Nineteen New Movies You Can Watch in January That Have Been Fast-Tracked From Cinemas to Streaming
Get comfy on the couch with the latest movie version of 'Matilda', another take on 'Pinocchio', Adam Driver's new must-see and an eerie horror standout.
January 06, 2023
Before the pandemic, when a new-release movie started playing in cinemas, audiences couldn't watch it on streaming, video on demand, DVD or blu-ray for a few months. But with the past few years forcing film industry to make quite a few changes — widespread movie theatre closures and plenty of people staying home in iso will do that — that's no longer always the case.
Maybe you've been under the weather. Perhaps you haven't had time to make it to your local cinema lately. Given the hefty amount of films now releasing each week, maybe you simply missed something. Film distributors have been fast-tracking some of their new releases from cinemas to streaming recently — movies that might still be playing in theatres in some parts of the country, too. In preparation for your next couch session, here are 19 that you can watch right now at home.
We're all dying. We're all shopping. We're all prattling relentlessly about our days and routines, and about big ideas and tiny specifics as well. As we cycle through this list over and over, again and again, rinsing and repeating, we're also all clinging to whatever distracts us from our ever-looming demise, our mortality hovering like a black billowing cloud. In White Noise, all of the above is a constant. For the film's second of three chapters, a dark swarm in the sky is literal, too. Adapted from Don DeLillo's 1985 novel of the same name — a book thought unfilmable for the best part of four decades — by Marriage Story writer/director Noah Baumbach, this bold, playful survey of existential malaise via middle-class suburbia and academia overflows with life, death, consumerism and the cacophony of chaos echoing through our every living moment. Oh, and there's a glorious supermarket dance number as one helluva finale, because why not?
"All plots move deathward" protagonist Jack Gladney (Adam Driver, House of Gucci) contends, one of his words of wisdom in the 'Hitler studies' course he's taught for 16 years at College-on-the-Hill. Yes, that early declaration signals the feature's biggest point of fascination — knowing that eternal rest awaits us all, that is — as does White Noise's car crash-filled very first frames. In the latter, Jack's colleague Murray Siskind (Don Cheadle, No Sudden Move) holds court, addressing students about the meaning of and catharsis found in on-screen accidents, plunging into their use of violence and catastrophe as entertainment, and showing clips. In the aforementioned mid-section of the movie, when White Noise turns into a disaster flick thanks to a tanker truck colliding with a train and a wild road trip with Jack's fourth wife Babette (Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women) and their kids Heinrich (Sam Nivola, With/In), Steffie (May Nivola, The Pursuit of Love), Denise (Raffey Cassidy, Vox Lux) and Wilder (debutants Henry and Dean Moore), you can bet that Murray's insights and concepts bubble up again.
"Safe as houses" isn't a term that applies much in horror. It isn't difficult to glean why. Even if scary movies routinely followed folks worrying about their investments — one meaning of the phrase — it's always going to be tricky for the sentiment to stick when such flicks love plaguing homes, lodges and other dwellings with bumps, jumps and bone-chilling terror. Barbarian, however, could break out the expression and mean it, in a way. At its centre sits a spruced-up Detroit cottage listed on Airbnb and earning its owner a trusty income. In the film's setup, the house in question is actually doing double duty, with two guests booked for clashing stays over the same dates. It's hardly a spoiler to say that their time in the spot, the nicest-looking residence in a rundown neighbourhood, leaves them feeling anything but safe.
Late on a gloomy, rainy, horror-movie-101 kind of night — an eerie and tense evening from the moment that writer/director Zach Cregger's first feature as a solo director begins — Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell, Suspicion) arrives at Barbarian's pivotal Michigan property. She's in town for a job interview, but discovers the lockbox empty, keys nowhere to be found. Also, the home already has an occupant in Keith Toshko (Bill Skarsgård, Eternals), who made his reservation via a different website. With a medical convention filling the city's hotels, sharing the cottage seems the only option, even if Tess is understandably cautious about cohabitating with a man she's literally just met. Ambiguity is part of Barbarian from the get-go, spanning whether Keith can be trusted, what's behind their double booking and, when things start moving overnight, what's going on in the abode. That's only the start of Barbarian's hellish story.
Questions flow freely in She Said, the powerful and methodical All the President's Men and Spotlight-style newspaper drama from director Maria Schrader (I'm Your Man) and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Small Axe) that tells the story behind the past decade's biggest entertainment story. On-screen, Zoe Kazan (Clickbait) and Carey Mulligan (The Dig) tend to be doing the asking, playing now Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. They query Harvey Weinstein's actions, including his treatment of women. They gently and respectfully press actors and Miramax employees about their traumatic dealings with the Hollywood honcho, and they politely see if some — if any — will go on the record about their experiences. And, they question Weinstein and others at his studio about accusations that'll lead to this famous headline: "Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades".
As the entire world read at the time, those nine words were published on October 5, 2017, along with the distressing article that detailed some — but definitely not all — of Weinstein's behaviour. Everyone has witnessed the fallout, too, with Kantor and Twohey's story helping spark the #MeToo movement, electrifying the ongoing fight against sexual assault and gender inequality in the entertainment industry, and shining a spotlight on the gross misuses of authority that have long plagued Tinseltown. The piece also brought about Weinstein's swift downfall. As well as being sentenced to 23 years in prison in New York in 2020, he's currently standing trial for further charges in Los Angeles. Watching She Said, however, more questions spring for the audience. Here's the biggest heartbreaker: how easily could Kantor and Twohey's article never have come to fruition at all, leaving Weinstein free to continue his predatory harassment?
GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery opens with a puzzle box inside a puzzle box. The former is a wooden cube delivered out of the blue, the latter the followup to 2019 murder-mystery hit Knives Out, and both are as tightly, meticulously, cleverly and cannily orchestrated as each other. The physical version has siblings, all sent to summon a motley crew of characters to the same place, as these types of flicks need to boast. The film clearly has its own brethren, and slots in beside its predecessor as one of the genre's gleaming standouts. More Knives Out movies will follow as well, which the two so far deserve to keep spawning as long as writer/director Rian Johnson (Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi) and Benoit Blanc-playing star Daniel Craig (No Time to Die) will make them. Long may they keep the franchise's key detective and audience alike sleuthing. Long may they have everyone revelling in every twist, trick and revelation, as the breezy blast that is Glass Onion itself starts with.
What do Connecticut Governor and US Senate candidate Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn, WandaVision), model-slash-designer-slash-entrepreneur Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon), scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr, The Many Saints of Newark) and gun-toting, YouTube-posting men's rights activist Duke Cody (Dave Bautista, Thor: Love and Thunder) all have in common when this smart and savvy sequel kicks off? They each receive those literal puzzle boxes, of course, and they visibly enjoy their time working out what they're about. The cartons are the key to their getaway to Greece — their invites from tech mogul Miles Bron (Edward Norton, The French Dispatch), in fact — and also perfectly emblematic of this entire feature. It's noteworthy that this quartet carefully but playfully piece together clues to unveil the contents inside, aka Glass Onion's exact modus operandi. That said, it's also significant that a fifth recipient of these elaborate squares, Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe, Antebellum), simply decides to smash their way inside with a hammer. As Brick and Looper also showed, Johnson knows when to attentively dole out exactly what he needs to, including when the body count starts. He also knows when to let everything spill out, and when to put the cravat-wearing Blanc on the case.
ROALD DAHL'S MATILDA THE MUSICAL
Mischievous and magical in equal measure (and spirited, and gleefully snarky and spiky), Roald Dahl's Matilda has been a balm for souls since 1988. If you were a voracious reader as a kid, happiest escaping into the page — or if you felt out of place at home, cast aside for favoured siblings, bullied at school or unappreciated in general — then it wasn't just a novel. Rather, it was a diary capturing your bubbling feelings in perfect detail, just penned by one of the great children's authors. When Matilda first reached the screen in 1996, Americanised and starring Mara Wilson as the pint-sized bookworm who finds solace in imagined worlds (and puts bleach in her dad's hair tonic, and glue on his hat band), the film captured the same sensation. So has the song-and-dance stage version since 2010, too, because this heartfelt yet irreverent tale was always primed for the musical treatment.
Over a decade later, after nabbing seven Olivier Awards for its West End run, five Tony Awards on Broadway and 13 of Australia's own Helpmann Awards as well, that theatre show's movie adaptation arrives with its revolting children and its little bit of naughtiness. Tim Minchin's music and lyrics still provide the soundtrack to Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical, boasting the Aussie entertainer's usual blend of clever wordplay and comedy. Both the stage iteration's original director Matthew Warchus and playwright Dennis Kelly return, the former hopping back behind the camera after 2014's Pride and the latter adding a new screen project to his resume after The Third Day. The library full of charm remains, as does a story that's always relatable for all ages. Horrors and hilarity, a heroine (Alisha Weir, Darklands) for the ages, a hulking villain of a headmistress (Emma Thompson, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande), the beloved Miss Honey (Lashana Lynch, The Woman King), telekinetic powers: they're all also accounted for.
STARS AT NOON
Sweat, skin, sex, schisms, secrets and survival: a great film by French auteur Claire Denis typically has them all. Stars at Noon is one of them, even if her adaptation of the 1986 novel of nearly the same name — her picture drops the 'the', as a certain social network did — doesn't quite soar to the same astonishing heights as High Life, her last English-language release. Evocative, enveloping, atmospheric, dripping with unease: they're also traits that the two flicks share, like much of the Beau Travail, 35 Shots of Rum and White Material filmmaker's work. Here, all the sultriness and stress swells around two gleamingly attractive strangers, Trish (Margaret Qualley, Maid) and Daniel (Joe Alwyn, Conversations with Friends), who meet in a Central American hotel bar, slip between the sheets and find themselves tangled up in plenty beyond lips and limbs.
Shining at each other when so much else obscures their glow, Stars at Noon's central duo are jumbled up in enough individually anyway. For the first half hour-ish, the erotic thriller slinks along with Trish's routine, which sees perspiration plastered across her face from the Nicaraguan heat, the lack of air-conditioning in her motel and the struggle to enjoy a cold drink. The rum she's often swilling, recalling that aforementioned Denis-directed feature's moniker, hardly helps. Neither does the transactional use of her body with a local law enforcement officer (Nick Romano, Shadows) and a government official (Stephan Proaño, Crónica de un amor). Imbibing is clearly a coping and confidence-giving mechanism, while those amorous tumbles afford her protection in a precarious political situation, with her passport confiscated, her actions being scrutinised and funds for a plane ticket home wholly absent.
When working nine to five isn't panning out for Raylene 'Red 'Delaney (Krew Boylan, A Place to Call Home), she does what all folks should: takes Dolly Parton's advice. Pouring yourself a cup of ambition is never simple, but when you're a Parton-obsessed Australian eager to make all things Dolly your living, it's a dream that no one should be allowed to shatter. That's the delightful idea behind Seriously Red, which pushes Parton worship to the next level — and idolising celebrities in general — while tracking Red's quest to make it, cascading blonde wigs atop her natural flame-hued tresses and all, as a Dolly impersonator. That's a wonderfully flamboyant concept, too, as brought to the screen with a surreal 'Copy World' filled with other faux superstars; enlisting Rose Byrne (Physical) as an Elvis mimic is particularly inspired.
Seriously Red doesn't just get its namesake adhering to Parton's wisdom, whether sung or spoken over the icon's 55-year career. It also splashes the country music queen's adages like "find out who you are and do it on purpose" across its frames as well. They help give the film structure and assist in setting the tone, as this rhinestone-studded movie comedically but earnestly explores two universal struggles. Everyone wants to be true to themselves, and to work out what that means. We all yearn to spend our days chasing our heart's real desires, too. As penned by Boylan in her debut script, and directed by fellow feature first-timer Gracie Otto (after documentaries The Last Impresario and Under the Volcano, plus episodes of The Other Guy, Bump, Heartbreak High and more), Seriously Red spots a big question lurking in these missions for Red, however — because what does it mean when being yourself and scoring your dream gig means being someone else?
BARDO, FALSE CHRONICLE OF A HANDFUL OF TRUTHS
Everyone wants to be the person at the party that the dance floor revolves around, and life in general as well, or so Alejandro González Iñárritu contends in Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths. In one of the film's many spectacularly shot scenes — with the dual Best Director Oscar-winning Birdman and The Revenant helmer benefiting from astonishing lensing by Armageddon Time cinematographer Darius Khondji — the camera swirls and twirls around Silverio Gama (Daniel Giménez Cacho, Memoria), the movie's protagonist, making him the only person that matters in a heaving crowd. Isolated vocals from David Bowie's 'Let's Dance' boom, and with all the more power without music behind them, echoing as if they're only singing to Silverio. Iñárritu is right: everyone does want a moment like this. Amid the intoxicating visuals and vibe, he's also right that such instances are fleeting. And, across his sprawling and surreal 159-minute flick, he's right that such basking glory and lose-yourself-to-dance bliss can never be as fulfilling as anyone wants.
That sequence comes partway through Bardo, one of several that stun through sheer beauty and atmosphere, and that Iñárritu layers with the disappointment of being himself. Everyone wants to be the filmmaker with all the fame and success, breaking records, winning prestigious awards and conquering Hollywood, he also contends. Alas, when you're this Mexican director, that isn't as joyous or uncomplicated an experience as it sounds. On-screen, his blatant alter ego is a feted documentarian rather than a helmer of prized fiction. He's a rare Latino recipient of a coveted accolade, one of Bardo's anchoring events. He's known to make ambitious works with hefty titles — False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is both the IRL movie's subtitle and the name of Silverio's last project — and he's been largely based in the US for decades. Yes, parallels abound.
THE WOMAN KING
Since 2016's Suicide Squad, the DC Extended Universe has tasked Viola Davis with corralling super-powered folks, including villains forced to do the state's bidding (as also seen in The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker) and regular world-saving superheroes (the just-released Black Adam). In The Woman King, however, she's more formidable, powerful and magnificent than any spandex-wearing character she's ever shared a frame with — or ever will in that comic-to-screen realm. Here, she plays the dedicated and determined General Nanisca, leader of the Agojie circa 1823. This is an "inspired by true events" tale, and the all-female warrior troupe was very much real, protecting the now-defunct west African kingdom of Dahomey during its existence in what's now modern-day Benin. Suddenly thinking about a different superhero domain and its own redoubtable women-only army, aka the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Dora Milaje in Wakanda? Yes, Black Panther took inspiration from the Agojie.
If you're thinking about Wonder Woman's Amazons, too, the Agojie obviously pre-dates them as well. Links to two huge franchises in various fashions aren't anywhere near The Woman King's main attraction, of course. Davis and her fellow exceptional cast members, such as Lashana Lynch (No Time to Die), Thuso Mbedu and Sheila Atim (both co-stars in The Underground Railroad); The Old Guard filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood and her grand and kinetic direction, especially in fight scenes; stunningly detailed costumes and production design that's both vibrant and textured; a story that still boasts humour and heart: they all rank far higher among this feature's drawcards. So does the fact that this is a lavish historical epic in the Braveheart and Gladiator mould, but about ass-kicking Black women badged "the bloodiest bitches in Africa". Also, while serving up an empowering vision, The Woman King also openly grapples with many difficulties inherent in Dahomey's IRL history (albeit in a mass consumption-friendly, picking-and-choosing manner).
Buy this for a dollar: a history-making gay rom-com that's smart, sweet, self-aware and funny, and also deep knows the genre it slips into, including the heteronormative tropes and cliches that viewers have seen ad nauseam. Actually, Billy Eichner would clearly prefer that audiences purchase tickets for Bros for more that that sum of money, even if he spent five seasons offering it to New Yorkers in Billy on the Street while sprinting along the sidewalk and yelling about pop culture. Thinking about that comedy series comes with the territory here, however, and not just because Eichner brought it back to promote this very movie. Starring and co-written by the Parks and Recreation and The Lion King actor — with Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the Bad Neighbours franchise's Nicholas Stoller directing and co-scripting — Bros both presents and unpacks the public persona that helped make Billy on the Street such a hit: opinionated, forceful and wry, as well as acidic and cranky.
No one person, be it the version of himself that Eichner plays in the series that helped push him to fame or the fictional character he brings to the screen in Bros — or, in-between, his struggling comedian and actor part in three-season sitcom Difficult People, too — is just those five traits, of course. One of Bros' strengths is how it examines why it's easy to lean into that personality, where the sheen of caustic irritability comes from, the neuroses it's covering up and what all that means when it comes to relationships. The movie does so knowingly as well. It's well aware that Eichner's fans are familiar with his on-screen type, and that even newcomers likely are also. Accordingly, when Bros begins, Eichner's in-film alter ego is shouting about pop culture and being adamant, grumpy and cutting about it. In fact, he's on a podcast, where he's relaying his failed attempt to pen a script for exactly the kind of flick he's in.
"I kneel before no one," says Teth-Adam, aka Black Adam, aka the DC Comics character that dates back to 1945, and that Dwayne Johnson (Red Notice) has long wanted to play. That proclamation is made early in the film that bears the burly, flying, impervious-to-everything figure's name, echoing as a statement of might as well as mood: he doesn't need to bow down to anyone or anything, and if he did he wouldn't anyway. Yet the DC Extended Universe flick that Black Adam is in — the 11th in a saga that's rarely great — kneels frequently to almost everything. It bends the knee to the dispiritingly by-the-numbers template that keeps lurking behind this comic book-inspired series' most forgettable entries, and the whole franchise's efforts to emulate the rival (and more successful) Marvel Cinematic Universe, for starters. It also shows deference to the lack of spark and personality that makes the lesser DC-based features so routine at best, too.
Even worse, Black Adam kneels to the idea that slipping Johnson into a sprawling superhero franchise means robbing the wrestler-turned-actor himself of any on-screen personality. Glowering and gloomy is a personality, for sure, but it's not what's made The Rock such a box office drawcard — and, rather than branching out, breaking the mould or suiting the character, he just appears to be pouting and coasting. He looks the physical part, of course, as he needs to playing a slave-turned-champion who now can't be killed or hurt. It's hard not to wish that the Fast and Furious franchise's humour seeped into his performance, however, or even the goofy corniness of Jungle Cruise, Johnson's last collaboration with filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra. The latter has template-esque action flicks Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night and The Commuter on his resume before that, and helms his current star here like he'd rather still directing Liam Neeson.
MILLIE LIES LOW
A scene-stealer in 2018's The Breaker Upperers, Ana Scotney now leads the show in Millie Lies Low. She's just as magnetic. The New Zealand actor plays the film's eponymous Wellington university student, who has a panic attack aboard a plane bound for New York — where a prestigious architecture internship awaits — and has to disembark before her flight leaves. A new ticket costs $2000, which she doesn't have. And, trying to rustle up cash from her best friend and classmate (Jillian Nguyen, Hungry Ghosts), mother (Rachel House, Cousins) and even a quick-loan business (run by Cohen Holloway, The Power of the Dog) still leaves her empty-handed. Millie's solution: faking it till she makes it, searching for ways to stump up the funds while hiding out in her hometown, telling everyone she's actually already in the Big Apple and posting faux Instagram snaps MacGyvered out of whatever she can find (big sacks of flour standing in for snow, for instance) to sell the ruse.
There's a caper vibe to Millie's efforts skulking around Wellington while endeavouring to finance her ticket to her dreams — and to the picture of her supposedly perfect existence that she's trying to push upon herself as much as her loved ones. Making her feature debut, director and co-writer Michelle Savill has imposter syndrome and the shame spiral it sparks firmly in her sights, and finds much to mine in both an insightful and darkly comedic manner. As she follows her protagonist between episodic efforts to print the legend — or post it one Insta picture at a time — her keenly observed film also treads in Frances Ha's footsteps. Both movies examine the self-destructive life choices of a twentysomething with a clear idea of what she wants everyone to think of her, but far less of a grasp on who she really is and what she genuinely needs. While some framing and music choices make that connection obvious, the astute delight that is Millie Lies Low is never a Wellington-set copy.
Strange World needs to be a visual knockout; when a title nods to an extraordinary and otherworldly place, it makes a promise. Director Don Hall and co-helmer/screenwriter Qui Nguyen, who last worked together as filmmaker and scribe on the also-resplendent Raya and the Last Dragon, meet that pledge with force — aka the movie's trademark approach. Strange World goes all-in on hallucinogenic scenery, glowing creatures and luminous pops of colour (pink hues especially) that simply astound. Indeed, calling it trippy is also an understatement. The picture is equally as zealous about its various layers of messaging, spanning humanity's treatment of the planet, learning to coexist with rather than command and conquer our surroundings, and navigating multigenerational family dynamics. A feature can be assertive, arresting and entertaining, however, because this is.
Clade patriarch Jaeger (Dennis Quaid, Midway) can also be described as strong-willed and unsubtle, much to his son Searcher's (Jake Gyllenhaal, Ambulance) frustration. In the mountainous land of Avalonia, the former is a heroic explorer intent on seeing what's on the other side of those peaks — a feat that's never been achieved before — but the latter pleas for staying put, spotting a curious plant on their latest expedition and wanting to investigate its possibilities. Doing anything but bounding forth isn't the Clade way, Jaeger contends, sparking an icy father-son rift. Jaeger storms off, Searcher goes home, and Avalonia is revolutionised by pando, the energy-giving fruit from that just-discovered plant, over the next quarter-century. Then, in a locale that now enjoys electricity, hovering vehicles and other mod cons, the natural resource suddenly seems to start rotting from the root.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO'S PINOCCHIO
Guillermo del Toro hasn't yet directed a version of Frankenstein, except that he now has in a way. Officially, he's chosen another much-adapted, widely beloved story — one usually considered less dark — but there's no missing the similarities between the Nightmare Alley and The Shape of Water filmmaker's stop-motion Pinocchio and Mary Shelley's ever-influential horror masterpiece. Both carve out tales about creations made by grief-stricken men consumed by loss. Both see those tinkerers help give life to things that don't usually have it, gifting existence to the inanimate because they can't cope with mortality's reality. Both notch up the fallout when those central humans struggles with the results of their handiwork, even though all that the beings that spring from their efforts want is pure and simple love and acceptance. Del Toro's take on Pinocchio still has a talking cricket, a blue-hued source of magic and songs, too, but it clearly and definitely isn't a Disney movie.
Instead, Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio is an enchanting iteration of a story that everyone knows, and that's graced screens so many times that this is the third flick in 2022 alone. Yes, the director's name is officially in the film's title. Yes, it's likely there to stop the movie getting confused with that array of other page-to-screen adaptations, all springing from Carlo Collodi's 19th-century Italian children's novel The Adventures of Pinocchio. That said, even if the list of features about the timber puppet wasn't longer than said critter's nose when he's lying, del Toro would earn the possessory credit anyway. No matter which narrative he's unfurling — including this one about a boy fashioned out of pine (voiced by Gregory Mann, Victoria) by master woodcarver Geppetto (David Bradley, Catherine Called Birdy) after the death of his son — the Mexican Oscar-winner's distinctive fingerprints are always as welcomely apparent as his gothic-loving sensibilities.
Defiant, powerful and passionate at every turn, Muru depicts a relentless police raid on New Zealand's Rūātoki community. Equally alive with anger, the Aotearoan action-thriller and drama shows law enforcement storming into the district to apprehend what's incorrectly deemed a terrorist cell, but is actually activist and artist Tāme Iti — playing himself — and his fellow Tūhoe people. If October 2007 springs to mind while watching, it's meant to. Written and directed by Poi E: The Story of Our Song and Mt Zion filmmaker Tearepa Kahi, this isn't a mere dramatisation of well-known events, however. There's a reason that Muru begins by stamping its purpose on the screen, and its whole rationale for existing: "this film is not a recreation… it is a response". That the feature's name is also taken from a Māori process of redressing transgressions is both telling and fitting as well.
Kahi's film is indeed a reaction, a reply, a counter — and a way of processing past wrongs. In a fashion, it's Sir Isaac Newton's third law of motion turned into cinema, because a spate of instances across New Zealand over a century-plus has sparked this on-screen answer. Muru's script draws from 15 years back; also from the police shooting of Steven Wallace in Waitara in 2000 before that; and from the arrest of Rua Kēnana in Maungapōhatu even further ago, in 1916. While the movie finds inspiration in the screenplay Toa by Jason Nathan beyond those real-life events, it's always in dialogue with things that truly happened, and not just once, and not only recently. If every action causes an opposite reaction, Muru is Kahi's way of sifting through, rallying against and fighting back after too many occasions where the long arm of the NZ law, and of colonialism, has overreached.
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
War makes meat, disposable labour and easy sacrifices of us all. In battles for power, as they always are, bodies are used to take territory, threaten enemies and shed blood to legitimise a cause. On the ground, whether in muddy trenches or streaming across mine-strewn fields, war sees the masses rather than the individuals, too — but All Quiet on the Western Front has always been a heartbreaking retort to and clear-eyed reality check for that horrific truth. Penned in 1928 by German World War I veteran Erich Maria Remarque, initially adapted for the screen by Hollywood in 1930 and then turned into a US TV movie in 1979, the staunchly anti-war story now gets its first adaptation in its native tongue. Combat's agonies echo no matter the language giving them voice, but Edward Berger's new film is a stunning, gripping and moving piece of cinema.
Helming and scripting — the latter with feature first-timers Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell — All My Loving director Berger starts All Quiet on the Western Front with a remarkable sequence. The film will come to settle on 17-year-old Paul Bäumer (astonishing debutant Felix Kammerer) and his ordeal after naively enlisting in 1917, thinking with his mates that they'd be marching on Paris within weeks, but it begins with a different young soldier, Heinrich Gerber (Jakob Schmidt, Babylon Berlin), in the eponymous region. He's thrust into the action in no man's land and the inevitable happens. Then, stained with blood and pierced by bullets, his uniform is stripped from his body, sent to a military laundry, mended and passed on. The recipient: the eager Paul, who notices the past wearer's name on the label and buys the excuse that it just didn't fit him. No one dares waste a scrap of clothing — only the flesh that dons it, and the existences its owners don't want to lose.
Whenever a kitchen knife gleams, a warped mask slips over a killer's face or a piano score tinkles in a horror movie — whenever a jack-o'-lantern burns bright, a babysitter is alone in someone else's home with only kids for company or October 31 hits, too — one film comes to mind. It has for four-plus decades now and always will, because Halloween's influence over an entire genre, slasher flicks within it and final girls filling such frames is that immense. That seminal first altercation between then 17-year-old Laurie Strode and psychiatric institution escapee Michael Myers, as brought to the screen so unnervingly by now-legendary director John Carpenter, also valued a concept that couldn't be more pivotal, however. Halloween was never just a movie about an unhinged murderer in stolen mechanic's overalls stalking Haddonfield, Illinois when most of the town was trick-or-treating. In Laurie's determination to survive Michael's relentless stabbing, it was a film about trauma and fighting back.
As played by Jamie Lee Curtis (Everything Everywhere All At Once) for 44 years — her big-screen debut made her an OG scream queen, and she's returned six times since, including now in Halloween Ends — Laurie has never been anyone's mere victim. In the choose-your-own-adventure antics that've filled the franchise's ever-branching narrative over 13 entries, her tale has twisted and turned. The saga's has in general, including chapters sans Laurie and Michael, films that've killed one or both off, and remakes. But mustering up the strength to persist, refusing to let Michael win and attacking back has remained a constant of Laurie's story. That's all kept pushing to the fore in the current trilogy within the series, which started with 2018's Halloween, continued with 2021's Halloween Kills and now wraps up with an instalment that flashes its finality in its moniker. Laurie keeps fighting, no matter the odds, because that's coping with trauma. This time, though, is a weary Haddonfield ready to battle with her?
When it comes to originality, place Violent Night on cinema's naughty list: Die Hard meets Home Alone meets Bad Santa meets The Christmas Chronicles in this grab-bag action-comedy, meets Stranger Things favourite David Harbour donning the red suit (leather here, still fur-trimmed) and doing a John Wick impression. The film's beer-swigging, sledgehammer-swinging version of Saint Nick has a magic sack that contains the right presents for the right person each time he reaches into it, and screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller must've felt that way themselves while piecing together their script. Pilfering from the festive canon, and from celluloid history in general, happens heartily and often in this Yuletide effort. Co-scribes on Sonic the Hedgehog and its sequel, the pair are clearly experienced in the movie version of regifting. And while they haven't solely wrapped up lumps of coal in their latest effort, Violent Night's true presents are few and far between.
The main gift, in the gruff-but-charming mode that's worked such a treat on Stranger Things and in Black Widow, is Harbour. It's easy to see how Violent Night's formula — not to mention its raiding of the Christmas and action genres for parts — got the tick of approval with his casting. He's visibly having a blast, too, from the moment his version of Santa is introduced downing drinks in a British bar, bellyaching about the lack of festive spirit in kids today, thinking about packing it all in and then spewing actual vomit to go with his apathy (and urine) from the side of his midair sleigh. Whenever Harbour isn't in the frame, which occurs more often than it should, Violent Night is a far worse picture. When you're shopping for the season, you have to commit to your present purchases, but this film can't always decide if it wants to be salty or sweet.
MONA LISA AND THE BLOOD MOON
When Ana Lily Amirpour made her spectacular feature filmmaking debut in 2014, and made one of the best movies of that year in the process, she did so with a flick with a killer title: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. That moniker also summed up the picture's plot perfectly, even if the Persian-language horror western vampire film couldn't be easily categorised. Take note of that seven-word name, and that genre-bending approach. When Amirpour next made wrote and directed The Bad Batch, the 2016 dystopian cannibal romance started with a woman meandering solo, albeit in the Texan desert in daylight, and also heartily embraced a throw-it-all-in philosophy. Now arrives her third stint behind the lens, the hyper-saturated, gleefully sleazy, New Orleans-set blend of superheroes, scams and strippers that is Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon — which, yes, features a female protagonist (Jeon Jong-seo, Burning) strolling unescorted again, back under the cover of darkness this time.
Mona initially walks out of a home instead of towards one, however. And Amirpour isn't really repeating herself; rather, she has a penchant for stories about the exploited fighting back. Here, Mona has been stuck in an institution for "mentally insane adolescents" for at least a decade — longer than its receptionist (Rosha Washington, Interview with the Vampire) can remember — and breaks out during the titular lunar event after gruesomely tussling with an uncaring nurse (Lauren Bowles, How to Get Away with Murder). The Big Easy's nocturnal chaos then awaits, and Bourbon Street's specifically, as does instantly intrigued drug dealer Fuzz (Ed Skrein, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) and a determined but decent cop (Craig Robinson, Killing It). With opportunistic pole-dancer Bonnie Belle (Kate Hudson, Music), Mona thinks she finds an ally. With her new pal's kind-hearted latchkey kid Charlie (Evan Whitten, Words on Bathroom Walls), she finds a genuine friend as well.
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