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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas This Week

Head to the flicks to watch a rom-com heist movie set during lockdown, a Saudi drama and an adultery thriller.
By Sarah Ward
May 06, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
May 06, 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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LOCKED DOWN

Sparked by the pandemic, lockdown films aren't just an exercise in adapting to stay-at-home conditions — or a way to keep actors, directors and other industry professionals busy and working at a challenging time. The genre also provides a window into how the creatives behind its flicks view everyday life and ordinary people. Arising from a global event that's placed many of the planet's inhabitants in similar circumstances, these features tell us which stories filmmakers deem worth telling, which visions of normality they choose to focus on and who they think is living an average life. With Malcolm & Marie, a hotshot young director and an ex-addict were the only options offered. In Language Lessons, which premiered at this year's virtual Berlin Film Festival, a wealthy widower and a Spanish teacher were the movie's two choices. Now Locked Down directs its attention towards a CEO and a courier, the latter of which stresses that he's only in the gig because his criminal record has robbed him of other opportunities. Yes, these films and their characters speak volumes about how Hollywood perceives its paying customers.

That's not the only thing that Locked Down says. Directed by Doug Liman (Chaos Walking) and scripted by Steven Knight (Locke), this romantic comedy-meets-heist flick is verbose to a farcical degree — awkwardly rather than purposefully. The repetitive and grating misfire is primarily comprised of monologues, Zoom calls and bickering between its central couple. Well-off Londoners Linda (Anne Hathaway, The Witches) and Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor, The Old Guard) are weeks into 2020's first lockdown, and their ten-year relationship has become a casualty. Whether chatting to each other or virtually with others, both commit a torrent of words to the subject. Linda has decided they're done, which Paxton has trouble accepting. She's also unhappy with her high-flying job, especially after she's forced to fire an entire team online, but gets scolded by her boss (Ben Stiller, Brad's Status) for not telling her now-sacked colleagues they're still like family. Tired of driving a van, Paxton is willing to do whatever his employer (Ben Kingsley, Life) needs to climb his way up the ladder. That said, he's still tied to the road, with the ex-rebel's decision to sell his beloved motorbike — a symbol of his wilder youth, and its fun, freedom and risks — hitting hard.

Read our full review.

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THE PERFECT CANDIDATE

With 2012's Wadjda, Haifaa al-Mansour became the first female filmmaker from Saudi Arabia to make a full-length movie. Fittingly, she achieved the feat via a powerful tale about a girl breaking boundaries — by fighting to ride a bicycle in the street, an activity that's by no means routine in the Middle Eastern country. A hopeful yet truthful film that depicts the present-day reality for Saudi women, while also remaining committed to dreaming of a different future, al-Mansour's directorial debut marked the first-ever feature shot entirely in her homeland, too. Accordingly, she smashed barriers in multiple ways, including both on- and off-screen. Nine years later, she demonstrates the same spirit again with The Perfect Candidate. After exploring another female trailblazer in 2017 biopic Mary Shelley, then pondering the beauty standards imposed upon women in 2018 rom-com Nappily Ever After, al-Mansour delivers the ideal companion piece to her applauded first picture — this time focusing on a young Saudi doctor who tackles her town's misogynistic and patronising attitudes by running for local council.

No matter the day or situation, the ambitious Maryam (debutant Mila al-Zahrani) is repeatedly reminded that women aren't considered equal in her community. In one of The Perfect Candidate's early scenes, an elderly male patient writhes in agony, but is more upset about the fact that she'll be treating him — until Maryam's condescending boss proclaims that male nurses can easily step in and do the job for her. When her recently widowed musician father Abdulaziz (Khalid Abdulraheem) goes away on tour, she attempts to fly to Dubai for a medical conference and subsequent job interview that would see her move to Riyadh. Alas, she's stopped from departing because her dad hasn't updated her travel permit, and she can't leave unless he rectifies the paperwork. A male cousin (Ahmad Alsulaimy) in a role of authority within the government might be able to assist, but even the bonds of blood aren't enough to get her through the door to his office. He's interviewing and approving candidates for the municipal election, so Maryam puts her name forward just to progress past his secretary. That still doesn't help her make her flight, but it does send her in a different direction. While already struggling to convince her employers to pave the road to the town's emergency medical clinic, she decides to run to fix that specific problem — and the more backlash she receives for putting herself in contention, the more determined she is to campaign for change.

The Perfect Candidate is currently screening at Sydney's Randwick Ritz cinema, and will play at ACMI in Melbourne from May 13–25. Read our full review.

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DE GAULLE

Paris' international airport is named after him, so even if you know nothing else about Charles de Gaulle, you know that his chapter in French history turns out well enough to be immortalised in one of the country's most pivotal sites. The new biopic that also shares his name endeavours to help explain why by focusing on a specific period during the Second World War — the few weeks in June 1940 when France's powers-that-be were contemplating kowtowing to Germany rather than continuing to lose men in their battles against the Nazis. As Prime Minister Paul Reynaud (Olivier Gourmet, The Midwife) attempts to decide how to proceed, de Gaulle (Lambert Wilson, The Translators) ranks among the government's key voices. But support for capitulating to their enemy keeps growing stronger, including via Philippe Pétain (Philippe Laudenbach, Ad Vitam), who would become the Chief of State of Vichy France shortly afterwards. Trying to thwart his nation's submission to and collaboration with the Germans, the movie's eponymous figure heads to London to meet with Winston Churchill (Tim Hudson, A Very English Scandal). Swiftly, and while causing ire at home, he becomes a driving force behind the Free France movement — which would lead the resistance against occupation during the remainder of the war.

De Gaulle's audience doesn't need to have an intimate awareness of France's involvement in WWII before they start watching this sombre drama, with writer/director Gabriel Le Bomin (Our Patriots) and his co-scribe Valérie Ranson-Enguiale (who also co-wrote his 2008 short film L'occupant) routinely demonstrating their fondness for using dialogue to deliver exposition. Indeed, much of the feature is dedicated to talk describing the situation — as intertwined with glimpses of de Gaulle's home life, and of the efforts of his wife Yvonne (Isabelle Carré, Moving On), elder children Elisabeth (Lucie Rouxel, Rascal) and Philippe (Félix Back, Black Tide), and younger daughter Anne (debutant Clémence Hitten), who has Down Syndrome, to flee France as the Nazis invade. The end result, while never short on intrigue, always seems more interested in explaining history than depicting it. The ceaselessly worshipping tone doesn't help flesh out the movie's subject as a person, either; again, viewers already know that he's worthy of celebration going in. And, while De Gaulle's urgent efforts to save his country and his family's quest to escape should be tense and suspenseful, much of the feature feels like a by-the-numbers mashup of Second World War film tropes. Wilson's performance is solid, and the period detail catches the eye, but De Gaulle is never more than standard.

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JUNE AGAIN

The third film about dementia to reach Australian cinemas in little over a month, June Again starts as The Father did: with its elderly protagonist losing time, and her sense of her place within it, as moments, days and life in general all seem to rush by. The titular June (Noni Hazlehurst, Long Story Short) barely greets her daughter Ginny (Claudia Karvan, Bump) or grandson Piers (Otis Dhanji, Aquaman) when they visit the aged care centre she has lived in for five years, rarely passes her doctor's (Wayne Blair, Rams) cognitive tests and constantly feels disoriented due to vascular dementia that's been caused by a series of strokes. But, one otherwise ordinary morning, she wakes up lucid, annoyed, and wondering where she is and why. So, as Supernova did, this Aussie feature then follows June's quest to make the most of the time she has left as herself. Here, however, that involves trying to set right the many wrong choices she thinks her adult children have made, and also attempting to snatch a last grasp at happiness. Dramas ensue, with Ginny thrilled to have her mum back as she once was, but frustrated with her meddling — and her sibling Devon (Stephen Curry, Mr Love) mainly falling into the latter category. But June's window of clarity doesn't simply allow her to be herself again; it lets her address her mistakes, follow paths not taken, and try to become the woman that life and raising a family never her let her be.

For 23 years on Play School, Hazlehurst helped guide young minds and teach pre-schoolers about the world that they were only just beginning to explore. Accordingly, there's a feeling of synergy about her role in June Again. Playing a woman slipping out of a world that she's navigated for a lifetime, she tackles a condition unlikely to have been directly experienced by many of the viewers who grew up peering through square, diamond, round and arched windows with her — and looking at rocket and flower clocks, too — but might now be touching those that watched with them. And, alongside fellow familiar faces Karvan and Curry, Hazlehurst is one of the best things about June Again. First-time feature writer/director JJ Winlove keeps things comfortable and predictable in his warm-hearted narrative and warm-hued stylistic choices, but every scene, emotional moment, and insight into life, love, loss, ageing, forgetting and farewelling those dearest to us is improved by his all-star cast. That's never more accurate than when Hazlehurst is cherishing June's renewed lease on life, reminding viewers how delightful she always is on-screen, and selling the film's sentimental but heartfelt message about the importance of chasing what you love in the time you're given.

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FATALE

Only 14 women have ever won more than one Academy Award for Best Actress, and Hilary Swank is one of them. When she earned the Oscars double for 1999's Boys Don't Cry and 2004's Million Dollar Baby, she beat both Meryl Streep and now three-time recipient Frances McDormand to the feat — but her career hasn't brought the coveted accolade her way again since. Fatale isn't going to change that recent trend. It hasn't earned Swank a Razzie either, but she could've easily been in the running. Playing a Los Angeles cop who has a one-night stand in Las Vegas with an ex-college basketball star turned high-profile player manager, then starts stalking her way through his life while also trying to intimidate her politician ex-husband into giving her back access to her young daughter, she has one mode here: stern-faced yet unbalanced. Even when her character, Detective Valerie Quinlan, is first seen flirting, Swank plays her as if something isn't quite right. That's accurate, plot-wise, but it robs Fatale of any semblance of tension it might've possessed. The film is meant to be an adultery-focused thriller in the Fatal Attraction mould — with even its title blatantly nodding that way — but it just ends up recycling tired, simplistic, overused cliches about unhinged women into a monotonous and unnecessarily convoluted package.

Valerie and Derrick (Michael Ealy, Westworld) hit it off at a Vegas bar, then get physical; however, the next morning, he heads home to his wife Tracie (Damaris Lewis, BlacKkKlansman), who he actually suspects of being unfaithful herself. Before Derrick can meaningfully process either his infidelity or his fears about his crumbling marriage, his swanky home is broken into one night — and, because director Deon Taylor (Black and Blue) and screenwriter David Loughery (The Intruder) are content to hit every expected beat there is (and because they've seen every 80s and 90s erotic thriller ever made, too), Valerie is the investigating officer. Despite being woefully predictable from the outset, Fatale doesn't dare have fun with its cookie-cutter narrative. It doesn't evoke thrills, bring anything more than surface style or prove particularly sexy, and it never gets its audience invested in its obvious twists, one-note characters or rote dialogue. And, although having its badge-toting stalker use excessive force and exploit her power to target a person of colour could've been a choice that said something about America's current reckoning with law enforcement, race and police brutality, Fatale doesn't even contemplate anything other than clunky formula.

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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 January 1, January 7, January 14, January 21 and January 28; February 4, February 11, February 18 and February 25; March 4, March 11, March 18 and March 25; and April 1, April 8, April 15, April 22 and April 29.

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, Saint Maud, Godzilla vs Kong, The Painter and the Thief, Nobody, The Father, Willy's Wonderland, Collective, Voyagers, Gunda, Supernova, The Dissident, The United States vs Billie Holiday, First Cow and Wrath of Man.

Published on May 06, 2021 by Sarah Ward

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