From Annette to Shang-Chi: eight new films to watch as Australian cinemas reopen | Film


A couple of months in lockdown does funny things to the brain. Suddenly, you long to hear the collective munch of popcorn again – or even the crinkling of a chip packet interrupting a pivotal movie scene. Some want to shush other cinemagoers for whispering too loudly; others want to smile vacantly into space as the perfectly haloed lights of a projector wash over them.

As cinemas reopen across formerly locked-down parts of Australia in the coming month, here are some of the most notable new and delayed releases that demand big-screen viewing.

1. Annette

Before Annette premiered at this year’s Cannes film festival, one of its pivotal scenes had already set social media ablaze. It contained, according to its lead, Marion Cotillard, in an early interview, the first – and possibly last – musical number delivered while simulating cunnilingus.

‘A steely-eyed Adam Driver’ in a scene from Annette
‘A steely-eyed Adam Driver’ in a scene from Annette

As it turned out, this was the least jaw-dropping (sorry) thing about Annette. The French provocateur Leos Carax’s new movie musical also includes a very wrinkled baby with preternatural singing abilities (jaw-droppingly creepy), a glitzy soundtrack courtesy of the art pop band Sparks (jaw-droppingly bonkers), and a steely-eyed Adam Driver (jaw-droppingly handsome).

Cotillard and Driver play star-crossed lovers and artists – she is an opera star, he is a rough-and-tumble comedian. Together, in this 140-minute saga that took home best director from Cannes, they belt their way through death and disaster. If watching A Star Is Born on acid sounds more like your idea of fun than a guaranteed panic attack, then please join me in welcoming to the stage: Annette.

2. Nitram

Justin Kurzel’s latest was always going to prove controversial; the Australian director built his name on portraits of angsty, tortured, violent men, from Ned Kelly to the Snowtown serial killers. His new film, about the gunman behind the 1996 Port Arthur massacre – the worst single-shooter killing at the time – immediately provoked condemnation from Tasmanian locals when its production was announced last year.

Given the circumstances, it’s no surprise that Nitram is constructed “in a highly self-conscious manner, aware that every sequence will be mined for potential implications”, as Guardian Australia’s film critic puts it in a five-star review. There are no clear answers, much less any form of redemption: only a heady, simmering unease that will cling to you long after the credits roll.

3. Black Widow; Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Two Marvel entries in cinemas at the same time; call it Martin Scorsese’s worst nightmare. For the superhero-agnostic, fear not: this is a double bill that requires little prior knowledge of the exponentially deepening wormhole that is the Marvel multiverse.

Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh as sisters in Black Widow
Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh as sisters in Black Widow

Black Widow, which is helmed by the Australian director Cate Shortland (Somersault, Lore), pairs together Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh as the sisters Romanoff, a venomous duo with fighting abilities honed through years of covert KGB operations. Expect red flags – literally – aplenty.

Meanwhile, Shang-Chi weds the melodrama of Chinese wuxia films with more classically Avenger antics in the debut outing of Marvel’s first big-screen Asian superhero, played by Simu Liu. The keen-eyed among us will have to suspend our disbelief a little harder than usual – even more fantastical than its martial arts sequences is the appearance of a Sydney bus in its so-called San Francisco setting. Filmed predominantly in Sydney, Shang-Chi was one of many productions part of last year’s great influx which saw Australia – briefly – become Hollywood’s home away from home.

4. Shiva Baby

Critics love to compare films to Uncut Gems – Adam Sandler’s turn as a diamond dealer in a frenetic race to repay his debt to shady lenders – but this might be its only true spiritual successor. It’s a heart attack masquerading as a feature, except there are no muscly goons here – only the probing interrogations and mannered barbs of distant family friends when Danielle (the comedian Rachel Sennott) is guilted into attending a shiva with her parents.

As old flames and current sugar daddies collide, and the score grows increasingly discordant, Shiva Baby mirrors forced family gatherings for what they truly are: a horror film.

5. Pig

There was a period where Nic Cage was derided for his shlocky choices – cheap wigs and dollar-store moustaches, ill-advised satires, direct-to-video disasters – but the Cage-aissance has been upon us for some time now. In recent years the much-maligned actor has leant into his campiest traits with startling results, finding himself at home in movies as nutty as his theatrical chops.

Nicolas Cage in Pig
‘Cage plays a former chef … desperate to find his porcine companion at any cost’ in Pig

Pig is the latest of these, opening with a deceptively simple premise: what if man’s best friend … was a pig? And what if that pig … was violently kidnapped by assailants for her truffle-foraging abilities? Cage plays a former chef and current forest recluse desperate to find his porcine companion at any cost, embarking on an odyssey into Portland’s culinary underworld that’s far more subtle than its revenge thriller set-up might suggest.

6. Lamb

Continuing Old McDonald’s cinematic dabblings, here comes another film named after a single-word farm animal, though this one is markedly chillier than its cuddly title. A glacial mix of Scandi noir and lightly fantastical horror, this Cannes winner situates itself in rural Iceland, where a couple have adopted a half-lamb, half-human baby with a dead-eyed gaze. Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is fantastic as a new mother slowly undone by her strange hybrid child and stranger happenings amid the permanently misty mountains. To paraphrase that old saying: in Iceland, no one can hear you scream.

7. Malignant

For any other film, the phrase “franchise-ready” might sound like a sledge, connoting commercialism over quality, but here it’s merely a given.

The latest from Australian scream king James Wan, creator of frighteningly profitable horror franchises Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring, Malignant takes our heightened health-related fears of the past 18 months and bottles them into one medical nightmare. The result: a graphic piece of body horror that pays homage to the dazzlingly saturated set pieces of giallo.

8. The Last Duel

Ben Affleck in The Last Duel
‘An astonishingly blond Ben Affleck’ in The Last Duel

It seems entirely fitting to bookend this list with two Adam Driver entries – the only thing that screams Hollywood more than his famously luscious locks is his famously luscious locks alongside an astonishingly blond Ben Affleck and a goateed Matt Damon. Yes, there is something here about a 14th century legend and a battle of epic proportions, but really, this movie is about the hair – and a reminder that even multimillion-dollar productions directed by Ridley Scott cannot resist the pull of a supermarket dye job. And that’s the magic of cinema.

Jodie Comer also stars as a fancy French noble. Her hair is unfortunately normal.

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