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The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From January 6

Head to the flicks to see a wild step into a washed-up porn star's return home, a spy franchise prequel and the latest animated take on 'The Addams Family' .
By Sarah Ward
January 06, 2022
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By Sarah Ward
January 06, 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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RED ROCKET

It might sound crazy, but it ain't no lie: Red Rocket's *NSYNC needle drops, the cost of which likely almost eclipsed the rest of the film's budget, provide a sensational mix of movie music moments in an all-round sensational picture. A portrait of an ex-porn star's knotty homecoming to the oil-and-gas hub that is Texas City, the feature only actually includes one song by the Justin Timberlake-fronted late-90s/early-00s boyband, but it makes the most of it. That tune is 'Bye Bye Bye', and it's a doozy. With its instantly recognisable blend of synth and violins, it first kicks in as the film itself does, and as the bruised face of Mikey Saber (Simon Rex, Scary Movie 3, 4 and 5) peers out of a bus window en route from Los Angeles. Its lyrics — "I'm doing this tonight, you're probably gonna start a fight, I know this can't be right" — couldn't fit the situation better. The infectiously catchy vibe couldn't be more perfect as well, and nor could the contrast that all those upbeat sounds have always had with the track's words.

As he demonstrates with every film, Red Rocket writer/director/editor Sean Baker is one of the best and shrewdest filmmakers working today — one of the most perceptive helmers taking slice-of-life looks at American existence on the margins, too. His latest movie joins Starlet, Tangerine and The Florida Project on a resume that just keeps impressing, but there's an edge here born of open recognition that Mikey is no one's hero. He's a narcissist, sociopath and self-aggrandiser who knows how to talk his way into anything, claim success from anyone else's wins and blame the world for all his own woes. He's someone that everyone in his orbit can't take no more and wants to see out that door, as if *NSYNC's now-22-year-old lyrics were specifically penned about him. He's also a charismatic charmer who draws people in like a whirlwind. He's the beat and the words of 'Bye Bye Bye' come to life, in fact, even if the song wasn't originally in Red Rocket's script.

Mikey's return after decades away isn't greeted with smiles or cheers; his estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod, Shutter Island), also his ex on-screen partner, is horrified when he arrives on her doorstep unannounced with $22 to his name. It takes him mere minutes to convince her and her mother Lil (Brenda Deiss) to let him crash on their couch, though — and just days to work his way back into Lexi's bed. The begrudging inevitability of their reunion echoes as firmly as Red Rocket's chosen anthem, and both keep repeating throughout the film. Unable to get a job despite his glee when explaining the big gap in his resume ("Google me," he exclaims, revealing his porn past to prospective employers), he's reluctantly given back his old weed-dealing gig by local dealer Leondra (Judy Hill), who clearly isn't thrilled. The two new connections Mikey makes — with a neighbour and a 17-year-old doughnut store cashier — also smack of the same feeling.

Both relationships leave as much of an imprint upon Mikey's life as anything can — although, no matter what he contends about every bad turn he's endured, all the chaos plaguing his every waking moment is his own doing. With Lonnie (Ethan Darbone), he gets an adoring sidekick who thinks he can do no wrong and, most importantly, a driver to taxi him around town. With Strawberry (Suzanna Son, chief among the film's many first-timers), he hopes to turn his lust into a way back into the adult film industry, grooming her to make her own thrusts into porn. Both naive and aware of Mikey's brimming bullshit, Strawberry isn't quite as taken in with his promises as he imagines her to be, however. Still, she might quote "it ain't no lie, bye bye bye" about him, but she's also willing enough to go along for the ride.

Read our full review.

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THE KING'S MAN

When something shows you its true colours, believe it. The Kingsman franchise certainly did when it debuted in 2014, as viewers have been witnessing ever since. That initial entry, Kingsman: The Secret Service, gave the espionage genre an irreverent and energetic spin, and landed partway between update and parody. But, while making Taron Egerton a star and proving engaging-enough, it didn't know when to call it quits, serving up one of the most ill-judged closing moments that spy flicks have ever seen. Since then, all things Kingsman haven't known when to end either, which is why subpar sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle arrived in 2017, and now unnecessary prequel The King's Man. Another year, another dull origin story. Another year, another stretched Bond knockoff, too.

Stepping from 007's latest instalments, including No Time to Die, to this pale imitation, Ralph Fiennes takes over leading man duties in this mostly World War I-centric affair. He looks as if he'd rather be bossing Bond around again, though, sporting the discomfort of someone who finds himself in a movie that doesn't shake out the way it was meant to, or should've, and mirroring the expression likely to sit on viewers' faces while watching. Simply by existing, The King's Man shows that this series just keeps pushing on when that's hardly the best option. It overextends its running time and narrative as well. But as it unfurls the beginnings of the intelligence agency hidden within a Saville Row tailor shop, it ditches everything else that made its predecessors work — when they did work, that is. Most fatally, it jettisons its class clashes and genre satire, and is instead content with being an outlandish period movie about the rich and powerful creating their own secret club.

Adapted from Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar's 2012 comics, the Kingsman series hasn't cut too deeply in its past two movies, but it did make the most of its central fish-out-of-water idea. It asked: what if a kid from the supposed wrong side of the tracks entered the espionage realm that's so firmly been established as suave and well-heeled by 007? Finding out why there's even a covert spy organisation staffed by the wealthy and impeccably dressed for that young man to join is a far less intriguing idea, but returning filmmaker Matthew Vaughn — who has now helmed all three Kingsman films — and co-screenwriter Karl Gajdusek (The Last Days of American Crime) don't seem to care. Vaughn has mostly ditched the coarse sex gags this time, too, and for the better, but hasn't found much in the way of personality to replace them.

It's in a prologue in 1902 that Fiennes makes his first appearance as Orlando Oxford, a duke travelling to South Africa during the Boer War — and soon made a widower, because The King's Man starts with the tiresome dead wife trope. Twelve years later, Oxford is staunchly a pacifist, so much so that he forbids his now-teenage son Conrad (Harris Dickinson, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) from enlisting when WWI breaks out. But the duke hasn't completely given away serving his country himself, overseeing an off-the-books intelligence network with the help of his servants Shola (Djimon Hounsou, A Quiet Place Part II) and Polly (Gemma Arterton, Summerland). That comes in handy when a nefarious Scottish figure known only as The Shepherd interferes in world affairs, with King George V of England, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (all cousins, and all played by Bohemian Rhapsody's Tom Hollander) his targets.

Read our full review.

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I'M WANITA

In Amy, Whitney: Can I Be Me, Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry and similar documentaries, audiences nabbed behind-the-scenes glimpses at music superstars. Via personal and candid footage not initially intended for mass consumption, viewers peeked behind the facade of celebrity — but I'm Wanita evokes the same feelings of intimacy and revelation by pointing its lens at a singer who isn't yet a household name. The self-described 'Australian queen of honky tonk', Wanita Bahtiyar hasn't given filmmaker Matthew Walker a treasure trove of archival materials to weave through his feature debut. Rather, the Tamworth local opens up her daily existence to his observational gaze. Following his 2015 short film about Wanita, Heart of the Queen, Walker spent five years capturing her life — and the resulting doco is as wily as its subject is unpredictable.  

I'm Wanita mightn't spring from a dream archive of existing footage, but it does dedicate its frames to a dream point of focus; its namesake is the type of subject documentarians surely pray they stumble across. Since becoming obsessed with Hank Williams and Loretta Lynn as a child, Wanita has chased music stardom. Her voice earned her ample attention from her teen years onwards, and her first album received rave reviews that she giddily quotes now; however, she's spent her adult life drinking, partying, and supplementing occasional gigs with sex work. Today, she's a legend in her own head, and also an erratic whirlwind. I'm Wanita charts her trip to Nashville to finally make the record she's always wanted, and yet it never paints her tale as a simplistic portrait of talent unrealised.

At home with her beleaguered Turkish husband, rustling up the cash for her big trip with fellow muso and her now-stressed manager Gleny Rae Virus, and in the studio she's always fantasised about, Wanita consistently dances to her own song. She spits out frank and pithy quotes that Walker splashes across the screen as text a little too often, too, but her determination to succeed (and her certainty about her talent) isn't matched by any skerrick of willingness to take a plain, breezy and direct route. It's to Walker's credit that he lets I'm Wanita follow its eponymous figure on that messy and meandering journey, rather than simmering down her story to fit a neat narrative. A Star Is Born, this isn't — even with a glorious closing number that could easily cap off a Hollywood melodrama.  

Indeed, this is a film about challenges, clashes, contradictions, and careening from highs to lows, with every flat note in Wanita's quest for fame and acclaim largely stemming from the woman herself. It's as rich and engaging a character study that a filmmaker could hope for, because there's simply so much to examine and interrogate (be it Wanita's complicated relationship with her mother and the impact it had on her own efforts with her now mostly estranged daughter, or her belief that alcohol improves her performance versus the reality of seeing her sauced in the studio). Crucially, this is a documentary about pluck, passion, self-belief and self-sabotage, and it steadfastly sees every extreme and everything in-between with clear eyes. In other words, it's the music doco equivalent of a country song, turning hopes and heartbreak into affecting art.

I'm Wanita opened in Brisbane cinemas in 2021, and now screens in Sydney and Melbourne.

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SHANE

Paul Kelly named a song after him. Eddie Perfect went one better and wrote an entire musical. But if Shane Warne had lived out his childhood dream, he would've played AFL for St Kilda instead of becoming a tune- and stage show-inspiring star cricketer. That tidbit isn't new news; however, Warne talks it through in new Australian documentary Shane — an early inclusion that demonstrates the film's handling of its well-known central figure. Warne's sporting career rose spectacularly from his failed attempt at Aussie Rules, which he also chats through. It dipped via several scandals, professional and personal alike, which he takes to with considerably less glee. Warne is a candid and engaging interviewee and, while joined by other cricketing and celebrity figures in recounting his life to-date, he's Shane's main source of information, but the film still spins the story that he's happy to share.

There's no shortage of details for directors David Alrich (Griff's Great Australian Rail Trip), Jon Carey (Forbidden Games: The Justin Fashanu Story) and Jackie Munro to cover, all of which they unfurl in chronological order. Warne was an AFL-obsessed kid who played under-19s and one reserves game, only to be told he wouldn't make it at the top level. He then considered tennis, but found his calling — and global renown and acclaim — in spin-bowling wickets. Even to viewers unfussed by cricket, Warne's achievements are common knowledge, as are his decades in the spotlight. So too are his controversies; the bookmaker situation, the match-fixing proposition put to him by Pakistani captain Salim Malik, the year-long suspension for taking a banned diuretic and the breakdown of his marriage all get a mention, and all earn Warne's current thoughts. He's also especially eager to discuss his prowess for sledging.

Hearing famous faces tell their tales is a documentary format that'll never get old, but perhaps the most surprising thing about Shane is the balance between Warne's on- and off-field exploits. The second gets almost as much attention as the first, with his ex-wife Simone, children Brooke, Jackson and Summer, parents Keith and Bridgette, and brother Jason joining the roster of heads — and his kids are particularly frank about missing time with their dad when he spent nine months a year on the road while they were growing up. A film can be honest and also highly authorised, though, and there's never any doubt that this is an act of adoring portraiture. Like most such features, it even enlists pointless praise from unneeded celebs — in this case Ed Sheeran and Chris Martin, the latter introducing himself by explaining "I'm in the band called Coldplay".

Actually, Shane does bowl another surprise viewers' way: its accessibility to the cricket-ambivalent. Even thrusting both personal and professional antics to the fore, sporting documentaries can be guilty of simply preaching to existing fans, rather than explaining why their subject has earned their own film; however, being a leg-spin fiend or spending your summers obsessing about runs and wickets isn't a prerequisite for getting something out of Shane. Indeed, cricket aficionados might even find it lacking in match footage, although the "ball of the century" — Warne's first-ever wicket with his first-ever ball in his first-ever Ashes test — unsurprisingly gets ample time in the spotlight. Also given plenty of focus: a seemingly never-ending array of former English captains sharing their takes on Warne, and the man himself doing his best 'loveable larrikin' act, because Shane knows its chosen pitch and sticks to it.

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THE ADDAMS FAMILY 2

In every generation, a new version of The Addams Family is born, or has been since the creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky characters debuted in print in the 1938, then made the leap from New Yorker cartoons to TV in the 60s. That hit sitcom set the bar, leaving each subsequent take on this all-together ooky crew with a difficult task: tinkering with something eerie, madcap, macabre and widely adored. When two movies attempted the feat in the 90s, however, they became instant classics. Starring Raul Julia, Anjelica Houston, Christopher Lee and Christina Ricci, 1991's The Addams Family and 1993's Addams Family Values weren't just great three decades ago — they're still excellent now, and not just due to nostalgia. The less said about their woeful direct-to-video follow-up Addams Family Reunion, the better, although it bears more in common with the current crop of animated Addams Family flicks, all of which simply think that popping their titular figures into any situation is amusing enough.

At a time when Ricci is killing it on the small screen in Yellowjackets, aka one of the best new shows of the past year, the strange and deranged characters that helped push her to fame when she was a child are sadly stuck languishing in their worst iteration yet. 2019's stop-motion The Addams Family was generic at best, and kept mistaking groan-worthily obvious jokes for humour — and thinking that viewers of these weird and wonderful folks wanted the standard serving of pop culture-themed gags, throwaway lines, non sequiturs and pointless jukebox-style needle drops — a strategy that The Addams Family 2 is happy to let bubble again. Here, though, it isn't the entire eponymous group that stands out against the world around them. They still do, of course, but the focus sits with teenager Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz, Tom and Jerry), who feels she doesn't fit in with her relatives even before she's told she might've been switched at birth.

As its immediate predecessor did, The Addams Family 2 boasts a few stellar strokes of voice casting, but that can't save a film that's distressingly eager to be as bland, flat and lazy as possible. Once again, returning directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon (Sausage Party) — who team up with first-time co-helmers Laura Brousseau and Kevin Pavlovic — only manage to make viewers wish that Oscar Isaac (Dune) and Charlize Theron (Fast and Furious 9) could've played Gomez and Morticia in a new live-action film, instead of lending their voices to this mess. The lines they're tasked with uttering, as penned by screenwriters Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit (Pokémon: Detective Pikachu) along with Ben Queen (Cars 2) and Susanna Fogel (Booksmart), have less life (and inspire fewer laughs) than a corpse. And, as with the first animated movie, they're still caught up in a flick that has Snoop Dogg cast Cousin Itt so that it can drop in his songs (and yes, that's supposed to be funny, apparently).

Forget the dark humour that's always been the backbone of The Addams Family. Forget any sense of personality that isn't just "ooh, they're odd and they like grim things" — and forget anything that you wouldn't see in any other all-ages film, too. The script could've been written for any old characters, then had Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley (Javon 'Wanna' Walton, Utopia), Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll, Sing 2), Thing and company shoehorned in, although its family vacation setup does take all the wrong cues from the aforementioned Addams Family Reunion. It hardly helps that the animation style looks ghoulishly unpleasant, but at least the character designs nod to Charles Addams' original cartoons. Nothing else about this unwanted sequel even comes close, in a feature that proves the antithesis of its characters: mundane, safe, routine and only unnerving in how terrible it is.

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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; December 2, December 9December 16 and December 26; and January 1.

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, The Worst Person in the World, Ghostbusters: Afterlife and House of Gucci.

Published on January 06, 2022 by Sarah Ward
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