The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From April 8
Head to the flicks to watch a space-set thriller, a two-time Oscar-nominated documentary and a charming French comedy.
April 08, 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.
We can only hope that one day, likely in a far distant future, documentaries will stop doubling as horror films. That time hasn't arrived yet — and as Collective demonstrates, cinema's factual genre can chill viewers to the bone more effectively than most jump- and bump-based fare. Nominated for Best Documentary Feature and Best International Feature at the 2021 Academy Awards (only the second time that's ever happened, after last year's Honeyland), this gripping and gut-wrenching Romanian doco starts with a terrible tragedy. On October 30, 2015, a fire broke out at a metal gig in Bucharest, at a club called Colectiv. Twenty-seven people died in the blaze, and 180 people were injured as they tried to escape via the site's lone exit; however, that's just the beginning of the movie's tale. In the four months afterwards, as burn victims were treated in the country's public hospitals, 37 more passed away. When journalist Cătălin Tolontan and his team at The Sports Gazette started investigating the fire's aftermath and the mounting casualty list, they uncovered not only widespread failures throughout Romania's health system, but also engrained corruption as well. This truly is nightmare fuel; if people can't trust hospitals to act in their patients' best interest after such a sizeable disaster, one of the fundamental tenets of modern society completely collapses.
Early in Collective, director, writer, cinematographer and editor Alexander Nanau (Toto and His Sisters) shows the flames, as seen from inside the club. When the blaze sparks from the show's pyrotechnics, hardcore band Goodbye to Gravity has just finished singing about corruption. "Fuck all your wicked corruption! It's been there since our inception but we couldn't see," the group's singer growls — and no, you can't make this up. It's a difficult moment to watch, but this is a film filled with unflinching sights, and with a viscerally unsettling story that demands attention. Nanau occasionally spends time with the bereaved and angry parents of victims of the fire, even bookending the documentary with one man's distress over the "communication error" that contributed to his son's death. The filmmaker charts a photo shoot with Tedy Ursuleanu, a survivor visibly scarred by her ordeal, too. And yet, taking an observational approach free from narration and interviews, and with only the scantest use of text on-screen, Collective's filmmaker lets much of what's said rustle up the majority of the movie's ghastliest inclusions.
Read our full review.
He's an Australian treasure, he's one of Hollywood's recent villainous go-tos and he definitely isn't in Voyagers. That'd be Ben Mendelsohn, who comes to mind anyway while watching this sci-fi thriller. In a softer mode, the Rogue One and Ready Player One star could've played Colin Farrell's part here. That's not why Voyagers makes him pop into viewers' heads, though. Rather, it's because his brand of slippery menace still slinks through this space-set flick, all thanks to its most vivid performance. Should an upcoming movie ever need a fresher-faced version of Mendelsohn's latest bad guy or next morally complicated figure, Dunkirk, The Children Act and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch's Fionn Whitehead needs to be on speed dial. He channels Mendo perfectly as Zac, one of 30 test tube-bred teenagers who are rocketed into the heavens as humanity's last hope for survival. In the latter half of the 21st century, Earth is near-uninhabitable, so he's on an 86-year mission to a newly located planet. The young Humanitas crew's main purpose is to beget the next generations who'll colonise their new home — but, after learning that he's being drugged into obedience, Zac decides not to play nice.
Ten years in, when the quieter Christopher (Tye Sheridan, X-Men: Dark Phoenix) realises that the drink they all call 'blue' contains an unidentified compound, the decision is easy. First Christopher, then Zac, then the rest of their shipmates all stop sipping it and start letting their hormones pump unfettered for the first time in their intricately designed and highly controlled lives. Richard (Farrell, The Gentlemen), the lone adult and the closest thing any of the crew have ever had to a father, is suddenly treated with suspicion. Christopher and Zac begin testing boundaries, indulging desires and flouting rules, too — and realising that they're both attracted to dutiful Chief Medical Officer Sela (Lily-Rose Depp, Crisis). Then an accident changes the dynamic, with the two pals challenging each other while fighting to lead. Factions are formed, chaos ensues and the very folks entrusted with saving the species are now simply trying to outlast each other.
Read our full review.
If you've ever wondered how Nicolas Cage might've fared during cinema's silent era, Willy's Wonderland has the answer. A horror film about killer animatronic restaurant mascots, it's firmly a 2021 feature. It wasn't made a century ago, before synchronised sound forever changed the movie business, so it's definitely a talkie as well. Cage doesn't do any chattering, however. He groans and growls, and often, but doesn't utter a single word. The actor's many devotees already know that he's a talent with presence; whether he's cavorting in the streets under the delusion that he's a bloodsucker in Vampire's Kiss, grinning with his locks flowing in the wind in Con Air, dousing himself with vodka and grunting in Mandy or staring at a vibrant light in Color Out of Space, he repeatedly makes an imprint without dialogue. So, the inimitable star needn't speak to command attention — which is exactly the notion that Willy's Wonderland filmmaker Kevin Lewis (The Third Nail) put to the test.
First, the great and obvious news: Cage doesn't seem to put in much effort, but he's a joy to watch. Playing a man simply known as The Janitor, he glowers like he couldn't care less that furry robots are trying to kill him. He swaggers around while cleaning the titular long-abandoned Chuck E Cheese-esque establishment, dances while hitting the pinball machine on his breaks, swigs soft drink as if it's the only beverage in the world and proves mighty handy with a mop handle when it comes to dispensing with his supernaturally demonic foes. Somehow, though, he's never as OTT as he could be. Cage plays a character who doesn't deem it necessary to convey his emotions, and that results in more restraint on his part than the film demonstrates with its undeniably silly premise. Accordingly, cue the bad news: as entertaining as Cage's wordless performance is — even without completely going for broke as only he can — Willy's Wonderland is often a ridiculous yet routine slog.
Read our full review.
Willy's Wonderland opens in Sydney and Brisbane on April 8, and hits home entertainment on April 21.
ANTOINETTE IN THE CÉVENNES
In some other parts of the world, Antoinette in the Cévennes is known as My Donkey, My Lover & I. Both titles summarise the French comedy in a literal sense, but only one taps into the unexpected survivalist thread weaved through its woman-and-animal antics. Parisian primary school teacher Antoinette (Laure Calamy, Only the Animals) does indeed travel to the Cévennes, the mountain range in France's south. The lovestruck fortysomething makes the trip to follow her married lover Vladimir (C'est la vie!), who has cancelled their plans for the school holidays to hike with his wife Eléonore (Olivia Côte, No Filter) and daughter Alice (first-timer Louise Vidal), the latter of which is one of Antoinette's students. And, setting off on a six-day trek, she walks with a donkey, just like Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde author Robert Louis Stevenson did in the 1870s — as he chronicled in his book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. Chaos and convenient plotting ensues, with the film's eponymous figure unprepared for her journey, inexperienced at both hiking and walking with a donkey, quickly becoming the talk of the trail and greeted with awkward horror by Vladimir when they eventually cross paths. But as a tale of a woman finding herself — and finding out how to truly survive and thrive in her own skin — Antoinette in the Cévennes is both thoughtful and charming.
Luminous star Calamy is so essential to Antoinette in the Cévennes, it's hard to see the feature working without her. She plays her titular part with the commitment rather than recklessness or naive confidence; Antoinette knows that her decisions are guided by her heart rather than by any amount of consideration, but she's determined to see them through. In the movie's opening sequence, when Antoinette dons a sparkly dress and overshadows her class during a performance, Calamy conveys both yearning and spirit. In the many moments that her character finds herself alone on the trail unburdening her romantic woes to Patrick, the stubborn donkey who becomes her unlikely confidante and much-needed animal companion, she's unguarded and without a drop of self-consciousness. Just as crucially, writer/director Caroline Vignal (Girlfriends) has penned a character who smacks of typical rom-com traits at first glance, yet continually proves anything but. Her script gives its central figure time and space not just to grow, but to realise who she really is. That time can pass more patiently than the film's 97-minute running time should, and that gorgeously lensed space — by Knife + Heart cinematographer Simon Beaufils — is as much the star of Antoinette in the Cévennes as Calamy and her four-legged co-star; however, the end result is never anything less than a winsome and perceptive jaunt.
Antoinette in the Cévennes opens in Sydney and Melbourne on April 8, and in Brisbane on April 15.
More than halfway into Australian sci-fi thriller Ascendant, Aria Wolf (Charlotte Best, Tidelands) finds herself facing one of the modern world's worst nightmares: a dying phone battery. She's trapped in a 120-storey Shanghai building, and in an elevator that plunges downward and jerks back up seemingly at random. She awoke bound, gagged and blindfolded, and with no recollection of how she came to be in such a predicament. She's at the mercy of sinister Russians (led by The Mule's Alex Menglet), who are holding her father (Jonny Pasvolsky, The Front Runner) hostage and live-streaming his torture into her suspended cage. But if her phone was to stop working, it'd be the movie's most monumental development. She'd no longer be drip-fed Ascendant's exposition, and first-time feature writer/director Antaine Furlong (co-scripting with fellow debutant Kieron Holland) would also lose his main way to relay those details to his audience. The low battery hardly comes as a surprise, given that Aria has spent the bulk of the film to that point using the device. Because logic is absent here, Aria's mobile keeps working long after she starts stressing about its demise, too. But the importance placed on her phone — both in relaying much of the feature's story, Buried- and Locke-style, and in providing an easy source of drama — speaks volumes about this muddled struggle of a film.
The Russians want information, but Aria doesn't know what they're talking about. Enter flashes of memories from her childhood, which help fill in the gaps. Throw in flimsy supernatural elements as well, and that's the crux of Furlong and Holland's screenplay, which primarily feels like a series of one-upping "what if?" questions — "what if she isn't merely stuck, but she's being tormented?", "what if one wall of the elevator is a big TV screen?", "what if her name makes everyone think of Game of Thrones?", "what if it's all taking place in China?", "what if the CIA is involved?" and "what if there's an ecological aspect?", for instance. Living up to her surname as the feature's standout actor, Best turns in a convincing and layered performance as the perplexed Aria. Stunt double Marlee Barber (The Invisible Man) deserves ample credit given the amount of time that the film's protagonist spends being thrown around, and production designer Fiona Donovan (Back to the Rafters) makes the movie's eerie setting look both unsettling and striking. Their efforts can't lift a picture that's big on ideas but light on cohesion, though. Furlong has a keen eye and doesn't lack in ambition — but Ascendant sinks rather than rises.
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; and March 4, March 11, March 18 and March 25; and April 1.
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 and The Father.