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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From March 18

Head to the flicks to watch an unsettling psychological horror movie, an acerbic comedy and a rousing documentary about activism through music.
By Sarah Ward
March 18, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
March 18, 2021
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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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FRENCH EXIT

"My plan was to die before the money ran out, but I kept and keep not dying — and here I am." When asked about her strategy as she faces financial ruin, that's Manhattan socialite Frances Price's (Michelle Pfeiffer, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) frank response. Her fortune has dwindled, the banks are about to repossess everything she owns and she doesn't know what her now-precarious future holds; however, she's most annoyed about having to answer her financial advisor's exasperated questions. Conveying Frances' reply with little else but spikiness otherwise, Pfeiffer turns this early French Exit scene into a deadpan masterclass. The character's candour, irritation and sharp edges are all personality traits, rather than specific reactions to her current predicament, and Pfeiffer makes it clear that she'd still be spitting out acerbic retorts with the same poker face if Frances had been queried about absolutely anything else. She frequently does just that afterwards, in fact, and she's a caustic delight in this wry exploration of a familiar topic: weathering life's many disappointments.

Widowed for a decade, and happy to keep cultivating an eccentric reputation as the years go on, Frances hasn't dedicated even a second to tangibly preparing for her present lack of funds. That said, she soon has another plan. Surreptitiously selling off her belongings as her accountant advises — and viciously haggling over commission rates in the process — she rustles up what cash she can and absconds to Paris, where a friend's empty apartment awaits rent-free. There, she reverts to her old approach. Once her remaining money has been frittered away on wine, coffee, and oversized tips to anyone and everyone, she doesn't see the point of going on. But her dysfunctionally codependent relationship with her twentysomething son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges, Waves), his on-and-off romance with his secret fiancée Susan (Imogen Poots, Black Christmas), and a new friendship with the lonely and besotted Madame Reynard (Valerie Mahaffey, Dead to Me) all add unexpected chaos to Frances' scheme, as does a cruise ship fortune teller (Danielle Macdonald, Unbelievable) and a runaway cat who just might be her reincarnated husband.

Read our full review.

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SAINT MAUD

If humanity ever managed to cure or circumvent death — or even just stop being despairingly afraid of our own mortality — the horror genre would immediately feel the difference. Lives are frequently in peril in films that are meant to spook and frighten. Fears of dying underscore everything from serial killer thrillers and body horror flicks to stories of zombies, ghosts and vampires, too. Indeed, if a scary movie isn't pondering the fact that our days are inescapably finite, it's often contemplating our easily damaged and destroyed anatomy. Or, it's recognising that our species' darkest urges can bring about brutal and fatal repercussions, or noting that the desperation to avoid our expiration dates can even spark our demise. Accordingly, Saint Maud's obsession with death isn't a rarity in an ever-growing genre that routinely serves it up, muses on it and makes audiences do the same whether they always realise it or not. In an immensely crowded realm, this striking, instantly unsettling feature debut by British writer/director Rose Glass definitely stands out, though.

Bumps, jumps, shocks and scares come in all manner of shapes and sizes, as do worries and anxieties about the end that awaits us all. In Saint Maud, they're a matter of faith. The eponymous in-home nurse (Dracula and His Dark Materials' Morfydd Clark) has it. She has enough to share, actually, which she's keen to do daily. Maud is devoted to three things: Christianity, helping those in her care physically and saving them spiritually. Alas, her latest cancer-stricken patient doesn't hold the same convictions, or appreciate them. Amanda (Jennifer Ehle, Vox Lux) isn't fond of Maud's fixation on her salvation or her strict judgements about her lifestyle. She knows her time is waning, her body is failing and that she needs Maud's help, but the celebrated ex-dancer and choreographer does not want to go gently or faithfully in that good night. Instead, she'd much prefer the solace that sex and alcohol brings over her palliative care nurse's intensely devout zeal.

Read our full review.

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WHITE RIOT

In 2020, as the world faced a crisis unlike any other in living memory, Gal Gadot led a bunch of fellow celebrities in an Instagram sing-along to John Lennon's 'Imagine'. The aim: to inspire a planet full of people grappling with suddenly living under lockdown. As no one could avoid (especially when we all had so little else to do and spent so much time glued to the news), the result was actually awkward and cringe-inducing. Perhaps punk rockers should've been trying to lift our spirits instead. Or, they could've used their talents and instruments to draw attention to a plethora of worthy causes — as Rock Against Racism did in the mid-to-late 70s. When right-wing views began to spread across Britain, a group of music lovers including Red Saunders, Roger Huddle, Jo Wreford and Pete Bruno decided to take action, waging a campaign to battle prejudice and discrimination. They didn't just choose to fight back via their favourite art form as an excuse to host gigs, though. From Eric Clapton to Rod Stewart, many of the country's music megastars of the era had all offered support to extremist views, and publicly. So, corralling a lineup of bands to help counter anti-immigration rhetoric became RAR's number one task, with the aim of bringing music fans together and discouraging them from adopting racist attitudes.

Combining contemporary interviews, archival chats, a lively soundtrack, and a wealth of footage and photographs of its efforts in action nearly half a century ago, documentary White Riot chronicles RAR from its formation through to its 100,000-attendee 1978 national carnival — where The Clash, Tom Robinson Band, X-Ray Spex and Steel Pulse all played. Despite the movement's name, everything from reggae and soul to jazz and funk was also welcome. Britain's music lovers responded in a big way, travelling across the country to attend its gatherings and show their support for RAR's inclusive anti-hate message. Fluidly directed by first-time feature helmer Rubika Shah, White Riot steps through the grim reality of life in Britain at the time, to provide context to RAR's emphatic response. The film shows the abhorrent viewpoints uttered by politicians and their proponents, and the way in which Nazi imagery was worked into the far-right National Front party. Dense with detail, it also demonstrates how standing up to fascism was an almost-revolutionary act. If the footage had allowed it, Shah and co-writer Ed Gibbs could've made an entire docuseries about RAR and would've kept viewers glued to every second. In just 80 minutes, however, White Riot delivers a vital history lesson on a crucial piece of activism — as well as a reminder that inflammatory rhetoric always demands a response.

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CRISIS

Crisis examines America's opioid epidemic by piecing together three individual, occasionally overlapping tales. It also hits cinemas two decades to the month that the film it strongly resembles took home four Oscars. At the turn of the 21st century, Steven Soderbergh's Traffic focused on illegal narcotics rather than prescription pills, but the similarities between it and this pensive thriller from Arbitrage director Nicholas Jarecki are both striking and inescapable. Here, undercover DEA agent Jake Kelly (Armie Hammer, Rebecca) has been working to bring down a fentanyl smuggling operation. His sister Emmie (Lily-Rose Depp, The King) is an addict, so yes, it's personal. Also struggling is architect Claire Reimann (Evangeline Lilly, Avengers: Endgame), who has been hooked on oxycodone since an accident, attends support meetings but finds herself tested when her teenage son goes missing. Then there's Dr Tyrone Brower (Gary Oldman, Mank), a university professor who funds his research by testing new products for pharmaceutical companies. After his colleagues let his lab's trial of a new, supposedly non-addictive painkiller run a few days longer than asked, they discover that it can be fatal in mice — which company employee Dr Bill Simons (Luke Evans, Angel of Mine) is eager to keep quiet.

Michelle Rodriguez (She Dies Tomorrow) also plays Jake's boss, Greg Kinnear (Misbehaviour) gives Tyrone a hard time as his disapproving college dean and Kid Cudi (Bill & Ted Face the Music) pops up an FDA employee on the latter's side — with Crisis lacking in neither stars nor good intentions. Writer/director Jarecki can't shake the familiar feeling that lingers throughout the film, though. Viewers have seen everything peddled here before, and with far more surprises and subtlety. If you've paid any attention to news headlines over the past few decades, you'll already know how insidious opioid use has become, and how ruthless and destructive the industry behind it is, too. Still, as well as evoking a been-there, seen-that sensation, Crisis often hits its emotional marks. A movie can connect easy-to-spot dots, hit obvious points vehemently and repetitively, and follow a predictable narrative — or narratives, in this case — and still offer up stirring moments and engaging performances. No one will be mentioning Crisis in another 20 years if another crime-thriller attempts to follow in Traffic's footsteps, but as 2021's take on the topic, it's watchable albeit unshakeably generic.

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THE GRIZZLIES

When newly graduated teacher Russ Shepherd (Ben Schnetzer, Saint Judy) is sent to Kugluktuk, in the frosty Nunavut in Canada's north, he has two self-serving aims. By working in a remote area as part of a program that rewards anyone willing to take such postings, he's able to to pay back his school tuition fees. He's also hoping to use his time to secure a permanent spot at a prestigious private school down south. But Russ is still unsettled when he realises how few of his students are eager to engage in his lessons. Principal Janace (Tantoo Cardinal, Stumptown) doesn't enforce attendance, in fact, knowing that the school's pupils have chores to complete at home, families to provide for and traditional ways to uphold. She doesn't like to push the teens out of their comfort zones either, with the town's youth suicide rate the highest in North America, and dealing with intergenerational trauma also part of life in the community. Already a lacrosse devotee, Russ decides to try to start a school club to get his students motivated — a task he's instantly told will fail. But while the popular Zach (Paul Nutarariaq, Iqaluit) is initially apprehensive, as is hunter Adam (feature first-timer Ricky Marty-Pahtaykan) and the reserved Kyle (Booboo Stewart, Let Him Go), their involvement in the sport has an impact.

Directed by feature debutant Miranda de Pencier, and scripted by Moira Walley-Beckett (Anne with an E) and Graham Yost (Justified), The Grizzlies draws upon the the true story of the team that gives the film its name. While steeped in reality, it also leans heavily upon the inspirational sports underdog playbook — but this rousing movie is never weighed down by its tropes or predictability. Strong, complicated performances from Nutarariaq, Marty-Pahtaykanv, Stewart and Emerald MacDonald, who plays the school's most conscientious student, all help immensely. Their characters wade through familiar beats, but they're never one-note. Indeed, The Grizzlies doesn't shy away from complexity on multiple levels, including in depicting the lack of hope blighting Kugluktuk's teenagers, as well as the path their lacrosse journey takes. And, while the role of Russ could've played into white saviour cliches, the film stresses his naiveté, his mistakes and the fact that he has as much to learn, if not more, from his students and the broader community. Icily scenic cinematography that roves over the area's arresting but harsh terrain, and a sensitive yet never mawkish approach also add texture to feature that earns its heart, spirit and warmth.

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UNSOUND

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 opened in Sydney and Brisbane cinemas on March 18, after screening in Melbourne from February 11.

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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; and March 4.

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 and Girls Can't Surf.

Published on March 18, 2021 by Sarah Ward

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