The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From December 9
Head to the flicks to see Wes Anderson's latest star-studded delight, a disaster satire and a Broadway hit leap from the stage to the screen.
December 09, 2021
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.
THE FRENCH DISPATCH
Editors fictional and real may disagree — The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun's Arthur Howitzer Jr (Bill Murray, On the Rocks) among them — but it's easy to use Wes Anderson's name as both an adjective and a verb. In a sentence that'd never get printed in his latest film's titular tome (and mightn't in The New Yorker, its inspiration, either), The French Dispatch is the most Wes Anderson movie Wes Anderson has ever Wes Andersoned. The immaculate symmetry that makes each frame a piece of art is present, naturally, as are gloriously offbeat performances. The equally dreamy and precise pastel- and jewel-hued colour palette, the who's who of a familiar cast list, the miniatures and animated interludes and split screens, the knack for physical comedy, and the mix of high artifice, heartfelt nostalgia and dripping whimsy, too. The writer/director knows what he loves, and also what he loves to splash across his films, and it's all accounted for in his tenth release.
In The French Dispatch, he also adores stories that say as much about their authors as the world, the places that gift them to the masses, and the space needed to let creativity and insight breathe. He loves celebrating all of this, and heartily, using his usual bag of tricks. It's disingenuous to say that Anderson just wheels out the same flourishes in any movie he helms, though, despite each one — from The Royal Tenenbaums onwards, especially — looking like part of a set. As he's spent his career showing but conveys with extra gusto here, Anderson adores the craftsmanship of filmmaking. He likes pictures that look as if someone has doted on them and fashioned them with their hands, and is just as infatuated with the emotional possibilities that spring from such loving and meticulous work. Indeed, each of his features expresses that pivotal personality detail so clearly that it may as well be cross-stitched into the centre of the frame using Anderson's hair.
It's still accurate to call The French Dispatch an ode to magazines, their heyday and their rockstar writers; the film draws four of its five chapters from its eponymous publication, even badging them with page numbers. But this is also a tribute to everything Anderson holds The New Yorker to stand for, and holds dear — to everything he's obsessed over, internalised and absorbed into the signature filmmaking style that's given such an exuberant workout once again. One scene, in the first of its three longer segments, crystallises this so magnificently that it's among the best things Anderson has ever put on-screen. It involves two versions of murderer-turned-artist Moses Rosenthaler, both sharing the boxed-in frame. The young (Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel) greets the old (Benicio Del Toro, No Sudden Move), the pair swapping places and handing over lanyards, and it feels as if Anderson is doing the same with his long-held passions.
Before Moses' instalment, entitled The Concrete Masterpiece, the picture's bookending story steps into Howitzer's offices in the fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. Since 1925, he's called it home, as well as the base for a sophisticated literary periodical that started as a travel insert in his father's paper back in Kansas. Because Anderson loves melancholy, too, news of Howitzer's death begins the film courtesy of an obituary. What follows via travelogue The Cycling Reporter, the aforementioned incarcerated art lark, student revolution report Revisions to a Manifesto and police cuisine-turned-kidnapping story The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner is The French Dispatch's final issue turned into a movie — and an outlet for both Howitzer's and the director's abundant Francophilia.
Read our full review.
DON'T LOOK UP
Timing may be everything in comedy, but it's no longer working for Adam McKay. Back when the ex-Saturday Night Live writer was making Will Ferrell flicks (see: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Step Brothers), his films hinged upon comic timing. Ensuring jokes hit their marks was pivotal to his scripts, crucial during editing, and paramount to Ferrell and his co-stars. Since 2015, McKay has been equally obsessed with timeliness. More so, actually, in his latest film Don't Look Up. As started with The Big Short, which nabbed him a screenwriting Oscar, his current breed of politically focused satires trade not just in laughs but in topicality. Skewering the present or recent state of America has become the filmmaker's main aim — but, as 2018's Vice so firmly illustrated, smugly stating the obvious isn't particularly funny.
On paper, Don't Look Up sounds like a dream. Using a comet hurtling towards earth as a stand-in, McKay parodies climate change inaction and the circus that tackling COVID-19 has turned into in the US, and spoofs self-serious disaster blockbusters — 1998's double whammy of Deep Impact and Armageddon among them — too. And, he enlists a fantasy cast, which spans five Oscar-winners, plus almost every other famous person he could seemingly think of. But he's still simply making the most blatant gags, all while assuming viewers wouldn't care about saving the planet, or their own lives, without such star-studded and glossily shot packaging. Although the pandemic has certainly exposed stupidity on a vast scale among politicians, the media and the everyday masses alike, mining that alone is hardly smart, savvy or amusing. Again, it's merely stating what everyone has already observed for the past two years, and delivering it with a shit-eating grin.
That smirk is Don't Look Up's go-to expression among its broad caricatures — in the name of comedy, of course. Trump-esque President Orlean (Meryl Streep, The Prom) has one, as does her sycophantic dude-bro son/Chief of Staff Jason (Jonah Hill, The Beach Bum). Flinging trivial banter with fake smiles, "keep it light and fun" morning show hosts Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett, Where'd You Go, Bernadette) and Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry, Those Who Wish Me Dead) sport them as well. But PhD student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence, X-Men: Dark Phoenix) and her astronomy professor Dr Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) aren't smiling when she discovers a Mount Everest-sized comet, then he realises it's on a collision course with earth and will wipe out everything in six months and 14 days. And they aren't beaming when, with NASA's head of planetary defence Dr Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan, The Unforgivable), they try to spread the word. The world is literally ending, but no one cares.
Conjuring up the premise with journalist/political commentator David Sirota, McKay turns Don't Look Up into a greatest-hits tour of predictable situations bound to occur if a celestial body was rocketing our way — and that've largely happened during the fights against climate change and COVID-19. The President's reactions stem from her clear-cut inspiration, including the decision to "sit tight and assess" until it's politically convenient or just unavoidable, and the later flat-out denial that anything is a problem. The character in general apes the same source, and bluntly, given Orlean is initially busy with a scandal surrounding her next Supreme Court nominee, and that her love life and the porn industry also spark headlines. The insipid media and social media response, favouring a rocky celebrity relationship (which is where Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi come in), is also all too real. The list goes on, including the memes when Dibiasky gets outraged on TV and the worshipping of Mindy as an AILF (Astronomer I'd Like to Fuck).
Read our full review.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN
Dear Dear Evan Hansen: don't. If a movie could write itself a letter like the eponymous figure in this stage-to-screen musical does, that's all any missive would need to communicate. It could elaborate, of course. It could caution against emoting to the back row, given that cinema is a subtler medium than theatre. It could advise against its firmly not-a-teenager lead Ben Platt, who won one of the Broadway hit's six Tony Awards, but may as well be uttering "how do you do, fellow kids?" on the big screen. It could warn against shooting the bulk of the feature like it's still on a stage, just with more close-ups. Mostly, though, any dispatch from any version of Dear Evan Hansen — treading the boards or flickering through a projector — should counsel against the coming-of-age tale's horrendously misguided milk-the-dead-guy narrative.
When the most interesting thing about a character is their proximity to someone that's died, that's rarely a great sign. It's the realm of heartstring-tugging illness weepies and romances where partners or parents are bereaved, sweeping love stories are shattered and families are forever altered, and it uses the sickness or death of another person purely as a prop to make someone that's alive and healthy seem more tragic. That's worlds away from engaging sincerely with confronting mortality, loss, grief or all three, as so few movies manage — although Babyteeth did superbly in 2020 — and it's mawkish, manipulative storytelling at its worst. Dear Evan Hansen gives the formula a twist, however, and not for the better. Here, after a classmate's suicide, the titular high schooler pretends he was his closest friend, including to the dead kid's family.
A anxious, isolated and bullied teen who returns from summer break with a fractured arm, Evan (Platt, The Politician) might be the last person to talk to Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan, one of the Broadway production's understudies). It isn't a pleasant chat, even if Connor signs Evan's cast — which no one else has or wants to. In the school library, Evan prints out a letter to himself as a therapy exercise, but Connor grabs it first, reads it, then gets furious because it mentions his sister Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever, Dopesick). Cue days spent fretting on Evan's part, wondering if he'll see the text splashed across social media. Instead, he's soon sitting with Cynthia Murphy (Amy Adams, The Woman in the Window) and her husband Larry (Danny Pino, Fatale), who inform him of Connor's suicide — and that they found Evan's 'Dear Evan Hansen' note on him, and they're sure it's their son's last words.
With his high school misery amply established through catchy songs, and his yearning to connect as well, Evan opts to go along with the Murphys' mistaken belief, including the idea that he and Connor were secretly the best of pals. As penned for both theatre and film by Steven Levenson (Tick, Tick... Boom!) — with music and lyrics by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul (The Greatest Showman) — this plot point is meant to play with awkwardness and longing, but it's simply monstrous. Indeed, the longer it goes on, with Evan spending more time with Connor's wealthy family than with his own mum Heidi (Julianne Moore, Lisey's Story), a nurse always working double shifts, the more ghastly it proves. It's lazy writing, too, because this isn't just a tale that defines its lead by their connection to a deceased person; it's about someone who intentionally makes that move themselves, then remains the recipient of all the movie's sympathies.
Read our full review.
RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY
It's the franchise about zombies that just won't die. The series with a disdain for big corporations and the chaos they wreak that keeps pumping out more instalments, too. After six movies between 2002–16 that consistently proved a case of diminishing returns — and the original horror flick was hardly a masterpiece to begin with — welcoming viewers back to the Resident Evil realm smacks of simply trying to keep the whole saga going at any cost. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City does indeed extract a price from its audience, stretching their fondness for the video game-to-film franchise, their appetite for John Carpenter-inspired riffs and their penchant for overemphasised 90s nostalgia. Primarily set in 1998, and endeavouring to reboot the series without its previous star Milla Jovovich, it strenuously tests patience as well.
After an orphanage stint filled with familiar Resident Evil figures — siblings Claire and Chris Redfield as kids, plus nefarious Umbrella Corporation scientist Dr William Birkin (Neal McDonough, Sonic the Hedgehog) — Welcome to Raccoon City first gets gory en route back to its titular town. The now-adult Claire (Kaya Scodelario, Crawl) hitches a ride with a trucker, who then hits a woman standing in the road. The victim still gets up afterwards, because unnaturally shuffling along after you've been killed comes with the territory. The walking dead are a new phenomenon in the desolate locale, however, following Umbrella's decision to shut up shop and leave the place a crumbling shell. Of course, the night that Claire arrives back to reunite with Chris (Robbie Amell, Upload), who's now a local cop, is the night that a virus zombifies Raccoon City's residents.
Any movie that features besieged police officers trying to fend off attackers will always tread where Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 has already stomped, and Welcome to Raccoon City writer/director Johannes Roberts knows it — just as he splashed his awareness of shark horror flicks gone by across both 47 Metres Down and 47 Metres Down: Uncaged. Restarting a well-known series by blatantly taking cues from another filmmaker, and from 80s and 90s horror overall, isn't the path to success, though. As this dispiritingly generic feature keeps proving, it's about as smart as constantly splitting up while fending off the undead and navigating labyrinthine spaces, which Claire, Chris, and the latter's fellow cops Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen, Ant-Man and the Wasp), Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper, Terminator: Dark Fate) and Leon Kennedy (Avan Jogia, Zombieland: Double Tap) unsurprisingly keep doing.
Welcome to Raccoon City fares better with action over logic and originality, although nodding so forcefully to the filmmaker behind Halloween and The Thing stands out within the Resident Evil franchise. When it comes to Raccoon City's infected inhabitants, plus foes more frightening — their onslaughts, and Claire and company's attempts to evade them — Roberts finds a balance between stripping things back to ramp up the suspense and trying to imitate the video games that started it all. In the film's midsection, it all gets monotonous nonetheless, even while switching between first- and third-person perspectives and going big on monstrous creature design. Callouts to technology gone by, such as Nokia phones with Snake and VHS tapes (and, the flipside, marvelling over whiz-bang new tech by 90s standards like Palm Pilots and chat rooms), get repetitive and old fast, too. All things Resident Evil have as well, something this movie can't change despite its overt angling for a certain-to-eventuate sequel.
If only one word could be used to describe New Order, that word would be relentless. If just two words could be deployed to sum up the purposefully provocative film by writer/director Michel Franco (April's Daughter), savage would get thrown in as well. Sharing zero in common with the band of the same name, this 2020 Venice Film Festival Grand Jury Prize-winner dreams up a dystopian future that's barely even one step removed from current reality. And, in dissecting class clashes, and also examining the growing discontent unsurprisingly swelling worldwide at the lavish lives indulged by the wealthy while so much of the world struggles, the mood and narrative are nothing less than brutal. Screens big and small have been filled with eat-the-rich stories of late — Parasite, Us, Candyman, Ready or Not, The White Lotus, Nine Perfect Strangers and Squid Game among them — but New Order is its own ravenous meal.
The place: Mexico City. The setup: a wedding that goes undeniably wrong. As the ceremony gets underway at a compound-style residence that's jam-packed with the ultra-wealthy and ultra-corrupt, the chasm between the guests and the staff is glaring. Case in point: bride-to-be Marianne (Naian González Norvind, South Mountain) couldn't be more stressed when she's asked for money to help ex-employee Rolando's (Eligio Meléndez, La Civil) ailing wife, who also worked at the house, and plenty of her family members are dismissive, arrogant and flat-out rude about their former servant's plight. Then activists start making their presence known outside, as well as further afield in the city's streets — and interrupting the nuptials by storming the mansion, too. The military respond swiftly and brutally, sparing no one in their efforts to implement the movie's telling moniker.
Franco doesn't want any second of New Order to be easy to watch. The film's opening foreshadows the bloodshed and body count to come, but even when it then gets immersed in a ridiculously lavish but characteristically chaotic upper-class wedding — as such events stereotypically are — all the slick excess so rampantly on display remains positively ghastly. There's a sense of insidiousness in the air that the filmmaker lets fester amid all the gated home's glass and steel, then pushes into overdrive as the violent uprising gathers steam. There's an utter lack of hope as well, because nothing can or will turn out well in this situation. It can't end nicely for the bourgeoisie previously oblivious to or cruelly uncaring about the 99 percent and, as authoritarianism kicks in to a savage degree, the ideals of fairness and equality being championed by protestors aren't shared by their government.
One word that can't be used to describe New Order: subtle, or any synonym denoting a delicate approach. Franco wants the parallels between his fictional situation and reality, and the unsparing critique of the latter he's making with the former, to be noticed — and to be not only unavoidable, but searingly, blisteringly haunting. He's brash and bold with the film's style as a result, as well as blunt. He's forceful, but also masterful, and makes every image and sound resound with palpable anger. Franco's also trading in obvious concepts as he tears down the rich, greedy, powerful and unscrupulous, lays bare the ease with which a fascist nightmare can take hold and posits that the fight against both is never easy, but he's still moulded all those notions into an emotionally dynamic whirlwind.
New Order is screening in Melbourne only.
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.
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 14, October 21 and October 28 as well.
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 and The Lost Leonardo.
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