The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From January 20
Head to the flicks to see Kristen Stewart play Princess Diana, a gloriously dark carnival noir and a bold Japanese animated take on 'Beauty and the Beast'.
January 20, 2022
Something delightful has been happening in cinemas in some parts of the country. After numerous periods spent empty during the pandemic, with projectors silent, theatres bare and the smell of popcorn fading, picture palaces in many Australian regions are back in business — including 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, 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.
With two-plus decades as an actor to her name, Kristen Stewart hasn't spent her career as a candle in the wind. Her flame has both blazed and flickered since her first uncredited big-screen role in The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas but, by Elton John's definition, she's always known where to cling to. After jumping from child star to Twilight heroine and then one of the savviest talents of her generation, she's gleaned where to let her haunting gaze stare so piercingly that it lights up celluloid again and again, too. Spencer joins Stewart's resume after weighty parts in Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper, Certain Women and Seberg, and has her do something she's long done magnificently: let a world of pain and uncertainty seep quietly from her entire being. The new regal drama should do just that, of course, given its subject — but saying that director Pablo Larraín has cast his Diana well, pitch-perfect head tilt and all, is a royal understatement.
Larraín also trusts himself well, making the kind of movie he's made three times now — not that Jackie, Ema and Spencer are carbon copies — and knowing that he does it phenomenally. Both essaying real-life figures and imagining fictional characters, the Chilean filmmaker keeps being drawn to tales about formidable women. His eponymous ladies could all be called strong female leads, but Larraín's features unpack what strength really means in various lights. Like her predecessors in the director's filmography, Diana faces searing traumas, plus ordinary and extraordinary struggles. She scorches away tradition, and values letting her own bulb shine bright over being stuck in others' shadows. Viewers know how this story will end, though, not that Spencer covers it, and Larraín is just as exceptional at showing how Diana's candle started to burn out.
The year is 1991, the time is Christmas and the place is the Queen's (Stella Gonet, Breeders) Sandringham Estate, where the Windsors converge for the holidays (yes, Spencer is now prime seasonal viewing). As scripted by Peaky Blinders and Locked Down's Steven Knight, the choice of period puts Diana in one of the most precarious situations of her then decade-long married life, with her nuptials to Prince Charles (Jack Farthing, The Lost Daughter) turning into an "amicable separation" within 12 months. Spencer's focus is on three days, not all that defined the People's Princess' existence before or after, but she can't stop contemplating her past and future. The Sandringham grounds include the house where Diana was born, and those happier recollections — and time spent now with her children (debutants Jack Nielen and Freddie Spry) — give her a glow. Alas, all the monarchical scrutiny simmers her joy to ashes, unsurprisingly.
Larraín is one of today's great detail-oriented filmmakers, a fact that glimmers in his approach to Spencer — and did in Jackie, too. Both character studies let snapshots speak volumes about broader lives and the bigger narratives around them, including when poised as "a fable from a true tragedy" as the title card notes here. 'Poised' is one word for this fictionalised imagining of real events, which builds its dramas in an immaculate chamber, lets heated emotions bounce around as it tears into privilege and power, and allows audiences to extrapolate from the meticulous minutiae. Specific tidbits are oh-so-telling, such as the demand that Sandringham's guests hit the scales upon arrival and leaving, their weight gains deemed a sign of how much they enjoyed themselves. Bolder flourishes are just as exacting, like the way the place is lensed to make the Princess of Wales resemble a doll being toyed with in a playhouse, as well as a Jack Torrance substitute trapped in her own Overlook Hotel The Shining-style.
Read our full review.
Don't mistake the blaze that starts Nightmare Alley for warmth; in his 11th film, Guillermo del Toro gets chillier than he ever has. A lover of gothic tales told with empathy and curiosity, the Mexican filmmaker has always understood that escapism and agony go hand in hand — in life, and in his fantastical movies — and here, in a carnival noir that springs from William Lindsay Gresham's 1946 novel and previously reached cinemas in 1947, he runs headfirst into cold, unrelenting darkness. As The Shape of Water movingly demonstrated to Best Picture and Best Director Oscar wins, no one seeks emotional and mental refuge purely for the sake it. They flee from something, and del Toro's life's work has spotted that distress clearly from his first dalliance with the undead in his 1993 debut Cronos. The Divinyls were right: there is indeed a fine line between pleasure and pain, which del Toro keeps surveying; however, Nightmare Alley tells of trying to snatch glimpses of empty happiness amid rampant desolation.
That burning house, once home to the skulking Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper, Licorice Pizza), is surrounded by America's stark midwestern landscape circa 1939. Still, the terrain of its now-former occupant's insides is even grimmer, as Nightmare Alley's opening image of Stan dropping a body into a hole in the abode's floor, then striking a match, shows. From there, he descends into the carny world after hopping on a bus with only a bag and a radio, alighting at the end of the line and finding a travelling fair at this feet. Given a job by barker Clem Hoatley (Willem Dafoe, Spider-Man: No Way Home), he gets by doing whatever's asked, including helping clean up after the geek act — although, even with his ambiguities evident from the outset, stomaching a cage-dwelling man biting the heads off live chickens to entertain braying crowds isn't initially easy.
While set in an already-despondent US where the Depression is only just waning, the shadows of the First World War linger and more are soon to fall via World War II, Nightmare Alley still gives Stan flickers of hope. Adapted from the novel by del Toro with feature debutant Kim Morgan, the movie doesn't ever promise light or virtue, but kindness repeatedly comes its protagonist's way in its first half. In fortune-teller Zeena the Seer (Toni Collette, Dream Horse) and her oft-sauced husband and assistant Pete (David Strathairn, Nomadland), Stan gains friends and mentors. He takes to mentalism like he was born to it, and his gift for manipulating audiences — and his eagerness to keep pushing the spiritualism further — is firmly a sign. Soon, it's 1941 and he's rebadged himself as 'The Great Stanton' in city clubs, claiming to speak to the dead in the pursuit of bigger paydays, with fellow ex-carny Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara, Mary Magdalene) as his romantic and professional partner beyond the dustbowl.
The tone may be blacker than del Toro's usual mode — positively pitch-black in the feature's unforgettable ending, in fact — but Stan is just doing what the director's main characters tend to: trying to find his own place as he runs from all that haunts him. "My whole life, I been lookin', lookin' for somethin' I'm good at — an' I think I found it," he says, his elation palpable. Although his first altercation with Dr Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett, Don't Look Up) starts with a public scene at one of his swanky gigs, he's equally as thrilled that his crowd-pleasing act attracts her attention, and by the psychologist's suggestion that they team up on wealthy mark Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins, Kajillionaire). But here's the thing about being a grifter, even one who was so recently a drifter: if you're fleecing someone, you're likely being fleeced back in turn.
Read our full review.
When Beauty and the Beast typically graces the screen, it doesn't involve a rose-haired singer decked out in a matching flowing dress while singing heart-melting tunes atop a floating skywhale mounted with speakers. It doesn't dance into the metaverse, either. Anime-meets-Patricia Piccinini-meets-cyberspace in Belle, and previous filmed versions of the famed French fairytale must now wish that they could've been so inventive. Disney's animated and live-action duo, aka the 1991 musical hit that's been a guest of childhood viewing ever since and its 2017 Emma Watson-starring remake, didn't even fantasise about dreaming about being so imaginative — but Japanese writer/director Mamoru Hosoda also eagerly takes their lead. His movie about a long-locked social-media princess with a heart of gold and a hulking creature decried by the masses based on appearances is firmly a film for now, but it's also a tale as old as time and one unafraid to build upon the Mouse House's iterations.
At first, there is no Belle. Instead, Hosoda's feature has rural high-schooler Suzu (debutant Kaho Nakamura) call her avatar Bell because that's what her name means in Japanese. That online character lives in a virtual-reality world that uses body-sharing technology to base its figures on the real-life people behind them, but Suzu is shy and accustomed to being ignored by her classmates — other than her only pal Hiroka (Lilas Ikuta of music duo Yoasobi) — so she also uploads a photo of the far-more-popular Ruka (Tina Tamashiro, Hell Girl). The social-media platform's biometrics still seize upon Suzu's own melodic singing voice, however. And so, in a space that opines in its slogan that "you can't start over in reality, but you can start over in U", she croons. Quickly, she amasses an audience among the service's five-billion users, but then one of her performances is interrupted by the brooding Dragon (Takeru Satoh, the Rurouni Kenshin films), and her fans then point digital pitchforks in his direction.
Those legions of interested online parties don't simplistically offer unwavering support, though. Among Belle's many observations on digital life, the fact that living lives on the internet is a double-edged sword — wielding both opportunities to connect and excuses to unleash vitriol, the latter in particular when compared to the physical experience — more than earns its attention. That said, all those devotees of Suzu's singing do rechristen her avatar as Belle, and she starts living up to that fairytale moniker by becoming fascinated with the movie's Beast equivalent. He's mysterious to the point that no one in U or IRL has been able to discern who he really is, but the platform's self-appointed pseudo-police force is desperately trying. Suzu is also mortified about the possibility of anyone discovering that she's Belle, although she's drawn to Dragon because she can sense his pain.
Hosoda has repeatedly proven an inspired filmmaker visually — one just as creative with his stories and storytelling alike, too — and Belle is no exception on his resume. After the likes of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, Wolf Children and Mirai, he's in especially dazzling form in a movie that wields its images in two distinctive modes. In U, Belle is an epic onslaught for the eyes, its animation lively, busy and hyper-real in a way that cannily mirrors the feeling of wading through always-on online realms. This is where that whale swims through the air, concerts are held in what appears to be a hollow planet and Disney-style castles turn gothic. When it's in Suzu's reality, the film opts for naturalistic tones in a look that notices the everyday beauty in the flesh-and-blood world, even amid daily routines in fading small towns filled with average teens and their families. Hosoda revels in the contrast between the two, in fact, because that clash constantly sits at the film's core.
Read our full review.
Any new film by Zhang Yimou deserves eyeballs the world over, but One Second, the Raise the Red Lantern, Hero and House of Flying Daggers director's latest, hasn't charted the smoothest route to screens. Pre-dating the filmmaker's Cliff Walkers, which reached Australian cinemas in 2021, it was originally scheduled to show at the 2019 Berlinale. But after the festival began, it was removed from the lineup — and while a "technical problem" was cited as the official reason, Chinese censorship was floated as the real cause. One Second eventually surfaced on home soil late in 2020, and elsewhere around the globe in the last few months of 2021. It's now an immensely timely movie, although purely by coincidence. Every great feature by a great director inherently pays tribute to the medium of film, so that's hardly new for Zhang — but celebrating the silver screen, and the pandemic-relevant yearning to bask in its glory when life conspires to get in the way, isn't just a side effect here.
It's 1975 when One Second begins, and crowds are flocking to makeshift small-town picture palaces to see propaganda films. The specific movie drawing in the masses: 1964's Heroic Sons and Daughters, which prison-camp escapee Zhang Jiusheng (Zhang Yi, Cliff Walkers) is desperate to catch. Alas, after finding his way into one village through mountains of sand that wouldn't look out of place in Dune, the fugitive discovers that he's already missed the showing that the night. Worse still, the film's canisters are being packed onto a motorbike to be driven to their next destination. And, he isn't the only one keen to make the movie's acquaintance, with the orphaned Liu (Liu Haocun, another Cliff Walkers alum) swiftly stealing its sixth reel before it departs town.
An unlikely pair seeking the same thing for different reasons — he's heard that his estranged daughter appears in newsreel footage in the feature, while she wants the celluloid to make a lamp for her younger brother — Zhang and Liu are soon following the rest of the film through the desert to its next stop. That's where Mr Movie (Fan Wei, Railway Heroes) awaits, courting profit and glory compared to Zhang's desperation to glimpse his family and Liu's resourcefulness (that said, sporting a mug calling himself the 'World's Greatest Projectionist', the man behind the travelling cinema that's screening Mao-approved fare to entertainment-starved locales does still love his a clear fondness for his job). But the reels don't return intact, sparking a homemade restoration campaign that needs the entire town's help. Yes, loving film is also a tactile experience here.
Zhang has always been able to make any kind of movie he's put his mind to, and has the four-decade-long resume to prove it. With 2009's A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop, he even remade the Coen brothers' Blood Simple. One Second sees him masterfully blend film-adoring melodrama with a Cultural Revolution-era portrait that's laced with just the amount of commentary that managed to escape the censors. He revels in sight gags and chases that could've been lifted out of silent comedy greats from a century back as well, giving cinema yet another ode. The end result mightn't be Zhang's absolute best — his resume isn't short on highlights — but it easily ranks among his most endearing. One Second makes exceptional use of its dust-swept setting, too, and its trio of chalk-and-cheese main players; plus, in celebrating an artform that's both tangible and an illusion, Zhang still makes a clear statement.
One Second is currently screening in Sydney and Brisbane, after opening in Melbourne in December 2021.
If you're wondering what else is currently screening in Australian cinemas — or has been lately — check out our rundown of new films released in Australia on September 2, September 9, September 16, September 23 and September 30; October 7, October 14, October 21 and October 28; November 4, November 11, November 18 and November 25; December 2, December 9, December 16 and December 26; and January 1, January 6 and January 13.
You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Streamline, Coming Home in the Dark, Pig, Big Deal, The Killing of Two Lovers, Nitram, Riders of Justice, The Alpinist, A Fire Inside, Lamb, The Last Duel, Malignant, The Harder They Fall, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, Halloween Kills, Passing, Eternals, The Many Saints of Newark, Julia, No Time to Die, The Power of the Dog, Tick, Tick... Boom!, Zola, Last Night in Soho, Blue Bayou, The Rescue, Titane, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, Dune, Encanto, The Card Counter, The Lost Leonardo, The French Dispatch, Don't Look Up, Dear Evan Hansen, Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Lost Daughter, The Scary of Sixty-First, West Side Story, Licorice Pizza, The Matrix Resurrections, The Tragedy of Macbeth, The Worst Person in the World, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, House of Gucci, The King's Man, Red Rocket, Scream, The 355, Gold, King Richard and Limbo.
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