Twenty New Movies You Can Watch in July That Have Been Fast-Tracked From Cinemas to Streaming
Rug up on the couch with a Viking epic, a supremely naked New Zealand comedy, Ryan Gosling's first film in four years and a stunning Nick Cave documentary.
July 25, 2022
Before the pandemic, when a new-release movie started playing in cinemas, audiences couldn't watch it on streaming, video on demand, DVD or blu-ray for a few months. But with the past few years forcing film industry to make quite a few changes — widespread movie theatre closures and plenty of people staying home in iso will do that — that's no longer always the case.
Maybe you've had a close-contact run-in. Perhaps you haven't had time to make it to your local cinema lately. Given the hefty amount of films now releasing each week, maybe you simply missed something. Film distributors have been fast-tracking some of their new releases from cinemas to streaming recently — movies that might still be playing in theatres in some parts of the country, too. In preparation for your next couch session, here are 20 that you can watch right now at home.
Satanic goats don't talk in The Northman. Heartthrobs don't masturbate while fondling mermaid figurines, either. Still, within ten minutes, pre-teen Viking prince Amleth (Oscar Novak, The Batman), his glory-seeking warrior father King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke, Moon Knight) and jester-meets-shaman Heimir (Willem Dafoe, Nightmare Alley) descend into a fire-lit cave to take hallucinogens, growl, grunt, bark like wolves and fart like it's a god-given superpower. If viewers didn't know who's behind this bold, brutal, brilliant, and blood- and guts-strewn Scandinavian opus before then, there's no doubt from this trippy scene onwards: after The Witch and The Lighthouse, writer/director Robert Eggers' touch, approach and style have become that distinctive just three remarkable features into his helming career.
In Eggers' new untamed and laid-bare portrait of the past, something is rotten in the state of Iceland — as it was in Denmark via William Shakespeare, and in the Pride Lands of Africa in both versions of The Lion King. "I will avenge you, father. I will save you, mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir," says Amleth as a boy on a north Atlantic island in 895, when he witnesses the latter's (Claes Bang, Locked Down) treachery. He flees after hearing his uncle bay for his head, too, and seeing him carry off Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos) as a spoil of his victory. Two decades later, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård, Succession) is a hulking, wolfskin-clad Viking berserker, living life flinging whatever weaponry he can find while viciously pillaging through the lands of the Rus. But amid the bloodlust, gore and piling-up body count, the intense marauder is thrust back onto his vengeance-seeking path. A Slavic seeress (Björk, in her first film role since 2005) whispers stark truths about his current savagery and lapsed mission against Fjölnir, reigniting his yearning for that promised slaughter — and the single-minded behemoth learns that his uncle is now sheep-farming in Iceland, having lost the kingdom in another coup.
THE GRAY MAN
It's been four years since Ryan Gosling last graced screens, rocketing to the moon in First Man. No, Barbie set photos pored over on every internet-connected device don't count. Since he played Neil Armstrong, much has happened. There's the obvious off-screen, of course — but then there's Chris Evans farewelling Captain America, and also appearing in Knives Out with the scene-stealing Ana de Armas. After co-starring in Blade Runner 2049 with Gosling back in 2017, she leapt from that Evans-featuring whodunnit to palling around with 007 in No Time to Die. Also during that time, Bridgerton pushed Regé-Jean Page to fame, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood earmarked Julia Butters as a young talent to watch. This isn't just a history lesson on The Gray Man's cast — well, some of them, given that Billy Bob Thornton (Goliath), Jessica Henwick (The Matrix Resurrections), Dhanush (Maaran), Wagner Moura (Shining Girls) and Alfre Woodard (The Lion King) also pop up, plus Australia's own Callan Mulvey (Firebite) — for the hell of it, though.
Back in 2018, before all of the above played out, it's unlikely that this exact film with this exact cast would've eventuated. Making an action-thriller about attempting to snuff out hyper-competent assassins isn't new — both John Wick and Atomic Blonde have already been there and done that, and the Bourne and Bond movies — but the combination of this collection of current actors and that familiar setup isn't without its charms. Gosling plays Court Gentry, aka Sierra Six; "007 was taken," he jokes. Before he's given his codename and paid to do the CIA's dirty work, he's in prison for murder, then recruited by Donald Fitzroy (Thornton). Fast-forward 18 years and Six is a huge hit at two things: being a ghost, because he no longer officially exists; and covertly wreaking whatever havoc the government tells him to, including knocking off whichever nefarious figure they need gone. But one stint of the latter leaves him in possession of a USB drive that his arrogant new direct superior Carmichael (Page) will ruthlessly kill to destroy. Actually, to be precise, he'll pay Lloyd Hansen (Evans) of Hansen Government Services to do just that, and to do the dirty work that's too dirty for the criminals-turned-government hitmen in the Sierra program, with Six the number-one target.
Forget the "find someone who looks at you like…" meme. That's great advice in general, and absolutely mandatory if you've ever seen a Céline Sciamma film. No one peers at on-screen characters with as much affection, attention, emotion and empathy as the French director. Few filmmakers even come close, and most don't ever even try. That's been bewitchingly on display in her past features Water Lillies, Tomboy, Girlhood and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, any of which another helmer would kill to have on their resume. It's just as apparent in Petite Maman, her entrancing latest release, as well. Now 15 years into her directorial career, Sciamma's talent for truly seeing into hearts and minds is unshakeable, unparalleled and such a lovely wonder to watch — especially when it shines as sublimely and touchingly as it does here.
In Sciamma's new delicate and exquisite masterpiece, the filmmaker follows eight-year-old Nelly (debutant Joséphine Sanz) on a trip to her mother's (Nina Meurisse, Camille) childhood home. The girl's maternal grandmother (Margot Abascal, The Sower) has died, the house needs packing up, and the trip is loaded with feelings on all sides. Her mum wades between sorrow and attending to the task. With melancholy, she pushes back against her daughter's attempts to help, too. Nelly's laidback father (Stéphane Varupenne, Monsieur Chocolat) assists as well, but with a sense of distance; going through the lifelong belongings of someone else's mother, even your spouse's, isn't the same as sifting through your own mum's items for the last time. While her parents work, the curious Nelly roves around the surrounding woods — picture-perfect and oh-so-enticing as they are — and discovers Marion (fellow newcomer Gabrielle Sanz), a girl who could be her twin.
THIS MUCH I KNOW TO BE TRUE
How do you make a concert film when no concerts can be held to film? Australian director Andrew Dominik (Chopper, Killing Them Softly) and his now two-time subjects Nick Cave and Warren Ellis have the answer. How do you create a personal documentary that cuts to the heart of these Aussie music icons when, whether stated or implied in their vibe, both are hardly enamoured with having their lives recorded? Again, see: Dominik's new Cave and Ellis-focused This Much I Know to Be True. Performances in cavernous empty British spaces fill the movie's frames but, via stunning lighting, staging and lensing, they're as dazzling as any IRL gig. The interludes between tunes are brief, and also intimate and revealing. The result: a phenomenal doco that's a portrait of expression, a musing on an exceptional collaboration and a rumination upon existence, as well as a piece of haunting cinematic heaven whether you're an existing Cave and Ellis devotee, a newcomer or something in-between.
Dominik, Cave and Ellis initially teamed up when the latter duo scored the former's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Later this year, when upcoming Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde hits screens, the same arrangement will provide its soundtrack. But in the middle sits 2016 doco One More Time with Feeling and now This Much I Know to Be True, as entrancing a pair as the music documentary genre has gifted viewers. The first factual flick found Cave and Ellis recording the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album Skeleton Tree, as Cave also grappled with the death of one of his sons. Here, its follow-up is shaped by the first performances of Cave and Ellis' latest albums — the Bad Seeds 2019 release Ghosteen, and Cave and Ellis' 2021 record Carnage — plus the pandemic and the lingering effects of grief.
DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS
Somewhere in the multiverse, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is terrific. In a different realm, it's terrible. Here in our dimension, the 28th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe teeters and twirls in the middle. The second movie to focus on surgeon-turned-sorcerer Dr Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog), it's at its best when it embraces everything its director is known for. That said, it's also at its worst when it seems that harnessing Sam Raimi's trademarks — his visual style, bombast, comic tone and Evil Dead background, for instance — is merely another Marvel ploy. Multiverse of Madness is trippy, dark, sports a bleak sense of humour and is as close as the MCU has gotten to horror, all immensely appreciated traits in this sprawling, box office-courting, never-ending franchise. But it stands out for the wrong reasons, too, especially how brazenly it tries to appear as if it's twisting and fracturing the typical MCU template when it definitely isn't.
Welcomely weirder than the average superhero flick (although not by too much), but also bluntly calculating: that's Multiverse of Madness, and that's a messy combination. It's apt given its eponymous caped crusader has always hailed from Marvel's looser, goofier and, yes, stranger side since his MCU debut in 2016's plainly titled Doctor Strange; however, it's hard to believe that such formulaic chaos was truly the plan for this follow-up. The last time that audiences saw Stephen Strange, he reluctantly tinkered with things he shouldn't to help Peter Parker in Spider-Man: No Way Home. Those actions had consequences, and recalling Raimi's time with Spidey came with the territory. Strange's reality-bending trickery has repercussions here as well, because Wanda Maximoff (Elisabeth Olsen, Sorry for Your Loss) isn't thrilled about her fellow super-powered pal's exploits. Yes, Multiverse of Madness assumes viewers have not only watched all 27 past MCU movies, but also its small-screen offshoots — or WandaVision at least, where the enchantress that's also Scarlet Witch broke rules herself and wasn't still deemed a hero.
Since popping up over the last decade, the term 'elevated horror' has always been unnecessary. Used to describe The Babadook, It Follows, The Witch, Get Out, Hereditary, Us, Midsommar and more, it pointlessly claims that such unsettling flicks have risen above their genre. Each of these movies is excellent. They all boast weight and depth, trade in metaphors with smarts and savvy, and have style to go with their creeps and thrills. But thinking that's new in horror — that pairing unease with topical woes or societal fears is as well — is as misguided as dubbing Michael Myers a hero. With a name that makes its #MeToo-era point plain, Men has been badged 'elevated', too, yet it also does what horror has at its best and worst cases for decades. That the world can be a nightmare for women at the hands of men isn't a fresh observation, and it's long been a scary movie go-to. Still, Men stresses that fact in an inescapably blunt but also unforgettable manner.
Hailing from Ex Machina, Annihilation and Devs' Alex Garland, Men's setting is an English manor, where Harper Marlowe (Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter) hopes for a solo stint of rest, relaxation and recuperation. Processing a tragedy, shattering memories of which haunt the movie as much as its protagonist, she's seeking an escape and a way to start anew. The initial hint that she won't find bliss comes swiftly and obviously, and with a sledgehammer's subtlety. Arriving at an idyllic-looking British countryside estate, Harper is greeted by an apple tree. She plucks one from the abundant branches, then takes a bite. Soon, she's told by her host Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear, Our Flag Means Death) that it's forbidden fruit. He also says he's joking — but in this garden, a woman will again shoulder a society's blame and burdens.
Relationships are all about communication. So much about life is, too. And, so is storytelling. With absurdist comedy Nude Tuesday, expressing emotions, connections and narrative details all boils down to two things, though: gibberish and bodies. This extremely amusing New Zealand film from writer/director Armagan Ballantyne (The Strength of Water) and writer/star Jackie van Beek (The Breaker Upperers) does indeed strip its performers bare, as its name makes plain — but it saddles them with conveying almost everything about their characters via body language long before that. The reason: every piece of dialogue spoken in the movie is uttered in gibberish, with completely made-up and wholly improvised words that take a few cues from The Muppets' Swedish Chef in cadence. While they're subtitled in English by British comedian and writer Julia Davis (Camping), that text was penned after shooting, in one of the film's other gleefully silly twists.
The result is patently ridiculous, and marvellously so — and hilariously, too. It's such a clever touch, making a movie about marital disharmony and the communication breakdown baked within that's so reliant upon reading tone and posture, as couples on the prowl for the tiniest of micro-aggressions hone in on. Van Beek and Australian The Tourist actor Damon Herriman play that pair, Laura and Bruno. Living on the fictional pacific island of Zǿbftąņ, they're as stuck in a rut as any married, middle-class duo can be, and they're gifted a getaway to ẄØnÐĘULÄ to help. But this mountainside commune, run by the charismatic and lustful sex guru Bjorg Rassmussen (Jemaine Clement, I Used to Go Here), wants them to bare all in multiple ways. The film doesn't live up to its moniker until its last third, but its perceptive and side-splittingly funny from the get-go.
THE DROVER'S WIFE THE LEGEND OF MOLLY JOHNSON
Leah Purcell's resume isn't short on highlights — think: Black Comedy, Wentworth and Redfern Now, plus Lantana, Somersault and Last Cab to Darwin (to name just a few projects) — but the Goa-Gunggari-Wakka Wakka Murri actor, director and writer clearly has a passion project. In 2016, she adapted Henry Lawson's short story The Drover's Wife for the stage. In 2019, she moved it back to the page. Now, she brings it to the big screen via The Drover's Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson. Only minutes into her searing feature filmmaking debut, why Purcell keeps needing to tell this 19th century-set tale is patently apparent. In her hands, it's a story of anger, power, prejudice and revenge, and also a portrait of a history that's treated both women and Indigenous Australians abhorrently. Aussie cinema hasn't shied away from the nation's problematic past in recent times (see also: Sweet Country, The Nightingale, The Furnace and High Ground); however, this is an unforgettably potent and piercing movie.
In a fiery performance that bristles with steeliness, Purcell plays the eponymous and heavily pregnant Molly. In the process, she gives flesh, blood and a name to a character who wasn't ever afforded the latter in Lawson's version: a 19th-century Indigenous Australian woman left alone with her children on a remote property for lengthy stretches while her husband works. During his latest absence, new sergeant Nate Clintoff (Sam Reid, The Newsreader) and Aboriginal fugitive Yadaka (Rob Collins, Firebite) separately venture Molly's way. From there, this sometimes-stagey but always blistering western digs sharply into issues of race, gender and identity — and eagerly, shrewdly and ferociously draws cinematic blood.
THE BOB'S BURGERS MOVIE
Across its 12-season order to-date, the best episodes of Bob's Burgers have always resembled exactly what they should: a delicious serving of the meat-and-bread combination that shares the hit sitcom's name. There's a knack to a great burg — to a tastebud-thrilling, so-appetising-I-need-more-now example of this extremely accessible culinary art — and it's all about perfecting the absolute basics. No matter what else gets slotted in (and plenty of other ingredients can), every burger's staples should be the stars of the show. Indeed, a top-notch burg needn't be flashy. It definitely mustn't be overcomplicated, either. And, crucially, it should taste as comforting as wrapping your hands around its buns feels. On the small screen since 2011, Bob's Burgers has kept its version of that very recipe close to its animated, irreverent, gleefully offbeat heart.
Unsurprisingly, the show's creators whip up the same kind of dish for The Bob's Burgers Movie, too. It's a winning formula, and creator Loren Bouchard knows not to mess with it while taking his beloved characters to the big screen. As always, the action centres on the film's namesake — the diner where patriarch Bob (H Jon Benjamin, Archer) sizzles up punningly named burgs to both make a living and live out his dream. And, as the show has covered frequently, financial woes mean that Bob and his wife Linda (John Roberts, Gravity Falls) have more to worry about than cooking, serving customers, and their kids Tina (Dan Mintz, Veep), Gene (Eugene Mirman, Flight of the Conchords) and Louise (Kristen Schaal, What We Do in the Shadows). Their solution: a burger, of course. But their bank manager isn't munching when they try to use food to grease their pleas for an extension on their loan. That mortgage also involves their restaurant equipment, leaving them out of business if they can't pay up. As their seven-day time limit to stump up the cash ticks by, Bob sweats over the grill and Linda oozes her usual optimism — only for a sinkhole to form literally at their door.
With a savvily sinister-meets-satirical blend, Hatching begins by unpacking a fallacy as fractured as Humpty Dumpty after the nursery-rhyme character's fall — and that still keeps being lapped up anyway. In suburban Finland, among homes so identical that the song 'Little Boxes' instantly pops into your head, 12-year-old gymnast Tinja (debutant Siiri Solalinna), her younger brother Matias (fellow first-timer Oiva Ollila), and their mother (Sophia Heikkilä, Dual) and father Jani Volanen, Dogs Don't Wear Pants) are living their best lives. More than that, as the soft lensing and music that helps open the movie establishes, they're also beaming that picture of pink, white and pastel-hued domestic perfection to the world. Tinja's unnamed mum is a vlogger, and these scenes are being captured for her cloyingly named blog Lovely Everyday Life. Naturally, showing that this family of four's daily existence is anything but enchanting is one of Bergholm's first aims.
In Finnish writer/director Hanna Bergholm's bold and memorable body-horror, twisted fairy tale and dark coming-of-age thriller, the initial crack comes from outside, crashing through the window to ruin a posed shot alight with fake smiles and, of course, being filmed with a selfie stick. Soon, broken glass, vases and lamps are strewn throughout a lounge room so immaculately arranged that it looks straight out of a supermarket-shelf home-and-garden magazine — and the crowning glory, the chandelier, has descended from a luminous pièce de résistance to a shattered mess. A garden-variety crow is the culprit, which Tinja carefully captures. She hands it to her mother, thinking that they'll then release it outside. But her mum, placid but seething that anything could disrupt her manufactured picture of bliss, ignores that idea with a cruel snap and instructions to dispose of the animal in the organic waste. When Tinja disobeys that order, taking the egg into her care, nurturing it tenderly and placing it inside a teddy bear for safe keeping, she gains her own little universe to dote over. Then the egg keeps growing, and a human-sized chick emerges.
Thanks to his Oscar-nominated work co-penning The Worst Person in the World's screenplay, Eskil Vogt has already helped give the world one devastatingly accurate slice-of-life portrait in the past year. That applauded film is so insightful and relatable about being in your twenties, and also about weathering quarter-life malaise, uncertainty and crisis, that it feels inescapably lifted from reality — and it's sublime. The Innocents, the Norwegian filmmaker's latest movie, couldn't be more different in tone and narrative; however, it too bears the fingerprints of achingly perceptive and deep-seated truth. Perhaps that should be mindprints, though. Making his second feature as a director after 2014's exceptional Blind, Vogt hones in on childhood, and on the way that kids behave with each other when adults are absent or oblivious — and on tykes and preteens who can wreak havoc solely using their mental faculties.
Another riff on Firestarter, this thankfully isn't. The Innocents hasn't simply jumped on the Stranger Things bandwagon, either. Thanks to the latter, on-screen tales about young 'uns battling with the supernatural are one of Hollywood's current favourite trends — see also: the awful Ghostbusters: Afterlife — but all that this Nordic horror movie's group of kids are tussling with is themselves. Their fight starts when nine-year-old Ida (debutant Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and her 11-year-old sister Anna (fellow first-timer Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), who is on the autism spectrum, move to an apartment block in Romsås, Oslo with their mother (Blind's Ellen Dorrit Petersen) and father (Morten Svartveit, Ninjababy). It's summer, the days are long, and the two girls are largely left to their own devices outside in the complex's communal spaces. That's where Ida befriends Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) and Ben (Sam Ashraf), albeit not together, and starts to learn about their abilities.
To look at John Shipton is to see the obvious, even if you've never laid eyes upon him before. The family resemblance is immediately clear, and the traits that've likely been passed down from father to son — determination and persistence, blatantly — become apparent within minutes. Shipton needs to be resolute for the battle that documentary Ithaka captures. It's a fight that's been waged for a decade now, publicly, and not just in embassies and courtrooms but across news headlines worldwide. He's visibly Julian Assange's dad, and he's been helping spearhead the campaign for the WikiLeaks founder's release. Assange fell afoul of US authorities in 2010, when his non-profit whistleblower organisation published documents about the American military's war crimes leaked by army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. As Ithaka makes plain, The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel revealed the same information at the same time; however, only Assange now sits in London's Belmarsh prison.
Plenty about the past 12 years since Manning's leaks were exposed to the world is filled with numbers. Plenty about the ten years this June since Assange first took refuge in the Embassy of Ecuador in London is as well. The Australian editor and publisher spent almost seven years in that diplomatic space, seeking political asylum from sexual misconduct allegations in Sweden that he contended would be used to extradite him to America. If the US succeeds in its efforts, and in its espionage charges against him, he faces up to 175 years in incarceration. The list of figures goes on, but filmmaker Ben Lawrence (Hearts and Bones) makes two pivotal choices. Firstly, he surveys Assange's current struggle not through the Aussie himself, but through both Shipton and Stella Moris, his South African-born lawyer and now wife. Secondly, although those aforementioned numbers are inescapable, the riveting and affecting Ithaka brings humanity to this well-publicised plight.
A documentary that's deeply personal for one of its directors, intensely powerful in surveying Australia's treatment of its First Peoples and crucial in celebrating perhaps the country's first-ever Aboriginal filmmaker, Ablaze makes for astonishing viewing. But while watching, two ideas jostle for attention. Both remain unspoken, yet each is unshakeable. Firstly, if the history of Australia had been different, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta man William 'Bill' Onus would be a household name. If that was the case, not only his work behind the camera, but his activism for Indigenous Aussies at a time when voting and even being included in the census wasn't permitted — plus his devotion to ensuring that white Australians were aware of the nation's colonial violence — would be as well-known as Captain Cook. That said, if history had been better still, Bill wouldn't have needed to fight so vehemently, or at all. Alas, neither of those possibilities came to a fruition.
Ablaze can't change the past, but it can and does document it with a hope to influencing how the world sees and appreciates Bill's part in it. Indeed, shining the spotlight on its subject, everything his life stood for, and all that he battled for and against is firmly and proudly the feature's aim. First-time filmmaker Tiriki Onus looks back on his own grandfather, narrating his story as well — and, as aided by co-helmer Alec Morgan (Hunt Angels, Lousy Little Sixpence), the result is a movie brimming with feeling, meaning and importance. While Aussie cinema keeps reckoning with the nation's history regarding race relations, as it should and absolutely must, Ablaze is as potent and essential as everything from Sweet Country, The Nightingale and The Australian Dream to The Furnace, High Ground and The Drover's Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson.
DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA
The movies have come to Downton Abbey and Violet Crawley, the acid-tongued Dowager Countess of Grantham so delightfully played by Maggie Smith (The Lady in the Van) since 2010, is none too fussed about it. "Hard same," all but the most devoted fans of the upstairs-downstairs TV drama may find themselves thinking as she expresses that sentiment — at least where Downton Abbey: A New Era, an exercise in extending the series/raking in more box-office cash, is concerned. Violet, as only she can, declares she'd "rather eat pebbles" than watch a film crew at work within the extravagant walls of her family's home. The rest of us mightn't be quite so venomous, but that's not the same as being entertained. The storyline involving said film crew is actually one of the most engaging parts of A New Era; however, the fact that much of it is clearly ripped off from cinematic classic Singin' in the Rain speaks volumes, and gratingly.
A New Era begins with a wedding, picking up where its predecessor left off as former chauffeur Tom Branson (Allen Leech, Bohemian Rhapsody) marries Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton, Mank) with everyone expected — the well-to-do Crawleys and their relatives, plus their maids, butlers, cooks, footmen and other servants — in attendance. But the film really starts with two revelations that disrupt the Downton status quo. Firstly, Violet receives word that she's inherited a villa in the south of France from an ex-paramour, who has recently passed away. His surviving wife (Nathalie Baye, Call My Agent!) is displeased with the arrangement, threatening lawsuits, but his son (Jonathan Zaccaï, The White Crow) invites the Crawleys to visit to hash out the details. Secondly, a movie production wants to use Downton for a shoot, which the pragmatic Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery, Anatomy of a Scandal) talks the family into because — paralleling the powers-that-be behind A New Era itself — the aristocratic brood would like the money.
Would the latest big-screen adaptation of Stephen King's Firestarter have been better or worse if it had included The Prodigy's hit of the same name, aka the most obvious needle-drop that could've been chosen? Although we'll never know, it's hard to imagine a film with less personality than this page-to-screen remake. Using the 1996 dance-floor filler would've been a choice and a vibe — and a cliched one, whether gleefully or lazily — but it might've been preferable to the dull ashes of by-the-numbers genre filmmaking from director Keith Thomas (The Vigil) that's hit screens instead. Zac Efron looking so bored that blood drips from his eyes, dressing up King's 1980 story as a superhero tale (because of course) and having its pyrokinetic protagonist say "liar liar, pants on fire" when she's torching someone aren't a recipe for igniting movie magic, or for even occasionally just lighting a spark.
As the first version of Firestarter in 1984 did, and King's book as well, Firestarter follows the McGee family, whose lives would blaze brighter if they didn't have abilities most folks don't. After volunteering for a clinical trial in college, Andy (Efron, Gold) and his wife Vicky (Sydney Lemmon, Fear the Walking Dead) have telepathic and telekinetic powers; being experimented on with mind-altering chemical compounds will do that. And, from birth, their now 11-year-old daughter Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong, It: Chapter Two) has been able to start fires with her mind. Unsurprisingly, the McGees have spent years attempting to blend in, hiding their powers and fleeing the shady government department, The Shop, that's responsible for their situation — and now sports a keen interest in using Charlie as a weapon. Then she literally explodes at school, The Shop head honcho Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben, City on a Hill) puts bounty hunter John Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes, Rutherford Falls) on their trail and the heat is on. (No, that track from Beverly Hills Cop, which reached cinemas the same year that the OG Firestarter did, doesn't feature here either.)
HOW TO PLEASE A WOMAN
When Magic Mike stripped its way into cinemas a decade ago, it didn't just turn Channing Tatum's IRL background into a movie and give his chiselled torso oh-so-much attention; it understood that women like sex, boast libidos and have desires, too. Its sequel, Magic Mike XXL, doubled down on that idea, and winningly so — even if the saga dances with a notion so blatant that it definitely shouldn't feel revelatory to see it thrust front and centre in a big-budget Hollywood film. There's no trace of Tatum in How to Please a Woman, and it has nothing to do with the saucy franchise that has a third flick on the way, but this Aussie comedy nonetheless follows in Magic Mike's footsteps. Here, women also like sex, boast libidos and have desires, and that's something that the stuck-in-a-rut Gina (Sally Phillips, Off the Rails) turns into a lucrative business.
When first-time feature writer/director Renée Webster begins her sunnily shot, eagerly crowd-pleasing leap to the big screen — following helming gigs on TV's The Heights and Aftertaste — Gina's relationship with sex is non-existent. She has long been wed to lawyer Adrian (Cameron Daddo, Home and Away), but he still thinks that having a tumble on their last holiday years ago is enough bedroom action to keep their marriage going. Gina's resigned to that fact, too, until her ocean swimming club pals book her a stripping surprise for her birthday. Tom (Alexander England, Little Monsters) shows up at her door, starts gyrating and undressing, and says he'll do whatever she wants. Although her friends are later horrified, Gina asks him to clean her house instead — and its their eagerness to truly take Tom up on his offer that inspires a plan to turn a removalist company she thinks she can save into a male escort service, covering scrubbing and shagging alike.
HELMUT NEWTON: THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL
One of the great treats in Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful stems from perhaps the film's simplest move: letting viewers peer at the often-provocative photographer's works in such a large format. Being able to do just that is the reason why the Exhibition On Screen series of movies exists, surveying showcases dedicated to artists such as Vincent van Gogh, David Hockney and Frida Kahlo over the years — and this documentary isn't part of that, but it understands the same idea. There's nothing like staring at an artist's work to understand what makes them tick. Writer/director Gero von Boehm (Henry Miller: Prophet of Desire) fills The Bad and the Beautiful with plenty more, from archival footage to recent interviews, but it'd all ring empty without seeing the imagery captured by Newton's lens firsthand. Every word that's said about the German photographer, or by him, is deepened by roving your eyes across the frequently contentious snaps that he sent Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Playboy and other magazines' ways.
Those photos aren't run-of-the-mill fashion pics. Largely, the highly stylised images are of naked women — naked famous women, if not then then now, such as Isabella Rossellini, Charlotte Rampling, Grace Jones and Claudia Schiffer — and they're as fetishistic as the artform gets. They're the kinds of snaps that saw Susan Sontag call Newton out for being a misogynist to his face, as seen in a French TV clip featured in the film. The Bad and the Beautiful is an affectionate doco, but it also dives headfirst into the trains of thought that his work has sparked for decades. Anna Wintour explains that when someone books Newton, "you're not going to get a pretty girl on a beach". Women who posed for him, including the aforementioned stars, plus Marianne Faithfull, Arja Toyryla, Nadja Auermann and Hanna Schygulla, all talk through their differing experiences as well — and the portrait painted is varied.
LAST SEEN ALIVE
Perhaps the most positive thing that can be said about Last Seen Alive is this: it's definitely a Gerard Butler-starring kidnapping thriller. That isn't meant as praise, though; rather, the film simply manages to be exactly what viewers would expect given its star and premise. There's clearly far less cash behind it than the also-terrible trio of Olympus Has Fallen, London Has Fallen and Angel Has Fallen — or Geostorm, Den of Thieves, Hunter Killer and Greenland among the Scottish actor's career lowlights over the past decade, either. There's visibly less effort, too, and more of a phoning-it-in vibe. The second collaboration between actor-turned-filmmaker Brian Goodman (What Doesn't Kill You) and producer/writer Marc Frydman after 2017's Black Butterfly, it plays like something that a streaming platform's algorithm might spit out in an AI-driven future where new movies are swiftly spliced together from pieces of past flicks. Yes, among Butler's output and with its abduction storyline, it's that derivative.
Butler plays Will Spann, a real estate developer who already isn't having a great day when the film begins — but it's about to get worse. He's driving his unhappy wife Lisa (Jaimie Alexander, Loki) to her parents' home, where she's keen to decamp to find herself and take a break from their marriage, and Will is desperate to convince her to change her plans en route. His charm offensive isn't working when they stop at a petrol station mere minutes away from their destination, and he has zero charisma for anyone when Lisa unexpectedly disappears while he's filling the tank. Fuming that local police detective Paterson (Russell Hornsby, Lost in Space) hasn't just dropped everything immediately, and that he also has questions about their relationship, Will decides to chase down any lead he can himself. Meanwhile, Lisa's unsurprisingly wary parents (Queen Bees' Cindy Hogan and Master's Bruce Altman) direct their suspicions his way.
Four decades back, Interceptor would've happily sat on a crowded video-store shelf alongside a wealth of other mindless, machismo-fuelled action thrillers. It would've been the epitome of one of the genre's straight-to-VHS flicks, in fact. Don't just call it a throwback, though; instead of testosterone oozing from every actor within sight, except perhaps a token wife worrying at home, this nuclear attack movie from Australian author Matthew Reilly focuses on a woman making waves in a male-dominated world. That's firmly a 2022 move, reflecting today's gender politics. So too is the fact that said protagonist, US Army Captain JJ Collins (Elsa Pataky, Tidelands), has just been reassigned after putting in a sexual harassment complaint against one of her past superiors. Don't go thinking that Interceptor doesn't tick every other box its 80s counterparts did, however. It couldn't lean harder on all of the cliches that've ever been involved with world-in-peril, military-driven movies, and with action fare at its most inane in general.
A global success for his airport novels, writer Reilly doesn't just turn screenwriter here — with assistance from Collateral, Tomorrow, When the War Began and Obi-Wan Kenobi's Stuart Beattie — but also jumps behind the lens for the first time. Alas, his directorial instincts prove as flat and by-the-numbers as Interceptor's wanly boilerplate plot, as well as its clunky-as-clunky dialogue. And, that storyline really couldn't be more formulaic. In her new post on a remote platform in the Pacific Ocean, Collins soon finds herself under attack by terrorists led by the grating Alexander Kessel (Luke Bracey, Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan). Her sea-surrounded station is one of two sites, alongside Alaska's Fort Greely, that can intercept a nuclear warhead launch on the US. Naturally, Kessel and his men have already taken out the other one, and have also pilfered nukes from the Russians in their possession.
The last time that Mark Wahlberg played a real-life boxer, The Fighter was the end result. The last time that Mel Gibson played the burger-chain owner's father, the world was forced to suffer through Daddy's Home 2. Combine this mismatched pair and you don't quite get Father Stu, the former Marky Mark's first step into faith-based films — but even watching the latter, the second instalment in his woeful comedy franchise with Will Ferrell, is preferable to this mawkish true tale. Drawn from the IRL Stuart Long's life, it's meant to be an inspirational affair, covering the familiar religious-favourite beats about sinners being redeemed, wayward souls seizing second chances and learning to accept physical suffering as a chance to get closer to the divine. First-time feature writer/director Rosalind Ross is earnest about those messages, and her film visibly looks more competent than most sermon-delivering recent cinema releases, but what preaching-to-the-choir sentiments they are. How ableist they are as well.
When Wahlberg (Uncharted) first graces the screen as Long, he could've stepped in from plenty of his other movies. In his younger days, the titular future priest is a foul-mouthed amateur boxer from Montana, but he has big dreams — and when he hits Los Angeles with acting stars in his eyes, viewers can be forgiven for thinking of Boogie Nights. Porn isn't Long's calling, of course, although salacious propositions do come his way in the City of Angels, in one of the film's hardly subtle efforts to equate the secular and the sordid. It's actually lust that pushes the feature's protagonist on the path to the priesthood, however, after he spies volunteer Sunday school teacher Carmen (Teresa Ruiz, The Marksman) while he's working in a grocery store. To have a chance with her, he even gets baptised. Then, a drink-driving accident brings a vision of the Virgin Mary, sparking Long's determination to make Catholicism his calling. Next, a shock health diagnosis both tests and cements his faith.
Looking for more at-home viewing options? Take a look at our monthly streaming recommendations across new straight-to-digital films and TV shows — and our best new TV shows, returning TV shows and straight-to-streaming movies from the first half of 2022.
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