The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From July 30
Head to the flicks to see an involving Colombian drama — or watch Russell Crowe with a case of road rage.
Something delightful is 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 starting to reopen — spanning both big chains and smaller independent sites in Sydney and Brisbane (and, until the newly reinstated stay-at-home orders, Melbourne as well).
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 three months, 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.
When Russell Crowe was cast in Unhinged, more than a few folks must've had a giggle — including the actor himself. The New Zealand-born Oscar-winner was famously arrested back in 2005 for throwing a mobile phone, after all, so enlisting him to veer off the deep end while clutching onto a phone was surely done with some winking and nodding in mind. Unhinged isn't a comedy, however. Given its premise, narrative and tone, it really couldn't be. A predictable and pulpy road-rage thriller, this grimly generic, thematically questionable film by director Derrick Borte (The Joneses) and writer Carl Ellsworth (Red Eye, Disturbia) tasks a puffed-up, scowling, growling Rusty with chasing terrified single mother Rachel (Caren Pistorius) around an unnamed US city purely because his entitled, just-divorced psychopath character is unhappy about her lack of driving courtesy. Her supposed crime: beeping her horn after he doesn't move his giant 4WD when the traffic light turns green on a busy weekday morning.
In terms of story, that's largely all there is to this flimsy B-movie-style film. Both main characters have relationship struggles in their recent past, and Rachel has a pre-teen son (Gabriel Bateman) and other loved ones to worry about, but Unhinged is more interested in a mood of menace than any real detail — although the fact that its relentless car chase and carnage scenes are all shot and edited in the same way, and therefore mostly look the same, hardly imparts any tension. Also firmly on the movie's agenda: trying to explain away its villain's homicidal behaviour with broad generalisations about the world being an angry place right now. Oh, and even suggesting that Rachel has a hand in causing the traumatic ordeal. Yes, really. Crowe flings everything he has into his one-note part, although his forceful portrayal was never going to patch over the feature's silly plotting, its murky and infuriating message, or the reality that this is a movie about a toxic middle-aged man terrorising a woman because he's certain the world owes him respect. He's memorable, undoubtedly, but Crowe is also nowhere near as impressive as he has been in the recent True History of the Kelly Gang and The Loudest Voice, either.
In the course of Litigante's 93-minute running time, its protagonist faces more than one person should in a single lifetime. The Colombian drama only charts a very small portion of public works lawyer and single mother Silvia's (Carolina Sanin) life — her young child doesn't age in the film's frames — but sources of stress are hardly absent. Her strong-willed mum Leticia (Leticia Goméz) has just found out that her previously treated cancer has returned and metastasised, but she doesn't want to undergo any further treatment. Her five-year-old son is being bullied at school because his father isn't in the picture, and he's acting out in response. At work, Silvia is embroiled in a wide-ranging scandal, with her role in awarding a lucrative recent tender under investigation. And, after a grating radio interview with a journalist who tries to milk her professional situation for ratings, she actually finds herself immersed in a tumultuous romance with the man on the other side of the microphone.
Any of the above plot points could fuel a film by themselves, and easily. But it's to writer/director Franco Lolli's credit that he doesn't hold back, simplify Silvia's situation or smooth down the many rough edges rubbing up against her day in and day out. Aided by exceptional portrayals by its first-time lead actress Sanin, as well as by the filmmaker's own mother Goméz, this quiet, patiently paced, finely observed drama instead bears witness as its main character navigates an ongoing onslaught of pain and struggle — and tries to find a way to cope or, at the very least, to balance all the competing elements of her Bogotá-based life. Naturalistically shot and performed, this is a movie made of small moments that mean as much as big revelations, and one that doesn't try to pretend that all bouts of life-changing trouble end with a return to happy normality.
In 2016, when Dave Johns starred in I, Daniel Blake, the then-59-year-old comedian took on his first feature film role. The Ken Loach-directed movie won the Palme d'Or at that year's Cannes Film Festival, and earned Johns considerable and deserved acclaim — with his efforts as the titular character, who is forced to navigate Britain's uncaring bureaucracy to obtain government benefits when he's unable to work, proving one of the standout performances of the year. Alas, Johns' big-screen career hasn't maintained those heights in the years since, as The Keeper, Fisherman's Friends and now 23 Walks all demonstrate. In the latter's case, Johns is stuck in soap opera-esque territory, even as he flirts with a predicament not that far removed from the film that brought him to cinematic fame.
Indeed, when 23 Walks reveals that Johns' on-screen surrogate, Dave, is battling the powers that be in an attempt to stay in his own home, it feels like the movie is purposefully trying to copy the actor's time with Loach. As this romance-driven feature continues, however, viewers can be forgiven for wishing that a simple rip-off of a better director's work was actually on the cards. The bulk of 23 Walks instead focuses on Dave's courtship with Fern (Alison Steadman). The pair literally cross paths while they walk their respective dogs, strike up a tentative conversation and slowly become closer over successive strolls, although plenty of road blocks linger in their way. As straightforward as its title suggests — yes, Dave and Fern just keep moseying and meandering — this two-hander by writer/director Paul Morrison (Little Ashes) tries to spice up its saccharine love story with overly melodramatic developments and musings on life's complications, but it all plays as bland and routine. And then there's the stiff dialogue, which even talent such as Johns and Steadman can't improve.
If you're wondering what else is currently screening in cinemas, check out our rundown of new films released in Australia on July 2, July 9, July 16 and July 23 — and our full reviews of The Personal History of David Copperfield, Waves, The King of Staten Island and Babyteeth.
Published on July 30, 2020 by Sarah Ward