Screen critic: Silver Screen or Snooze Fest? Hot take on the latest movie releases

Apr 21, 2023
The troubled star of EO (Janus Films); Toni Collette in Mafia Mamma (Bleecker Street); Kai is The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker (Netflix). Source: Supplied

First the bad news, with new release pickings being mighty slim at the multiplex as Toni Collette headlines the terrible “comedy” Mafia Mamma and buckets of blood failing to bring the horror slasher dud Evil Dead: Rise to life.

We loved her in Muriel’s Wedding and for many of the things she’s done since, but Collette draws a big fat blank playing an American mum who suddenly finds herself at the head of a mob family in Italy. As well as being ridiculously and unnecessarily violent, there are almost no laughs to be had. Avoid.

As for Evil Dead: Rise, even the most ardent fans of the horror franchise will likely find the offerings here so lacking in ideas or tension they might well fall asleep as the blood-smeared cast run about in the confines of an apartment building, screaming and slashing away with chainsaws. Yawnsies.

The only real mainstream bright spot is Mavka: Song of the Forest, an animated fantasy fairy tale about an inexperienced pixie doing battle with an evil corporate adversary who wants to plunder the forest for the elixir or youth. A beautiful, upbeat treat, the film harks from Ukraine where it proved a record-breaking hit. 

Over on the arthouse circuit, the Oscar-nominated Polish film EO is an absolute gem of a film.

Featuring stunning cinematography and very little dialogue, we follow the perilous fortunes of the titular donkey as it is torn from a travelling circus and is forced across a hostile landscape where it encounters kindness and cruelty, though not in equal measure.

Told from the animal’s point of view, it’s a compelling, visually arresting story that taps into our innate love for animals, and the anger we feel when their welfare is abused.

Beau is Afraid presents a hearty challenge for hardcore cineastes as a deeply insecure, unsuccessful, paranoid man called Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) feels the world close in around him as he struggles to attend the funeral of his murdered mother.

The film delivers plenty of top-shelf black comedy in its first hour but, be prepared, there are two hours to go as he is transported by bizarre circumstances from the violent city to the dark woods, which prove more threatening. 

Definitely not a film for everyone, but if you’re up for something different – really different – it just might ring your bell.

Regardless of whether you agree with his enviro-politics, it’s hard to come away from the excellent documentary The Giants without an enhanced appreciation for the life of Tasmanian Greens politician Bob Brown.

His lifelong passion for protecting the environment is detailed chronologically as we see him stumble into the political arena to keep corporate interests from converting pristine wilderness into profits. An absorbing insight, the film is obviously biased but wise enough to highlight how Brown’s heckling of US President George W Bush was far from bright.

Jumping into the stream, be cautious of the heavily marketed Stan fantasy The Portable Door. Despite a strong opening, some lavish production and plenty of splashy visual effects, the lark runs out of puff about halfway through. 

Far more compelling is the Netflix documentary feature The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker, as we follow the sudden rise and gradual fall of Kai, a charismatic, homeless young man whose heroic act during a racist attack instantly transformed him into a global internet sensation.

High on fame and various other substances, Kai is sought after by news media and talk shows, all blinded by the perception that he is a lovable free spirit who saved two people.

Cracks soon appear in his glowing persona as the truth about his personality and background reveal the darker truth about him and the gullible media that inflated his image.

Archival footage of Kai on social media shows him charming his way into people’s hearts while interviews with those who were part of the instant phenomenon register how initial enthusiasm gradually gave way to acute embarrassment. 

Another winner from the Netflix documentary division is Take Your Pills: Xanax, an eye-opening look at the culture of overmedication wherein stressed-out people seeking treatment find relief with, then dependence on, anti-anxiety drugs.

Among the many salient points made by the medical professionals and patients interviewed is how readily available drugs were designed to provide temporary relief, not become permanent fixtures in people’s lives. 

Of primary concern is how the judgmental nature of social media promotes anxiety in young folk, resulting in a sharp rise in pill addiction among teenagers who live their lives through their devices. A very sobering and topical film.

For more visit with updates on Twitter at @jimschembri 


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