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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From January 1

Head to the flicks to see an Aussie crime thriller, a powerful drama about a woman dealing with tragedy, and the latest Milla Jovovich-starring video game adaptation.
By Sarah Ward
December 29, 2020
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By Sarah Ward
December 29, 2020
  shares

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.

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THE DRY

In The Dry, a man heads back to the drought-stricken town he grew up in for the first time in two decades, returning in the aftermath of a new tragedy and unearthing the still-blistering remnants of an old one in the process. An Australian Federal Police officer who left the regional farming community of Kiewarra under terse circumstances, Aaron Falk has the look of someone who long ago let the ability to display his feelings dry up — and while that isn't what the film's title refers to, Eric Bana plays the movie's protagonist as if it was. He's dogged and no-nonsense. He can shoot a glare at someone that's as severe as his profile, and often does. Twenty years after Chopper made Bana's name as a dramatic actor, rather than a sketch comedy star whose movie career began with The Castle, he's a canny pick for The Dry's lead role. As he stalks through his first Australian movie since 2007's Romulus, My Father, he silently simmers with intensity in every gaze; however, viewers already know that Bana never just plays the hard man — or, in his comic days, just one type of funny guy either. And so, in this big-screen adaptation of Jane Harper's award-winning novel of the same name, the audience can also spot that his unrelenting exterior holds back a storm of Aaron's pain and loss, all lurking behind an expression as parched as the yellowed fields that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Conveying that balance of steely focus and buried heartache isn't a new task; tales on the page and screen are filled with characters, typically men and often those with a badge, who fit the type. But one of the reasons that Bana is so right for The Dry is that, in his hands, Aaron isn't merely the sum of his well-worn traits. Similarly, he isn't just a cookie-cutter conflicted cop in yet another small-town murder-mystery about a community torn apart by a young woman's death, never recovering, then rehashing their woes when another trauma arises. Directed by Robert Connolly (Paper Planes) and co-written with Harry Cripps (the forthcoming Penguin Bloom), The Dry is a whodunnit multiple times over. It boasts a vast lineup of characters and a stellar array of talent behind them (including Glitch's Genevieve O'Reilly, 1%'s Matt Nable and filmmaker John Polson, acting for the first time since Mission: Impossible II), but it's Aaron's journey that always demands attention. Indeed, one of the most intriguing aspects of this solid, engaging but rarely surprising Australian crime movie is how it's clearly stitched together from familiar elements — not just regarding its central character, but throughout the entire narrative — but, through Aaron, this tale of grief, guilt, secrets, stark truths, dusty fields and emotional desolation finds a way to resonate.

Read our full review.

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PIECES OF A WOMAN

Everyone has heard the claim that women forget the pain of childbirth, with hormones and maternal stirrings washing away the agony of labour once a mother meets their bundle of joy. But in Pieces of a Woman, Boston-based expectant mother Martha (Vanessa Kirby, Fast & Furious: Hobbs and Shaw) won't forget what occurred when her water broke, her husband Sean (Shia LaBeouf, Honey Boy) remained by her side and midwife Eva (Molly Parker, Words on Bathroom Walls) delivered her baby. Neither will viewers of this daringly intimate drama from White God and Jupiter's Moon director-writer duo Kornél Mundruczó and Kata Wéber, thanks to a tense and harrowing 23-minute home birthing scene that plays out in one continuous take. The shot isn't the movie's first, but it does precede its title card — with the filmmakers making it plain that, after getting a front-row seat to Martha's trauma, the audience will now witness her attempts to stitch herself back together. That's Pieces of a Woman's storyline. Shattered instead of feeling ecstatic and complete, as she had anticipated, the feature's protagonist tries to work out how to go on. But her marriage has lost its lustre, her overbearing mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn, House of Cards) won't stop giving her two cents and, at Sean and Elizabeth's urging, there's also a court case to deal with.

Pieces of a Woman doesn't lack narrative developments, involving both Martha and those in her bereaved orbit. However, after stepping through her life-changing moment in realistic detail, the movie makes the bold choice to explore its protagonist's emotional and mental state. The ravenous monster that is grief is just one factor. Pieces of a Woman is heartbreakingly unrestrained in showing how it feels to navigate loss, specifically the kind that isn't often addressed in society let alone in cinema. Just as effectively, though, the film also unpacks how women are constantly expected to stick to set roles, even when tackling what might be the most distressing thing that'll ever happen to a mother. No matter what's going on, Martha is always supposed to fit a type dictated by long-held ideas about being a woman, and her husband, mum and anyone else with an opinion can't quite accept her refusal to adhere to convention. Accordingly, in a career-best performance, Kirby weathers an ordeal rarely laid bare with such candour, does so via a dynamic and lived-in portrayal, and remains resolute about Martha's right to fracture and fray however she needs to. She's compelling to watch, in a feature that plunges viewers headfirst into Martha's experience. Nothing has been sanitised here, either by the filmmakers or by their unforgettably real and raw central character.

Read our full review.

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MONSTER HUNTER

It has been nearly two decades since writer/director Paul WS Anderson turned a video game hit into an action-horror franchise starring Milla Jovovich, so it must be time to try to achieve the same feat again. In good news, the married couple seem to have farewelled all things Resident Evil after 2016's abysmal Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (a reboot is in the works for a 2021 release, but neither are involved). In bad news, the dull and derivative Monster Hunter is on par with the worst that its zombie-fuelled predecessor served up — and, other than 2002's original instalment, the bulk of the undead saga is flat-out terrible. A filmmaker who also has 1995's Mortal Kombat on his resume, Anderson has a knack for bringing elaborate new worlds to the screen in detail, as video games always strive to. The ability to translate that task to the cinematic realm can't be underestimated. Anderson clearly agrees, because Monster Hunter even begins with text waxing lyrical about new worlds; however, once you create an intricate visual space, you need to do something with it. Monster Hunter's sandy deserts and craggy rocks aren't just a backdrop here, linking into the action and the movie's imagery in clever ways. But, they really shouldn't be the most interesting and inventive thing about the film. Given the storyline — also penned by Anderson, as based on the Capcom game series that dates back to 2004 — that outcome hardly comes as a surprise.

Jovovich plays US Army Ranger Captain Artemis, but she really could be playing Resident Evil's Alice in a military uniform. Even with oversized critters roaming around and wreaking havoc, that's how generic Monster Hunter always feels, Jovovich's routine performance as another nondescript hero included. During a mission in the desert, Artemis is inexplicably sucked through a portal to a different dimension, watches giant monsters attack her team, and is then forced to befriend a warrior known only as The Hunter (Tony Jaa, Jiu Jitsu) in order to survive. The reluctant new pals don't speak the same language, which is where most of Monster Hunter's non-creature feature tension (and misplaced comedy) is supposed to spring from. When the titular beasties become involved, which is often, an onslaught of CGI monopolises the movie — and it really isn't as unnerving or engaging as Anderson hopes. At its most basic level, Monster Hunter delivers exactly what its moniker promises. There are monsters, there are hunters, and the two cross paths. A bewigged Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy) also pops up, as does a human-sized cat cook called Meowscular Chef, but they're rare over-the-top highlights in a film that is too bland to be entertaining in a mindless, ridiculous way, and just meandering and monotonous in general.

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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 12November 19 and November 26; and December 3, December 10, December 17 and December 26.

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, DeerskinPeninsula, 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, RadioactiveBrazen 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 and Nomadland.

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Images: Pieces of a Woman, Benjamin Loeb/Netflix.

Published on December 29, 2020 by Sarah Ward

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