The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From June 10
Head to the flicks to see a powerful New Zealand drama, a heartfelt anime and a ferocious Korean action-thriller.
June 10, 2021
Something delightful has been happening in cinemas across the country. After months spent empty, with projectors silent, theatres bare and the smell of popcorn fading, Australian picture palaces are back in business — spanning 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 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.
Early in Cousins, lawyer Makareta (Briar Grace Smith, The Strength of Water) walks Wellington's streets, chatting to her cousin Missy (Rachel House, Baby Done) by phone about the latest threat to appropriate their family's land to build a highway. As they talk, a woman with a shrub-like bob of hair and a well-worn green coat almost crosses Makareta's path — and, unbeknownst to her, it's her long-lost cousin, Mata (Tanea Heke, Waru), that she's spent most of her years desperately looking for. In another movie, this near miss would be cutesy, convenient, and spark an onslaught of superficial wisdom about opportunities, coincidences and connections. Cousins isn't that film, thankfully. Here, Makareta and Mata come oh-so-close to finding each other because that's what life entails for a Māori woman who was taken from her family as a child. Stolen away by her white father, left with an uncaring guardian and schooled in a grim home for desolate children, Mata has spent too long at arm's reach from her nearest and dearest, as the film's fractured timeline loops back to explain. She's never all that far away physically — indeed, when she's allowed to stay with her relatives during one youthful summer, a much-younger Makareta (Mihi Te Rauhi Daniels) is shocked to learn that her cousin has been living locally — but by being stripped of her culture, her ties to the past and even the name her mother gave her, Mata may as well have been sent to the other side of the world.
Based on Patricia Grace's 1992 book of the same name — and brought to the screen with exceptional performances, including from House, both Keyahne Patrick Williams and Hariata Moriarty (Savage) as younger versions of Missy, and Te Ao Marama Baker, Te Raukura Gray and Ana Scotney (The Breaker Upperers) as Mata at various ages — Cousins explores how Mata's removal from her family leaves a permanent mark. Following her years in institutionalised care and the abhorrent way she's treated by her guardian (Sylvia Rands, Top of the Lake) as well, it's a story and film about colonial trauma, systemic racism and the ills of history that have affected too many First Nations people in too much of the world, and it's a heartbreakingly moving and compelling piece of cinema. Co-directing as well as acting, Grace-Smith teams up with fellow Māori woman and Waru collaborator Ainsley Gardiner to tell a tale that's intimate, impassioned and unflinchingly brought to the screen. Cousins dives headfirst into the pain that removing Indigenous people from their land and culture sparks, and doesn't ever downplay how that hurt, loss, isolation and alienation causes ripples that never subside. And yet, with its calm gaze, as well as its penchant for lingering over brief but vibrant pops of colour and greenery, this is also a movie about fighting for what matters, valuing what you can when you can, and remaining both adaptable and resilient out of both necessity and unyielding fortitude.
JOSEE, THE TIGER AND THE FISH
With its eye-catching pastel hues and soul-stirring affinity for water, it'd be easy to accuse Josee, the Tiger and the Fish of following in Weathering With You, Children of the Sea and Ride Your Wave's footsteps — or in Ponyo's as well. But this charming and moving Japanese delight finds its origins in a 2003 live-action film of the same name, which itself was adapted from author Seiko Tanabe's short story. The new Josee, the Tiger and the Fish still slides in seamlessly beside its aforementioned anime peers, though. That isn't a criticism by any means. These movies aren't otherwise overtly connected, but Japan's affection for gorgeously animated tales of the heart, of hope and of H2O keeps giving rise to features that may as well be different volumes in a beloved series. Present here, too, is a clear sense of melodrama as two twentysomethings literally collide — physically, more than once, in fact — and try to work out what their futures might hold. Tsuneo (Taishi Nakagawa, Samurai Marathon) has always dreamed of becoming a marine biologist, while Josee (Kaya Kiyohara, Wish) has rarely been given room to think of anything other than the present. Once the pair's paths intertwine, though, they begin to find themselves in far more similar circumstances than either could ever have foretold.
The meet-cute here is really a crash-cute: thanks to Josee's hurtling wheelchair and its speedy decline down a hilly Osaka street, she goes flying into his arms. Her grandmother (Chiemi Matsutera) invites him home, and then to join them for a meal — and while Josee is unhappy about the arrangement to the point of being outwardly rude, Tsuneo soon finds himself with a job offer to be her part-time caregiver. He also works in the local dive shop, as part of his studies and quest to earn a scholarship to Mexico. But even with his friend and coworker Mai (Yume Miyamoto, The Misfit of Demon King Academy) pining for him quietly, he's drawn to the impudent Josee. The film strands its titular character in her wheelchair, in peril and in need of help more than once, but Tsuneo is adamant that she needn't ignore her dreams or resign herself to escaping the world around her. Directing his first feature after credits on TV series such as Negima! Magister Negi Magi and Noragami, filmmaker Kôtarô Tamura tells not only a love story, but a tale about embracing life's chaos. His film celebrates the importance of understanding perspectives other than your own, and of fighting for your own choices. Add it to the list of sweet, charming, empathetic and heartwarming anime doing the same — although not one of them simply wades in familiar waters.
Thanks to the vagaries of fate — and, of late, the havoc that the pandemic has played on cinema releases — films with similar elements sometimes brighten up the big screen at the same time. Heroic Losers is one of two movies debuting in Australian cinemas this week that unites a group of small-town locals around a shared cause (the other: Dream Horse; see below). It's also one of two features out this week that pits ordinary hardworking folks against the overwhelming forces making their lives more difficult (the second: Percy vs Goliath; again, see below). Heroic Losers also boasts much in common with the treasure trove of heist flicks that have come before it. Writer/director Sebastian Borensztein (Chinese Take-Out) even includes clips of 1966's How to Steal a Million, and has the 55-year-old classic influence some of its characters' antics, too. But, premiering in Argentina almost two years ago before hopping its way around the festival circuit, including at Australia's Spanish Film Festival, this affable movie ranks among the best kind of formulaic fare. It makes you remember what you love about the genres it warmly falls into, as well as the pictures it fondly recalls — and it never leaves its viewers merely ticking through all of its standard-issue inclusions, then wishing they were watching one of those other pictures instead.
The ever-reliable, always charming Ricardo Darín (Everybody Knows) plays Fermín Perlassi, a retired ex-footballer who wants to reopen a grain storage cooperative that stumbled in his small-town home of Villa Alsina a decade earlier. It's 2001, and he manages to encourage his pals and locals to support his dream. Alas, just days after Fermín deposits their life savings — and is manipulated into putting them into an account, rather than in a safe deposit box —Argentina's financial crisis sees the country's banks and their funds all frozen. This isn't the last crisis involving their money, but the group comes up with a plan. Again, as mentioned above, How to Steal a Million helps. So does the eagerness of Fermín and his gang — including Verónica Llinás (So Long Enthusiasm) as his wife, Darín's own son Chino (The Queen of Spain) as his son, and Luis Brandoni (You Only Live Once), Rita Cortese (Wild Tales) and Marco Antonio Caponi (Nobody's Watching) as well — to take their destinies into their own hands. Unravelling their heist antics, Borensztein helms a lively and likeable film that pairs its affection for their efforts with a matching affinity for the characters themselves. It all turns out as anyone can predict, but the good-natured journey is rarely anything less than pleasant.
DELIVER US FROM EVIL
Whether he's on screenwriting duties or he's behind the camera, a film that involves Hong Won-chan is always worthy of attention. The South Korean filmmaker penned the scripts for Na Hong-jin's gripping The Chaser and The Yellow Sea, then made his directorial debut with the entertainingly savage Office — and now, both as a writer and a helmer, he's added engaging action-packed gangster thriller Deliver Us From Evil to his growing resume. A big box office hit on home turf, this kinetic, frenetic and exceptionally choreographed affair charts the failed last hurrah of cop-turned-hitman In-nam (Hwang Jung-min, The Wailing). In Tokyo, he pulls off his final job without a hitch, but it turns out that his yakuza target has an unhinged brother that his bosses forgot to mention. And, as well as being unhappy about this turn of events to the point of seeking bloody and ruthless revenge, said sibling Ray (Lee Jung-jae, The Housemaid) shares a past with In-nam. That's enough to derail the latter's plans to live the good life in Panama for the rest of his days; however, it's not the only drama that pushes him off course. In Bangkok, his ex-girlfriend has been killed in a bungled kidnapping and extortion scheme, but her nine-year-old daughter Yoo-min (Park So-yi, Pawn) still needs rescuing.
Deliver Us From Evil isn't short on plot, but it isn't needlessly overcomplicated or convoluted, either. As a storyteller, Hong has always been efficient above all else. Indeed, when multiple storylines weave through his scripts — as they usually do — they're always unfurled with exactly the flair and detail each needs and deserves. Here, he threads together In-nam's search for Yoo-min and his attempts to evade Ray, and does so with the same precision his two main characters show in their gruesome work. In this 108-minute movie, not a scene or second is wasted, in fact. While much of the minutiae, narrative-wise, hardly reshapes Hong's chosen genre, he firmly knows the difference between blandly sticking to a formula and deploying familiar elements in their best and most spirited forms. His keen eye for dynamic, slick but never mindlessly over-the-top action helps, including in frenzied chase scenes and brutal fist-to-fist battles. His willingness to let the camera linger upon its person of focus a beat longer than usual — whether In-nam, Ray or the transgender Korean woman, Yui (Park Jeong-min, Time to Hunt), In-nam teams up with to locate Yoo-min — also gives the movie its own pace. And, in its casting, Deliver Us From Evil is first-rate. Lee gets the more cartoonish role, but no scene featuring his menace, Hwang's blend of determination and desperation, or both, could ever wear out its welcome.
Life-changing conversations can happen in bars — as Jan Vokes well and truly knows. Played in Dream Horse by Toni Collette (I'm Thinking of Ending Things), the Welsh supermarket employee and pub barmaid overheard Howard Davies (Damian Lewis, Billions) chatting about his past success as a racehorse owner. In his beer-fuelled boasting, he doesn't discuss how it almost left him bankrupt and divorced, but Jan is still inspired to both follow his lead and enlist his help. Having bred whippets and racing pigeons before, and won prizes for doing so, she decides she'll turn her attention to horses. Husband Brian (Owen Teale, Game of Thrones) isn't initially convinced, but soon she's studying guides, finding a mare and then a stallion, and convincing her friends and neighbours to put away a tenner a week to pay for this little endeavour. The syndicate's focus: a foal they name Dream Alliance, who spends his early days being raised on the Vokes' allotment, and eventually ends up with racing hotshot Philip Hobbs (Nicholas Farrell, The Nevers) as its trainer. Dream Horse wouldn't exist if success didn't follow, and it leaves no doubt that that's the case; however, director Euros Lyn (The Library Suicides) and screenwriter Neil McKay (Mad Money) chart lows as well as highs, and always ensure their characters are their primary focus.
Dream Alliance was always going to gallop into cinemas, of course — and not just via 2015 documentary Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story of Dream Alliance. His is a story too crowd-pleasing for filmmakers to ignore, especially given the UK's penchant for against-the-odds tales about motley crews of struggling salt-of-the-earth characters who band together over an unusual but swiftly shared interest that ends up revitalising their lives in more ways than one. That's the template Dream Horse plays to, even though it's based on a true tale and an actual horse. The Full Monty, Calendar Girls and similar feel-good flicks provide as much inspiration here as the actual real-life details, in fact. Accordingly, this is a movie that's easy to get caught up in. It's almost impossible not to, really. That said, it's also a film that wears its warmth, sentimentality and shameless heartstring-pulling as a badge of honour. As a result, it's also impossible to ignore the buttons the movie keeps gleefully pushing, and the parts of the tale that must've been smoothed out to elicit the desired cheer-inducing response — even around Collette's committed performance. But this happily mawkish feature and its characters are all doing it for the "hwyl", a Welsh term that means "emotional motivation and energy", and neither is willing to let that mission dwindle even for a second.
PERCY VS GOLIATH
Not once but twice in Percy vs Goliath, snippets of news footage utter the three words that no one needs to speak aloud. Given its title, no one needs to spell out that seed-saving Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser (Christopher Walken, Wild Mountain Thyme) is locked in a David vs Goliath battle with agriculture and agrochemical behemoth Monsanto. By the time the biblical face-off is first mentioned in this underdog drama, it's well and truly clear that this is the case — whether or not you're familiar with the real-life story, or you've seen the 2009 documentary Percy Schmeiser — David Versus Monsanto. But actor-turned-director Clark Johnson (Juanita) and screenwriters Garfield Lindsay Miller (The Devil You Know) and Hilary Pryor (Moosemeat & Marmalade) go there anyway. They make a plethora of choices that are just as blatant and unnecessary, and it robs their film of its potency. Unexpectedly accused of stealing Monsanto's Roundup-resistant canola seeds, and determined to do whatever it takes to demonstrate his innocence and fight for the rights of his fellow farmers, Schmeiser's tale is rousing enough without needing to resort to obvious cliches. Undoubtedly, his quest was described in such terms by media at the time, and definitely would've been since as well, but Percy vs Goliath's viewers don't need to be spoon-fed so forcefully to understand why his battle matters.
Thankfully, this by-the-numbers movie has Walken at its centre, which is usually a smart choice. The veteran actor might've been poorly served by his past two big-screen roles — his Irish accent in Wild Mountain Thyme is awful, and the less said about the never-funny all-ages exploits in War with Grandpa, the better — but he's reliably compelling here as Schmeiser. His character's troubles begin when he's sent a letter demanding $15,000 in payment for his supposed unlicensed use of Monsanto's patented technology. Schmeiser's wife (Roberta Maxwell, Hungry Hearts) is initially sceptical about enlisting legal help, his son (Luke Kirby, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel) is steadfastly against it and even their chosen lawyer (Zach Braff, The Comeback Trail) recommends settling; however, this farmer doesn't take kindly to being told he's a thief when he isn't, or being bullied by the big end of his industry. He initially isn't too fond of the environmental activist (Christina Ricci, Around the Block) who pops up to crowdfund for his cause, either, but sometimes he needs her bigger-picture thinking. Yes, everything in Percy vs Goliath unravels as expected, and Johnson, Miller and Pryor's choices emphasis that unmissable truth. The film didn't need to be as routine and drama-free as it is, but Walken gives it far more spirit than it possesses otherwise.
In The Meddler, it doesn't take long for German Cabrera to admit the obvious: he has an addiction. By day, the Guatemala City resident works as a mechanic, a trade he's keen to teach to his four sons. By night, he leaves his family at home while he trawls the streets until dawn, doggedly searching for whichever splashes of blood, crime and drama that he can capture with his always-recording camera. Cabrera is compelled to document the city's chaos so that he can expose it, he explains. As the block of text that opens the film notes, 2100 homicides were reported in Guatemala City in 2013, making it the 12th most violent place in the world. Cabrera records everything that he can — nightly fights, drunken behaviour, medical emergencies and dead bodies alike — with TV networks airing his footage, and even eventually dedicating an entire segment called The Night Watcher to his visuals. He's proud about the fact that he doesn't get paid for his efforts. As The Meddler watches him as he watches on, he seems to enjoy what he's seeing, too. In fact, Cabrera takes his role as a self-appointed observer to heart, simply standing by camera in-hand while scenes and events scream for someone's intervention, and often just recording anyone who happens to stumble into his view.
Directed by feature first-timers Alex Roberts and Daniel Leclair, The Meddler has charged itself with a complicated task — because its subject and his actions and motivations are equally complex. When the documentary spends time driving around with Cabrera, peers at him while he's on the road and hears him talk about his desires to better the city, it purposefully brings Taxi Driver to mind. When it spies his eagerness to voyeuristically seek out and shoot Guatemala City's nocturnal chaos night after night, it summons up Nightcrawler as well. Neither comparison paints Cabrera in a favourable light, or a straightforward one. The Meddler thrusts him to the fore and its filmmakers don't interject in his monologues, question his statements or try to explain his choices; however, the doco's aesthetic and editing choices don't wholly land on his side, either. Indeed, this is a knotty character study that appreciates Cabrera's stated quest, and also acknowledges all of the thorniness that comes packaged with him and his after-dark hustle. When the film uses his footage, it's chilling and unsettling. When it forces viewers to contemplate his presence in the night and accompanying penchant for sensationalistic imagery, it's just as eerie.
When a giant shark chomps its way through the cinematic ocean, audiences are meant to side with its scared human prey. But some creature features give viewers multiple reasons to do the opposite — and to find their own way to liven up a dull and formulaic movie. Perhaps the film's non-fish characters are woefully one-note or unlikeable, or both. Maybe the script is so simplistic, even in a well-worn genre, that a shark munching random keys on a typewriter probably could've written something better. Or, it could be that every plot development, performance, visual, and score choice is so overwhelmingly predictable that tension is as rare as a vegan great white. Actually, there's no maybes about any of the last three statements when it comes to horror's latest shark-centric outing, which turns Queensland's waters into a buffet for a ravenous critter. Great White marks the feature debut of director Martin Wilson, and only the second movie script for screenwriter Michael Boughen (Dying Breed); however, that its producers have 2010 Aussie shark film The Reef and its now-in-production sequel The Reef: Stalked on their resumes — plus homegrown 2007 crocodile flick Black Water and its 2020 sequel Black Water: Abyss — will surprise absolutely no one.
Great White's setup will be familiar to anyone who has even heard of a shark movie before, let alone watched one. The twist: despite reassurances by marine biologist-turned-seaplane pilot Charlie (Aaron Jakubenko, Tidelands) that the time just isn't right for teeth-gnashing ocean predators to fill their empty stomachs, climate change seems to have changed the titular species' habits. So, on a lucrative charter gig that'll help keep his business financially afloat, Charlie, his girlfriend Kaz (Katrina Bowden, 30 Rock), their cook Benny (Te Kohe Tuhaka, Love and Monsters), and their paying customers Joji (Tim Kano, Neighbours) and Michelle (Kimie Tsukakoshi, The Family Law) find themselves under threat. They've headed to a remote island of personal significance to Michelle, and Joji is clashing with Benny before they even spot the resident great white's last victim. To ramp up the stakes, Kaz is telling Charlie that she's pregnant, too. Quickly, the quintet become the creature's next targets, including while cast adrift in a life raft that could use Life of Pi's Richard Parker for company. Just as speedily, Great White's audience will wish that something — anything — that hasn't previously graced Jaws, The Shallows, 47 Metres Down or even The Meg's frames would happen in this thrill-free bob into been-there, done-that waters.
The first time that a Kiger Mustang named Spirit cantered across the silver screen, it was in 2002's Oscar-nominated Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Back then, the film marked just the sixth theatrical feature that Dreamworks Animation had brought to cinemas — following Antz, The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, Chicken Run and Shrek — and if anything stood out, it was the movie's hand-drawn animation. Almost two decades later, Spirit Untamed returns the energetic and determined horse back to theatres. The movie he's in still looks gorgeous, even if computers have replaced pencils in bringing him to life. That said, this isn't actually the franchise's second step, with Netflix series Spirit Riding Free also telling the apple-loving animal's story across 78 episodes since 2017. In both look and feel, Spirit Untamed has more in common with its streaming counterpart than its big-screen predecessor, unsurprisingly. It's happy to primarily court the show's young audience, too. Indeed, while voice work by Jake Gyllenhaal (Spider-Man: Far From Home), Julianne Moore (Lisey's Story), Walton Goggins (Fatman), Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and Eiza González (Godzilla vs Kong) is designed to appeal to adults, there's little else but scant traces of nostalgia and pastel-hued imagery to keep anyone past their teens interested.
Her vocals stem from a different actor — with Isabela Merced (Dora and the Lost City of Gold) doing the honours — but Fortuna Esperanza "Lucky" Prescott still sits at the heart of Spirit Untamed. Like Spirit Riding Free, the new film tells of Lucky's arrival in the frontier town of Miradero, her connection with Spirit and her efforts to save him from wranglers (led by Goggins). Also covered: her budding friendship with fellow horse-lovers Pru (voiced here by Little's Marsai Martin) and Abigail (Mckenna Grace, Annabelle Comes Home). They're the pals she needs when Spirit and his wild companions are snatched up by the nefarious rustlers, who plan to ship the horses off and sell them. Together, the pre-teen trio then sets off across the dangerous plains, determined to save the galloping animals and do the right thing. There's an obvious but still welcome and powerful message in Lucky's story, as she ignores her worried dad's (Gyllenhaal) warnings and her doting aunt's (Moore) fussing, choosing to follow her own heart and path instead. (Her father frets because her mother, voiced by González, worked as a horse-riding stunt performer and died during a show.) Similarly pleasing, even if the movie basically just remakes the TV show's first episode: that this all-ages wild west tale heroes women, although it pales in comparison to the recent Calamity, a Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary.
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 January 1, January 7, January 14, January 21 and January 28; February 4, February 11, February 18 and February 25; 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; and June 3.
You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as Nomadland, Pieces of a Woman, The Dry, Promising Young Woman, Summerland, Ammonite, The Dig, The White Tiger, Only the Animals, Malcolm & Marie, News of the World, High Ground, Earwig and the Witch, The Nest, Assassins, Synchronic, Another Round, Minari, Firestarter — The Story of Bangarra, The Truffle Hunters, The Little Things, 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 and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.
Published on June 10, 2021 by Sarah Ward