The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From January 7
Head to the flicks to see a candy-coloured revenge thriller, a WWII-set drama and a moving family-friendly effort about migrating geese.
January 07, 2021
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.
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Promising Young Woman would've made an excellent episode or season of Veronica Mars. That's meant as the highest compliment to both the bubblegum-hued take on the rape-revenge genre and the cult-status private detective series. Writer/director Emerald Fennell clearly isn't blind to the parallels between the two, even casting Veronica Mars stars Max Greenfield (New Girl) and Chris Lowell (GLOW) in her feature debut. Don't go thinking the Killing Eve season two showrunner and The Crown actor is simply following in other footsteps, though. At every moment, the brilliant and blistering Promising Young Woman vibrates with too much anger, energy and insight to merely be a copycat of something else. It's a film made with the savviest of choices, and provocative and downright fearless ones as well, in everything from its soundtrack to its weaponised pastel, peppy and popping Instagram-friendly imagery. You don't include Italian quartet Archimia's orchestral version of Britney Spears' 'Toxic', Paris Hilton's 'Stars Are Blind' and an abundance of vibrant surface sheen in a movie about a woman waging war on the culture of sexual assault without trying to make a statement — and Fennell succeeds again and again. She has also made the smart decision to cast Carey Mulligan, and to draw upon the acclaimed actor's near-peerless ability to express complex internalised turmoil. Mulligan's fierce lead performance scorches, sears and resounds with such burning truth, and so does the feature she's in as a result.
When Mulligan's character, Cassie Thomas, is introduced, she's inebriated and alone at a nightclub, her clothing riding up as she slouches in her seat. Three men discuss women over beverages by the bar, and notice Cassie while talking, with one commenting, "they put themselves in danger, girls like that". No woman brings sexual assault upon themselves, with this whole intelligent and astute revenge-thriller rebuffing the bro-ish bar guy's early observation in every way possible, and meting out punishment to those who think similarly. As viewers see in the film's opening sequence, Cassie is offered help by one of the chatting guys, Jerry (The OC's Adam Brody), who is concerned she could be taken advantage of by men who aren't as nice as him — but then takes her home, makes sexual advances, and learns that the medical school dropout-turned-coffee shop employee he's trying to bed has a lesson for him. Colour-coded names and tallies scrawled in a notebook illustrate this isn't a first for Cassie. The script drip-feeds details about its protagonist's motivations for her ritualistic actions; however, the specifics aren't hard to guess. Cassie's central vigilante quest is forced to adapt after she hears news about someone from her past, and the movie takes her to bold places, boasting a relentlessness that mirrors the persistence of grief and pain after trauma. Promising Young Woman never lets its protagonist's rage subside, proving furious from start to finish — and sharing that feeling even in the film's most overt setups and obvious scenes (which are also some of its most entertaining) is a foregone conclusion.
Read our full review.
Opening in the mid-70s, Summerland begins with Alice Lamb (Penelope Wilton, Downton Abbey) tapping away at her typewriter and scaring away the children who come knocking at her door. Rewind to the 40s, and the younger Alice (Gemma Arterton, Their Finest) does much the same. She's been labelled a witch by the kids in her seaside village, and she's hardly happy when the pre-teen Frank (Lucas Bond, The Alienist: Angel of Darkness) arrives on her doorstep as part of a government program to evacuate the next generation from London. In fact, Alice demands that he be rehoused instead of interrupting her work; however, she's told that'll take a week. Moving to the big screen after stage success as a playwright and theatre director (and making short film Leading Lady Parts, also starring Arterton), debut feature filmmaker Jessica Swale penned the original script, so Summerland isn't based on an existing text or property — but everyone watching knows Alice and Frank have ample time to overcome their initial animosity, and that that's exactly what'll happen. Indeed, exploring an unexpected connection between a misanthrope and the young boy placed in her care, tackling multiple types of trauma, and espousing the enduring need for hope, this primarily World War II-set drama proves standard, straightforward and predictable in many ways. And yet, it also demonstrates that a feature can be neat, obvious, heartfelt and rivetingly acted all at once.
When it spins a story about a woman given a new lease on life via an unanticipated bond that's thrust upon her, Summerland rarely flirts with surprise, let alone delivers many. Again and again, Swale's screenplay makes easily anticipated choices, and yet it also tells a resonant tale in the process. The film feels as if it has been built around Arterton, and it's definitely better for it. Thanks to her lived-in performance, Alice is able to navigate a formulaic emotional journey and still staunchly feel like her own person at the same time. Other than Arterton's memorable efforts, Summerland also benefits from two specific aspects: the backstory behind Alice's demeanour, and the way it unpacks her outsider status. Inescapably, the movie includes an almost-cringeworthy, far-too-convenient twist — but when it leaps back to the 20s, to Alice's immediate attraction to and subsequent time with Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Misbehaviour) during her university studies, it doesn't just add a love story to the narrative. In its flashbacks and the shadow they leave on Alice's WWII-era life, the film also invests depth and emotion that isn't as strong otherwise, unleashes unexpected elements that aren't evident elsewhere, and offers a quiet yet potent undercurrent of subversion as well.
Read our full review.
SPREAD YOUR WINGS
Whether they're about people helping other creatures find a way back home, spin stories about connections between different species that change everyone involved, or combine the two in one setup, films about humanity's bond with cute critters comprise a hefty genre. French family-friendly drama Spread Your Wings doesn't just belong in this category, but heartily embraces everything that audiences have come to expect from features that fit the above description — and it also shows how charming movies about humans and animals can be when done simply but well. Sharing a storyline similar to 1996 American film Fly Away Home, but actually based on the real-life exploits of meteorologist Christian Moullec, the latest effort from filmmaker Nicolas Vanier (Belle & Sebastian, School of Life) follows a scientist who is certain that he can save an endangered species of wild geese by teaching them a new migration route, even if his superiors scoff at his idea. With the flying waterfowl's usual path filled with hazards, such as airports, powerlines and light pollution, Christian (Jean-Paul Rouve, I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere) plots an alternate course, raises a new gaggle of goslings from birth, then plans to take to the skies in a homemade ultra-light aircraft to show them the way.
Working with a screenplay written by Moullec and Matthieu Petit, then adapted by Vanier and Lilou Fogli (Blind Date), Spread Your Wings recognises the strength of its story. Crucially, while it tells Moullec's tale via fiction rather than as a documentary, it doesn't overcomplicate or overdramatise the narrative. Sent to stay with him for three weeks, Christian's teenage son Thomas (Louis Vazquez, In Her Hands) becomes as engaged in the project as his dad, even taking the lead when authorities in Norway try to scupper their flight — and while everything in the plot charts the expected course, including Thomas' involvement and the firm bond he forges not only with all the geese in his care, but with one white waterfowl from a different species, Spread Your Wings always feels as if it's telling a timeless story, rather than a cliched and well-worn one. The lively efforts of Rouve and a tender performance from Vazquez helps immensely, as does the scenic cinematography, which heads above the earth as much as it can. Vanier is obviously well aware that he's soaring into busy territory, and opts for a classic approach — which pleasingly works for viewers of all ages.
When Adam Sandler factored into Oscar consideration for his phenomenal performance in Uncut Gems this time last year, he said that if he didn't receive a nomination from the Academy, he'd make a movie that was downright terrible on purpose. He doesn't star in Buddy Games, and this flat-out awful comedy actually premiered six months before Uncut Gems did (yes, even though it is just reaching Australian cinemas now); however, it's the kind of film one would imagine that Sandler was talking about. Directed, co-written by and starring Transformers: The Last Knight actor Josh Duhamel, this oppressively unfunny flick feels like the product of a bet to turn Jackass into fiction, to make it as awful and obnoxious as possible, and to give Duhamel both a cruisy filmmaking credit and the easiest on-screen role of his career. The premise: for years, a group of male friends have gathered together over a boozy summer weekend to compete in challenges, obstacle courses and games, with bragging rights the ultimate prize. Then one of their get-togethers goes wrong, the tournaments are shuttered and everyone loses touch. Jump to five years later, when ringleader Bobfather (played by Duhamel, of course) is convinced to restart the festivities by his struggling pal Shelly (Dan Bakkedahl, Space Force) — and, at the urging of the rest of the gang (Entourage's Kevin Dillon, Psych's James Roday Rodriguez, CHiPS' Dax Shepard and The Wrong Missy's Nick Swardson), to put up $150,000 for the winner.
Duhamel and his fellow first-time feature screenwriters Bob Schwartz and Jude Weng must find testicle jokes and cocktails made with semen hilarious, because that's comedic level that Buddy Games operates on. Also covered: men strapping slabs of meat to their head, then trying not to get attacked by a wild reptile; and a chauvinist contest to see who can pick up a woman at a bar, dance with them and land a kiss, all after just taking laxatives and straining to avoid defecating. While meant to garner laughs, the film simply serves up sad middle-aged men trying to assert their masculinity and hold onto their youth in a puerile way — and says plenty about the folks who thought it was a movie worth making. Unsurprisingly given the alpha male traits aggressively on display, women barely feature, and are either stunning but still one of the guys when they do (with The Predator's Olivia Munn the only female cast member with any real screen-time) or painted as the object of no one's real affection. Homophobic references abound, too, and the fact that one of the group is secretly gay (his only character trait) is as cliched and flimsily thought-out as it sounds. Not even the cast appears particularly committed to their parts, other than Duhamel, obviously, and an over-acting Bakkedahl. Adam Sandler didn't end up getting an Oscar nomination for Uncut Gems — but whatever he thinks will be his absolute worst film is bound to be better better than Buddy Games.
If you're wondering what else is currently screening in cinemas — or has been throughout the year — check out our rundown of new films released in Australia on July 2, July 9, July 16, July 23 and July 30; August 6, August 13, August 20 and August 27; September 3, September 10, September 17 and September 24; October 1, October 8, October 15, October 22 and October 29; and November 5, November 12, November 19 and November 26; and December 3, December 10, December 17, December 26 and January 1.
You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as The Personal History of David Copperfield, Waves, The King of Staten Island, Babyteeth, Deerskin, Peninsula, Tenet, Les Misérables, The New Mutants, Bill & Ted Face the Music, The Translators, An American Pickle, The High Note, On the Rocks, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Antebellum, Miss Juneteenth, Savage, I Am Greta, Rebecca, Kajillionaire, Baby Done, Corpus Christi, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, 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 and The Dry.
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