The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From February 3
Head to the flicks to see a nostalgic Oscar contender starring Jamie Dornan, an eight-part anthology film shot and set in western Sydney, and the latest 'Jackass' stupidity.
February 03, 2022
Something delightful has been happening in cinemas in some parts of the country. After numerous periods spent empty during the pandemic, with projectors silent, theatres bare and the smell of popcorn fading, picture palaces in many Australian regions are back in business — including both big chains and smaller independent sites in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
During COVID-19 lockdowns, no one was short on things to watch, of course. In fact, you probably feel like you've streamed every movie ever made, including new releases, Studio Ghibli's animated fare and Nicolas Cage-starring flicks. But, even if you've spent all your time of late glued to your small screen, we're betting you just can't wait to sit in a darkened room and soak up the splendour of the bigger version. Thankfully, plenty of new films are hitting cinemas so that you can do just that — and we've rounded up, watched and reviewed everything on offer this week.
Warm, cosy, rosy, charming, feel-good: typically when a film spins its story during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, none of these words apply. But with Belfast, Kenneth Branagh has made a movie set in its eponymous city when the Protestant-versus-Catholic violence was a constant sight, and also helmed a feature that's about a childhood spent with that conflict as a backdrop. It's an approach that only works because Branagh draws from his own experiences — the film isn't a play-by-play memoir, but it's also clearly personal. Here, it's 1969, when the actor-turned-filmmaker would've been nine years old. The movie's protagonist, Buddy (first-timer Jude Hill), is that exact age, in fact. And with the beginnings of a three-decade-long sectarian fracas bubbling and boiling around him, he navigates the usual age-appropriate antics, such as school, crushes, doting grandparents with ailing health and a potential big move.
The Troubles are a constant sight in the largely monochrome-hued film, too, and the reason Buddy's that parents are contemplating relocating to England, something they wouldn't have dreamed of otherwise. Pa (Jamie Dornan, The Tourist) already spends most of his time working there as a joiner, leaving Ma (Caitríona Balfe, Outlander) at home with Buddy and his elder brother Will (Lewis McAskie, Here Before) — with assistance from the boys' Granny (Judi Dench, Six Minutes to Midnight) and Pop (Ciarán Hinds, The Man in the Hat) — and he's been offered a new job that comes with a house. The violence swirling through Belfast has already made it to the family's street, to their hounded Catholic neighbours and, when Pa refuses to join the fray, put them on their fellow Protestants' hit list. Shifting to London (or perhaps further, to Sydney or Vancouver) would provide a new start and a safer future, but leaving all they've ever known isn't a simple decision.
Belfast's adult characters are only known as Buddy would know them, such is Branagh's commitment to seeing this story, time and place through a child's eyes as he once did. And, while there's much debate to be had between Pa and Ma about whether to go or stay, the film is filled with its young lead's joys and worries — with the prospect of never again seeing the Catholic classmate he swoons over high among the boy's concerns. Belfast isn't short on context, however, though there's zero chance that it could be mistaken for a meaty interrogation of The Troubles. Branagh weaves in examples of how the push-and-pull of the conflict that's inescapable in his neighbourhood every day, Molotov cocktails, broken windows, blazes, riots and all, puts Buddy and his family in the middle. Still, a magical view of childhood remains, including when Buddy gets thrust into the thick of the fray — where, after he returns home with looted supermarket wares, his mother marches him back to return the stolen products amid the chaos.
Branagh also indulges in an origin story, perhaps inspired by his stint in the Marvel Cinematic Universe directing the first Thor film back in 2011 (Buddy is even seen reading a Thor comic). Escaping The Troubles as much as anyone can in Belfast, the writer/director's on-screen surrogate adores seeing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and A Christmas Carol also features — scenes that come to life in colour, unlike the bulk of the picture around them. In the process, Branagh helps trace the early steps of his own desire to become a thespian and filmmaker, which has led to everything from Shakespeare adaptations such as Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet, to doing double duty in front of and behind the lens with Hercule Poirot duo Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. He's played Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' Gilderoy Lockhart, helmed Disney's live-action Cinderella, gotten villainous in Tenet, and of course, enjoyed an applauded on-stage career as well, all stemming from those first rapturous experiences watching when he was growing up.
Read our full review.
HERE OUT WEST
Western Sydney could use a love letter right now, and that tribute arrives in Here Out West. The product of eight up-and-coming screenwriters from the area, it celebrates a place that has spent much of the past year garnering attention for a reason no one wanted: thanks to the tighter rules applied to the region during Sydney's four-month stretch of stay-at-home conditions in 2021, it was home to New South Wales' strictest lockdown of the pandemic to-date. Thankfully, COVID-19 isn't this movie's focus. Instead, as told in nine languages — Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese, Kurdish, Tagalog, Turkish, Vietnamese, Spanish and English — and helmed by five female filmmakers, Here Out West dwells in everyday lives. It champions by seeing and recognising, and by trumpeting voices that have always been there but are infrequently given a microphone.
Opening shots of suburban houses and looping highways set the scene: viewers aren't journeying to an Aussie beach or the nation's parched outback expanse, aka two of the prevailing visions of this sunburnt, sea-girt continent on-screen. Rather, Here Out West unfurls its octet of intertwined vignettes in spaces far more ordinary — not to downplay the importance of surveying western Sydney, but to clearly note that these are its daily playgrounds. It's here that mothers have babies, neighbours look after the kids next door, grandmothers worry about their grandchildren, dads struggle to connect with their sons, and sport and food are among the ways that people come together. It's here that adults bicker among themselves over love, and with their parents about their futures. It's where lives begin and end, and where folks with dreams both big and modest also try to start anew. And yes, all of these scenarios are covered by the film's narrative.
Initially, Here Out West spends time with Nancy (Geneviève Lemon, The Tourist), who takes care of her eight-year-old neighbour Amirah (debutant Mia-Lore Bayeh), but wasn't actually planning to help out today. She has a newborn granddaughter to meet — one that the authorities are planning to take away, so Nancy makes a drastic decision that'll ripple throughout the community across the movie's one-day timeframe. In the film's second segment, hospital carpark security guard Jorge (fellow first-timer Christian Ravello) is brought into the wider story, and also gets a snapshot chapter of his own. His instalment then intersects with friends Rashid (Rahel Romahn, Moon Rock for Monday), Dino (Thuso Lekwape, Book Week) and Robi (Arka Das, Babyteeth), who run through the streets arguing about Rashid's cousin. Next, their section links in with Ashmita (Leah Vandenberg, The Hunting) and her dying Bengali-speaking father back at the local hospital.
Returning to specific spots comes with territory, because it comes with living anywhere; paths cross, people are drawn to the same busy and central locations, and some facilities — such as Here Out West's pivotal hospital — are always a hive of activity in any community. That truth continues to drive the film as it meets Kurdish refugees Keko (De Lovan Zandy) and Xoxe (Befrin Axtjärn Jackson), who are hoping to make a new beginning that still involves his penchant for music and her skills hand-weaving carpets, before jumping to Tuan (Khoi Trinh) and his brother Andy (Brandon Nguyen), who possess varying ideas about what it means to be Vietnamese Australian. Then comes a glimpse at nurse Roxanne's (Christine Milo, It's a Cult!) day as she works a double shift and misses her family in The Philippines. And, there's also Winnie (Gabrielle Chan, Hungry Ghosts) and Angel (Jing-Xuan Chan, Neighbours) as the mother and daughter close their Chinese restaurant for the last time.
Read our full review.
Older men, same ol' tricks and dicks: that's Jackass Forever. The fifth film in the prank-fuelled TV-to-movie franchise isn't afraid of letting it show, either, just as it's never been afraid of flashing around male genitalia. No one in Jackass' crew of comic daredevils is scared of that much — or, if they are, they're more frightened of not challenging themselves alongside their buddies — so the proud and purposeful attitude flaunted in the flick's title and usual formula is thoroughly unsurprising. Twenty-two years have passed since Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Dave Englund, Wee Man, Danger Ehren and Preston Lacy first turned outlandish stunts and practical jokes into an MTV hit, but age hasn't wearied their passion or camaraderie. It also hasn't dampened the gang's fondness for showing their junk, but there's something sweet here among all the penises: the fact that time inescapably passes but doing stupid shit with your mates sparks immortal joy.
Jackass Forever is stupid, because the kinds of gags that Knoxville and company love are profoundly idiotic — including the film's opening gambit, where a green Godzilla-esque creature tramples a city but it's really Pontius' package painted like a monster. Also inherently silly: using the cast's bodies to prop up skateboarding ramps, a Knoxville-hosted game show that penalises wrong answers with a whack to the sack, exploding a port-a-potty while Steve-O is using it and a contraption made of harnesses that simultaneously gives three people wedgies. The ridiculous bits go on, including lighting farts underwater and drinking milk on a moving carousel to the point of vomiting. Another reason that Jackass is forever for this troupe: they're still as juvenile now, even though they're all over or approaching 50, as they ever were.
Describing Jackass' risky skits and scenes never comes close to watching them, but how funny anyone finds this franchise depends on individual senses of humour and, sometimes, upon your mood on any given day. Regardless, there's always been an art to its follies, as captured on camera by Jeff Tremaine, the series' longstanding director, and also its co-creator with Knoxville and Her filmmaker Spike Jonze. Jackass' slapstick credentials carry on the traditions of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and The Three Stooges, but lewder and grosser, obviously. The saga's commitment to documenting not just the stunts and pranks themselves, but the setups, attitudes in advance and reactions afterwards — the key interplay between its perpetrators, victims and spectators, too — also sees it deconstruct the brand of comedy it sports as it goes. These sense-defying jesters show their working, in other words, and share the thrills it inspires. No wonder they don't ever want it to stop.
Mortality does hang over Jackass Forever, however, as seen in a number of ways — starting with Knoxville's grey hair. It isn't always so strikingly silvery, and he's also shown talking about not wanting to show his bald spot, which Jonze then rushes in to cover with black spray paint. But when the crew's ringleader does let his wintry-hued tresses show, it's the best visual representation possible of how these guys will be adoring all things Jackass till they die. Well that, and the plethora of injuries suffered, including Knoxville's concussion, brain haemorrhage and bone fractures from a bull stunt. Jackass' ridiculous men can't escape the passing years and its impact upon their bodies if they wanted to, but it clearly makes them savour what they're doing.
Read our full review.
Does Roland Emmerich hate earth? Asking for not just a friend, but for the residents of an entire planet that the filmmaker just can't stop blowing up, devastating via CGI chaos and threatening with its end in his movies. Or, does he really love it, and has committed to the cinematic version of negging — tearing this pale blue dot down again and again so that his always paper-thin characters can swoop in to save the day, and also somehow seduce thankful viewers? Either way, Hollywood's go-to disaster-porn helmer is running out of moves, after a career spent blighting the globe in Independence Day, the terrible 1998 American Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 and Independence Day: Resurgence. He does what he long has with Moonfall, of course, but with a space twist and while also noticeably ripping off elements of Alien and Prometheus.
Moonfall begins in 2011, on a Space Shuttle mission, when it seems as if astronauts Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It) and Jo Fowler (Halle Berry, Bruised) might first find themselves in a Gravity knockoff. Something dark, fast and strange swarms them while Harper is out in the inky nothingness working on a satellite, leading to a tragedy, but no one believes his version of events — including Fowler. Ten years later, he's considered a has-been, she's still at NASA and, when conspiracy theorist KC Houseman (John Bradley, Game of Thrones) learns that the moon has been knocked off its orbit, they're the only ones who can save the day. Harper is also one of the only people willing to listen to Houseman's wild claim that the moon is actually an artificial megastructure, which is linked to its sudden descent upon earth.
There's a word for folks who share Houseman's beliefs: 'megastructuralist', a term that viewers will never forget given how many times that Emmerich, Harald Kloser (also the film's composer) and Spenser Cohen (Extinction) work it into their screenplay. It's all that Bradley seems to say, and Moonfall clings to it like its filmmaker is desperately trying to one-up the hollow earth theory seen in Godzilla vs Kong, a better take on creature features than his past attempt. In general, Moonfall's script plays like a grab-bag of better elements from other space, disaster and sci-fi flicks all thrown together and spun like a gyroscope, but its nods in Ridley Scott and the Alien franchise's direction couldn't be more blatant. Indeed, thanks to its obvious pilfering, Moonfall often appears to have a better movie lurking inside — an interesting-enough space film erroneously packaged with all of Emmerich's standard world-ending mayhem — but only if you can somehow forget that one of the best pictures ever made got there first.
Emmerich's latest would definitely be improved it it blew away some of the time it spends charting the fallout on earth, where "city-sized moon pieces will rain down", Harper and Fowler both have sons to save, and the thoroughly bored look on Charlie Plummer's (Words on Bathroom Walls) face as the just-imprisoned-but-good-at-heart Sonny Harper says everything. But then this film wouldn't have been made by this director, who refuses to embrace the ridiculousness of everything he's thrusting onto the screen and sticks with his stock-standard self-serious vibe. The premise, the writing, each easily foreseeable twist — it's all ludicrous, but played far too straight, although that doesn't result in anything but by-the-numbers performances by Wilson and Berry, and a gratingly one-note turn from Bradley. Perhaps Moonfall's biggest feat is making that other recent flick about a falling celestial object, Don't Look Up, look better than it is in comparison. Well that, and owning its silliness exactly once, in its moniker, because Moonfall certainly does describe exactly what happens.
INDIA SWEETS AND SPICES
India Sweets and Spices sports a clunky title, but a descriptive one. The saccharine and the zesty — the formulaic and spirited, too — combine in this coming-of-age comedy about an Indian American college freshman returning home from her no-holds-barred campus life for the summer, and being expected to slot back into her parents' and culture's expectations and traditions as if she'd never left. That quickly unhappy student is Alia Kapur (Sophia Ali, Grey's Anatomy), who has little on her agenda for her break except lazing by and in the pool; however, her prim-and-proper mother Sheila (Manisha Koirala, an Indian cinema mainstay) and doctor father Ranjit (Adil Hussain, Star Trek: Discovery) still demand that she do the rounds of their social circle's weekly Saturday-night party circuit. It's more her mum's doing than her significantly more laidback dad's, but it's also the done thing. What isn't usual: inviting the new proprietors of the local Indian store to these well-to-do shindigs.
Writer/director Geeta Malik (Troublemaker) could've called her sophomore feature Crazy Rich Indian Americans — or Snobby Rich Indian Americans — and the moniker would've stuck, with a clear class clash the obvious outcome when Varun Dutta (Rish Shah, To All the Boys: Always and Forever), his mother Bhairavi (Deepti Gupta, High School Musical: The Musical — The Series) and dad Kamlesh (Kamran Shaikh, Evil Eye) show up to the Kapurs' home as asked. The conceited judgement over their nice but not glitzy attire is immediate, and further awkwardness springs quickly when it turns out that Sheila and Bhairavi shared a past before they both emigrated to the US. Alia is outraged over the reaction, intrigued about her mum's history and, given that's the reason she invited the Duttas in the first place, interested in Varun — and all three swiftly shape her summer.
There's a sprinkle too much of the familiar to India Sweets and Spices, both in its narrative — and many of the details and cliches used to tell it — and its insights into the struggles of growing up surrounded by one country's attitudes but with another's conventions always knocking at the door. The template-esque feel makes the film pleasant rather than overly memorable, and its boilerplate TV-style gloss and sheen doesn't help it stand out, either. Thankfully, Malik's three key female talents couldn't fade into a by-the-numbers setup if they wanted to, and add much of the movie's verve as a result. Ali may play a character that could've stepped out of any similar flick, including the likes of Bend It Like Beckham and The Big Sick, but her delivery and presence are one of this feature's best traits. And whenever Koirala and Gupta are on-screen, be it together or separately, India Sweets and Spices benefits immensely.
All three women are also pivotal to Malik's biggest attempt to differentiate India Sweets and Spices from other comparable fare: her foray into the quest for women's equality in India. Perched within the film's otherwise straightforward intergenerational and class conflicts sits a look at gender roles both historically in India and within Indian American communities today — the movie takes place in New Jersey — plus an examination of the sacrifices that might be made by someone willing to forgo her own fight to gift a better life to her children instead. This meaty and meaningful aspect of the feature would hit harder if so much that surrounded it wasn't content with easy tropes, though. Indeed, India Sweets and Spices is a tad too happy to act against its own advice, settling for something that's good enough rather than pushing itself further past the tried and tested.
STREET GANG: HOW WE GOT TO SESAME STREET
On a fictional New York street that's home to a cross-section of the city's multicultural population, young and old alike, and also to boisterous muppets, sunny days have been sweeping the clouds away since November 1969. Eager to educate preschoolers, Sesame Street has taught multiple generations of children the alphabet, to count — with help from Count von Count since 1972, of course — and about life in general, and both its longevity and the beloved turf it holds within popular culture speak to its enormous success. Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street knows that it's profiling a seminal piece of television, and that virtually everyone born in the past half-century grew up watching the adored series; however, it's also keen to tell the story behind that story. Nostalgia drips through this behind-the-scenes documentary, gleefully so, but so too does a chronicle of how Sesame Street became the icon it is — and against the odds.
The show's backstory starts with TV producer Joan Ganz Cooney and psychologist Lloyd Morrisett, and with a dinner-party conversation that saw them float the idea of a television series that might help American children prepare for school — particularly kids of colour. The path to Sesame Street reaching the air wasn't smooth from there, or plain sailing once it got to screens (its focus on racial integration didn't go down well in parts of Mississippi, for instance), but education-meets-entertainment history was nonetheless made. Inspired by Michael Davis' 2008 non-fiction book Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, documentarian Marilyn Agrelo (An Invisible Sign) fashions her film as an insider's window into a miraculous program, blending informative details about how it came to be and its early years with clips of its muppet-fuelled magic. Both elements of the movie engage, as do its recent and archival interviews.
On the screen, Street Gang benefits from the type of observation that helped make its subject such a delight: that showing is far better than telling. Given that there's so much ground to cover — Sesame Street could easily earn its own historical documentary series, but this film fits what it can into 107 minutes — it's patently a tricky juggling act to find the right balance between Sesame Street footage and analysis, but the clips presented are charmers. Agrelo deploys these snippets to demonstrate the show's commitment to representation, as paired with chats with actors such as Emilio Delgado (Luis) and Sonia Manzano (Maria); its educational approach, aka its number-one reason for existing; and the puppetry prowess of original Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch performer Carol Spinney, and of the great Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Discussions with and about the former, including about how both characters gave him outlet for parts of his personality, are lovely, while giggling at the latter pair's work as Bert and Ernie never gets old, and neither does appreciating why the double act is such a piece of genius.
Sesame Street has always been revolutionary, too, and in a plethora of ways, all of which Street Gang celebrates. Its firm intent to ensure that it represented America's diversity sprang from its times and made a statement, while its willingness to use advertising techniques — jingles included — was savvy and smart. Its blend of humour and information, its eagerness to entertain the adults watching as well as the kids, the passion for ensuring that all children felt included and empowered: they're all pioneering. And, as much as the aired segments and hilarious outtakes prove joyous, the meaning and power of Sesame Street always beams through. Of course, being both amusing and enlightening was always the show's aim, so it's apt that this loveable documentary about it easily achieves the same feat.
Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street is screening at Sydney's Golden Age Cinema and Bar, and is also available to stream via video on demand.
If you're wondering what else is currently screening in Australian cinemas — or has been lately — check out our rundown of new films released in Australia on October 7, October 14, October 21 and October 28; November 4, November 11, November 18 and November 25; December 2, December 9, December 16 and December 26; and January 1, January 6, January 13, January 20 and January 27.
You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as The Alpinist, A Fire Inside, Lamb, The Last Duel, Malignant, The Harder They Fall, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, Halloween Kills, Passing, Eternals, The Many Saints of Newark, Julia, No Time to Die, The Power of the Dog, Tick, Tick... Boom!, Zola, Last Night in Soho, Blue Bayou, The Rescue, Titane, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, Dune, Encanto, The Card Counter, The Lost Leonardo, The French Dispatch, Don't Look Up, Dear Evan Hansen, Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Lost Daughter, The Scary of Sixty-First, West Side Story, Licorice Pizza, The Matrix Resurrections, The Tragedy of Macbeth, The Worst Person in the World, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, House of Gucci, The King's Man, Red Rocket, Scream, The 355, Gold, King Richard, Limbo, Spencer, Nightmare Alley, Belle, Parallel Mothers and The Eyes of Tammy Faye.
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