Autumn is well and truly here. The days are getting colder and the nights are getting darker, but if there’s one positive to fewer evenings out and more evenings in, it’s catching up on these epic movies under a blanket with a hot cuppa.
Take a look at these brilliant films and add them to your watch list this October.
Terminator: Dark Fate
The Terminator franchise looked a goner following 2015’s botched and baffling reboot, Terminator Genisys, but this cracking new entry brings the sci-fi action thriller series thrillingly back to life. Ignoring the last three instalments, the movie recreates the irresistible kinetic drive of the first two Terminator films and also sees the return, 28 years on, of Linda Hamilton as kick-ass heroine Sarah Connors. This time Connors is joined by an even more unflinching female hero – an enhanced human soldier named Grace, played with rangy athleticism and sweaty determination by Mackenzie Davis. Grace’s role is a familiar one. Echoing the first two Terminator movies, she has been sent from the future to protect the person who holds the key to humanity’s survival from the agent of a homicidal artificial intelligence. Humanity’s big hope is gutsy Hispanic factory worker Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), whom we encounter in the Mexico City of 2020, and the remorseless and unstoppable killing machine that is out to get her, played with implacable menace by Gabriel Luna, is a Terminator Rev-9 model sent back from 2042. By now you will, of course, be experiencing a strong feeling of déja vu, but director Tim Miller (Deadpool) and his team positively revel in their movie’s repetitions and sprinkle Dark Fate with plenty of knowing callbacks to the earlier films. The biggest of these is Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose role I will leave you to discover. James Cameron is also back, incidentally, as a co-writer and producer. Despite Arnie’s presence, Dark Fate remains a determinedly female-driven film and its trio of badass heroines are brilliant.
Director: Tim Miller
15, 123 mins
Available on DVD & Digital; and on Sky Cinema Premiere from 18th September
Maxine Peake lets rip as a brash and bolshie Northerner who gets out from under the heel of her abusive husband to become a stand-up comedian in 1970s Britain. The audiences at the gritty working men’s clubs she plays don’t know what’s hit them – and neither does Paddy Considine’s smitten book shop owner. There are laughs and tears here, plus an achingly beautiful soundtrack by Richard Hawley, while Peake’s defiant heroine has enough brass to keep a doorknob factory going for months.
Director: Adrian Shergold
15, 98 mins
Available on DVD & Digital; and on Film 4 from 24th September
Washed ashore on a desert island following a nautical disaster, Kiersey Clemmons’s Jenn shows pluck and resourcefulness as she gets to grips with the exigencies of survival, from lighting fires to spearing fish. Being alone is terrifying enough, but she comes to realise, chillingly, that she is sharing the island with an unseen predator. This taut little thriller from genre specialists Blumhouse starts off as a Castaway-type survival adventure and then turns into a gulp-inducing horror movie. The film is most effective in its first half, before we discover the exact nature of the threat Jenn faces, but Clemens’s gutsy, largely solo performance keeps us gripped all the way.
Director: JD Dillard
15, 83 mins
Available on DVD & Digital; and on Sky Cinema Premiere from 24th September
An absolute dead ringer in the role, Renée Zellweger is uncannily good as Judy Garland in this fascinating biopic of the legendary star. Like the recent Laurel and Hardy biopic, Stan & Ollie, the film’s focus is the end of a starry career and, like the double act in that movie, also finds her performing in Britain. The setting is 1968, Garland is 46 and wrestling a lifetime’s demons as she struggles to perform a five-week series of concerts at the Talk of the Town in London, 30 years after The Wizard of Oz shot her to fame. As she tries to keep her act together – with help from new beau Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock) and unflappable assistant Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley) – the movie gives us insightful flashbacks to her early Hollywood career and the source of those demons. We see the teenage Judy (Darci Shaw) bullied and drilled by MGM studio boss Louis B Mayer (Richard Cordery) on how to comport herself on and off screen, and given uppers and downers to keep her working, diet pills to suppress her appetite. The origin, it is clear, of her later addictions and mental turmoil. Director Rupert Goold does, it’s true, leave the supporting cast in the shade – including Rufus Sewell as Garland ex-husband number three, Sid Luft, at odds with Garland over the custody of their two children. But the movie’s spotlight is where it should be: on Zellweger’s Judy. Brilliant at conveying both the star’s vulnerability and her still radiant charisma, she is simply sensational – and eminently deserving of her Best Actress Oscar.
Director: Rupert Goold
12, 118 mins
Available on DVD & Digital; and on Sky Cinema Premiere from 25th September
Queen & Slim
Righteous anger surges through this urgently timely film for the era of Black Lives Matter. It begins, all too familiarly, with a white police officer pulling over a black couple in a routine traffic stop. Daniel Kaluuya’s Slim and Jodie Turner-Smith’s Queen have just endured a dismal, spark-free first date (he’s unassertive; she’s guarded and abrasive), but after the needlessly aggressive encounter with the cop ends in violence they end up as outlaw fugitives, the black Bonnie and Clyde. First-time director Melina Matsoukas’s movie isn’t just about anger and social protest, however. It is also a road movie and a love story, with Slim and Queen’s burgeoning romance unfolding against a backdrop of resonant land- and townscapes as they journey from Ohio towards Florida, much of the way in a vintage turquoise Pontiac Catalina. Kaluuya’s and Turner-Smith’s chemistry is gorgeous, but the politics is always there, even in off the cuff remarks. ‘Why do black people have to be excellent?’ asks Slim. ‘Why can’t we just be ourselves?’
Director: Melina Matsoukas
15, 132 mins
Available on DVD & Digital; and on Amazon Prime Video from 28th September
With Whale Rider director Niki Caro at the helm, Disney has turned its 1998 animated adventure based on a Chinese folk tale into a spectacular live-action adventure. Liu Yifei plays the story’s eponymous heroine, a spirited maverick who disguises herself as a young man and takes her ailing father’s place in China’s army to defend the country from northern invaders. The new movie drops the animated film’s songs and Eddie Murphy’s dragon, instead giving us a shape-shifting witch, played by Chinese screen legend Gong Li, and thrilling martial-arts combat reminiscent of the gravity-defying action in such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The House of Flying Daggers. Chinese-American actress Liu pulls off all these moves with vim and verve, and she conveys the essence of the story’s defiantly disobedient rebel, too. It’s a shame, though, that we can’t enjoy her exploits on the big screen as Caro’s $200million epic has gone directly to streaming on Disney+.
Director: Niki Caro
12, 115 mins
Available with Premium Access on Disney+