Six movies worth seeing on the big screen these school holidays

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Six movies worth seeing on the big screen these school holidays

Ben Affleck as Phil Knight in AIR Credit: AMAZON STUDIOS
Words by Anthony Morris

Our guide to (almost) everything you might want to see these school holidays with a big bucket of popcorn in hand.

Exactly why we celebrate Easter with chocolate eggs remains a bit of a puzzle, especially as going to the movies is clearly a much more sensible way to spend time over the holidays.

Seriously, the weather’s starting to get a little chiller, the days are getting shorter, you’ve just eaten a whole bunch of chocolate eggs – a nice warm cinema is definitely where you want to be.

The only question now is, what to watch?

John Wick: Chapter 4 (in cinemas now)

It’s not news that John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a killing machine of such lethal intensity that his fight scenes largely function like dance numbers in a musical: they’re more about expressing and exploring a mood than driving forward the story. And the story here is thin even for a John Wick movie, with the moments between fights largely about moving characters from stand-off to stand-off.

Old favourites (Ian McShane, Lawrence Fishburne) provide old pleasures, while the newcomers – most notably Bill Skarsgard as new representative of the High Table / chief baddie Marchese Vincent de Gramont and the amoral tracker “Mr Nobody” (Shamier Anderson) – fulfill their roles with aplomb. And then there’s Caine (Donnie Yen), a blind killer and old friend of Wick’s who is forced to once again pick up the gun (if he doesn’t, the High Table will kill his violin playing daughter) and could possibly be the only gunslinger who can take our hero down.

It’s all intentionally too much of a good thing, everything dialled up to eleven in a way that reflects Wick’s own exhaustion even as he beats down a dozen goons using nunchucks. Going way over the top is the point in this enjoyably excessive bloodbath.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves (in cinemas now)

It’s fantasy adventure time, and while these tales usually involve vast treasures and mighty evils here the story is basically about trying to reunite a family. There’s still quests to get magic objects and loot treasure, as those who’ve ever played a game of D&D might expect, but there’s also a bit of heart in there between the battles (with magic and without), the classic monsters (an Owlbear! A Gelatinous Cube!) and a satisfyingly sinister evil scheme.

More important is the tone, which it gets exactly right. The fighter (Michelle Rodriguez) is gruff, the magic user (Justice Smith) is battling confidence issues, the shape-shifter (Sophia Lillis) is slightly more serious and mistrustful, and the Paladin (Rene-Jean Page) is extremely Good (at everything, including avoiding becoming the straight man for a bunch of jokes). You’ve even got Hugh Grant as a dodgy con man turned ruler who is the kind of bad guy who’s up front that he’s bad so you can’t really hold it against him. He’s a lot of fun, and he’s not even central to the story.

Someone who is central is Chris Pine, despite playing a character – he used to be a kind of undercover ranger, then he became a thief, now he’s mostly playing the lute – who is so superfluous other characters actually ask “why do we need you?” As he’s shown in everything else he’s done, Pine can be charming and lightweight while still delivering the goods dramatically when needed.

But the real takeaway is that it’s funnier than you might expect; if only all Hollywood adventures could get this many laughs out of resurrecting the dead.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (in cinemas now)

There’s a lot riding on this film, and that’s not a Mario Cart joke. It’s the big kid’s movie for the school holidays, and a major international release too – so much so that it’s hitting Australian cinemas a day early to synch up with the global release. But it turns out there’s a reason why this one’s largely been kept under wraps, as Mario’s second big swing at the big screen (c’mon, who doesn’t remember the live-action version with Dennis Hopper as the bad guy?) needed a few more power-ups.

When Brooklyn plumbers Mario (the voice of Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) travel via inter-dimensional pipe to a magical mushroom kingdom ruled by Princess Peach (Ana Taylor-Joy), it doesn’t take long before Luigi is captured by the evil King Bowser (Jack Black), forcing Mario to rescue him by, well, jumping on a lot of platforms and eating mushrooms. The dodgy accents are mostly sidelined (that’s good), Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) shows up (also good), and the jokes about turning a 2-D game into a 3-D world are often inventive.

Otherwise though, this is firmly aimed at kids in a way that will probably keep them entertained while leaving older fans wishing they were back home with their console.

The Pope’s Exorcist (in cinemas April 6)

Look, it’s Russell Crowe playing an exorcist: what more do you need to know? Based on a real-life member of the Catholic Church – who claimed to have performed an extremely high number of exorcisms, but to be fair many of them seem to have been pretty casual affairs – the distributor has kept this one under wraps (though it’ll be in cinemas by the time you read this) but it seems safe to say that “demonic possession” is going to be high on this film’s list of activities if the trailer is any guide.

And look, while seeing a bunch of spooky evil activity and some kind of sinister Vatican cover-up is no doubt a big part of the appeal, getting to hear Crowe say “If you have any problems with me, you talk to my boss – The Pope” in an Italian accent is going to be pretty much worth the price of admission on its own.

Air (in cinemas April 6)

It’s the 80s, and in the sneaker business third place is last place – which is bad news for Nike, as their basketball shoe division is firmly in third place. Basketball “guru” Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) has been brought in by his friend and Nike CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck, who also directs) to turn it around, but all his big ideas involve the one thing he can’t have: more money.

As far as sponsoring players goes, 18 year-old Michael Jordan is clearly promising, but when Sonny decides to bet everything on a big gamble to win over the Adidas-loving Jordan and his business manager mother (Viola Davis), first he has to win over Nike before he can take his shot. There’s more small pleasures than big dramas in this true story of sports marketing: the main players are all slightly shabby middle-aged men (the fanbase for a Michael Jordan story in 2023), and as the ending is never in doubt the fun comes from seeing them slowly put the pieces together.

Everyone (including Chris Tucker and Jason Bateman) proves to be an integral part of the team and gets a big speech to prove it, though Affleck plays Knight as the closest thing here to comedy relief. Jordan himself is kept off camera, but Davis comes on strong as the mother who knows driving a hard bargain is in everyone’s interests – as Sonny says, this is the rare deal where everyone comes out on top.

Mafia Mamma (in cinemas April 13)

There’s a long tradition of movies where some average naïve citizen finds themselves up to their necks in organised crime. Mickey Blue Eyes; Analyse This (and to a lesser extent, Analyse That); the list goes on – or at least, it does now with Mafia Mamma, which does at least provide the new angle of having a woman be the one stumbling into a dangerous world. This is another holiday release that’s been kept under wraps, but here’s what we do know: Kristen (Toni Collette) is dealing with a lot of drama in New York (unfaithful husband, bad job, the usual) when she gets a call that her Italian grandfather (who she didn’t even know) is dead, and she has to get to Italy ASAP to “settle his affairs”.

Thing is, he was a high-ranking Mafia boss, and his final wish was for her – as his last living relative – to take over. Is this how the Mafia really works? So long as there’s plenty of scenic Italian countryside and some decent fish-out-of-water jokes (plus the occasional shoot out), does it matter?