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, and not all of them are television series that require days out of your life: if you’re looking for something to fill that movie-shaped hole in your life, here’s five recent standouts.
Endings, Beginnings (available to rent from the Foxtel store from May 23)
Writer/director Drake Doremus is probably still best known for his early romantic drama Like Crazy, but over the years he’s made a string of features all trying to capture a certain romantic tone that’s not exactly profound but not quite as superficial as his stylish visuals would suggest. His latest effort tracks the course of a love triangle as Daphne (Shailene Woodley) tries to get her life back on track while bouncing between two friends – the impulsive Frank (Sebastian Stan) and Irish writer (Jamie Dornan). One appeals to her head, the other to her more… physical side, and while the story is meandering, the semi-improvised nature of it (and a trio of winning performances) make it an easy, entertaining watch.
The Duellists (out now on blu-ray)
ViaVision’s new Imprint blu-ray label looks like a must for fans of the classically quirky and off-beat (bringing out both the 1953 War of the Worlds and I Married a Monster From Outer Space is definitely making some kind of statement), but it’s this release of director Ridley Scott’s first film that’s the stand-out. Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine are officers in Napoleon’s army who find themselves trapped in an escalating series of inconclusive but increasingly dangerous duels as a minor altercation between them curdles into a lifelong hatred. Lavishly shot, psychologically complex and often grippingly tense, this first film from a master storyteller remains one of his best works.
Bad Education (out now on Foxtel Showcase)
Dr. Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) is the slick and charming superintendent at a Long Island school that’s spending big to try and attract the best and brightest students. But with all that money floating around, will he be able to resist temptation? Of course not: corruption is the point of this movie (based on a true story), and the way the rot is slowly exposed is one of this sharp, smart film’s many pleasures. The other is Jackman, giving one of his strongest performances yet as a glad-handing nice guy who never quite seems right. He wants to be popular, yet he holds those who like him in contempt; it’s a combination that brings out Jackman’s best.
Hearts & Bones (out now on various streaming services and on DVD June 3)
Daniel Fisher (Hugo Weaving) is an acclaimed war photographer now at home and on edge in leafy Sydney. Taxi driver Sebastian (Andrew Luri) turns up on his doorstep with a strange request: he wants Daniel to photograph the community choir he’s a member of. Well, that’s what he starts out asking for. Soon a deeper, darker connection between the two men is revealed, and while their growing friendship seemingly offers a chance to move forward, their respective pasts are not as distant as they’d like to think. It’s a thoughtful look at friendship with a pair of great performances; it’s also an Australian film that shows a whole lot of people walking around outside and hanging out with each other, which is pretty much a major special effect in 2020.
Vivarium (out now on various streaming services and Foxtel On Demand)
Horror has always been willing to make a satirical point, and while there aren’t a lot of laughs in Vivarium, it doesn’t take much to spot a wider point being made in this tale of a young couple (Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg) who drive out to take a look at a house in a strangely empty housing estate only to discover that they can’t find a way out. The unease builds gradually as things become increasingly nightmarish, but the two leads keep things emotionally grounded even as the true nature of their plight becomes obvious. If you’re planning to move out to the suburbs and start a family, this is not the film for you.
Bonus comedy feature: Douglas (Netflix May 26)
Hannah Gadsby’s follow-up to Nanette isn’t quite as pointed or willing to avoid laughs for long stretches as that global stand up comedy smash hit, but Australia’s biggest stand-up superstar (sorry Hughsey) remains just as funny and insightful. Named after her dog, and also after the doctor who named a part of the female anatomy after himself, it’s a very personal look at the numerous ways in which the personal is political, which doesn’t sound anywhere near as funny as this often is.
Written by Anthony Morris