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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From March 4

Head to the flicks to see Disney's latest animated gem, a moving Swedish drama and a long-delayed sci-fi western that wastes its star-studded cast.
By Sarah Ward
March 04, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
March 04, 2021
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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.

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RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON

Featuring a vibrant animated spectacle that heroes vivid green and blue hues, a rousing central figure who is never a stock-standard Disney princess and lively voice work from an all-star cast, Raya and the Last Dragon boasts plenty of highlights. Directed by Don Hall (Big Hero 6) and Carlos López Estrada (Blindspotting), co-directed by Paul Briggs and John Ripa (both Disney art and animation department veterans), and penned by Qui Nguyen (Dispatches From Elsewhere) and Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians), the Mouse House's new all-ages-friendly release also embraces southeast Asian culture with the same warm hug that Moana gave Polynesia and Pixar's Coco sent Mexico's way — and it's always detailed, organic, inclusive and thoughtful, and never tokenistic. But perhaps its biggest strength, other than the pitch-perfect vocal stylings of Awkwafina as the playful, mystical half of the film's title, is its timing. Disney first announced the feature back in August 2019, so the company can't have known what the world would suffer through from early 2020 onwards, of course. But a hopeful movie about a planet ravaged by a destructive plague and blighted by tribalism — and a feature that champions the importance of banding together to make things right, too — really couldn't arrive at a more opportune moment.

COVID-19 has no place in Raya and the Last Dragon; however, as the picture's introductory preamble explains, a virus-like wave of critters called the Druun has wreaked havoc. Five hundred years earlier, the world of Kumandra was filled with humans and dragons living together in harmony, until the sinister force hit. Now, only the realm's two-legged inhabitants remain — after their furry friends used their magic to create the dragon gem, which saved everyone except themselves. That's the only status quo that Raya (voiced by Star Wars' Kelly Marie Tran) has ever known. Her entire existence has also been lived out in a divided Kumandra, with different groups staking a claim to various areas. With her father Benja (Daniel Dae Kim, Always Be My Maybe), she hails from the most prosperous region, Heart, and the duo hold out hope that they can reunite the warring lands. Alas, when they bring together their fellow leaders for a peaceful summit, Raya's eagerness to trust Namaari (Gemma Chan, Captain Marvel), the daughter of a rival chief, ends with the Druun on the rampage once again. A movie about believing not just in yourself, but in others, Raya and the Last Dragon doesn't shy away from the reality that putting faith in anyone comes with the chance of peril and pain — especially in fraught times where the world has taken on an every-person-for-themselves mentality and folks are dying (or being turned to stone, which is the Druun's modus operandi). If the narrative hadn't been willing to make this plain again and again, including when it picks up six years later as Raya tries to reverse the devastation caused by Namaari's actions, Raya and the Last Dragon wouldn't feel as genuinely affecting.

Raya and the Dragon is screening in Australian cinemas from Thursday, March 4, and will also be available to view via Disney+ with Premier Access (so you'll pay $34.99 extra for it, on top of your usual subscription fee) from Friday, March 5. It'll hit Disney+ without any extra fee on June 4.

Read our full review.

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NOMADLAND

Frances McDormand is a gift of an actor. Point a camera her way, and a performance so rich that it feels not just believable but tangible floats across the screen. That's true whether she's playing overt or understated characters, or balancing those two extremes. In Fargo, the first film that earned her an Oscar, McDormand is distinctive but grounded, spouting midwestern phrases like "you betcha" but inhabiting her part with texture and sincerity. In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, her next Academy Award-winning role, she's an impassioned mother crusading for justice and vengeance, and she ripples with deep-seated sorrow mixed with anger so fiery that it may as well be burning away her insides. Now, in Nomadland, McDormand feels stripped bare and still a commanding force to be reckoned with. She's tasked with a plucky but struggling part — defiant and determined, too; knocked around by life's ups and downs, noticeably; and, crucially, cognisant that valuing the small pleasures is the hardest but most rewarding feat. It'll earn her another Oscar nomination. It could see her nab a third shiny statuette just three years after her last. Along with the attention the movie received at the Golden Globes, both are highly deserved outcomes because hers is an exceptional performance, and this was easily 2020's best film.

Here, leading a cast that also includes real people experiencing the existence that's fictionalised within the narrative, she plays the widowed, van-dwelling Fern — a woman who takes to the road, and to the nomad life, after the small middle-America spot where she spent her married years turns into a ghost town when the local mine is shuttered due to the global financial crisis. A slab of on-screen text explains her predicament, with the film then jumping into the aftermath. Following her travels over the course of more than a year, this humanist drama serves up an observational portrait of those that society happily overlooks. It's both deeply intimate and almost disarmingly empathetic in the process, as every movie made by Chloe Zhao is. This is only the writer/director's third, slotting in after 2015's Songs My Brothers Taught Me and 2017's The Rider but before 2021's Marvel flick Eternals, but it's a feature of contemplative and authentic insights into the concepts of home, identity and community. Meticulously crafted, shot and performed, it truly sees everyone in its frames, be they fictional or real. Nomandland understands their plights, and ensures its audience understands them as well. It's exquisitely layered, because its protagonist, those around her and their lives earn the same term — and Zhao never forgets that, or lets her viewers either.

Nomadland screened in Australian cinemas during a two-week preview season in 2020, starting Saturday, December 26. From Thursday, March 4, 2021, it's back on the big screen for its general release season.

Read our full review.

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CHAOS WALKING

Adapted from the book series of the same name, Chaos Walking has weathered a difficult path to cinemas. The tedious and generic space western releases ten years after the rights to turn Patrick Ness' novels into films were first acquired, four years since the movie was originally shot and two years after major reshoots following unfavourable test screenings. It went through a plethora of rewrites, too, with I'm Thinking of Ending Things' Charlie Kaufman on scripting duties at one point, and Ness (A Monster Calls) and Spider-Man: Homecoming's Christopher Ford getting the final credit. Navigating such a mess rarely bodes well for a movie, so the fact that Chaos Walking proves dull and derivative shouldn't come as a surprise. Even with its cast filled with impressive talent, and with Edge of Tomorrow filmmaker Doug Liman begin the lens, it's hard to see how it might've fared better, with its premise an instant struggle. Set in 2257, the film follows colonists from earth on a planet called New World, who are plagued by a strange phenomenon. A multi-coloured haze hovers around men's heads — and only men — showing their every thought. The sensation has been dubbed 'the noise', and experiencing it while watching sure is rackety. Indeed, 'noise' is the absolute right word for the entire movie.

In his pioneer village, teenager Todd (Tom Holland, The Devil All the Time) can rarely control his noise. While the Mayor (Mads Mikkelsen, Another Round) is able to filter the words and images that project from his mind — and also rock a furry red coat and wide-brimmed hat far better than anyone should — few others have the same ability. Seeing what everyone is thinking is a tricky way to live at the best of times, and it applies to the entire population, because women have been wiped out in a war attributed to the planet's original inhabitants. But Todd's troubles multiply when he discovers a spaceship, as well as Viola (Daisy Ridley, Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker), its sole surviving occupant. The mayor and his followers don't take kindly to the first female in their midst for years; however, supported by his adoptive fathers Ben (Demian Bichir, The Midnight Sky) and Cillian (Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter), Todd isn't willing to surrender the only girl he's ever seen to an angry mob. Cue a tale of toxic masculinity that dates back to 2008, when first instalment The Knife of Never Letting Go hit bookshelves, and feels timely in the current social, political and cultural climate. That said, this isn't a complex, layered or thoughtful film. Instead, it's content to stress its themes in such a broad and easy manner that getting Holland to hold up a sign saying "the patriarchy is bad" would've been more subtle. Indeed, Chaos Walking really just uses these notions as a backdrop for a predictable and formulaic dystopian story, and as a handy reason to motivate its conflicts, in a movie that plays like a hodgepodge of far better sci-fi and western fare.

Read our full review.

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ABOUT ENDLESSNESS

The latest feature from acclaimed and always distinctive Swedish auteur Roy Andersson (Songs From the Second Floor, You, the Living, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence), About Endlessness plays like the filmmaker's response to an oft-used — and overused — piece of worldly wisdom. Relishing the little things has become a greeting card-level piece of advice that's trotted out far too frequently and easily, but this vignette-fuelled drama contentedly peers at and contemplates everyday occurrences, flitting from one snippet of story to another across its brief 78-minute duration. It sees the happy moments, and the bleak ones. It has time for inconsequential instances, for clear flights of fancy and for real-life events that changed the shape of history. It spies the magical, the mundane, the merciful and the menacing, gives them all their time in the spotlight, and weaves them into a moving catalogue of the human condition. And, although the writer/director remains in his comfort zone, he crafts this latest treatise on merely existing into a movie that cuts deeply and feels bold rather than familiar. With Andersson's renowned eye for the sublime and the absurd, the film sees the juxtaposition at the heart of living. It knows that, in some shape or form, life is bound to continue on forever. It's also aware that individual lives are inescapably finite. When pondering mortality, these two truths can be hard to reconcile, especially given that the minutiae that makes up each and every day lulls us into a false sense of feeling as if it'll never end — and About Endlessness embraces all of this thorniness and complexity in its own way.

Via poetic parcels of narration that declare "I saw a man begging to be spared", "I saw a woman who had a problem with her shoes" and "I saw a man who wanted to save the honour of his family, then regretted it" — plus other such short descriptions — About Endlessness works through instance after instance of people searching for meaning, happiness, and a reason to see their existence as anything more than a parade of breaths and heartbeats. The voice offering such narration is female, proves choosy about which scenes she decides to comment on, but is clearly affected by everything that plays about before her all-seeing vision. When it comes to anything approaching an explanation, though, Andersson remains sparse and careful. And yet, this is a detailed film that overflows with intricacy, intimacy and emotion, and with glorious artistry in every single frame. Every shot looks both naturalistic and staged, as is the filmmaker's custom, which evokes the feeling that you're stealing glimpses of life that are equally rich and routine in tandem. Whether a dictator, a man of faith or someone crying on public transport takes temporary pride of place (or, in the latter's case, if a fellow passenger is asking why he can't just be sad at home like everyone else), these short moments have a cumulative effect that's striking and profoundly insightful. Take, for example, an oh-so-short clip of young women spontaneously dancing outside a cafe, which is delightful, instantly touching and speaks firmly to the fact that life is as consistent in its joys as it is in its woes.

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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 12November 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.

You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as The Craft: Legacy, RadioactiveBrazen 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 March 04, 2021 by Sarah Ward

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