The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From December 17
Head to the flicks to see Margot Robbie's latest, a rom-com that's also a movie about sentient artificial intelligence and a lively music documentary.
Something delightful is 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.
Playing a former couple who reconnect and reignite their spark, Melissa McCarthy and Bobby Cannavale have great chemistry together in Superintelligence. This isn't the first time they've featured in the same movie, thanks to 2015's Spy, but there's an energy to their work opposite each other here. She's Carol Peters, an ex-Yahoo executive who quit her job eight years ago with a dream of moving into philanthropy. He's George Churchill, a creative writing professor. Carol still thinks about George two years after their breakup and, when they re-meet-cute in a supermarket, he's happy to see her — although he is flying out to Ireland in three days to take up his dream academic job. There is enough to the concept just described to furnish a likeable albeit predictable rom-com that coasts by on McCarthy and Cannavale's charm and charismatic pairing. A film that simply followed the above story would be straightforward, but Superintelligence shows that it'd likely work. Alas, Superintelligence makes Carol and George's romantic antics the subplot in a movie that's actually about a sentient artificial intelligence that's trying to decide what to do about humanity, chooses Carol as an example of the most average person on earth, and pushes her to get back with George so it can observe, judge her actions and extrapolate what it might mean about people in general.
Unsurprisingly, the tech side of the story crashes hard. As everything from Her and Ex Machina to the Terminator and Matrix franchises have shown, films about AI aren't new — and nor are movies about technology threatening to eradicate or enslave humanity — so a wealth of far better features have already traversed this territory. And while screenwriter Steve Mallory (The Boss) has come up with a twist on the idea that he seems to think is brilliant, it really isn't. How can it be when his killer concept just involves said artificial intelligence being voiced by James Corden, and that fact being recognised in the story because Carol is a big fan? If you're not as fond of Corden as she is (likely because you've seen Cats and The Prom), you won't be laughing. It wouldn't be funny even if you did like his work. It's a one-note gag, and a grating one at that. It also chews up far too much of Superintelligence's running time, when viewers would always rather be seeing McCarthy and Cannavale together without any silly gimmickry. The former's husband Ben Falcone directed the film, as he did with Tammy, The Boss and Life of the Party, but that can't explain why the movie squanders the best thing it has. McCarthy's career constantly swings from highs to lows (Can You Ever Forgive Me? and The Happytime Murders came out in the same year, for instance), but Superintelligence is both misguided and a missed opportunity.
Back in 2013's The Wolf of Wall Street, Margot Robbie didn't simply hold her own against Leonardo DiCaprio. The Australian actor stole scenes from her then far-more-famous co-star — which, given that he put in a phenomenal performance, is no small task. Accordingly, the fact that she quickly rocketed from supporting player to the kind of lead that an entire film can hang from is hardly surprising. Her path from Suicide Squad to Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) illustrates it perfectly, in fact. Still, even Robbie's ability to lift a movie has its limits, which Dreamland tests. She's both luminous and textured in the Great Depression-set thriller. Playing a bank robber on the run, she's the most absorbing and intriguing part of the film. She's meant to be, because that's how and why her character of Allison Wells draws in Texan farm boy Eugene Evans (Finn Cole, TV's Animal Kingdom) and gets him to help her. And, Robbie is clearly invested in the movie both on- and off-screen, as she not only stars but also produces. That said, very little about Dreamland other than her performance proves anything more than standard, and noticeably so. Director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte (As You Are) aims to follow in the footsteps of Badlands and Ain't Them Bodies Saints — and brings Bonnie and Clyde to mind, too — but flails in comparison to both.
Dreamland does boast a gorgeously hazy, woozy aesthetic — through the hues that cinematographer Lyle Vincent (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) splashes across the screen, primarily — that gives it an enticing look and feel. In quick square-framed shots inserted to represent flashes of dreams of a life that could possibly come if everything goes Allison and Eugene's way, the film couldn't be more alluring. But, alongside Robbie's performance, that isn't enough to boost the routine storyline. Indeed, at times the movie's visual style even augments and bolsters Dreamland's been-there, done -hat air. The narrative doesn't need much help, though, with screenwriter Nicolaas Zwart (Riverdale) hitting as many recognisable beats as the cops pursuing Allison fire off shots. She's wanted in general, but also because her last stick-up with her now-dead partner saw a little girl get killed. Eugene's stern stepfather George (Travis Fimmel, Lean on Pete) is one of the deputies on her trail, so the teen's decision to let her hole up in his family's barn is instantly risky. The young man is also desperate to flee himself, to find the dad that abandoned him and his mother (Kerry Condon, Better Call Saul) years earlier on their dustbowl property, so he doesn't need much convincing to assist Allison in this all-too-familiar affair.
CROCK OF GOLD: A FEW ROUNDS WITH SHANE MACGOWAN
Frontman for The Pogues since the early 80s, and a formidable music force in-between the Celtic punk band's stints together — until the 90s, and then from the early 00s to the mid 10s — Shane MacGowan is a rare beast in his chosen industry. He's a true individual that no one could ever emulate no matter how they tried. He's also a spikier, pricklier, far more recalcitrant figure than others who've earned that description (David Bowie and Prince, for example). He certainly has more stories to tell about smoking cigarettes and drinking booze as a child, then listening to his aunt teach him the gospels and sharing her religious fervour to such an extent that he even thought about turning his childhood beliefs into his life's work. Accordingly, to delve into MacGowan's existence beyond the easy-to-Google biographical details, the usual musician-worshipping documentary was never going to do him justice. So, seasoned director Julien Temple doesn't try to fit the usual mould. The filmmaker has ample experience in the genre, with Sex Pistols rockumentary The Filth and the Fury on his resume — plus Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten and Glastonbury, too — and he's just adept at finding the right approach for the right subject.
In Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan, viewers hear the song that he's best known for more than once. The Pogues' 'Fairytale of New York' is an instrumental part of his story, after all. Although it was released in 1987, it's also the most popular Christmas song of the 21st century. Alongside the film's birth-to-now linear path, the use of well-known tune is the most standard part about this deep dive into MacGowan upbringing, fame and controversy. Case in point: MacGowan isn't an interviewee here in the traditional sense. Archival footage of him answering questions fits the expected mould, but in his more recent chats specifically for the doco, he talks with people he knows such as Johnny Depp, Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie and former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams. It's a canny and compelling approach, likely by necessity, and just how MacGowan changes depending on his company doesn't escape attention. In the process, and amidst animated sequences, family photos and videos, and deftly deployed stock imagery, Temple lets his audience see first-hand how a man with such a strong presence and infamous reputation is still a rolling, rambling bag of contradictions and complications — although MacGowan's words, offered over more than a few drinks as the lively film's title makes plain, easily paint that picture themselves.
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 and December 10.
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 and The Furnace.
Images: Superintelligence, Hopper Stone; Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan, Andrew Caitlin.
Published on December 17, 2020 by Sarah Ward