for people to score points and make themselves feel better.
The Hate U Give is a woke drama, based on a young-adult novel by Angie Thomas and taking its title from lyrics of a 2pac song ("The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody"). The story focuses on Starr Carter, a teenage girl from a black neighbourhood who goes to a school for privileged wypipo and parties in the 'hood, where she socialises with Khalil, a young drug dealer (but a nice one because he likes Harry Potter). When driving home with Starr, Khalil is shot dead by a policeman because he misunderstands "keep your hands on top of the vehicle" as "reach in through the car window for an item which may or may not be a weapon".
The police officer is suspended for his actions, and the community rallies behind Starr to give evidence at a legal hearing, but she's reluctant because of Khalil's ties to King, the neighbourhood drug dealer.
Despite an excellent lead performance from Amandla Stenberg and great supporting performances from Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby, I found this film to be a pretentious dirge, laced with social justice propaganda and the main reason is because the characters (aside from members of the Carter family) are so poorly written and some of the dialogue is deliberately contrived to bait.
In 2016, when her husband Will Smith wasn't nominated for an Oscar, actress Jada Pinkett released an outraged video where Hollywood needs to address its "unconscious racism" and "more films for us" need to be produced - is this honestly what she was alluding to??
I'm absolutely fine with films which highlight social issues, but when will there be a film which focuses on disparity between the rich and poor (& why is Jada Pinkett not outraged on YouTube about that).
The questions which this film raises aren't solved, they're not even looked at in any microscopic detail and it only exists to pour fuel on a fire, rather than educate. Watch a documentary instead (or Boyz N The Hood, Crash, Do The Right Thing, Fruitvale Station, Selma, 12 Years A Slave... even District 9). If you read (or write) Buzzfeed or Huffington Post articles, you'll probably like it a lot more than I did.
HEAVEN'S GATE (15)
D: Michael Cimino
United Artists (Joann Carelli)
US 1980 (released 1981)
216 mins (325 mins - original version / 219 mins - theatrical version / 149 mins - edited version)
W: Michael Cimino
DP: Vilmos Zsigmond
Ed: William Reynolds, Lisa Fruchtman, Gerald Greenberg & Tom Rolf
Mus: David Mansfield
PD: Tambi Larsen
Kris Kristofferson (James Averill), Christopher Walken (Nathan D. Champion), John Hurt (William C. Irvine), Sam Waterston (Frank Canton), Brad Dourif (Mr. Eggleston), Isabella Huppert (Ella Watson), Jeff Bridges (John L. Bridges), Joseph Cotten (The Reverend Doctor)
Notoriously known as the film which nearly bankrupted United Artists, the production of Heaven's Gate has since become a cautionary tale of Hollywood folklore when it comes to studio profligacy and writer-director ego projects.
I've only viewed the 216 minute version, it was as it comes on the DVD release and I really don't think I could take the longer edits, but it has to be said that this film is an incoherent mess. This western opus centres around a small town in 1890's Wyoming, where tensions build between land barons and European immigrants.
In truth, the story behind the making of the film is more interesting than the film itself, plagued by expensive reshoots, animal cruelty, cast member unrest and Michael Cimino's dictatorial stranglehold on all aspects of the production, including the order that an entire set be demolished and rebuilt.
Aesthetically beautiful it may be, but the storyline is ridiculously boring. It's little wonder that Heaven's Gate has become one of Hollywood's biggest jokes.
HEAVY METAL (18)
D: Gerald Potterton
Columbia (Ivan Reitman)
W: Daniel Goldberg & Len Blum [based on original art and stories by Richard Corben, Angus McKie, Dan O'Bannon, Thomas Warkentin & Bernie Wrightson]
Mus: Elmer Bernstein
voices of: Richard Romanus (Harry Canyon), John Candy (Dan / Den), Don Francks (Grimaldi), August Schellenberg (Norl / Taarak), Rodger Bumpass (Captain Sternn)
An experimental animated film featuring alumni from Saturday Night Live and inspired by the conceptual artwork from Heavy Metal magazine.
The choppy plot surrounds a mysterious orb with an unspeakable power and is set across various eras, from a past involving barbarians and warriors to a futuristic and squalid New York City. The film also has various animation styles, from a rotoscoped opening sequence to an anime style for the majority of the running time.
In lieu of a comprehensible plot, it does have a soundtrack jammed packed with rock songs of the late 1970's and early 1980's. Due to this, and being released at the dawn of MTV, it has collected a cult fanbase, though it goes without saying that it's a very acquired taste.
HENRY V (PG)
D: Kenneth Branagh
Renaissance/BBC/Curzon (Bruce Sharman)
W: Kenneth Branagh [based on the play by William Shakespeare]
DP: Kenneth MacMillan
Ed: Michael Bradsell
Mus: Patrick Doyle
PD: Tim Harvey
Cos: Phyllis Dalton
Kenneth Branagh (Henry V), Derek Jacobi (Chorus), ), Brian Blessed (Duke of Exeter), Paul Scofield (Charles VI of France), Emma Thompson (Princess Katherine)
Laurence Olivier got there first to show Hollywood that Shakespeare could be translated to the screen successfully, and though Kenneth Branagh's version came 45 years later, he takes the Bard's prose in a completely different direction, blending stage with screen and though the BBC had a big hand in the production it does feel a little too profligate for a television serial.
Emulating Olivier, Branagh takes on the title role himself, a playboy king who must come of age quickly as he prepares for war and the historically significant Battle of Agincourt.
Branagh adopts an artistic and far more darker approach to the material, serving it as an anti-war fable rather than a story of courage, and though much of the opening act is bogged down with some tedium, the battle scenes, when they come, are visually splendid.
You don't have to be a Shakespeare fan to appreciate it fully, but it helps.
D: Ari Aster
A24/Palmstar/Finch/Windy Hill (Kevin Frakes, Lars Knudsen & Buddy Patrick)
W: Ari Aster
DP: Pawel Pogorzelski
Ed: Jennifer Lame & Lucian Johnston
Mus: Colin Stetson
Toni Collette (Annie Graham), Gabriel Byrne (Steve Graham), Alex Wolf (Peter Graham), Milly Shapiro (Charlie Graham), Ann Dowd (Joan)
Hereditary's marketing campaign did the film a huge disservice, dubbing the movie "this generation's Exorcist". If anything, it's this year's Mother!, especially since it seemed so divisive with audiences, though this says more about the sort of people horror movies are aimed at nowadays rather than the movie itself.
Hereditary certainly does take some inspiration from some Golden Age horror classics, notably Rosemary's Baby, but the story here is completely original and executed with a unique, fresh style, playing out like a doll's house diorama reflected in the movie's production design (see below).
Following the death of her mother, dollhouse maker Annie Graham and her family mourn her loss as they go about their lives. Annie's daughter Charlie, a social outcast, appears to be struggling hardest with the loss and Annie herself senses her mother's presence around the house.
The first act builds up suspense and atmosphere before a surprise scene completely out of the blue takes the film in a completely different direction (can't explain further without major spoilers), culminating with Annie visiting a friend she met at a support group and conducting a seance which brings a malevolent spirit into her and her family's lives.
It's a complicated film to explain without giving any of the surprises away, but it's effectively done, with a brilliant performance from Toni Collette which deservedly generated some Oscar buzz. The film does have ties to other films about hauntings and demonic possession, but does its own thing with it, and although the ending is a thinker, this is exactly the kind of horror movie that I personally want to spend my time watching, rather than cheap jump scare rubbish or gratuitously violent gore porn.
If this is to go by, director-writer Ari Aster has a promising career ahead. It's not this generation's The Exorcist. Not at all. It's this generation's horror equivalent to Ordinary People.
HIDDEN FIGURES (PG)
D: Theodore Melfi
20th Century Fox/Fox 2000/Levantine/TSG (Peter Chernin, Donna Gigliotti, Theodore Melfi, Jenno Topping & Pharrell Williams)
W: Theodore Melfi & Allison Schroeder [based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterley]
DP: Mandy Walker
Ed: Peter Teschner
Mus: Hans Zimmer
Taraji P. Henson (Katherine Goble Johnson), Octavia Spencer (Dorothy Vaughan), Janelle Monáe (Mary Jackson), Kevin Costner (Al Harrison), Kirsten Dunst (Vivian Mitchell), Jim Parsons (Paul Stafford), Glen Powell (John Glenn), Mahershala Ali (Jim Johnson)
Hidden Figures tells the true story of the African-American women whose work for NASA in the early 1960's proved integral to the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, triumphing over the adversity of both racial segregation and attitudes towards women at the time.
The story follows the lives of three mathematician friends, Katherine Goble, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson during their careers at NASA, with the main focus on Katherine Goble, in the big chair at NASA's top brass, but her efforts are not taken seriously simply because of her gender and skin colour, but she still proves her place amongst the elite despite not being privy to confidential information withheld from her.
As a side note, the film also follows the paths of Dorothy Vaughan, a supervisor without title for the black staff at NASA who proved her worth by studying computer programming for the missions and Mary Jackson, who battled for legal precedence to study at an all-white school and achieve her dream of being an engineer.
The film has a very important message to deliver, without getting bogged down in politics and instead focusing on the humanity behind the affected people. It probably helps if you know a little about the Mercury 7 space programme, but it's not entirely necessary. The trio of leads, played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe, all deliver fantastic performances, while Kevin Costner gives one of his finest portrayals for the best part of two decades for his role as NASA's head of operations, who sees past the colour barrier to the main goal which lies ahead.
The film's running time does teeter towards the long side, but there isn't really a moment which could be cut out, though the use of modern songs on the soundtrack does make it feel a little anachronistic and over-dramatised. Still, it has to be said that these ladies really did have the Right Stuff.