The Night House (2020) ** – Seen at the Cinema

An overloaded atmosphere cannot make up for the lack of directorial killer instinct, resulting in a ghost story that leans more towards the preposterous than horror.  Beth (Rebecca Hall), dealing with the suicide of her husband, begins to imagine a ghostly  presence in her remote house on a lake. Left a very odd suicide note, she pieces together stranger aspects of his life, involving the occult and a photo on his phone of a Beth lookalike.

The picture divides very neatly into the entirely believable grief of schoolteacher Beth – she nips at a moaning parent, knocks back the brandy, makes inappropriate comments to her workmates and displays sufficient off-the-wall tendencies to alarm pal Claire (Sarah Goldberg) – and the various tropes that need to be knitted together to take the story into the ghost/horror realm, few of which work. Mysterious footsteps, sometime muddy, sometimes bloody, appear, harmless neighbour Mel (Vondie Hall Curtis) is presented as potentially malevolent, and music suddenly blares out in the middle of the night.

Had the story remained entrenched in Beth’s imagination, where she almost willed her husband either to be still alive or enough of a presence (as in Ghost, 1990) that she could touch or be comforted by, and gradually either became subsumed by grief or came out of it, it might have worked very well. But the minute it started to delve into the area of the unbelievable it became largely unbelievable. Even when it is obvious her husband is not at all what he once seemed, the picture just ignores the obvious.

And that is a shame. Even more so than Stillwater, reviewed last week, this is a thespian tour-de-force. Beth is scarcely off the screen and her ever-changing mood displays terrific acting skills. But just like Stillwater, it loses its way, going for plot instead of character, and the film cannot make up its mind whether she is going mad, or just mad with grief, or whether she is victim to unseen predator. There was only one genuine jump-out-of-your-seat shock and the introduction late on of elements of her backstory served to confuse rather than elucidate.

Rebecca Hall (Godzilla vs. Kong, 2021) can certainly hold the screen and hopefully this will lead to better roles in bigger films. None of the other actors are particularly noteworthy. Director David Bruckner (Netflix’s The Ritual, 2017) seems to be focusing on horror – Hellraiser is next – but whether he needs a bigger budget or a better script to scare the pants off an audience remains to be seen. Writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski (Stephanie, 2017) also appear to be specialising in this genre.

Readers’ Top 30

I’ve been writing this Blog now for one year, beginning July 2020, so I thought I’d take a look at which posts proved the most popular (in terms of views) with my readers. So here’s the annual top 30 films, ranked in order of views.

  1. The Secret Ways (1961) – Richard Widmark and Senta Berger – making her Hollywood debut – behind the Iron Curtain in gripping adaptation of the Alistair Maclean thriller.
  2. Ocean’s 11 (1960) – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and the Rat Pack in entertaining heist movie set in Las Vegas.
  3. It’s Not All Rock’n’Roll (2020) – remarkable documentary about the other side of the music business as ageing rocker Dave Doughman tries to keep his dreams alive.
  4. Age of Consent (1969) – British actress Helen Mirren makes her movie debut as the often naked muse for painter James Mason in touching drama directed by Michael Powell.
  5. The Venetian Affair (1966) – Robert Vaughn shakes off his The Man from Uncle persona in taut Cold War thriller also starring Elke Sommer as his traitorous wife and Boris Karloff in a rare non-horror role.
  6. The Golden Claws of the Cat Girl / La Louve Solitaire (1968) – French cult thriller starring Daniele Gaubert as sexy cat burglar forced to work for the government.
  7. Pharoah / Faron (1966) – visually stunning Polish epic about the struggle for power in ancient Egypt.
  8. The Swimmer (1968) – astonishing performance by Burt Lancaster as a man losing his grip on the American Dream.
  9. Stiletto (1969) – Mafia thriller with hitman Alex Cord and and illegal immigrant girlfriend Britt Ekland hunted by ruthless cop Patrick O’Neal.
  10. The Naked Runner (1967) – after his son is taken hostage businessman Frank Sinatra is called out of retirement to perform an assassination.
  11. Marnie (1964) – Sean Connery tries to reform compulsive thief Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock thriller.
  12. Our Man in Marrakesh / Bang! Bang! You’re Dead (1966) – Entertaining thriller sees Tony Randall and Senta Berger mixed up in United Nations plot involving the likes of Klaus Kinski and Herbert Lom.
  13. The Happening (1967) – Anthony Quinn locks horns with Faye Dunaway and a bunch of spoiled rich kids in kidnapping yarn.
  14. Dark of the Sun / The Mercenaries (1968) – Rod Taylor and Jim Brown head into the heart of darkness in war-torn Africa with a trainload of diamonds and refugees including Yvette Mimieux.
  15. The Guns of Navarone (1961) – men-on-a-mission Alistair Maclean World War Two epic with all-star cast including Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Stanley Baker, Irene Papas, James Darren and Gia Scala.
  16. The Sicilian Clan (1969) – three generations of French tough guys – Jean Gabin, Lino Ventura and Alain Delon – clash in Mafia-led jewel heist.
  17. 4 for Texas (1963) – Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin as double-dealing businessmen in highly entertaining Robert Aldrich Rat Pack western starring Ursula Andress and Anita Ekberg.
  18. Five Golden Dragons (1967) – Innocent playboy Robert Cummings becomes enmeshed with international crime syndicate led by Christopher Lee, George Raft and Dan Duryea.
  19. Duel at Diablo (1966) – James Garner and Sidney Poitier team up to protect Bibi Andersson in Ralph Nelson western.
  20. Move Over Darling (1963) – after years marooned on a desert island Doris Day returns to find husband James Garner just married to Polly Bergen.
  21. Pressure Point (1962) – prison psychiatrist Sidney Poitier is forced to treat paranoid racist inmate Bobby Darin.
  22. Wonder Woman 84 (2020) – in one of the few films to get a cinematic screening during lockdown, Gal Gadot returns as mythical superhero to battle supervillain Kristen Wiig.
  23. Genghis Khan (1965) – Omar Sharif as the Mongol warrior who conquered most of the known world, tangling with rival Stephen Boyd and Chinese mandarin James Mason on the way.
  24. A Fever in the Blood (1961) – Warner Bros wannabes Efrem Zimbalist Jr, Angie Dickinson, Jack Kelly and veteran Don Ameche in tough political drama.
  25. The Prize (1963) – Paul Newman and Elke Sommer investigate murder in the middle of the annual Nobel Prize awards in Sweden.
  26. In Search of Gregory (1969) – wayward Julie Christie embarks on pursuit of Michael Sarrazin who may – or may not – be a figment of her imagination.
  27. Justine (1969) – Dirk Bogarde and Michael York become entangled in web woven by Anouk Aimee in corrupt pre-World War Two Middle East.
  28. The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968) – singer Marianne Faithful in a hymn to the open road and sexual freedom.
  29. Blindfold (1965) – psychiatrist Rock Hudson and dancer Claudia Cardinale in highly entertaining mystery thriller about missing scientists.
  30. Hammerhead (1968) – secret agent Vince Edwards and goofy Judy Geeson on the trail of evil mastermind Peter Vaughn.

My Five-Star Picks for the First Year of the Blog

It’s a been a fabulous year for watching the movies and my pictures of the year (the first full year of the Blog running from July to June, I hasten to add) make up an eclectic collection ranging from historical epics, dramas and westerns to horror, thrillers and comedy. Although this is my chosen decade, many of the films I was seeing for the first time so it was interesting to sometimes come at a film that had not necessarily received kind reviews and discover for one reason or another cinematic gems. There was no single reason why these pictures were chosen. Sometimes it was the performance, sometimes the direction, sometimes a combination of both.

The westerns I most enjoyed came from either ends of the decade – John Wayne and Rock Hudson in magnificent widescreen spectacle The Undefeated (1969) and Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn and the team in The Magnificent Seven (1960).

There was another ensemble all-star cast in J. Lee Thompson war film The Guns of Navarone (1961) one of the biggest hits of the decade with Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, David Niven, Stanley Baker et al.

Horror brought a couple of surprises in the shape of Daliah Lavi as the Italian peasant succumbing to The Demon (1963) and Peter Cushing menaced by The Skull (1965).

Not surprisingly perhaps Alfred Hitchcock headed the ranks of the five-star thrillers, but surprisingly to some, this was in the shape of Marnie (1964) with Sean Connery and Tippi Hedren rather than some of his decade’s more famous / infamous productions.  Heading the romantic thrillers was the terrifically twisty Blindfold (1965) with Rock Hudson and Claudia Cardinale teaming up to find a missing scientist. The Sicilian Clan (1969) proved to be a fine heist picture in its own right as well as a precursor to The Godfather with a topline French cast in Alain Delon, Lino Ventura and Jean Gabin.

Only one comedy made the five-star grade and what else would you expect from Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959), slightly outside my chosen remit of films from the 1960s, but impossible to ignore the chance to see Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon strutting their stuff on the big screen. For the same reason I had the opportunity to re-evaluate Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning historical epic The Gladiator (2000) that gave Hollywood a new action hero in Russell Crowe. Stylish contemporary sci-fi chiller Possessor (2000), from Brandon Cronenberg,  was another one seen on the big screen, one of the few in this year of the pandemic.

Most people would certainly put Paul Newman as prisoner Cool Hand Luke (1967) in this elevated category but, to my surprise, I found several other dramas fitted the bill. The clever sexy love triangle Les Biches (1968) from French director Claude Chabrol made his name. Burt Lancaster turned in a superlative and under-rated performance in the heart-breaking The Swimmer (1968) about the loss of the American Dream. Rod Steiger, on the other hand, was a hair’s-breadth away from picking up an Oscar for his repressed turn as The Pawnbroker (1964).

Two films set in the Deep South also made the list – Marlon Brando in Arthur Penn’s depiction of racism in small-town America in The Chase (1966) with an amazing cast also featuring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford, and Michael Caine as a more than passable arrogant southerner in Otto Preminger’s Hurry Sundown (1967) opposite rising star Faye Dunaway. Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda’s hymn to the freedom of the motorbike in Easy Rider (1969) turned into a tragic study of attitudes to non-conformity.

For only eighteen films out of a possible two hundred to make the cut indicates the high standards set, and I am looking forward to as many, if not more, brilliant films in the year to come.

Monster Hunter (2020) ****

They’re back – with a bang! Writer-director Paul W. S. Anderson (Resident Evil, 2002) and wife Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element, 1997) hit the ground running in a pedal-to-the-metal all-action sci-fi rock’n’rolla. Coming up for nearly a quarter-of-a-century as the reigning action queen, Jovovich delivers in style.

The platoon of U.S. Army Ranger Lt. Artemis (Jovovoich) is inexplicably transported to an alien planet to fight, what else, aliens. The platoon doesn’t last long and in a tidy riff on John Boorman’s Hell in the Pacific (1968) – and its futuristic remake Enemy Mine (1985) – she has to battle then buddy-up with a guy known only as Hunter (Tony Jaa).

The title is a bit of misnomer. The monsters are the hunters not the hunted. Dune-like, and of uber-dinosaur proportions, they emerge from the sand, or scuttle out from the rocks in daylight, or pump forth from the tops of cones of stone, or range down from the sky with weaponry that can turn sand into glass. When not trying to knock six bells out of each other, the pair spend their time escaping or trying to outwit the monsters and then to reach a distant lighthouse around which all types of ancient vessels have run aground.

I should point out the terrain is all-desert, sand not water, so quite what purpose the lighthouse plays is a bit of a mystery. That neither Artemis nor the Hunter can speak the others’ language gets in the way of bonding, that and the fact they are still intent, in the way of sworn enemies forced to work together, in acts of one-upmanship. But that doesn’t prevent small touching moments.

I didn’t know this was based on a video game and for once it appears not to be so reliant on holding true to its antecedents. I had no trouble understanding it. What do you need to understand, for heaven’s sake? We are used to people ending up in strange dimensions with hostile populations. Although later on the story develops a bit more, the bonding and the battling is enough to get on with. Simplistic, by the way, tends to be the hallmark of a good action picture.

By the time you get to the end you realise it’s actually more of an origin story especially when other characters – namely The Admiral (Ron Perlman) and a piratical scene-stealing cat – enter the frame. In fact, what’s most clearly signposted is a sequel.  

Jovovich is back to her running, jumping and fighting best. I’ve no idea why Hollywood has not invested decent money in her. She is a far better fit for the action genre than many of the actresses the studios have invested bigger bucks in. Put her in a Die Hard – with requisite budget – scenario and see where she takes you would be my advice. Like Bruce Willis or Charles Bronson, her actions speak louder than words.

I can’t believe that Paul W.S. Anderson hasn’t been on the big screen since Resident Evil: Final Chapter (2016) and had to make do with DTV sequels to Death Race (2012). He has enough visual style you would have thought to stand a chance of landing something in the MCU or DC universe. Could be that he’s not all that keen on conforming to other peoples’ visions.

Whatever the reason, he’s certainly got panache where it matters most – on the screen. As the writer, too, he’s allowed his characters more time to breathe, and in Tony Jaa (Ong Bak, The Thai Warrior, 2003) recruited a more-than-estimable co-star. That Jaa does his own stunts brings a different dimension to the screen battles.

It’s worth pointing out that both stars are in their mid-40s, Jovovich the older by a year, but both look fitter than actors two decades younger. They share terrific screen charisma and might well turn into one of the best screen action pairings.

I was going to say it’s good to see Ron Perlman (Hellboy, 2004) back in action but it turns out he’s rarely been off our screens – he’s got nearly 200 movies and television shows and animated games to his credit and already another 14 movies in the pipeline. This is barely more than a cameo, however,  looking like it’s setting him up for the sequel. Also making brief appearances are Meagan Good (The Intruder, 2019) and composer Tip T.I. Harris (Ant-Man and the Wasp, 2018).

Welcome back, Paul and Milla and bring on the sequel.

For sure, these action-packed sci-fi numbers aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but they certainly float my boat.

I saw this on the big screen, by the way, as part of this week’s Monday triple bill at my local cinema, the others being In the Heights and In the Earth. It’s not out on DVD yet, but there’s no doubt it will have a bigger impact on the big screen so if you get a chance catch it.

Ammonite (2020) ****

I came at this picture with some trepidation and in truth only watched it at the cinema because I had seen everything else worth a look in the few weeks since the picture houses have reopened. Although initially attracting Oscar buzz, that failed to materialize when it mattered and it was left out of the Oscar loop. While kate Winslet was a proven commercial box office draw, this appeared to have arthouse sensibilities and the few reviews I had read promised a turgid evening.

The reality was something different and as a result of what I can only describe as the magic of the big screen. Watching a film in a cinema is automatically more involving than on the small screen: there are fewer distractions, the dominating size of the screen is unavoidable and it is dark. Had I watched it at home I could well have switched it off after fifteen minutes in reaction to the slow pace. But in a cinema, slowness did not matter, and until it widened out in the final few scenes it was like an absorbing chamber piece, featuring a handful of characters.  In approach it was closest to a film about an artist, Pollock (2000) and Mr Turner (2014) come to mind, where obsession is the driving force, narrative and plot merely subservient. We are exposed to considerable detail about the character’s archaeological work, which is often filthy and undertaken outside in all sorts of weather, requiring the constitution of a miner or farmer rather than a painter, as well as the patience of a saint to brush, wash or poke clean her discoveries.

Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) was not an attractive personality, downright truculent and rude for the most part, given that she depended for her living on selling the archaeological items she had found in the Lyme Regis area to tourists and collectors. That her major archaeological discoveries resided in the British Museum brought no personal satisfaction because thanks to the male archaeological hierarchy they were presented there under the names of the purchasers rather than the finder. What she earned for major pieces could keep herself and her ageing and infirm mother (Gemma Jones) for a year. By and large, they lived in poverty, existing on soup mostly, the mother at least as obsessive as the daughter with her collection of knick-knacks, one for each of her eight children who had died prematurely, which she washed and polished every day. Mary spurned any male overtures and indeed appeared to resent any friendship, the hint of some kind of betrayal in brief scenes with Elizabeth Philpot (Fiona Shaw), a local worthy.

Mary is hired by wannabe archaeologist Roderick Murchison (James McArdle) to look after his insipid, annoying, depressed wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan). Gradually a friendship forms, leading to desire. Nothing is more illustrative of the Victorian attitude to sex than that the idea of a lesbian relationship ran counter to all imagination. Perhaps one of the more refreshing aspects of the picture is that while Victorian women clearly resented having sex with their husbands that was largely down to the fact the men had no idea how to satisfy a woman. That is not the case here and though the sex scenes have been criticised in places as “too strong” I thought it was essential just to be sure that the women did know what they were doing and clearly derived enormous satisfaction from the sexual act if properly performed. A chaste kiss and cuddle would hardly do justice to the passion suddenly erupted.

While Mary experiences jealousy when Charlotte is entranced by Elizabeth, romance does not produce complete fulfilment and when Charlotte, as if she were a man, appoints herself Mary’s protector that independence for which the archaeologist had fought so hard is imperilled. Love miraculously changes Charlotte’s outward demeanour, the same is not true of Mary.

This isn’t the picture-postcard version of a Victorian seaside town, rather its harsher cousin. Writer-director Francis Lee (God’s Own Country, 2017) refuses to soften the rude edges of life and the best a true romanticist can expect is that the storms occasionally abate and the surf does not pound so heavily.

Powerful roles have been in short supply of late for Kate Winslet (Blackbird, 2019) and she is superb as the stoic woman in a male-dominated world, unable to express passion except in whittling away at pieces of ammonite. Saoirse Ronan (Little Woman, 2019) moves from bitter and confused child-woman to finding joy and from then to taking charge. Veteran British character actors Gemma Jones (Rocketman, 2019) and Fiona Shaw (My Left Foot, 1989) are impressive while James McArdle (Mary, Queen of Scots, 2018) and Alec Secareanu  (Amulet, 2020) offer different interpretations of the entitled male.

To be sure there is no conclusive proof that Mary Anning was this way sexually inclined but in these days of Hollywood reinvention or reimagining for little more than comic-book glory it would be hard not to allow the director some leeway in providing his love story with an interesting backdrop and a fascinating character. At times it is a painful watch, but a rewarding one.

Petla (2020) ****

Ambitious young cop succumbs to corruption in a battle royal in Polish pimpland.

Director Patryk Vega is the bad boy of Polish filmmaking, a far cry from the austere heights of the arthouse-acclaimed Andrej Wadja (Ashes and Diamonds, 1958) or Krzysztof Kielowski (The Three Colours trilogy, 1993-1994). However, what’s often forgotten in our consumption of foreign films is that what we see are films that have been commercial hits in their own country – Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960), for example, was the biggest film of the year in its native Italy. But, somehow, with the advent of the arthouse circuit that approach to distribution seems to have passed us by. Although huge hits in Poland, Vega’s films are not only hard to find on the big screen but rarely reviewed.

Petla follows second generation cop Danila (Antoni Krolikowski) from innocence to depravity to redemption in a high-octane thriller. Even Scorsese and Tarantino would wince at some of the violence shown here but then Vega is dealing with a more vicious type of gangster than even the worst of the American Mafia or run-of-the-mill nuthead and, equally, has little truck with the pretentiousness that often mars the work of these two. Vega wants to tell a story and he does John Wick-style it with verve and pace.

Danila wants to be elevated to the prestigious detective division without putting in a decade of plodding. So he recruits twin minor Russian gangsters, wiping clean their slate in return for inside information on bigger criminals, in this case terrorists. At this point he is an upstanding, courageous cop, dealing with ineffectual superiors and often idiotic colleagues. Married, his wife expecting their first child, he resists temptation of the sexual variety.

Initial success leads him into the Subcarpathian netherworld of sex for sale and he comes up with the bright idea of taking control of a brothel where he can spy on the rich and powerful clientele with the idea of exposing the ministers, businessmen, priests and government officials who use the premises. Soon high ideals turn into individual enterprise and, funded by the Russian GRU, he sets up a high class brothel, the Imperium, to film the goings-on and blackmail the clients. He begins a slide into excess that leads to paranoia and loss.

Getting to this stage involves a fair deal of elimination of the opposition, including an extremely violent Englishman, Ukrainian thugs and a prominent boxer. Sometimes pure violence is the optimum method but occasionally it is psychology, seducing, for example, the abused wife of the boxer in order to parade the romance, a technique that results in the mental disintegration of the seemingly invincible prizefighter.

But Danila has enemies. In true Vega style, these usually start out the film as friends or sexual partners. In this instance a female prosecutor Alicja (Katarzyna Warnke from Botoks) is on his case in revenge for being cast aside.  

One of the hallmarks of a Vega film is that women often come out on top, previous examples being Botoks (2017) and Mafia Women (2018). While there is certainly a lot of misogyny and in Petla, in particular, the whores are treated abominably, he has put the spotlight on a whole tribe of strong women who show as little remorse as their male counterparts and are as equally likely to endorse or participate in brutal acts of violence. Here, to get Danila’s wife to rat him out, the prosecutor arranges for the wife to be seduced by a handsome stranger.

Both genders are treated with compassion, another Vega hallmark. When Danila descends into paranoia, Vega cleverly switches the audience away from delight at this retribution into sympathy for his predicament once he begins to seek redemption. In truth, he has earlier been portrayed as a rounded individual, his delight at becoming a father very evident. Men are never so good at emotion as women and it is the shots of the distraught Alicja that put us firmly on her side even though she is originally portrayed as ruthless in matters of the heart, demanding that Danila cast his wife aside (“I don’t like competition”) before enjoying her sexual favors.  

And it would not be Vega without swipes at official incompetence and limelight-seeking bosses. Danila’s boss ignores his first anti-criminal triumphs because they were not media-friendly and at one point the entrapment and capture of a terrorist by said boss has to be done again because the cameras did not work first time round.  

Black humor is never far away, either. As a beginner cop, Danila is told never to look into the eyes of a dead person. So he is relieved to find that the first corpse he encounters has his head blown off. Farmers threaten to stab him with a pitchfork unless he gives the kiss of life to a dying man – blowing air into the man’s mouth only results in blood flowing faster from his wound. Cops routinely make stupid errors. Invading a thug’s house stun grenades missing the target deafen the cops instead.

And the film has a sting in the tail, the enterprise turning out not in the way it was surmised. Petla is based on a true story, although Vega has clearly taken liberties with the reality. Even if wholly fictional, it would be believable, Vega having the ability to invest the maddest of schemes with authenticity because the characters in his pictures are invariably so human and believable. the title, by the way, is translated as Noose.

There are a couple of anomalies in the film’s marketing. The poster is pretty explicit “sex is power” but the trailer focuses instead on Danila and his wife with sex and violence very muted.

Polish films are hard to come by on the big screen. Sometimes they only play a couple of days in a particular cinema. I saw this as the second part of my Monday night double bill this week – the other film being Bill and Ted Face the Music – but whereas I caught the first at the Odeon I had to high tail it to a Cineworld to catch the Polish film.

If you want to sample Vega’s wares before committing to a big screen outing you can see his debut Pitbull (2005) on Youtube.

Bill and Ted Face the Music (2020) ***

Confession time! I never saw either of Bill and Ted’s previous outings nor the animated series for that matter and in truth had there been the usual choice of new movies to see – other than a slim pandemic ration – I might well have skipped this one. The good news is that I come with no preconceptions. I’m not overloaded with sequelitis, I’m not in a position to compare new with old.

So I was surprised how much I enjoyed this very amiable comedy. It makes no bones about the unintelligibility of the sci-fi side of things, no mind-bending required to find out how it is all meant to work. Shades of the BBC’s Dr Who series, the boys just hop into a telephone buy and dial up the future. you know from the outset that the scientific mumbo-jumbo is just that and there’s a running gag when someone tries to explain it, which goes over the heads of our heroes.

The plot, if you’re unfamiliar with it, has the pair dashing back and forth time-wise, meeting their future selves, in a bid to pull together the one tune that will save the universe while their daughters nip back in time in an effort to put together the best band of all time – Mozart, Jimi Hendrix and Louis Armstrong – are dragged into the combo. Bill and Ted – or Dim and Dimmer if you want to be more accurate – do little more than look stunned by developments. But I take my hat off to still under-rated Keanu Reeves for reprising his comedic character after nearly two decades of building up a meaty portfolio of action (Speed, John Wick) and more substantial sci-fi (Johnny Mnemonic, The Matrix) roles as well as a string of romantic (A Walk in the Clouds, Sweet November) and dramatic (The Replacements, Hardball) parts. Alex Winter’s career hardly matches that of Reeves, but they are a good pairing.

Perhaps gender-conscious sensibilities conspired to the pairs sons from the previous movie turning into the goofy daughters they are currently saddled with. A good twist, I thought, for the kids to take after their dads rather than their more sensible mothers. I found myself laughing out loud at several sections even when they had already been highlights of the trailer, such as the couple counselling and Death (William Sadler) cheating at hopscotch. I liked the guilt-ridden killer robot. There is even some character development, though nothing that would trouble the likes of Shakespeare.

I saw this last night on the big screen at my local Odeon. It’s streaming in the United States.