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The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From September 23

Head to the flicks to watch a Norwegian comedy with playful ties to Princess Diana, a nostalgic Oasis documentary and Mark Wahlberg's latest drama.
By Sarah Ward
September 23, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
September 23, 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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JOE BELL

Led by Mark Wahlberg in one of his weightiest roles in some time — Entourage, the Ted films, Deepwater Horizon, the Daddy's Home movies, multiple Transformers flicks, Instant Family, Spenser Confidential and Infinite certainly haven't earned that description in recent years — Joe Bell is clearly a vehicle for its star. It tells a true story that more than deserves to hit the silver screen, but everything about it has been engineered to thrust its biggest-name talent to the fore. That move doesn't do this drama any favours. In fact, taking that course proves a significant misstep. Wahlberg turns in a passable performance, but the eponymous figure he plays should never have been the central focus here. In 2013, that real-life Oregon man decided to walk across the US to raise awareness about bullying. At the towns on his route, he'd pause to spread his message, all because his son Jadin had been tormented by his classmates for being gay. He was determined to stop the same thing happening to anyone else, and his mission and motivations were noble. His quest was vital and well-intentioned, obviously. It's glaringly apparent, though, that his efforts to teach tolerance to America's rural youth aren't the most crucial part of this tale — unless you want to make a movie starring Wahlberg, that is. And, unless you're happy to craft a film that takes all the wrong cues from weepies about illness and trauma that misguidedly and infuriatingly prefer the people adjacent to those who actually struggle and suffer, and a feature that largely pushes aside a queer teen's experiences in favour of his dad's reaction to them.

That's exactly what Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men) directs, and that Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry (Brokeback Mountain) have scripted. While preaching the importance of not ignoring LGBTQIA+ teens, Joe Bell lets Jadin stand in its namesake's shadow. Since the film first premiered at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, it has actually been re-edited before its theatrical release, but only slightly. Jadin gets more prominence now, although he still isn't the movie's core focus. Again and again, that choice clunks through the movie — not just because Reid Miller (A Girl Named Jo, Play by Play), who plays the pivotal teen, is so radiant and affecting, but because it's always plain which story the feature should be telling instead. While there's a reason that Joe Bell has chosen the route it has other than ramping up Wahlberg's screen time, it isn't enough to justify sidelining Jadin. Also impossible to excuse: the way that one essential aspect of the narrative is treated like a twist, which also requires using Jadin as a mere gimmick before that. Accordingly, not only is the taunted gay teen that's sparked this mission to stop the taunting of gay teens turned into a supporting player, but he's also used as a prop and a piece of pure cinematic manipulation. That decision can't be explained away by wanting to flesh out Joe's emotional journey. It cheapens everything in the film, as important as its underlying statement against bullying is. And while Connie Britton (The White Lotus) and Gary Sinise (13 Reasons Why) help broaden out the feature's perspective beyond the man that shares it moniker (as Joe's wife and a small-town sheriff, respectively), there's never any doubting where Joe Bell's loyalties reside.

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PERSIAN LESSONS

Persian Lessons starts unfurling its dramas with a familiar statement: "inspired by true events". It isn't novel of World War II-set films to make such a claim. In fact, it's virtually expected. But the phrase seems to apply loosely here; this film tells a tale of survival during the Holocaust that smacks of cinematic neatness, and also credits a short story by Wolfgang Kohlhaase. Beginning the feature with tenuous words couldn't be more fitting, however. Indeed, this is a movie about language, its meaning, its function as a form of connection and its use as currency. It's a film about the lies that words can spread and cement, the truths they can hold on to or obscure, and the way that words are constantly twisted to different advantages — whether to pad out dreams that someone desperately wants to believe in, to provide hope in dire situations, to threaten, to hide, to persecute, to taunt, to condemn, to console, to record, to remember or to simply survive. Director Vadim Perelman (House of Sand and Fog) and screenwriter Ilja Zofin (Yolki 1914) mightn't have intended Persian Lessons' standard preface to tie so firmly into its themes and storyline. They might've just wanted to flag that, somewhere in this narrative, kernels of truth do linger. But this handsomely shot and finely performed movie makes those opening four words count, albeit only in retrospect. It ensures that words matter and echo in its moving finale, too. It's considerably less successful at avoiding the tropes that come with Second World War features, but its musing on language, and also the complex and compelling work by Nahuel Pérez Biscayart (BPM (Beats Per Minute)) that comes with it, makes an unshakeable impact.

The setup: after being captured by the Nazis during World War II, Gilles (Biscayart) comes into possession of a Persian book from a fellow prisoner. It's 1942, he's the son of a rabbi who has been caught trying to flee occupied France for Switzerland, and he soon uses that tome to save his life. SS officer Klaus Koch (Lars Eidinger, Babylon Berlin) has tasked his transit camp underlings with keeping their eyes peeled for people of Persian descent, so when Gilles claims that he's not Jewish to avoid being shot, that lie proves not just convenient but fortuitous. He's not only spared a bullet, but is quickly put under Koch's watch in the camp's kitchen. By day, he cooks. By night, he teaches Farsi to his stern student. Gilles doesn't actually know the language, though, so he's constantly making up gibberish in order to stay alive and avoid suspicion. Word after word, he adds to his superior's vocabulary — because Koch dreams of leaving Germany and the Nazis after the war, following his estranged elder brother to Tehran and opening a German restaurant there. Other guards don't buy Gilles' story, and trust isn't strong between officers and their captives anyway, but Koch is infatuated with chasing his fantasy future. When he endeavours to test his new tutor's assertions, he opts for insultingly basic questions such as "what is the capital of Persia?" and "what language do they speak? (Again, much in Persian Lessons happens a little too easily to truly resound with authenticity.) And, as burdensome as remembering all these fake words is, Gilles strenuously wants to avoid the fate befalling everyone around him.

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DIANA'S WEDDING

Forty years ago this past July, Lady Diana Spencer married Charles, the Prince of Wales. Their unhappy union has already fuelled the fourth season of The Crown, and will pop up again in the series' fifth batch of episodes in 2022. It's also at the core of the upcoming, Kristen Stewart-starring Spencer. The regal relationship is just one of the nuptials referred to in Diana's Wedding, however. This Norwegian comedy begins on Wednesday, July 29, 1981 with glimpses of that big British affair, but Liv (Marie Blokhus, Out Stealing Horses) and Terje (Pål Sverre Hagen, A Conspiracy of Faith) are also getting hitched. While the occasion is nowhere near as fancy as the royal ceremony happening at the same time, these newlyweds are happy. They've even named their daughter Diana. Arriving at their new home that night, they're spied by Unni (Jannike Kruse, Psychobitch) and Jan (Olav Waastad, ZombieLars) next door, who've just watched Diana and Charles walk down the aisle on TV — and who also have their own infant, Irene, too. Indeed, Unni wanted to name her baby Diana as well, but Jan's disapproval is just one marker of their dysfunctional relationship. From here, Diana, Irene, Liv, Terje, Unni and Jan's lives are intertwined, as those of small-town neighbours often are. Whatever the people's princess is up to provides a backdrop to their existence in 1990 and 1997 as well, with writer/director Charlotte Blom (Staying Alive) checking back in with her characters at different points. The culmination: this Diana's (Ine Marie Wilmann, Sonja: The White Swan) own wedding, although her views on love have been coloured by Liv and Terje's tempestuous marriage, as well as Unni and Jan's dispassionate relationship.

The idea behind Diana's Wedding is simple, charting two families across four periods in time, with all things Princess Di providing a handy backdrop. That said, the core of the film resides not in its narrative structure but in its characters, and in the performances that bring them to life. The royal elements are gimmicky, but playful. The time jumps are as well. What truly resonates, though, is how the ins and outs of two very different couples leave an imprint that ripples through the years, and down to the next generation — because Diana sees everything, whether she's a baby in a basket, a nine-year-old constantly witnessing Liv and Terje fight and make up, a teenager who's had enough of all the tumultuousness, or getting ready to don a white gown herself. Blokhus and Hagen frequently steal the camera's attention, and layer their bickering couple with depth and texture. As the yearning Unni, who desperately wants Jan's affection despite how patently he'll never give it, Kruse serves up a portrayal filled with quiet pain. There's no big revelations in their character arcs — some marriages seesaw, others are blatantly miserable — but the film's strong performances give everything in the story a lived-in air. Blom finds a canny balance between darker moments and a breezy, comedic feeling overall, those laughs emanating from recognising just how relatable this tale proves. And, within the sunny hues and amid the spot-on period detail, Diana's Wedding also makes a savvy statement about what we gossip about, what the world remembers and what really shapes us.

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OASIS KNEBWORTH 1996

Not only jumping back to a time when Oasis was the biggest band in the world, but chronicling the largest gigs of their career, Oasis Knebworth 1996 was always going to be an exercise in nostalgia. For anyone who can remember the Manchester group's mid-90s heyday, it's a trip back to the past. For fans of brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher and their bandmates, it captures the British chart-toppers at their zenith. Director Jake Scott (American Woman) doesn't shy away from the documentary's wistfulness. While footage of the band on-stage fills much of the film's 110-minute running time — visuals featuring songs such as 'Live Forever', 'Champagne Supernova' and of course 'Wonderwall' —  much of Oasis Knebworth 1996 is guided by the group's fans. That 25-year-old imagery dwells on their beaming faces in the crowd, and their ecstatic exclamations of love for the band, and is frequently overlaid with fond recollections from some concertgoers. They narrate the buzz leading up to the two 125,000-capacity gigs on the grounds of Knebworth House in Hertfordshire in England's south. They share tales of lining up for tickets, or finding ways to jump the telephone queue, and of their planning, early arrivals and uncontrollable excitement as the weekend of Saturday, August 10 and Sunday, August 11, 1996, approached. Liam, Noel, guitarist Paul Arthurs and bassist Paul McGuigan also offer their thoughts, which are similarly layered on top of material shot at the time by Dick Carruthers and his team rather than served up talking head-style, but this documentary wants to recreate the feeling of having been an ordinary Oasis fan at one of these gigs above all else.

The shows were monumental; with only two albums to their name (1994's Definitely Maybe and 1995's (What's the Story) Morning Glory), Oasis sold out two gigs at a place where only bands of Queen, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin's ilk had done the same. Oasis weren't the only group on the bill, with Manic Street Preachers, Kula Shaker, The Charlatans, The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy among their supports; however, Oasis was the reason that more than two percent of the UK population tried to buy a ticket. Scott heads back to that weekend with euphoric affection. The performance clips and crowd shots emanate that vibe anyway — like the archival footage in fellow recent music doco Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), the material here paints a clear portrait of a time, place and mood that's instantly infectious. But Oasis Knebworth 1996 is also an indulgent film, needlessly so when it opines about going to concerts pre-internet and before mobile phones as if that's a historical curio anyone who wasn't at Knebworth wouldn't remember. That attitude springs from the fans, and proves repetitive. Their recollections otherwise lead to a few interesting tales, including one girl and her pal's luck at chancing upon tickets on the day, and one guy finding himself in a limousine with Kate Moss and Anna Friel in the chaos to get out of the car park afterwards. Also radiating here, though, is an added dose of warmth and fondness not for these particular gigs, but for shows of their type in general. Celebrating a quarter-century since Oasis played Knebworth comes at a time when such large-scale concerts have become memories for now — and this film has us all looking back in reverence.

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FLASHBACK

Add Flashback to the roster of movies that are made with obvious affection for others before it, but mostly only succeed in making viewers want to watch all those well-known and better films they clearly took inspiration from. Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko, Rian Johnson's Brick and Looper, and Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's The Endless and Synchronic have all left an overt imprint on this sci-fi mystery-thriller. Indeed, writer/director Christopher MacBride (The Conspiracy) eagerly wants Flashback to follow in their footsteps — and to sit in the same realm as David Lynch's entire filmography as well. There's a bit of Christopher Nolan's Memento, Inception and Tenet-style puzzling, a dash of Denis Villeneuve's Enemy and a smidge of Joseph Kahn's Detention at play, too. The list goes on, and watching can feel a bit like a game of spotting the influences. MacBride's movie doesn't merely emulate its predecessors, however. It synthesises bits and pieces into a new narrative about unhappy twenty-something Fred (Dylan O'Brien, Infinite), his mundane existence, his murky past, and the fact that a drug called mercury might open the door to living in multiple timelines simultaneously. But as its protagonist starts experiencing flashes back to high school, remembers that Cindy (Maika Monroe, Honey Boy), the girl he had a crush on, went missing, and struggles to remain grounded in his adult life with his wife (Hannah Gross, Joker), dying mother (Liisa Repo-Martell, Anne with an E) and overbearing boss (Amanda Brugel, The Handmaid's Tale), it's impossible not to see Flashback's oh-so-recognisable elements.

Two specific aspects of Flashback prove a double-edged sword, too: O'Brien and the film's visual approach. When it comes to the former, he plays melancholy, bewildered and haunted well, but he's also looks out of place when Fred's navigating the minutiae of his late 20s and when he's cast back to classes, teen parties and doing whatever it takes to keep him close to Cindy. Stylistically, Flashback also both shines and scrambles. MacBride favours a trippy look and feel, including brief glimpses of moments from other times, swift strobe-cut editing, and an overall vibe that wants to keep the audience guessing about what's real and what's a drug-induced hallucination. In small bursts, all of these touches work. Repeated again and again, they lose their effectiveness. It doesn't help that the film is so infatuated with its concept, labyrinthine tale and psychedelic flourishes that it's barely concerned with making anyone within its frames — Fred included — feel much like a real character. Indeed, all the movie's women are given thankless parts, and Emory Cohen (The OA) and Keir Gilchrist (Atypical) fare just as routinely as pals from Fred's mercury-ingesting school days. MacBride doesn't lack ambition, though. Flashback is pulpy, convoluted and familiar, and it also strives to make a splash with its twists, aesthetics, and tinkering with maybes, what ifs and what might've been. This isn't the universe where the film comes together as intended, but it's one where it makes a just watchable-enough effort.

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TIME IS UP

If Netflix is now the go-to for cutesy teen rom-coms — as illustrated by To All the Boys I've Loved Before, The Kissing Booth, their respective franchises and the like — then cinemas have become home to their supposedly hotter-and-heavier, always terribly acted counterparts. There's nothing alluring about Fifty Shades of Grey wannabe After and its sequel After We Collided, however, or about the unrelated but still similar Time Is Up. (And, it's worth noting that third After film After We Fell is now skipping the big screen in Australia and heading straight to streaming.) All of these movies endeavour to normalise unhealthy relationships, and try to dress them up as star-crossed instances of true love put to the test. Worse, they attempt to push romances between apparently capable young women and brooding, often-jerkish young men as the pinnacle when it comes to affairs of the heart. Being treated badly, putting yourself through it willingly and pining for the person responsible despite all logic screaming otherwise is a key part of the template here, and it's both abhorrent and tiresome. In Time Is Up, hotshot physics student Vivian (Bella Thorne, The Babysitter) can't quite figure out why her swimmer boyfriend Steve (Sebastiano Pigazzi, We Are Who We Are) is distant and rarely around. She spends all her time studying for a big test, he's always at training — and when they are together, he couldn't be more disinterested. But he isn't the only moody teenage male in her vicinity, with aspiring swim-squad member Roy (musician Benjamin Mascolo) also catching her eye, but also playing the aloof card.

During an argument with Steve, Vivian spits back one of the worst lines ever uttered in a movie: "I'm always busy with quantum physics, and I still have time for you." Dialogue isn't writer/director Elisa Amoruso (Sirley) and her first-time co-scribes Lorenzo Ura and Patrizia Fiorellini's strong point, and making it seem believable isn't Thorne's — or, when saddled with spouting similar by-the-numbers declarations, Pigazzi or Mascolo's either. Time Is Up is shot with the music video-esque gloss of a fantasy, as its fellow teen romantic dramas usually are. It isn't aiming for realism in its narrative, which sees Vivian follow Steve to Rome, then end up spending a day with Roy instead, and also weaves in her struggles to cope with her parents' possible divorce, exactly what Steve has been doing with his time, plus Roy's guilt over a family tragedy and his insecurity over the fact that he comes from the wrong side of town. But nothing that flickers across the screen genuinely sells either of the film's romances, anchors its trio of main characters in anything resembling believable emotions, or gets viewers invested in what's happening. Thorne plays Vivian as mopey and clueless, despite how many times the screenplay mentions quantum physics. Pigazzi and Mascolo mirror each other in the blankly broody stakes, just with one veering towards arrogance and the other pitched as more sensitive. Opening narration about particles colliding hits the sappy mark it's aiming for, frequently swirling camerawork bluntly stresses how love is like a whirlwind, and a dull tale about a supposedly smart teen and the two toxic men she's caught between sinks into formula every moment it can. And with needle drops that include Billie Eilish on the soundtrack, it repeatedly feels as that's where the feature's money and focus has been spent — funds and effort that would've been useful elsewhere.

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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, September 9 and September 16.

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, Coming Home in the Dark, Pig, Big Deal and The Killing of Two Lovers.

Published on September 23, 2021 by Sarah Ward

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