The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From March 11
Head to the flicks to watch a must-see historical drama, an inspiring look back at women's surfing from the 80s onwards and a dreamy documentary about an eight-hour-long piece of music.
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.
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH
The last time that Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield appeared in the same film, Get Out was the end result. Their shared scene in Jordan Peele's Oscar-winning horror movie isn't easily forgotten (if you've seen the feature, it will have instantly popped into your head while you're reading this), and neither is Judas and the Black Messiah, their next exceptional collaboration. With Kaluuya starring as the Black Panther Party's Illinois Chairman Fred Hampton and Stanfield playing William O'Neal, the man who infiltrated his inner circle as an informant for the FBI, the pair is still tackling race relations. Here, though, the duo does so in a ferocious historical drama set in the late 60s. The fact that O'Neal betrays Hampton isn't a spoiler; it's a matter of fact, and the lens through which writer/director Shaka King (Newlyweeds) and his co-scribes Kenneth Lucas, Keith Lucas (actors on Lady Dynamite) and Will Berson (Scrubs) view the last period of Hampton's life. The magnetic Kaluuya has already won a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe for his performance, and is bound to be nominated for and likely win an Oscar as well — and if he wants to keep acting opposite Stanfield in movies this invigorating, ardent, resonant and essential, audiences won't complain.
It's 1966 when O'Neal falls afoul of the law for trying to impersonate an FBI agent to steal a vehicle. With J Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen, Grace and Frankie) directing his employees to "prevent the rise of a 'messiah' who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement" — his real-life words — the car thief is offered a deal by actual FBI Special Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons, I'm Thinking of Ending Things). If O'Neal cosies up to Hampton, then reports back on his comings, goings, political moves and general plans, he'll avoid jail. Initially apprehensive, he acquiesces to keep his freedom. With Hampton's raging speeches earning him a firm following, and his charisma and canny strategies broadening the crowds hanging on his words, O'Neal's task isn't minor. And the further he ingratiates himself into Hampton's confidence, becoming his head of security, the more he's torn about keeping tabs and doing the government's increasingly nefarious bidding. This isn't just a story about one young Black man coerced into bringing down a rising leader and revolutionary, however. It's also a tale about the figure who mobilised the masses as Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X had, until he was shot while he slept at the age of just 21. And, it's an account of the powers-that-be's abject fear of progress, equality, and the crusaders willing to put their lives on the line to fight for justice and a better world.
Read our full review.
GIRLS CAN'T SURF
Exploring the gender imbalance in professional surfing, especially during the 80s and 90s as women in the sport were starting to attract the world's attention, Girls Can't Surf feels like a floodgates-bursting documentary. Watching female stars of the era talk about their experiences, including the vast disparity in prize money between men and women and how that affected their efforts to make a living, it's easy to see this candid and detailed film setting a template for a wealth of other movies. As fans of any type of women's sport well and truly know, differing treatment, pay, sponsorship and levels of respect aren't restricted to hitting the waves. Indeed, as the doco's high-profile parade of talking heads offer their thoughts and recollections — such as former world champions Frieda Zamba, Wendy Botha, Pam Burridge, Pauline Menczer, Lisa Andersen and Layne Beachley — many of their words could be uttered by any number of female athletes in a wide range of fields. That truth doesn't undercut the doco's power, or downplay what women surfers have been through. Rather, it underscores the importance of continually shining a light on the way the sporting arena has routinely sidelined, undermined and devalued anyone who isn't male.
"If you can't see it, you can't be it" is one of Girls Can't Surf's resonant and universal sound bites, and it's easily applicable far beyond the film's specific stories and the sport in focus. Indeed, when Beachley talks about how she used to mill around surfing contests as a teen starting out in the field, and annoy the ladies she'd soon be competing against, you can see those words in action; if earlier generations of women hadn't already been hanging ten, Australia's seven-time champ wouldn't have had any footsteps to follow in. The film is filled with astute insights and telling connections such as these. It all leads to the well-publicised recent development, only back in 2018, of equal winnings for men and women being mandated by the World Surf League from 2019 onwards. That happy ending benefits today's stars, such as Stephanie Gilmore, Tyler Wright and Carissa Moore, but it came too late for Girls Can't Surf's interviewees. Once again, knowing that significant change has finally come to the sport doesn't diminish the potency of hearing about the horrors, struggles and rampant sexism that female surfers endured for decades — with two-time feature surf documentarian Christopher Nelius (Storm Surfers 3D) smartly bringing those tales to the fore, and the people sharing them as well.
Read our full review.
MAX RICHTER'S SLEEP
Since first opening its doors back in 1973, the Sydney Opera House has played host to a wealth of performances, spanning far further in genre than just the art form that gives the venue its name. But it was only during Vivid Live 2016 that the iconic locale serenaded visitors into an evening-long slumber, all as part of Max Richter's live recital of his eight-and-a-half hour work Sleep. Across 31 tracks comprised of 204 movements, the German-born British composer's concept album unfurls music based on the neuroscience of getting some shuteye. In its intonation, the ambitious yet soothing piece favours the range that can be heard in the womb for much of its duration. When performed for an audience, it is played overnight, with beds set up — and doing as the work's title suggests is highly encouraged. Attendees recline, listen and let Richter's blend of strings, synthesisers and soprano vocals lull them into the land of nod. If they'd prefer to stay awake, that's fine as well, but soaking in Sleep's ambient sounds while you're snatching 40 winks is all very much part of the experience.
In its live version, Sleep has echoed through spaces in London, Berlin and Paris, too; however, it's the first openair performance in Los Angeles' Grand Park in 2018 that takes pride of place in the documentary Max Richter's Sleep. A filmmaker was always bound to be so fascinated with the concept that they'd turn their lens Richter's way, and that director is Natalie Johns (an Emmy nominee for Annie Lennox: Nostalgia Live in Concert), who endeavours to capture the experience for those who haven't had the pleasure themselves. The resulting film doesn't run for more than eight hours, or anywhere close — but those watching and listening will quickly wish that it did. As a feature, Max Richter's Sleep isn't designed to advertise its namesake. Rather, it documents, explores and tries to understand it. Still, the movie so easily draws viewers into the music, and so deeply, that making its audience want to snooze in public while Richter and his band plays is a guaranteed side effect.
Read our full review.
Reminding viewers of far better movies while they're watching yours isn't a smart or recommended filmmaking tactic, but it's what writer/director Edward Drake (Broil) does best with Cosmic Sin. By casting Bruce Willis in this science fiction slog, it immediately brings The Fifth Element to mind. That influential 1997 movie just keeps inspiring flicks that don't feature Willis of late — see also: Chaos Walking — but it leaves a particularly heavy imprint here. Indeed, it's impossible not to think of the rosier era in the actor's career that The Fifth Element represents as Willis is grimacing his way through scene after scene in Cosmic Sin, and visibly putting in zero effort. It's difficult not to think of 1998's Armageddon, too, a movie that isn't at all great but is certainly better than this new space war-fuelled picture. Drake clearly wants audiences to make these connections, which is why his feature spends far more time than it should watching Willis meander around looking unimpressed and wearing plastic armour, all while playing a disgraced military head honcho on the comeback trail. And, it must be why the film squanders Frank Grillo, who also hasn't had a great run of late (as seen in Jiu Jitsu and Boss Level), but has been screaming for years for a movie that makes the most of his presence.
The year is 2524. Earth is now an old hand at attempting to colonise other planets. And when one such celestial body tried to break away five years earlier, Willis' James Ford handled it by committing mass murder. Now, a group of aliens from a just-discovered civilisation is attempting to give humans a taste of their own medicine. Ford is brought back as part of a ragtag team tasked with defending life as everyone 500 years in the future knows it, which also includes General Eron Ryle (Grillo), his nephew Braxton (Brandon Thomas Lee, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser), quantum tech Fiona Ardene (Adelaide Kane, Once Upon a Time) and fellow veteran Marcus Bleck (Costas Mandylor, In Like Flynn). Cue a movie that's never as over-the-top as it needs to be to keep viewers even remotely interested, and a bland affair all-round. The film's fondness for tech jargon-heavy nonsense dialogue doesn't help. Cosmic Sin's vision of the future — including its laughable robot bartenders — also looks as awkward as its narrative and performances feel. And while Drake and his co-writer Corey Large (Breach, and also a co-star here) endeavour to ponder deeper themes, including humanity's historical penchant for exploring the world and conquering everything in sight, that too proves flimsy. It isn't intentional, but Willis' bored look says everything it needs to.
THEN CAME YOU
With film distributors playing it coy and cautious when it comes to releasing their hopeful box office hits during the pandemic, movies that mightn't have otherwise made their way into cinemas are currently getting a shot at the big screen. In some cases, that's excellent news for small but exceptional features that would've likely been dwarfed by blockbusters. In others, flicks that no one should have to pay to endure are also reaching theatres. Then Came You falls into the latter category. A vanity project for American talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford, who stars in and wrote the not-at-all romantic or comedic rom-com, it'd test patience even if it was watched with just one eye half-open and after several drinks in the middle of a long-haul flight. As well as lazily using culture-clash tropes to throw obstacles in the way of its chalk-and-cheese central duo — a newly widowed American hardware shop owner (Gifford, Sharknado 5: Global Swarming) and the Scottish Lord (Craig Ferguson, Hot in Cleveland) whose crumbling mansion she books for the first stop on a globe-hopping getaway — this trite affair hasn't met a clunky double entendre it didn't love, or a predictable plot development that can be seen from Nantucket to Scotland.
First, Annabelle Wilson and Howard Awd converse via email, which Then Came You has the pair read aloud in its opening moments. Then, she announces to her empty house that she has to make new memories or the old ones will kill her, heads to the UK, is shocked that Scotland has working trains, and alternates between flirting and arguing with her host. He has a sob story, too, and he's also struggling to retain his sprawling, stereotypical-looking estate. He has a high-powered London-based bride-to-be (Elizabeth Hurley, Runaways) as well — but there's never any doubting how Then Came You will end. Rom-coms frequently stick to a template; however, it is possible to liven up a creaky formula with snappy dialogue and warm, charismatic performances. As directed with the forceful gloss of a TV commercial by second-time feature helmer Adriana Trigiani (Big Stone Gap) and often set to the same repeated song (also co-written by Gifford), this film sadly struggles with both its core rapport and its leading lady's overacting. He's worlds away from his own former TV hosting gig on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and from his sitcom tole on The Drew Carey Show, but the fact that the reliably charming Ferguson fares best here, even with the grating material, hardly comes as a surprise.
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, February 18 and February 25; and March 4.
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, The Little Things, Chaos Walking and Raya and the Last Dragon.
Published on March 11, 2021 by Sarah Ward