ScreenHub’s Summer Holiday Movie Guide

It's a movie bonanza from now until mid January, says Anthony Morris.
Spider-Man: No Way Home

Here’s a guide to the best of the big holiday movies in Australian cinemas from now to the middle of January. If you feel like a dam has burst when you look at what’s currently screening in cinemas, you’re not alone. Covid restrictions forced Hollywood to put many of their biggest releases on hold for a year or more, and now they’re racing to get the backlog out in front of audiences. Films that once would have been left to dominate the box office for weeks are now competing with major releases coming out on the same day; titles that might have expected to be given time to pull in crowds are finding themselves bumped for the next big thing.

The results are a little mixed for the casual viewer. On the one hand, we’re all spoiled for choice at the moment, and it’s only going to keep coming. On the other, this flood of new films means the old ones aren’t sticking around like they used to. The real message here is simple: if you see something coming up that you like the sound of and want to see on the big screen, then don’t wait!

IN CINEMAS NOW

No Time to Die

Daniel Craig’s final Bond film (full review here) wraps up his career as 007 with a satisfying, if slightly standard, adventure that also serves as something of a victory lap.

The action scenes are as spectacular as ever, villains old and new turn up, Bond’s trusty sidekicks lend a hand, and the story itself brings a touch of romantic longing to 007s. A Bond movie is an event these days, even without having to wait an extra eighteen months for it: in this case, it’s definitely been worth the wait.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Tom Hardy is clearly having a lot of fun playing Eddie Brock, firmly average journalist, sub-par romantic partner, and host to super-powered alien symbiote Venom. Fortunately with his bumbling, he lets the audience in on the joke too.

This sequel doubles down on the Brock-Venom bromance and throws in some decent superhero fight scenes while letting Woody Harrelson’s bad guy chew a lot of scenery. While at times this isn’t quite as funny as it could be, and those looking for yet another super-hero epic should be warned that at 90 minutes this is probably the shortest mainstream release around, sometimes less is more. By not labouring the joke and getting out early, Venom avoids wearing out its welcome.

Dune

The galaxy is on a knife edge, and one man holds the fate of billions in his hand – if he chooses to accept his destiny. Director Denis Villeneuve focuses on the massive scale of Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel (full review here), creating a string of epic images as Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) ends up in a desperate struggle to survive on the desert planet Dune, a place where water is more precious and rarer than gold, and giant sandworms attack anything that moves.

It’s a brilliant spectacle, though the backstory is a little lacking so far (hopefully the sequel, adapting the back half of the novel and due in 2023, will fill in the gaps). See this one on the biggest screen you can find.

The Power of the Dog

A chilling performance from Benedict Cumberbatch might be the scene stealer here, but Jane Campion’s western is emotionally brutal no matter who’s taking centre stage. The year is 1925, and brothers Phil (Cumberbatch) and his softer sibling George (Jesse Plemons) find their uneasy family truce coming undone when George marries widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) comes into their lives.

The shifting power dynamics and desires between the quartet are the focus here, though the Big Sky Country (with New Zealand subbing in for America’s west) is a deeply impressive backdrop. It’s a place where emotions constantly threaten to spiral out of control, a western where the bad guys lurk within. It’s available on Netflix but worth a big screen if you can find it.

The French Dispatch

It’s the little moments that linger in Wes Anderson’s impressively big film. An anthology presenting a series of stories from a fictional US magazine based in France, it’s packed with scams, frauds, rioting students, gangs of rogue choir boys, kidnappings, car chases, and general criminal behaviour, all presented with Anderson’s trademark style and humour.

The all-star cast (including Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Timothée Chalamet, Benicio del Toro, Jeremy Wright and Adrian Brody) are obviously enjoying themselves, but it’s not all manic adventures. The characters here may be quirky in an often cartoony world, but they’re real too, and their stories have real heart to them.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

With his secret identity now public, Peter Parker (Tom Holland), aka Spider-Man now faces a new enemy: public opinion. Oh, and now a whole lot of his old enemies from previous movies (and incarnations) are gunning for him, thanks to a spell cooked up by Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to re-disguise Parker that goes awry.

A celebration of Spider-Man’s extensive movie history that also manages to move the current incarnation’s story forward, this is a huge amount of fun whether you’re a long term fan or just looking for an excuse to go back to the cinema. Spider-Man’s been a (fairly) consistent character when it comes to entertainment since the Tobey Maguire days, and even the Andrew Garfield incarnation had its high points; this look back does all Peter Parker’s incarnations proud.

Boxing Day and beyond

The Matrix: Resurrections (sneaks from 23 December)

This one’s been kept firmly under wraps as far as story details go, which is what you’d expect from the latest instalment in a notoriously mind-bending series. What’s important is that Neo (Keanu Reeves) is back, though he seems now to be living in a version of the real world where his past achievements (and memories) are nowhere to be found.

The first film was ground-breaking in a whole range of ways, but the sequels, not so much. At a time when big screen science fiction seems firmly heading back to the 1960s for its source material, The Matrix’s focus on the lure of computers and the nature of reality should at the very least seem a breath of fresh air. Plus Reeves (back with fellow Matrix veteran Carrie Moss) is always fun to watch, and you can’t go wrong with kung fu.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Boxing Day)

The first solo effort from Joel (no Ethan) Coen, this take on Shakespeare’s play keeps the original language (though the play has been cut down a little to fit a lean 105-minute run time). Coen also brings in a classy cast – with Denzel Washington as Macbeth and Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth – to say the classic lines. Dramatically it’s everything you could ask for, with Washington dominating the screen, even as Macbeth’s human flaws lurk.

Coen’s set-bound black and white visuals are striking while remaining firmly in service of the story he’s telling; the witches’ scenes are filled with unsettling imagery, while Macbeth’s castle rapidly becomes an expressionist nightmare. While this will be available on Apple TV early in the new year, this is the rare recent movie Macbeth where the images and words are in perfect synch, making it one to see on a big screen if you can.

Sing 2 (Boxing Day)

Musicals might be back for adults, but for kids they never really went away. This sequel to the surprise hit Sing doesn’t tamper much with the formula, as koala Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) gets the gang back together to put on a show that will make it big in Redshore City. Only problem is, to get them a gig he’s promised to bring back a rock star (played by Bono) who’s been retired for 15 years and has no interest in helping them out.

There’s a shortage of straight-up kids films over these holidays (blame the current backlog of blockbuster releases coming out of Hollywood). This promises to be a crowd-pleaser that’ll have the kids dancing in the aisles

There’s a shortage of straight-up kids films over these holidays (blame the current backlog of blockbuster releases coming out of Hollywood). This promises to be a crowd-pleaser that’ll have the kids dancing in the aisles: parents just might find their toes tapping a little too.

West Side Story (Boxing Day)

Embracing both the magic of the original and the racial and cultural realities only hinted at a half century ago, Steven Spielberg’s version of West Side Story is the work of a master filmmaker at the top of his game. Loosely based on Romeo & Juliet, it’s the story of Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler), who find love despite being entangled in rival street gangs (he’s white, she’s Puerto Rican) on the mean streets of New York circa 1957.

West Side Story is the work of a master filmmaker at the top of his game.

Both a tender romance and a stunning example of the musical at its height, this is bursting with energy and top-notch performances, though Elgort isn’t quite the equal of the stunning Zegler. Old school in the best way and packed with songs you’ll know even if you’ve never seen the musical, they don’t make them like this often enough.

Licorice Pizza (Boxing Day)

It’s Hollywood in 1973, and fifteen year-old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is already hard at work. A child actor with his own PR company (well, it’s his mother’s), he’s a natural hustler. But will his smooth lines work on Alana Kane (musician Alana Haim from the band Haim), an aimless 25 year old with a vague feeling she probably should get her act together?

Whether you see it as a street-level companion piece to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood or just the story of a summer relationship, Paul Thomas Anderson’s love letter to the bottom rung of the movie business – featuring parodies of real figures like Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper) and William Holden (Sean Penn) – is always fun to watch. Sprawling, hilarious, and not afraid to remind viewers that the 70s could be a pretty creepy time (that age gap between the leads isn’t going away), it’s a timeless summer comedy.

House of Gucci (Jan 1)

In the late 70s Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) was a hard-working nobody with her eyes on bigger things, and when she met Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) it was love – or something like it – at first sight. Obviously the fact he was heir to half the Gucci fashion business had nothing to do with it, even though she was constantly pushing him to take a bigger role in the family business in between scheming to take control of the whole company. True crime fans know where this is all heading; everyone else will figure it out long before Maurizio does.

For his second film in six months (presumably it took him somewhat longer to make), 84-year-old Ridley Scott has made another big budget crime drama, though this promises to be a lot flashier than his recent All the Money in the World. Featuring a number of big actors (Jared Leto, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons) giving big performances, it’s up to Lady Gaga to drive the whole thing home.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Jan 1)

The last attempt to reboot the Ghostbusters franchise with a straight revival (only with women) fizzled, so this time it’s Ghostbusters crossed with Stranger Things, as a family (mother, two kids) head out to Oklahoma to check out the creepy house they’ve inherited. Things develop pretty much the way you expect, as a slow trickle of references and callbacks to the original gradually build to a flood, sweeping away anything original about this project.

Surprisingly, it still largely works, thanks in large part to the strength of the cast. Pre-teen Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) is a likeable lead; Paul Rudd is basically a comedy sidekick. It’s a shame this isn’t more of its own thing, but it does have Ghostbusters in the title. If you’re after a nostalgia kick, this definitely kicks hard.

The King’s Man (Jan 6)

This prequel to the Kingsman spy romps heads back a century to the establishment of the super-secret global spy organisation during World War I. Orlando (Ralph Fiennes, taking a break from playing M in that other British spy franchise) is a spy chief who heads off to Russia with his eager-to-enlist son Conrad (Harris Dickenson) in tow to assassinate Rasputin (Rhys Ifans). The twist in this traditionally kill-crazy series is that Orlando is a committed pacifist, though for how long?

Director Matthew Vaughn has proven his skill when it comes to action time and again, so there’s little doubt this will serve up plenty of mayhem. But will setting it a century ago force the series to go beyond the (often enjoyably) crass lad-era comedy that’s been this franchise’s other trademark?

The 355 (Jan 13)

If you haven’t had enough spy films in the last few months, or are just looking for a bit of gender balance in your action adventure viewing, then this all-female take on the genre just might be for you. You know the drill with these films: there’s a super-weapon that could start World War 3, the bad guys have it, it’s up to the good guys to team up and track it down.

The big hook here is the cast, Created by Jessica Chastain, it stars Chastian, Diane Kruger, Penélope Cruz, Fan Bingbing and Lupita Nyong’o (plus Sebastian Stan and Édgar Ramírez). That’s a lot of star power; all involved will be hoping that it – combined with the solid guns, glamour and gadgets formula that keeps on working for everyone else – will be enough to lure audiences into cinemas.

King Richard (Jan 13)

This origin story for tennis sensations Serena and Venus Williams focuses on their controversial father Richard (Will Smith), who here comes across as a committed family man who knows hard work is the only way out of the ghetto but refuses to deny his daughters a well-rounded education or agency in their lives.

What makes this work is that it’s also kind of clear that Richard actually is a self-interested showman, at least some of the time, and his version of well-rounded parenting only seems reasonable when compared to other over-the-top tennis parents. This just covers the years before they made it big, but that’s enough to get the picture. His daughters might be winners (apart from the ones who aren’t), but Richard remains the king.

Scream (Jan 13)

This latest instalment in the long-running series brings back all the (surviving) familiar faces (Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courtney Cox) and adds in a bunch of new potential victims/possible suspects as a Ghostface killer once again stalks the small yet extremely deadly town of Woodsboro.

Horror movies never really went away, but their recent resurgence has clearly made enough of an impact to inspire a revival of this long-running meta-franchise, where teen slasher movie tropes are examined and mocked even as the movie itself largely sticks slavishly to them. Which is to say, expect a bunch of scary scenes with the occasional wry joke inbetween.

Read: 2021: A head under water. Adrian Martin’s year in review

Anthony Morris is a freelance film and television writer. He’s been a regular contributor to The Big Issue, Empire Magazine, Junkee, Broadsheet, The Wheeler Centre and Forte Magazine, where he’s currently the film editor. Other publications he’s contributed to include Vice, The Vine, Kill Your Darlings (where he was their online film columnist), The Lifted Brow, Urban Walkabout and Spook Magazine. He’s the co-author of hit romantic comedy novel The Hot Guy, and he’s also written some short stories he’d rather you didn’t mention. You can follow him on Twitter @morrbeat and read some of his reviews on the blog It’s Better in the Dark.