The New Movies You Can Watch at New Zealand Cinemas from July 2
Head to the flicks to see a stunning South America-set thriller, get creeped out by a box office-topping horror movie and watch a devastatingly astute #MeToo thriller.
Something delightful is happening in cinemas across the country. After months spent empty, with projectors silent, theatres bare and the smell of popcorn fading, New Zealand picture palaces are finally open — spanning both big chains and smaller independent sites in Auckland and Wellington.
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 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.
The relentlessness of modern life, the ongoing unrest in Colombia, and the ceaseless trials and tribulations that plague all teens facing adulthood — they all sit at the centre of stunning South America-set thriller Monos. Set in a camp of teen guerrillas, Alejandro Landes' third film follows gun-toting rebels that have barely said goodbye to childhood, but are still tasked with guarding an American hostage (The Outsider's Julianne Nicholson). Unsurprisingly, even with nothing around but fields, jungle, a cow to milk and occasional enemy fire, little goes according to plan. Engagingly lingering between a dark fairytale and a psychological treatise on war, combat and humanity's dog-eat-dog nature, the result is the definite standouts of the past year. From the eye-popping landscape cinematography and the needling tension of Mica Levi's score, to the commanding performance from the young cast, there's a reason that Monos proved a huge festival hit around the globe in 2019 — including winning Sundance's Special Jury Award — before finally releasing in NZ cinemas.
After exploring the JonBenet Ramsey case not only with precision, but via a perceptive re-enactment technique that interrogated its impact — with excellent documentary Casting JonBenet the end result — trust Australian filmmaker Kitty Green to turn one of the biggest topics of the past few years into a compelling, unsettling, fiercely searing thriller. The subject: the culture of sexual harassment and sexually predatory behaviour in the entertainment industry. The context: #MeToo, obviously. Following a day in the professional life of an entry-level personal assistant, Jane (Ozark's Julia Garner), as she works for an unseen film production company head honcho, The Assistant unnerves by showing the routine, everyday nature of inappropriate workplace conduct, as well as the powerlessness of those both subjected and witness to it to stop it. As always in Green's films, every element is fine-tuned to evoke a strong and earned response — which, here, includes a grey colour palette, claustrophobic camerawork, a taut script, a commitment to authenticity and a devastatingly stellar performance by Garner.
When a film is described as 'textured', the term typically refers to its narrative, themes and emotional impact, with nothing smooth, shallow or straightforward evident. That applies to Mark Jenkin's Bait as it hones in on feuding Cornish fisherman siblings Martin (Edward Rowe) and Steven Ward (Giles King). Indeed, examining not only family in-fighting, but culture clashes, the growing chasm between tradition and modernity, and the effect of tourism on local residents of scenic spots, this is a rich, tense, complex and mesmerising affair that muses as deeply on blood ties as it does on gentrification. Jenkin's film also boasts ample visual texture, too. It's noticeable from the feature's first moments, is intrinsically linked to its tone, and proves utterly inescapable as the sea, craggy shorelines, twisted nets and gnarled ropes all fill the screen. And, as shot on location with a 16mm Bolex camera — and on black-and-white stock that the director hand-processed — Bait's look and feel is as important to the movie as anything else within its frames. In fact, paired with a noticeable penchant for close-ups that forces the audience to stare firmly at both people and objects, this stunning British feature couldn't make a bigger or more powerful aesthetic splash.
Focusing on connection and reflection sparked by grief, Love Sarah steps into a family attempting to cope with loss. In this case, the dearly departed is the titular chef — the estranged daughter of ex-circus performer Mimi (Celia Imrie), beloved mother of dancer Clarissa (Shannon Tarbet), and best friend and business partner of Isabella (Shelley Conn). When the latter decides to forge ahead with Sarah's plans to open a bakery, she realises that she can't do it without both Mimi and Clarissa's help. Also lending a hand: Sarah and Isabella's culinary school pal Matthew (Rupert Penry-Jones), who might be Clarissa's father. Directing her first feature, filmmaker Eliza Schroeder lets everything about Love Sarah play out as expected, including its soft hues, appetising cake and pastry shots, and exploration of renewed bonds and new opportunities in the face of life-altering change. The film is suitably sweet, of course, and always palatable; however it's far too happy to stick to the easiest recipe possible — with some plot strands overstressed to add extra drama, and one of the movie's more enticing and interesting narrative elements quickly introduced and then abandoned.
For part of this year, when US cinemas were closed but some drive-ins were still open, The Wretched topped the American box office. In no other scenario would that have occurred, so consider the attention afforded Brett and Drew T Pierce's instantly familiar but always effective horror film one of the few silver linings of pandemic-inspired lockdowns. Set in a small coastal town, the siblings' slickly crafted feature follows teenager Ben (John-Paul Howard), who's visiting his divorced father Liam (Jamison Jones). As tends to happen in this type of creepfest, his arrival coincides with strange goings-on at the house next door — namely a sinister force that's wreaking havoc on his neighbours and threatening to spread its malevolence even further. Immediately recalling 80s-era spookiness (and clearly the product of writer/directors who've spent much of their lives watching scary flicks from the period), The Wretched perfects the genre's jumps and bumps with ease, as well as the filmmaking nuts and bolts. In terms of its supernatural storyline, though — and its witchy villain — it does lean heavily on cliches.
Calling all bibliophiles — whether your bookshelves are bulging, you've spent far too much of your life in bookstores or you've always dreamed about turning your passion for reading into your profession. Focusing on New York's rare booksellers, as well as the ups and downs of their industry, US documentary The Booksellers touches on all of the above. It's also catnip for anyone who's never more content than when they're thumbing through a printed tome, and convincingly evokes the feeling of trawling through shelf after shelf of old, beloved volumes. Cycling through the main players in NYC's antiquarian and secondhand book scene, stepping through the history of dealing in rare texts and contemplating what the future might hold as technology threatens to change everything, this is a meticulously structured, deftly edited, and immensely fascinating ode to the printed word and the happiness it brings. Filmmaker DW Young doesn't make any surprising moves, but he doesn't need to, with his overall topic, his individual subjects and the world they inhabit proving as captivating as any must-read page-turner.
The ability of food to overcome national, cultural and racial bounds — to erase barriers, bring people together and help forge new bonds — is an overused cinematic trope. So too is the healing, happiness-inducing power of a great dish, including in fish-out-of-water and down-on-one's-luck scenarios. That doesn't stop Finnish comedy Master Cheng from giving all of the above a workout, though. Here, the titular Chinese chef (Pak Hon Chu) heads to the European country with his son Nunjo (Lucas Hsuan) in tow, plans to connect with an old colleague, but finds himself forging ties in a remote village instead. Naturally, there's a slow-simmering romantic connection with a local in the form of diner owner Sirkka (Anna-Maija Tuokko). Just as expectedly, the community warms to the newcomer's presence. What helps lift Master Cheng, however, isn't filmmaker Mika Kaurismäki's love of a clearcut (and clearly sentimental) template, but the time and attention he invests in building characters, as evidenced best in the film's fleshed-out central duo.
Published on July 02, 2020 by Sarah Ward