The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From May 13
Head to the flicks to watch a stunning dance-fuelled drama, a horror sequel and Angelina Jolie's return to the big screen.
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.
Before 2021 comes to an end, Pablo Larraín will have given the world Spencer, a new biopic about Princess Diana featuring Kristen Stewart as the royal figure. Also on his hit list this year: Lisey's Story, a Julianne Moore-starring TV adaptation of a Stephen King book that has been scripted for the screen by the author himself. But with the release of Ema in Australian cinemas, he's already gifting viewers something exceptional. A new project by Larraín is always cause for excitement, and this drama about a reggaeton dancer's crumbling marriage, personal and professional curiosities, and determined quest to become a mother rewards that enthusiasm spectacularly. In fact, it's a stunning piece of cinema, and one that stands out even among the Chilean director's already impressive resume. He's the filmmaker behind stirring political drama No, exacting religious interrogation The Club, poetic biopic Neruda and the astonishing, Natalie Portman-starring Jackie — to name just a few of his movies — so that's no minor feat. For the first time in his career, Larraín peers at life in his homeland today, rather than in the past. And, with his now six-time cinematographer Sergio Armstrong (Tony Manero, Post Mortem), he gazes as intently as he can. Faces and bodies fill Ema's frames, a comment that's true of most movies; however, in both the probing patience it directs its protagonist's way and the kinetic fluidity of its dance sequences, this feature equally stares and surveys.
Here, Larraín hones in on the dancer (Mariana Di Girólamo, Much Ado About Nothing) who gives the feature its name. After adopting a child with her choreographer partner Gastón (Gael García Bernal, Mozart in the Jungle), something other than domestic bliss has followed. Following a traumatic incident, and the just as stressful decision to relinquish their boy back to the state's custody, Ema is not only trying but struggling to cope in the aftermath. This isn't a situation she's simply willing to accept, though. Ema, the movie, is many things — and, most potently, it's a portrait of a woman who is willing to make whatever move she needs to, both on the dance floor and in life, to rally against an unforgiving world, grasp her idea of freedom and seize exactly what she wants. Di Girólamo is magnetic, whether she's dancing against a vivid backdrop, staring pensively at the camera or being soaked in neon light. Bernal, one of the director's regulars, perfects a thorny role that ties into the film's interrogation of Chile's class and cultural divides. And Larraín's skill as both a visual- and emotion-driven filmmaker is never in doubt. Indeed, this film's imagery isn't easily forgotten, and neither is its mood, ideas, inimitable protagonist, or stirring exploration of trauma, shock and their impact.
Ema opens in Sydney and Melbourne cinemas on May 13, and in Brisbane on May 20. Read our full review.
THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD
A smokejumper stationed to a Montana watchtower, plagued by past traumas and forced to help a teenage boy evade hired killers, Those Who Wish Me Dead's Hannah Faber actually first debuted on the page. Watching Angelina Jolie bring the whisky-swilling, no-nonsense, one of the boys-type figure to the screen, it's easy to assume otherwise. The part doesn't quite feel as if it was written specifically for the smouldering movie star, though. Rather, it seems like the kind of role that might've been penned with Liam Neeson or Denzel Washington in mind — see: this year's The Marksman for the former, and 2004's Man on Fire for the latter — then flipped, gender-wise, to gift Jolie a new star vehicle. On the one hand, let's be thankful that that's not how this character came about. Kudos to author Michael Koryta, who also co-writes the screenplay here based on his 2016 novel, for conjuring up Hannah to begin with. But on the other hand, it's never a great sign when a female protagonist plays like a grab bag of stock-standard macho hero traits, just dressed up in a shapelier guise.
It has been six years since Jolie has stepped into a mere mortal's shoes — since 2015's By the Sea, which she wrote and directed — and she leaves no doubt that Hannah is flesh and blood. There's still an iciness to the firefighter, and she still has the actor's cheekbones and pout, but Maleficent, she isn't. She's bruised, internally, by a fire that got away and left a body count. After hanging out with her colleagues, parachuting out of cars and brooding in her tower, she's soon physically in harm's way as well. As Those Who Wish Me Dead's plot gets her to this juncture, it also cuts back and forth between forensic accountant Owen Casserly (Jake Weber, Midway) and his son Connor (Finn Little, Angel of Mine), plus assassins Patrick and Jack (The Great's Nicholas Hoult and Game of Thrones' Aiden Gillen). Thanks to a treasure trove of incriminating evidence against important people that no one was ever supposed to find, these two duos are on a collision course. When they do cross paths — while Owen is trying to take Connor to stay with Ethan (Jon Bernthal, The Peanut Butter Falcon), his brother-in-law, a sheriff's deputy and one of Hannah's colleagues — it also nudges the boy into the smokejumper's orbit.
Read our full review.
SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW
With Spiral: From the Book of Saw, what came first: the decision to call its protagonist Ezekiel, or the casting of Samuel L Jackson as said character's father? Either way, the film's creative team must've felt mighty pleased with themselves; getting the Pulp Fiction actor to utter the name that's been synonymous with his bible-quoting, Quentin Tarantino-penned monologue for more than a quarter-century doesn't happen by accident. What now four-time franchise director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV) and Jigsaw screenwriters Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger mightn't have realised, though, is just how clumsily this choice comes across. The Saw series has made almost a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, but now it's resorting to winking and nodding to one of its latest stars' past movies. Perhaps Bousman and company didn't notice because almost everything about Spiral feels that forced, awkward, clunky and badly thought-out. Jackson and Chris Rock might gift the long-running franchise a couple of high-profile new faces; however, this ostensible reboot is exactly as derivative as you'd expect of the ninth instalment in a 17-year-old shock- and gore-driven saga.
Focusing on a wisecracking, gung-ho, about-to-be-divorced police detective known for exposing his dirty colleagues, Spiral tries to coil the series in a different direction, at least superficially — and pretends to have meaty matters on its mind. Ezekiel 'Zeke' Banks (Rock, The Witches) has been crusading for honesty, integrity, fairness and honour in law enforcement for years. Starting back when his now-retired dad Marcus (Jackson, Death to 2020) was the precinct's chief, he's been vilified by his peers for his efforts. When a killer appears to be targeting rotten cops, too, Zeke is desperate to lead the case. Initially, he just wants to avenge the death of the first victim, one of the only co-workers he called a friend, but he's soon trying to track down a murderer that seems to be following in franchise villain Jigsaw's footsteps. A lone wolf-type not by choice but necessity, Banks also happens to be saddled with a rookie partner (Max Minghella, The Handmaid's Tale) as he attempts to stop the bodies from piling up.
Read our full review.
THE MAN IN THE HAT
Throughout his four-decade-plus career, Ciarán Hinds has appeared in everything from Excalibur and The Phantom of the Opera to There Will Be Blood and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 — and in Game of Thrones and First Man as well. But his expressive face never been put to as a great use as it is in The Man in the Hat, which tasks the Irish actor with staying silent for its duration, save for a rare word here and there. As the titular figure, he potters around France in a small Fiat 500. What might've been a leisurely journey just because (its purpose is never explained) becomes somewhat frantic when a car filled with five bald men starts following his every move. The headwear-donning protagonist witnesses them up to no good, drives off quickly and attempts to take the scenic route, but wherever he goes, his pursuers cross his path eventually. That doesn't stop either the eponymous man from whiling away the time on his travels, whether dropping into cafes, helping the people he meets along the way, seeing the sights, having a swim or flirting with a red dress-wearing, bike-riding woman (Sasha Hails, Quiz). Often, the man in the hat simply listens to his short-term companions, including a fellow lonely soul (Stephen Dillane, Mary Shelley) initially spending his time under a bridge and a biker (Maïwenn, DNA) at a makeshift campsite.
Written and directed by Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love composer Stephen Warbeck with TV travelogue veteran John-Paul Davidson (Stephen Fry in America, Brazil with Michael Palin), The Man in the Hat is undeniably slight. It's also doused in the same type of Gallic whimsy that made Amelie a delight to some and an utter chore for others. And, with its jaunty score, episodic antics, smatterings of slapstick, and gorgeous small-town and countryside backdrop, it can play like a fever dream you might have after eating too much cheese, pairing it with a few healthy glasses of wine, making European holiday plans and falling asleep watching great silent comedians from decades ago. None of the above is a bad thing, however, if you're on the film's wavelength. Indeed, surrendering to The Man in the Hat's charms — and appreciating its exacting staging and choreography — happens both quickly and easily. It wouldn't be the same feature without Hinds, though, who adds an enchanting wordless performance that owes a clear debt to Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Marcel Marceau and Jacques Tati, but is never an act of miming mimicry.
Premiering at the Edinburgh International Film Festival back in 2019, Carmilla first reached the screen shortly after Portrait of a Lady on Fire made its maiden appearance at Cannes. It debuted more than 14 months before Ammonite, the other big lesbian period romance of the past two years. But this gothic novella adaptation will always be seen as the lesser of the three recent films. Inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu's 1872 text, Carmilla is indeed another tale of love, lust, repression and the roles that have been enforced upon women for far too long. It takes the restraint that its characters are tasked with displaying a little too firmly to heart, though. While handsomely shot with a keen eye for vivid detail, moody in tone from start to finish, and eagerly savaging society's judgement of female sexual awakening and of sapphic desire, its often feels stilted rather than filled with yearning — and frequently seems as if it's holding a little too much back. Also, although its source material is one of the first works of vampire fiction, hitting the page nearly three decades before Bram Stoker's Dracula, first-time solo writer/director Emily Harris doesn't heartily sink its teeth into that genre, either. There's absolutely nothing wrong with eschewing the supernatural, of course, but a few especially striking images aside, Carmilla's pulse rarely quickens.
What this story of passion, seduction, persecution and flouting strict norms does unshakeably possess, however, is memorable and committed performances by its key female cast members — all of whom do their utmost at every turn. Hannah Rae (Fighting with My Family) plays Lara, the cooped-up, constantly lonely daughter of the distant Mr Bauer (Greg Wise, The Crown). When the film commences, she's giddy with excitement about the impending arrival of a fellow teen from a neighbouring town, who's set to join their household for a prolonged sojourn. It'll give her a much-needed reprieve from her stern governess, Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine, Patrick Melrose), who usually dictates every aspect of her daily routine. The tutor is even determined to train her left-handed pupil to favour her other appendage, all in the name of curing her of her sins. But, when their planned visitor doesn't make the trip, mysterious newcomer Carmilla (Devrim Lingnau, Immortality) earns everyone's attention instead. A victim of a carriage accident with no memory of who she is or why she's in the area, she's like a beacon in the night to the curious and isolated Lara, even as Miss Fontaine endeavours to maintain a close watch.
When aspiring violinist Finley Sinclair (Rose Reid, The World We Make) meets acting superstar Beckett Rush (Jedidiah Goodacre, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) by falling asleep on his shoulder during a flight from New York to Ireland, she definitely isn't just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her. The college exchange student thinks the cinema world's biggest current heartthrob is arrogant, in fact, and likely wouldn't have given him another thought if they didn't end up staying at the same small-town bed and breakfast thanks to pure rom-com logic. No, Finding You doesn't try to hide its Notting Hill-esque concept. Based on the young adult novel There You'll Find Me, it's quite eager to nod in its fellow romantic comedy's direction — and towards as many of the genre's other cliches and tropes as it can find. Even its setting sticks to recent convention; however, it's never as grating and inane as the Scotland-set Then Came You, and doesn't feature a twist as ridiculous as Wild Mountain Thyme. Everything about Finley and Beckett's will-they, won't-they romance plays out as expected, though, other than one key factor. Writer/director Brian Baugh (I'm Not Ashamed) hasn't met a pointless plot development he doesn't need to work into his movie, it seems, so the path to true love here definitely doesn't run smooth.
Finley heads to Ireland seeking a change of scenery and a new source of inspiration after failing a big audition, while Beckett makes the trip to shoot the latest instalment of a big blockbuster franchise he's no longer that interested in being in. As they work out their individual issues and inch closer together, the script also tasks her with becoming his acting coach, and sightseeing with him in an attempt to track down a cross sketched by her brother. She also learns a few musical tricks from the boozy town expert (Patrick Bergin, The South Westerlies), and gets caught up in a decades-long scandal surrounding an elderly and cantankerous woman (Vanessa Redgrave, Mrs Lowry and Son) she's assigned to visit for class — while Beckett battles with his manager dad (Tom Everett Scott, 13 Reasons Why) about his future, the tabloid attention and the fake love affair he's supposed to be in with his co-star (Katherine McNamara, The Stand). When Finding You lets its two leads simply spend time together, it benefits from their warm rapport. When it bundles in every complication it can think of, it veers from being blandly predictable to needlessly contrived and convoluted. For whatever misguided reason, Baugh favours the latter over the former, all served up with a soundtrack that couldn't be more stereotypical if it just repeated the word "Ireland" over and over again.
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, April 22 and April 29; and May 6.
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, The United States vs Billie Holiday, First Cow, Wrath of Man, Locked Down and The Perfect Candidate.
Published on May 13, 2021 by Sarah Ward