The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From March 25
Head to the flicks to watch a big creature feature battle, a fascinating documentary about art theft and a drama about dubbing artists.
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.
GODZILLA VS KONG
Given that neither of Godzilla vs Kong's towering titans are truly terrors, and therefore neither should really emerge victorious over the other, getting them to face off seems pointless. "They're both big, so they can't get along" is the simplistic concept. This isn't a new train of thought, or new to the American-made Monsterverse that's been nudging the beasts closer together for seven years. Thankfully, in the hands of You're Next and The Guest director Adam Wingard, Godzilla vs Kong has as much in common with its superior Japanese predecessors as it does with 2019's terrible Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The follow-up to 2017's Kong: Skull Island, too, this new battle of the behemoths doesn't remake the duo's first screen showdown in 1962's King Kong vs Godzilla. And, sadly, it hasn't ditched the current Hollywood flicks' love of unexciting human characters. But it crucially recognises that watching its titular creatures go claw-to-paw should be entertaining. It should be a spectacle, in fact. The film also realises that if you're not going to make a movie about this pair with much in the way of substance, then you should go all out on the action and fantasy fronts. In other words, Godzilla vs Kong feels like the product of a filmmaker who loves the Japanese Godzilla flicks and Kong's maiden appearance, knows he can't do them justice thematically, but is determined to get what he can right.
Wingard is still saddled with a flimsy script with a tin ear for dialogue by screenwriters Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok) and Max Borenstein (Kong: Skull Island), but his massive monster melees are a delight. Also welcome: Godzilla vs Kong's eagerness to lean into its genre. When it surrenders to its pixels, and to a tale that involves a journey to the centre of the earth, subterranean asteroids, altercations with giant flying lizards and an underground tunnel from Florida to Hong Kong, it's equal parts loopy and fun. That trip to the planet's interior is guided by Kong. Now kept in a dome that simulates the jungle, the jumbo primate is under the watch of researcher Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall, Tales from the Loop), and bonds with Jia (newcomer Kaylee Hottle), the orphan also in the doctor's care. But, after Godzilla surfaces for the first time in three years to attack tech corporation Apex's Miami base, CEO Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir, Chaos Walking) enlists geologist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård, The Stand) on a mission. Testing the latter's hollow earth theory, they plan to track down an energy source that could be linked to both Zilly and Kong's existence — if Kong will lead them there. In a plot inclusion that'd do Scooby Doo proud, teenager Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown, returning from King of the Monsters) and her classmate Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) are certain that Apex is up to no good and — with podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry, Superintelligence) — start meddling.
Read our full review.
THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF
Asked why he broke into Oslo's Gallery Nobel in 2015 and stole two large oil paintings in broad daylight, Karl-Bertil Nordland gives perhaps the most honest answer anyone could: "because they were beautiful". He isn't responding to the police or providing an excuse during his court appearance, but speaking to Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova, who wanted answers about the theft of her work. Captured on camera, the pilfering of Kysilkova's Swan Song and Chloe & Emma initially appeared to be a professional job. As the two pieces were removed from their frames in such an exacting manner, it was presumed that experts were behind the crime. But Nordland and his accomplice didn't plan their brazen heist, or have a background in purloining art. Thanks to the effect of illicit substances, Nordland can't even remember much about it, let alone recall what happened to the stolen works that Kysilkova desperately wants back. That said, as the thief tells the painter when she first talks with him, he does know that he walked past Gallery Nobel often. He's aware that he saw her photorealistic pieces — the first of a dead swan lying in reeds, the second of two girls sat side by side on a couch — many times, too. And, he's candid about the fact that he marvelled at and was moved by the two canvases long before he absconded with them. As a result, he doesn't seem surprised that his life led him to that juncture, and to snatching Kysilkova's creations.
A victim confronts a perpetrator: that's The Painter and the Thief's five-word summary, and it's 100-percent accurate. But such a brief description can't convey how fascinating, thoughtful, moving and astonishing this documentary is as it unfurls a tale so layered and wild that it can only be true — a story that stretches far beyond what anyone could feasibly anticipate of such an altercation and its aftermath, in fact. Nordland was arrested and charged for his crime, with Kysilkova initially making contact with him at his trial. From there, the skilled carpenter and heavily tattooed addict unexpectedly gained a friend in the woman whose works he took. Kysilkova first asked to paint Nordland as part of her attempts to understand him, and he then became her muse. As all relationships do, especially ones forged under such unusual circumstances, their connection evolved, adapted and changed from there. As Norwegian filmmaker Benjamin Ree (Magnus) pointed a camera in their direction for three years, the duo weathered their own ups, downs, twists and turns, as did their friendship. If Nordland's reply to Kysilkova feels disarmingly frank and unguarded, that's because it is. The same tone remains throughout The Painter and the Thief's entire duration. Absent the usual tropes and stylistic markers that true-crime documentaries are known for, the film eschews the standard mix of talking heads, re-enactments and explanatory narration in favour of truly observing and stepping inside its subjects' unique bond.
Read our full review.
THE LAST VERMEER
Dutch artists Johannes Vermeer and Han van Meegeren picked up their brushes more than two centuries apart. Mention the latter, though, and you need to mention the former. Just why that's the case makes for a fascinating tale, as The Last Vermeer tells — one filled with twists, subterfuge, investigations, a trial and post-World War II efforts to punish anyone who conspired with the Nazis. Directed by producer turned first-time helmer Dan Friedkin (All the Money in the World, The Mule), and adapted from Jonathan Lopez's 2008 book The Man Who Made Vermeers, The Last Vermeer relays the Hollywood version of the story, of course. Big speeches and massaged details consequently abound. Attention-grabbing performances jump across this cinematic canvas, too, with Guy Pearce (Bloodshot) resembling Geoffrey Rush as van Meegeren and Claes Bang (Dracula) adding his third recent art-centric feature to his resume after The Square and The Burnt Orange Heresy. There's enough here to keep viewers interested, as there should be given the real-life basis, cast and handsome staging, but this is the type of film that's nicer to look at than to dive into. Its subject: art forgery, a topic that leaves an imprint beyond the movie's narrative. The Last Vermeer doesn't steal from elsewhere, but it also sinks into a well-populated list of other dramas about art and the war (see also: The Monuments Men and Woman in Gold ) far too easily and generically than a feature about this specific tale should.
Bang plays Dutch Jewish officer Captain Joseph Piller, who is tasked with hunting down artworks illegally sold to the Nazis during the war and bringing everyone responsible to justice. That leads him to Christ and the Adulteress, a piece credited to Vermeer but found after his death — and to van Meegeren, the man who is suspected of selling it to key Nazi figure Hermann Göring in the world's biggest art sale at the time. Turning on the rakish charisma even when he's being interrogated by Piller and his offsider (Roland Møller, The Commuter), van Meegeren denies the accusation. Piller isn't convinced, but then police detective Alex De Klerks (August Diehl, A Hidden Life) tries to take over the case. Soon, van Meegeren has been secreted away, is painting while in hiding and, when eventually charged and brought to court, offers an astonishing theory. Also arising in The Last Vermeer: an exploration of the costs of and sacrifices involved in surviving wartime, although Friedkin and screenwriters John Orloff (Anonymous), Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (The Expanse) happily stick to the surface as they do elsewhere. As a mystery, the film suitably zigs and zags. As a courtroom drama, it boasts stirring moments. But, as well as wasting Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) in a thankless part, The Last Vermeer is never more than passable.
The year is 1990, the USSR has collapsed, and Victor (Vladimir Friedman, The Operative) and Raya Frenkel (Mariya Belkina, Into the Night) are among the hordes of Russia's Jewish citizens that decide to move to Israel in search of a fresh start. But relocating costs them their prolific and busy careers as dubbing artists, with the married pair spending the decades prior recording Russian dialogue tracks for every type of film imaginable — to the point of becoming minor celebrities, including among Israel's ex-pat community once they emigrate. For Victor, the lack of work in the same field is crushing. He delivers pamphlets instead, determined to finance their new life, but yearns to get behind a microphone. Willing to try a gig that puts her voice to use in a different way, Raya takes a job at an erotic phone line, although she tells Victor that she's selling perfume from a call centre. Films about relationships disrupted by sizeable changes and duos forced out of their comfort zones aren't rare. Nor are movies about late-in-life shifts and new developments, and the impact on seemingly solid nuptials. And yet, as directed, written and edited by Evgeny Ruman (The Damned), and co-scripted and shot by Ziv Berkovich (A Simple Wedding), the warm and engaging Golden Voices finds its own niche again and again.
There's a thoughtfulness to Golden Voices that underscores almost every choice, including in the film's narrative. Features that wear their overwhelming affection for cinema on their sleeves aren't uncommon either (filmmakers love the medium they work with, obviously, and like to show it). Still, Victor's passion for the big screen and its wonders is steeped in his inability to explore the world physically under Soviet rule, with movies opening a door that he couldn't otherwise pass through. Similarly, the unexpected freedom that Raya finds in her new job is anchored by the same truth. Being able to genuinely be herself behind a veil of anonymity is a new experience, which she relishes, as she does the attention sent her way by a doting customer. These characters are truly approaching their lives afresh — sometimes by choice, sometimes not so — and Ruman and Berkovich find multiple ways to convey this in their screenplay. Also helping: the film's lived-in sense of Israel's expat Soviet Jewish community, Berkovich's eye for composition, the visual period detail and the nuanced yet potent performances by Friedman and Belkina. A sense of neatness can creep into Golden Voices at times, but never encroaches upon the work of its likeable and expressive leads.
PETER RABBIT 2: THE RUNAWAY
Before a single Peter Rabbit movie had hopped into cinemas, the Paddington films got there first — and twice. The English franchise about everyone's favourite marmalade-eating bear has left big paw prints for its bunny-focused counterpart to follow in, too, but neither 2018's Peter Rabbit nor its new sequel Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway comes remotely close to filling them. While impressive photorealistic CGI brings the jacket-wearing Peter and his also partially clothed fellow animals to life, and such special effects wizardry blends seamlessly with the live-action settings and cast members as well, this series is cartoonish and anarchic from its first moments. Anyone who grew up reading Beatrix Potter's books, which date back nearly 120 years, will notice the distinct, stark and unwelcome change of tone. The farmland setting and all those cute rabbits look just as they should, but this is a family-friendly franchise that turned sticking a carrot down a man's pants into one of its big gags the first time around. Accordingly, expecting anything gentle and measured in The Runaway — and anything other than more of the same, just laced with some snarky commentary that acknowledges the criticisms directed the initial movie's way — is as foolish as most of Peter's chaotic adventures.
Once again voiced by James Corden — as the all-knowing computer in Superintelligence was last year as well — Peter thinks of himself as a plucky rebel. After his long-time human surrogate mother Bea (Rose Byrne, Irresistible) marries his former nemesis Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson, Run), he tries not to cause trouble around the farm, but it seems that he's always seen in that light no matter what he does. As Bea's books about Peter, his sisters Flopsy (Margot Robbie, Dreamland), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki, Tenet) and Cottontail (Aimee Horne, Psychotown), and cousin Benjamin (Colin Moody, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries) attract the attention of a big-city publisher (David Oyelowo, Chaos Walking), Peter gets fed up with his bad reputation. And when he crosses paths with town-dwelling bunny Barnabus (Lennie James, Fear of the Walking Dead), he thinks he's found someone who likes him as he is. From here, returning director and co-writer Will Gluck (Annie) unleashes a heist film that's also a musing on identity, and both elements feel not just broad, messy and distractingly energetic, but also routine. Byrne, Gleeson and Oyelowo bring what they can to their flesh-and-blood roles; however, the overall movie is as about as charming as rabbit droppings.
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 January 1, January 7, January 14, January 21 and January 28; February 4, February 11, February 18 and February 25; and March 4, March 11 and March 18.
You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as 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, Raya and the Last Dragon, Max Richter's Sleep, Judas and the Black Messiah, Girls Can't Surf, French Exit and Saint Maud.
Published on March 25, 2021 by Sarah Ward