The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas This Week
Head to the flicks to watch the latest Disney movie based on a theme park ride, an awkward but relatable dark comedy and a phenomenal 17th century-set drama.
Something delightful has been happening in cinemas across the country. After periods spent empty during the pandemic, with projectors silent, theatres bare and the smell of popcorn fading, Australian picture palaces are back in business — at present, spanning both big chains and smaller independent sites in 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.
Take two charming actors, then couple them up for a feature-length volley of fast-paced banter: that's the screwball rom-com formula. Place this pleasing pair in a scenic but challenging setting — one that'll highlight their individual strengths, see them turn seeming weaknesses into new skills, and will obviously bring them closer together — and that's exactly how plenty of action-adventure movies have unfurled. Sending the always personable and likeable Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt to the Amazon, Jungle Cruise stitches together these two well-established formulas. It traverses its cinematic rapids in the slipstream of 80s fare like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Romancing the Stone (and their respective sequels), and even rollicks along in the footsteps of The Mummy franchise of the late 90s and early 00s (a series which actually gave Johnson his first big-screen roles). But, as anyone with even a passing knowledge of Disney's theme parks knows, Jungle Cruise also falls from the attraction-to-film mould that the Mouse House clearly loves. Pirates of the Caribbean is an overt influence, right down to the way that some of this new flick's villains look, and thrusting all these blatant templates to the fore — and together — doesn't quite result in movie magic. Indeed, despite Johnson and Blunt's charismatic and capable pairing, as well as the movie's visually boisterous imagery, the film's modest pleasures all fade oh-so-quickly, as happens with every amusement ride.
Directed by Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night and The Commuter's Jaume Collet-Serra, who makes a workmanlike but hardly memorable jump from unleashing Liam Neeson's special set of skills, Jungle Cruise wants to whisk viewers off on a spirited ride. That's the experiential aim of most theme park-based films: these flicks want audiences to feel like they've stepped inside the attraction from their cinema seat. So, before the movie's title card graces the screen, two sequences endeavour to set this tone. It's 1916, and Dr Lily Houghton (Blunt, A Quiet Place Part II) sneaks into an all-male science society to look for a treasured arrowhead from the Amazon. She's tasked her fussy brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall, Good Omens) with deflecting the organisation's members by telling them her theories about a fabled South American tree, called the Tears of the Moon, that can cure any illness or break any curse. The men are dismissive, but she knows they will be. She's there to steal the trinket so it can lead her to the mythical plant, all while Prince Joachim of Germany (Jesse Plemons, Judas and the Black Messiah) tries to get his hands on it as well. When Lily comes out on top, the Houghtons are off to Brazil to hit the river, but they'll need a captain to guide their watery jaunt. In his introductory scene, the roguish Frank Wolff (Johnson, Jumanji: The Next Level) is spied conducting tourist trips down the Amazon, every step choreographed like an amusement park ride, and with his own pun-heavy showman patter narrating the journey. He's corny, and he has a jaguar in on the act, too. Accordingly, there are zero surprises when Lily enlists his services reluctantly and after some subterfuge on his side, or when he keeps trying to trick her into giving up her quest.
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"What are you up to?". It's a familiar question and, when asked by a friend, it's a considerate and good-natured query that shows their genuine interest. But when it's posed by the wrong person, it comes loaded with expectations and inherent judgement — like the type you might find at a gathering of family members and life-long family pals who've turned their gaze in your direction because you're at the age where interrogating every inch of your existence has become their preferred form of sport. In Shiva Baby, this question comes in multiple ways and is asked multiple times. Attending a shiva, the wake-like mourning ritual observed in the Jewish faith, college senior Danielle (Rachel Sennott, Call Your Mother) is on the receiving end of this barrage. Stuck in a house full of enquiring minds, she feels every needling probe thrust her way by relatives and friends of relatives, all asking about her life, future, job, studies and romantic status, and even her weight. She's trapped in an everyday, immensely relatable situation, of course, but one that's never anything other than awkward — and first-time filmmaker Emma Seligman ensures that her audience feels every second of Danielle's discomfort. (Roving and floating camerawork that gets viewers seeing the chaos from Danielle's perspective, and a score that ramps up the unease — its strings rattling nerves just as effectively as every incident and altercation at the shiva — are some of the director's immersive and well-executed flourishes.)
Danielle doesn't quite know how to answer the onslaught, partly because she doesn't want to and feels as if she shouldn't have to. She's right, obviously. Hours earlier — with the film's blackly comic dramas occurring over a single day — she was happily astride the older, richer Max (Danny Deferrari, Private Life) in a lavish Manhattan apartment. That's how Shiva Baby opens, and he gifts her an expensive bangle afterwards, as well as cash as payment. To her parents and relatives, she refers to her job as "babysitting". The film never intimates that Danielle is ashamed of doing sex work, and refreshingly so, but it gives the impression that she'd prefer not to have a conversation about it with all the busybodies already poking their noses in her direction. Accordingly, she doesn't explain that she missed the funeral because she was having sex. When she arrives at the shiva with her parents Debbie (Polly Draper, Billions) and Joel (Fred Melamed, WandaVision), she has to ask which distant relative died more than once. A recent NYU graduate in her mid-20s, Seligman writes and stages this whole scenario with the specificity of someone who knows the claustrophobia, tension, horrors and social distress these gatherings can inspire, and the cringing that happens deep inside every time. She also knows that there's never just one complication, or even just a couple, as occurs here when Max, his wife Kim (Dianna Agron, Glee) and their baby daughter show up at the shiva, as well does Maya (Molly Gordon, The Broken Hearts Gallery), Danielle's ex-girlfriend from high-school.
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FANNY LYE DELIVER'D
Even on a blissfully sunny day, a devastating storm can darken a dazzling blue sky, cracking through that gorgeous facade with the weather's version of stress and woe. That's the sensation that emanates from Fanny Lye Deliver'd's early shots, which show a quaint, picturesque Shropshire farm shrouded in mist so scenic that the entire image looks like it could've been rendered in watercolours — and painted back in 1657, when the movie is set. But little is perfect behind this bucolic beauty. And, that's the case even before two strangers encroach upon the household, throwing the Lye family into tumult. As they get ready to attend church on what's otherwise an ordinary Sunday, Fanny (Maxine Peake, Peterloo) is under no misgivings about her place in the farm's hierarchy. She's treated with scowling disdain by her Puritan husband John Lye (Charles Dance, Game of Thrones), who sees saving the family's souls as his domain and doing what she's told the sole duty of his other half. Fanny also comes second to the couple's only son Arthur (Zak Adams, Alice Through the Looking Glass) and, like him, she's often beaten with a stick by John to apparently keep her on the right path. When young lovers Thomas Ashbury (Freddie Fox, The Pursuit of Love) and Rebecca Henshaw (Tanya Reynolds, Emma) sneak their way into the Lye home that church-going morning, they come looking for food, shelter, sustenance, and protection from the sheriffs and constables (The Dig's Peter McDonald, Downton Abbey's Perry Fitzpatrick and Cuckoo's Kenneth Collard) on their trail; however, they also expose the tension, turmoil, and patriarchal- and religious-inspired oppression festering under the rural abode's thatched roof.
Fanny Lye Deliver'd isn't writer/director Thomas Clay's first feature or even his second, with those honours going to 2005's The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael and 2008's Soi Cowboy. More than a decade later, his third film is a work made with a distinctive vision, though. Every visible detail, meticulous performance, powerful and probing line, and weighty rumination upon the subjugation of women and the ills enforced in faith's name — here, during Oliver Cromwell's reign over Britain following the English Civil War — is that fastidious, that intoxicating even when used to depict suffering and brutality, and also that effective. Clay's picture could easily sit in the mud, folklore and farmland anxiety with The Witch, a film that similarly steps into a god-fearing community where the hatred of women ascending beyond the meagre station allotted them has infected every thought and action. It plays like a cousin to that similarly entrancing and potent movie, however, rather than a sibling. It shares similar horrors, but casts them into cinemas like it's doing so anew, and sometimes peppers its efforts with inescapable lashings of dark humour. Fanny Lye Deliver'd also benefits from Peake's ferocious and arresting work in the eponymous role, in what proves a survivalist film in the same fashion as all other features about women attempting to persist amidst violence and persecution (see also: the vastly dissimilar Herself). It's no wonder that the camera loves peering her way, even as it lenses everything around her like it's painting with celluloid.
For almost three decades, cash fees at the most isolated toll booth in Wales have been collected by one man. Known to his fellow small-town dwellers just as Toll Booth (Michael Smiley, Gunpowder Milkshake), the Irish import reads books all day, occasionally sticks his hand out of the window to take coins from passers-by, and is also immersed in the quiet locale's shady underworld. And, he's actually a big-city ex-crim who has been hiding out in the sleepy spot. Alas, that status that comes to an end when he's spotted by an old colleague (Gary Beadle, Small Axe) from all of those years ago. Also, this unwelcome reunion occurs on the same day that the booth is held up by gun-toting triplets (all played by Gwyneth Keyworth, The Trouble with Maggie Cole), which is what gets diligent local police officer Catrin (Annes Elwy, Apostle) sleuthing around, and sees Toll Booth's underlings Cliff (Paul Kaye, Creation Stories) and Dom (Iwan Rheon, Game of Thrones) become involved. Ever since Guy Ritchie first gave the world his Quentin Tarantino-inspired take on the heist and crime genres, but British — as seen in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch — fast-paced, blackly comic crime capers have rarely been too far from the UK's cinematic output. The Toll is the latest, and it knows its genre. Debut director Ryan Andrew Hooper also owes a debt to the movies of Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) and his brother John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, War on Everyone), as well as to plenty of westerns, and even to both the film and TV versions of Fargo.
Always eager to sprinkle in its own personality — a must in avoiding becoming just another formulaic entry in a busy part of the cinematic spectrum — The Toll benefits from perfecting its tone and its central casting. The same proved true of Irish caper comedy Pixie earlier in the year, but there's a greater sense of cohesion and balance here. The Toll doesn't merely coast by on Smiley's always-welcome presence (see also: Kill List, Free Fire and Come to Daddy) and its energy, but builds upon those key facets via its enthusiastic eccentricity, its affable gags about small-town Wales and a great co-lead performance by Elwy. Jokes about Elvis impersonators, mistaking eye pads for iPads, and a stick-up that only pulls in a sandwich, some change and an average watch don't feel tired here, or stretched. Neither do the title's multiple meanings, with the film also contemplating the price paid by Toll Booth to escape his prior life, as well as the cost of Catrin's ongoing quest to ascertain who killed her father in a hit-and-run accident a year prior. First-timer Matt Redd pens a snappy script and cinematographer Adrian Peckitt (In Me) capably lenses quaint details of the characters' rural existence and the sprawling countryside setting alike. Hooper uses a heavy hand with his soundtrack, and makes certain that viewers see this as a modern Welsh western as a result, but he also crafts a likeable movie from start to finish.
Imagine Robin Hood meets Ocean's Eleven meets the Fast and Furious franchise, but helmed by the filmmaker behind Deep Blue Sea, and somehow starring the unlikely combination of Pierce Brosnan (Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga), Tim Roth (Luce) and rapper/comedian/TV presenter Nick Cannon (Chi-Raq). Then, picture a film set in the fictional Jeziristan, because appropriating a particular culture and applying it to a made-up place is apparently okay by this flick's powers-that-be — and also envision a movie so blatant with its Islamophobia at every turn that Cannon's character is almost constantly making fun of Middle Eastern accents and Arabic names, citizens of this part of the globe are largely depicted as terrorists or psychopaths, a group of villains is called the Muslim Brotherhood, but all the gloss and glitz of Abu Dhabi, where the movie is shot, is leered at (as are the scantily clad women seen in its hotels, too). No one wants to visualise this flick, but unfortunately it exists. And yes, The Misfits is as atrocious as it sounds. Director Renny Harlin (who also has Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight to his name) seems like he's simply trying to recreate shots, looks and scenes he likes from far better films, but badly. And, the fact that co-screenwriter Kurt Wimmer also has the atrocious 2015 remake of Point Break on his resume makes a huge amount of sense, because this bag of tripe just stitches together plot points from almost every other heist feature there is (as exacerbated by dialogue as bland and cliched as every aspect of the narrative).
A big contender for the worst movie to reach Australian cinemas this year, and a film that surely wouldn't have ever gotten the chance if the pandemic hadn't upended the theatrical release slate, The Misfits brings together a ragtag gang of well-meaning criminals. They anoint themselves with the movie's moniker after ruling out 'motley crew' for obvious reasons, if you're wondering how stupid and inane this feature gets — and quickly. Bank robber Ringo (Cannon) usually flexes his light-fingered skills to rip off the wealthy and give back to the poor, so obviously he's keen to form a makeshift family with martial arts expert Violet (Jamie Chung, Lovecraft Country), who likes punishing terrible men; explosives-obsessed Wick (Thai popstar Mike Angelo), who blows up nasty businesses; and 'the Prince' (Rami Jaber, Tough Love), who may or may not be royalty in another made-up country. Their next target: a vault of gold hidden inside a maximum-security Jeziristan jail overseen by nefarious businessman Warner Schultz (Roth). Their latest recruits: UN-employed humanitarian Hope (Hermione Corfield, Sea Fever) and, if she can convince him, her conman dad Richard Pace (Brosnan), who of course has a history with their mark. Much that happens is nonsensical, which also applies to the messily staged and shot action scenes. The movie's sexism goes hand in hand with its blatant racism, too. Daddy issues, second chances, car chases, slow-motion explosions, pointless visual tricks — that's all part of this hideous package as well, alongside absolutely zero subtlety or enjoyment.
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 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; June 3, June 10, June 17 and June 24; and July 1, July 8, July 15 and July 22.
You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as 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, 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 and Old.
Published on July 29, 2021 by Sarah Ward