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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From August 19

Head to the flicks to watch a music biopic about Aretha Franklin, an eerie and stylish haunted house movie and Hugh Jackman doing sci-fi noir.
By Sarah Ward
August 19, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
August 19, 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 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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RESPECT

When Respect first breaks out its titular track, it's the original Otis Redding version that echoes in the background. The song plays in the Franklin household as Aretha (Jennifer Hudson, Cats) and her family listen, and the scene bubbles with anticipation for the thing everyone watching knows will come. Shortly afterwards, the Queen of Soul tinkers at the piano in the deep of night, her excitement buoyant after hearing her first big hit 'I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)' on the radio. Her sisters Erma (Saycon Sengbloh, Scandal) and Carolyn (Hailey Kilgore, Amazing Stories) join in, and they're all soon rearranging Redding's tune into the single that cements Aretha's status as a music superstar. For the entire film up to this point, viewers have also heard the Franklins, including patriarch and preacher CL (Forest Whitaker, City of Lies), refer to Aretha using a nickname. "Ree" they call her again and again, and soon "ree, ree, ree" is exactly what Erma and Carolyn sing on backing vocals. It's a neat and also exuberant moment. Respect quickly segues to Aretha and her sisters crooning 'Respect' at Madison Square Garden to a rapturous crowd, but watching the track come together has already proven electric. Something can be orderly and expected and potent and rousing all at once, as this movie happily demonstrates regarding its namesake — but for most of its 2.5-hour running time, Respect is content to careen between inescapably formulaic and occasionally powerful.

Respect begins with young Aretha (lively debutant Skye Dakota Turner) being roused from sleep by her father to sing at one of his well-attended house parties. It's 1952, and to an audience that includes Dinah Washington, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, she breaks out a rendition of the latter's 'My Baby Likes to Be-Bop' — and "she's 10 but her voice is going on 30" is the shared reaction. This obviously isn't the last time that Aretha unleashes her astonishing voice in Respect, and that everyone in earshot reacts accordingly. When she's accosted by an unnamed man in her bedroom afterwards, it isn't the last time the film veers between highs and lows, either. First-time feature director Liesl Tommy and screenwriter Tracey Scott Wilson (Fosse/Verdon) repeat that pattern, embracing it as comfortably as their key figure croons any song she chooses. But where their subject transcends every ditty she trills, Respect can't be said to do the same. Even viewers unaware of the ups and downs of Aretha's life will still know where each second of the movie is headed. The choice to end with 2016 footage of the real-life singer piping '(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman' is a classic biopic touch, of course, but it's preceded by far more predictable choices again and again. Hudson shines, and Aretha's music obviously does the same — and yet, although this film has ample respect for the woman at its centre, it also approaches the act of bringing her life to the screen like it's simply taking care of business.

Read our full review.

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THE NIGHT HOUSE

The history of cinema is haunted by oh-so-many movies about oh-so-many ghost-riddled abodes, and the often-troubled and bereaved folks dwelling within them. The first clever move The Night House makes is recognising it's floating into busy spectral waters, then ensuring its tension stems from its living, breathing protagonist as much as the frights and fears she's forced to face. The film's second stellar step: casting Rebecca Hall (Godzilla vs Kong) as that central figure. An always-welcome addition to anything she's in — see also: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Christine and Tales From the Loop in just the past few years — she plays her tormented part here with brooding sorrow, reluctant vulnerability and a sharp, smart edge. She knows that grappling with loss involves being jolted in many different directions, and being subjected to bumps and jumps of the emotional kind, and that it's never easy to surrender to. Indeed, many of The Night House's surprises come from Hall as Beth, a schoolteacher whose life has been turned upside down by her husband Owen's (Evan Jonigkeit, The Empty Man) unexpected suicide. Clearly normally a no-nonsense type whether she's guiding pupils, dealing with their parents or navigating her personal life, she probes and questions everything that comes her way. As a result, her reactions — including just to herself — are constantly complex, thorny and compelling.

Also among The Night House's savvy moves: understanding that grief really does change everything. Not only has Beth's life lost one of its brightest lights, but everything Owen once illuminated now keeps being cloaked in shadows he's not there to extinguish. Since his passing, she's cycled through the familiar stages of mourning. When she returns to work to her colleagues' astonishment, including her close friend Claire's (Sarah Goldberg, Barry), Beth shocks her co-workers by discussing Owen's suicide note, admitting her home now seems different and obsessing over how much she really knew her husband. That last written missive ties back into one of her past traumas, as well as her own dealings with the end that awaits us all. When she's alone at night, she's not sure that she can trust what she sees and hears, or tell whether she's awake or dreaming. Filling her time by sorting through Owen's things, she's also unsure what to make of the eerie sketches and books about the occult that sit among his possessions. And, Beth's thrown even further askew when she finds photos of brunette women that could be her doppelgängers; plans for a home just like hers, but mirrored; and a cascade of tidbits that cast her memories of her marriage into disarray. The Night House has a strong sense of terror about the the fact that life doesn't extended forever, and it's a movie made with meticulous horror style as well as smarts. When it comes to plot twists, though, director David Bruckner (The Ritual) and screenwriting duo Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski (Super Dark Times) are less careful about becoming prey to indulgence. 

Read our full review.

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REMINISCENCE

The look is all Blade Runner. The idea owes a few debts in that direction, too. In Reminiscence's vision of the future, androids don't dream of electric sheep; however, humans do escape into memories while they slumber in a tank of water, reliving and interacting with cherished moments from their past as if they're happening again right that instant. The mood takes a bit of the aforementioned sci-fi classic's tone, and Blade Runner 2049's as well, but then doubles down on the noir, and on some of the plot twists. Playing a veteran of a post-flood war that's seen Florida split into the haves and the have-nots, and also a man in possession of the technology and know-how to let paying customers reminisce, Hugh Jackman (Bad Education) isn't ever told "forget it Nick Bannister, it's Miami". Given that Reminiscence often feels like it wants to be a futuristic take on Chinatown, that wouldn't phrase feel out of place in the slightest, though. This is a film that lets its influences flicker to the surface that forcefully. It trades in memories, too, conjuring up a long list of smarter fare. And while it gives Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy a new outlet for many of the themes that've always hovered through the hit HBO show — primarily humanity's increasing disconnection with each other, and the growing yearning to find solace in either artificial or nostalgic settings, or both — she gleefully treads in her own footsteps. Or, the writer/director gives the ideas she's clearly fascinated with a different appearance and atmosphere than she's been working with on TV, but still largely enjoys the same toys.

Perhaps Joy just gets comfort from the familiar, just like Bannister's clients. That might ring with more truth if Reminiscence didn't primarily use its intriguing underlying concept — a notion with plenty of promise, even as it nods to sci-fi gems gone by — to wrap up a romance in a mystery in a flimsy fashion. The hard-boiled Bannister has settled into his routine guiding people through their personal histories, with assistance with his ex-military colleague Watts (Westworld's Thandiwe Newton), until the film's femme fatale walks through the door asking for help. Singer Mae (Rebecca Ferguson, Doctor Sleep) has lost her keys, wants to use Bannister's tech to find them and ends up earning his besotted affection in the process. Then bliss turns to heartache when she disappears suddenly. Bannister is as obsessed with tracking her down as he is with her in general when they're together, but secrets about the woman he realises he never really knew keep being pushed to the fore as he searches. Also prominent: dialogue that feels like it's parodying all the movies that Reminiscence is copying, which drags the feature down word by word. Thankfully, Jackman, Newton and Ferguson's performances exceed the trite phrases that they're repeatedly forced to utter. The film's look and feel gleam and haunt by design, even though they also shine with and are haunted by the greats of a genre Joy clearly loves; however, this ends up being a movie about revelling in the past that happily plays it safe instead of striding into the future.

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THE CAVE

When 12 Thai schoolboys and their soccer coach became trapped in Chiang Rai Province's Tham Luang Nang Non cave in June 2018, and were then dramatically rescued 18 days later, their story was always destined to reach cinemas and streaming queues. It was always going to do so multiple times, in fact, but only one project can ever claim to be the first to bring these events to the screen. That movie is The Cave, which initially premiered at the Busan Film Festival in 2019. Now reaching Australian cinemas almost two years after its debut, it's still the first feature about this topic. More retellings are on their way, including a film directed by Ron Howard (Hillbilly Elegy) that's been shooting on the Gold Coast this year and a reported Netflix series, but The Cave will have always beaten them to the punch. Here's hoping that subsequent depictions of the rescue do something much more than stage a straightforward, procedural-focused recreation that only seems to exist so that it could be the first to do so. The fact that writer/director/producer Tom Waller (The Last Executioner) primarily focuses on Ireland-based Belgian diver Jim Warny, who plays himself, helps illustrate the tone of and approach behind this flat affair. Other real-life divers involved in the rescue also appear as themselves, including Canada's Erik Brown, Finland's Mikko Paasi and China's Tan Xiaolong. Reporter Todd Ruiz also plays himself, and is tasked with delivering big slabs of exposition to-camera via restaged news dispatches. The end result barely resembles a movie, and has more in common with true-crime TV show re-enactments — and it makes for a routine 104 minutes.

In The 15:17 to Paris back in 2018, Clint Eastwood also recreated actual events with the real people involved, and it struggled as well. Films that deploy actual figures to dramatise their tales try to increase the emotional stakes, and overtly so, but can end up achieving the opposite. Even with the added realism, they'll clearly never be documentaries either, which leaves them languishing in a stilted in-between space. This proves the case with The Cave as it first follows the Wild Boars and their assistant coach from the field to the cave, then charts the determined efforts to free them after heavy rains cause floodwaters to rise, leaving them stranded. In favouring Warny and other real-life divers who joined the rescue mission, Waller makes the curious decision to rarely check in with the 13 people they're trying to save. His feature captures the significant scale of the efforts outside — the many military forces involved, including from both Thailand and the US; the locals lending a hand where they can; and one particular pump manufacturer who is certain his equipment can make a difference — but manages to largely bleach the rescue operation of its urgency. Viewers only know that days have passed because text on-screen tells them. When the film starts leaning heavily upon reporters chatting to the camera to fill in the details, it unintentionally highlights how unfocused its storytelling is otherwise. The Cave still strings together the necessary details, and yet it also makes an immense feat look, feel and seem all too ordinary.

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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 April 1, April 8, April 15, April 22 and April 29; 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; and August 5 and August 12.

You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as Nobody, The Father, Willy's Wonderland, Collective, Voyagers, Gunda, Supernova, The Dissident, The United States vs Billie Holiday, First Cow, Wrath of Man, 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 and Free Guy.

Published on August 19, 2021 by Sarah Ward

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