Consider this your holiday viewing guide.
The holidays are finally here and unlike much of the rest of the world, Australia’s cinemas are open and showing new movies. Yes, this year’s line-up is somewhat down on previous years – for some reason, US distributors don’t seem to want to release movies when US cinemas aren’t open – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some gems out there worth checking out. Here’s our take on what’s hitting the big screen over the next few weeks… though after the 2020 we’ve had, just being able to go into a cinema and watch anything at all feels pretty special.
Wonder Woman 1984 (December 26th)
Skewing slightly younger (and occasionally sillier) than most Marvel / Disney superhero films, Wonder Woman 1984 is a fun romp that’s seemingly aimed for the shy twelve-year-old girls overlooked by Marvel’s focus on shouty thirteen-year-old boys. After an opening scene on the childhood home of Diana (Gal Godot) that largely resembles an episode of Amazon Ninja Warrior and points out that lies are bad (this is important later), it’s off to a cartoony version of 1984 where our heroine is secretly stopping mall robbers while still feeling about the death of her One True Love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine).
Things get complicated with the arrival of a magic stone that can grant anyone’s wish; while needy types like nerdy wallflower Barbara (Kristen Wiig) and flamboyant huckster Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) are clearly out to change their own lives, what happens when it turns out the stone’s price is civilisation itself? Surprisingly action free (there are only a handful of set-pieces) and with a story that covers a lot of ground over the two and a half-hour run time, the charm of Gadot and Pine is often the only thing holding this all together. Still, there are plenty of great scenes and moments here, and a central good-heartedness that’s a refreshing change from grim vigilantes.
The Croods: A New Age (December 26th)
You may recall (or may not; The Croods came out in 2013) that the first Croods film revolved around caveman dad Grug (Nicolas Cage) coming to terms with his daughter Eep (Emma Stone) growing up and falling for a new guy, Guy (Ryan Reynolds).
Life in prehistory hasn’t gotten any easier since then for the Croods pack, but at least things have settled down into a (dangerous) rut (or canyon) – until Grug finds out that Eep and Guy are planning to start a pack of their own just as they all stumble across The Bettermans, a surprisingly civilised family that has them wondering if the free-range life really is the way forward. These kinds of kids movies usually rely on grown-up voice actors to keep the parents amused, but here the performances – especially from Peter Dinklage as Phil Betterman, who has a literal “man cave” to retreat into when he needs some me-time – really do add a lot.
Things still get a bit shaky in the second half when the action pretty much overwhelms what story there is (and what story there is was pretty much the same story as the first film; parents can’t hold onto their kids too tightly) and it’s hard not to wish that occasionally the breakneck pace of the jokes would slow down a little to leave room for something else.
But if you’re after something especially manic for your holiday viewing, or think you can tune out the onslaught of gags and just enjoy some impressive animation and production design, Nicolas Cage on the big screen – in any form – is always worth a look.
The Dry (January 1)
When he returns to his Mallee home town of Kiewarra for the funeral of his childhood best friend Luke, federal police officer Aaron Falk (Eric Bana) soon finds himself entangled in a past he thought he’d left behind decades ago. When he was a teen, a girlfriend drowned in the river, leaving he and Luke as prime suspects; now everyone thinks Luke killed his own wife and son in a murder-suicide.
But as Aaron starts digging around, the dust-dry town starts to reveal a new generation of secrets. Robert Connolly’s technically solid adaptation of Jane Harper’s best-selling novel is big on atmosphere but the story comes off like a fast-forwarded Nordic Noir, with clues popping up artlessly and suspects looming large only to be dismissed a scene or two later.
The setting and the performances are the strong points, leaving it best enjoyed as a moody character piece centred on Bana’s charismatically brooding performance and the Wake in Fright-lite depiction of a struggling bone-dry town on the edge of nowhere.
Monster Hunter (January 1)
Based on a video game that, if this film is any guide, is big on striking visuals and not particularly concerned about making too much sense, this sees Milla Jovovich reteaming with director (and her husband) Paul W.S. Anderson for the first time since the last Resident Evil movie.
Here she plays Lt Artemis, leader of a tough-guy squad driving around the desert looking for a bunch of missing soldiers, only to find out exactly what happened to them when they drive through a portal to another world that’s full of very nasty monsters.
An opening scene involving a ship sailing across a sandy desert eventually makes sense when Artemis meets – and fights, and eventually befriends – another warrior (Tony Jaa) as they fight a whole lot of bugs and try to figure out a way off a rocky outcrop when a giant sand-swimming monster will attack the second they touch sand.
Fast-paced and relentless, the middle stretch – which is basically Hell in the Pacific only with killer bugs – is probably the high-point, even though this is a film with a human-sized cat as a ship’s cook and the end features a dragon chewing up a chunk of the US war machine. It delivers what it promises; there are monsters, and they will be hunted.
Promising Young Woman (January 7)
Putting this candy-coloured take on the way sexual abuse can sour a life seems like a dictionary definition of counter-programming during the holidays. But this film – in which Cassandra (Carey Mulligan) becomes a #metoo vigilante – is close enough to a traditional superhero/revenge film to feel like a much-needed corrective to the usual holiday action thrill-rides.
By day 30-year-old Cassandra seems to be wasting her life, working a dead-end customer service job and living with her puzzled parents: by night she goes out, pretends to be drunk, and waits for “nice guys” to try and pick her up. The usual payback thrills from this kind of film are here, but this has more on its mind than just sweet revenge, as Cassandra’s backstory is slowly filled in to become a hard-hitting look at the way abuse can derail a life, and just how difficult it can be to get back on track.
The casting of a steady stream of dreamboat TV stars as the parade of creeps Cassandra encounters is the icing on this brightly iced cake, playing characters so similar to their starring roles you’ll wonder why you never realised they were scum all along.