The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From October 29
Head to the flicks to see an Aussie sheep-farming comedy, a witchy sequel and one of the best dramas of the year.
Something delightful is 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 starting to reopen — spanning both big chains and smaller independent sites in Sydney and Brisbane (and, until the newly reinstated stay-at-home orders, Melbourne as well).
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 over the past three months, 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.
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
In the scene that gives Never Rarely Sometimes Always its name, 17-year-old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) sits with a counsellor at Planned Parenthood in Brooklyn. The teen hails from Pennsylvania, but has taken the bus east with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) upon discovering that she's pregnant and realising she only really has one option — knowing that her family is unlikely to help, and after her local women's clinic has advised that she should just have the baby. Before she can obtain the New York facility's assistance, however, she is asked questions about her history. The queries broach tough and intimate subjects, but Autumn only needs to answer with one of the words from the movie's moniker. While they're simple and common, those four terms explain much about why a small-town high-schooler is engaging in a practice that's been dubbed 'abortion tourism'. So too does the silence that punctuates her responses and the heartbreaking expression on her face that goes with them.
From its opening frames, which sketch out Autumn's everyday life — the taunting peers, the awkward dynamic at home, the attentions of her boss at her after-school supermarket job, and the efforts to be seen by performing at her class concert — Never Rarely Sometimes Always is an intricately observed and stunningly detailed film. Accordingly, when the aforementioned scene arrives, it's the latest potent, compassionate and revealing moment in a movie filled with them. But filmmaker Eliza Hittman (It Felt Like Love, Beach Rats) refuses to give viewers even the tiniest reprieve here. Autumn can't escape these difficult questions or the entire experience she's dealing with, and the audience is forced into the same situation. Maintaining the feature's unobtrusive, naturalistic, almost documentary-esque style, cinematographer Hélène Louvart (Happy as Lazzaro) doesn't look away, while first-time actor Flanigan pours out an entire lifetime's worth of feeling under the film's unrelenting gaze. As intimated by its protagonist's name, as taken from the season when the leaves fall, warmth fades and the weather's frostiest period approaches, this is a film about decay, loss and change in multiple ways — and it's as grim and gripping as it is outraged, empathetic and affecting.
Read our full review.
THE CRAFT: LEGACY
Written and directed by actor-turned-filmmaker Zoe Lister-Jones (Band Aid), The Craft: Legacy is clearly the product of someone who knows and appreciates its 1996 cult-favourite predecessor. It's also the work of someone keen to pay tribute to the original — a horror-thriller about teen witches using and abusing magic to cope with high school's troubles — and embrace what she sees as its strengths, as well as redress its wrongs, update it for a new time and a new generation of teens, and verbally and visibly champion inclusivity at every turn. But it's possible for a 24-years-later follow-up to show affection, make some smart changes, move with the times and still feel like the remnants left in a cauldron. Or, for it to recall one of The Craft's famed moments — one that The Craft: Legacy recreates, briefly — in an unintended fashion. When this feature's coven play with levitation, the words "light as a feather, stiff as a board" aren't heard; however, by the end of the movie, they best describe everything that's just happened.
Starting as its inspiration did, The Craft: Legacy begins with Lily (Cailee Spaeny, Devs) and her mother Helen (Michelle Monaghan, Saint Judy) arriving in a new town, to move in with the latter's self-help author boyfriend (David Duchovny, playing a character who has penned a book called 'The Hallowed Masculine') and his three sons. Navigating school, Lily soon finds herself taunted by resident jock and bully (Nicholas Galitzine, Share) — but she's also found by witchy trio Lourdes (Zoey Luna, Pose), Frankie (Gideon Adlon, Blockers) and Tabby (Lovie Simone, Selah and the Spades), who are looking for the west to their north, south and east. Rather than seeing these young women become consumed by their blossoming power, and also punishing those who refuse to conform, it's a welcome shift that The Craft: Legacy calls out the patriarchal norms and attitudes that routinely put teenage girls in that situation. And yet the film just seems happy enough to have made that switch, instead of giving it any true weight or substantial depth. It's light thematically, visually, tonally and emotionally, and it also sports a stiffness — as though it's trying so hard to be loose, open, breezy and upbeat that it actually proves bland, strained and wooden instead.
Read our full review.
THE MYSTERY OF HENRI PICK
A new book. An enigmatic author. A twisty mystery involving not only the scribe of said novel, but the publishing and marketing process that's so pivotal in delivering the text to the adoring public. These three elements were key parts of The Translators, which hit cinemas Down Under in September, and now they sit at the heart of The Mystery of Henri Pick. In lightly comedic rather than tense and thrilling mode this time around, the focus falls on a manuscript found in a small town in Brittany. Eager young publisher Daphne (Alicie Isaaz, Elle) spots the unpublished work in the local library of rejected books, a repository for all the writing that's been lovingly penned but turned down by the industry's powers-that-be. Fresh from failing to turn her writer boyfriend Frederic's (Bastien Bouillon, Jumbo) first novel into a hit — or even getting famed newspaper and TV literary critic Jean-Michel Rouche (Fabrice Luchini, Slack Bay) to review it on air — Daphne instantly falls in love with her new discovery, called The Last Hours Of A Love Affair. So too do readers and pundits, with the book garnering buzz not just for its romance set against the death of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, but also for the fact that the wordsmith behind it is a provincial pizza chef who died two years prior.
On his regular television show, amid all the fanfare about Henri Pick and his book, Jean-Michel questions whether the story behind the story holds up. Within hours of making that controversial claim, he has lost both his wife and his job, and he's determined to show that something about this hit novel doesn't seem right. Jean-Michel is the type of character that no one is meant to love, with veteran French star Luchini playing the part in the spiky and arrogant way he has become known for — ensuring that viewers follow the character's amateur sleuthing hoping he'll proven wrong. It's a tactic that ensures the audience's investment, even with both unconvincing and highly predictable twists popping up along the way (including Jean-Michel's blossoming bond with Pick's adult daughter Josephine, as played by Call My Agent!'s Camille Cottin). Stemming from the page itself, with writer/director Remi Bezancon (A Happy Event) and his co-scribe Vanessa Portal adapting David Foenkinos's 2016 novel, this is an easy-going caper and a quickly involving whodunnit — and the source of eye-catching cinematography that brightly lenses its coastal French setting as well.
It's easy to see how Australian filmmakers watched Rams, the 2015 Icelandic movie about duelling sheep-farmer brothers, and realised that they could bring its story Down Under. In fact, it's easy because director Jeremy Sims (Last Cab to Darwin) and screenwriter Jules Duncan (a feature first-timer) make certain that that's the case — ensuring that viewers can see every choice they've taken in giving the story the Aussie treatment. It's all to be expected, of course, but it feels not only overt but also calculating. Indeed, Rams often seems like a remake that only exists because someone gleaned just how simple it'd be to make it happen (and noticed that the Cannes prize-winning initial flick had picked up quite a following, too). It swaps the original movie's frosty blizzard for drought, heat and bushfires, and its Nordic scenery for Western Australian tourism brochure-style shots. It brings in a cast of familiar faces, spanning both beloved local talents (such as Michael Caton and Asher Keddie) and actors we've virtually claimed as our own (Sam Neill). It leans into Aussie dialogue, scenes in pubs, small-town stereotypes and larrikin behaviour, localising every element possible, while also sticking steadfastly to the bulk of its predecessor's main narrative details (as anyone who has seen the latter will swiftly spot).
For decades, brothers Colin (Neill) and Les (Caton) haven't spoken. They lovingly tend to their flocks on adjoining properties, send messages to each other via sheepdog when absolutely necessary and cross paths at local livestock competitions, but a lingering grudge has long since soured their familial bond. Then Les wins the latest contest, Colin notices that the applauded ram might be plagued by a contagious disease, and the duo are forced to band together or face the complete decimation of the only lives they've ever known. Instead of thoughtfully unpacking a plethora of contrasts — between the central siblings, by juxtaposing their close proximity with their strained relationship, in both prosperous and struggling times, and in trying to control nature in various ways — this version of Rams struggles with balance. That includes its efforts to juggle quirky comedy with its more serious dramatic sections, and in offering thoughtful commentary on men coping with their emotions and rural communities battling tough times. Cast-wise, Neill fares best thanks to a lived-in performance, with Caton in stock-standard cantankerous mode, and British actor Miranda Richardson (Churchill, the Harry Potter franchise) wasted in a thankless supporting part.
In one of the rare bright spots in this chaotic year, Bill & Ted returned to remind us all to be excellent to each other. If you're wondering what could happen if we don't take that advice to heart, two thrillers have hit screens in 2020 to show us the consequences, too. As seen first in Unhinged and now in Alone, a very particular type of behaviour is on display: driver courtesy, or the lack thereof. In the latter, Jessica (Jules Wilcox, Bloodline) is moving across the country to escape the lingering memory of a recent tragedy. With no company in sight — as the title advises — she packs a U-Haul trailer and hits the bitumen, tackling the multi-day trip in stages. That's all the invitation that a male fellow driver (Mark Menchaca, The Outsider) needs in this cat-and-mouse thriller from director John Hyams (Universal Soldier: Regeneration and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning) and screenwriter Mattias Olsson (Gone), with the menacing on-screen figure first toying with her on the road, then following her, then kidnapping her.
Thankfully, Alone sits several notches above Unhinged; it isn't trying to posit that men stalk and attack women they've never previously met because they aren't treated nicely enough by either the opposite sex in general or this increasingly angry world that no longer has a place for them, for starters. But it does fall into the valley between generic and committed — with the film happy to stick to a recognisable template, but also devoted to executing its well-worn formula as leanly and efficiently as possible. More often than not, Alone hits its marks. It can feel repetitive, prolonged and like much of its bulk has been seen before; however, each scene sports a primal simplicity that's key to the movie's stripped-down nature. It's rarely surprising, including when it's trying to offer up twists and turns, but it's precise in its violence, tension and suspense. Wilcox turns in a memorable survivalist performance, but the standout element here is the feature's sound design. Endeavouring to echo the mounting paranoia, the spreading chaos, the pumping emotions and the pulsating adrenaline, Alone's acoustics are rich and layered — far more, in fact, than its stock-standard thriller storyline, and the texture that the script tries to add through Jessica's haunting sense of loss and alienation.
THE EMPTY MAN
At the beginning of 2020, after the two companies merged the year prior, Disney announced that it was ditching the 'Fox' part of the 20th Century Fox name. So when The Empty Man begins with the latter's moniker and famed roving searchlight title card in place as though nothing has changed, it shows how old this supernatural horror thriller is, having been shot back in 2017. It also demonstrates how little the Mouse House seems to care about a movie it only revealed would hit cinemas this year a mere month before it did just that. Adapting the graphic novel same name, this film definitely could've used some care and attention. Clocking in at 137 minutes and making viewers feel that length, it could've used a few edits, too. Instead, in the second long-delayed Fox horror movie to reach screens in 2020 — after the immensely forgettable The New Mutants — The Empty Man delivers a curse flick that's also a detective film and a creepy cult movie, and plays like a dull and derivative blend of The Ring, Candyman, Slender Man, Urban Legend and even the most recent season of Twin Peaks (completely absent any David Lynch-esque touches, obviously).
In a prolonged prologue set in 1995, a group of friends hiking in Bhutan literally stumble upon a creepy corpse in a cavern. Across the three days afterwards, unpleasantness naturally results. Next, in 2018, a number of small-town teens go missing — including Mandy (Sasha Frolova, Little Women), the daughter of Nora (Marin Ireland, The Irishman), who has a history with grief-stricken ex-cop James Lasombra (James Badge Dale, Hightown). He's soon unofficially on the case, which leads him to a spooky tale about a shadowy figure who appears if you blow into an empty bottle on a bridge, then to a creepy sect with secretive and sinister plans. First-time feature writer/director David Prior serves up a suitably eerie mood, several effectively unsettling pieces of imagery, and an anxiety-inducing soundscape and soundtrack to match, but there's no overcoming a narrative that wants to be too many things at once — and consistently takes the silliest yet drabbest option as a result. And while Dale plays his part with a very apt everyman sensibility, and Barry's Stephen Root is always a welcome presence, too, they can't improve this drag of a movie either.
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 July 2, July 9, July 16, July 23 and July 30; August 6, August 13, August 20 and August 27; September 3, September 10, September 17 and September 24; and October 1, October 8, October 15 and October 22.
You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as The Personal History of David Copperfield, Waves, The King of Staten Island, Babyteeth, Deerskin, Peninsula, Tenet, Les Misérables, The New Mutants, Bill & Ted Face the Music, The Translators, An American Pickle. The High Note, On the Rocks, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Antebellum, Miss Juneteenth, Savage, I Am Greta, Rebecca, Kajillionaire, Baby Done and Corpus Christi.
Published on October 29, 2020 by Sarah Ward