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The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From December 16

Head to the flicks to see Spider-Man face a bevy of familiar baddies, Olivia Colman turn in another phenomenal performance and a wild NYC-set horror film that tussles with a headline-grabbing news story.
By Sarah Ward
December 16, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
December 16, 2021
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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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SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME

In Spider-Man: No Way Home, everyone's favourite friendly neighbourhood web-slinger still does whatever a spider can. (Don't expect the catchy cartoon theme song, though.) To be precise, Spidey's latest outing — starring Tom Holland (Chaos Walking), as every live-action film in the ever-sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe that's featured the superhero has — sees him do whatever spider-men have for decades. The masked crusader shoots webs, flings them about New York and swings around the city. He helps people, battles crime, literally hangs out with his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya, Dune) and saves the world, too. As the movie's trailers revealed, Spider-Man also fights whoever his on-screen predecessors fought. The twist that isn't a twist because it's part of the flick's marketing: that villains from Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield's stints as Spidey show up here.

Those familiar faces, including Willem Dafoe (The Card Counter) as the Green Goblin, Alfred Molina (Promising Young Woman) as Doctor Octopus and Jamie Foxx (Soul) as Electro, aren't Peter Parker's initial problem, as viewers of 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming and 2019's Spider-Man: Far From Home will already know. No Way Home picks up immediately after the latter, after Spidey's secret identity has been blasted across the internet by online conspiracist J Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons, Ride the Eagle). The media swiftly make Peter "the most famous person in the world", the public get hostile and his college prospects — and MJ and Ned's (Jacob Batalon, Let It Snow) as well — take a hit. The only solution he can see: asking Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog) to cast a spell to make everyone forget who he is.

With drastic magic comes drastic consequences, hence those recognisable nefarious folks who know Spidey — and definitely know that he's Peter Parker — yet don't recognise the MCU's version. Marvel's next flick after this one is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, so the franchise is about to go big on alternate worlds, but No Way Home still doesn't actually jump into that domain first. It's a curious choice on the whole huge saga's part to take cues from the animated delight that is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which relished having multiple spider-realms, got inventive with both its concept and visuals, won an Oscar and is easily the best spider-flick to-date, all without sitting within the MCU itself. Indeed, the live-action franchise's third stand-alone Spider-Man movie can't shake the feeling that it's playing catch-up.

Directed by Jon Watts, as all three recent web-slinging films have been, No Way Home does more than give flesh, blood and spandex to an ace idea already brought to the screen a mere three years back. It also delivers the heftiest helping of fan service that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever dished up. The franchise has long enjoyed hitting all the obvious crowd-pleasing notes, but Martin Scorsese's 2019 comment that compared MCU fare to theme parks rings particularly true here — unsurprisingly given this Spider-Man outing wants to elicit the loudest of screams and shouts from its audience. Buy the ticket, take the cinematic ride, ooh and aah over every clear spin and foreseeable twirl: amid the stock-standard CGI-packed action scenes and triple-layered Spidey nods to iterations past, not all that long ago and present, that's what No Way Home seeks from its viewers. And, it takes the rollercoaster approach to evoking that reaction, rolling its story down the most glaring of tracks.

Read our full review.

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THE LOST DAUGHTER

Watching Olivia Colman play a complicated woman is like staring at the ocean: it's never the same twice, even just for a second; it couldn't be more unpredictable, no matter how comfortable it appears; and all that surface texture bobs, floats, swells, gleams and glides atop leagues of unseen complexity. That's always been true of the British actor's absolute best performances, which could fill any body of water with their power and resonance. It's there in her acidic work in The Favourite, which won her an Oscar, and also in The Crown's more reserved turn as a different English monarch. It flowed through the devastating Tyrannosaur, which perhaps first truly showed the world exactly what Colman could do — and has marked her Academy Award-nominated supporting part in The Father, plus TV standouts Peep Show, Broadchurch, The Night Manager and Fleabag.

It's fitting, then, that The Lost Daughter tasks Colman with glaring at the sea, and doing so both intently and often. A necessity of the narrative, as penned on the page by My Brilliant Friend's Elena Ferrante and adapted for the screen by actor-turned-filmmaker Maggie Gyllenhaal, it's a touch that washes through the movie with extra force due to its star. Colman plays comparative literature professor Leda, who fills much of her time peering at the ocean as she summers on a Greek island — and also people-watching thanks to the loud, entitled Queens family that keep invading her chosen patch of sand. While both gazing at the waves and taking in the onshore domestic dramas, Leda sees her own ebbs, flows, thorns and flaws reflected back.

Vacationing alone, Leda isn't on a getaway as much as she's escaping — not actively, but because that's her default mode. She's never willing to stray far from her work, shuffling through papers as she sunbathes and flirtatious young resort manager Will (Paul Mescal, Normal People) moves her lounger to keep her in the shade; however, as flashbacks show, the urge to flee all markers of apparent normalcy has long gushed in her veins. Leda tells anyone who asks that she has two daughters (Bianca is 25 and Martha is 23, she frequently offers), but they're heard via phone calls rather than seen as adults. She's prickly when mum-to-be Callie (Dagmara Domińczyk, Succession), of those noisy interlopers, asks if her extended group can take over Leda's beach umbrella. But in Nina (Dakota Johnson, The Nowhere Inn), the raven-haired mother of frequently screaming toddler Elena (debutant Athena Martin Anderson), she spies more of herself than she's been willing to confront for decades.

The Lost Daughter's title references an incident one sunny day when Elena disappears as Callie, Nina and company — the latter's shady husband Toni (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, The Invisible Man) as well — idle by the water's edge. The Americans react with distress, but Leda calmly strides forth amid the chaos, all while battling memories of being a young mum (Jessie Buckley, I'm Thinking of Ending Things) searching for her own absent child. Indeed, loss and escape are serpentine concepts here, winding through Leda's past, her affinity for the clearly unhappy Nina and the second wave of mayhem that erupts when Elena's beloved doll also goes missing. The concept of trouble in paradise proves just as layered, infecting idylls scenic and, in pondering the supposed bliss that we're all told motherhood brings, societally enforced.

Read our full review.

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THE SCARY OF SIXTY-FIRST

When Succession roves over New York's skyline — in its opening credits, as set to that bewitching theme tune, or just during its episodes — it gleams with wealth and privilege. Depiction doesn't equal endorsement, however, with the stellar HBO satire sharply cutting into its chosen world at every chance it gets. As one of the show's supporting cast members, Dasha Nekrasova slides into that realm, too, but that's not her only dalliance with the city's architecture, power brokers and all that both represent. The Scary of Sixty-First, the Red Scare podcast host's feature directorial debut, also savages the rich and seemingly consequence-free. It clasps onto a real-life story that's made that case inherently, abhorrently and monstrously. There's no gentle way to put it, but the fact that Nekrasova plays a woman investigating if a bargain Upper East Side duplex was one of Jeffrey Epstein's "orgy flophouses" says much about this purposefully provocative conspiracy thriller horror-comedy.

College pals Addie (Betsey Brown, Assholes) and Noelle (the film's co-screenwriter Madeline Quinn) can't believe their luck when they find the cheap property, even if it does visibly need a clean — and have mirrored ceilings, as well as some questionable lock choices — and even if they don't appear completely comfortable with committing to live together. But from night one, the literal nightmares begin. Soon they're spying blood stains, scratched walls and eerie tarot cards, and feeling unsettled in a variety of ways. Enter Nekrasova's stranger, who comes sporting a dark-web rabbit hole's worth of paranoia and bearing the Epstein news. Addie and Noelle take the revelation in vastly different fashions, with the former seeming possessed by one of Epstein's child victims, and the latter diving deep into potential theories with her unnamed new friend.

Letting a headline-monopolising sex offender loom large over the plot is an instant attention-grabber — and, while The Scary of Sixty-First doesn't lunge straight down that path, it feels like Nekrasova and Quinn's starting point. Their movie smacks of conjuring up a controversial premise, then fitting parts around it; thankfully, they have more than one target in their sights, plenty to ponder, and Nekrasova's bold vision bringing it all together. From the outset, there's much to mine about the hellishness of finding somewhere to live in your twenties, and in NY especially. The things you'll settle for in that situation clearly also earns the feature's focus. The same rings true of post-college life and its intrinsic awkwardness in general — and being expected to act like a fully functioning adult, and make pivotal decisions, without yet amassing the experiences to match.

By contemplating the hostile real-estate market and the ordeal that is trying to find your place in the world (emotionally, intellectually and physically), The Scary of Sixty-First immediately unpacks power, money and privilege. If Addie and Noelle could afford somewhere else or had other support at their disposal, there wouldn't even be a story. When Nekrasova appears and drops Epstein's name, that excavation digs down several levels. Again, there's no shortage of ideas, directions or tangents to explore, and the script explodes as many as possible. This is a movie about a dead billionaire paedophile, the wealth of theories that've sprung up around him and the 24-hour news cycle that's made his tale inescapable. It's also about how doomscrolling has become routine, the grim routes incessant web searches can take you down, the normalisation of true-crime obsession, the proliferation of conspiracy-driven rhetoric and relentless chaos as the natural state of the world.

Read our full review.

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UNDINE

For the second time in as many films, German writer/director Christian Petzold teams up with Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski, but you could never accuse the trio of doing the same thing twice. Back in 2018, they turned Transit into a war-torn romance that mused on conflict's lingering scars. With Undine, they reinvent a German myth about a water spirit who can only turn human via love, but has to kill her paramour if he's unfaithful. A familiar chemistry lingers, though, as it's meant to. Whenever directors and actors keep collaborating — especially when directors retain multiple actors across different movies — that's built into the fabric of the film. As viewers, we can't help recalling our knowledge of their shared history, as that's just how we respond to art, people and connections. A movie not only about romance, longing, obsession and their consequences,  but about the impact of the past on the present, Undine provokes and rewards this reaction.

In her 2020 Berlinale Silver Bear-winning role — taking home the prize for for Best Actress — Beer (Never Look Away) plays the film's titular character. Before the influence of folklore kicks in, this Undine is a historian who guides museum tours about Berlin's origins. When her boyfriend Johannes (Jacob Matschenz, Babylon Berlin) breaks up with her suddenly before work one day, however, she warns that she'll have to kill him. It sounds like a heat-of-the-moment threat, a plea to get him to change his mind and the kind of exaggeration that arises when romance ends in tears, but there's more to her words than mere histrionics. Indeed, even as a new love blossoms with industrial diver Christoph (Rogowski, Great Freedom), who she meets that very day at the same cafe where her relationship with Johannes ends — in a spectacular meet-cute involving an aquarium, fittingly — Undine's past isn't easily overcome.

Petzold is no stranger to pondering the tides of history that just keep ebbing, flowing and swelling. His filmography is filled with contemplations of the subject, including in the Nina Hoss-starring Barbara and Phoenix, and also with Beer and Rogowski in Transit. In Undine, he's at his most haunting, with recognising the fluidity of life — and that it keeps repeating, alongside humanity's most inherent instincts — a key point of interest. While the movie never drops its shroud of mystery, Petzold is also at his most overt with another of his familiar fascinations: the way that love provides the trusty banks that both ordinary and seismic woes keep rushing across. That's literally Undine's tale, as drawn from fable. Without romance, she loses her place on dry land; as she notes in a lecture about the Berlin Palace, and about the evolution of the city over its lifespan, it's as if "progress were impossible".

When he's enraptured with an actor or several, no one should want Petzold to move too far forward. Bathing in Beer and Rogowski's rich chemistry is an experience to linger in, and linger Undine does. Always a meticulous filmmaker, Petzold soaks in every second his two stars spend in each other's company, with the pair's magnetism so potent that it almost drips through the movie. He luxuriates in Beer's presence in general, too, letting her cast her spell over the audience as Undine does with Christoph — and once did with Johannes. She's one of cinematographer Hans Fromm's favourite points of focus, unsurprisingly. A Petzold regular, he gifts the film not just an enchanting and beguiling look to suit its mood, but the chance for viewers of this giddy fantasy to fall head over heels for its blend of the surreal, sweet, supernatural and soul-stirring.

Undine is screening in Sydney and Melbourne.

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ONE SECOND

Any new film by Zhang Yimou deserves eyeballs the world over, but One Second, the Raise the Red Lantern, Hero and House of Flying Daggers director's latest, hasn't charted the smoothest route to screens. Pre-dating the filmmaker's Cliff Walkers, which reached Australian cinemas earlier in 2021, it was originally scheduled to show at the 2019 Berlinale. But after the festival began, it was removed from the lineup — and while a "technical problem" was cited as the official reason, Chinese censorship was floated as the real cause. One Second eventually surfaced on home soil late in 2020, and elsewhere around the globe in the last few months of 2021. It's now an immensely timely movie, although purely by coincidence. Every great feature by a great director inherently pays tribute to the medium of film, so that's hardly new for Zhang — but celebrating the silver screen, and the pandemic-relevant yearning to bask in its glory when life conspires to get in the way, isn't just a side effect here.

It's 1975 when One Second begins, and crowds are flocking to makeshift small-town picture palaces to see propaganda films. The specific movie drawing in the masses: 1964's Heroic Sons and Daughters, which prison-camp escapee Zhang Jiusheng (Zhang Yi, Cliff Walkers) is desperate to catch. Alas, after finding his way into one village through mountains of sand that wouldn't look out of place in Dune, the fugitive discovers that he's already missed the showing that the night. Worse still, the film's canisters are being packed onto a motorbike to be driven to their next destination. And, he isn't the only one keen to make the movie's acquaintance, with the orphaned Liu (Liu Haocun, another Cliff Walkers alum) swiftly stealing its sixth reel before it departs town.

An unlikely pair seeking the same thing for different reasons — he's heard that his estranged daughter appears in newsreel footage in the feature, while she wants the celluloid to make a lamp for her younger brother — Zhang and Liu are soon following the rest of the film through the desert to its next stop. That's where Mr Movie (Fan Wei, Railway Heroes) awaits, courting profit and glory compared to Zhang's desperation to glimpse his family and Liu's resourcefulness (that said, sporting a mug calling himself the 'World's Greatest Projectionist', the man behind the travelling cinema that's screening Mao-approved fare to entertainment-starved locales does still love his a clear fondness for his job). But the reels don't return intact, sparking a homemade restoration campaign that needs the entire town's help. Yes, loving film is also a tactile experience here.

Zhang has always been able to make any kind of movie he's put his mind to, and has the four-decade-long resume to prove it. With 2009's A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop, he even remade the Coen brothers' Blood Simple. One Second sees him masterfully blend film-adoring melodrama with a Cultural Revolution-era portrait that's laced with just the amount of commentary that managed to escape the censors. He revels in sight gags and chases that could've been lifted out of silent comedy greats from a century back as well, giving cinema yet another ode. The end result mightn't be Zhang's absolute best — his resume isn't short on highlights — but it easily ranks among his most endearing. One Second makes exceptional use of its dust-swept setting, too, and its trio of chalk-and-cheese main players; plus, in celebrating an artform that's both tangible and an illusion, Zhang still makes a clear statement.

One Second is currently screening in Melbourne, and will release in Sydney and Brisbane on January 20, 2022.

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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 August 5, August 12, August 19 and August 26; 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 and December 9.

For Sydney specifically, you can take a look at out our rundown of new films that released in Sydney cinemas when they reopened on October 11, and what opened on October 14October 21 and October 28 as well.

And for Melbourne, you can check out our top picks from when outdoor cinemas reopened on October 22 — and from when indoor cinemas did the same on October 29.

You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as The Suicide Squad, Free Guy, Respect, The Night House, Candyman, Annette, 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 and Dear Evan Hansen.

Published on December 16, 2021 by Sarah Ward
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