The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas This Week
Head to the flicks to see a new Stephen King horror remake, an exceptional Nick Cave documentary and a wild-but-true British spy caper.
May 12, 2022
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 releases, 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.
Would the latest big-screen adaptation of Stephen King's Firestarter have been better or worse if it had included The Prodigy's hit of the same name, aka the most obvious needle-drop that could've been chosen? Although we'll never know, it's hard to imagine a film with less personality than this page-to-screen remake. Using the 1996 dance-floor filler would've been a choice and a vibe — and a cliched one, whether gleefully or lazily — but it might've been preferable to the dull ashes of by-the-numbers genre filmmaking that's hit screens instead. Zac Efron looking so bored that blood drips from his eyes, dressing up King's 1980 story as a superhero tale (because of course) and having its pyrokinetic protagonist say "liar liar, pants on fire" when she's torching someone aren't a recipe for igniting movie magic, or for even occasionally just lighting a spark.
That said, the best thing about Firestarter circa 2022 is actually its 'Firestarter'-free score, and with good reason. It hails from legendary original Halloween director John Carpenter, plus his son Cody Carpenter and regular collaborators Daniel A Davies (all fresh from 2018's Halloween and its follow-up Halloween Kills). It's a savvy touch not merely for the kind of atmospheric, eerie, mood-defining electro-synth sounds that only the elder Carpenter can deliver, but because he was originally slated to direct the first version of Firestarter in 1984, only to be ditched because The Thing — now a stone-cold sci-fi/horror classic — didn't do well enough at the box office. While both features could've desperately used Carpenter behind the lens, at least the initial flick didn't feel like all it was burning was the audience's time and patience.
Then, now and in King's book, Firestarter follows the McGee family, whose lives would blaze brighter if they didn't have abilities most folks don't. After volunteering for a clinical trial in college, Andy (Efron, Gold) and his wife Vicky (Sydney Lemmon, Fear the Walking Dead) have telepathic and telekinetic powers; being experimented on with mind-altering chemical compounds will do that. And, from birth, their now 11-year-old daughter Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong, It: Chapter Two) has been able to start fires with her mind. How director Keith Thomas (The Vigil) establishes this backstory says more than it should about the movie, how blandly it turns out and what it might've been with more flair. A flashback to Charlie getting fiery as a baby is laughable, and kindles exactly zero thrills, scares or unease. But, flickering over the opening credits as old video footage, Andy and Vicky's time as test subjects ripples with tension and creepiness — that's swiftly extinguished and never felt again.
Unsurprisingly, the McGees have spent years attempting to blend in, hiding their powers and fleeing the shady government department, The Shop, that's responsible for their situation — and now sports a keen interest in using Charlie as a weapon. Alas, as the girl grows, holding her abilities back is becoming harder. Andy and Vicky argue about what's better: training her to suppress the flames or teaching her how to harness them. Then she literally explodes at school, The Shop head honcho Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben, City on a Hill) puts bounty hunter John Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes, Rutherford Falls) on their trail and the heat is on. (No, that track from Beverly Hills Cop, which reached cinemas the same year that the OG Firestarter did, doesn't feature here either.)
Read our full review.
A twisty tale of high-stakes British espionage — one that spans secret identities, torrid affairs, country-hopping missions and a world-in-peril situation, too — Operation Mincemeat desperately wants its audience to know about its 007 ties. When it introduces a man by the name of Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn, The Dig), it lets the moment linger. It drops more than a few mentions of his fondness for writing about spy intrigue as well. And, when he refers to his boss Admiral John Godfrey (Jason Isaacs, Streamline) as M, the film even has him explain why. Fleming is also the movie's narrator, literally spinning a cloak-and-dagger story from the get-go. Plus, seeing him tapping away at a typewriter is a common image. Every single touch forms part of the feature's warm, well-meaning nod to the Bond, James Bond author's early years; however, it's also a tad distracting and unnecessary. Fleming is immersed in the IRL covert mission that Operation Mincemeat explores, and removing him would've been inaccurate, but the details themselves are fascinating enough without getting viewers thinking about tuxedos and shaken-not-stirred martinis.
Operation Mincemeat is a war film, set in the darkening days of 1943. It's also just as much a heist film. Whether you've only ever seen one Ocean's flick, have memorised every single word of Reservoir Dogs, or loved Baby Driver or Widows in recent years, if you've seen one caper movie you know the setup: gather a gang together, work out the nitty gritty of a bold but tricky plan, endeavour to put the scheme into action, then weather whatever comes (be it success, failure or a bit of both). Adapting Ben Macintyre's book, which also spawned a 2010 documentary, screenwriter Michelle Ashford (Masters of Sex) is well aware of this formula. With director John Madden (Miss Sloane) behind the lens, Operation Mincemeat doesn't shy away from all of the heist basics for a second. But as with all the gratuitous Bond nods, a cracking real-life tale remains a cracking real-life tale — the kind that no one, not even Fleming, could convincingly make up.
The titular gambit came about as much of the Allies' efforts in World War II did: as an effort to do whatever was needed to defeat Hitler. Britain needed to make its way into occupied Europe, but everyone involved knew it — including the Germans — ensuring that any standard move would've been oh-so-easy for the Nazis to predict. Enter the operation that might've been codenamed 'Trojan Horse', except that that label would've been much too obvious. The plan: getting documents about the Allies' purported and wholly fictional scheme to invade Greece to their enemies, misdirecting them, so that the invasion of Sicily could proceed with little resistance. The crucial detail: drifting those papers into Spain, where they could be reasonably expected to end up in German hands, by placing them with a corpse dressed up to look like a British military officer.
Making that ruse stick — ensuring that the Nazis didn't smell a plant, specifically — was never going to be a straightforward move. It's one thing to nail the logistics of transporting the cadaver and its faux materials to the right place, and another completely to find a body that works, forge all the necessary documentation and build up a backstory so believable that it'd stand up to enemy scrutiny. As a result, Godfrey isn't keen on the operation, which was reportedly conjured up by Fleming, but it still gets the go-ahead anyway. Tasked with both fleshing and carrying it out are Naval Intelligence officers Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth, Supernova) and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen, Succession), who amass a team of helpers including Fleming, Montagu's trusty chief secretary Hester Leggett (Penelope Wilton, Downton Abbey: A New Era), plus MI5 clerk Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald, Line of Duty).
Read our full review.
Lurking behind every 18th birthday, beyond the alcohol legally drunk and nightclubs gleefully danced through, is an unspoken truth: life only gets more chaotic from here. That realisation doesn't usually spring during the celebrations, toasts and happy speeches of the big day itself — or necessarily within weeks, months or even a few years afterwards, either — however, it's inescapable nonetheless. In To Chiara, it blazes brightly for the movie's eponymous teenager (Swamy Rotolo). It shatters her sense of normality, too. But she isn't the one hitting the milestone that every adolescent yearns for. Instead, the party that helps start this Italian drama is actually for the 15-year-old's elder sister Giulia (Grecia Rotolo), with the pair's friends and relatives alike marking the occasion as countless other families have: with dinner, festivities and delighted emotions.
As captured with a raw, fluid and naturalistic style like everything that both precedes it and follows, Giulia's birthday is a portrait of exuberance — until, for Chiara, it isn't. She plays up a garden-variety case of sibling rivalry, including during a performative dance contest. She revels in still being her doting dad Claudio's (Claudio Rotolo) favourite. And she thinks nothing of sneaking outside to have a smoke, only slightly worrying if her father will find out. But it's there, cigarette in hand, that Chiara watches her uncles get into a verbal scuffle outside. Then, in the aftermath, she spies her doting dad rushing off to deal with the fallout. Also, later that evening, perturbed by the feeling that something isn't quite right, it's Chiara who witnesses the family car explode outside their home, and spots Claudio fleeing under the cloak of darkness.
The newest neo-realist film by Italian American writer/director Jonas Carpignano, To Chiara is also his third set in the Calabrian region, in the small coastal town of Gioia Tauro. It's the latest entry in a series that explores the area's mix of residents, segueing from refugees from North Africa in 2015's Mediterranea to the Romani community in 2017's A Ciambra, and now to the 'Ndrangheta. Call the latter the mafia, call them an organised crime syndicate, call them just part of living Southern Italy — whichever you pick, Chiara has always just considered them her loved ones without knowing it. Learning how her dad pays the bills and why he's now a fugitive, gleaning that her mother (Carmela Fumo) must be aware, trying to uncover where Giulia stands, attempting to cope with everything she thought she knew crumbling in an instant: that's what this gripping and moving film has in store for its young, headstrong, understandably destabilised protagonist from here.
From the moment that Chiara begins to make her big discovery — piecing together the details stubbornly, despite being warned that her questions won't have welcome answers — it's easy to recognise why such a tale fascinates Carpignano. It's the story that sits in the shadows of other gangster flicks and shows, because so many are also about the bonds of blood; in decades gone by, it could've been Mary Corleone facing the same situation in The Godfather franchise or Meadow Soprano doing the same in The Sopranos. To Chiara also unfurls the ultimate tale of innocence lost, forever fracturing the bubble of an idyll that Chiara has spent her life inhabiting without ever realising, and causing her to now see the parent she has always adored in a completely different light. Nothing signals leaving childhood behind, no matter your age, more than having the entire foundation for your existence shift, after all. As gleams fiercely in its phenomenal lead's eyes, nothing is more devastating, either.
Read our full review.
THIS MUCH I KNOW TO BE TRUE
How do you make a concert film when no concerts can be held to film? Australian director Andrew Dominik (Chopper, Killing Them Softly) and his now two-time subjects Nick Cave and Warren Ellis have the answer. How do you create a personal documentary that cuts to the heart of these Aussie music icons when, whether stated or implied in their vibe, both are hardly enamoured with having their lives recorded? Again, see: Dominik's new Cave and Ellis-focused This Much I Know to Be True. Performances in cavernous empty British spaces fill the movie's frames but, via stunning lighting, staging and lensing, they're as dazzling as any IRL gig. The interludes between tunes are brief, and also intimate and revealing. The result: a phenomenal doco that's a portrait of expression, a musing on an exceptional collaboration and a rumination upon existence, as well as a piece of haunting cinematic heaven whether you're an existing Cave and Ellis devotee, a newcomer or something in-between.
Dominik, Cave and Ellis initially teamed up when the latter duo scored the former's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Later this year, when upcoming Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde hits screens, the same arrangement will provide its soundtrack. But in the middle sits 2016 doco One More Time with Feeling and now This Much I Know to Be True, as entrancing a pair as the music documentary genre has gifted viewers. The first factual flick found Cave and Ellis recording the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album Skeleton Tree, as Cave also grappled with the death of one of his sons. Here, its follow-up is shaped by the first performances of Cave and Ellis' latest albums — the Bad Seeds 2019 release Ghosteen, and Cave and Ellis' 2021 record Carnage — plus the pandemic and the lingering effects of grief.
Chatter precedes tunes to begin This Much I Know to Be True — talk, a revelation and a mini art exhibition, in fact. To the camera, Cave quips that he's "retrained as a ceramicist, because it's no longer viable to be a musician, a touring artist". He's joking about giving up music, of course, but serious about his foray into porcelain. Donning a white lab coat, he walks the audience through his workshop, sharing a series he's dubbed The Story of the Devil in 18 Figurines. That'd make a phenomenal title for one of his tracks, but it isn't. One piece's individual moniker, The Devil's Last Dance, also sounds like a song title. Unsurprisingly, Cave unfurls the same kinds of tales while explaining his ceramics — about a figure he's clearly long been fascinated with, and about choices, family, loss, redemption and mourning — as he always has behind the microphone.
This attention-grabbing introduction serves several purposes, from pointing out the English government's patently ridiculous advice to artists during COVID-19 to setting the film's tone. There's always been a bewitching blend of the ethereal, mysterious and dark to Cave's music, and a sense of poetic preaching to his lyrics; his early musings here about the devil at various moments in his life earn the same description, and establish the movie as a type of spiritual experience. Fans of any star are guilty of seeing their hero's work in that light. It's especially true of musicians, who innately turn concert venues into altars for their disciples to worship their output. Still, when This Much I Know to Be True hones in on Cave at his piano, or behind the mic, spotlights casting him in a hypnotic glow while bathing his surroundings in blackness, that feeling couldn't be more blatant — and earned.
Read our full review.
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 February 3, February 10, February 17 and February 24; and March 3, March 10, March 17, March 24 and March 31; April 7, April 14, April 21 and April 28; and May 5.
You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as Belfast, Here Out West, Jackass Forever, Benedetta, Drive My Car, Death on the Nile, C'mon C'mon, Flee, Uncharted, Quo Vadis, Aida?, Cyrano, Hive, Studio 666, The Batman, Blind Ambition, Bergman Island, Wash My Soul in the River's Flow, The Souvenir: Part II, Dog, Anonymous Club, X, River, Nowhere Special, Morbius, The Duke and Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Fantastic Beasts and the Secrets of Dumbledore, Ambulance, Memoria, The Lost City, Everything Everywhere All At Once, Happening, The Good Boss, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent and The Northman, After Yang, Downton Abbey: A New Era, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, Petite Maman, The Drover's Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Published on May 12, 2022 by Sarah Ward