The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From July 23
Head to the flicks to see a top-notch Aussie drama, a compelling Irish gangster flick and an engaging new fashion documentary.
July 23, 2020
Something delightful is 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 starting to reopen — spanning both big chains and smaller independent sites in Sydney and Brisbane (and, until the newly reinstated stay-at-home orders, Melbourne as well).
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 over the past three months, 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.
Usually, cancer movies aren't just terrible and generic — they're insulting. Too often focusing on pretty young things succumbing slowly to the insidious disease, they generally tug at the heartstrings with shameless abandon, treating their protagonists and their plights as a mechanism to wring weepy tears out of the audience. The Fault in Our Stars did it. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl did too, and even won awards at Sundance for its efforts. So when a film also hones in on a cancer-afflicted teenager yet refuses to trot out the same old tropes and cliches, it firmly stands out.
Based on the play of the same name, Babyteeth is that movie, and it could never be mistaken for the usual illness drama. As directed by feature first-timer Shannon Murphy, this lively, vibrant, insightful and genuinely moving Australian film truly sees its main character, Milla (Little Women's Eliza Scanlen), as a person first and foremost. She's not a mere tool used to evoke easy emotion. She isn't a secondary figure primarily deployed to explain someone else's troubles, either. Rather, she's a passionate Sydney high schooler who unexpectedly falls for drug dealer Moses (Acute Misfortune's Toby Wallace) as her already-struggling parents watch on. Also starring Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn as Milla's mother and father, this is a raw, sensitive, astute and arresting addition to a genre that rarely (if ever) earns any of those terms. It's also visually striking and, unsurprisingly given the cast, boasts fantastic performances — and it's one of the best Aussie movies that'll hit cinemas in 2020.
Read our full review.
THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY
In The Burnt Orange Heresy, Mick Jagger plays a rich, ruthless art collector who visibly enjoys toying with everyone in his orbit. This isn't the Rolling Stone's first acting role, with the superstar musician famously playing Ned Kelly in the 1970 film of the same name, and popping up in the likes of Freejack and The Man from Elysian Fields over the years — but in this Italy-set art-centric thriller, he's worth the price of admission. He's clearly having fun with his wily character and Cockney drawl, even though he's just a supporting player. As a reclusive artist who lives on the collector's sprawling Lake Como property, Donald Sutherland falls into the same category, too. Alas, thanks to a by-the-numbers narrative, the slow-burning, handsomely shot film itself can't quite match them.
When Jagger's shrewd Joseph Cassidy invites art critic James Figueras (Claes Bang) to his estate, the latter isn't sure why — so he takes American tourist Berenice (Elizabeth Debicki) along for the trip. Upon their arrival, the new lovers become immersed in a plot to unearth the latest paintings by Sutherland's art legend, although that's just the tip of the subterfuge and duplicity surrounding Figueras. The second feature by Italian director Giuseppe Capotondi, The Burnt Orange Heresy doesn't lack in plot, themes or attempts to ape Patricia Highsmith's best tales, but its twists prove as routine as its insights into authenticity and forgery on multiple levels. And, while excellent when he last dallied with art in The Square, and in this year's Dracula as well, Bang is never commanding as his co-stars — including Widows' Debicki, who overcomes an underwritten role in her tender scenes with Sutherland.
CALM WITH HORSES
Living in a sleepy rural Irish town, Douglas (Cosmo Jarvis) has tied his fortunes to the region's crime heavies, working as an enforcer for the Devers family. The former boxer largely pals around with young up-and-comer Dympna (Barry Keoghan), but when the latter is instructed to jump by his menacing uncles (Ned Dennehy and David Wilmot) — and, specifically, to rough up an old man who has committed a heinous act against one of their own — Douglas must also do what he's told. But this is a task that tests his loyalty, even with his violent history. Complicating matters are Douglas' ex Ursula (Niamh Algar) and their autistic five-year-old son Jack (Kiljan Moroney), who want to move to Cork — and away from Douglas and his brutal cronies — so that Jack can attend a better school.
Best known until now for Lady Macbeth, Farming and Peaky Blinders, Jarvis is exceptional in Calm with Horses, a downbeat crime film that doubles as a tense and probing character study. This is a social realist-leaning (and sometimes blackly comic) look at life on the margins, a sharp exploration of toxic masculinity and a potent quest for redemption, too, and Jarvis' quiet, internalised but powerful performance couldn't be more pivotal. In fact, it's a career-best portrayal amongst a top-notch ensemble cast (including Dunkirk's Keoghan). Also crucial: the emotive, immersive stylistic approach favoured by filmmaker Nick Rowland, who makes his feature helming debut. As the movie charts Douglas' gradual awakening to the consequences of his chosen path, the first-time director conveys the character's inner conflict through juxtaposed colours, the noticeable jumping between closed-in interiors and wide-open landscapes, and a pulsating soundtrack by Benjamin John Power — and, yes, with tender scenes involving Douglas, Jack, Ursula and gentle equines as well.
If something goes bump in the night, it causes jumps or both, then it's in Blumhouse Productions' wheelhouse. A hefty list of recent films have demonstrated that fact — including the Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister, Ouija and Happy Death Day franchises, as well as the relaunched Halloween series — and, in case audiences needed another reminder, now The Vigil is here to do the same. The differentiating factor here is the focus on the Orthodox Jewish faith, including one of its rituals. Fresh from stepping out of a support-group meeting for Hasidic New Yorkers who are slowly encroaching upon a more secular worldview, Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis) is enlisted to spend a night working as a 'shomer' in a crumbling Borough Park home. His task: to watch over the body of recently deceased holocaust-survivor Mr Litvak (Ronald Cohen) until dawn.
From the moment that Yakov steps inside the Litvaks' townhouse at his friend Reb Shulem's (Menashe Lustig) urging — and the moment he meets the eerie Mrs Litvak (Lynn Cohen), spies her husband's corpse under a sheet and notices the unmistakably moody lighting — The Vigil is content to lurk in standard jump-scare territory. It feigns at delving deeper, including into Orthodox culture and the weight left by the atrocities of the Second World War, but this is primarily an exercise in evoking dread and suspense in the usual haunted house-focused horror movie mould. First-time feature writer/director Keith Thomas still conjures up a creepy atmosphere and crafts a number of spine-tingling, anxiety-inducing visuals. As the increasingly perturbed protagonist, Davis (Greyhound, Logan) deftly navigates all of the above, too. But, even with its tense score always going for broke, the film always feels like it is simply dressing up well-worn genre elements in different packaging.
HOUSE OF CARDIN
He trained as a tailor before the Second World War, then worked for the Red Cross during the conflict. Afterwards, he made costumes for the 1946 big-screen version of Beauty and the Beast, became the head of Christian Dior's atelier, then launched his own fashion house in 1950. From there, he pioneered an avant-garde, boundary-breaking style that's marked by its constant evolution as much as its love for geometric designs. The man in question: Italian-born, French-raised and -based designer Pierre Cardin, the subject of P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes' (Mansfield 66/67) energetic, affectionate and informative — albeit slickly formulaic — documentary House of Cardin.
Unlike its eponymous figure or recent fellow fashion doco Halston, this film doesn't aim to push any limits or stand out — in its form or function, that is. Instead, it sticks to the oft-used template (think: talking-head interviews with other famous faces, enticing shots of eye-catching designs, archival footage aplenty and an overt score) to celebrate the now 98-year-old Cardin. The movie's straightforward approach and structure is always obvious; however it also helps push Cardin, his work and his jam-packed life story front and centre. And in a documentary that benefits from its subject's sometimes-abrupt recollections about his experiences and career, as well as ample examples of the designer's dazzling pieces — both of which sprawl in a plethora of directions — that ultimately proves a savvy and engaging choice.
If you're wondering what else is currently screening in cinemas, check out our rundown of new films released in Australia on July 2, July 9 and July 16 — and our full reviews of The Personal History of David Copperfield, Waves and The King of Staten Island.
Top images: The Burnt Orange Heresy © joseharo.
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