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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From October 1

Head to the flicks to see a new Janelle Monáe-starring horror film, a distinctive drama set in San Francisco and a Russian sci-fi thriller.
By Sarah Ward
October 01, 2020
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By Sarah Ward
October 01, 2020
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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.

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ON THE ROCKS

Not once, not twice, but three times now, Sofia Coppola has given the Bill Murray-loving world exactly what it wants. One of the great comedic talents of the past half-century, the Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day star is also a greatly charismatic talent — and, understandably, viewers want to spend more time in his inimitable company. So, Lost in Translation and 2015 Netflix special A Very Murray Christmas made that happen. Now On the Rocks does as well. These are films and specials predicated upon the very idea of palling around with Murray or the character he's playing, and this one hits that mark as perfectly as its predecessors. Murray steps into the shoes of a debonair playboy art dealer who is determined to help his New York-dwelling adult daughter discover if her husband is being unfaithful, his pairing with Rashida Jones is both joyous and lived-in, and Coppola once again strips bare her own life experiences, fictionalises them, and creates something both thoughtful and moving.

On the Rocks' premise really isn't far removed from Lost in Translation. The film's female protagonist is a decade older this time, her romantic troubles are complicated by both marriage and children, and another bustling city provides the backdrop, but the basic idea remains mostly the same. With Murray as the lively Felix and Jones as his overstressed offspring Laura, the movie takes them hopping around NYC as they endeavour to ascertain if the latter's workaholic other half, Dean (Marlon Wayans), is cosying up to his attractive young colleague (Jessica Henwick) while Laura is raising their two young daughters. In the process, Felix and Laura chat about anything and everything, covering topics both important and trivial. They eat and drink, and do so in luxe spaces while Felix naturally captivates everyone in his orbit and turns everything into an adventure. Over the course of their investigative escapade, Felix helps Laura work through her struggles, too — although here, their own complicated relationship is actually one of them.

Read our full review.

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THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7

Combine A Few Good Men's setting with The West Wing's faith in democratic ideals, and that's where The Trial of the Chicago 7 lands. Yes, they're all products of writer, TV series creator and director Aaron Sorkin — and while Sorkin's work can veer from exceptional (see: The Social Network) to frustrating (see: The Newsroom), his second stint as a filmmaker after 2017's Molly's Game makes the very most of his usual traits. Given the true tale he's telling — a story of vocal dissent against unpopular government actions and latter's retaliation, spanning protests and violence on the streets involving both activists and police — that's hardly surprising. That Sorkin has amassed a typically top-notch cast to sling his words helps considerably, including Bridge of Spies Oscar-winner Mark Rylance, The Theory of Everything Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne and Watchmen Emmy-winner Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, plus everyone from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Keaton to Sacha Baron Cohen and Succession's Jeremy Strong.

In the summer of 1968, as the Democratic Party assembled in Chicago for its national convention to confirm the party's nominee for the presidential election, several activist groups decided to make their displeasure known. There was much to rally against: the Vietnam War was raging and American soldiers were dying, both Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F Kennedy had been assassinated in separate incidents months earlier, and civil unrest was mounting across the country. The Trial of the Chicago 7 first introduces six figures making plans for the day, then cuts to the commencement of legal proceedings for eight defendants, all charged by the US federal government the next year. The complicated case that results is catnip for Sorkin, who unleashes his trademark flourishes on not only passionate speeches, but also infuriating courtroom incidents and the festering disagreement between codefendants, as well as in recreating the fateful protests. There's nothing unexpected about the way the filmmaker handles this story visually, narratively or thematically, but the end result proves an example of applying the right approach to the right tale.

Read our full review.

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ANTEBELLUM

Watching the sprawling, roving and weaving single-take shot that opens Antebellum, it helps to know what the movie's title actually means. The term refers to a time before a war, and is typically used in relation to the American Civil War — but in the film's eye-catching introduction, it certainly seems as if that historical conflict is raging away. On a southern plantation, Confederate soldiers under the leadership of Captain Jasper (Jack Huston) terrorise the property's enslaved Black workers with brutality and cruelty. Attempted runaway Eden (Janelle Monáe) is one of them, and subject not just to beatings, brandings and forced labour, but also raped regularly by the general (Eric Lange) who has claimed her as his own. She's planning another escape; however, thoroughly unexpectedly given the surroundings, a mobile phone suddenly rings. Now Monáe's character is called Veronica Henley, she's a well-known activist and author, and everything about her life (including the conference in New Orleans she attends) is firmly set in the 21st century.

Obviously, how Monáe's dual roles intertwine is best discovered by watching — as is the involvement of Jena Malone's (Too Old to Die Young) Elizabeth, the plantation's resident belle as well as a modern-day caller for Veronica — but Antebellum proves far less powerful and clever than it thinks it is. While first-time writer-directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz blatantly try to follow in Jordan Peele's footsteps, using horror to explore race relations in America both in the present day and in the country's history, their efforts rely so heavily on one big twist that the movie resembles M Night Shyamalan's lesser works more than Get Out, Us or TV series Lovecraft Country. In endeavouring to unpack systemic racism, there's a smart idea at the heart the feature. Visually, Antebellum's always-lurid, often-violent imagery isn't easily forgotten, and the film also boasts a masterly performance by Moonlight and Hidden Figures star Monáe. And yet, connecting all those pieces together feels more like an exercise in making a provocative genre film than actually saying something meaningful about engrained prejudice in the US — a topic that, sadly, continues to remain timely, but is treated here as stock-standard horror fodder.

Read our full review.

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THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO

Watching Jimmie Fails in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, it never feels like you're viewing the work of a feature debutant. Played with the weight of the world not just carried on his shoulders, but oozing through in every quiet glance and gaze, his is a deeply nuanced and naturalistic performance — although given that the film is based on his own story, and he's starring as a fictionalised version of himself, perhaps that's to be expected. The on-screen Jimmie has been sleeping on his best friend Montgomery's (Lovecraft Country's Jonathan Majors) floor in the titular city's Bayview-Hunters Point neighbourhood. That's his latest stop, after years spent squatting with his dad (Rob Morgan), sleeping in cars and living in group homes. All Jimmie wants is his own house, and a specific one at that: a multi-storey abode in the Fillmore District that he grew up in, at least for a few years; that he contends his grandfather built in the 1940s; and that is now inhabited by an older white couple who aren't taking care of the property to Jimmie's standards.

On paper, The Last Black Man in San Francisco's narrative sounds straightforward; however, as helmed by Fails' friend and Sundance-winning director Joe Talbot, this is an entrancing, almost fable-like film. It doesn't ever merely rally against gentrification in a simplistic manner, but paints a complex portrait of San Francisco as it now stands, of the city's scattered Black community and how they've been affected by its transformation, and of the shift away from artists and eccentrics in favour of bulldozers, technology and so-called progress. This is a movie about mourning for a past lost as well as reckoning with the future that's sprung in its place, and the evident love of details on display — in the house that Jimmie is so attached to, but also in his and Montgomery's daily bus trips, walks and skateboard rides throughout the hilly locale they call home — couldn't be more crucial in that regard. Sometimes, the film leans more on mood than story, but that approach fits when you're not only surveying and lamenting a place and a modern world that's losing its character, but turning that process into a piece of cinematic poetry. Indeed, there's a tender, heartfelt feel to The Last Black Man in San Francisco that, combined with its stellar cinematography, never feels less than authentic and moving in every frame.

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SPUTNIK

When Ridley Scott's Alien let a chest-bursting extra-terrestrial loose among a spaceship's crew, and John Carpenter's The Thing remake set a violent critter loose amongst an Antarctic research station, they didn't just create two of the best science fiction films ever made — they also inspired a wealth of imitators. And, at first, it seems that Russian sci-fi thriller Sputnik is one of them. Here, two Cold War-era cosmonauts see something strange during an orbital mission. Then, upon returning to earth, it appears that sole survivor Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov, The Blackout) isn't the only creature inhabiting his body. It's 1983 and, as anyone who was watched the also 80s-set Chernobyl knows, the USSR isn't keen on big scandals. Accordingly, Colonel Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk, also one of the film's producers) is determined to keep Veshnyakov locked up in a secret south Kazakhstan facility until he can work out how to control the alien, enlisting boundary-pushing psychiatrist Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina, The Bourne Supremacy) to help.

While watching Sputnik and thinking of similar flicks from years gone by go hand-in-hand, first-time feature director Egor Abramenko does more than simply nod to his influences. There's a grimness and a weightiness to this film that's all its own, even as it toys with familiar components — a specificity to the characters, and specifically to Veshnyakov and Klimova's efforts to navigate Soviet Russia's heavy-handed to control, too. And, when it comes to sustaining a mood of tension and suspense, evoking a forbidding sense of its time and place, and coming face to face with the slithering alien, Sputnik excels. Sparse in its look, firm in its tone and led by an impressive Akinshina, it never plays like a carbon-copy B-movie, either. There's an art to ensuring that even the most recognisable genre elements can feel fresh, entertaining and engaging — and suitably unnerving, which this narrative clearly calls for — and that ends up being the case here.

Sputnik is screening in select cinemas in Sydney.

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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 July 2, July 9, July 16, July 23 and July 30; August 6, August 13, August 20 and August 27; and September 3, September 10, September 17 and September 24.

You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as The Personal History of David Copperfield, Waves, The King of Staten Island, Babyteeth, DeerskinPeninsula, Tenet, Les Misérables, The New Mutants, Bill & Ted Face the Music, The Translators, An American Pickle and The High Note.

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Top image: The Trial of the Chicago 7 via Niko Tavernise/Netflix © 2020

Published on October 01, 2020 by Sarah Ward

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