Back when cinemas were still a thing, they were always useful as a guide to what movies were worth a look: if something was given a cinema release, chances are somebody somewhere thought people would pay money to see it. Now all you have to guide you are people like me, frantically trying to pluck gems out of the firehose of content that blasts out of our screens every single day.
The good news is, there’s plenty of decent things to watch out there – some even on the big screen once again. If you’re looking for something to fill that movie-shaped hole in your life, here’s four recent standouts.
The King of Staten Island
Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson) is wasting his life at 24, spending his days hanging out on New York’s Staten Island with his burnout mates and dreaming of a future as a professional tattooist. The opportunities to move forward are there, but thanks to a combination of mental health issues and the childhood death of his firefighter father he doesn’t want to take them: he’s in a relationship with Kelsey (Bel Powley) but he’d just as soon end it as give up on sneaking around, and when his younger sister (Maude Apatow) heads off to college she’s worried he’s only going to become more of a burden to their mother (Marisa Tomei). An attempt to tattoo a nine year-old (to be fair, he asked for it) brings firefighter Ray (Bill Burr) into his family’s life, and when he strikes up a relationship with Scott’s mum change is coming whether he likes it or not.
Director Judd Apatow tells this semi-autobiographical take on Saturday Night Live star Davidson’s life with a gentle touch, letting scenes play out in his usual loose fashion without the pressure to improvise laughs in every moment. Davidson is a spikey presence but the script (which he co-wrote) gives him a sympathetic backstory without softening his edges, leaving him room to be funny without forcing the laughs. Gradually this moves into coming-of-age territory, but thanks to Apatow’s quirky realism and Davidson’s off-kilter performance this mostly avoids the usual clichés. Scott’s path to maturity is more about finding himself surrounded by people who expect (slightly) more from him than any big moment of change; the scale stays small but the payoff hits hard.
Now showing in regional cinemas, including Village Cinemas Geelong and Waurn Ponds Readings Cinema.
A White White Day
Travelling along a winding road on a misty day, a car goes through a railing and down a cliff. On a barren Icelandic farm, a year of wind and snow passes. Police officer Ingimundur (Ingvar Sigurdsson), has thrown himself into renovating the family property since the death of his wife. The only warmth in his life is his relationship with his lively granddaughter (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir). But as he gradually comes to suspect his wife of having had an affair, all he has is put at risk as the anger inside him builds.
Icelandic writer director Hlynur Palmason (The Winter Brothers) constantly grounds his story in the physical, creating a deeply felt world of rocks, snow, and horses wandering into the kitchen. The slow accumulation of detail and occasional surreal touches (watch out for an extremely creepy children’s show) only deepen the impact of this look at a man torn apart by a past he can’t face or move beyond. Ingimundur is an open wound; will he find a way to heal?
Now showing at the Pivotonian.
The Very Excellent Mr Dundee
When Paul Hogan (Paul Hogan) finds out he’s about to be knighted by the Queen, it couldn’t have come at a worse time. After fifteen years of semi-obscurity in Hollywood, a recent hiking incident (he ended up accidentally throwing a snake at a woman) has put him back in the news in the worst way. And in the days to follow, it seems like Hoges can’t catch a break, as every encounter with one of his famous friends (John Cleese, Chevy Chase, Olivia Newton-John) ends in headline-grabbing disaster.
In theory this isn’t the worst possible idea for a movie, mostly because it’s pretty much a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode dragged out to ninety minutes. In practice? This is rough going. We’re used to Australian comedy films being short on laughs, but this is all over the place; a handful of scenes come close to being good, while plenty of others struggle towards a punchline that’s either obvious or barely groanworthy. Many of the cameos were filmed on the red carpet for some other event entirely, while putting Hoges up against Cleese or Chase is a solid reminder why they’ve had lengthy international careers while Hogan’s range is limited at best. It’s not a complete loss, but you’re going to need a very large soft spot for Hogan to make it all the way through this.
Available from July 17th on Amazon Prime.
Scooby-Doo has been around so long, and in so many different versions, it really shouldn’t be surprising that the time has come for a reboot. Opening with the secret origin of Scooby and Shaggy’s childhood friendship, this then barrels into a fast-paced frenzy of CGI-animated antics as the Mystery Machine gang grow up and are thrust into a futuristic world filled with various other less successful Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters from the 60s and 70s. If you don’t remember The Blue Falcon and Dyno-Mutt, having them turn up early on (in a spaceship) is either going to be puzzling or an exciting introduction to a whole new world – this is hoping for the latter, but the former is probably a safer bet.
The idea of using Scooby-Doo as an introduction to a wider animated universe could have worked (a la The Lego Movie), but the Mystery Machine gang’s core premise – solving mysteries – doesn’t really lend itself to big wacky adventures. And they don’t come much bigger or wackier than this one, as characters as widely separated by logic as Captain Caveman and Dick Dastardly make their appearance in a globe-trotting and wildly confusing story that always manages to look great while rarely getting around to making sense. It’s not exactly satisfying viewing, but it definitely moves fast enough to keep (younger) audiences engaged; fingers crossed the next reboot takes more of a “back to basics” approach.
Now available on Premium Video On Demand (PVOD) and for premium digital ownership