The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From June 24
Head to the flicks to see a Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, a powerful documentary about Australia's best female skateboarder and a Brazilian drama
Something delightful has been happening in cinemas across the country. After months spent empty, with projectors silent, theatres bare and the smell of popcorn fading, Australian picture palaces are back in business — spanning both big chains and smaller independent sites in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
During COVID-19 lockdowns, no one was short on things to watch, of course. In fact, you probably feel like you've streamed every movie ever made, including new releases, comedies, music documentaries, Studio Ghibli's animated fare and Nicolas Cage-starring flicks. But, even if you've spent all your time of late glued to your small screen, we're betting you just can't wait to sit in a darkened room and soak up the splendour of the bigger version. Thankfully, plenty of new films are hitting cinemas so that you can do just that — and we've rounded up, watched and reviewed everything on offer this week.
IN THE HEIGHTS
Lin-Manuel Miranda isn't the first lyricist to pen tunes so catchy that they get stuck in your head for years (yes, years), but his rhythmic tracks and thoughtful lines always stand out. Miranda's songs are melodic and snappy, as anyone who has seen Hamilton onstage or via streaming definitely knows. The multi-talented songwriter's lyrics also pinball around your brain because they resonate with such feeling — and because they're usually about something substantial. The musical that made his name before his date with US history, In the Heights echoes with affection for its eponymous Latinx New York neighbourhood. Now that it's reverberating through cinemas, its sentiments about community, culture, facing change and fighting prejudice all seem stronger, too. To watch the film's characters sing about their daily lives and deepest dreams in Washington Heights is to understand what it's like to feel as if you truly belong in your patch of the city, to navigate your everyday routine with high hopes shining in your heart, and to weather every blow that tries to take that turf and those wishes away. That's what great show tunes do, whisking the audience off on both a narrative and an emotional journey. Miranda sets his words to hip hop beats, but make no mistake: he writes barnstorming songs that are just as rousing and moving, and that've earned their place among the very best stage and screen ditties as a result.
Watching In the Heights, it's hard not to think about all those stirring tracks that've graced previous musicals. That isn't a sign of derivation here, though. Directing with dazzling flair and a joyous mood, Crazy Rich Asians filmmaker Jon M Chu nods to cinema's lengthy love affair with musicals in all the right ways. His song-and-dance numbers are clearly influenced by fellow filmic fare, and yet they recall their predecessors only because they slide in so seamlessly alongside them. Take his staging of the tune '96000', for instance. It's about winning the lottery, after word filters around that bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos, a Hamilton alum) has sold a lucky ticket. Due to the sweltering summer heat, the whole neighbourhood is at the public pool, which is where Chu captures a colourful sea of performers expressing their feelings through exuberantly shot, staged and choreographed music and movement — and it's as touching and glorious as anything that's ever graced celluloid. Of course, $96,000 won't set anyone up for life, but it'd make an enormous difference to Usnavi, In the Heights' protagonist and narrator. It'd also help absolutely everyone he loves. As he explains long before anyone even hears about the winning ticket, or buys it, every Heights local has their own sueñitos — little dreams they're chasing, such as his determination to relocate to the Dominican Republic. And that's what this intoxicating, invigorating, impassioned and infectious captures with vibrant aplomb.
Read our full review.
TALL POPPY — A SKATER'S STORY
When skateboarding makes its debut as an Olympic sport in Tokyo this winter, it'll do so with Poppy Starr Olsen flying the flag for Australia. A world champion since her teens, she first hit the Bondi Skate Park at the age of eight, and proclaimed at the time that she'd like to spend her adult life carving, ollieing, flipping and grinding — one of those childhood wishes that, in this case, has proven more than just a kid's outlandish fantasy. Audiences know about this youthful exclamation because it was caught on camera. Yes, Tall Poppy — A Skater's Story belongs in the camp of documentaries that are inescapably blessed by the constant lens through which many of our lives have been captured since video cameras became a household gadget and then a standard mobile phone feature. Accordingly, making her first feature-length doco, filmmaker Justine Moyle has ample material to draw upon as she weaves together a portrait of Olsen's life from pint-sized bowl-rider to Australia's best female skater, the fourth best woman on a board in the world and an Olympian, all by the age of 21. This isn't just a film compiled from home videos, though, although the feature. In front of Dane Howell's (Without a Tracey) lens as she has grown up, Olsen is candid, open and relaxed as she literally comes of age before the camera, and her skateboarding skills are just as riveting to watch.
You can tell much about Olsen by just seeing her in the bowl or on the park, no matter her age, wherever she happens to be at the time, or if she's competing, practicing or just skating for fun. It hardly comes as a surprise that she takes to the pastime because it feels so freeing; as she rolls up and down in Bondi after first giving skateboarding a try, she may as well be flying. Tall Poppy — A Skater's Story captures the rollercoaster ride from there, as she's eager and enthusiastic at both local and international competitions, visibly nervous at her first X Games, and also a little disillusioned once she's put on an Olympic path. She's a teenager, in other words, and her emotional ups and downs mirror those on the board. This is a film about resilience, perseverance and taking on the world on your own terms, however, as Olsen works out who she wants to be and how that ripples through in her skateboarding. She's already a role model, whether or not you want to follow in her footsteps. Here, she's doubly so for her personal ebbs and flows, including through COVID-19, as much as her professional achievements. Tall Poppy — A Skater's Story is an affectionate movie, of course. Its release is also impeccably timed, it's as deservedly loving towards female skaters as the fictional Skate Kitchen and its TV spinoff Betty, and it shows the beauty in every commonplace and exceptional skateboarding trick. But Olsen's presence, passion and prowess drive this rousing documentary above all else.
Not to be confused with the 2017 Ben Elton-directed Australian rom-com of the same name, Brazilian drama Three Summers takes its title literally: in writer/director Sandra Kogut's (Campo Grande) film, the action takes place across a trio of consecutive Decembers. In the first chapter, set in 2015, the lively Madá (Regina Casé, The Second Mother) flits around the opulent condominium that she oversees on behalf of the wealthy Edgar (Otávio Müller, Silence of the Rain) and his wife Marta (Gisele Fróes, Edge of Desire) — a space that's soon a hive of activity due to the family's Christmas party. She keeps her staff bustling as her employers, their relatives and their friends relax, all so that she can work towards her own dream of opening a roadside kiosk. For the latter, she needs Edgar, who agrees to buy her the land she needs. He's also more interested than anyone should be in her out-of-date pre-paid mobile phone, which ties into the changed state of play come summer 2016. By then, the family has fallen from grace. Only Edgar's elderly and kindly father Lira (Rogério Fróes, Magnífica 70) remains alongside Madá, her staff, and the police who show up to search the house in the wake of a corruption scandal. Next, in 2017, the housekeeper has adapted to the new normality, teaming up with Lira to rent out the condo on Airbnb.
Largely confining the action to her chosen setting, Kogut hasn't quite made a savage eat the rich-style indictment of Brazil's class disparities — but she does have a probing eye for what the country's chasms between the haves and the have nots means for the latter. Madá goes from being reminded that she couldn't pay for the condo's decor in a lifetime to hustling to turn the space to her advantage; in a world where everyone is either striving to make more money or just enough, trying to make the most of every opportunity is as much the domain of the working class as the well-to-do. For those just attempting to get by, it's a necessity, though. For their bosses, it's all about greed, power and status. Three Summers saves its sympathies for Madá and her colleagues, and never for Edgar and his family, although it doesn't always have the bite the story, subject matter and real-life situations it parallels call for. Still, this is an involving character study of a woman continually placed at the mercy of others, and just as constantly battling to retain what control she can over her own destiny. And, as she was in The Second Mother, Casé is superb, this time playing a talkative, determined but haunted everywoman who is always trying to make the best of whatever she's saddled with.
THE HITMAN'S WIFE'S BODYGUARD
Someone involved with The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard must really love paperwork; that's the only reason anyone could've given its script the go-ahead. Perhaps Australian filmmaker Patrick Hughes, who also directed 2017's The Hitman's Bodyguard, likes nothing more than keeping his documents in order. Maybe returning screenwriter Tom O'Connor (The Courier) falls into that category, or his debuting co-scribes Phillip and Brandon Murphy — they all made the subject the focus of their screenplay, after all. Whoever fits the bill, their attempt to force audiences to care about bodyguard licensing falls flat. So does the misguided idea that the certification someone might need to unleash their inner Kevin Costner would ever fuel an entire movie. Instead, what was already a needless sequel to a terrible action-comedy becomes even more of a dull and pointless slog, with this by-the-numbers follow-up showing zero signs that anyone spent more than a few seconds contemplating the story. A significant plot point here: that Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds, The Croods: A New Age) has lost his official tick of approval. He's no longer triple A-rated after a mishap in the line of duty, and he isn't coping well. To be fair, no one watching The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard will handle that news swimmingly either, but only because they're made to hear about it over and over, all as Bryce rekindles his begrudging association with assassin Darius Kincaid (Samuel L Jackson, Spiral: From the Book of Saw) and the latter's con artist wife Sonia (Salma Hayek, Bliss).
When Darius gets snatched up by nefarious folks during his belated honeymoon with Sonia, only Bryce can help — or so says the angry Mrs Kincaid. She interrupts the latter's vacation with swearing, shouting and shootouts, because that's the kind of feisty Mexican wife that Hayek plays. From there, Reynolds primarily complains, Hayek sticks with stereotypes and Jackson attempts to exude his usual brand of couldn't-care-less cool; however, even more than in Spiral: From the Book of Saw, he's on autopilot. As also seen in Jackson's last big-screen appearance, The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard insists on reminding its audience about its stars' better movies. You don't cast both Hayek and Antonio Banderas (who plays a European tycoon plotting the world's demise) if you don't want to bring Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico to mind (and Frida and even Spy Kids 3, too). Thinking about the pair's shared past highlights is far more enjoyable than enduring their current collaboration, unsurprisingly. Making fun of accents is considered the height of comedy here, women can only be hot-headed nags and manchild daddy issues get almost as much love as paperwork. The jokes aren't just scattershot; they're non-existent. The messy, incoherent and over-edited action scenes fare just as badly. None of the above is likely to save us from a third movie, though, which'll probably be called The Hitman's Wife's Baby's Bodyguard's Lost Birth Certificate.
When a film saddles Bill Nighy with an Aussie twang and has him threaten to throw someone into a billabong, it isn't a great sign. When the same movie makes a big deal about a kangaroo less than three minutes in and stresses the dangers of dingoes just as quickly, it's clear that it has only been made with overseas viewers in mind. The dingoes don't eat anyone's babies, but it must've taken quite the self-restraint on Canadian writer/ director Tim Brown (Treasure Hounds) and screenwriter Willem Wennekers' (From the Vine) parts to leave that plot development out. They definitely haven't held back on the hackneyed and banal inclusions otherwise, though. The pair seems to have seen the Crocodile Dundee movies, The Simpsons' much-mocked Australian episode and the Red Dog films, then decided that they had all the tools they needed to make a outback adventure-thriller in the mould of Wake in Fright, Razorback and every other flick about overseas arrivals confronting the Great Southern Land's vast expanse — but in family-friendly packaging. From that dubious starting point, Brown and Wennekers are only interested in trading in Aussie cliches. In other words, they're only making a Down Under-set flick for audiences anywhere but here. That's why Nighy is stuck struggling with an unconvincing accent and roaming around in the dust: he's a recognisable, big-name star known the world over who'll help entice eyeballs, and he's also an outsider who wouldn't instantly grimace at every overdone stereotype.
Here, the title has it — because there really is Buckley's chance that local viewers, even children, will find much to enjoy. Relocating to the titular property with his recently widowed mother Gloria (Victoria Hill, The Secrets We Keep), 13-year-old New Yorker Ridley (feature first-timer Milan Burch) doesn't think he'll discover much to his liking either. He certainly doesn't warm to his grandfather Spencer (Nighy, Minamata), even before he's forced to accompany the no-nonsense station owner on an overnight wander through the surrounding outback. That camping trip does see the boy save and befriend a dingo, at least. And, when he's later lost in the desert after spying a couple of dimwitted locals (Top of the Lake's Ben Wood and Packed to the Rafters' Anthony Gooley) trying to burn down his grandpa's property over a land feud — and then hides in the back of their ute, gets caught and is forced to escape their bumbling clutches — said canine becomes Ridley's trusty offsider. Every turn that Buckley's Chance takes steers it into been-there, done-that territory. Every film this stale retread resembles did it better, too, including last year's crims-and-kids comedy A Sunburnt Christmas. The one shining light, in a movie with few high points and largely monotonous performances: Kelton Pell (The Heights). Playing Spencer's righthand man, he's the only actor who plays anything approximating an engaging character, even in his brief screentime.
RHAPSODY OF LOVE
Her best friend Ben (Benjamin Hanly, Janet King) is getting married, she's the best man, and she's running late — so much so that she's doing her hair and makeup while chatting on the phone with her sister Jade (Joy Hopwood, also the film's writer and director). She also finishes getting dressed in the car to the ceremony, too, while asking her driver to get her there as speedily as possible. That's how Rhapsody of Love introduces Sydneysider Jess Flowers (Kathy Luu, The Script of Life), in one of those pure rom-com scenes that aims to make all the chaos seem charming and whimsical rather than disorganised and messy. Indulging in romantic comedy tropes is this film's glue, and it pastes those well-worn cliches around everywhere it can. At the wedding, the stereotypically bubbly Jess meets photographer Justin (Damien Sato, At First Hello), and of course sparks fly over awkward then flirty banter. The PR whiz also finds a new friend and client in baker Victoria (Lily Stewart, Ascendant), who has whipped up the cake for Ben and his bride Natasha (Jessica Niven, Dirt Music), and is also instantly attracted to waiter Hugh (Tom Jackson, Bloom). Unbeknownst to Jess, though, Victoria happens to be Justin's long-term girlfriend — resulting in several waves of personal and professional pandemonium.
In a tongue-in-cheek scene partway through the film, the Flowers sisters try to pick a rom-com to watch one evening. They're both fans, obviously. Among the DVDs scattered across Jade's floor: the wholly fictional Sleepless in Sydney and Crazy Middle Class Asians. Even from just their monikers, those two faux flicks say plenty about Rhapsody of Love — that's exactly how it pitches itself, after all, and with more enthusiasm than the over-the-top zeal oozing from Luu's performance. Adding an Asian Australian focus to the nation's small and hardly diverse collection of romantic comedies is a welcome and important feat. Leaning on all the genre's hallmarks, especially when sporting a tone that oscillates between winking and earnest, tempers the film's impact, though. Even when a formulaic new entry in an overpopulated genre splashes much-needed diversity across the screen, coats on its eagerness just as thick and is visibly warm to look at, there's no escaping the by-the-numbers air. Rhapsody of Love's wooden performances don't do it any favours, either, and neither does the rote dialogue, or the predictable complications that blight not only Jess and Justin's path to true love, but Ben and Natasha's, Victoria and Hugh's, and Jade and her new trainer Phil's (Khan Chittenden, Book Week) as well.
If you're wondering what else is currently screening in cinemas — or has been lately — check out our rundown of new films released in Australia on January 1, January 7, January 14, January 21 and January 28; February 4, February 11, February 18 and February 25; March 4, March 11, March 18 and March 25; and April 1, April 8, April 15, April 22 and April 29; May 6, May 13, May 20 and May 27; and June 3, June 10 and June 17.
You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as Nomadland, Pieces of a Woman, The Dry, Promising Young Woman, Summerland, Ammonite, The Dig, The White Tiger, Only the Animals, Malcolm & Marie, News of the World, High Ground, Earwig and the Witch, The Nest, Assassins, Synchronic, Another Round, Minari, Firestarter — The Story of Bangarra, The Truffle Hunters, The Little Things, Chaos Walking, Raya and the Last Dragon, Max Richter's Sleep, Judas and the Black Messiah, Girls Can't Surf, French Exit, Saint Maud, Godzilla vs Kong, The Painter and the Thief, Nobody, The Father, Willy's Wonderland, Collective, Voyagers, Gunda, Supernova, The Dissident, The United States vs Billie Holiday, First Cow, Wrath of Man, Locked Down, The Perfect Candidate, Those Who Wish Me Dead, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, Ema, A Quiet Place Part II, Cruella, My Name Is Gulpilil, Lapsis, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Fast and Furious 9 and Valerie Taylor: Playing with Sharks.
Published on June 24, 2021 by Sarah Ward