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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The New Movies You Can Watch at New Zealand Cinemas This Week

Head to the flicks to see a heartbreaking drama, enjoy Elisabeth Moss' latest fantastic performance and watch an engaging new fashion documentary.
By Stephen Heard
July 24, 2020
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The New Movies You Can Watch at New Zealand Cinemas This Week

Head to the flicks to see a heartbreaking drama, enjoy Elisabeth Moss' latest fantastic performance and watch an engaging new fashion documentary.
By Stephen Heard
July 24, 2020
  shares

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 some of the new releases on offer this week.

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THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY

In The Burnt Orange Heresy, Mick Jagger plays a rich, ruthless art collector who visibly enjoys toying with everyone in his orbit. This isn't the Rolling Stone's first acting role, with the superstar musician famously playing Ned Kelly in the 1970 film of the same name, and popping up in the likes of Freejack and The Man from Elysian Fields over the years — but in this Italy-set art-centric thriller, he's worth the price of admission. He's clearly having fun with his wily character and Cockney drawl, even though he's just a supporting player. As a reclusive artist who lives on the collector's sprawling Lake Como property, Donald Sutherland falls into the same category, too. Alas, thanks to a by-the-numbers narrative, the slow-burning, handsomely shot film itself can't quite match them.

When Jagger's shrewd Joseph Cassidy invites art critic James Figueras (Claes Bang) to his estate, the latter isn't sure why — so he takes American tourist Berenice (Elizabeth Debicki) along for the trip. Upon their arrival, the new lovers become immersed in a plot to unearth the latest paintings by Sutherland's art legend, although that's just the tip of the subterfuge and duplicity surrounding Figueras. The second feature by Italian director Giuseppe Capotondi, The Burnt Orange Heresy doesn't lack in plot, themes or attempts to ape Patricia Highsmith's best tales, but its twists prove as routine as its insights into authenticity and forgery on multiple levels. And, while excellent when he last dallied with art in The Square, and in this year's Dracula as well, Bang is never commanding as his co-stars — including Widows' Debicki, who overcomes an underwritten role in her tender scenes with Sutherland.

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WAVES

Waves begins with streaming sunlight, the scenic sights of South Florida, and a blissful young couple singing, smiling and driving. Their happiness is captured by fluid, enticing camerawork that circles around and around, and their exuberant attitude — the carefree feeling that comes with youthful first love — is mirrored by the use of Animal Collective's upbeat, energetic 'FloriDada' on the soundtrack. But this isn't a joyful movie. As the drama's name intimates, this contented moment is soon smothered by waves of tragedy and pain that ripple through the lives not only of high-school wrestling star Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr) and his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie), but their loved ones, school and community. Following the breakdown of the pair's romance, Tyler's self-sabotaging struggles with injury and pressure, and the impact on those closest to them, Waves tells an immensely affecting tale of one African American family's ups and downs.

While he already has the excellent Krisha and effective It Comes at Night to this name, writer/director Trey Edward Shults crafts his best work yet — a stunningly visceral, moving and profound drama that makes audiences feel every moment and plot development deeply. Also exceptional: Harrison's powerful performance, Taylor Russell as his younger sister Emily, Sterling K Brown as their domineering but well-intentioned dad and Hamilton's Renée Elise Goldsberry as their supportive stepmother, as well as the film's raw and resonant grappling with life, loss, love, and the chaos and emotion of being a Black teenager in America today.

Read our full review.

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SHIRLEY

Unlike the rest of us, Elisabeth Moss is having a great year — on-screen, at least. While the star of The Handmaid's Tale, Mad Men and Top of the Lake has actually enjoyed a fantastic past decade, she has turned in two of her best performances yet in 2020. First came her lead role in The Invisible Man, which twisted the classic horror tale in firmly modern directions, including exploring gaslighting and society's lack of willingness to believe women. Now, in Shirley, she steps into the shoes of horror and mystery novelist Shirley Jackson. This is a movie by Madeline's Madeline director Josephine Decker, though, so it as never going to be a standard biopic about the The Haunting of Hill House author.

Indeed, Shirley is drawn from a fictional novel by Susan Scarf Merrell, stepping inside Jackson's home life with her husband Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg) during a 1964 period when teaching aide Fred Nemser (Logan Lerman) and his wife Rose (Australian The Daughter star Odessa Young) come to stay. An agoraphobic who prefers her own company to that of others, Jackson's routine is unsettled by her new houseguests, although an unexpected connection springs with seemingly unlikely kindred spirit Rose. In telling this story, Decker is far more interested in capturing the essence of her subject and Jackson's sensibilities than slavishly sticking to facts, and her film all the better for it. The result is a subjective and engaging character study that's daring, disarming, dark and, unsurprisingly, anchored by a pitch-perfect Moss.

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CALM WITH HORSES

Living in a sleepy rural Irish town, Douglas (Cosmo Jarvis) has tied his fortunes to the region's crime heavies, working as an enforcer for the Devers family. The former boxer largely pals around with young up-and-comer Dympna (Barry Keoghan), but when the latter is instructed to jump by his menacing uncles (Ned Dennehy and David Wilmot) — and, specifically, to rough up an old man who has committed a heinous act against one of their own — Douglas must also do what he's told. But this is a task that tests his loyalty, even with his violent history. Complicating matters are Douglas' ex Ursula (Niamh Algar) and their autistic five-year-old son Jack (Kiljan Moroney), who want to move to Cork — and away from Douglas and his brutal cronies — so that Jack can attend a better school.

Best known until now for Lady Macbeth, Farming and Peaky Blinders, Jarvis is exceptional in Calm with Horses, a downbeat crime film that doubles as a tense and probing character study. This is a social realist-leaning (and sometimes blackly comic) look at life on the margins, a sharp exploration of toxic masculinity and a potent quest for redemption, too, and Jarvis' quiet, internalised but powerful performance couldn't be more pivotal. In fact, it's a career-best portrayal amongst a top-notch ensemble cast (including Dunkirk's Keoghan). Also crucial: the emotive, immersive stylistic approach favoured by filmmaker Nick Rowland, who makes his feature helming debut. As the movie charts Douglas' gradual awakening to the consequences of his chosen path, the first-time director conveys the character's inner conflict through juxtaposed colours, the noticeable jumping between closed-in interiors and wide-open landscapes, and a pulsating soundtrack by Benjamin John Power — and, yes, with tender scenes involving Douglas, Jack, Ursula and gentle equines as well.

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THE VIGIL

If something goes bump in the night, it causes jumps or both, then it's in Blumhouse Productions' wheelhouse. A hefty list of recent films have demonstrated that fact — including the Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister, Ouija and Happy Death Day franchises, as well as the relaunched Halloween series — and, in case audiences needed another reminder, now The Vigil is here to do the same. The differentiating factor here is the focus on the Orthodox Jewish faith, including one of its rituals. Fresh from stepping out of a support-group meeting for Hasidic New Yorkers who are slowly encroaching upon a more secular worldview, Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis) is enlisted to spend a night working as a 'shomer' in a crumbling Borough Park home. His task: to watch over the body of recently deceased holocaust-survivor Mr Litvak (Ronald Cohen) until dawn.

From the moment that Yakov steps inside the Litvaks' townhouse at his friend Reb Shulem's (Menashe Lustig) urging — and the moment he meets the eerie Mrs Litvak (Lynn Cohen), spies her husband's corpse under a sheet and notices the unmistakably moody lighting — The Vigil is content to lurk in standard jump-scare territory. It feigns at delving deeper, including into Orthodox culture and the weight left by the atrocities of the Second World War, but this is primarily an exercise in evoking dread and suspense in the usual haunted house-focused horror movie mould. First-time feature writer/director Keith Thomas still conjures up a creepy atmosphere and crafts a number of spine-tingling, anxiety-inducing visuals. As the increasingly perturbed protagonist, Davis (Greyhound, Logan) deftly navigates all of the above, too. But, even with its tense score always going for broke, the film always feels like it is simply dressing up well-worn genre elements in different packaging.

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HOUSE OF CARDIN

He trained as a tailor before the Second World War, then worked for the Red Cross during the conflict. Afterwards, he made costumes for the 1946 big-screen version of Beauty and the Beast, became the head of Christian Dior's atelier, then launched his own fashion house in 1950. From there, he pioneered an avant-garde, boundary-breaking style that's marked by its constant evolution as much as its love for geometric designs. The man in question: Italian-born, French-raised and -based designer Pierre Cardin, the subject of P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes' (Mansfield 66/67) energetic, affectionate and informative — albeit slickly formulaic — documentary House of Cardin.

Unlike its eponymous figure or recent fellow fashion doco Halston, this film doesn't aim to push any limits or stand out — in its form or function, that is. Instead, it sticks to the oft-used template (think: talking-head interviews with other famous faces, enticing shots of eye-catching designs, archival footage aplenty and an overt score) to celebrate the now 98-year-old Cardin. The movie's straightforward approach and structure is always obvious; however it also helps push Cardin, his work and his jam-packed life story front and centre. And in a documentary that benefits from its subject's sometimes-abrupt recollections about his experiences and career, as well as ample examples of the designer's dazzling pieces — both of which sprawl in a plethora of directions — that ultimately proves a savvy and engaging choice.

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FOLLOW ME

We've long since reached the point where formulaic, thoroughly forgettable horror movies combine social media-driven storylines with heavy lashings of blood-splattered torture porn — and in Follow Me, it's as terrible as it sounds. Written and directed by Escape Room's Will Wernick, this routine Moscow-set shocker jumps on another bandwagon, too, with the filmmaker clearly quite fond of folks trying to puzzle their way out of locked spaces in a limited amount of time (and with death the punishment for failing). The movie's protagonist, Cole (Keegan Allen), is an attention-seeking vlogger who records and streams almost every moment of his existence. He has turned his antics into a career, putting himself in extreme situations with an 'escape real life' angle and motto (shortened to #ERL, naturally), with more than 12 million viewers watching on. Looking to up the ante for his next clip, he jets off to Russia with his pals (Holland Roden, Denzel Whitaker, George Janko and Siya) — where a connected friend of a friend (Ronen Rubinstein) has arranged a grim and gruelling escape room experience that's been tailored specifically to Cole.

Surprises aren't Follow Me's strong suit. Indeed, the film is so laden with cliches and tropes, it's easy to predict where the narrative is headed from the very first frame — even as it tries to trade in twists and tension. Accordingly, the movie becomes an exercise in watching grating characters make stupid decisions that lead to gory altercations, all while running around a series of dark, gritty places that could've been ripped from the Saw or Hostel franchises. To the astonishment of no one, the end result is never as unsettling or entertaining as Wernick thinks, or even unsettling or entertaining at all. And an attempt to serve up a message about the always-on, always-performing nature of social media — and about obnoxious American tourists abroad as well — is as well-worn as the rest of the film.

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Top images: The Burnt Orange Heresy © joseharo.

Published on July 24, 2020 by Stephen Heard

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