The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From February 4
Head to the flicks to see a Studio Ghibli's latest, an absurd rom-com and a documentary about environmental activism.
February 04, 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.
Before watching The Nest, you mightn't have imagined Jude Law playing Mad Men's Don Draper. He didn't, of course. But this new 80s-set psychological thriller about a corroding marriage brings that idea to mind, because it too follows a man who spends his days selling a dream, thinks he can talk and charm his way into anything, and may have unleashed his biggest spin upon himself. More often than not, Law's character here has used his charisma to get whatever he wants, and to evade whichever sticky personal and professional situations he's plunged himself into. Indeed, stock trader Rory O'Hara slides easily into Law's list of suave on-screen roles, alongside the likes of The Talented Mr Ripley and Alfie. But there's also a tinge of desperation to his arrogance, as the actor showcased well in miniseries The Third Day. A Brit who relocated to New York and married horse trainer Allison (Carrie Coon, Widows), Rory looks the picture of Reagan-era affluence but, when he suddenly wants to return to London to chase new work opportunities, the cracks in his facade start widening. As directed with a heightened sense of dread by Martha Marcy May Marlene filmmaker Sean Durkin, The Nest busts open those fractures, with Allison, her teenage daughter Sam (Oona Roche, Morning Wars) and her son Ben (Charlie Shotwell, The Nightingale) all weathering the repercussions.
While it's obvious from the outset that trouble is afoot, Durkin isn't in any rush to unleash The Nest's full nightmare. He wants his viewers to linger in it, because his characters must. Allison is forced to live with the knowledge that little is right, but the way she chain-smokes hurriedly illustrates that she also knows how far her fortunes could fall. Every move Rory makes is driven by his need to paint a gleaming portrait of himself, and he knows that it's a reverse Dorian Gray situation: the shinier and flashier he makes everything seem to anyone who'll listen, the more he rots inside. Durkin doesn't just rely upon an exacting pace and a festering mood of gloom, though. Reuniting with cinematographer Mátyás Erdély (Son of Saul) after 2013 miniseries Southcliffe, he gives every second of The Nest an eerie look — whether staying a few beats longer than normal on its opening shot, lensing vast rooms to emphasise their emptiness, repeatedly peering at the film's characters through glass or breaking out the most gradual of zooms. All that tension and unease conveys not only Rory and Allison's domestic discontent, but also the false promises of chasing capitalism-driven fantasies. And, with Coon as essential as Law and Durkin, it drives an excellent thriller that knows how how gut-wrenching it feels to realise that the life you don't even love is a sham.
Read our full review.
EARWIG AND THE WITCH
If you wanted to use Studio Ghibli's name as an adjective, it could mean many things, including beautiful, playful, moving, heartwarming, thoughtful and bittersweet. Thanks to the delightful combination of these traits in the company's work to-date, everyone knows a Ghibli film when they see it, as has proven the case for almost four decades. But, seven years after When Marnie Was There — and five years since French co-production The Red Turtle — the Japanese animation house has released a movie that doesn't slide instantly into its gorgeous and affecting catalogue. The studio's first film made solely using computer-generated 3D animation, Earwig and the Witch immediately stands out thanks to its plastic-looking visuals. That smooth, glossy imagery is impossible not to notice. It feels generic, and that sensation lingers. Indeed, almost everything in this slight, bright, likeable but rarely memorable addition to Studio Ghibli's filmography also earns the same description. And, despite focusing on a determined young girl, featuring a witch, and even including a talking cat and other helpful tiny critters, Earwig and the Witch rarely works Ghibli's usual magic. A by-the-numbers movie from the company is still better than many other family-friendly features — and this is average rather than awful, too — but the animated effort makes its audience work to uncover its modest charms.
In a thinly plotted picture that tries to tick off as many of the studio's known traits as possible — and also endeavours to squeeze Ghibli's sensibilities into the broader anime mould, all while appealing more firmly to children than adults — viewers first meet Earwig (Kokoro Hirasawa) as a baby. After trying to shake off the dozen other witches chasing them along a highway during the opening scene of this Gorō Miyazaki (Tales from Earthsea, From Up on Poppy Hill)-directed film, her mother (Sherina Munaf) leaves her on an orphanage's doorstep, promising to return after her never-explained troubles subside. Ten years later, Earwig still roams the facility's halls. She brags to her offsider Custard (Yusei Saito) that she knows how to get its staff and its residents to bend to her will, and to whip up shepherd's pie on demand. And, she actively doesn't want to be adopted by the couples who stop by looking to expand their families. But when Earwig is chosen by witch Bella Yaga (Shinobu Terajima) and sorcerer The Mandrake (Etsushi Toyokawa), she has no option but to relocate to their enchanted cottage. Bella Yaga doesn't want a daughter, however. Instead, as based on the novel by Howl's Moving Castle author Diana Wynne Jones, the witch is in need of an assistant to cook, clean and crush rat bones for her spells. Seeing a chance to learn magic herself, though, Earwig isn't willing to acquiesce easily.
Read our full review.
WILD MOUNTAIN THYME
It doesn't happen every week, thankfully, but every now and then a movie proves so ridiculous that it's impossible to forget. Some films overtly strive for silliness from the start, while others become ludicrous slowly and/or unintentionally — and Wild Mountain Thyme falls into the latter category. For most of its duration, this rom-com is somehow both bland and over the top. It sticks to a formulaic setup that takes a few cues from Romeo and Juliet, brings in neighbouring Irish farmers instead, and demonstrates zero reason for its central couple to remain apart. It does all of the above while throwing in so many shots of green Irish fields, you'd be forgiven for expecting to spy a sea of four-leaf clovers. And, it tasks Christopher Walken with narrating the feature with a terrible accent, and uses his first line to tell us that his character is telling this tale from beyond the grave. Again and again, Wild Mountain Thyme makes you question why its cast are involved, and wonder what Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan and Jon Hamm could've been doing instead. All those observations keep applying as its minutes drag by, too. But then comes a reveal that's as absurd as everything that Cats managed to serve up, and as unnecessary as well. Writer/director John Patrick Shanley won an Oscar for penning the script for Nicolas Cage and Cher-starring romantic comedy Moonstruck, which wasn't afraid to march to its own beat; however, there's no precedent for his latest movie's big leap.
Worlds away from A Quiet Place's horrors — but perhaps not far enough from the Fifty Shades franchise's messiness — Blunt and Dornan play Rosemary Muldoon and Anthony Reilly. The pair have lived side by side all of their lives, and she has always had a crush on him, but nothing more than awkward friendship has ever arisen. Soon, though, something else upsets their patch of turf. As made clear in the opening narration, Anthony's father Tony (Walken, still having a bad run after The War with Grandpa) might not be long for this world. In his waning days, he's not convinced that his son has what it takes to keep working the land, so he's contemplating giving everything to his American nephew (Hamm, Richard Jewell) instead. Cast Blunt, Dornan and Hamm in the same rom-com, and there's obviously going to be a love triangle. At least Hamm doesn't have to put on a bad accent. There's a lyrical feel to the way Wild Mountain Thyme regards life, love and the land, but that's one of the very rare bright spots in a movie that only seems capable of operating in the lowest or highest of gears. It also features perhaps the least believable day-trip from Ireland to New York and back, but, if nothing else, it showcases Shanley's versatility — because last time he wrote and directed a movie based on his own play, as he does here, it was vastly dissimilar, four-time Oscar-nominated drama Doubt.
There's much that's confronting in Sally Ingleton's Wild Things, including everything that the activists in its frames are fighting for. As long as the response to global warming remains woefully inadequate, it should feel distressing whenever you're reminded how the planet is changing, how quickly, what's at stake and what could be in store — even in a documentary that champions everyone who is doing everything they can to try to bring about much-needed action. But it's the torrent of anger directed at protestors at Queensland's Adani mine site that makes an immediate impact from Wild Things' array of footage. While the expletives shouted barely register, the tone behind them certainly does. So too does the sight of the same screaming semi-trailer driver inching his bulky truck closer and closer towards the standing activists, and yelling that he's doing it because he's got a job to do. Comparing his ire and threats with the signs held peacefully by the crowd, and the calm explanations from attendees about why they've taken up the cause, certainly sends a message. The earth is burning, and many who work in industries that exacerbate the planet's precarious state are simply burning with rage at anyone attempting to make a difference, rather than doing something to help face the situation themselves.
Joining TV docos Australia's Great Flood and Acid Ocean among the environmentally focused works on her resume, Ingleton's film also joins a growing list of features about climate change. And, specifically, it sits among a subset of the eco-conscious genre that's only going to keep adding to its numbers: movies about activists. Where 2020's I Am Greta showed the battle from Greta Thunberg's perspective, including the toll it can take, Wild Things splits its focus between several groups on our own home soil. School kids who help plan giant marches and demand meetings with politicians, doctors willing to camp in trees to try to stop logging, grandmothers hoping to leave the world intact for their families, communities who've sprung up around their shared cause — they all earn Ingleton's attention. Along the way, the documentary also weaves in a history of Australia's environmental protests, calls upon ample footage of both past and present activities in action, and pays careful attention to the country's scenic landscape. Indeed, in terms of style, Wild Things sticks to a familiar template, as its heavy use of talking-head interviews demonstrates. But the power of the stories it's telling and the movement they belong to don't need slick packaging; these tales, this topic and the passion of those striving to bring about real efforts to combat the planet's warming resonate more than enough.
Horror films may routinely tally up a hefty body count, but franchises in the genre rarely stay dead for long. The latest to return after a hiatus: Wrong Turn. Like the most recent Halloween movie, it keeps things simple by taking the same name as the original film in its series. Unlike that excellent addition to an entertaining saga, however, Wrong Turn circa 2021 is a reboot. The same broad concept carries over, but it's given new faces and a slight twist. So, once again, a group that doesn't usually hail from rural Virginia heads that way, only for its members to find themselves at the mercy of the locals. This time, it's Jen Shaw (Charlotte Vega, Warrior Nun), her boyfriend Darius Clemens (Adain Bradley, Riverdale), and their pals Milla (Emma Dumont, The Gifted), Adam (Dylan McTee, Roswell, New Mexico), Gary (Vardaan Arora, Blindspot) and Luis (Adrian Favela, Booksmart) who've made the trip, with plans to spend a couple of days hiking the Appalachian Trail. They're warned to stick to the official track by everyone in town, but shrug off those cautions when Darius suggests a scenic detour. And, they're soon doing more than just walking, with a community of mountain-dwellers who call themselves The Foundation crossing their paths — and showing their displeasure about the outsiders encroaching on their home.
It's a credit to screenwriter Alan McElroy, who also penned the original 2003 Wrong Turn, that the series' seventh instalment doesn't stick as faithfully to its predecessor as it could've. That said, his script can't manage to successfully balance its nods to the franchise's slasher formula and its eagerness to cut into creepy cult territory — supplementing one set of horror tropes with another, basically — or to supply its cast with anything other than boilerplate dialogue. The film also stays in obvious terrain by painting its enthusiastic young hikers as a snapshot of liberal America, exposing their prejudices against small-town folks, then pitting them against the skull-wearing, vengeance-happy Appalachian inhabitants. The situation is never as simplistic as hipsters versus hicks, thankfully, but the movie isn't interested in diving particularly deep either. Director Mike P Nelson (The Domestics) and his crew do relish each and every savage trap set in the woods, as well as the minutiae of The Foundation's insular base, though. Indeed, while the feature's physical horrors prove engaging-enough at best, it frequently seems as if the filmmaker — and the film overall, in fact — would much rather focus on bloody kills and creepy decor, instead of paying lip service to bigger ideas. Nonetheless, although seven years elapsed between 2014's Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort and this average-at-best flick, don't be surprised if more now follow.
THE FOOD CLUB
Since 2011, whenever a film follows a mature-aged group of travellers while they go on vacation to forget their daily woes, it earns comparisons to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its 2015 sequel. But another movie also casts a shadow over The Food Club, with its tale of three women holidaying in Italy and endeavouring to confront their romantic struggles in the process often reminiscent of the cringe-worthy trip to Abu Dhabi in the awful Sex and the City 2. That resemblance doesn't do this new Danish comedy any favours. Thankfully, The Food Club also bears a likeness to every other movie that's charted the new lease on life gained during a getaway, because most features in this category routinely prove that generic. The long list spans everything from How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Under the Tuscan Sun to Eat, Pray, Love and Made in Italy, and the feeling that if you've seen one then you've seen them all doesn't subside here. In the hands of director Barbara Topsøe-Rothenborg (One-Two-Three Now!) and screenwriter Anne-Marie Olesen (Scandinavian TV series Black Widows), the combination of amorous entanglements, existential malaise and a scenic setting plays out as it usually does.
It's Christmas Eve when Marie (Kirsten Olesen, Wild Witch) learns that her life is about to fall apart, after her husband Henrik (Peter Hesse Overgaard, The Legacy) tells her that he's seeing another woman. Their children and grandchildren have just gifted them a week in Italy to learn to cook the country's delicious dishes, however, and she's not willing to see that go to waste even in her anger and pain. So, when she passes on the present to her lifelong best friends Berling (Stina Ekblad, Thicker Than Water) and Vanja (Kirsten Lehfeldt, Equinox), they're thrilled — but they insist that Marie still goes with them. At first, she's barely interested in her surroundings or the food, preferring to compose text messages to Henrik instead, but the change of scenery and facing a few hard truths alters her outlook, and Berling and Vanja's as well. The Food Club is as predictable as it sounds, and it's scripted with zero surprises and plenty of time for the genre's cliches, but the film's three leading ladies do everything they can with their stock-standard parts. It's always obvious that Olesen's Marie will reassess her willingness to be at Henrik's beck and call, that Ekblad's no-nonsense Berling is hiding her self-doubts behind her overly libidinous facade, and that Lehfeldt's bereaved Vanja will learn how to move on from her loss, of course, but the three actors bring texture to their roles that isn't abundant in the straightforward script.
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.
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 and High Ground.