They Made Me a Killer (1946) / D: William C. Thomas / 64m
Cast: Robert Lowery, Barbara Britton, Lola Lane, Frank Albertson, Elisabeth Risdon, Byron Barr, Edmund MacDonald, Ralph Sanford, James Bush
Rating: 5/10 – a man (Lowery) drives across country after the death of his brother and gives a lift to a woman (Lane) who tricks him into being the getaway driver in a bank robbery, a situation that sees him on the run from the police but determined to prove his innocence; a gritty, hard-boiled film noir, They Made Me a Killer adds enough incident to its basic plot to keep viewers entertained from start to finish without really adding anything new or overly impressive to the mix, but it does have a brash performance from Lowery, and Thomas’s direction ensures it’s another solid effort from Paramount’s B-movie unit, Pine-Thomas.
Proud Mary (2018) / D: Babak Najafi / 89m
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Billy Brown, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Danny Glover, Neal McDonough, Margaret Avery, Xander Berkeley, Rade Serbedzija, Erik LaRay Harvey
Rating: 3/10 – a female assassin (Henson) finds herself protecting the teenage boy (Winston) whose father she killed years before, and at a time when her actions cause a murderous dispute between the gang she works for and their main rival; as the titular Proud Mary, Henson makes for a less than convincing assassin in this modern day blaxploitation thriller that lets itself down constantly thanks to a turgid script and lacklustre direction, and which has far too many moments where suspension of disbelief isn’t just required but an absolute necessity.
Children of the Corn: Runaway (2018) / D: John Gulager / 82m
Cast: Marci Miller, Jake Ryan Scott, Mary Kathryn Bryant, Lynn Andrews III, Sara Moore, Diane Ayala Goldner, Clu Gulager
Rating: 3/10 – arriving in a small Oklahoman town with her teenage son, Ruth (Miller) attempts to put down roots after over ten years of running from the child cult that nearly cost her her life, but she soon finds that safety still isn’t something she can count on; number ten in the overall series, Children of the Corn: Runaway is yet another entry that keeps well away from any attempts at providing anything new, and succeeds only in being as dull to watch as you’d expect, leaving unlucky viewers to ponder on why these movies still keep getting made when it’s clear the basic premise has been done to death – again and again and again…
Johnny on the Run (1953) / D: Lewis Gilbert / 68m
Cast: Eugeniusz Chylek, Sydney Tafler, Michael Balfour, Edna Wynn, David Coote, Cleo Sylvestre, Jean Anderson, Moultrie Kelsall, Mona Washbourne
Rating: 7/10 – after running away from his foster home in Edinburgh, a young Polish boy, Janek (Chylek), unwittingly falls in with two burglars (Tafler, Balfour), and then finds himself in a Highland village where the possibility of a new and better life is within his grasp; an enjoyable mix of drama and comedy from the UK’s Children’s Film Foundation, Johnny on the Run benefits from sterling performances, Gilbert’s astute direction, excellent location work, and a good understanding of what will interest both children and adults alike, making this one of the Foundation’s better entries, and still as entertaining now as when it was first released.
Ferdinand (2017) / D: Carlos Saldanha / 108m
Cast: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Anthony Anderson, Bobby Cannavale, Peyton Manning, David Tennant, Jeremy Sisto, Lily Day, Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, Gabriel Iglesias
Rating: 8/10 – a young bull called Ferdinand (Cena) whose disposition includes a fondness for flowers and protecting other animals, finds himself temporarily living with a supportive family, until events bring him back to the world of bullfighting that he thought he’d left behind; the classic children’s tale gets the Blue Sky treatment, and in the process, retains much of the story’s whimsical yet pertinent takes on pacifism, anti-bullying, and gender diversity, while providing audiences with a rollicking and very humorous adventure that makes Ferdinand a very enjoyable experience indeed.
The Hurricane Heist (2018) / D: Rob Cohen / 98m
Cast: Toby Kebbell, Maggie Grace, Ryan Kwanten, Ralph Ineson, Melissa Bolona, Ben Cross, Jamie Andrew Cutler, Christian Contreras
Rating: 4/10 – thieves target a US Treasury facility during a Category 5 hurricane, but don’t reckon on their plans going awry thanks to a Treasury agent (Grace), a meteorologist (Kebbell), and his ex-Marine brother (Kwanten); as daft as you’d expect, The Hurricane Heist continues the downward career spiral of Cohen, and betrays its relatively small budget every time it sets up a major action sequence, leaving its talented cast to thrash against the wind machines in search of credibility and sincerity, a notion that the script abandons very early on as it maximises all its efforts to appear as ridiculous as possible (which is the only area in which it succeeds).
The Monster of Highgate Ponds (1961) / D: Alberto Cavalcanti / 59m
Cast: Sophie Clay, Michael Wade, Terry Raven, Ronald Howard, Frederick Piper, Michael Balfour, Roy Vincente, Beryl Cooke
Rating: 6/10 – when his uncle (Howard) returns home from a trip to Malaya, David (Wade) gets to keep a large egg that’s been brought back, but little does he realise that a creature will hatch from the egg – a creature David, his sister Sophie (Clay), and their friend, Chris (Raven) need to protect from the authorities until his uncle returns home from his latest trip; though the special effects that bring the “monster” to life are less than impressive, there’s a pleasing low budget, wish fulfillment vibe to The Monster of Highgate Ponds that allows for the absurdity of it all to be taken in stride, and thanks to Cavalcanti’s relaxed direction, that absurdity makes the movie all the more enjoyable.
Rampage (2018) / D: Brad Peyton / 107m
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jake Lacy
Rating: 5/10 – a gorilla, a wolf, and an alligator are all exposed to an illegal genetic engineering experiment and become massively bigger and more aggressive thanks to the corporation behind the experiment, leaving the gorilla’s handler (Johnson) to try and help put things right; based on a video game, and as brightly ridiculous as any movie version of a video game could be, Rampage uses its (very) simple plotting to bludgeon the audience into submission with a variety of exemplary digital effects, while also trying to dredge up a suitable amount of emotion along the way, but in the end – and surprisingly – it’s Johnson’s knowing performance and Morgan’s affected government spook that trade this up from simple disaster to almost disaster.
Unhappy Birthday (2011) / D: Mark Harriott, Mike Matthews / 91m
aka Amen Island
Cast: David Paisley, Christina De Vallee, Jill Riddiford, Jonathan Deane
Rating: 4/10 – Rick (Paisley) and his girlfriend, Sadie (De Vallee), along with their friend Jonny (Keane), travel to the tidal island of Amen to reunite Sadie with her long lost sister, only to find that the islanders have a secret that threatens the lives of all three of them; a low budget British thriller with distinct echoes of The Wicker Man (1973) – though it’s not nearly as effective – Unhappy Birthday highlights the isolated nature of the island and the strangeness of its inhabitants, but reduces its characters to squabbling malcontents pretty much from the word go, which makes spending time with them far from appealing, and stops the viewer from having any sympathy for them once things start to go wrong.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018) / D: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo / 149m
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Idris Elba, Danai Gurira, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio Del Toro, William Hurt, Letitia Wright
Rating: 8/10 – Thanos (Brolin) finally gets around to collecting the Infinity stones and only the Avengers (and almost every other Marvel superhero) can stop him – or can they?; there’s much that could be said about Avengers: Infinity War, but suffice it to say, after eighteen previous movies, Marvel have finally made the MCU’s version of The Empire Strikes Back (1980).
The King of Escape (2009) / D: Alain Guiraudie / 90m
Original title: Le roi de l’évasion
Cast: Ludovic Berthillot, Hafsia Herzi, Pierre Laur, Luc Palun, Pascal Aubert, François Clavier, Bruno Valayer, Jean Toscan
Rating: 6/10 – when a middle-aged homosexual tractor salesman (Berthillot) falls in love with the daughter (Herzi) of a rival salesman, this unexpected turn of events has further unexpected repercussions, all of which lead the pair to go on the run from her father and the police; as much a comedy of manners as an unlikely romance, The King of Escape is humorous (though far from profound), and features too many scenes of its central couple running across fields and through woods, something that becomes as tiring for the viewer as it must have been for the actors, though the performances are finely judged, and Guiraudie’s direction displays the increasing confidence that would allow him to make a bigger step with Stranger by the Lake (2013).