600 Bottles of Wine
TV, Australia, 2018 – out now
A newly single Sydney woman (played charmingly by Grace Rouvray) hits the town to quaff wine, dabble in romance and chew the fat with friends in this thoroughly moreish and lively show, written and created by Rouvray and directed by Ainslie Clouston. 600 Bottles of Wine began as a web series arriving on a bunch of platforms including BBC, ABC iView, Ten Peach and now Netflix, where it is running as four 18-minute episodes. Time for the streaming giant to stump up some cash and finance a fully fledged season.
The Old Guard
Film, USA, 2020 - out 10 July
To say Charlize Theron has bonafide badassery is an epic understatement; her performance as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road in particular is seared into the collective consciousness with a hot iron stamp.
In The Old Guard, director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s adaptation of a comic book of the same name, Theron plays Andy, leader of a group of immortal soldiers with magical self-healing powers who have protected our world for centuries, fighting in the shadows. But how do immortal beings remain hidden in the age of social media? That is one question that confronts Andy and her fellow arse-kickers – who discover someone is on to them, posing a threat to their (and of course, our) very existence.
The Hurricane Heist
Film, USA, 2018 – out 11 July
Auteurs such as Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone enhanced the cinematic feel of their films by using big industrial fans to blow things around in the background. It sounds simple but the effect is striking, intensifying mood and motion. Director Rob Cohen’s insanely literal action-disaster movie takes that idea to outrageous extremes, with inclement weather haunting virtually every scene.
The story is about a devious criminal plot hatched by a group of robbers who plan to use the titular weather event as a distraction so they can steal from the US Treasury. In other words: it’s Twister meets The Italian Job. The film has a B-movie-ish premise, sure, but it’s thoroughly underrated, with a blood-pumping intensity that made me wide-eyed and anxious from go to whoa.
Honourable mentions: Top End Wedding, Gladiator, Back to the Future Part II (film, out now), Unsolved Mysteries (TV, out now), The Twelve, The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants in Space (TV, 10 July), The Beach Bum (film, 15 July), Cursed (TV, 17 July), Good Girls: season three (TV, 26 July), The Hater (film, 29 July), The Umbrella Academy (TV, 31 July)
Film, Australia, 2020 – out 10 July
Director Natalie Erika James’ creepy and enigmatic debut feature is sort of a haunted house flick, sort of a psychological horror and sort of a sticky-icky monster movie. All these “sort ofs” reflect a film that indulges in genre elements but refuses to be boxed into a specific kind of experience.
Stage and screen veteran Robyn Nevin plays Edna, a grandmother who at best is losing her marbles and at worst ... well, you’ll have to find out for yourself. Emily Mortimer and Bella Heathcote play her daughter and granddaughter respectively, situated for the majority of the running time in Edna’s rundown house in regional Victoria. There, James balances outward horror with tormented inner emotions, exploring things a great deal scarier than conventional “bump in the night” spook-outs.
Film, UK/Canada/Ireland, 2015 – out now
How do we define a “coming of age” story? Are we not always growing older and wiser? And if we’re not, shouldn’t we be? These questions rolled around my mind after watching director John Crowley’s tenderly made and moving 1950s-set period drama, which follows Ellis (Saoirse Ronan in a terrific Oscar-nominated performance) as she migrates to America from Ireland. The film is a class act: moving, melancholic and enormously vivid in its depiction of a crucial period in a person’s life.
TV, UK, 2019 – out 24 July
How appropriate that the zombie genre just won’t die. While Netflix recently premiered Reality X, which combines flesh-eaters with reality TV participants (kill them all, I say!), Stan will bring to Australia a complex rumination on the human condition known as Zomboat! Set in Birmingham, this British descendant of the great 2004 comedy Shaun of the Dead relegates a handful of survivors to the limited confines of a canal boat. A premise like that just has to work, right?
Honourable mentions: Shaun the Sheep season 5 (TV, 1 July), Apocalypto (film, 3 July), A Single Man (film, 7 July), The Edge of Seventeen (film, 9 July), 12 Years a Slave (film, 13 July), Mary and Max (film, 15 July), Valley Girl (film, 17 July), Love & Mercy (film, 19 July), The Diving Bell & the Butterfly (film, 23 July), The Bling Ring (film, 27 July)
SBS on Demand
War of the Worlds
TV, USA/France, 2019 – out 9 July
The premise of War of the Worlds – originating from HG Wells’ 1897 novel – feels rather quaint in the era of the climate crisis: the idea that the destruction of our species will come from aliens stomping through our cities. This new version, set in France and led by Gabriel Byrne and Elizabeth McGovern, starts slowly, the first two episodes evoking a mood of empty dystopia: lots of vacant streets and bodies on the ground. It’s got potential but will it match last year’s excellent BBC adaptation?
Film, Australia/New Zealand/France, 1993 – out now
The great auteur Jane Campion knows all too well that an easy shorthand to create richly dramatic images is to put very well dressed people on a beach. But the iconic image of Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin on the sand with the titular stringed instrument is the least of this film’s achievements: it is moody, gothic, erotic masterpiece, once seen and never forgotten.
A mute woman (Hunter) is arranged to marry a man (Sam Neill) who insists on leaving her prized possession on the beach, while another man (Harvey Keitel) allows her to buy it back in exchange for lessons. Campion became the second woman to be nominated for an Oscar for best director and the first and only woman to date to win the Cannes film festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or.
Honourable mentions: Who Gets to Stay in Australia, The Hot Zone (TV, now), Joint Venture (TV, 9 July), The Host (film, 12 July), Dallas Buyers Club (film, 16 July), Fear the Walking Dead (TV, 18 July), The Grey (film, 19 July)
Rosehaven season 4
TV, Australia, 2020 – out 8 July
The fourth season is about to arrive of everybody’s favourite show about a pair of best friend real estate agents (Celia Pacquola and Luke McGregor) living in a sleepy Tasmanian town. Sure, it might be the only show about a pair of best friend real estate agents living in a sleepy Tasmanian town, but Rosehaven is still a delight. It’s funny and charming, with an enjoyable leisurely pace and two immensely endearing lead performances from Pacquola and McGregor (also the co-writers and co-creators). Warm up for the new season by revisiting the first three, which are available on Prime Video.
TV, Australia, 202 – out 15 July
Tom Gleeson is the host you love to hate (but really we just love him), giving his various egghead participants no end of good-natured grief in the popular and beloved game show. I do have one complaint about Hard Quiz, however, which bothers me every episode. After going through each participant’s subject, the show inevitably moves onto Gleeson’s subject, which is always introduced in the same way: “Tom’s subject, multiple choice.” Except multiple choice is not a subject; it’s a form of assessment. Think about it.
Honourable mentions: In My Blood It Runs (film, 5 July), Shaun Micallef’s On the Sauce (TV, 21 July), Intelligence (TV, out 27 July)
Film, USA, 2019 - out now
Director Todd Phillip’s super-villain origins story, rendered as a Scorsesean portrait of an extremely unwell and antisocial man, won two Oscars (including best actor for Joaquin Phoenix) and was nominated for 11. However, it is nothing if not divisive. Critics said it was bad; critics said it was very good; critics said it was brilliant.
Some argue the film glamorises a dangerous incel, but I saw it as a shockingly effective illustration of a world butchered by vested interests and corrupted ideals. Also a no-holds-barred condemnation of austerity and an unrelenting depiction of what Hunter S Thompson bleakly called “a closed society where everybody’s guilty”, where “the only crime is getting caught”. The patient is unwell; the doctor is unwell; the system is broken. One thing (hopefully) everybody can agree on: Phoenix is a brilliant actor; almost a kind of cinema unto himself.
The Very Excellent Mr Dundee
Film, Australia, 2020 - 17 July
Australian comedy legend Paul Hogan returns as a fictionalised version of himself in what looks like a strange, slightly meta cash grab. In the film the veteran must “stay out of trouble” (quoting the official synopsis) in order to receive a knighthood for his services to comedy. It features a range of cameos from the likes of John Cleese, Olivia Newton-John and Chevy Chase. Train wreck or cheeky success? We’ll find out soon enough.
Honourable mentions: Hanna season two (TV, 3 July), The Dead Don’t Die (film, 11 July), Black Christmas (film, 25 July) 47 Meters Down: Uncaged (film, 27 July), Alex Rider (TV, 31 July)
Babe: Pig in the City
Film, Australia, 1998 – out now
Critics love to bandy around the words “under-rated” (they even appear elsewhere in this column) but that label only begins to hint at my feelings towards George Miller’s 1998 Babe sequel, which was a big disappointment at the box office and received a tepid response from critics. Nevertheless, it’s the Citizen Kane of talking animal movies, designed by the director – as he told me himself a few years ago – for the adult in the child and the child in the adult.
The titular well-meaning ungulate leaves the beatific surrounds of his farm home and journeys to a metropolis, presented as a gorgeously stylised composite city – with landmarks such as Sydney Opera House, the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower appearing in the same frame. If anybody ever expresses doubt about the greatness of his film, I point them in the direction of this clip and they always pipe down.
Honourable mentions: Hot Fuzz, Groundhog Day, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Assault on Precinct 13, Slam (film, out now), The Dead Don’t Die (film, 11 July), Ready or Not (film, 22 July)
Film, USA, 2020 – out 3 July
Like everybody who hasn’t lived under a rock for the past few years, I’d heard very good things about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s mega-hit musical, which explores the life and legacy of American founding father Alexander Hamilton. And yet I wasn’t prepared for the sheer magnificence of this extraordinarily well-written and performed production, which uses rap, hip-hop, R&B and other kinds of music to electrifying effect, with pressure-packed lyrics cranked full of dazzling wordplay in service of a story about fighting a revolution and forming a national identity.
In a year full of surprises, here’s another to add to the tally: the streaming event of 2020 is neither a film nor a TV show, but a filmed recording of a stage show. Hamilton is therefore lacklustre as a cinematic work – with standard visual composition confined to a limited space – but who cares? The brilliance of the material and its sensational execution more than shines through.
Honourable mentions: Rogue Trip (TV, 24 July), Muppets Now (TV, 31 July)