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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From November 12

Head to the flicks to see a new horror-comedy about a teen swapping bodies with a serial killer, an awards-bait drama and a movie about making a western in the 70s.
By Sarah Ward
November 12, 2020
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By Sarah Ward
November 12, 2020
  shares

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 back in business — spanning both big chains and smaller independent sites in Sydney and Brisbane.

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.

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FREAKY

Blumhouse Productions has already turned Groundhog Day into a horror flick via Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U. It gave 70s TV series Fantasy Island an unsettling makeover, too, with downright awful results. Now, it's Freaky Friday's turn. Body-swap movies span far beyond films starring Jodie Foster (in 1976) and Lindsay Lohan (in 2003), but given that Freaky sets the bulk of its action on a Friday, it's clearly nodding in the obvious direction. The movie begins with a prelude on Wednesday the 11th (yes, not only will most of the chaos go down on a Friday, but it'll happen on Friday the 13th). In the opening scene, four small-town high schoolers do what teens do in the first moments of slasher flicks: talk, party and make out in an empty old mansion, then get killed by a mask-wearing psychopath. Before the quartet meets that fate, its members explain who is responsible. The Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) is known to have terrorised the area but, due to a lack of recent murders, the serial killer has mostly become an urban legend of late.

Not only is the Butcher real, as writer/director Christopher Landon (Happy Death Day and its sequel) and his co-scribe Michael Kennedy (Bordertown) quickly show, but he steals a cursed Aztec dagger that lets him swap bodies with his next victim. So, when shy teen Millie (Kathryn Newton, Big Little Lies) crosses his path, she wakes up in his very tall and male guise the next morning — and vice versa. That's great news for the Butcher, who can now blend in with the adolescents that he likes to murder. It's a troubling predicament for the bullied high schooler that suddenly looks like him, though. Given that Freaky sports a big twist right there in its premise, no one should expect a surprise-laden narrative here. It does add some depth to its high-concept horror-comedy idea, including calling out society's accepted notions of male power and making it plain that women are never seen in the same fashion, but the movie proves a patchwork affair overall. In other words, sometimes things fall into place entertainingly, and sometimes they don't. The slick, fast-paced flick is particularly engaging when it ramps up either the gore-splattered horror or the over-the-top comedy, though, and it sports top-notch lead casting choices. Indeed, without either Vaughn or Newton, it might've resembled The Hot Chick meets the worst Nightmare on Elm Street sequels rather than Freaky Friday meets Friday the 13th.

Read our full review.

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HILLBILLY ELEGY

Adapted from the 2016 memoir that shares its name, Hillbilly Elegy is filled with Acting and a Message. Yes, those words should be capitalised. It's an awards-seeking showcase for its two big-name stars, Amy Adams and Glenn Close — neither of whom have an Oscar on their mantles despite 13 nominations between them (six for Adams, seven for Close). It's also a sombre-toned, melodramatic attempt to explain, presumably to the so-called 'coastal elites' that are often characterised as the enemy of ordinary Americans by certain sections of the country's media, that folks crudely nicknamed 'hillbillies' or 'rednecks' are people, too. And, although Ron Howard sits in the director's chair and screenwriter Vanessa Taylor also co-wrote The Shape of Water, Hillbilly Elegy is about as subtle as an Appalachian-born grandmother yelling at teenagers to get off her porch or she'll shoot them. That's something that happens in the film.

There's a difference between unpacking stereotypes and propagating them and, despite its obvious intentions, Hillbilly Elegy falls firmly in the second category. A deglamourised Adams plays drug-addicted ex-nurse and single mother Bev. With just as much frizzy hair, Close steps into the shoes of Bev's mother, Mamaw, who gave birth to her when she was 13. Their lives haven't been easy, although they've each constantly strived to do what's best for their poverty-stricken family. Adams and Close give big, overt performances that make their character's struggles known in every fierce glare and public meltdown, but even their visible efforts — and the work they're putting in is always forcefully apparent — can't lift this simultaneously earnest and bland affair. The true tale is all actually seen through the eyes and memories of Bev's son and hardworking Yale law student JD (Gabriel Basso, The Big C). When his mum overdoses while he's trying to secure a summer internship with a prestigious firm in DC, he heads back home, looking back on his childhood (where the character is played by Paterson's Owen Asztalos) across both the hill country of Jackson, Kentucky and also the downtrodden Middletown, Ohio in the process. The real-life JD literally wrote the book, but all those words inspire here is formulaic, mawkish, over-the-top and often fittingly beige-hued awards-bait that noticeably says little about the world that it so superficially feigns to explore.

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THE COMEBACK TRAIL

It's never a great idea to fill a screenplay with verbal references to cinematic masterpieces gone by. If your movie doesn't come anywhere near close to matching Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho or Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, for instance, you've already inspired an unflattering comparison. Those classic titles are mentioned early in The Comeback Trail, and it's well and truly evident by then that this comedy will never sit in their company. Its predecessor certainly doesn't, with this Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones and Zach Braff-starring, 1970s-set film based on a 1982 movie of the same name. Here, De Niro and Braff play an uncle-nephew pair of movie producers, Max Barber and Walter Creason, who are known for making average-at-best flicks and even inspiring protests at their premieres — and it doesn't take long for viewers to wonder if the inescapably cheap-looking The Comeback Trail is indicative of the terrible and unsuccessful features pumped out by its central pair.

After the aforementioned picketing of their latest release, the duo owe $350,000 to gangster Reggie Fontaine (Freeman). Max could sell a beloved script to a rival producer (Emile Hirsch) to rustle up the funds; however, he stumbles upon another plan instead. Soon, he's in even more debt to Reggie, but with a scam in mind — setting up a suicidal old western star, Duke Montana (Jones), for a big accident so that he can claim an insurance payout. Naturally, nothing pans out as it's supposed to, in a film filled from start to finish with laugh-free moments. Max and Walter try to explain to their female director (Kate Katzman) that she's a bad fit because they're making a manly film, which was never going to be funny. Max gets kicked by the horse he's trying to use to injure Duke, and that inspires zero hilarity, too. Contrived, predictable, strained and grating, The Comeback Trail squanders the three acting veterans among its cast. In fact, it makes you wish they'd be more selective with their on-screen choices. De Niro has worked with filmmaker George Gallo before, with the latter writing 1988 comedy Midnight Run, but their reunion couldn't be more painful — and De Niro couldn't be further away from his excellent efforts in The Irishman just last year.

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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; October 1, October 8, October 15, October 22 and October 29; and November 5.

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, DeerskinPeninsula, 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, Corpus Christi, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, The Craft: Legacy, Radioactive and Brazen Hussies.

Top image: Hillbilly Elegy via Lacey Terrell/Netflix.

Published on November 12, 2020 by Sarah Ward

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