The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas This Week From April 29
Head to the flicks to watch a gorgeous 19th-century set tale of friendship, a Chinese spy thriller, and Jason Statham and Guy Ritchie's latest.
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.
Gone are the days when every image that flickered across the screen did so within an almost square-shaped frame. That time has long passed, in fact, with widescreen formats replacing the 1.375:1 Academy aspect ratio that once was standard in cinemas, and its 4:3 television counterpart. So, when a director today fits their visuals into a much tighter space than the now-expansive norm, it's an intentional choice. They're not just nodding to the past, even if their film takes place in times gone by. With First Cow, for instance, Kelly Reichardt unfurls a story set in 19th-century America, but she's also honing her audience's focus. The Meek's Cutoff, Night Moves and Certain Women filmmaker wants those guiding their eyeballs towards this exquisite movie to truly survey everything that it peers at. She wants them to see its central characters — chef Otis 'Cookie' Figowitz (John Magaro, Overlord) and Chinese entrepreneur King-Lu (Orion Lee, Zack Snyder's Justice League) — and to realise that neither are ever afforded such attention by the others in their fictional midst. Thoughtfully exploring the existence of figures on the margins has long been Reichardt's remit, as River of Grass, Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy have shown as well, but she forces First Cow's viewers to be more than just passive observers in this process.
There's much to take in throughout this magnificently told tale, which heads to Oregon as most of Reichardt's movies have. In its own quiet, closely observed, deeply affectionate and warm-hearted fashion, First Cow is a heist movie, although the filmmaker's gentle and insightful spin on the usually slick and twist-filled genre bucks every convention there is. Initially, after watching an industrial barge power down a river, First Cow follows a woman (Alia Shawkat, Search Party) and her dog as they discover a couple of skeletons nearby. Then, jumping back two centuries and seeing another boat on the same waterway, it meets Cookie as he's searching for food. Whatever he finds, or doesn't, the fur-trapper team he works with never has a kind word to spare. But then Cookie stumbles across King-Lu one night, helps him evade the Russians on his tail, and the seeds of friendship are sown. When the duo next crosses paths, they spend an alcohol-addled night sharing their respective ideas for the future. Those ambitious visions get a helping hand after the Chief Factor (Toby Jones, Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom) ships in the region's highly coveted first cow, with Cookie and King-Lu secretly milking the animal in the dark of night, then using the stolen liquid to make highly sought-after — and highly profitable — oily cakes.
Read our full review.
WRATH OF MAN
With revenge thriller Wrath of Man, filmmaker Guy Ritchie (The Gentlemen) and actor Jason Statham (The Meg) reunite. The pair both came to fame with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, repeated the feat with Snatch, then unsuccessfully tried again with Revolver, but they've spend the past 16 years heading in their own directions. During that stretch, the former subjected the world to his terrible Sherlock Holmes films, fared better with left-field additions to his resume like The Man From UNCLE and Aladdin, but didn't quite know what to do with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The latter has become an action go-to over the same time — with both forgettable and memorable flicks resulting, including three Fast and Furious movies and a stint scowling at Dwayne Johnson in the franchise's odd-couple spinoff Hobbs & Shaw. Thankfully, now that they're collaborating again, they're not just interested in rehashing their shared past glories. From Wrath of Man's first moments, with its tense, droning score, its high-strung mood and its filming of an armoured van robbery from inside the vehicle, a relentlessly grim tone is established. When Statham shows up shortly afterwards, he's firmly in stoic mode, too. He does spout a few quippy lines, and Ritchie once again unfurls his narrative by jumping between different people, events and time periods, but Lock, Stock Again or Snatch Harder this isn't.
Instead, Wrath of Man is a remake of 2004 French film Le Convoyeur. While walking in someone else's shoes turned out horrendously for Ritchie with the Madonna-starring Swept Away, that isn't the case with this efficient, effective and engaging crime-fuelled effort, which finds its niche — and it's a new one for its central duo, at least together. Statham plays Patrick Hill, the newest employee at the Los Angeles-based cash truck company Fortico Securities. On his first day, his colleague Bullet (Holt McCallany, Mindhunter) dubs him H — "like the bomb, or Jesus H," he says — and the nickname quickly sticks. H joins the outfit a few months after the aforementioned holdup, with the memory of the two coworkers and civilian killed in the incident still fresh in everyone's minds. So, when gunmen interrupt his first post-training run with Bullet and Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett, Penny Dreadful), they're unsurprisingly jumpy; however, H deals with the situation with lethal efficiency. Cue glowing praise from Fortico's owner (Rob Delaney, Tom & Jerry), concern from his by-the-book manager (Eddie Marsan, Vice) and intrigue about his past from the rest of the team (such as Angel Has Fallen's Rocci Williams and Calm with Horses' Niamh Algar).
Read our full review.
Pitting humanity against nature is one of cinema's favourite setups; however, when movies dwarf a lone soul in their expansive surroundings, then watch them try to survive, the medium endeavours to explore exactly what makes us tick. The mere sight of a single figure attempting to endure against the elements can send a potent message, reminding viewers of how small we each are compared to the planet we live on, how fleeting our existence ultimately proves in its lengthy history and how witnessing one day following the next is never a given for anyone in any situation. Like everything from Into the Wild and The Grey to All Is Lost and Arctic before it, Land conjures up these ideas and themes within its hauntingly beautiful frames. It also boasts the space and patience to ponder the impressions our traumas and tragedies leave, too. None of these notions are new or unique, and Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam's (Submergence) screenplay doesn't ever pretend otherwise or treat them as such. Rather, this thoughtful drama knows that it's traversing well-worn and universal territory, and that films past and future will continue to walk similar paths — but director and star Robin Wright (Wonder Woman 1984) is also well aware that continually interrogating and reevaluating why we're here, where we fit into this world, what we choose to do with our lives, and how we change and evolve along the way is what makes us human.
In her filmmaking debut after helming ten episodes of House of Cards over the years, Wright plays Edee, a woman who can only see one way to cope with the type of pain, loss and heartbreak that has forever upended life as she once knew it. With a trailer filled with tinned and dry food, she escapes to the Wyoming wilderness, where nothing but a rustic cabin, clear lakes, trees and mountains as far as the eye can see, and the occasional animal awaits. But when a bear destroys her food supplies and the region's frosty winters prove punishing beyond her expectations, Edee struggles to find the peace she seeks. Enter the kindly Miguel (Demián Bichir, Godzilla vs Kong), a kindred spirit with his own troubles to work through, and with his own draw to the land as well. When done badly, movies about finding solace and strength in the great outdoors threaten to turn the "nature is healing" trope into a movie, but Land isn't that feature. It doesn't unravel a romance against cinematographer Bobby Bukowski's (Irresistible) scenic imagery, either. Instead, it watches as Edee works through the minutiae of her chosen new existence, faces challenges, rediscovers the value of having even just one person to reach out to and slowly comes to terms with who she is after all she's been through. Wright's internalised performance is phenomenal, and although its final act moves too quickly, this is always a compassionate, poignant and affecting film.
2016's Matt Damon-starring The Great Wall might've threatened to prove otherwise, but when Zhang Yimou makes a movie, it usually demands attention. The Chinese filmmaker's 1988 debut Red Sorghum won Berlinale's Golden Bear, 1991's Raise the Red Lantern remains stunning on multiple levels, and 2002's Hero, 2004's House of Flying Daggers and 2018's Shadow remain dazzling examples of the wuxia genre at its finest. With new release Cliff Walkers, the acclaimed director toys with an espionage narrative. Jumping into the spy realm is new for him, but when the film starts with sweeping shots of snowy Manchukuo — a Japanese-controlled state in China's northeast in the 30s and 40s, and the site of a death camp that's pivotal to the story — it's clear that he's behind the lens. Indeed, these frosty moments are so visually striking that, when the white landscape gives way to terse, tense altercations on trains and then within the city of Harbin, feeling disappointed is an instant side effect. Zhang has a meticulous eye for streets and interiors, too, however. And, for secret exchanges and fraught chases also. Benefiting from the filmmaker's regular director of photography Zhao Xiaoding as well, there isn't a single shot in Cliff Walkers that doesn't demand attention. Even the sight of fallen snow collecting in the brims of the hats worn by the feature's characters boasts its own beauty.
Within its eye-catching frames and amidst its entrancing era-appropriate production design, Cliff Walkers tracks four Chinese operatives who've been tasked with rescuing a survivor of a massacre at the Manchukuo camp from the Japanese authorities — a job that's filled with peril from the outset. After parachuting into the snow in the feature's vivid and alluring opening, Zhang (Zhang Yi, The Eight Hundred) and Lan (Liu Haocun, A Little Red Flower) tackle one part of the mission, while their romantic partners Yu (Qin Hailu, The Best Is Yet to Come) and Chuliang (Zhu Yawen, The Captain) are paired up and saddled with the other. It's the 30s, and double-crossing, double agents and danger all follow, as does betrayal, heartbreak, tests of loyalty and hard choices. The film that unfurls doesn't overflow with surprises, plot-wise, but Zhang and first-time feature screenwriter Quan Yongxian focus on the details, making every coded interaction and suspenseful altercation as gripping as the movie's multi-layered cat-and-mouse games. After his previous picture, One Second, was pulled from the 2019 Berlinale at the last moment — officially due to "technical difficulties" — Cliff Walkers' patriotic leanings don't come as a shock; however, it doesn't dampen the film's visual splendour or involving narrative, either.
Forget watches, calendars and social media reminders that tell you what you were doing on this day years ago whether you like it or not — when it comes to conveying the passing of time, the entertainment industry has a surefire tactic. There's nothing quite like seeing the now-grown child of a famous face start appearing on-screen to make you realise how quickly the seconds, minutes, hours and more melt away. Twist is the latest film to have that effect, thanks to the first-time lead actor that plays the titular Charles Dickens-penned character. Rafferty Law looks exactly like his father, sounds like him and has the same stare that's worked so well for the latter for years, including in The Third Day and The Nest of late. He also appears here opposite Michael Caine, who Jude Law co-starred with in 2007's Sleuth; however, this isn't quite the start to his big-screen career that the younger Law would've hoped for. A modern version of Oliver Twist that reframes the famed orphan as a freerunner and graffiti artist who leaps between London's rooftops and tags the tallest of buildings, it's the update that no one could've asked for — including the teenage audience it's targeting. And, at a time when even Guy Ritchie is moving on from his usual bag of tricks with Wrath of Man, it enthusiastically follows in his decades-old footsteps. Presumably director Martin Owen (Killers Anonymous), screenwriters John Wrathall (The Liability) and Sally Collett (The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud), and the seven other folks given either idea or additional material credits just couldn't handle living in a world where Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Dickens hadn't crossed paths.
There are no gruelling orphanage scenes in Twist, but there is a criminal mastermind called Fagin (Caine, Tenet), a gang of light-fingered pickpockets led by Dodge (Rita Ora, Fifty Shades Freed) and an abusive villain named Sikes (Lena Headey, Game of Thrones). When the eponymous teenager falls into their company, he's rightly apprehensive; however, he just wants to belong, even if that means becoming part of an art heist. If it wasn't for fellow building-leaping crew member Nancy (Sophie Simnett, Daybreak), Twist mightn't fall in as thickly with the thieves as he does. But Owen and his fellow creatives never let a cliche pass by. Similarly, as their hero and his new pals plot to pilfer paintings from gallery owner Losberne (David Walliams, Murder Mystery), the film doesn't miss an opportunity to spout hackneyed dialogue, fill its soundtrack with oh-so-literal choices and throw in more parkour whenever it seems that a few minutes might tick along without it. Caine should've left his Dickensian escapades to The Muppets Christmas Carol, while everyone else should've expended more than a couple of seconds thinking about this flimsy wannabe caper. And, while Rafferty Law's presence might remind the audience that time passes so quickly that multiple generations of families keep popping up on our screens (see also: Scott Eastwood in Wrath of Man, Lily-Rose Depp in Voyagers and John David Washington in Tenet, just to name a few), Twist makes its 88-minute running time feel like an eternity.
THE DEVIL HAS A NAME
In one of the many courtroom scenes in The Devil Has a Name's second half, Californian almond farmer Fred Stern (David Strathairn, Nomadland) takes the stand in the $2 billion lawsuit that he has brought against Shore Oil. He's demanding compensation for the poisoning of the land beneath his property for the past ten years, and the questioning and corresponding testimony turns to matters of intention and knowledge — with Stern pointing out that the energy behemoth mightn't have deliberately contaminated his farm initially, but it also didn't change its ways once it discovered the environmental effects of its actions. Instead, regional director Gigi Cutler (Kate Bosworth, Force of Nature) sent a flunky (Haley Joel Osment, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile) to try to buy Stern off. The latter's foreman Santiago (Edward James Olmos, Mayans MC) immediately questioned the motives behind the deal, but it took the sight of toxic water streaming out of his shower to inspire Stern to fight. As told in flashbacks by a whisky-swilling Cutler to Shore Oil's slimy CEO (Alfred Molina, Promising Young Woman), the resulting battle sees lawyers both crusading (Martin Sheen, Judas and the Black Messiah) and corporate (Katie Aselton, The Unholy) become involved, a villainous fellow company employee (Pablo Schreiber, First Man) endeavour to derail Cutler, Stern's property threatened and Santiago's undocumented status given a public airing.
Olmos also directs The Devil Has a Name, working with a script by first-timer Robert McEveety. Just like the company at its centre, their film has an intention-versus-reality problem. Taking its cues from the very real water contamination wars in Central Valley, passion, anger and a worthy point pump through the feature. But The Devil Has a Name isn't merely the latest in a long line of sincere dramas about corporate exploitation of natural resources and the very real consequences for everyday folks, as seen with Dark Waters, Promised Land and Erin Brockovich. Thanks to its overboiled tone, Bosworth and Molina's scenery-chewing, Schreiber and Osment's utter cartoonishness, and its eager bluntness, it strives for the comic causticity that Thank You for Smoking applied to the tobacco industry and I Care a Lot to legal guardianship. Finding a sense of balance between earnest and darkly comedic isn't Olmos' strength, though, and nor is pairing social activism with exaggerated melodrama. It doesn't help that Reynaldo Villalobos' (Windows on the World) cinematography always appears to be moving, with little reason, or that Bosworth is only ever asked to be in femme fatale or hysterical mode. When any combination of Strathairn, Olmos and Sheen share the screen, however, it's easy to see how The Devil Has a Name would've worked without its soapy, over-the-top quirks — but that's not the movie that Olmos has made, sadly.
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 and April 22.
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 and The United States vs Billie Holiday.
Published on April 29, 2021 by Sarah Ward