Butter the popcorn, school holiday viewing kicks off with movement, music and muscle cars

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Butter the popcorn, school holiday viewing kicks off with movement, music and muscle cars

Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Dom (Vin Diesel) in F9.
Words by Anthony Morris

Want to get moved these school holidays? Movies are the place to be.

Are you looking for some indoor entertainment to keep the kids (or yourself) amused these school holidays? Escaping to a toasty cinema for a couple of hours is the perfect way to spend a few hours.

Here are some of the movies we’d recommend checking out these school holidays.

In the Heights

It’s easy to write a checklist of all the things In the Heights does right. It features a stellar cast of fresh faces (though getting to see Jimmy Smits sing and dance is an added treat), the songs are toe-tapping to a fault, the big numbers are staged with verve and energy, and the whole thing is so defiantly good-natured it’s all but impossible to not feel your spirits soar at the high notes. So why does the whole thing fall just a little flat?

In the Heights is the story of Washington Heights in New York, a Latinx neighbourhood undergoing the usual pressures of gentrification and social mobility. Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) owns the local bodega, but is saving up to return home to the Dominican Republic to restore his father’s beachfront bar; Nina (Leslie Grace) is back home from Stanford to the praise of her community (and her father, the aforementioned Smits) for having “made it out”, but in her heart she doesn’t think she can go back.

The two stories mirror each other. He wants to leave but forces are pulling him back, most notably Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), a beauty technician who’s dreams of moving into fashion remain firmly local. Nina wants to stay – and her ex Benny (Corey Hawkins), who works at her father’s taxi company, is definitely ok with that – but giving up her one shot to make a difference in the world and her community is a tough choice.

What sells all of this, and what was no doubt so impressive to see on the stage, is the spectacle of it all. This is a real musical, where the music is at least as much the point of it all as everything else – but on the big screen two hours twenty of song after song can feel a little draining, even though this is constantly mixing things up, refusing to settle into a rut.

Ironically for something clearly designed to be experienced surround by people, In the Heights might end up working best at home, where audiences (once they know the story) can dip in and out of it. There are plenty of great moments here; it’s when they’re piled up one atop another for over two hours that the connecting threads start to fray.

Check out our list of the best cinemas in the region here.

The Sparks Brothers

It’s been a while since Edgar Wright’s last feature film (2017’s Baby Driver to be exact), and while this music doco isn’t exactly packed with high octane adventure, it does exert a bizarre fascination that makes the two-hour plus run time fly by. The Sparks Brothers are Ron and Russell Mael, who’ve been solidly recording for the last 50 years and still have the occasional flash of overseas success – enough to get them back on the road and back in touch with their small but devoted following.

Based in LA but with a weirdly European look, the duo’s extended career has turned up a number of hits that’ll have you thinking “oh yeah, right” (especially their work with Giorgio Moroder, the producer behind the band’s synth singles ‘The Number One Song In Heaven’ and ‘When I’m With You’), while Wright wheels out an extremely impressive roll call of famous faces happy to attest to the band’s significant influence.

This doco largely sticks to the surface of the mysterious duo’s image, but digging too deep would spoil the allure of this deeply strange (and strangely funny) act. Wright probably pushes things a little too far in his first feature-length doco – a slightly less zany approach would have made the subject stand out even more – but The Sparks Brothers remain intriguing figures throughout.

(it’s currently exclusive to The Nova in Melbourne – time to take advantage of those lifted travel restrictions!)

Fast and Furious 9

By this stage of the Fast and Furious saga the films themselves have evolved beyond simplistic ideas of “good or “bad”. This is a franchise that exists on a whole ‘nother level, one where there’s nothing more important than family and showing up to the cinema to watch Dom (Vin Diesel) and his crew makes you just as much a part of that family as the various goons hooning it up on the big screen.

As a series that can only be judged by its own standards, it’s safe to say over the last couple of instalments those standards have been betrayed just a little. Why is hard to pin down; maybe it was when Dom and company went from fast-driving super-thieves to slightly faster-driving super-spies, maybe it was when Paul Walker (but not his character Brian) died, maybe it was when guiding director Justin Lin (who directed the peak instalments – that’d be 4,5,6) left.

But now Lin is back, and across the course of this film you can feel him struggling – and largely succeeding – to pull off a course correction. The crazy stunts are still crazy (it seems magnets are now Dom’s superpower), old characters keep on returning, and there’s still a world-destroying device Dom and his crew have to keep out of the bad guys hands. Shock twist: now there’s even more family, with Dom’s never-before mentioned brother Jakob (John Cena) as the main bad guy.

Sure, having him turn up now is ridiculous, but that’s what makes this franchise work – and having some real emotional stakes to the super-powered car chases and fisticuffs gives them the kind of soap opera dramatics that this series thrives on. This isn’t quite up there with the series’ glory days – but for the first time in a while, it feels like they’re back on track.

Check out what else is showing at Village Cinemas in Geelong here.