The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From June 17
Head to the flicks to see the tenth film in a high-octane franchise, a doco about an Australian icon and a stunning Italian adaptation of a classic novel.
Something delightful has been 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 back in business — spanning 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, 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.
FAST AND FURIOUS 9
Fast cars, furious action stars, a love of family and oh-so-many Coronas: across ten movies over 20 years, that's the Fast and Furious franchise. It might've started out as a high-octane spin on Point Break, but this long-running series has kept motoring across nine flicks in its main storyline, and also via a 2019 spinoff. The latter, Hobbs & Shaw, actually casts a shadow over the saga's latest instalment. Because Dwayne Johnson was part of that sidestep, he doesn't show up in Fast and Furious 9. He's missed, regardless of whether you're usually a diehard fan of the wrestler-turned-actor, because he's managed to perfect the F&F tone. Over his decade-long involvement to-date, Johnson always seems amused in his Fast and Furious performances. He's always sweaty, too, but that's another matter. Entering the F&F realm in Fast Five, he instantly oozed the kind of attitude the franchise needs. He knows that by taking the outlandish stunts, eye-catching setpieces and penchant for family with the utmost seriousness, these films border on comedic — and by navigating five flicks with that mood, he's been the saga's playful and entertaining barometer. Without Johnson, Fast and Furious 9 isn't as willing to admit that it's often downright silly. It's nowhere near as fun, either. Hobbs & Shaw wasn't a franchise standout, but Fast and Furious 9 mainly revs in one gear, even in a movie that features a high-speed car chase through Central American jungles, a plane with a magnet that can scoop up fast-driving vehicles and a trip to space in a rocket car.
The latest F&F is as ridiculous as ever, and it's the least-eager F&F film to acknowledge that fact. It's also mostly a soap opera. It leans heavily on its favourite theme — yes, family — by not only swapping in a different wrestler-turned-actor as Dominic Toretto's (Vin Diesel, Bloodshot) long-lost sibling, but also by fleshing out the warring brothers' backstory through flashbacks to their tragic past. Fast and Furious 9 starts with an 80s-era Universal logo, because that's the time period it heads to first — to introduce a teen Dom (Vinnie Bennett, Ghost in the Shell), his never-before-mentioned younger brother Jakob (Finn Cole, Dreamland) and their dad Jack (JD Pardo, Mayans MC). It's 1989, the elder Toretto is behind the wheel on the racetrack, and his sons are part of his pit crew. Then tragedy strikes, tearing the Toretto family apart. In the present day, Dom and Jakob (John Cena, Playing with Fire) definitely don't get along. Indeed, when Roman (Tyrese Gibson, The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two), Tej (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges, Show Dogs) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel, Four Weddings and a Funeral) drive up to the rural hideout that Dom has been calling home with wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, Crisis) and toddler son Brian (first-timers Isaac and Immanuel Holtane) since the events of 2017's The Fate of the Furious, he doesn't even want to hear about the latest mission that demands their help. The only thing that changes his mind: realising that Jakob is involved and up to no good.
Read our full review.
VALERIE TAYLOR: PLAYING WITH SHARKS
Steven Spielberg directed Jaws, the 1975 horror film that had everyone wondering if it was safe to go back into the water — and the movie that became Hollywood's first blockbuster, too — but he didn't shoot its underwater shark sequences. That task fell to Australian spearfisher and diver-turned-oceanographer and filmmaker Valerie Taylor and her husband Ron, who did so off the coast of Port Lincoln in South Australia. If it weren't for their efforts, the film mightn't have become the popular culture behemoth it is. When one of the animals the Taylors were filming lashed out at a metal cage that had held a stuntman mere moments before, the pair captured one of the picture's most nerve-rattling scenes by accident, in fact. And, before Peter Benchley's novel of the same name was even published, the duo was sent a copy of the book and asked if it would make a good feature (the answer: yes). Helping to make Jaws the phenomenon it is ranks among Valerie's many achievements, alongside surviving polio as a child, her scuba and spearfishing prowess, breaking boundaries by excelling in male-dominated fields in 60s, and the conservation activism that has drawn much of her focus in her later years. Linked to the latter, and also a feat that many can't manage: her willingness to confront her missteps and then do better.
The apprehension that many folks feel when they're about to splash in the ocean? The deep-seated fear and even hatred of sharks, too? That's what Valerie regrets. Thanks to Jaws, being afraid of sharks is as natural to most people as breathing, and Valerie has spent decades wishing otherwise. That's the tale that Valerie Taylor: Playing with Sharks tells as it steps through her life and career. Taking a standard birth-to-now approach, the documentary has ample time for many of the aforementioned highlights, with Valerie herself either offering her memories via narration or popping up to talk viewers through her exploits. But two things linger above all else in this entertaining, engaging and insightful doco. Firstly, filmmaker Sally Aitken (David Stratton: A Cinematic Life) fills her feature with stunning archival footage that makes for astonishing and affecting viewing (Ron Taylor is credited first among the feature's five cinematographers). Secondly, this powerful film dives into the work that Valerie has spearheaded to try to redress the world's fright-driven perception of sharks. Like last year's David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, 2017's Jane Goodall documentary Jane and underwhelming 2021 Oscar-winner My Octopus Teacher, this is a movie about being profoundly changed by the natural world and all of its splendour.
Read our full review.
The last time that one of Jack London's books made the leap to cinema screens — just last year, in fact — it wasn't a pleasant viewing experience. Starring Harrison Ford and a CGI dog, The Call of the Wild forced viewers to watch its flesh-and-blood lead pal around with a needlessly anthropomorphised canine, to groan-inducingly cheesy results. Martin Eden is a much different book, so it could never get the same treatment. With his radiant imagery, masterful casting and bold alterations to the source material, writer/director Pietro Marcello (Lost and Beautiful) makes certain that no one will confuse this new London adaption for the last, however. The Italian filmmaker helms a compelling, complicated, ambitious and unforgettable film, and one that makes smart and even sensuous choices with a novel that first hit shelves 112 years ago. The titular character is still a struggling sailor who falls in love with a woman from a far more comfortable background than his. He still strives to overcome his working-class upbringing by teaching himself to become a writer. And, he still finds both success and scuffles springing from his new profession, with the joy of discovering his calling, reading everything he can and putting his fingers to the typewriter himself soon overshadowed by the trappings of fame, a festering disillusionment with the well-to-do and their snobbery, and a belief that ascribing worth by wealth is at the core of society's many problems.
As a book, Martin Eden might've initially reached readers back in 1909, but Marcello sees it as a timeless piece of literature. He bakes that perception into his stylistic choices, weaving in details from various different time periods — so viewers can't help but glean that this tale just keeps proving relevant, no matter the year or the state of the world. Working with cinematographers Alessandro Abate (Born in Casal Di Principe) and Francesco Di Giacomo (Stay Still), he helms an overwhelmingly and inescapably gorgeous-looking film, too. When Martin Eden is at its most heated thematically and ideologically, it almost feels disquieting that such blistering ideas are surrounded by such aesthetic splendour, although that juxtaposition is wholly by design. And, in his best flourish, he enlists the magnetic Luca Marinelli (The Old Guard) as his central character. In a performance that won him the Best Actor award at the 2019 Venice Film Festival, Marinelli shoulders the eponymous figure's hopes, dreams and burdens like he's lived them himself. He lends them his soulful stare as well. That expression bores its way off the screen, and eventually sees right through all of the temptations, treats and treasures that come Eden's way. Any movie would blossom in its presence; Martin Eden positively dazzles, all while sinking daggers into the lifetime of tumult weathered by its titular everyman.
THE MOLE AGENT
At this year's Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences anointed the past year's best documentary, as it usually does — deciding that the standout factual film of the year told a tale about a man and his bond with a sea creature. My Octopus Teacher falls into a busy genre of films about being forever shaped and altered by the earth's natural splendour (see also: Valerie Taylor: Playing with Sharks), but it isn't the only one of 2021's nominees that demonstrates how unexpected connections can reap rewards, insights and new perspectives. Chilean doco The Mole Agent does the same, albeit in a vastly dissimilar manner. Its focus: an elderly man hired by a private investigator to go undercover in a retirement home. Rómulo Aitken's client suspects that the facility may be blighted by elder abuse, so he needs someone who'll blend in to do his sleuthing. Answering an advertisement for someone aged between 80 and 90, octogenarian and recent widower Sergio Chamy couldn't be more keen for the gig. He doesn't quite have a handle on the technology he'll need to use, despite trying to claim otherwise. Indeed, when he tries to show Rómulo that he can use a smartphone, he takes countless photos while claiming he's snapping none. Still, he's boundlessly eager to distract himself from his grief by taking on a new adventure, making new friends, and even learning a thing or two.
For the mostly female residents at El Monte's San Francisco Nursing Home, for Rómulo and for filmmaker Maite Alberdi (The Grown-Ups) alike, Sergio is a dream — even though he's definitely not your usual spy or detective. He doesn't always fulfil his assigned tasks as asked, but he's a delight to spend time with as he endeavours to record what's going on at the home via his hidden camera-equipped glasses and pen. As they explain again and again in candid and lively chats to camera (presumably because they think they're being filmed for a more traditional type of doco), the women he's now sharing a facility with definitely agree that he's a charmer. In fact, Sergio is so charismatic that he fails to simply blend in, observe and report back. He's also a much-needed and -welcomed source of kindness and comfort to the home's residents, many of whom have no other company to turn to, and it's these interactions he largely documents in his dispatches to Rómulo via WhatsApp. Alberdi still charts his overall mission, but his general presence elicits just as much interest. With a crown for king of the home coming his way, and many of his peers fawning of him, there's much to chronicle. In her third film to focus on the elderly (after La Once and short I'm Not from Here) Alberdi sees the change he brings to people who haven't been paid this much attention in years, and also the change the spy gig brings in Sergio — and sharing her affectionate gaze is easy in this thoughtful film.
Rare is the film that nods overtly to more than a few of its influences, yet still manages to inhabit its own niche and no one else's. My Zoe is one of those movies. Its first half bears much in common with 2017's exceptional French drama Custody, while its second half takes its cues from the greatest horror novel ever written. That combination works astonishing (and almost disarmingly) well, and nothing here every feels like a mere clone of better material. In the movie's opening section, Berlin-based geneticist Isabelle (Julie Delpy, Wiener-Dog) juggles the struggles of co-parenting with her ex James (Richard Armitage, The Lodge). They both dote on seven-year-old Zoe (Sophia Ally, The Current War), but they also argue incessantly — largely due to James' dour behaviour, cruel demeanour and ludicrous demands. By the time that Isabelle calls him "just an awful human being" in one of their arguments, the audience is already on her side. They settle their custody dispute, but the bickering doesn't subside when Zoe is found unconscious and requires hospitalisation. Eventually, though, Isabelle has another dilemma to navigate, involving a desperate ploy to get back what she's lost, a risk-taking doctor (Daniel Brühl, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier) in Moscow and an option his own wife (Gemma Arteton, Summerland) warns against.
Directing, writing and starring here — as she's done with Looking for Jimmy, 2 Days in Paris, The Countess, Skylab, 2 Days in New York and Lolo before — Delpy could've made the relationship and tragedy side of My Zoe into a feature of its own, and then done the same with the science fiction-tinged exploration of loss that follows. Blending the two together befits one of her overt sources of inspiration, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, though. For more than 200 years now, the gothic classic has examined how grief leads to drastic reactions, how science can let humans play god in increasingly bold and consequential manners, and how we're hardwired to use the latter to work through the former, as well as our fears of mortality — and My Zoe picks up those threads, interrogates them with today's medical advances in mind, and turns them into quite the haunting piece of cinema. Both sensitivity and realistic emotions linger in both of the movie's halves, and in Isabelle's actions and choices along the way. Delpy directs herself to a fantastic performance, and pairs her efforts with a poised and empathetic perspective throughout. Another savvy move, and one that epitomises how exactingly Delpy has thought through every detail: that, if you aren't paying the utmost attention during the first half, you mightn't even realise that the film takes place in the near-future.
Just five letters are needed to turn A Family's title into the name of one of popular culture's most famous clans. The Addams crew aren't the subject of this Australian-produced, Ukraine-shot blend of comedy and drama, but it does delve into the creepy, kooky and mysterious anyway. The feature debut of director Jayden Stevens — who co-wrote the script with his cinematographer Tom Swinburn (Free of Thought) — the absurdist gem spends time with the stern-faced Emerson (first-timer Pavlo Lehenkyi). With none of his family around for unexplained reasons, he pays other Kiev locals to play their parts, staging dinners, Christmas parties and everyday occasions. They eat, chat and do normal family things, all for Emerson's camera. His actors (including Maksym Derbenyov as his brother and Larysa Hraminska as his mother) all need to stick to his script, though, or he'll offer them a surly reprimand. Olga (Liudmyla Zamidra), who has been cast as his sister, struggles the most with her role. She's also the member of this little faux family that Emerson is particularly drawn to. Her own home life with her mother Christina (Tetiana Kosianchuk) is far from rosy, with the pair suffering from her dad's absence, so eventually Olga decides that Emerson's role-play game might work there as well.
A Family is a film of patient and precise frames, awkwardly amusing moments, and bitingly accurate insights into the ties that bind — whether of blood or otherwise. It's a movie that recognises the transactional and performative nature of many of life's exchanges, too, and ponders how much is real and fake in both big and seemingly inconsequential instances. To perfect all of the above, Stevens walks in Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Favourite), Aki Kaurismäki (Le Havre, The Other Side of Hope) and even the usually inimitable David Lynch's shoes. His feature is austere, deadpan and surreal all at once, and smart, amusing and savage at the same time as well. Indeed, if a bigger-name filmmaker had made this purposefully and probingly off-kilter picture, it would've likely proven a film festival darling around the globe. A Family did start its big-screen run at a fest, at the Melbourne International Film Festival back in 2019. Now reaching Australian cinemas after a year that's seen everyone either spend more time with or feel more physical distance from their nearest and dearest, it feels doubly potent. Every lingering image shot by Swinburn — and all of the pitch-perfect performances that he captures — speak loudly to the cycle of yearning and disconnection that comes with being alive, and that never stops being put under a microscope.
FROM THE VINE
Uprooting to Italy on a whim is bound to change your life, and no one needs a movie to tell them that. Plenty of films keep stressing the message, though; if Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat Pray Love didn't get the idea across, 2020's Made in Italy tried to, and now From the Vine does the same. The only new things that this latest sun-dapped European-set jaunt has to add to its concept: talking vines, and reminders that the corporate world cares for no one and small towns can struggle. So, this movie trades in fantasies and the obvious, and does so several times over. It also relies heavily upon rural Italy's obvious scenic sights, thanks to frequently used drone shots of Acerenza, the quaint Potenza spot where the bulk of the movie is set. Lawyer-turned-car manufacturing company CEO Marco Gentile (Joe Pantoliano, Bad Boys for Life) was born and raised locally, but left as a child; however, it's the first place he thinks of heading when he quits his job after a tussle with the board over sustainability. His wife Marina (Wendy Crewson, The Nest) refuses to go with him, and their daughter Laura (Paula Brancati, Workin' Moms) is certain he's having a midlife crisis — but, after making the trip, reacquainting himself with the locals and setting back into his late grandfather's own vineyard, he realises he's found la dolce vita.
From the Vine has Marco and Marina chat about La Dolce Vita, the 1960 classic, and about the Audrey Hepburn-starring Roman Holiday, too — in case the themes and messages the film is going for really weren't clear enough. They are, of course; working with a script adapted from Kenneth Canio Cancellara's novel Finding Marco by screenwriter Willem Wennekers (Buckley's Chance), filmmaker Sean Cisterna (Full Out) loves spelling out as much as possible. Not a single character seems to have a thought they don't overtly state, every plot development is telegraphed as far ahead as the movie can manage, and stressing the apparent idyll by shoehorning in yet another scenery shot happens again and again. Then there's those talking vines, as well as scenes where the adult Marco chats with his grandfather's ghost. Apparently viewers wouldn't understand exactly what's tempting Marco to give up his old existence if greenery and the dead didn't chatter. Although in far less challenging and rewarding territory than his past roles in the likes of Memento and The Sopranos, Pantoliano is the best thing about this dully formulaic flick — a result that also fits a template. Christopher Walken was in the same situation just last week with Percy vs Goliath, in fact.
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 January 1, January 7, January 14, January 21 and January 28; February 4, February 11, February 18 and February 25; March 4, March 11, March 18 and March 25; and April 1, April 8, April 15, April 22 and April 29; May 6, May 13, May 20 and May 27; and June 3 and June 10.
You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as Nomadland, Pieces of a Woman, The Dry, Promising Young Woman, Summerland, Ammonite, The Dig, The White Tiger, Only the Animals, Malcolm & Marie, News of the World, High Ground, Earwig and the Witch, The Nest, Assassins, Synchronic, Another Round, Minari, Firestarter — The Story of Bangarra, The Truffle Hunters, The Little Things, Chaos Walking, Raya and the Last Dragon, Max Richter's Sleep, Judas and the Black Messiah, Girls Can't Surf, French Exit, Saint Maud, Godzilla vs Kong, The Painter and the Thief, 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 and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.
Published on June 17, 2021 by Sarah Ward