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The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas This Week

Head to the flicks to see Ethan Hawke get creepy in a 70s-set horror flick, a farce about filmmaking with Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, or the latest bestseller to hit the big screen.
By Sarah Ward
July 21, 2022
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By Sarah Ward
July 21, 2022
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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 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 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 BLACK PHONE

The Black Phone didn't need to star Ethan Hawke. In a way, it doesn't really. Fresh from Moon Knight and The Northman, Hawke is definitely in this unsettling 1978-set horror film. He's also exceptional in it. But his top billing springs from his name recognition and acting-veteran status rather than his screen time. Instead, superb up-and-comer Mason Thames gets the bulk of the camera's attention in his first feature role. After him, equally outstanding young talent Madeleine McGraw (Ant-Man and The Wasp) comes next. They spend most of their time worrying about, hearing rumours of, hiding from, battling and/or trying to track down a mask-wearing, van-driving, child-snatching villain — the role that Hawke plays in a firmly supporting part, almost always beneath an eerie disguise. Visibly at least, anyone could've donned the same apparel and proven an on-screen source of menace.

There's a difference between popping something creepy over your face and actually being creepy, though. Scary masks can do a lot of heavy lifting, but they're also just a made-to-frighten facade. Accordingly, when it comes to being truly petrifying, Hawke undoubtedly makes The Black Phone. He doesn't literally; his Sinister director Scott Derrickson helms, and also co-wrote the script with that fellow horror flick's C Robert Cargill, adapting a short story by Stephen King's son Joe Hill — and the five-decades-back look and feel, complete with amber and grey hues, plus a nerve-rattling score, are all suitably disquieting stylistic touches. But as the movie's nefarious attacker, Hawke is unnervingly excellent, and also almost preternaturally unnerving in every moment. Whenever he opens his mouth, his voice couldn't echo from anyone else; however, it's the nervy, ominous and bone-weary physicality that he brings to the character that couldn't be more pitch-perfect.

Everyone is tired in The Black Phone, albeit in varying ways. At first, that comes as a surprise — it's a looser, more laidback time, and the film happily rides the vibe in its opening Little League game. Still, that relaxed air comes with its own sense of anxiety. What's better, an era when kids escape their homes during daylight, roaming the streets as they like but also instilled with a festering sense of stranger danger, or a period where such unsupervised freedom seems utterly unthinkable? This movie lurks in the former, obviously, and there is indeed a dangerous stranger prowling around north Denver's suburban streets. To 13-year-old Finney Blake (Thames), his younger sister Gwen (McGraw) and their schoolmates, that monstrous figure is known as The Grabber, and he's abducted several of their peers so far.

Finney and Gwen are also exhausted at home, where their alcoholic father Terrence (Jeremy Davies, The House That Jack Built) is hardly hands-on — unless his hands are flying in anger their way. At school, Finney has a trio of bullies to deal with, too; luckily, if his pal Robin (first-timer Miguel Cazarez Mora) isn't around to save him, the plucky and sweary Gwen usually is. She's zapped as well, courtesy of dreams of events that haven't quite happened yet. The pair's mother had the same ability, which is why their dad is so sozzled, and also so hard on the two of them. Fatigue is well and truly in the air, thick yet invisible, although The Grabber's (Hawke) is the flimsiest. After taking Finney, he's drained by his need to kidnap and kill. That doesn't stop him from terrorising the neighbourhood, of course — but if his latest target has his way, aided by advice whispered down the disconnected basement telephone by past victims, the masked assailant might soon be far worse than simply weary.

Read our full review.

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OFFICIAL COMPETITION

Every actor has one, albeit in various shades, lengths and textures, but sometimes one single hairstyle says everything about a film. Wildly careening in whichever direction it seems to feel like at any point, yet also strikingly sculptural, the towering reddish stack of curly locks atop Penélope Cruz's head in Official Competition is one such statement-making coiffure. It's a stunning sight, with full credit to the movie's hairstylists. These tremendous tresses are both unruly and immaculate; they draw the eye in immediately, demanding the utmost attention. And, yes, Cruz's crowning glory shares those traits with this delightful Spanish Argentine farce about filmmaking — a picture directed and co-written by Mariano Cohn and Gastуn Duprat (The Distinguished Citizen), and also starring Antonio Banderas (Uncharted) and Oscar Martínez (Wild Tales), that it's simply impossible to look away from.

Phenomenal hair is just the beginning for Cruz here. Playing filmmaker Lola Cuevas — a Palme d'Or-winning arthouse darling helming an ego-stroking prestige picture for rich octogenarian businessman Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez, Truman) — she's downright exceptional as well. Humberto decides to throw some cash into making a movie in the hope of leaving a legacy that lasts, and enlisting Lola to work her magic with a Nobel Prize-winning novel called Rivalry is quite the coup. So is securing the talents of flashy global star Félix Rivero (Banderas) and serious theatre actor Iván Torres (Martínez), a chalk-and-cheese pair who'll work together for the first time, stepping into the shoes of feuding brothers. But before the feature can cement its backer's name in history, its three key creatives have to survive an exacting rehearsal process. Lola believes in rigorous preparation, and in testing and stretching her leading men, with each technique she springs on them more outlandish and stressful than the last.

As Lola, Cruz is a 'find yourself someone who can do both'-kind of marvel. She's clearly starring in a comedy, and her timing, rhythms and line delivery are as fine-tuned as any acting great who has ever tried to amuse an audience — and serve up a hefty reminder that viewers rarely get to see her in such a role — but she perfects the drama of the situation, too. The latter stems from Lola's male leads, who are caught up in a clash of egos, and from the director herself as she keeps eagerly but purposefully pulling their strings. Light, fluid, sharp, smart: they all fit this savvily portrayed character, and never for a second does Cruz feel like she's seesawing too easily, needlessly or temperamentally from comic to serious and back. Earlier in 2022, she was nominated for an Oscar for her sublime performance in Parallel Mothers  — an award she deserved to win, but didn't — and although Official Competition couldn't be a more different film, she's just as much of a force to be reckoned with within its frames.

Cohn and Duprat might have a little of Lola in them, as well as conjuring her up with fellow scribe Andrés Duprat (My Masterpiece). The Argentine filmmaking duo's rehearsal methods aren't part of the movie, obviously, and it's likely that they didn't wrap their cast in cling wrap as their protagonist hilariously does — but, whatever mechanisms they deployed, they obtain outstanding performances from their key players. This is Cruz's film, but Banderas revels in the chance to cleverly and cannily satirise his profession and industry as much as she does, with the two teaming up yet again after featuring side by side in plenty of Pedro Almodóvar's movies (see: Pain and Glory most recently). The playful teasing is ramped up a level, and there's a greater emphasis on his killer stare, which can flip from brooding to charming to pouting in an instant; however, the result remains remarkable. Martínez plays it relatively straight in-between his co-stars, but is no less compelling; Iván has his own ego battles.

Read our full review.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

Timing is everything in Where the Crawdads Sing, the murder-mystery melodrama set in America's Deep South that raced up bestseller lists in 2018, and now reaches cinemas a mere four years later. Its entire narrative hinges upon a simple question: did North Carolina outcast and recluse Kya Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones, Fresh), cruelly nicknamed "the marsh girl" by locals, have time to speed home from an out-of-town stay to push star quarterback Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson, The King's Man) from a fire tower, then resume her trip without anyone noticing? On the page, that query helped propel Delia Owens' literary sensation to success, to Reese Witherspoon's book club — she's a producer here — and to a swift film adaptation. But no timing would likely have ever been right for the movie's release, given that Owens and her husband are wanted for questioning in a real-life murder case in Zambia.

Unlike the film, those off-screen details aren't new, but they were always bound to attract attention again as soon as this feature arrived. One of the reasons they're inescapable: the purposeful parallels between Owens' debut novel and her existence. Like Kya, Owens is a naturalist. The also southern-born author spent years preferring the company of plants and animals, crusading for conservation causes in Africa. Where the Crawdads Sing is timed to coincide with Owens' own life as well; it's set in the 50s and 60s and, as a child (played by Jojo Regina, The Chosen) and a teenager, Kya is around the same age that Owens would've been then. Another reason that the ways that art might link with reality can't be shaken, lingering like a sultry, squelchy day: what ends up on-screen is as poised, pristine and polished as a swampy southern gothic tale can be, and anyone in one. There's still a scandal, but forget dirt, sweat and anything but lush, vivid wilderness, plus a rustic hut that wouldn't look out of place on Airbnb.

That Instagram-friendly aesthetic comes courtesy of filmmaker Olivia Newman (First Match), who helms a visually enticing movie — again, incongruously so given the story it unfurls and the location it dwells in — that's as typical as a murder-mystery meets coming-of-age tale meets southern romance can be. The film starts with Chase's body, the investigation that springs and the certainty around the insular small town of Barkley Cove that the supposedly feral and uncivilised marsh girl is responsible. Evidence is thin, but bigotry runs deep against someone who grew up with an abusive father (Garret Dillahunt, Ambulance), was left behind by her other family members and spent the bulk of her years fending for herself in poverty. That said, as in Owens' source material, that's just the framework. On the screen, though, Where the Crawdads Sing's dive into Kya's life feels like it's also been adapted from Nicholas Sparks' pages.

Most of Barkley Cove has always shunned Kya, other than generous store owners Jumpin' (Sterling Macer Jr, House of Lies) and Mabel (Michael Hyatt, The Little Things), who she sells mussels to — the feature's only Black characters, who are woefully only used to stress how callous the rest of the town proves, rather than to even dream of digging into matters of race in America's south as the civil rights movement started to gather steam. Also kindly, taking on her defence, is her Atticus Finch-esque local lawyer Tom Milton (David Strathairn, Nightmare Alley). But romance still blossoms not once but twice for Kya, first with the doting, poetry-reading Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith, Blacklight), and then with arrogant rich kid Chase. That's where Newman's film prefers to reside, charting the ups and downs of Kya's affairs of the heart. That's why the movie appears so immaculate that it shimmers with a marsh-chic gleam as well.

Read our full review.

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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 April 7, April 14, April 21 and April 28; and May 5, May 12, May 19 and May 26; June 2, June 9June 16, June 23 and June 30; and July 7 and July 14.

You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as 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, The Northman, Ithaka, After Yang, Downton Abbey: A New Era, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, Petite Maman, The Drover's Wife The Legend of Molly JohnsonDoctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Firestarter, Operation Mincemeat, To Chiara, This Much I Know to Be True, The Innocents, Top Gun: Maverick, The Bob's Burgers Movie, Ablaze, Hatching, Mothering Sunday, Jurassic World Dominion, A Hero, Benediction, Lightyear, Men, Elvis, Lost Illusions, Nude Tuesday, Ali & Ava, Thor: Love and Thunder, Compartment No. 6, Sundown, The Gray Man and The Phantom of the Open.

Published on July 21, 2022 by Sarah Ward
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