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The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From October 21

Head to the flicks to watch a bold take on the western genre, a riveting historical drama and two fascinating documentaries about famous figures.
By Sarah Ward
October 21, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
October 21, 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 releasesStudio 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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THE LAST DUEL

A grim historical drama that recreates France's final instance of trial by combat, The Last Duel can't be described as fun. It hinges upon the rape of Marguerite (Jodie Comer, Free Guy), wife of knight Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon, Ford v Ferrari), by his ex-friend Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver, Annette) — aka the event that sparked the joust — so that term will obviously never apply. Instead, the movie is exquisite in its 14th-century period staging. After a slightly slow start, it's as involving and affecting as it is weighty and savage, too. When the titular battle takes place, it's ferocious and vivid. And with a #MeToo spirit, the film heartbreakingly hammers home how poorly women were regarded — the rape is considered a crime against Carrouges' property rather than against Marguerite herself — making it an expectedly sombre affair from start to finish.

The Last Duel must've been fun to make from a creative standpoint, however. Damon sports a shocking mullet, and Ben Affleck (The Way Back) dons a ridiculous blonde mop while hamming up every scene he's in (and demanding that Driver drop his pants), although that isn't why. Again, the brutal events seen don't earn that term, but teasing out Marguerite, Carrouges and Le Gris' varying perspectives is fascinating. Director Ridley Scott (All the Money in the World) and his screenwriters — Good Will Hunting Oscar-winners Damon and Affleck, plus acclaimed filmmaker Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said) — have clearly seen Rashomon, the on-screen benchmark in using clashing viewpoints. In their "he said, he said, she said" tale, journeying in the iconic Japanese film's footsteps proves captivating. It must've been an enjoyable challenge for its cast, too, terrible hairstyles and all; as moments repeat, so much of the movie's potency stems from minuscule differences in tone, angle, emphasis and physicality.

"The truth according to Jean de Carrouges" proclaims The Last Duel's first chapter, adapting Eric Jager's 2004 book of the same name in the process. (Le Gris and Marguerite's segments, following in that order, receive the same introduction.) Even in his own instalment, Damon plays Carrouges as a scowling and serious soldier, and as petulant and entitled. He's also a victim in his own head. That attitude only grows as Le Gris finds favour with Count Pierre d'Alençon (Affleck), cousin to teenage King Charles VI (Alex Lawther, The Translators), and starts collecting his debts — including Carrouges' own. And when the knight marries the beautiful and well-educated Marguerite, it's purely a transaction. It also deepens his acrimony towards Le Gris long before the rape, after land promised in the dowry ends up in his former pal's hands via the smarmy Pierre.

Still, Carrouges is instantly willing to fight when he hears about the sexual assault. That said, it's also just another battle against Le Gris and the Count, after taking them to court and the King over their property squabble. In Le Gris' chapter, where Driver broods with an intensity that's fierce even for him, Carrouges' joylessness and pettiness is given even more flesh. Also explored here: the Count's hedonism, the ambition and greed driving the opportunistic Le Gris, and the fixation he develops with Marguerite. Scott ensures that the rape lands like the horror it is, too, leaving no doubt of its force and coercion despite Le Gris' claims otherwise.

Read our full review.

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THE HARDER THEY FALL

Idris Elba. A piercing gaze. One helluva red velvet suit. A film can't coast by on such a combination alone, and The Harder They Fall doesn't try to — but when it splashes that vivid vision across the screen, it's nothing short of magnificent. The moment arrives well into Jeymes Samuel's revisionist western, so plenty of stylishness has already graced its frames before then. Think: Old West saloons in brilliant yellows, greens and blues; the collective strut of a cast that includes Da 5 Bloods' Delroy Lindo and Jonathan Majors, Atlanta's Zazie Beetz and LaKeith Stanfield, and If Beale Street Could Talk Oscar-winner Regina King; and an aesthetic approach that blasts together the cool, the slick and the operatic. Still, Elba and his crimson attire — and the black vest and hat that tops it off — is the exclamation mark capping one flamboyant and vibrant movie.

Imaginative is another appropriate word to describe The Harder They Fall, especially its loose and creative take on American history. Where some features based on the past take a faithful but massaged route — fellow recent release The Last Duel, for example — this one happily recognises what's fact and what's fantasy. Its main players all existed centuries ago, but Samuel and co-screenwriter Boaz Yakin (Now You See Me) meld them into the same narrative. That's an act of complete fiction, as is virtually everything except their names. The feature freely admits this on-screen before proceedings begin, though, and wouldn't dream of hiding from it. Team-up movies aren't rare, whether corralling superheroes or movie monsters, but there's a particular thrill and power to bringing together these fictionalised Black figures in such an ambitious and memorable, smart and suave, and all-round swaggering film.

After proving such a commanding lead in HBO series Lovecraft Country, Majors takes centre stage here, too, as gunslinger Nat Love. First, however, the character is initially introduced as a child (Anthony Naylor Jr, The Mindy Project), watching his parents get murdered by the infamous Rufus Buck (Elba, The Suicide Squad). A quest for revenge ensues — and yes, Nat shares an origin story with Batman. Samuel definitely isn't afraid to get stylised and cartoonish, or melodramatic, or playful for that matter. One of the keys to The Harder They Fall is that it's so many things all at once, and rarely is it any one thing for too long. This is a brash and bold western from its first vividly shot frame till its last, of course, and yet it's also a film about the tragedies that infect families, the violence that infects societies, and the hate, abuse, prejudice, discrimination and bloodshed that can flow from both. It's a romance, too, and it nails its action scenes like it's part of a big blockbuster franchise.

As an adult, Nat still has Rufus in his sights. It'll take a few twists of fate — including a great train robbery to free Rufus en route from one prison to the next — to bring them face to face again. The sequence where the outlaw's righthand woman Trudy (King) and quick-drawing fellow gang member Cherokee Bill (Stanfield) take on the law is sleek heist delight, and the saloon clash with marshal Bass Reeves (Lindo) that gets Nat back on Rufus' trail is just as dextrously  handled. Nat also has bar proprietor and his on-again, off-again ex Stagecoach Mary (Beetz) on his side, plus the boastful Beckwourth (RJ Cyler, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), sharp-shooting Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi, Briarpatch) and diminutive Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler, P-Valley). Everyone gets their moments, and every one of those moments sashays towards a blood-spattered showdown.

Read our full review.

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MALIGNANT

Nearly two decades have passed since a pair of Melbourne talents made a low-budget horror flick that became a franchise-starting smash, sparking their Hollywood careers. Thanks to Saw, James Wan and Leigh Whannell experienced every aspiring filmmaker's absolute fantasy — a dream they're still living now, albeit increasingly on separate paths. Wan's latest, Malignant, is firmly grounded in those horror roots, however. Most of the Insidious and The Conjuring director's resume has been, aside from recent action-blockbuster detours to Fast and Furious 7, Aquaman and the latter's upcoming sequel. With Malignant, though, he shows how strongly he remains on the same page as his former collaborator. Anyone who's seen Whannell's excellent Upgrade and The Invisible Man will spot the parallels, in fact, even if Malignant is the far schlockier of the three.

Malignant is also an exercise in patience, because plenty about its first half takes its time — and, when that's the case, the audience feels every drawn-out second. But after Wan shifts from slow setup mode to embracing quite the outrageous and entertainingly handled twist, his film swiftly becomes a devilish delight. Heavily indebted to the 70s-era works of giallo master Dario Argento, David Cronenberg's body-horror greats and 80s scary movies in general, Malignant uses its influences as fuel for big-swinging, batshit-level outlandishness. Most flicks can't segue from a slog to a B-movie gem. Most films can't be saved by going so berserk, either. Wan's tenth stint behind the lens can and does, and leaves a limb-thrashing, blood-splattering, gleefully chaotic imprint.

Perhaps it's a case of like name, like approach; tumours can grow gradually, then make their havoc felt. Regardless, it doesn't take long within Malignant for Dr Florence Weaver (Jacqueline McKenzie, Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears) to proclaim that "it's time to cut out the cancer" while treating a locked-up patient in the film's 1992-set prologue. This is a horror movie, so that whole event doesn't turn out well, naturally. Jump forward a few decades, and the feature's focus is now Seattle resident Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis, Boss Level), who is hoping to carry her latest pregnancy with her abusive husband to term. But then his violent temper erupts again, she receives a head injury, and childhood memories start mixing with visions of gruesome killings linked to Dr Weaver's eerie hospital — visions that Madison sees as the murders occur.

Bearing telepathic witness to horrific deaths is an intriguing concept, although hardly a new one — and, that aforementioned first scene aside, it's also the most interesting part of Malignant's opening half. Wan and screenwriter Akela Cooper (Grimm, The 100) play it all straight and obvious, including when the cops (Containment's George Young and Songbird's Michole Briana White) are skeptical about Madison's claims. That leaves only her younger sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson, Mr Mercedes) believing what's going on, and leaves the movie a plodding psychological-meets-supernatural thriller predicated upon routinely predictable but improbable character decisions. It makes the second half feel positively electrifying in contrast, when the big shift in tone comes, but also makes viewers wonder what might've been if that lurid look and kinetic feel had been present the whole way through.

Read our full review.

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ROADRUNNER: A FILM ABOUT ANTHONY BOURDAIN

When Anthony Bourdain strode around the world, and across our screens, in food-meets-travel series A Cook's Tour, No Reservations, The Layover and Parts Unknown, he was as animated as he was acerbic and enigmatic. Beneath his shock of greying hair, the lanky New Yorker was relatable, engaging to a seemingly effortless degree and radiated a larger-than-life air, too. The latter didn't just apply because he was a face on TV, where plenty gets that bigger-than-reality sheen, but because he appeared to truly embrace all that life entailed in that hectic whirlwind of travelling, eating and waxing lyrical about both. Arriving three years after his suicide in 2018, documentary Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain captures that. It's so filled with Bourdain thanks to all that time he'd spent in front of the camera, it'd be near-impossible for it not to. But it also lurks under a shadow due to its now-infamous choice to use artificial intelligence to add dialogue that its subject didn't speak.

Watching the film, there's no way of knowing which words Bourdain merely penned but didn't utter; the technology truly is that seamless. It still resounds as an unnecessary move, though, especially when such lines might've been incorporated in ways that wouldn't sit at stark odds with his visible liveliness. Roadrunner delves behind the facade that Bourdain presented to the world, of course. It notes his death immediately and goes in search of the sorrow and pain that might've led to it, as mulled over by friends such fellow chefs David Chang and Éric Ripert, and artist David Choe; crew members on his shows; and his second wife Ottavia Busia. Still, once you know about the AI, there's a sense of disconnection that echoes through the doco — because it surveys all that Bourdain was, compiles all of this stellar material and still resorted to digital resurrection.

Thankfully, the passion and curiosity that always made Bourdain appear so spirited — yes, so alive, as compared to being vocally recreated by AI after his death — still makes Roadrunner worth watching. That's true for Bourdain fans and newcomers alike, although director Morgan Neville (Oscar-winner 20 Feet From Stardom) doesn't use his two-hour-long film as a birth-to-life primer for the uninitiated. Crucially, as also proved the case with his 2018 Mr Rogers documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor?, Neville jumps through the details of Bourdain's life in a way that also muses on what his success and popularity said about the world. Why he struck such a chord is as essential an ingredient in Roadrunner as how he went from cook to celebrity chef, TV host, best-selling author and travel documentarian.

The footage of Bourdain — from his shows, obviously, as well as from a plethora of TV interviews, behind-the-scenes clips and home videos — is edited together with the same restlessness that the man himself always exuded. You don't spend most of your year travelling if you can be easily pinned down, after all. It's a wise choice on Neville and editors Eileen Meyer (Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution) and Aaron Wickenden's (Feels Good Man) parts, but Neville has long had a knack for making his films feel like his subjects. Talking-head chats are spliced throughout, offering further details and grappling with how Bourdain's story ends; however, Roadrunner is repeatedly at its finest when it's peering at him and showing how his work encouraged us all not just to watch, but to eat, travel, think, talk and live.

Read our full review.

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BECOMING COUSTEAU

He's been parodied in a Wes Anderson film and mentioned in a Flight of the Conchords song. His red beanie, and those worn by his fellow crew members on his research ship Calypso, are an enduring fashion symbol. He won the second-ever Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or — becoming not only the first filmmaker to receive the prestigious prize for a documentary, but the only one to do so for almost half a century afterwards. When he started making television in the 60s, he turned his underwater-shot docos about the sea into truly must-see TV. He helped create undersea diving as we know it, and he's the most famous oceanographer that's ever lived. He was also one of the early voices who spoke out about climate change and humanity's impact upon the oceans. He's a rockstar in every field he dived into — and he's Jacques Cousteau, obviously.

Becoming Cousteau touches on all of the above — except The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Flight of the Conchords' 'Fou de Fafa', of course — and makes for a a riveting splash into its namesake's life and career. There's just so much to tell, to the point that it frequently feels as if director Liz Garbus (an Oscar-nominee for What Happened, Miss Simone?) could've filled an entire series instead. Her big-screen tribute to Cousteau doesn't suffer from packing so much into its slice of celluloid, however. It simply makes the most of its time, leaving viewers wanting more because they've loved what they've just experienced. Becoming Cousteau is the cinematic equivalent of having a splash, gazing fondly at the sea's blue expanse, or peering deeply at the ocean's underwater wonders, all activities that beg for as much of your attention as possible.

This isn't just an affectionate ode, though, even with ample praise floated Cousteau's way. When Garbus includes vision of wide-eyed children beaming up at her subject with wonder splashed across their faces, you could call it a case of a director telling audiences how they should feel — or signalling how she's looking his way, or both. But she knows that Cousteau's achievements, and the glorious archival footage that comes with it, elicits that reaction anyway. She also doesn't shy away from the thornier aspects of his personal and professional lives, tragedies and struggles among them. This is a film about a man who lived a life like no one else's, especially when he kept plunging beneath the sea, but it's also a movie about a man first and foremost.

That's why Garbus sticks to a familiar biographical documentary format, as tempting as it might've been to take a more playful route. By chronicling Cousteau's existence in a chronological fashion — from naval officer to icon, with help from his own words as read by French actor Vincent Cassel (The World Is Yours) where footage doesn't exist — she emphasises who he becomes as he spends more and more time in, atop and contemplating the ocean. Yes, her title is that straightforward; however, neither the simplicity of Becoming Cousteau's structure nor the descriptiveness of its moniker can sum up this fascinating and thoughtful documentary. There's nothing standard about the way it charts his evolution or examines how he used his fame, either, or about the glorious way it selects, curates and compiles its wealth of clips — or about the movie's transfixing ebb and flow.

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LOVE YOU LIKE THAT

She's alive, wrapped in seaweed. When a woman with amnesia washes up on the beach in Love You Like That, no one makes that Twin Peaks-esque comment. That's the most surprising thing about this Australian rom-com, because it doesn't skim on the obvious inclusions from that point onwards — and it isn't shy about swimming through an ocean of cliches, either. Indeed, by the time its big finale arrives to the sounds of John Paul Young's 'Love Is in the Air', blatantly trying to bring Strictly Ballroom to viewers' minds seems like the next natural step for a movie that's as generic and derivative as it comes otherwise. It's a misguided move, though, reminding audiences of what they would've been better off watching.

Seafront Sands' mysterious new arrival (Allira Jaques, Charlie's Farm) claims she can't remember anything, including her name; however, she gravitates towards Mim, after the beach where she was found. People are drawn towards her in return, with the fictional coastal town swiftly influenced by her presence. Romance and kindness seem to follow in her footsteps — leaving Harrison (Mitchell Hope, Let It Snow), the local ladies' man who also runs a dating agency, intrigued. Of course, Mim has made her appearance on a day when the council is trying to woo developers, a big beach festival is scheduled and a policeman is pondering popping the question, and has an impact upon all three.

There's a twist to Love You Like That, pegging the film firmly in the realm of sappy, soapy fantasies — although it lurks in that territory well before the big revelation arrives. That said, this is a tonally chaotic film. It's schmaltzy from start to finish, but also tries to stitch in middle-aged siblings mending their squabbles, a local cafe owner confronting her grief over her missing-in-action soldier husband, Harrison's parent issues thanks to an ailing dad and mum he never knew, and the raucousness of his assistant Emily (comedian Steph Tisdell) and her forcefully outgoing personality. Mostly, Love You Like That plays as if debut writer/director Eric C Nash has thrown everything he can at the screen to see what sticks. Alas, all that lingers is ridiculousness. The twist earns that description, and so does the seesawing mess that both precedes and follows it.

A cast that includes well-known Aussie faces such as John Jarratt (Wolf Creek) and Chris Heywood (Dirt Music) — both in wasted parts — can't improve the careening screenplay. They also can't anchor a mood that changes in an instant like it's bobbing and weaving on the surf, including the jerky lurching from overblown sweetness (whenever Mim has an effect on people) to over-amped comedy (because Emily seems like she's come hurtling in from a completely different movie). Love You Like That is sunnily shot, but it's impossible to plaster over the film's many struggles with warm hues, beach imagery and wide smiles. Or, with 'Love Is in the Air' — which'll also get viewers thinking about how little this flick conjures.

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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 June 10, June 17 and June 24; July 1, July 8, July 15, July 22 and July 29; August 5, August 12, August 19 and August 26; September 2, September 9, September 16, September 23 and September 30; and October 7 and October 14.

You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as 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, Free Guy, Respect, The Night House, Candyman, Annette, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Streamline, Coming Home in the Dark, Pig, Big Deal, The Killing of Two Lovers, Nitram, Riders of Justice, The Alpinist, A Fire Inside and Lamb.

Published on October 21, 2021 by Sarah Ward

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