The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From February 11
Head to the flicks to see a stellar time-travel thriller, a twisty true-crime documentary and a Sydney-shot rom-com.
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.
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead made a significant splash in genre circles with 2014's horror-romance Spring and 2017's excellent cult thriller The Endless, but they aren't currently household names. If the duo keep writing and directing mind-bending sci-fi like Synchronic, though, they will be sooner rather than later. The pair actually appear destined to become better known via Marvel. They're slated to helm one of the MCU's many upcoming Disney+ TV series, the Oscar Isaac-starring Moon Knight, in fact. But, they've already worked their way up from the US$20,000 budget of their 2012 debut Resolution to making movies with Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan. Here, with Marvel's own Falcon and Fifty Shades of Grey's leading man, they play with time, relativity, fate and brain-altering substances. They ponder the shadows that the past leaves on the present, the way that progressing through life can feel far more like a stumble than following a clear path, and how confronting loss and death can reframe your perspective on living, too. Those temporal jumps and existential themes aren't new, of course, and neither is the film's steely look and feel, and its willingness to get dark. That's the thing about Benson and Moorhead, however: few filmmakers can twist familiar parts into such a distinctive, smart and engaging package in the same way, and with each and every one of their movies.
Synchronic shares its title with a designer drug. In the film's vision of New Orleans, the hallucinogen can be bought in stores — and plenty of people are doing just that. Shift after shift, paramedics Steve Denube (Mackie) and Dennis Dannelly (Dornan) find themselves cleaning up the aftermath, as users keep overdosing, dying in unusual ways and getting injured in strange mishaps. And, these aren't your usual drug-fuelled incidents. One, involving a snakebite, happens in a hotel without even the slightest sign of slithering reptiles. That's enough to arouse the world-wearied Steve and Dennis' interest, and to give them something to talk about other than the former's attachment-free life and the latter's marriage. Then Dennis' teenage daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides, Into the Badlands) goes missing, and the two EMTs are instantly keen to investigate any links that the popular pill might have to her disappearance. Cue a film that initially drips with tension, dread and intensity; uses every tool at its disposal to take viewers on a trippy journey; and grounds its surreal imagery and off-kilter atmosphere in genuine emotions. Each of Benson and Moorhead's four films so far are strikingly shot and astutely written, and rank among the best horror and sci-fi efforts of the past decade, but they're also as thoughtful and resonant as they are intelligent and ambitious — and that's an irresistible combination.
Read our full review.
Even the most joyous days and nights spent sipping your favourite drink can have their memory tainted by a hangover. Imbibe too much, and there's a kicker just waiting to pulsate through your brain and punish your body when all that alcohol inevitably starts to wear off. For much of Another Round, four Copenhagen school teachers try to avoid this feeling. The film they're in doesn't, though. It lays bare the ups and downs of knocking back boozy beverages, and it also serves up a finale that's a sight to behold. Without sashaying into spoiler territory, the feature's last moments are a thing of sublime beauty. Some movies end in a WTF, "what were they thinking?" kind of way, but this Oscar-shortlisted Danish film comes to a conclusion with a big and bold showstopper that's also a piece of bittersweet perfection. The picture's highest-profile star, Mads Mikkelsen (Arctic), is involved. His pre-acting background as an acrobat and dancer comes in handy, too. Unsurprisingly, the substances that flow freely throughout the feature remain prominent. And, so does the canny and candid awareness that life's highs and lows just keep spilling, plus the just-as-shrewd understanding that the line between self-sabotage and self-release is as thin as a slice of lemon garnishing a cocktail.
That's how Another Round wraps up, in one the many masterstrokes poured onto the screen by writer/director Thomas Vinterberg (Kursk)) and his co-scribe Tobias Lindholm (A War). The film's unforgettable finale also expertly capitalises upon a minor plot detail that viewers haven't realised had such significance until then, and that couldn't typify this excellent effort's layered approach any better. But, ending with a bang isn't the movie's only achievement. In fact, it's full of them. The picture's savvy choices start with its premise, which sees the quiet and reserved Martin (Mikkelsen) and his fellow educators Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen, Veni Vidi Vici), Peter (Lars Ranthe, Warrior) and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang, The Commune) all decide to put an out-there theory to the test. Motivated by real-life Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, they conduct an experiment that involves being permanently sauced. Skårderud has hypothesised that humans are born with a blood alcohol deficit of 0.05 percent, so, with some cajoling needed on Martin's part, the quartet work that idea into their daily lives. Ground rules are established, and the shots, sneaky sips and all-hours drinking swiftly begins — and so splashes a tragicomic look at coping with mundane lives and the realities of getting older in an extreme fashion that's frank, unflinching, and yet also warm and sometimes humorous.
Read our full review.
On February 13, 2017, at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, a man was assassinated in broad daylight. While standing by the self check-in kiosks at around 9am, he was approached from behind by two women. After they each rubbed their hands across his face, he was dead within the hour. For a plethora of reasons, the attack garnered global news headlines. Such a brazen murder, carried out not only in public but also in full view of the Malaysian airport's security cameras, was always going to receive worldwide attention. The use of extremely deadly chemical weapon VX obviously demanded scrutiny — and so did the fact that the victim was Kim Jong-nam, the estranged elder half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. But, despite the onslaught of newsprint, pixels and airtime devoted to the incident when it happened, the full details behind it took time to unfurl. As Assassins explores, those facts are fascinating, gripping and distressing in equal measure. Indeed, if a Hollywood screenwriter had cooked up the story at the centre of Ryan White's (The Keepers) meticulously documentary, they would've been told that it's too far-fetched. Not that the world needs any additional reminders, but real life really is far stranger than fiction here.
Across 104 minutes that relay an unmistakably and inescapably wild tale in an edge-of-the-seat yet never sensationalistic fashion, White asks the question that was on everyone's lips four years ago: why? That query has many layers. It starts with wondering why two women in their 20s — one from Indonesia, the other from Vietnam — with no clear political affiliations would kill an exiled North Korean who was once expected to lead his nation. From there, it expands to contemplate why Malaysian law enforcement officers and prosecutors were so content to believe that culprits Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong acted without any involvement from North Korea, and why a number of the latter country's citizens were interviewed, but then released and allowed to return home without facing any legal repercussions. Aisyah and Huong certainly weren't afforded the same treatment. Charged with Kim Jong-nam's murder, they were put through a long trial, and faced the death penalty if convicted. The pair, who didn't know each other beforehand, pled their innocence from the outset. Both women were adamant that they had each been hired to make prank videos for a YouTube show and, as far as they knew, their efforts in Kuala Lumpur were part of their latest production.
Read our full review.
LONG STORY SHORT
The type of guy who is always too busy to both make plans and stick to them, Teddy (Rafe Spall, Just Mercy) has a slippery relationship with time. He never seems to have enough to commit to anything right now, including setting a date to marry to his girlfriend of four years and new fiancée Leanne (Zahra Newman, Neighbours). Ever the procrastinator, he's always saying that he'll do everything later, too. Then, after an odd cemetery run-in with a mysterious woman (Noni Hazelhurst, Ladies in Black) that results in his wedding occurring just weeks later, Teddy's life starts slipping away in an unexpected fashion. Everything is normal when he climbs into bed on his wedding night but, when wakes up, he realises that it's suddenly a year later. Leanne hasn't skipped the past 12 months with him, although she does think that he's acting strangely (and, that he's simply freaking out because he forgot their anniversary). Teddy's best friend Sam (Ronny Chieng, Crazy Rich Asians) also doesn't believe that anything is amiss with the calendar, but plenty has changed. When another year glides by a few minutes later, everything changes yet again. Now, Teddy's claims that he doesn't have enough time take on much greater urgency, as he tries to work out what's going on, how to stop it and how to save his disintegrating marriage in the process.
Writing, directing and appearing on-screen as a psychiatrist who exacerbates Teddy's frustrations, House of Lies and Superstore actor Josh Lawson turns filmmaker again with Long Story Short. He's still sticking with comedy, as he did with The Little Death, his last effort behind the camera. He's still happy to sketch out his narratives via broad strokes, too, and to pile on implausible details as well. Here, he starts with the supposedly romantic idea that a man will kiss any woman who wears the same dress as his girlfriend. That mistaken situation inspires Teddy's meet-cute with Leanne, and somehow sparks their whole relationship. It's about as believable as the beachfront Sydney house the apparently ordinary couple buy as their first marital home — so, when Teddy starts jumping through time, that seems feasible in comparison. From there, Long Story Short packages the expected manchild and relationship cliches with familiar temporal-hopping tropes, and can't hide that fact by shouting out to Groundhog Day. Physically resembling his director more often than not, Spall plays rattled well enough. Newman does her best in a thinly written role that simply has Leanne reacting to Teddy's chaos. But being suddenly whisked through time and missing this flat movie wouldn't be a bad outcome for audiences, unless you're the type of viewer who loves Aussie flicks filled with all the usual tourist-courting visuals.
THE PEOPLE UPSTAIRS
A film like Spanish comedy The People Upstairs lives and dies on the strength of its performances. That's not a criticism of the movie's script; rather, it's recognition that its conversation-fuelled dramas and sudden, drastic twists and turns need the right actors to sell everything that unfurls across its brief 82-minute running time. Thankfully, writer/director Cesc Gay (A Gun in Each Hand, Truman) has amassed a top-notch cast. That's hardly surprising — he has worked with his male leads Javier Cámara (Narcos) and Alberto San Juan (Advantages of Travelling by Train) before, and his female leads Belén Cuesta (Money Heist) and Griselda Siciliani (Morir de Amor) boast considerable resumes. But, had any of the quartet missed even the slightest of beats, the whole film could've crumbled, and badly. As the long-married Julio and Ana, Cámara and Siciliani are asked to convey years of unhappiness that's long threatened to push the couple apart, but to still find enough of a spark in their wearied relationship to explain why they're still together (and not just via the smoke that radiates from their frequent arguments). As the upstairs-dwelling Salvo and Laura, San Juan and Cuesta are tasked with looser roles; however, they also have to roll with the punches when their characters keep shocking and surprising their downstairs neighbours.
For Julio, the Friday night that attracts the movie's attention should just be an ordinary evening. Coming home from his music teaching gig, he has papers to grade and doesn't plan on doing much else. Alas, after mentioning in passing the day prior that she'd like to invite Salvo and Laura over, Ana has followed through — and they arrive not long after Julio walks in the door, notices the new rug and starts an argument. From there, The People Upstairs stays within Julio and Ana's apartment and follows their awkward get-together with Salvo and Laura. The latter pair notice the tension immediately, and they have very specific ideas about how to ease it. Plenty of comedies of manners have stepped into comparable terrain, to the point that dinner party movies have become their own subgenre, but Gay and his cast never let the situation feel too familiar. While the film makes the most of its nicely appointed set, which helps, how its stars deliver the lively content of Julio, Ana, Salvo and Laura's chats remains crucial. The movie's comedy, and the pondering of changing societal norms that's baked into it, wouldn't work otherwise. That's not to say that The People Upstairs always hits its targets; although short, some of its conversations become not only purposefully circular, but also repetitive. But when the tightly written script and the cast performing it all sparkle, so does the feature.
In Unsound, Finn (feature first-timer Yiana Pandelis) and Noah (Reece Noi, When They See Us) meet by chance. When the latter wanders into the club for Sydneysiders with hearing impairments that the former runs in the city's northern beaches, a connection springs, although both enter the relationship with other things on their mind. Attendance at the neighbourhood centre has been waning, and the locals complain about Finn's weekly dance parties. Tucking his long hair up under a cap while he stands behind the DJ decks by night and helps children learn Auslan by day, Finn is also slowly taking steps to cement his identity as a transgender man. As for the British-accented Noah, he's just arrived in Australia after touring the UK with his pop singer mentor Moniqua (Christine Anu), and his mother Angela (Paula Duncan, Neighbours) has hardly given him a warm welcome. So, Unsound follows Finn and Noah's romance, but that's just one of the things the film is interested in. While both lead characters receive ample screen time, Finn's experiences as a person who is deaf and with his transition are frequently thrust to the fore. That's a welcome move — not because Noah's efforts to step out of his absent father's shadow, take his career seriously and cope with his often-dismissive mum don't deserve attention, but because inclusive movies about trans men and people who are hearing impaired are rarely this thoughtful (and rarely exist at all, really).
Directed by TV veteran Ian Watson (Heartbreak High, Home and Away) and penned by Ally Burnham (Nice Package), Unsound might bring both 52 Tuesdays and Sound of Metal to mind, which are excellent movies to even remotely resemble; however, this small feature with big ambitions and a heartfelt impact is always its own film. Absent touristy Sydney shots that constantly remind you where it's set, and favouring a low-key, lived-in aesthetic instead, it dedicates its running time to plunging into Finn's life and portraying it authentically, a task that it doesn't lose sight of even for a minute. The texture and detail in Burnham's script, especially in fleshing out the movie's characters, isn't just admirable but essential. It's little wonder, then, that Pandelis always makes Finn feel as if he could walk off the screen — although the performer also deserves ample credit. Noi also more than does his part justice, in a well-cast film all-round (see also: scene-stealer Olivia Beasley as one of Finn's colleagues, and a grounded turn from The Boy From Oz star Todd McKenney as Finn's father). And, the use of sound to convey the joy that Finn and his friends feel at their Saturday night dance parties is one of the picture's many astutely calibrated touches.
Unsound is currently screening in Melbourne cinemas, and will open in Sydney and Brisbane cinemas on March 18.
ESCAPE FROM EXTINCTION
As well as introducing the world to Joe Exotic and his out-there story, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness initiated many viewers into the horrors of roadside zoos and exotic animal menageries. Consider Escape From Extinction the counterpoint, then. Focusing on the other end of the zoo and aquarium industry — the professional, well-funded, properly run type — it sings the praises of establishments worldwide that have been doing their part to help save threatened and endangered species from disappearing. The figures, which the film quotes often (and repeats frequently, too), speak volumes. It's impossible not to be moved by the numbers of species already lost, others teetering on the brink, the dwindling populations left in some cases and, after successful conservation programs, the hard-earned upswings as well. But, it's also impossible not to see this feature as a prolonged advertisement, and an attempt to redress the criticism of keeping animals in captivity stoked by not just Tiger King, but animal activism in general, including high-profile campaigns to release creatures such as Keiko, the orca from the Free Willy films. American Humane produced the movie, so the latter is hardly surprising — but even if you didn't know that when you stepped into the cinema, you'd easily guess.
With Helen Mirren's calm but no-nonsense voice providing its narration, Escape From Extinction largely operates in two modes: bigger-picture overviews and individual case studies. If you've delved into the ever-growing subgenre that is animal-focused environmental documentaries before (such as 2020's David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet), you'll have heard many of the movie's main overall messages. If you've paid any attention to news coverage of recent disasters, including Australia's bushfires, you'll also be familiar with its top-level details. When first-time director Matthew R Brady gets specific, however, the film endeavours to find its own niche — and to pad it with its clear viewpoint at the same time. Accordingly, there's more than a little awkwardness to some segments, especially when you compare the section about sharks being unfairly maligned by popular culture (yes, Jaws gets a mention) and the black-and-white footage and sinister soundtrack used whenever activists are shown protesting. Of course, the fight to save animals from extinction is a worthy one. The view that many zoos play an important part is worth espousing, too. And the experts, wildlife veterinarians, scientists, zookeepers and other industry figures assembled as taking heads are all clearly passionate about their work and about conservation. But, as Escape From Extinction shows, a film can make a plethora of valid and important points and still clumsily and forcefully push an agenda at the same time.
LOVE, WEDDINGS & OTHER DISASTERS
Filmmaker Garry Marshall passed away in 2016, ending his career with three terrible movies focused around specific occasions: Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve and Mother's Day. As well as being awful, all three took star-studded ensemble casts, split them across separate but eventually interlinked vignettes, and told tales relating to the celebrations in each feature's title. While Marshall clearly didn't helm it, Love, Weddings & Disasters takes its cues from his aforementioned films. It's directed by Dennis Dugan, though, who otherwise has the Adam Sandler-starring Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, You Don't Mess with the Zohan, Grown Ups and its sequel, Just Go With It and Jack and Jill on his resume. Sandler doesn't show up here, though, because he's made a decision far wiser than Jeremy Irons (Watchmen), Diane Keaton (Poms), Maggie Grace (Fear the Walking Dead) and Diego Boneta (Monster Hunter). Indeed, it's difficult to see what anyone appearing on-screen saw in Dugan's script, other than the filmmaker himself — who plays the obnoxious host of a TV dating show called Crash Couples that sees strangers literally chained together in an attempt to win $1 million. Yes, the clips involving the latter are as excruciating as they sound but, in fairness, so is everything else about this supremely unfunny and unromantic supposed rom-com.
Putting the word 'disaster' in this movie's moniker couldn't be more apt. Nor could its opening scene, where the ultra-competitive Jessie (Grace) drops her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend while skydiving. She also crashes into a lakeside ceremony, with the footage going viral and earning her the nickname 'wedding trasher' — which is a problem given that she wants to work in the industry. Just eight days before a Boston mayoral candidate and his bride-to-be are due to get hitched, Jessie scores her big chance. Trying to play nicely with veteran Lawrence Philips (Irons) while planning the ceremony isn't easy, though, especially when he's preoccupied after being set up on a blind date with Sara (Keaton), a woman with a visual impairment. More of Love, Weddings & Other Disasters' bite-sized tales link in with these narratives from there, involving musicians, buskers, Crash Couples and tours of the city, and they're all just as cliched and thinly thought-out. That's one of the movie's problems, but it's also near-incoherently shot and edited, and looks as if all of its budget went to paying Irons and Keaton. It's hard to say they were worth the money, because he's just asked to be prim, proper and uptight, and she somehow agreed to play a woman who is blind and trips over all the time. That's Dugan's idea of prime romantic-comedy material, and it's enough to harden even the softest of hearts in dismay.
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 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, December 10, December 17, December 26; and January 1, January 7, January 14, January 21 and January 28; and February 4.
You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as 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, The Furnace, Wonder Woman 1984, Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles, 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 and The Nest.
Published on February 11, 2021 by Sarah Ward