The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From February 25
Head to the flicks to see an ensemble drama starring Kate Winslet and Mia Wasikowska, an action-packed time loop flick and a documentary about Billie Eilish.
Something delightful has been happening in cinemas across the country. After months spent empty, with projectors silent, theatres bare and the smell of popcorn fading, Australian picture palaces are back in business — spanning 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, comedies, music documentaries, 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.
Helming an English-language remake of 2014 Danish film Silent Heart, director Roger Michel realises a crucial fact: if you're going to amass a cast that includes Kate Winslet (Ammonite), Mia Wasikowska (Judy & Punch), Sam Neill (Rams), Lindsay Duncan (Made in Italy), Rainn Wilson (The Meg) and Susan Sarandon (The Jesus Rolls), you need to give every single actor something weighty to do. So, working with a script written by Christian Torpe (TV's The Mist), as the original feature also did, the Notting Hill, Le Week-End and My Cousin Rachel filmmaker ensures that his high-profile cast members all get their time in the spotlight in the dialogue-heavy Blackbird. Their lesser-known co-stars Anson Boon (1917) and Bex Taylor-Klaus (13 Reasons Why) are similarly given their moments. As an ensemble effort, this illness-driven family reunion drama makes the most of its on-screen talent — and that remains the primarily by-the-numbers movie's biggest achievement as it endeavours to balance its weepie premise with its increasingly heated war of words. Playing characters who have been brought together in immensely difficult circumstances, and who each weather a predictable grab-bag of troubles once they're all in the same place for a weekend, Blackbird's lineup does always stress its work (no one here is overly subtle here), but they also help breathe feeling into a feature that'd be a far lesser affair without them.
Winslet's high-strung angst, Wasikowska's baked-in melancholy and Neill's calm facade come in particularly handy, with the trio playing Jennifer, Anna and Paul — the chalk-and-cheese daughters and doting husband of the ailing Lily (Sarandon). Along with Jennifer's spouse Michael (Wilson) and son Jonathan (Boon), Anna's girlfriend Chris (Taylor-Klaus) and Lily's lifelong best friend Liz (Duncan), they've all gathered for one last hurrah. Terminally ill with a degenerative condition and unwilling to endure the worsening effects that are still certain to come, Lily wants to spend a few days farewelling her nearest and dearest at the well-appointed family home. Whether relatives come together for Christmas or for teary goodbyes (both of which apply here in their own ways), films about the concept never miss an opportunity to let sparks fly. With such heightened emotions whirring around during Lily's last days, that's forcefully, noticeably the case here. Blackbird makes the astute point that everyone has pain and secrets, even when they're facing the loss of a loved one, but that observation has become well-worn by the movie's many predecessors. Also routine is the movie's magazine-style visual sheen. If it wasn't for the sharp performances, watching this sometimes-moving picture would largely feel like simply looking at famous faces workshop trauma in a scenic letting. The feature's visuals are meant to isolate its characters against their eye-catching setting, but often it just loiters rather than meaningfully lingers.
Being a fan of time loop films can sometimes feel like being stuck in one yourself, especially when the genre's overly derivative entries reach screens. At their best, movies about repeating the same events over and over again call attention to life's small joys, its pervasive chaos or a combination of both. At their worst, such flicks use the concept as an empty gimmick to prop up an otherwise flimsy narrative. Boss Level veers in both directions at times. There's a cannily cathartic bent to the onslaught of destruction that comes its protagonist's way every time he awakens, all thanks to a horde of bloodthirsty assassins intent on ending his existence. Like Groundhog Day's Phil Connors at his most nihilistic, the film embraces the fact that life is carnage, literalising the idea as action movies do. But, as directed by Joe Carnahan (The Grey, The A-Team) and co-written by the filmmaker with Chris and Eddie Borey (Open Grave), Boss Level also attempts to paper over a slight narrative with rhythmically choreographed punches, bullets, swords and stunts, plus greeting card-level life lessons. It's exactly as straightforward as it sounds, and as standard. And, even for viewers unacquainted with Source Code, Edge of Tomorrow, the Happy Death Day franchise and Palm Springs, the film always feels as if it's following in better footsteps, including via sci-fi decor that could've stepped right out of Stargate and fight scenes that've taken inspiration from the John Wick series. Indeed, the movie's titular reference to video games isn't its only overt nod elsewhere.
An ex-special forces soldier who now counts drowning his sorrows and bedding women he meets in bars as his main pastimes, Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo, Jiu Jitsu) has endured the same day 139 times when Boss Level begins. Through pithy narration, he explains the ins and outs of his new routine, where a flying blade acts like an alarm clock each and every morning, and the murderous foes just keep coming from there. Although yet to ascertain why he's been forced into this brutal cycle, Roy is beginning to suspect that it's linked to his ex-wife Jemma Wells (Naomi Watts, Penguin Bloom), who oversees a shadowy project for a sinister corporation led by the ominous Colonel Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson, Fatman). Roy and Jemma have a teenage son (debutant Rio Grillo) together, which complicates matters — because the former has hardly been a doting dad, adding to his regrets; and because the video game-loving kid also gives him something to lose. Like the most formulaic of side scrollers, Boss Level's highlights stem from its action scenes, rather than any story that's meant to fill in the gaps around them. That said, all those frenetic fists, kicks and weapons are helped by the elder Grillo, who has long screamed for more big-screen attention. Indeed, in a cast that also includes Michelle Yeoh (Last Christmas) and Ken Jeong (Occupation: Rainfall), he's the only one that isn't just aping what the movie does more often than not and simply going through the motions.
BILLIE EILISH: THE WORLD'S A LITTLE BLURRY
When documentaries such as Amy and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck peered into the private lives of their very public central figures, they also gave rise to a clear realisation: without treasure troves of home videos and personal materials, all prophetically recorded and kept by their subjects and their loved ones long before they were stars, these films simply could not be made. That'll remain true of movies that look back at famous faces from times gone by (as seen in the recent Zappa), but Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry definitely doesn't give off the same sensation. For today's top talents, the notion that it's lucky such footage even exists to give rise to a documentary has become out of date. It's now a given that almost anyone with even a sniff of fame — let alone musicians who've won five Grammys, topped Triple J's Hottest 100, notched up a number one album and single, and sung a Bond theme, all while still in their teens — will have recorded every aspect of their existence. And, it's also just a fact of life that such a tendency won't have begun with their ascending popularity. Accordingly, The World's a Little Blurry does indeed have a wealth of material at its disposal, but this latest addition to the ever-growing pop star documentary genre doesn't feel like a revelation, a peek behind the facade, or a rare candid look at someone usually seen through music videos, concerts and formal interviews. That's the other thing about celebrities today: their social media feeds already give fans a window into their worlds, and even helped catapult them to success, so the documentaries that inevitably follow can come across as more of the same.
Starting with the recording of When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? — which, yes, happened in her brother Finneas O'Connell's bedroom — The World's a Little Blurry perfectly fits the now-recognisable musician doco mould. From the moment that 'Bad Guy' became the ubiquitous track of 2019, a movie about Eilish was always bound to find its way to audiences, and to play out as this RJ Cutler (The September Issue, Belushi)-directed effort does. Raw, frank, relatable, accessible and even playful, the film adopts the same tone that's become synonymous with pop star Twitter and Instagram feeds. With Eilish's record label among the feature's producers, it's as rubber-stamped and carefully constructed as celebrity social media accounts are as well. That doesn't make The World's a Little Blurry any less engaging, or strip away the power of watching Eilish be herself for 140 minutes, but viewers are always seeing the sanctioned warts-and-all version of the documentary's point of focus (and, when she feels like it, the hamming-it-up-for-the-cameras version as well). Even just spanning a couple of years, the feature nonetheless provides a thorough snapshot of its subject's life, including her dislike of songwriting, the process of finishing the album, multiple tours, her Coachella set and the Grammys, plus her around-the-house behaviour, her rapport with her brother and parents, her romantic ups and downs, and her quest to get her drivers license. What resonates strongest, however, is one of the other influences behind the film's existence. Eilish's well-known love of Justin Bieber provides the movie's most illuminating thread, especially seeing the former start sobbing when she meets the latter. She was a big fan of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, too, as her mother explains — and now, she has a matching movie.
Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry is currently screening in select cinemas, and is also available to stream via Apple TV+.
If you're wondering what else is currently screening in cinemas — or has been lately — check out our rundown of new films released in Australia on November 5, November 12, November 19 and November 26; and December 3, December 10, December 17, December 26; and January 1, January 7, January 14, January 21 and January 28; February 4, February 11 and February 18.
You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as The Craft: Legacy, Radioactive, Brazen Hussies, Freaky, Mank, Monsoon, Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie's Dead Aunt), American Utopia, Possessor, Misbehaviour, Happiest Season, The Prom, Sound of Metal, The Witches, The Midnight Sky, The Furnace, Wonder Woman 1984, Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles, Nomadland, Pieces of a Woman, The Dry, Promising Young Woman, Summerland, Ammonite, The Dig, The White Tiger, Only the Animals, Malcolm & Marie, News of the World, High Ground, Earwig and the Witch, The Nest, Assassins, Synchronic, Another Round, Minari, Firestarter — The Story of Bangarra, The Truffle Hunters and The Little Things.
Published on February 25, 2021 by Sarah Ward