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The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From September 9

Head to the flicks to watch a tense New Zealand-set thriller and Jake Johnson's latest likeable performance.
By Sarah Ward
September 09, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
September 09, 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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COMING HOME IN THE DARK

When Coming Home in the Dark starts, it's with a lingering look at New Zealand's landscape, with the film peering across the magnificent countryside as far as the camera can see. In doing so, it begins with two familiar touches that bubble with comfort and security. NZ's stunning scenery has been burned into audiences' minds several times over via The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. As a result, it beckons with the kind of warm memories that've sent plenty of fans flocking to the nation's shores. And, the people seen navigating NZ's scenic sights here, and what they're doing, also initially sit in cosy territory. Hoaggie (Eric Thomson, The Furnace) and Jill (Miriama McDowell, Waru) have hit the road from Wellington with their teenage sons Maika and Jordan (debutants Billy and Frankie Paratene), all to stop at quaint service stations, hike through the wilderness, take family photos with striking backdrops and have a nice little picnic. In other words, they're enjoying exactly the leisurely trip you'd expect in such eye-catching surroundings. Fond thoughts, tranquil feelings, unspoiled vistas, loving company — none are indulged for too long, though. Adapting Owen Marshall's short story of the same name,  and marking the feature debut of director James Ashcroft, Coming Home in the Dark sees the bliss and beauty; however, but it also quickly shines a spotlight on trauma and horror.

During the picnic, two men appear suddenly, instantly popping the happy little bubble that's encased the film's central family so far. It's immediately apparent that the gun-toting Mandrake (Daniel Gillies, Occupation: Rainfall) and his little-spoken offsider Tubs (Matthias Luafutu, Ghost in the Shell) aren't there to improve this picturesque escape, or to make friends. First, the interlopers demand the car keys. Mandrake taunts his hostages and struts around like he's holding court, visibly feeding on the response. He warns Hoaggie that they're facing a pivotal juncture, too — one where "later on, when you're looking back at this occasion, I think that right there's going to be the moment you wish you'd done something." Then, after a campervan of fellow travellers has been waved away from the precarious hostage situation, Coming Home in the Dark starts to sink its claws in. Within the narrative, the movie forever shatters any possibility of returning to its idyllic opening scenes. Thematically, this tense, nerve-wracking and unrelenting feature unearths the ills of history that simply refuse to remain buried. Indeed, Ashcroft and co-screenwriter Eli Kent (The Seagull) find a deep pool of terror in pondering the abuse of children in government-run facilities, the inescapable scars left, the paths towards criminal behaviour potentially sparked and, here, the retribution inspired.

Read our full review.

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RIDE THE EAGLE

As well as starring in Ride the Eagle, Jake Johnson co-wrote the pandemic-shot comedy with Australian director Trent O'Donnell, after the pair previously worked together on New Girl. It's easy to see where they found their inspiration for this tale about slowly learning to be your best self. Indeed, Johnson may as well still be playing the sitcom's Nick Miller — and if you've seen him do just that on the small screen, you'll recognise all the character traits that are on display in this film. Ride the Eagle's Leif Reinhold hasn't quite grasped adulthood yet, and doesn't really show any signs of wanting to when the movie opens. A percussionist who can't be called a success, he's first seen living in his manager Gorka's (Luis Fernandez-Gil, Horse Girl) backyard and being ditched by his latest bandmates because he's two decades older than them. He also has deeper conversations with his dog Nora than with more people. So, he has a strong case of arrested development — and here, just like in New Girl, it takes a woman to shake up his status quo. For Leif, that catalyst is actually his long-estranged mother Honey (Susan Sarandon, Jolt), who chose living in a new age commune over being his mum back when he was a teen. She's just passed away, and Leif receives word not only of her death, but that she's left him her sprawling Yosemite cabin; however, that inheritance is conditional, so he'll need to travel there to work through a list of tasks she's set him.

It isn't just easy to see what Johnson and sitcom veteran O'Donnell (No Activity, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Place) are doing in the latter's feature directing debut; it's also plain to see why. Johnson steps into this type of character's shoes engagingly and amiably — and well — so much so that he was the best thing about New Girl. Some of the show's standout scenes involved his character casually chatting through monologues to an elderly man who didn't ever speak back, and Ride the Eagle takes the idea of talking through your woes virtually to yourself (or to Leif's pet pooch and the video that Honey has left outlining her instructions) and builds an entire movie around it. It also sees O'Donnell follow in fellow filmmaker Joe Swanberg's footsteps, given that features like Drinking Buddies, Digging for Fire and Win It All also capitalised upon Johnson's likeable haplessness. Again and again, Ride the Eagle is built from recognisable parts; Sarandon even just played an ailing matriarch in Blackbird. But, while there's no escaping the air of familiarity that wafts through the film, there's also no discounting Johnson's ability to make it work. The movie's script opts for the obvious and exaggerated, which is where D'Arcy Carden (The Good Place) and JK Simmons (Palm Springs) come in as Leif and Honey's respective exes. It's shot with overtly warm tones to match its feel-good vibe, it never leaves any doubt where it's heading and it trades in standard insights about what's important in life. Sarandon and Simmons hit all the blatant beats, too. But when Johnson finds his usual groove — and when the always-impressive Carden is involved as well — Ride the Eagle gathers enough momentum to take flight.

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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; August 5, August 12, August 19 and August 26, and September 2.

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, 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) and Streamline.

Published on September 09, 2021 by Sarah Ward
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