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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas This Week

Head to the flicks to see a wild tweet-to-screen adaptation, Edgar Wright's first horror-thriller and a moving documentary about the Tham Luang Nang Non cave rescue.
By Sarah Ward
November 18, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
November 18, 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 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 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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ZOLA

It wasn't just a Twitter thread — it was the Twitter thread. Whether you read Aziah 'Zola' King's viral 148-post stripper saga live as it happened back in October 2015, stumbled across the details afterwards as the internet lost its mind or only heard about it via Zola's buzzy trailer, calling this stranger-than-fiction tale a wild ride will always be an understatement. Its instantly gripping opening words, as also used in Janicza Bravo's (Lemon) savvy, sharp, candy-hued tweet-to-screen adaptation, happen to capture the whole OMG, WTF and OTT vibe perfectly: "you wanna hear a story about how me and this bitch fell out? It's kind of long, but it's full of suspense."

In the film, that phrase is uttered aloud by Zola's eponymous Detroit waitress (Taylour Paige, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom). Still, the movie firmly embraces its origins. For those wondering how a filmmaker turns a series of tweets into a feature, Bravo handles the task with flair, energy, enthusiasm and a clear understanding of social media's role in our lives. Much of the phrasing that the real-life Zola used has made its way into the conversational script, which was co-written by playwright Jeremy O Harris. Each time that occurs, the film echoes with tell-tale swooshes, whistles and dings. But those words and alerts are just the starting point; as Zola's chaotic narrative unfurls, it comes to life with a mix of the hyperreal, the loose and the dreamy. It doesn't merely tell a tale taken from the tweetstorm to end all tweetstorms, but also uses every aesthetic choice it can to mirror the always-on, always-posing, always-sharing online realm.

The other person that Zola refers to in her initial statement is the cornrow-wearing, blaccent-sporting Stefani (Riley Keough, The Lodge), who she serves at work, then joins on a jaunt to Florida. They immediately hit it off, which is what inspires the invite to head south — a "hoe trip" is how Zola describes it — however, what's meant to be a girls' getaway for a stint of lucrative exotic dancing in Tampa soon gets messy. The drive is long, and Stefani's boyfriend Derreck (Nicholas Braun, Succession) quickly dampens the mood with his awkward, try-hard schtick. Then there's X (Colman Domingo, Candyman), who, while introduced as Stefani's roommate, is actually her pimp. Trafficking Zola into sex work is the real plan of this working holiday, she discovers, but she's ferociously adamant that she won't be "poppin' pussy for pennies".

As the woman both relaying and riding Zola's rollercoaster of a story, Paige is fierce and finessed. It's a tricky part; making the dialogue sound authentic, and also like it could've just been rattled off on social media with a mix of emojis and all caps, requires a precise tonal balance, for starters. So does ensuring that Zola always feels like a real person, especially given the tale's ups and downs. That said, Paige is guided by Bravo at every turn, with recognising how things play online and how they pan out in reality — and the frequent disconnection between the two — one of the filmmaker's biggest masterstrokes. That's exactly what a flick that's based on a Twitter thread should offer, rather than just mining posts for punchy content that's already proven popular. Using the platform as source material definitely doesn't equal an endorsement here. Instead, it sparks a brash and bouncy feature that interrogates its inspiration and the mechanism that turned it into a whirlwind, rather than serves up a cinematic retweet.

Read our full review.

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LAST NIGHT IN SOHO

Edgar Wright must own a killer record collection. Weaving the perfect playlists into his films has ranked high among the British writer/director's trademarks ever since he made such a horror-comedy splash with Shaun of the Dead, and his own love of music is frequently mirrored by his protagonists, too. This is the filmmaker who set a zombie-killing scene to Queen's 'Don't Stop Me Now', and had characters wield vinyl as weapons. He made zoning out the world via iPod — and teeing up exactly the right track for the right moment — a key trait of Baby Driver's eponymous getaway driver. Earlier in 2021, Wright also turned his avid fandom for Sparks into his delightful first documentary The Sparks Brothers, because wearing his love for his favourite songs on his sleeves infiltrates everything he makes. So, the fact that his second film of this year is about a giddy devotee of 60s tunes really doesn't come as the slightest surprise.

Last Night in Soho takes its name from an era-appropriate song that gets a spin in the film, naturally. It boasts a cleverly compiled soundtrack teeming with hits from the period, and has one of its central figures — called Sandie, like singer Sandie Shaw, who croons '(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me' on that very soundtrack — seek chanteuse stardom. As Wright is known to do, his latest movie also sports sequences that could double as music videos, and possesses a supple sense of rhythm that makes his picture virtually dance across the screen. It's a feature shaped by music, made better by music, and that recognises that music can make anyone feel like they can do anything. A partly swinging 60s-set thriller that adores the giallo films of the time with equal passion, it also flits between a cinematic banger on par with the glorious tracks it peppers throughout and the movie equivalent of a routine needle drop.

Cilla Black, Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield: these are the kind of talents that Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie, The Power of the Dog) can't get enough of, even though she's a Gen Z aspiring fashion designer; they're also the type of stars that aforementioned blonde bombshell Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Queen's Gambit) wants to follow onto London's stages. Last Night in Soho starts with its wannabe fashionista, who's first seen donning her own 60s-inspired designs in her Cornwall bedroom that's plastered with posters and pictures from the period, and also dancing to 'Peter & Gordon's 1964 track 'A World Without Love'.  Soon, Eloise is off to college in the big and, hopefully, working towards the fashion world. Then she meets Sandie, but only in her dreams. Actually, as she slumbers, she becomes Sandie — and navigates her chiffon-adorned quest for stardom, her breathy 'Downtown' covers and her thorny relationship with slippery bar manager Jack (Matt Smith, Official Secrets).

Some of Last Night in Soho's most dazzling scenes play with these doppelgänger characters, and with the time-travelling dreamscape where they both exist, as if Wright is helming a musical. The choreography — both by McKenzie and Taylor-Joy, playing chalk-and-cheese roles, and by the film's lithe and glossy cinematography — is stunning. The effect is mesmerising, as well as whip-smart in tapping into the feature's ongoing musing on identity. This is also a horror movie and a mystery, however, so exploring what's behind these nocturnal visions is the primary focus. As a mousy girl bullied by her roommate (Synnøve Karlsen, Medici) to the point of leaping into the too-good-to-be-true Soho attic studio leased by the cranky but obliging Ms Collins (Diana Rigg, Game of Thrones), it's easy to see why Eloise flees into her dreams. But the who, what, why and how of it all — when and were clearly being answered already — isn't as simple as pure retro escapism.

Read our full review.

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BLUE BAYOU

Blue Bayou isn't Justin Chon's first film as an actor, writer, director or producer, but it's a fantastic showcase for his many talents nonetheless. It's also a deeply moving feature about a topical subject: America's immigration laws, which are complicated at best and draconian at worst. Worlds away from his time in all five Twilight flicks — because Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Anna Kendrick aren't the franchise's only breakout stars — Chon plays Antonio LeBlanc. While the Korean American tattoo artist has lived in Louisiana since being adopted as child, the name he was given upon his arrival in the US still sparks cognitive dissonance, as the job interview that opens the movie illustrates. It also doesn't stop both the casual and overt racism frequently directed his way, or the deportation proceedings that spring after he's accosted in a supermarket by New Orleans police officers.

Helming and scripting as well as starring, Chon layers Antonio's situation with complexity from the outset. He's getting by, just, but his criminal record makes it difficult to secure more work — which he needs given his wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander, The Green Knight) is pregnant. He's a doting stepdad to her daughter Jessie (Sydney Kowalske, Doom Patrol), but her birth father Ace (Mark O'Brien, Marriage Story) is one of those aforementioned cops. Also, Ace has a bigoted partner, Denny (Emory Cohen, Flashback), who makes antagonising Antonio his daily mission. And, after that grocery store run-in, the latter discovers that his adoptive parents didn't ever complete the paperwork required to naturalise him as a US citizen. His life, his wife, his kids, that he has no ties to Korea: sadly, it all means nothing to the immigration system.

Based on the plot description, it'd be simple to accuse Blue Bayou of throwing too much at its protagonist, dialling up his hardships and wallowing in his misery, all to tug at heartstrings. The film inspires a strong emotional reaction; however, this isn't just a case of calculating narrative machinations manipulating viewers to feel everything — or even something. There's a sense of inevitability to Chon's feature, his fourth after Man Up, Gook and Ms Purple, and it's all by design. The path that Antonio's life is forced down isn't surprising, complete with tough truths and heartbreaking realities, but it's filled with authenticity. Piling on misfortune after misfortune isn't merely a ploy when all of Blue Bayou's dramas can easily accumulate as they do here, and when no one's struggles are ever limited to just one or two troubles. There's no contrivance in sight, but rather a firm understanding of snowballing sorrows and their overwhelming impact.

Still, Chon walks a delicate tightrope. He could've veered into tear-wringing movie of the week-style melodrama, clogged it up with cliches and failed to evoke even a single genuine feeling — or, alternatively, he could've deployed too much restraint and crafted a clinical, procedural film that saw Antonio as a mere cog in a system. The space he's carved out in-between is both masterful and organically messy; finding the right balance is a mammoth task, and embracing the whirlwind that sweeps along Antonio, Kathy and Jessie is inherently chaotic. The result is a stirring and empathetic film that's also precise and intricate, especially when it comes to the emotional deluge weathered by its central trio. At every moment, Blue Bayou plunges viewers into their turbulent existence, sees their plight with clear eyes and acknowledges all that that encompasses.

Read our full review.

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THE RESCUE

It isn't the first movie about the Tham Luang Nang Non cave incident to reach screens, thanks to the underwhelming The Cave. It won't be the last project to focus on the 12 Thai schoolboys and their soccer coach who were trapped in the Chiang Rai Province spot for 18 days back in 2018, either. Ron Howard (Hillbilly Elegy)-directed dramatisation Thirteen Lives hits cinemas next year, a Netflix limited series executive produced by In the Heights filmmaker John M Chu is also set to debut in 2022 and, to the surprise of no one, more are bound to follow. Still, The Rescue earns another worthy honour. The documentary isn't just an inspirational recounting of a miraculous effort that thwarted a potential tragedy, as told by the brave people who pulled off the feat, although it's certainly that. In addition, this gripping film falls into a genre that always needs more entries: celebrations of skilled people doing difficult things with precision, passion, persistence and prowess.

If documentarians Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin have a niche, it's this. As co-directors, the married couple has now made three films, all valuing hard work, expertise and when the former leads not only to the latter, but to extraordinary achievements. With 2015 Sundance award-winner Meru, they documented Chin's efforts with two other climbers to scale Meru Peak in the Indian Himalayas. Then came Oscar-winner Free Solo, the exceptional doco about Alex Honnold's quest to free-climb Yosemite National Park's El Capitan. The Rescue swaps clambering up for diving deep, and hones in on an event that captured international headlines as it happened, but still belongs in the same company as the duo's past two releases. Here, viewers start the film with an understanding of what happened thanks to all that non-stop news coverage, but finish it in profound awe of the talent, smarts, dedication and unflinching competence involved.

Vasarhelyi and Chin spotlight the divers who extricated Tham Luang's 13 unwilling inhabitants, aka the Wild Boars soccer team — and did so as the world watched, as hours became days and then weeks, and as monsoonal waters flooded the cave despite a desperate pumping initiative. Thai Navy SEALs initially attempted the task, yet struggled in the ten kilometres of sprawling and narrow tunnels. In fact, due to the murky water and the constant deluge from the fast-falling rain, they weren't able to get far. To assist, civilian hobbyists including Brits Rick Stanton and John Volanthen were brought in — experts in their field, and volunteers for the biggest diving quest of their lives. When their crew found the boys and their coach almost four kilometres from the mouth of the cave, they then faced another dilemma: how to get them back out alive.

With its ending already well-known, The Rescue starts at the beginning, letting those who were there talk through each step, and also weaving in footage from the rescue mission itself. No re-enactments — not the small amount The Rescue uses, as noted in its credits; not The Cave's awful docodrama approach; and not all the future dramatisations set to flow from Hollywood — can ever be as nerve-wracking as seeing this remarkable feat actually happen. That said, the film's interviews are also significant. While the on-the-ground and in-the-water clips show the immense level of skill at work and the enormous dangers faced, the accompanying discussions offer keen insights into the thought processes involved. And, they draw out Stanton, Volanthen and their team's distinctive personalities, ensuring that these heroes are always flesh and blood.

Read our full review.

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PHIL LYNOTT: SONGS FOR WHILE I'M AWAY

One of the most astute things that a music documentary can do is lead with its subject, whether they're a household name the world over, deserving of more fame and acclaim, or fall somewhere in the middle. With Phil Lynott: Songs for While I'm Away, that's a tricky task, as it is of any film that looks back at a figure who is no longer around — and who didn't leave a treasure trove of candid and personal materials behind, as docos such as Amy, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck and Zappa all benefited from. Accordingly, editor-turned-director Emer Reynolds (The Farthest) undertakes a careful juggling act, pushing Thin Lizzy singer Lynott to the fore whenever and however she can. Songs for While I'm Away is still filled with talking heads that aren't Ireland's Black, working-class rockstar — his family members, friends, colleagues and peers alike — but it's at its best when it lets its namesake's songs echo and his on-stage presence take centre stage. "You'll never see a bad photo of Phil Lynott," Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham offers in a to-camera chat, a sentiment that the film bakes into its frames.

Bearing witness to a great talent always casts a spell that merely listening to other people talk about them can never match, no matter how insightful and affectionate those discussions prove. Early in Songs for While I'm Away, Reynolds lingers on footage of Lynott singing and strumming, his piercing eyes instantly demanding attention — and that clip is the doco's hook, even for first-timers to his story. The soulfulness of his lyrics, many of which are placed into context by the film's interviewees, is just as entrancing. Sometimes the documentary resembles a listening party, pairing snippets of songs with stock visuals, then dissecting the tunes; however, in diving well beyond 'The Boys Are Back in Town' and 'Jailbreak' — the two songs that Thin Lizzy, and therefore Lynott, will always be best known for — it's a canny move.

Still, Songs for While I'm Away has much to unpack: Lynott's upbringing, after being born in England to a mother from Ireland and a father from Guyana, then spending his childhood with his grandparents in Dublin; his path to music stardom, with Thin Lizzy's rock cover of 'Whiskey in the Jar' giving the group their first top-ten hit; and everything that sprang from that success personally and professionally. Early in the doco, Lynott's daughters Sarah and Cathleen stress how they wish people didn't focus so much on their father's death — in 1986, at the age of 36, from pneumonia and heart failure due to septicaemia after a struggle with heroin — and Reynolds takes their words to heart, too. This is a movie that's eager to soak up as much of Lynott, and what made him the star he was, as it possibly can. Indeed, with his addiction, it's positively shy; don't expect to even hear the word 'heroin'.

That's another balancing act, and one that Reynolds doesn't quite perfect, opting for skirting around the obvious instead. A film can enjoy triumphs and recognise flaws at the same time — including when it comes to someone as pivotal in the history of Irish rock 'n' roll as Lynott — but Songs for While I'm Away eventually feels a tad safe and sanitised. It's celebratory from its first moment till its last, including when its smattering of equally famous faces, such as U2's Adam Clayton, Metallica's James Hetfield, Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and the News, and singer Suzi Quatro — who supported Thin Lizzy when they supported Slade on a 1972 UK tour — deliver anecdotes and admiration. This is a heartfelt ode, undoubtedly, and both an entertaining and engaging one, but it also dons rose-coloured glasses that feel at odds with Lynott himself.

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If you're wondering what else is currently screening in Australian cinemas — or has been lately — check out our rundown of new films released in Australia on July 1, July 8, July 15, July 22 and July 29; August 5, August 12, August 19 and August 26; September 2, September 9, September 16, September 23 and September 30; October 7, October 14, October 21 and October 28; and November 4 and November 11.

For Sydney specifically, you can take a look at out our rundown of new films that released in Sydney cinemas when they reopened on October 11, and what opened on October 14October 21 and October 28 as well.

And for Melbourne, you can check out our top picks from when outdoor cinemas reopened on October 22 — and from when indoor cinemas did the same on October 29.

You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as 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, The Killing of Two Lovers, Nitram, Riders of Justice, The Alpinist, A Fire Inside, Lamb, The Last Duel, Malignant, The Harder They Fall, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, Halloween Kills, Passing, Eternals, The Many Saints of Newark, Julia, No Time to Die, The Power of the Dog and Tick, Tick... Boom!.

Published on November 18, 2021 by Sarah Ward

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