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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The New Movies You Can See on the Big Screen Now That Melbourne's Outdoor Cinemas Have Reopened

Melbourne's outdoor cinemas are back in business, screening everything from must-see horror sequels and superhero blockbusters to tense true-crime dramas and historical thrillers.
By Sarah Ward
October 22, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
October 22, 2021
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Something delightful is happening at Melbourne's outdoor cinemas. After months spent empty, with projectors silent and the smell of popcorn fading, outside picture palaces have been given the green light to reopen from Friday, October 22 — including the Coburg Drive-In, and the Lido and Cameo outdoor cinemas.

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 over the past two years, 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 under the stars and soak up the splendour of the bigger version. Thankfully, plenty of new films are hitting outdoor cinemas so that you can do just that — and we've rounded up, watched and reviewed everything on offer from this week.

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CANDYMAN

Who can take tomorrow and dip it in a dream? 'The Candy Man' can, or so the suitably sugary earworm of a song has crooned since 1971. What scratches at the past, carves open its nightmares and sends them slicing into the present? That'd be the latest Candyman film, a powerful work of clear passion and palpable anger that's crafted with tense, needling thrills and exquisite vision. Echoing Sammy Davis Jr's version of the tune that virtually shares its name across its opening frames, this new dalliance with the titular hook-handed villain both revives the slasher franchise that gave 90s and 00s teen sleepovers an extra tremor — if you didn't stare into the mirror and utter the movie's moniker five times, were you really at a slumber party? — and wrestles vehemently and determinedly with the historic horrors that've long befallen Black Americans.

It'll come as zero surprise that Jordan Peele produces and co-penned the screenplay with writer/director Nia DaCosta (Little Woods) and writer/producer Win Rosenfeld (The Twilight Zone). Candyman slides so silkily into Peele's thematic oeuvre alongside Get Out and Us, plus Peele-produced TV series Hunters and Lovecraft Country, that his fingerprints are inescapable. But it's rising star DaCosta who delivers a strikingly alluring, piercingly savage and instantly memorable picture. Alongside bloody altercations and lashings of body horror, razor blade-spiked candy makes multiple appearances, and her film is equally as sharp and enticing.

In a preface that expands the Candyman mythology — and savvily shows how the movie has everyday realities firmly on its mind — that contaminated confectionery is thrust to the fore. In 1977, in the Cabrini-Green housing estate where the series has always loitered, Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove, Chicago PD) is suspected of handing out the laced lollies to neighbourhood kids. Sent to do laundry in the basement, pre-teen Billy (Rodney L Jones III, Fargo) soon comes face-to-face with the man everyone fears; however, after the boy screams and the police arrive, he witnesses something even more frightening.

Jumping to the present (albeit absent any signs of the pandemic given Candyman was initially slated to release in mid-2020), Cabrini-Green is now Chicago's current poster child for gentrification. It's where artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Watchmen) and curator Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris, WandaVision) have just bought an expansive apartment, in fact. They're unaware of the area's background, until Brianna's brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Generation) and his partner Grady (Kyle Kaminsky, DriverX) start filling them in on the legend that's long been whispered across the local streets — and, struggling to come up with ideas for a new show, Anthony quickly clasps onto all things Candyman for his next big project.

Read our full review.

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NITRAM

It's terrifying to contemplate something so gut-wrenchingly abominable as the bodies-in-barrels murders, which director Justin Kurzel and screenwriter Shaun Grant depicted in 2011's Snowtown, and to face the fact that people rather than evil were behind them. Nitram courts and provokes the same response. Exploring the events preceding the Port Arthur massacre, where 35 people were murdered and 23 others wounded in Tasmania in 1996, it focuses on something equally as ghastly, and similarly refuses to see the perpetrator as just a monster or a Hollywood horror movie-style foe. It too is difficult, distressing, disquieting and disturbing, understandably. In their third collaboration — with 2019's bold and blazing True History of the Kelly Gang in the middle — Kurzel and Grant create another tricky masterpiece, in fact.

And, the fact that Nitram is about a person is one key reason for its brilliance. The film's core off-screen duo don't excuse their protagonist. They don't to justify the unjustifiable, explain it, exploit it, or provide neat answers to a near-unfathomable crime. Rather, they're exactingly careful in depicting the lone gunman responsible for Australia's worst single-shooter mass killing, right down to refusing to name him. (The movie's title comes from his moniker backwards, and it's all he's ever called on-screen.) Nitram does depict its eponymous figure's mental health issues and medication, and his status as an outcast, but not as reasons for what's to come. It shows his complicated relationships, mentions his struggles as a boy and sees how he's teased as an adult, yet never deems these motives. All such things can be part of someone's life, or not, and that person can commit heinous deeds, or not — and this tremendous feature doesn't ever even dream of seeing that as a straightforward cause-and-effect equation.

In his fifth stint behind the lens — 2015's blistering Macbeth and 2016's abysmal Assassin's Creed are also on his resume — Kurzel does adopt a hazy aesthetic, though. The film isn't dreamy, instead resembling anxious memories worn and frayed from too much time looping in someone's mind. Its imagery is boxed in within a constricted frame, heightening that sensation; however, cinematographer Germain McMicking (Acute Misfortune) shoots Nitram (Caleb Landry Jones, The Outpost) as if he's roving around the space to test the boundaries. The character does just that narrative-wise. He earns his wearied mother's (Judy Davis, Mystery Road) constant exasperation, and almost everyone else's dismay. His father (Anthony LaPaglia, Below) expresses more warmth, but is just as affected. After knocking on her door attempting to start a lawn-mowing business, eccentric lottery heiress Helen (Essie Davis, Babyteeth) shows Nitram kindness and showers him with gifts, but even with her he's still pushing limits.

When Helen sees him shooting at an old car with an air rifle in her sprawling backyard, she forbids it. It's her sternest moment. She also asks him not to lunge at the steering wheel as she's driving and, as turbulent as ever, Nitram keeps doing it. Jones' work here is fragile but weighty, volatile but lived-in, boisterous but anguished, and petulant but intimidating. It's all these things at once and, even with other menacing roles in his on-screen past, it's phenomenal. Every second of his performance, and of Nitram, is a challenge to the views of masculinity that've become as baked into Australia as the ochre-hued soil, too. And, every moment is meticulously crafted to unsettle, to challenge, and to confront the reality that something this abhorrent happened at the hands of one person.

Read our full review.

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SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS

Social media can get you anywhere, or so the story behind Marvel's latest movie and the actor playing its eponymous character demonstrates. Back in 2014, Simu Liu tweeted at the comic book company-turned-filmmaking powerhouse, asking "how about an Asian American hero?". In 2018, after Black Panther's success, he tweeted again — querying "are we gonna talk or what?" with the #ShangChi hashtag. Now, the Kim's Convenience star leads the Marvel Cinematic Universe's 25th feature, and the first to focus on a hero of Asian descent in its 13-year run to-date. He's the face of the franchise's latest step forward, both in terms of inclusion and representation, and in keeping the MCU's ongoing narrative forever hurtling onwards.

Liu anchors a film about history and destiny, too — one that's about breaking free from the past and committing to the future — and he heartily embraces the occasion. As directed and co-written by Destin Daniel Cretton (Just Mercy, Short Term 12), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings itself flits between offering up a lively picture that strives to carve out its own space in the series, and simply serving up more of the usual Marvel template but in enticing packaging, however.

Liu first graces the screen as Shaun, a San Francisco valet who's happy parking cars with his best pal Katy (Awkwafina, Breaking News in Yuba County), even though they both know they could follow other paths. While the film shows Katy's family decrying her lack of ambition, Shaun has a keener awareness of what he isn't doing — because he's really Shang-Chi, the son of centuries-old warlord Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung, The Grandmaster), who leads the shadowy Ten Rings criminal organisation and wears the mystical bracelets it's named after.

Shang-Chi also has the otherworldly Jiang Li (Fala Chen, The Undoing), the former guardian of an enchanted village filled with dutiful warriors and mythical creatures, for a mother. But when she died when he was a child, his life changed. After the grief-stricken Wenwu obsessively trained him to become an assassin and see vengeance, Shang-Chi fled for the US, where he's lived since. Then, initially via a postcard from his Macau-based, underground fight club-running sister Xu Xialing (debutant Meng'er Zhang), and then thanks a violent visit from his dad's henchmen, he's forced into a family reunion that puts the fate of the universe at stake.

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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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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FREE GUY

If Free Guy was a piece of home decor, it'd be a throw pillow with a cliched self-empowerment slogan printed on the front. You know the type. It might catch your eye the first time you spotted it, but it'd look almost identical to plenty of other cushions you can buy at absolutely any department store. It'd make you think of other, nicer pillows, too, but its phrasing and design wouldn't be as resonant or appealing. And, while its attractive font would tell you to believe in yourself, stand out and make each moment count, it'd still simply spout the usual well-worn sentiments that keep being served up as store-bought tonics for weary souls.

Yes, Free Guy is a big-budget, star-led movie that primarily exists to answer two not-at-all pressing questions: what would The Truman Show look like if it starred Ryan Reynolds, and how would that 1998 classic would fare if it was about massive online video games instead of TV? But, as directed by Shawn Levy (the Night at the Museum franchise), scripted by Matt Lieberman (The Addams Family) and Zak Penn (a Ready Player One alum), and drawing upon everything from The Matrix, The Lego Movie, Groundhog Day and They Live! to Wreck-It Ralph, Black Mirror and Ready Player One, this is firmly Hollywood's equivalent of mass-produced soft furnishings emblazoned with self-help platitudes and designed to sit on as many couches as possible.

Cast for his generically affable on-screen persona — as the Deadpool and Hitman's Bodyguard franchises also keep trying to capitalise upon — Reynolds plays Free City bank teller Guy. His daily routine involves greeting the same goldfish upon waking, putting on the same blue shirt, picking up the same coffee en route to work and having the same chat with his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery, Judas and the Black Messiah) when their place of employment is held up multiple times each day. Guy is completely comfortable with his ordinary lot in life. He knows that things aren't like this for 'sunglasses people', the folks who tend to wreak havoc on his hometown, but he doesn't challenge the status quo until he decides that the shades-wearing Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer, Killing Eve) is the woman of his dreams. To have a chance with her, he's certain he needs sunglasses himself — and when he snatches a pair off the latest robber sticking up his bank, it's Guy's first step to realising that he's actually a non-playable character in a video game.

Sporting an upbeat mood best captured by its frequent use of Mariah Carey's 'Fantasy', Free Guy enjoys its time in Free City, which is also the game's title. There's a story behind its NPC protagonist's story, however, with the movie splitting its focus between its Grand Theft Auto-esque virtual world and reality. In the latter, coder Millie uses the Molotov Girl avatar, which she needs to search for evidence for a lawsuit against tech-bro hotshot Antwan (Taika Waititi, The Suicide Squad). She's certain that Free City rips off her own game, but needs Guy's help to prove it, especially as he starts breaking his programming, making his own decisions and becoming sentient.

Read our full review.

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THE SUICIDE SQUAD

New decade, new director, new word in the title — and a mostly new cast, too. That's The Suicide Squad, the DC Extended Universe's new effort to keep viewers immersed in its sprawling superhero franchise, which keeps coming second in hearts, minds and box-office success to Marvel's counterpart. Revisiting a concept last seen in 2016's Suicide Squad, the new flick also tries to blast its unloved precursor's memory from everyone's brains. That three-letter addition to the title? It doesn't just ignore The Social Network's quote about the English language's most-used term, but also attempts to establish this film as the definitive vision of its ragtag supervillain crew. To help, Guardians of the Galaxy filmmaker James Gunn joins the fold, his Troma-honed penchant for horror, comedy and gore is let loose, and a devil-may-care attitude is thrust to the fore.

But when your main aim is to one-up the derided last feature with basically the same name, hitting your target is easy — and fulfilling that mission, even with irreverence and flair, isn't the same as making a great or especially memorable movie. Indeed, a film can be funny and lively, use its main faces well, have a few nice moments with its supporting cast and improve on its predecessor, and yet still fall into a routine, unsuccessfully wade into murky politics, never capitalise upon its premise or promise, keep rehashing the same things, and just be average, too — and right now, that film is The Suicide Squad.

Mischief abounds from the outset — mood-wise, at least — including when no-nonsense black-ops agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom) teams up Suicide Squad's Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, The Secrets We Keep), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney, Honest Thief) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, Dreamland) with a few new felons for a trip to the fictional Corto Maltese. Because this movie has that extra word in its title, it soon switches to another troupe reluctantly led by mercenary Bloodsport (Idris Elba, Concrete Cowboy), with fellow trained killer Peacemaker (John Cena, Fast and Furious 9) and the aforementioned Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian, Bird Box), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior, Valor da Vida) and King Shark (Sylvester Stallone, Rambo: Last Blood) also present.

Their task: to sneak into a tower on the South American island. Under the guidance of The Thinker (Peter Capaldi, The Personal History of David Copperfield), alien experiment Project Starfish has been underway there for decades (and yes, Gunn makes time for a butthole joke). In this movie about cartoonish incarcerated killers doing the US government's dirty work, Waller has charged her recruits to destroy the secret test, all to ensure it isn't used by the violent faction that's just taken over Corto Maltese via a bloody coup. The end result is silly and goofy, fittingly — and yet, even when a supersized space starfish gets stompy (think: SpongeBob SquarePants' best bud Patrick if he grew up and got power-hungry), this sequel-slash-do-over is never as gleefully absurd as it should be. Again and again, even when Gunn's gambit works in the moment, that's how The Suicide Squad keeps playing out.

Read our full review.

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Looking for more options? Black Widow, Space Jam: A New Legacy and Jungle Cruise, both of which screened in Melbourne cinemas in July before the last lockdown, are also back on the big screen as well.

Published on October 22, 2021 by Sarah Ward

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