I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Film, US, 2020 – out 4 September
Nobody does meta-fiction like the squirrelly fabulator Charlie Kaufman, whose latest film as a writer/director (following the sensationally bewildering Synecdoche, New York and Anomalisa) is a characteristically audacious take on the horror(ish) genre, wholly effective in creatively representing the inner recesses of an angst-riddled mind. The character thinking of ending it is an unnamed protagonist (Jessie Buckley) who loses her grip on reality during a trip to meet the parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) of her partner Jake (Jesse Plemons). Long scenes featuring the pair in a car on a snowy night are cleverly executed, alternating between the protagonist’s verbose internal monologue and her stop-start conversation with Jake. Nobody anywhere in the world, under any circumstances, period, will be able to make any sense of the intentionally baffling last act – though that will not surprise anyone familiar with Kaufman’s oeuvre.
TV, US, 2020 – out 18 September
I recently rewatched the 1975 classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to answer the question of whether Nurse Ratched is a wicked villain or simply an employee caught up in a bad and broken system. Long story short: the latter. She makes mistakes and radiates an unlikeable, stiff-lipped aura, but it is an outdated and oppressive medical system ultimately to blame for the many injustices that damage or destroy the characters. This makes the very premise of Netflix’s new series (executive produced by the co-creator of American Horror Story and starring Sarah Paulson in the titular role) woefully misjudged. I’ll reserve final judgment until I can see it, but the trailer clearly paints Ratched as a cartoonishly nefarious figure, fantasising about how she’ll exact revenge on a colleague for eating her peach. But people will talk about it: that much is for sure.
Film, US/UK, 2020 – out 23 September
Another zeitgeisty offering from Netflix, this adaptation of Nancy Springer’s young adult novels revolves around the teenage sister of Sherlock Holmes. Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven from Stranger Things) plays the titular sister of the famous sleuth (Henry Cavill) who gets swept up in an adventure involving her missing mother (Helena Bonham Carter).
Honourable mentions: Mean Girls (film, out now), Love, Guaranteed (film, out now), Away (TV, 4 September), The Dark Knight Rises (film, 7 September), The Duchess (TV, 11 September), Criminal (TV, 16 September), The Devil All the Time (film, 16 September), Friends seasons 1-10 (TV, 17 September), Peter Rabbit (film, 20 September), Kick-Ass (film, 25 September),
The Comey Rule
TV, US, 2020 – out 27 September
All eyes will be on this two-episode miniseries, which is topical and then some – following former FBI director James Comey (Jeff Daniels) as he serves during the first (and hopefully last) term of a tangerine-coloured oaf elected as the president of the United States. And all eyes will really be on Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, who plays Donald Trump. The show premieres just 37 days before this year’s US election.
Film, Australia, 2016 – out now
Back in 2016, when I first saw writer/director Abe Forsythe’s comedy about the Cronulla riots, I gave it a reasonably positive review – but subsequent rewatches made me realise I had undervalued this film. It is so hard to make a comedy like this: as black as they come, and always navigating a minefield, ridiculing the behaviour of birdbrained hotheads while never detracting from the seriousness of terrible real-life events. Characters include Jason (Damon Herriman), who compares the situation at Cronulla to Gallipoli, and Shit-Stick (Alexander England), who mistakes the riots for a festival. You laugh while your stomach turns.
Film, US/UK, 2014 – out 7 September
Ava DuVernay’s understated and richly rewarding Martin Luther King Jr biopic recreates events leading up to the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965: a landmark occasion for the civil rights movement. David Oyelowo is superb in a film full of visions that will linger – of stirring speeches in front of large crowds; of protesters sitting outside a registration office with hands clasped behind their necks; of the famous, epic march from Selma to Montgomery.
Honourable mentions: Mapplethorpe (film, out now), Cheers seasons 1-11 (TV, 4 September), Paddington (film, 4 September), Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (film, 4 September), Be Kind Rewind (film, 7 September), The Daughter (film, The Daughter), Apocalypse Now (film, 8 September), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (film, 15 September), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (film, 16 September) PEN15 season 2 (TV, 19 September), Deutschland 89 (TV, 25 September).
I May Destroy You
TV, UK, 2020 – out now
After premiering three months ago in the UK and the US, one of the year’s most acclaimed new series has finally landed in Australia, having collected more kudos and endorsements than almost any other series in recent years. Created, written by, co-directed and starring Michaela Coel, the BBC series has helped people affected by abuse and trauma, with its story of a bestselling novelist (Coel) recovering from a sexual assault after her drink is spiked during a night out. Set aside time to read this article explaining what makes it a special and perhaps even game-changing production.
Raised by Wolves
TV, US, 2020 – out now
Ridley Scott’s fascination with outer space has been augmented – particularly in recent years – with big philosophical questions about the origins of human life and the things that define us from other animals and species. Robots can be part of that conversation too, as Scott reminds us in Raised by Wolves (as he did in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant), which is based in a war-torn future where the earth has been destroyed and two main groups of people exist: atheists and the religious “Mithraics”. The plot involves two robots raising human children on a far-flung planet. The panoramic cinematography is beautiful and steely, with a cold kind of polish. The pace is gradual, an aura of grim contemplation imbuing everything. I’ve seen the first episode, which is impressive for these reasons – though it’s the sort of series that could go either way, building on its intrigue or challenging the audience’s patience. Scott directed the first two episodes.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Film, US, 1998 – out 5 September
We can’t stop now – this is bat country! Hunter S Thompson’s legendary gonzo novel, a pioneering work of New Journalism, was for a long time considered an “unfilmable” book, until Terry Gilliam directed this magnificently deranged beast, derided by critics at the time of release but soon to become a cult classic. Johnny Depp plays Thompson and an almost unrecognisable Benicio Del Toro is his Samoan attorney. Gilliam’s wild ride conjures, as Thompson himself might have put it, a whole galaxy of multicoloured uppers, downers, screamers, laughers.
Honourable mentions: Beverly Hills Cop 1-3 (film, out now), Blade Runner (film, 6 September), A Few Good Men (film, 11 September), Scent of a Woman (film, 13 September), Friends season 1-10 (TV, 17 September), Dunkirk (film, 18 September),
The Boys, season 2
TV, US, 2020 – out 4 September
In hindsight it was inevitable: a slew of dark, cynical and subversive superhero stories emerging to balance out a genre that tends to either take itself very seriously or not seriously at all. The second season of The Boys continues the story of two groups: a collection of shady “super-enabled” people, who are under the thumb of a multibillion-dollar corporation, and the titular ensemble of vigilantes, hellbent on exposing them for the fiends and miscreants they are. If you like your superhero stories caustic and misanthropic, this show is for you.
H is For Happiness
Film, Australia, 2020 – out 6 September
Director John Sheedy’s adaptation of Barry Jonsberg’s novel My Life As an Alphabet is a joyously bright film, with a juicy rainbow-coloured palette and gorgeous cinematography. Freckled know-it-all pipsqueak Candice (Daisy Axon) meets a new friend she calls “Douglas Benson from Another Dimension” (Wesley Patten), and the pair get up to silly adventures that may or may not involve travelling between planes of reality. The performances are lovely; so is the film.
Honourable mentions: The Lighthouse (film, 6 September), T2 Trainspotting (film, 14 September), All In: The Fight for Democracy (TV, 18 September), A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (film, 22 September), Utopia (TV, 25 September)
TV, Australia, 2020 – out 13 September
Director Laurence Billiet’s 58-minute documentary about Cathy Freeman and her gold medal victory at the 2000 Olympics is a revealing portrait of the superstar athlete and Kuku Yalanji woman, featuring a performance from Lillian Banks – playing “the spirit of Cathy” – from the Bangarra Dance Theatre. It works well, elevating what would have been an already interesting documentary with scintillating visual qualities, elevated again by the great cinematographer Bonnie Elliott (whose work includes Spear, These Final Hours, Teenage Kicks, Undertow and Stateless). Freeman is about a lot more than a person crossing a finishing line, and I was completely invested in it. Billiet also explores the rise of support for reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, a tangent I would have liked to have seen more of; at 58 minutes this invigorating production is over all too soon.
The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty
TV, UK, 2020 – out 20 September
Is there anybody in the western world more dangerous than Rupert Murdoch, and more intent to wield their influence as a weapon to prop up the moth-eaten forces of conservatism? After premiering on the BCC in July, there was speculation about whether this three-part series would ever see the light of day in this country, given Murdoch’s influence in Australia and his company’s culture of shaming and attacking those it considers to be ideological opponents. The series explores Murdoch’s enormous influence as well as power tussles inside his family.
Honourable mentions: The Split series 2 (TV, 12 September), The Trip to Greece (TV, 15 September), Staged (TV, 21 September)
SBS on Demand
Meryl Streep special collection
The great critic Pauline Kael once described Meryl Streep as “a perfectionist who works at her roles from the outside in, mastering the details of movement, voice, and facial expression, and this thinking-it-all-out approach gives her an aloofness”. That aloofness is perhaps the reason why Streep (who has accrued a record 21 Academy Award nominations) makes everything look so easy. Given she’s been in dozens of films, this Meryl Streep collection is pretty small – with only three titles (Sophie’s Choice, The Iron Lady and Florence Foster Jenkins) making their way to SBS on Demand. But a little Meryl is better than no Meryl, right?
The Great Beauty
Film, Italy, 2013 – out 14 September
Paolo Sorrentino! The only way to punctuate the famously indulgent Italian auteur’s name is with an exclamation mark, because that is how Sorrentino punctuates his films. Presenting a hyper-stimulated depiction of contemporary Rome, The Great Beauty is a character study, a city study, and a study of excess, following a writer (Toni Servillo) who is a fixture of haute couture society. Sorrentino is like a European Baz Luhrmann: every film is a party, and every party is epic.
Honourable mentions: Breathe (film, out now), 12 Monkeys season one to four (TV, 3 September), Foxtrot (film, 6 September), Savages (TV, 10 September), Hilary season 1 (TV, 16 September), Killjoys season one and two (TV, 17 September), The Good Fight season four (TV, 23 September), The Head (TV, 25 September)
Film, US, 2020 – out 4 September
The original animated Mulan treated bloody warfare as a lark: something to splice in between catchy tunes and comic side characters. The new, pumped-up, live-action remake has a grimly cinematic vibe and an atavistic attitude, taking the passé perspective that the contents of a person’s character can be measured by the extent of damage they wreak on the battlefield.
Liu Yifei plays the titular character, who disguises herself as a man in order to serve in the Imperial Army and fight the Huns. But her performance never feels humane, and the film never feels personal, with its big, handsome, panoramic cinematic look. I didn’t like it, no: but Mulan is certainly a significant release, being one of the major would-be blockbusters of the coronavirus era to be shelved, then sent straight to streaming. Watching it online will set you back $34.95.
Honourable mentions: Earth to Ned (TV, 4 September), Spies in Disguise (film, 18 September), Becoming (TV, 18 September)