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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From May 20

Head to the flicks to watch a 'Breaking Bad'-style crime caper, a moving French drama and a savage comedy about filmmaking.
By Sarah Ward
May 20, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
May 20, 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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THE GODMOTHER

With the inimitable Isabelle Huppert at its centre, and a premise that owes a debt to Weeds and Breaking Bad, The Godmother strikes a crafty balance between comedy, drama and thrills. The Greta and Happy End star (and Elle Oscar-nominee) plays Patience Portefeux, a translator who works with the Paris police on narcotics cases — a job that's routine until, thanks to a big decision, it isn't. During an otherwise straightforward assignment that tasks Patience with listening to and translating wiretapped phone conversations, she holds back a few crucial pieces of information. Instead of giving her boyfriend Philippe (Hippolyte Girardot, Marseille) the details he needs to make a big bust and enhance his career, she chooses to take matters into her own hands. She's never done anything like this at work before, but she's soon redirecting the cops' attention, stealing an enormous stash of hash and taking up a side hustle as a wholesaler to street-level dealers. Her motivation: money. A long-widowed mother of two, she's attempting to secure her financial future via the only viable means at her disposable. As her fellow widow-turned-dealer in Weeds also did, she's also attempting to navigate a world that's hardly accommodating to single, middle-aged women.

Adapted from Hannelore Cayre's book of the same name by the author with director Jean-Paul Salomé (Playing Dead, Female Agents), The Godmother is unsurprisingly lifted by Huppert, as everything she stars in always is. Indeed, if the film earns an English-language remake — which, undoubtedly, it will — Hollywood will be doing itself a disservice if the filmmaking powers-that-be cast anyone but the veteran French star. She plays Patience as a slippery, enterprising everywoman with hopes, dreams and a unique opportunity. More than that, she never lets a single thing about the character feel like a collection of stock-standard tropes and traits. It's due to Huppert, in fact, that The Godmother never flounders even when its script does cycle through more than a few predictable crime film cliches. Nonetheless, this is a lively and engaging caper that's helmed with a light touch, as well as a keen awareness of the material's deeper moments. It'd make a stellar double feature with 2018 heist flick The World Is Yours, too, which similarly deployed the distinctive talents of one of France's enduring leading ladies (and someone Huppert has been compared with constantly throughout her career): Isabelle Adjani.

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DEATH OF A LADIES' MAN

Tales of men known for their romantic successes — or, to be more accurate, their luck between the sheets —  might just have an expiration date in today's post-#MeToo world. We should've outgrown them earlier, really, although Death of a Ladies' Man smartly chooses to grapple with the fallout when a lifelong playboy is forced to face his own end. Taking its cues from Leonard Cohen's songbook (hence the title), this Canadian-Irish co-production also opts to interrogate the idea of the blissful womaniser and drunk, rather than simply let another suave, sauced-up lothario strut across the silver screen. Poetry professor Samuel O'Shea (Gabriel Byrne, Hereditary) is about to add another ex-wife to his tally when the film begins, actually, although this time he's the one who caught her being unfaithful. That's soon the least of his problems. After the hockey players at his son's (Antoine Olivier Pilon, Mommy) latest match appear to start singing and dancing on the rink, and he then returns home to hallucinate an entire boozy conversation with his long-dead father (Brian Gleeson, Hellboy), Samuel seeks medical attention. His daily drinking habit of anywhere up to 39 drinks isn't the problem, but rather a brain tumour — and the terminal prognosis that accompanies its diagnosis gives him just months left at best.

For a film about cancer, death, addiction, lingering childhood trauma, several liquor cabinets full of regrets and taking stock of an unfulfilling life complicated by male fantasy, Death of a Ladies' Man is playful rather than bleak — welcomely so. The visions that cause Samuel to imagine women with tiger heads (and sometimes entire relationships) all add a surreal touch to a movie that knows it is wading through both weighty and familiar territory. Writer/director Matt Bissonnette (Passenger Side) doesn't endeavour to thwart or dispel tropes, but to unpack them. Confronting a fatal disease and looking back at all the mistakes made to that juncture is another oft-used narrative crutch, and usually the only time someone with cancer is treated like a real person in a feature, but here it also helps Death of a Ladies' Man expose just why Samuel has clung to his image for so long, what he's been hiding from in the process and what it has ultimately cost him. Byrne is excellently cast, as he usually is, bringing both charisma and waning hubris to the film's protagonist — and Cohen's songs do what they're meant to, adding insight, beauty and melancholy to this quietly potent blend of comedy and drama.

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TWO OF US

Early in Two of Us, Martine Chevallier sports a look of such utter devastation and heartbreak that it feels as if her pain will smash the camera peering her way. The French actress (Farewell, My Queen) plays Madeleine, a retiree finally free of the husband she abhorred — a fact that her adult children Frédéric (Jérôme Varanfrain, A Wedding) and Anne (Léa Drucker, Custody) ignore in vastly different ways — and now living with the woman, Nina (Barbara Sukowa, Gloria Bell), that she has secretly been in love with for decades. Given her kids' attitude towards their father, she hasn't been able to tell them. Indeed, when the aforementioned expression darkens her face, it's because Nina publicly admonishes her for hiding their relationship. But the German expat will soon sport the same look, too, after tragedy strikes. In the aftermath, neither Frédéric or Anne know her as anything more than just a friend of Madeleine. So, she spends her days peeking through the peephole in her own front door across the hall — one of the benefits of keeping a second apartment to maintain their ruse — and trying to sweet-talk her way into new carer Muriel's (Muriel Bénazéraf, Conviction) good graces in order to even see and snatch the smallest amounts of time with her lifelong love.

Largely taking place within Madeleine and Nina's flats — one warm and inviting, the other sparse and hardly used — Two of Us is an intimate film several times over. First-time feature writer/director Filippo Meneghetti stares intensely at his characters as he steps into their complex lives and, slowly and patiently, watches as they inch towards revealing their true selves to the world. The central performances, especially by Sukowa, a German acting powerhouse dating back to Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz and Lola, couldn't feel more lived-in. Nor could the rapport between Madeleine and Nina, even after illness robs the former of her words. And, the same applies to the predicament that Nina finds herself navigating, circumstances she shares (with a few minor tweaks) with the protagonist in Oscar-winner A Fantastic Woman. Deeply contemplating the historical treatment of queer relationships, and the struggles that still linger today, this is both an astutely judged and overwhelmingly heartfelt drama, and one that also simmers with tension and anger. It's impossible not to feel moved and infuriated by the behaviour directed Madeleine and Nina's way, and to be moved by this tender and impassioned story in general.

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I BLAME SOCIETY

She's fired by her manager after he finally reads one of her scripts, then deems the topic of Israel "too political". When his assistant wrangles her a meeting with a couple of indie film producers in the aftermath, she's asked to lend her perspective to stories about strong female voices, breastfeeding in public, and either intersexuality or intersectionality — when it comes to the latter two, they aren't quite sure which. So, as I Blame Society gleefully posits in its savage takedown of the film industry today, it's little wonder that Gillian (writer/director Gillian Wallace Horvat) decides to follow up a leftfield idea. Three years earlier, some of her friends told her that she'd make a great murderer, a notion that she took as a compliment and has been fascinated with to an unhealthy degree ever since. Indeed, at the time, she went as far asking her pal Chase (co-writer Chase Williamson) if she could hypothetically walk through the process of killing his girlfriend. The request put a long-lasting pause on their friendship, to no one else's surprise. Now, as she resurrects the project, her editor boyfriend Keith (Keith Poulson, Her Smell) keeps reiterating that it's a terrible idea; however, with no other avenues forward, Gillian is committed to doing whatever she thinks she needs to to kickstart her career.

During a mid-film conversation, an increasingly exasperated Keith reminds Gillian that no "there is no movie that is worth hurting someone for". He's endeavouring to get her to agree, but "if it's a very bad person for a very good movie…" is her quick and firm reply. I Blame Society is equally direct. While Horvat plays a fictional character — and, the audience presumes, hasn't ever flirted with or committed murder in real life — she absolutely slaughters her chosen concept. Not every line or moment lands as intended, but this biting satire sticks a knife into every expectation saddled upon women in general and female filmmakers especially, then keeps twisting. The film's recurrent gags about likeability cleave so close to the truth, they virtually draw blood. Its aforementioned parody of supposed allyship among powerbrokers and gatekeepers is similarly cutting and astute. In their canny script, Horvat and Williamson find ample time to poke fun of a plethora of industry cliches and microaggressions, the treatment of marginalised voices both within filmmaking and in broader society, and even the current true-crime obsession, all without ever overloading the 84-minute movie. And, on-screen as well, Horvat is a savvy delight. She wants viewers to both cringe and nod, and everything about her performance and her feature directorial debut earns that response.

I Blame Society is currently screening in Sydney and Melbourne cinemas.

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SONGBIRD

If there are any words that absolutely no one wants to see when they're watching a COVID-19-inspired movie, it's these: produced by Michael Bay. The filmmaker who gave cinema the Bad Boys franchise and five Transformers flicks isn't behind the lens of Songbird, but writer/director Adam Mason and his frequent co-scribe Simon Boyes (Hangman) have clearly mainlined Bay's work, then decided to use its worst traits as a how-to manual. Set in 2024, when a virulent mutation of the coronavirus known as COVID-23 is on the loose, their tactless thriller is gimmicky and misguided at best. It's derivative, dull and has a plot that's so stale it really should also feature a tornado full of sharks, too. Wondering what might happen if the pandemic was even more horrendous and tragic than it is — and if America's handling of it, as based on 2020's response at least, was skewed even further towards corporate interests and the rich — the film decides to opt for quarantine concentration camps and a gestapo-like sanitation department. When it's not tastelessly taking cues from the holocaust to supposedly turn a shattering event the world is still experiencing into entertainment, it also attempts to tell a Romeo and Juliet-style love story about a couple separated by lockdown. And, if you've ever wondered what might happen if a Bay wannabe remade David Lynch's Blue Velvet, Bradley Whitford's (The Handmaid's Tale) role as an oxygen-huffing record executive preying on a young singer (Alexandra Daddario, Baywatch) answers that question as well.

Bicycle courier Nico (KJ Apa, Riverdale) is resistant to COVID-23, and has an immunity bracelet to prove it; however, his girlfriend Sara (Sofia Carson, Feel the Beat) and her grandmother (Elpidia Carrillo, Euphoria) aren't so lucky. The coveted wristwear can be bought on the black market, though, which is why Nico is trying to make as much cash as he can working for delivery kingpin Lester (Craig Robinson, Dolemite Is My Name). The obvious happens, of course, sending unhinged sanitation head Emmett Harland (Peter Stormare, John Wick: Chapter 2) to Sara's building — and putting a deadline on Nico's quest, which wealthy couple William (Whitfield) and Piper Griffin (Demi Moore, Rough Night) might be able to assist with. The latter are also meant to be a picture of stay-at-home disharmony, all while trying to protect their immunocompromised daughter Emma (Lia McHugh, The Lodge) from anything outside their sprawling mansion. A PTSD-afflicted ex-veteran (Paul Walter Hauser, Richard Jewell) who flies drones to experience life beyond his walls also forms part of the story, although not a single character is given enough flesh to make viewers care about their plight. Even only clocking in at 84 minutes, this thoroughly unsubtle and exploitative film overstays its welcome — and the fact that it's shot and edited like Bay's glossiest and most bombastic action fare doesn't help.

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SON OF THE SOUTH

A film can tackle an always-important subject, tell a true tale about a real-life figure and their hard-fought battle for a crucial cause, and also seem caught between an adoring celebration and an after-school special. It can boast Spike Lee's frequent editor as its director — with Barry Alexander Brown splicing together everything from Do the Right Thing and Malcom X to BlacKkKlansman — and also Lee himself as an executive producer, and still feel like the most simplistic version of its narrative. And, it can pay tribute to a crusader in the civil rights movement, and note the struggles involved for a southern-born and -bred white college student with klan ties so recent in his past that his grandfather remained a hate-spewing member, and also leave viewers wondering why someone like future US Congressman John Lewis is treated like a mere footnote. Yes, a movie can do all of the above because Son of the South does. Adapted by Brown from Bob Zellner's co-penned (with Constance Curry) autobiography The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement, this by-the-numbers biopic proves both earnestly well-intentioned and blandly formulaic. Even viewers unfamiliar with Zellner will find themselves knowing what to expect at each and every turn.

Son of the South introduces its Alabaman subject (Lucas Till, MacGyver) in 1961, with a noose around his neck and an angry white mob at his feet, before flashing back to explain his predicament. This early storytelling choice is designed to make a statement, and to show how deep the resistance to equality burrowed at the time, but it really just acts as a reminder that such violence against Black Americans still rarely garners the same attention. Zellner found himself facing a lynching for his inability to stand on the sidelines — after Rosa Parks (Sharonne Lainer, The Outsider) made history five years earlier, after being told not to go to an event at a Black church commemorating her actions, and then after facing threats of arrest and expulsion for attending. His fiancée (Lucy Hale, Fantasy Island) warns him, too, and his grandfather (Brian Dennehy, The Seagull) says he'll shoot him, but he's soon helping Freedom Riders during riots and volunteering for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Till's performance is as sincere as anything in Son of the South. He's also joined by scene-stealing co-stars, including Dexter Darden (Saved by the Bell) as Lewis, Lex Scott Davis (The First Purge) as a young college professor and Shamier Anderson (City of Lies) as a fellow SNCC worker initially skeptical of Zellman's involvement. And yet, they're all just tasked with sticking to a template, much to the movie's detriment.

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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; March 4, March 11, March 18 and March 25; and April 1, April 8, April 15, April 22 and April 29; and May 6 and May 13.

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, The Perfect Candidate, Those Who Wish Me Dead, Spiral: From the Book of Saw and Ema.

Published on May 20, 2021 by Sarah Ward

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