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The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From September 16

Head to the flicks to watch Nicolas Cage play a truffle hunter, a potent documentary about money in Australian politics and an intense drama about a fractured marriage.
By Sarah Ward
September 16, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
September 16, 2021
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Something delightful has been happening in cinemas in some parts of the country. After numerous periods spent empty during the pandemic, with projectors silent, theatres bare and the smell of popcorn fading, picture palaces in many Australian regions are back in business — including both big chains and smaller independent sites in Brisbane at present.

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 releasesStudio 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.

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PIG

Nicolas Cage plays a truffle hunter. That's it, that's the pitch. When securing funding, those six words should've been enough to ensure that Pig made it to cinemas. Or, perhaps another high-concept summary helped. Maybe debut feature writer/director Michael Sarnoski went with these seven words: Nicolas Cage tracks down his stolen pet. Here's a final possibility that could've done the trick, too: Nicolas Cage does a moodier John Wick with a pig. Whichever logline hit the spot, or even if none did, Pig isn't merely the movie these descriptions intimate. It's better. It's weightier. It's exceptional. It always snuffles out its own trail, it takes joy in subverting almost every expectation and savouring the moment, and it constantly unearths surprises. Cage has spent much of his recent on-screen time fighting things — ninja aliens in the terrible Jiu Jitsu and possessed animatronics in the average Willy's Wonderland, for example — in movies that were clearly only made because that was the case. But, when he's at his absolute best, he plays characters whose biggest demons are internal. Here, he broods and soul-searches as a man willing to do whatever it takes to find his beloved porcine pal, punish everyone involved in her kidnapping and come to terms with his longstanding, spirit-crushing woes. Cage's over-the-top turns are entertaining to watch, but this is a measured gem of a portrayal, and a versatile, touching, deeply empathetic and haunting one that's up there with his finest ever. 

Sarnoski keeps things sparse when Pig begins; for the poetically shot film and its determined protagonist, less is always more. Rob Feld (Cage) lives a stripped-back existence in a cabin in the woods, with just his cherished truffle pig for company — plus occasional visits from Amir (Alex Wolff, Hereditary), the restaurant supplier who buys the highly sought-after wares Rob and his swine forage for on their walks through the trees. He's taken this life by choice, after the kind of heartbreak that stops him from listening to tapes of the woman he loved. He's found the solace he can in the quiet, the isolation and the unconditional bond with the animal he dotes on. (He's tampered down the full strength of his pain in the process, obviously.) But then, because bad things can happen in cabins in the woods even beyond horror flicks, Rob's pig is abducted in the dark of the night. Now, he's a man on a mission. He has a glare and a stare, too. As the swine's distressed squeals echo in his head, Rob stalks towards Portland to get her back. He has an idea of where to look and who to chase, but he needs Amir to chauffeur him around the city — and Pig is at its finest when its two main characters are together, unpacking what it means to navigate tragedy, fear, loss, regret, uncertainty, an uncaring world and a complicated industry, all in Rob and Amir's own ways.

Read our full review.

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BIG DEAL

Recognisable faces spilling essential facts about important topics: it worked for Damon Gameau's documentaries That Sugar Film and 2040, and it works for the Christiaan Van Vuuren-fronted Big Deal. With the same emphasis on being accessible, engaging, clear, sometimes light-hearted and even hopeful, the tactic has also done what it's meant to in Craig Reucassel's various small-screen doco series — see: War on Waste and Fight for Planet A: Our Climate Change — so it should come as little surprise that he directs this big-screen takedown of money in Australian politics. Accordingly, one of the Bondi Hipsters joins forces with a member of The Chaser to lay bare the murky minutiae behind buying sway in our democracy. The subject couldn't be worthier of attention, especially in the lead up to the next federal election, which needs to be held by May 2022. The approach taken in Big Deal couldn't be more familiar, but it proves effective for the same reason it did when sugar and the environment were in the spotlight. These films take something that's crucial, rustle up all the convincing detail, expose tidbits the average viewer mightn't know, compile the appropriate talking heads (which here includes experts, journalists, lobbyists, and current and former politicians such as ex-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, former senator Sam Dastyari and current senator Jacqui Lambie) and make it personal. And, if it matters to the person on-screen as they explore a pivotal topic through the lens of their own life, then it's easy for audiences to take their lead.

Van Vuuren couches his deep dive into cash for political access, the inequity it represents and the lack of transparency behind it, in two factors: his six-month experience quarantining in hospital with a rare form of tuberculosis, and his awareness of the kind of world he wants his kids to live in. In one of the few gimmicks alongside oversized novelty cheques and Van Vuuren singing, those children build towers of blocks that signify the significant fossil fuel donations to Australia's Labor and Liberal political parties, putting a few additional relatable faces on the subject — because the matters here really do impact everyone. That extended stretch under medical care underscores the documentary's entire perspective, though. Van Vuuren worries that Australian politics is taking more cues from the US than the nation's population realises, or can easily discern given that donations to political parties only need to be disclosed once a year, and nothing underscores one of the big chasms between the two countries like healthcare. It's a blunt card to play, especially during a global pandemic, but it makes the point savvily and well. No Aussie should want to follow America's lead if it could potentially weaken our universal healthcare scheme and the free or affordable treatment available under it, obviously. And, as the film plots out, everyone should want to stop that — and stop corporate interests splashing cash to influence the direction of the nation, especially when everyday Aussies can barely get access to their elected representatives.

Read our full review.

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THE KILLING OF TWO LOVERS

If you stare at something long enough, you don't just see the obvious. You notice everything, from the details that fail to immediately catch your attention to the way things can change instantly right in front of your eyes. The Killing of Two Lovers is all about this idea, and on two fronts. It puts a fractured marriage before its lens, ensuring its struggles and troubles can't be ignored. It also takes its time to peer at its protagonist, the separated-and-unhappy-about-it David (Clayne Crawford, Rectify), and at all that his new life now entails. In a sparse small town — with the film shot in Kanosh, Utah — its central figure attempts to adjust to living with his ailing widower father (Bruce Graham, Forty Years From Yesterday). His wife Niki (Sepideh Moafi, The L Word: Generation Q) remains in their home with their four children, as they've agreed while they take a break to work through their problems. David isn't coping, though, a fact that's apparent long before his teenage daughter Jess (Avery Pizzuto, We Fall Down) gets angry because she thinks he isn't fighting hard enough to save their family. He's trying, but as Crawford conveys in a brooding but nervy performance — and as writer/director/editor Robert Machoian (When She Runs) and cinematographer Oscar Ignacio Jiménez (Immanence) can't stop looking at in lengthy and patient takes — he can't quite adapt to the idea of losing everything he knows.

There's an element of Scenes From a Marriage at play here, although The Killing of Two Lovers pre-dates the new remake — and so much of the feeling in this gorgeously shot movie comes from its imagery. When it's hard to look away from such rich and enticing visuals, it's impossible not to spot and soak in everything they depict. Each frame is postcard-perfect, not that those pieces of cardboard ever capture such everyday sights, but wide vistas and the snowy mountains hovering in the background are just the beginning. With its long takes, The Killing of Two Lovers forces its audience to glean the naturalistic lighting that never casts David and Niki's hometown in either a warm glow or grim glower. Repeated images of David alone, especially in his car, also leave a firm impression of a man moving and solo. And, presenting most of its frames in the 4:3 aspect ratio, the film also possesses an astonishing and telling sense of space. Nothing is bluntly boxed in here, but everyone is trying to roam within the claustrophobic patch of turf they've scratched out. And, within the feature's square-shaped visuals springs an added fountain of intimacy that cuts to the heart of such close relationships, such as when David and the kids all pile into his truck, or during one of David and Niki's car-bound dates.

Read our full review.

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PALAZZO DI COZZO

If Franco Cozzo was to spruik Palazzo Di Cozzo the same way he's promoted his baroque furniture business over the decades, he'd likely repeat one phrase: "grand documentary, grand documentary, grand documentary." He'd do so because that's what he's known for, and because his ads peppered with "grand sale, grand sale, grand sale" are a part of Melbourne's history, even inspiring a single that hit the charts. On the city's TV screens, Cozzo has been the face of his eponymous homewares store, so much so that he's a local celebrity. His lively exclamations fill much of this doco, too, through archival clips, observational footage of him at work and a to-camera interview. In the latter, he sits on one of the ornate chairs he's made a fortune selling, and answers interview questions like he's holding court — and for Melburnians familiar with his name and citywide fame, and for the uninitiated elsewhere, Palazzo Di Cozzo explains both the reason he's regarded as such a prominent personality. Written and directed by feature-length first-timer Madeleine Martiniello (The Unmissables), the result is a film about the hardworking jump its subject took from arriving in Australia from Sicily in 1956 to becoming part of the cultural fabric of his new home. Speaking about the mural painted of Cozzo in Footscray, graffiti artist Heesco notes that his tale is "the migrant dream"; however, while this affectionate film happily stresses that point, it also blissfully takes the easiest route.

As a straightforward chronicle that covers the basics — who Cozzo is, what he's done, and also where, when, why and how — Palazzo Di Cozzo ticks the expected boxes in an informative and engaging-enough fashion. It tracks his story from making the move to Melbourne by boat and starting out as a door-to-door salesman, through to his 70s and 80s heyday, his frequent media presence, and his standing today. It lets his personality lead the way, too. And, the film also spends some of its early moments chatting to people who've decked out their houses with his wares, or watched their parents to do the same, to underscore what the rococo aesthetic has meant to Italian expats as an opulent slice of home. But even when one interviewee is in tears recounting how hard her mum and dad must've worked to spend $17,000 on Cozzo furniture in the 70s, there's always a sense that Palazzo Di Cozzo isn't scratching as deep as it should. The documentary doesn't avoid moments that Cozzo would rather forget, and even shows him getting irate when questioning heads in a direction he doesn't like; however, it also indulges rather than interrogates the persona that's leapt up around him over the years. Cue too many instances of people parroting his style of English back to him, and indulging a cartoonish stereotype — and very little effort to understand why that's the image Cozzo chose, what his popularity for playing that part says about Australia and its attitudes towards migrants, and also what the nostalgia afforded his way now says as well.  

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DIE IN A GUNFIGHT

How does a filmmaker tell viewers that he's seen Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet without telling them that he's seen Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet? If he's Collin Schiffli (All Creatures Here Below), he makes Die in a Gunfight. Anyone else who has watched Romeo + Juliet even once will spot its influence over this pale and obnoxiously grating imitation, not just because it focuses on star-crossed lovers who happen to be the children of generations-old bitter rivals — that'd be Ben Gibbon (Diego Boneta, Love, Weddings and Other Disasters), son of one media baron, and Mary Rathcart (Alexandra Daddario, The White Lotus), daughter of another — but because more than a few of its frames could sit side by side with R+J's and look like mirror images. The vibe takes inspiration from Luhrmann's classic as well, but amped up several notches as if exaggerated copying is the sincerest form of flattery. The over-edited, overly slick overall aesthetic does, too, and ends up looking and feeling as if a film student has just discovered every button on the camera and in the edit suite. And, it might be purely a coincidence that the movie nods to Luhrmann's Australian nationality by casting Travis Fimmel (Dreamland) as an Aussie assassin. You could be generous and think that. But even if it is serendipitous, the fact that Fimmel's character plays like the worst Down Under caricature there is — and that the clearly white figure is called a didgeridoo at one point — couldn't sum up this misfire any better.

The narrative tracks most of the usual Shakespearean beats, with Ben and Mary's parents trying to keep them apart — and, in Mary's case, another suitor stalking around with the exact same aim. In not-so-fair Manhattan where Schiffli and screenwriters Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari (Ant-Man and the Wasp) lay their scene, the pair's two households, both alike in dignity, do indeed turn their ancient grudge into new mutiny. And, misadventure and piteousness definitely ensue, as does heartbreak and bloodshed. When Die in a Gunfight sticks to its obvious source materials, it's a slog and nothing more than an inept duplicate twice over. When it attempts to mix things up, it still just grasps onto well-worn action and romance cliches, and also proves equally unoriginal. It doesn't help that Boneta plays Ben like a brat, that chemistry between him and Daddario is patently absent, or that Justin Chatwin (CHiPs), as the third part of the movie's love triangle, gives big — and bad — pantomime energy. The animated sequences filling in backstory, Billy Crudup's (Where'd You Go, Bernadette) knowing narration and an annoying penchant for splashing character names on-screen in giant lettering all does nothing to improve the feature, either. The Bard's most famous love story has spawned many adaptations, and Luhrmann's take on it has sparked plenty of imitators, but this is the very worst of both worlds.

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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 May 6, May 13, May 20 and May 27; June 3, June 10, June 17 and June 24; July 1, July 8, July 15, July 22 and July 29; August 5, August 12, August 19 and August 26; and September 2 and September 9.

You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as 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, Valerie Taylor: Playing with Sharks, In the Heights, Herself, Little Joe, Black Widow, The Sparks Brothers, Nine Days, Gunpowder Milkshake, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Old, Jungle Cruise, The Suicide Squad, Free Guy, Respect, The Night House, Candyman, Annette, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Streamline and Coming Home in the Dark.

Published on September 16, 2021 by Sarah Ward
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