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The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From January 1 2022

Head to the flicks to see Lady Gaga's latest exceptional performance, the nostalgia-laden new 'Ghostbusters' film and a childhood favourite scampering across the big screen.
By Sarah Ward
January 01, 2022
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By Sarah Ward
January 01, 2022
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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 releasesStudio 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.

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HOUSE OF GUCCI

For the second time in as many movies, Lady Gaga is caught in a bad romance in House of Gucci. Yes, she's already sung the song to match. The pop diva doesn't belt out ballads or croon upbeat tunes in this true-crime drama, unlike in her Oscar-nominated role in A Star Is Born, but she does shimmy into a tale about love and revenge, horror and design, and wanting someone's everything as long as it's free. Eschewing the earthy naturalism of her last film performance and tapping into her famed on-stage theatricality instead, she's perfect for the part of Patrizia Reggiani, aka Lady Gucci, aka the daughter of a trucking entrepreneur who wed into one of the world's most prestigious fashion families, helped unstitch its hold on its couture empire, then went to prison for murder. She's exceptional because she goes big and lavish, and because she knows that's the type of feature she's meant to be in: a soapy spectacle about money and power that uses its depiction of excess as an interrogation technique.

Complimenting Gaga for nailing the brief — for acing it so dazzlingly that she's sauntering down her own catwalk as most of her co-stars virtually watch from the floor — gives House of Gucci a tad too much credit, though. Ridley Scott's second film in mere months following The Last Duel, and his third in a row to examine wealth and influence after 2017's All the Money in the World, this fashion-world saga skews large, lush and luxe with each choice, too, but doesn't land every sashay with quite the outsized lustre of its crown jewel. If House of Gucci's veteran director was picking an outfit instead, he would've chosen a killer gown, then wavered on the accessories. Some of his other decisions gleam, as seen in the movie's knowingly maximalist and melodramatic air. Others prove fine, like its jukebox-style soundtrack of 70s and 80s bangers. A few moves are so cartoonish — Jared Leto's ridiculousness, and the Super Mario-style accents sported by almost everyone on-screen — that they play like cheap knockoffs.

The story itself is a standout, however, as adapted from Sara Gay Forden's 2001 book The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed. When Patrizia meets law student Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver, Annette) at a 70s-era party, mistakes him for a bartender, then realises who he is, it sparks a rollercoaster of a relationship — starting with Maurizio being disinherited by his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons, Love, Weddings and Other Disasters) for their marriage. Still, the newest Gucci knows what she wants: a place in the family's dynasty. She isn't the lone cause of the Guccis' unfolding, thanks to Rodolfo's brother Aldo (Al Pacino, Hunters), his penchant for watering down the brand and tax evasion, and his wannabe-designer son Paolo (Leto, The Little Things), but she's the Lady Macbeth pushing Maurizio to seize the company by any means.

And, because the reason that House of Gucci even exists was written in news headlines over a quarter-century ago, she's behind Maurizio's killing in 1995. "I don't consider myself a particularly ethical person, but I'm fair," Patrizia offers partway into the movie, a moral code that still sees her order his hit after their divorce — helped by a TV psychic-turned-pal (Salma Hayek, Eternals), because that's the kind of tale this is. Interviewed in 2016, Patrizia called herself "the most Gucci of them all", an idea that Scott and his screenwriters Becky Johnston (Arthur Newman) and Roberto Bentivegna (short El otro lado) don't ever give Italian-lilted voice to, but still use as their basic pattern. In the sartorial realm, Gucci might stand for high-end indulgence, but House of Gucci sees both the allure and the cost of the brand reflected in Patrizia's status-hungry actions.

Read our full review.

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GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE

Spraying reboots, remakes, sequels and prequels across cinema screens like a spirit supposedly sprays ectoplasm — gushing reimaginings, spinoffs and seemingly never-ending franchises, too — Hollywood ain't afraid of no ghosts. It loves them in horror movies, obviously, but it adores the spectre of popular intellectual property even more. These phantoms of hits gone by can be resurrected again and again, all to make a profit. They haunt both cinemas and box-office blockbuster lists, making film-goers and the industry itself constantly feel like they're being spooked by the past. With 14 of Australia's 15 top cash-earning flicks of 2021 all falling into the been-there-done-that category in one way or another, looking backwards in the name of apparently going forwards is now mainstream filmmaking 101, and the big end of town rarely likes bustin' a money-making formula.

After more than a few pandemic delays, that's the world that Ghostbusters: Afterlife floats into — a world that's made worshipping previous glories one of the biggest cash-spinners show business could've ever dreamed up. The fourth feature to bear the Ghostbusters name, but a new legacy sequel to the original 1984 film, this reanimated franchise entry certainly sports a fitting subtitle; treating its source material like it's nirvana is firmly filmmaker Jason Reitman's approach. To him, it might've been. Although he established his career with indie comedies such as Thank You for Smoking and Juno, he's the son of director Ivan Reitman, who helmed the OG Ghostbusters and its 1989 follow-up Ghostbusters II. To plenty of fans, those two initial comedy-horror flicks were something special as well; however, acknowledging that fact — and trying to recreate the feeling of being a kid or teen watching the first Ghostbusters nearly four decades ago — isn't enough to fuel a new film.

To be fair, the younger Reitman isn't particularly interested in making a new movie; Be Kind Rewind's "sweded" Ghostbusters clips are more original than Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Instead, he directs a homage that sprinkles in links to its predecessor so heartily that it's probably easier to name the scenes and details that don't scream "hey, this is Ghostbusters!" as loudly as possible. And, even when Reitman and co-screenwriter Gil Kenan (Poltergeist) appear to shake things up ever so slightly, it all still ties back to that kid-in-the-80s sensation. Sure, Ghostbusters: Afterlife's protagonists aren't adult New Yorkers, but they're small-town adolescents who might as well have ambled out of one of the era's other hot properties: Steven Spielberg-helmed or -produced coming-of-age adventure-comedies about life-changing, Americana-dripping, personality-shaping escapades.

Phoebe (Mckenna Grace, Malignant) is one such child, and a new inhabitant of the cringingly titled Summerville, Oklahoma at that. With her mother Callie (Carrie Coon, The Nest) and brother Trevor (Finn Wolfhard, The Goldfinch), she's made the move because the granddad she never knew just passed away, leaving a dilapidated rural property to his estranged family. The townsfolk speak his nickname, "dirt farmer", with mocking and intrigue, but his actual moniker — and all that equipment he's left behind — brings big changes Phoebe's way. While being Dr Egon Spengler's granddaughter doesn't initially mean too much to her, other than giving her love for science a genetic basis, she's soon segueing from testing out ghost traps with local teacher Mr Grooberson (Paul Rudd, The Shrink Next Door) to cracking Egon's secret efforts to stop a world-shattering supernatural event.

Read our full review.

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NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN

Start how you mean to go on is common-sense filmmaking advice. It's the medium's obvious first step, but it's also an elusive achievement. And, it's a feat that's usually only evident in hindsight — when a viewer can see if a stellar introduction really did signal just as sublime things to come, or vice versa. Never Gonna Snow Again perfects the concept, however. In its arresting opening moments, a man walks out of a forest and into a gated community in eastern Poland, and everything about the scene ripples with moody intrigue. The grey fog infusing the film's setting, the enigmatic look on the mysterious protagonist's face, the feeling that anything and everything could happen: filmmakers Malgorzata Szumowska (Mug) and Michal Englert (also the movie's cinematographer) deliver it all at the outset, and then back it up over their feature's 116 minutes. 

In Never Gonna Snow Again's initial images, that inscrutable man is Ukrainian masseur Zhenia (Alec Utgoff, Stranger Things), who walks out of a forest and into a gated community in eastern Poland. His destination is lined with lavish identical houses — the kind that the song 'Little Boxes' has satirised for almost six decades now — but he's about to be its most extraordinary visitor. His hands can help knead away physical troubles, a must for everyone with his profession. But as he works his physical magic, his touch can soothe minds as well. Trundling his massage table from well-appointed home to well-appointed home, he quickly builds up a devoted client list of well-to-do residents desperate for his help. He steps into their worlds, spying their outward gloss — the similar wreaths on each door, the doorbells chiming with snippets of classic music — and palpating away their inner pain.

As that glorious opening scene establishes almost-unnervingly well, there's a surreal, seductive and otherworldly atmosphere to Never Gonna Snow Again, which Szumowska and Englert let float through their frames like a lingering breeze. There's also a devastatingly savvy interrogation of the type of rich lives that pine for Zhenia's involvement, including their complete obliviousness to him as anything more than a salve for their ennui. Much festers in the feature's McMansions. As it contemplates the everyday malaise that dulls wealth's superficial glow, as well as the vast chasm between gleaming exteriors and empty insides, much haunts Never Gonna Snow Again, in fact. Thematically, it wades into familiar territory — at a time when Succession and The White Lotus are the best shows on TV, and Parasite won the Best Picture Oscar just a year ago, it's probably easier to name movies and TV shows that don't shred the rich to pieces — but it stands out like a pink-hued home in an estate plastered with white and grey.

Plenty dazzles in Never Gonna Snow Again, too, including Szumowska and Englert's confident handling, which knits together magical realism and razor-sharp observations about class — and about modern life's rubbish in general as well — with canny precision. Indeed, the movie could've easily crumbled in other hands, and likely will if anyone ever erroneously decides it needs an English-language remake. Perhaps the filmmaking duo's smartest decision is also their most visible, however, because Utgoff's performance is just that magnetic. He's the presence that all those well-to-do clients warm to, lean on and rely upon, and the source of comfort so reliable and cosy that they aren't ever challenged to shatter their bubbles to think about him as a person rather than a set of helping hands — but he has Never Gonna Snow Again's audience constantly pondering and questioning. 

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CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG

Nostalgia might be one of pop culture's most-called-upon forces — see also: Ghostbusters: Afterlife  but it can't turn every childhood favourite that reaches cinemas into a winner. Leaping from the pages of Norman Bridwell's illustrated books, the new live-action Clifford the Big Red Dog film is a huge generic slog, shoehorning its oversized, crimson-hued hound into a jumble of routine scenarios that are about as rare as wayward dog faeces in a public park. The giant scarlet woofer gallops into a by-the-numbers, family-friendly action-adventure flick that's a missive against judging things by their appearances, a cautionary tale about bullying and a takedown of nefarious corporate interests. Ron's Gone Wrong barked up all the same trees recently and, while it was hardly an instant classic, it runs circles around this.

The point of Clifford the Big Red Dog, no matter what the narrative spins, is right there in the title: it's a story about an abnormally large, unusually ruby-coloured canine, and that's what people want to see. Despite 80 books to the character's name, it's a one-note idea that screenwriters Blaise Hemingway (Vampires vs the Bronx), Jay Scherick and David Ronn (Baywatch) — working with a screen story by Justin Malen (Yes Day) and Ellen Rapoport (Desperados) — unsurprisingly set about fleshing out, but also often sideline their eponymous mutt in the process. Clifford's hijinks couldn't sustain an entire feature, but he's really just a big red sidekick for the bulk of the film. He's an enormous cherry-toned sign for accepting things that are different, too, a well-intentioned message that couldn't be more glaring given that a big red dog yaps the very concept.

Clifford isn't originally a giant pet when Emily Elizabeth Howard (Darby Camp, Dreamland) first makes his acquaintance in a Central Park animal-rescue tent run by the mysterious Bridwell (John Cleese, The Very Excellent Mr Dundee). He's definitely the same shade as a tomato, though, and his bond with Emily is instant — even if her mess of an uncle, Casey (Jack Whitehall, Jungle Cruise), says she can't take him home. And yet, this little critter still finds his way into his new pal's backpack. The next morning, he's also no longer a tiny pup. Plus, when he starts attracting attention around New York, he's targeted by a tech billionaire (Tony Hale, Being the Ricardos) who wants him for scientific purposes — but the already-teased Emily, who is taunted at her private school for being there on a scholarship, won't let anyone either take or victimise Clifford for standing out.

The look and mood in Clifford the Big Red Dog is sunny with a side of saccharine, and it has John Debney's (Home Sweet Home Alone) relentlessly cheery score to match. With the movie's namesake blazing away in every frame he's in — not due to his hue or size, but via the terrible CGI bringing him to digital life — director Walt Becker (Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip) was never going to helm a subtle film, but everything here is exactly as nuanced as a towering vermillion puppy. The result isn't quite as doggone awful as pooch-driven buddy cop flick Show Dogs, although that's an extremely low bar. It's never as goofy as it should be, however, and it really should sport all the goofiness it can dig up (smatterings of toilet humour don't count). Clifford the Big Red Dog can also only wish it was as visually creative and emotionally endearing as the recent page-to-screen all-ages movie standard: the Paddington films, which keep being pushed into a menagerie of their own by every pale imitation.

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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 September 2, September 9, September 16, September 23 and September 30; October 7, October 14, October 21 and October 28; November 4, November 11, November 18 and November 25; and December 2, December 9December 16 and December 26.

You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Streamline, Coming Home in the Dark, Pig, Big Deal, The Killing of Two Lovers, Nitram, Riders of Justice, 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 and The Worst Person in the World.

Published on January 01, 2022 by Sarah Ward
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