Terminator: Dark Fate; Ready or Not; Happy Sad Man; Little Monsters; Brittany Runs a Marathon

She’s back: Linda Hamilton returns as Sarah Connor, the character she created 35 years ago, in ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’.

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE *** (128 minutes) MA

As we all power on through the grand era of the mega franchise, it has become a conditioned response to greet the advent of a new installment to a culture-shifting film series with an awkward combination of excitement and fear: excitement at the return of a cherished favourite; fear that they’ve totally mucked it up. Again.

That is certainly the case with the long-anticipated Terminator: Dark Fate, and it’s reasonable too because it happened last time. We’re all still in recovery after the unspeakably awful Terminator Genisys (2015) and, pray as we might, we collectively tremble that they might have Crystal Skulled this new one.

Thankfully, Terminator: Dark Fate is just fine. Original? Ha. Great? No. Not even close, but it does make up for the insulting mess of Genisys and has the enticing hook of reuniting Arnold Schwarzenegger (forever The Terminator) and Linda Hamilton (as cyborg-hating Sarah Connor).

There’s also several mega-tonnes of top-shelf action, including a nifty highway chase with a bulldozer and an airborne fight involving a giant C-5 Galaxy military transport. The film’s production specs are all that we expect, with top editing, stuntwork and big-screen cinematography to give the film’s ultra-expensive visual effects that ultra-real feel.

The basic premise essentially mirrors what we got with the first film. An artificial intelligence entity known as Legion (rather than Skynet) has deemed humans unworthy of sharing the planet with and so sends their killer robots to wipe them out, only the humans forcefully resist, thanks to a rebel hero leader. So Legion sends a killer robot back in time to kill the rebel hero, and so alter the future.

So the contours of the story are pretty much cut-and-pasted from the original.

Only in Dark Fate – a direct sequel to the first two films; all the other Terminator stories on film and TV exist in a separate universe – we learn that a new future timeline now exists alongside the folkloric one we know.

The target in Dark Fate is Dani (Natalia Reyes), a Mexican girl who is hunted by a super-scary terminator called a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), which has similar powers to the terminator from T2 – it liquefies and can replicate people it touches – only it has the added ability of splitting into two killer beings.

Also sent from the future to protect Dani is Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an augmented human capable of short bursts of super-strength. She’s basically a beefed up version of Reese (Michael Biehn) from the first movie.

But wait on. The post-apocalyptic future they come from is different from the one in the first two films. Yes, the same mess occurs to civilization, but on a different timeline. It’s a turn of events the ageing Sarah Connor (again played by Linda Hamilton) acknowledges with sour resignation about how people just never learn.

Now, if you want to start trying to make sense of how the parallel timelines and all the time-travelling stuff works – don’t. You’ll get a headache because it doesn’t make any sense. The chief reason for this new story element is just so they could throw in a few twists to help liven things up after the fiasco of Genisys.

And it works, as far as returning the Terminator franchise back to a more basic, action-driven adventure goes. There are some pretty big leaps in logic to help make the thing play, with the rationale behind the inclusion of the original terminator being singularly silly.

Fortunately, humour plays a key part in lubricating the ludicrousness, and even results in a few big laughs, thanks chiefly to Arnie, whose permanent squint might just be his way of winking to audience not to take this high-powered adventure too seriously.

Dark Fate is the sixth film in the Terminator series, which began in 1984 with the original Terminator, but is only the third to boast the creative input of the original’s director James Cameron (who co-wrote it with producer Gale Anne Hurd). Cameron had nothing to do with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009) or the aforementioned atrocity of Terminator Genisys (2015).

Cameron co-wrote, produced and – given his legendary, career-long reputation as a snarky control freak – presumably presided over this latest adventure.

He directed The Terminator and its epochal sequel Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), but here he has handed the reins to Tim Miller, whose only other credit as director is 2016’s Deadpool, and whose brief was most likely something along the lines of “screw this up and you won’t make it to the door”.

That’s just a theory, of course. And in any case, he does a fine job delivering a solid, loud, enjoyable sequel designed to keep the faith with fans the franchise has been accruing for some 35 years.

READY OR NOT ***1/2 (95 minutes) MA

Think of Meet the Parents as re-imagined by Stephen King and you’ll get some idea of what to buckle yourself in for with the twisted, bizarre offerings in Ready or Not, a knockout horror-comedy, skillfully directed with a terrific balance of laughs, scares and cartoonish gore.

It’s wedding day for the giddy Grace (Samara Weaving), but though she’s crazy-excited she’s concerned that the super-rich family of her partner Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien) is not exactly extending her a warm welcome.

His father Tony (Henry Czerny), mother Becky (Andie MacDowell) and comically super-creepy (Helene Nicky Guadagni) consider Grace as a stock-standard gold digger, which is the stock-standard way they consider all prospective new additions to the family and its fortune.

So to prove themselves worthy of entry and respect, all such people have to submit to a post-wedding ritual: they must engage in a game, the goal of which is not so much to win, but to survive.

Thus it is that Grace promptly finds herself locked in the sprawling family mansion, running about its labyrinth of corridors and secret passages trying to keep from being shot, speared, stabbed or dismembered.

With its tongue firmly in its cheek, the film is a playful, relentlessly paced jaunt, energetically directed by Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (they partook in the 2012 horror gem V/H/S) who clearly love hitting audiences with jokes and jolts in rapid succession, one-two punch style.

The film has a fairly decent quotient of gross-out “ewww” moments that play like a loving homage to the blood-drenched horror films of the 1970s & ’80s. There is some nifty digital work in the film, but most of the effects have that reassuring look and feel of analogue special effects.

The cast is fabulously committed to this splatfest. It’s always great to see a serious, seasoned actor such as Henry Czerny (Clear and Present Danger; Mission Impossible; The Boys of St Vincent) do comedy so well and it’s always good to see Andie MacDowell in, well, anything.

Most importantly, special kudos need to go to lead actress Samara Weaving. She really makes a meal of her role in Ready or Not as Grace morphs from naive newlywed to vengeful angel of death – and all in a wedding dress and sneakers. She’s a step beyond the standard scream queen; beautiful, funny and not to be messed with – a winning combination. People who delight in Weaving’s performance will be pleased no end that she is Australian.

All up, Ready or Not makes for perfect, fun Halloween fare. It’s actually a tad more enjoyable the new Zombieland film, which is a fine sequel, save that it doesn’t have an original concept driving it like this has.

Well, sort of original. It’s a riff on 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game – but why nitpick when you’re having fun?

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON *** (104 minutes) M

What starts out sounding like a fat-girl comedy quickly morphs into a simple, soulful comedy-drama about lonely New York singleton Brittany (Jillian Bell from Workaholics) who is battling a quarter-life crisis of partying, indolence and eating.

Ordered by her doctor to get into shape, Brittany slowly and reluctantly hits the track, her goal being to run the 26-mile New York marathon.

Written and directed by playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo and based on a true story, Bell delivers a funny, barbed performance of a woman trying to change her outer self without sufficient regard for the flaws in her personality, which alternates between sassy, salty and sardonic.

There are some good comedy moments, such as when Brittany inquires about gym membership, but the film really kicks into gear when her inner ugliness surfaces when people try helping her.

Hence her self-improvement program becomes a quest for a deeper renewal, one that will win her approval that isn’t just skin deep.

LITTLE MONSTERS *** (90 minutes) MA

In Abe Forsythe’s wonderfully silly follow up to his brave 2016 black comedy Down Under a group of song-happy kindergarten kids are taken on an excursion to a farm-themed adventure park by their loving teacher Miss Audrey (Lupita Nyong’o – yes, the Oscar-winning actress from 12 Years a Slave).

Along for the ride as a stand-in teacher’s assistant is swear-happy Dave (Alexander England), a failed musician who has just broken up with his girlfriend and whose nephew is among the kids.

One of the big treats of the trip is the presence of cheesy American children’s entertainer Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad) who has brought his hit TV show to Australia.

As luck would have it, the nearby American military facility has been secretly experimenting with zombies, and a mishap has allowed them to break out of the base and waddle into the adventureland, looking for brains to eat.

Fortunately, these are not the athletic, fast-running Undead of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002) but old-school zombies who amble at a snail’s pace in the traditional manner established by zombie guru George A Romero in his 1968 genre-starter Night of the Living Dead.

So, how best to comfort and protect a group of pre-schoolers from a localized zombie apocalypse until the military can arrive and shoot the Undead to pieces?

Applying some major-league lateral thinking, Miss Audrey tells the kids that the zombies are just part of the entertainment, so there’s nothing to be scared of, however much blood and gore and killing they witness.

This could have gone wrong in so many ways, yet with his tongue in his cheek the whole time, Forsythe leans into the crazy and milks the scenario for a sizeable quotient of laughs. McGiggle’s change in attitude once he is set upon by the zombies is especially memorable.

And while Gad is suitably over-the-top, Forsythe’s real saviour here is Nyong’o, who puts in such a winning and committed performance amidst all the low-budget mock-horror nonsense you’d think she was vying for a second Oscar.

She tangles with the zombie horde so closely her pretty yellow dress ends up smeared in blood, but if killing zombies is what it takes to protect her kids she won’t hesitate. All that, plus she plays the ukulele while singing Taylor Swift songs.

What more could you ask for in a strong female lead? Seriously.

HAPPY SAD MAN ***1/2 (93 minutes) M
In this deeply personal, deeply touching portrait of modern Australian masculinity, Melbourne director Genevieve Bailey (I Am Eleven) gently probes into the lives of a cluster of very different men with the aim of exploring issues of emotional fragility and mental illness.

Filmed over several years, Bailey really gets into the shifting psyche of these men – including a war photographer, a surfer with bipolar disorder, an artist and an outback outreach worker – to discover not just what makes them tick but how they cope when their ticking goes out-of-sync with the world around them.

Bailey makes no pretense of being an objective observer, putting herself in the frame, freely interacting with her subjects as they open up to her, sometimes easily, sometimes hesitantly.

Without ever feeling forced or intrusive, the film breathes with honesty and intimacy and is clearly designed as a push-back against the stereotype men have long been lumbered with, of having to suppress their feelings and suck it up when things get tough. In essence, the film offers an antidote to the shame men are meant to feel for feeling. You could call it a shame-shaming film.