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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The New Movies You Can Watch at Sydney Cinemas From October 28

Head to the flicks to watch the latest 'Halloween' sequel, Disney's new animated flick and a moving drama about racial identity.
By Sarah Ward
October 28, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
October 28, 2021
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It has finally happened again, Sydneysiders. The city's projectors remained silent, its theatres bare and the smell of popcorn faded during the city's almost four-month-long lockdown; however, Sydney's picture palaces are now back in business.

When stay-at-home restrictions are in place, no one is ever short on things to watch, of course. In fact, you probably feel like you've streamed every movie ever made over over the last year or so, including new releasesStudio Ghibli's animated fare and Nicolas Cage-starring flicks. But, even if you've spent more time than usual in the past 18 months 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 films are hitting cinemas so that you can do just that. And, after checking out the best new movies that you could only see on the big screen when picture palaces reopened, we've now rounded up, watched and reviewed the new movies that have just arrived in theatres this week.

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HALLOWEEN KILLS

They can't all be treats. That's true each time October 31 hits, sending children scurrying around the streets in search of sweets, and it's true of the film franchise that owns the spookiest time of year. Since debuting 43 years ago, the Halloween series has delivered both gems and garbage — and off-kilter delights such as Halloween III: Season of the Witch — but its latest and 12th entry carves a space firmly in the middle. Halloween Kills ticks plenty of boxes that a memorable Halloween movie should, and is also a horror sequel on autopilot. Somehow, it's also a Halloween movie lacking purpose and shape. It has The Shape, of course, as Michael Myers is also known. But it's more an exercise in spending extra time in Haddonfield, in its boogeyman's presence and in world inhabited by franchise heroine Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, Knives Out) than a compelling slasher flick on its own.

After giving the Halloween realm its second-best chapter in 2018, it's easy to see why returning writer/director David Gordon Green (Stronger) and his frequent collaborator Danny McBride (The Righteous Gemstones) have taken this approach. When you've just made a classic follow-up to a stone-cold classic — again, only John Carpenter's iconic franchise-starter is better — you keep on keeping on. That's not quite how Halloween Kills turns out, though. It picks up immediately where its predecessor left off, lets Michael stab his way through small-town Illinois again, and brings back Laurie's daughter Karen (Judy Greer, Where'd You Go, Bernadette) and teenage granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak, Son) from the last spin. It also pads things out with a vengeance storyline that endeavours to get political, yet proves about as piercing as a butter knife.

In the last film — called Halloween, like the flick that started it all — Laurie faced the man who turned her into a victim back when she was a 17-year-old babysitter. She unleashed four decades of rage, fear and anxiety during a moment she'd been preparing for across all of that time, and it proved cathartic for her and for viewers alike. This saga was always going to add another sequel, however. As the second part of a trilogy under Green and McBride's guidance, Halloween Kills will also gain its own follow-up in a year's time. When it arrives in 2022, Halloween Ends won't actually live up to its name. No horror movie lover would want it to. Still, it already haunts Halloween Kills — because, like the townsfolk that the latex mask-sporting, overall-wearing Michael just keeps stalking, it feels uncertain about where it should head.

First, Halloween Kills sends its three generations of Strode women to hospital, riffing on 1981's Halloween II. Sadly, it also replicates one of the latter's missteps, leaving Laurie there as her nemesis keeps slicing — and splitting its attention around Haddonfield. Here, both Karen and Allyson have also had enough of Michael's nonsense. So has Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall, The Goldbergs), one of the kids that Laurie babysat on that fateful night all those years ago. So, he rallies a mob and transforms the grieving and scared locale into a haven for vigilante justice; "evil dies tonight!" is their cheer.

Read our full review.

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PASSING

Locking gazes across the room, staring intently with a deep fascination that feels fated, seeing oneself in the sparkle of another's eyes: when these moments happen in a movie, it's typically to fuel the first flushes of romance. When they occur early in Passing, however, it's because former childhood friends Irene (Tessa Thompson, Westworld) and Clare (Ruth Negga, Ad Astra) have spied each other in a swanky Manhattan hotel. The pair peer back and forth, intrigued and attentive. That said, it isn't until Clare approaches Irene — and calls her Reenie, a nickname she hasn't heard in years — that the latter realises who she's been looking at. It's the immaculately styled blonde bob that fools Irene, as it's meant to fool the world. As becomes clear in a politely toned but horrendously blunt conversation with Clare's racist husband John (Alexander Skarsgård, Godzilla vs Kong) shortly afterwards, Irene's long-lost pal has built an entire life and marriage around being seen as white.

Passing's eponymous term comes loaded not just with meaning, but with history; adapted from Nella Larsen's 1929 novel of the same name, it's set in America's Jim Crow era. This introductory scene between Irene and Clare comes layered with multiple sources of tension, too, with Irene only in the hotel because she's decided to flirt with visiting a white establishment. Still, she's shocked by her pal's subterfuge. When she initially spots Clare, the film adopts Irene's perspective — and its frames bristle with a mix of nervousness, uncertainty and familiarity. Irene rediscovers an old friend in a new guise, and also comes face to face with the lengths some are willing to go to in the name of survival and an easier life.

Friendships can be rewarding and challenging, fraught and nourishing, and demanding and essential, including all at once, as Passing repeatedly demonstrates from this point onwards. Irene can't completely move past Clare's choices and can't shake her fears about what'd happen if the vile John ever learned Clare's secret; however, she's also quick to defend her to others — to her doctor husband Brian (André Holland, The Eddy), who swiftly warms to Clare anyway; and to acclaimed white novelist Hugh Wentworth (Bill Camp, News of the World), who's her own entry point into an artier realm. Indeed, in household where talk of lynchings is common dinner conversation, Irene recognises far more in Clare's decision than she'll vocally admit. Almost everyone she knows is pretending to be something else as well, after all, including Irene in her own ways.

Largely confined to Irene and Brian's well-appointed Harlem home and other parties in the neighbourhood — after that first hotel rendezvous, that is — Passing is an economical yet complicated film. It may seem straightforward in charting Irene and Clare's rekindled acquaintance, but it's exacting and precise as it interrogates both societally enforced and self-inflicted pain. Its Black characters live in a world that pushes them aside and worse merely for existing, with its central pair each internalising that reality. Their every careful move reacts to it, in fact, a bleak truth that actor-turned-filmmaker Rebecca Hall (The Night House) never allows to fade. That's one of the reasons she's chosen to shoot this striking directorial debut in elegant, crisp and devastatingly telling monochrome hues: both everything and nothing here is black and white.

Read our full review.

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RIDERS OF JUSTICE

Few things will ever be better than seeing Mads Mikkelsen get day drunk and dance around while swigging champagne in an Oscar-winning movie, which is one fantastic film experience that 2021 has already delivered. But the always-watchable actor is equally magnetic and exceptional in Riders of Justice, a revenge-driven comedy that's all about tackling your problems in a different and far less boozy fashion. In both features, he plays the type of man unlikely to express his feelings. Instead of Another Round's mild-mannered teacher who's so comfortably settled into his adult life that his family barely acknowledges he's there, here he's a dedicated solider who's more often away than home. Beneath his close-cropped hair and steely, bristly beard, he's stern, sullen and stoic, not to mention hot-tempered when he does betray what's bubbling inside, and he outwardly expects the same of everyone around him.

Mikkelson excels at transformational performances, however. He's also an exquisite anchor in films that dare to take risks. No matter what part he's playing, the Danish star is gifted at conveying subtlety, too, which is ideal for a character, Markus, who slowly realises that he needs to be more open with his emotions. And, while Mikkelson is usually expertly cast in most entries on his resume — the misfire that is Chaos Walking being one rare outlier — he's especially in his element in this genre-defying, trope-unpacking, constantly complex and unpredictable film. With a name that sounds like one of the many by-the-numbers action flicks Liam Neeson has starred in since Taken, Riders of Justice initially appears as if it'll take its no-nonsense central figure to an obvious place, and yet this ambitious, astute and entertaining movie both does and doesn't.

After a train explosion taints his life with tragedy and leaves him the sole parent to traumatised teenager Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Pagten), Markus returns home from Afghanistan. Talking is her method of coping, or would be if he'd let her; he refuses counselling for them both, and opts not to discuss the incident in general, because clamming up has always been his PTSD-afflicted modus operandi. Then Riders of Justice's writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen (Men & Chicken) and screenwriter Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) send statistician Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, The Keeper of Lost Causes), his colleague Lennart (Lars Brygmann, The Professor and the Madman) and the computer-savvy Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro, The Kingdom) knocking at the grieving family's door.

They're a trio of stereotypically studious outsiders to his stony-faced military man, but they come uttering a theory. Mathematically, they don't think that the events surrounding the accident add up, so they're convinced it wasn't just a case of pure misfortune — because it's just so unlikely to have occurred otherwise. The nervy Otto, who was on the train with Mathilde and her mother Emma (Anne Birgitte Lind, The Protector), has even started to narrow down possible culprits with his pals. Markus, with his action-not-words mindset, is swiftly eager for retribution, but again, this isn't like most films of its ilk. Narratives about seeking justice often ride the expected rails on autopilot, getting from start to finish on the standard vengeance template's inherent momentum; this attentive and layered  gem questions and subverts every usual cliche, convention and motif along the way, including by putting its characters first.

Read our full review.

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ANTLERS

When daylight nightmares infiltrate the horror genre and expose humanity's fears to the sun — in 2019's Midsommar, for instance — viewers tend to take notice. That isn't the case with Antlers, a film that's as gloomy in appearance and mood as an unsettling movie can be, whether it's finding darkness in mining shafts, neglected homes or the memories that haunt teacher Julia Meadows (Keri Russell, The Americans) upon returning to her home town after fleeing as a teen decades earlier. This is a grim and bleak feature in every way it can be, in fact, but it also throws sunlight upon troubles that too often go unmentioned. Writer/director Scott Cooper (Black Mass) uses Antlers' brooding hues and tones to lurk in the realm of myth, to confront domestic abuse, and to muse on the persecution of and violence against America's First Peoples and their land — and, as grey as this creature feature always proves, it wields its colour palette like a spotlight.

Antlers can be blunt and blatant, traits that don't bode well for a film about a ravenous beast out of Indigenous American folklore that's biting back at its oppressors. It can be delicate and savvy as well, though, especially when it explores how Julia and her student Lucas Weaver (feature debutant Jeremy T Thomas) both grapple with childhoods no one could ever dream of. Julia has only come back to live with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons, Jungle Cruise), who is now the town's sheriff, after their father's death. She still sees her younger self cowering in fear wherever she looks, and she can't help but gaze with yearning at bottles of liquor in the local store. Lucas, a slip of a boy, is nervy, jittery and defensive. He looks at the ice cream parlour with the same desire, wanting to lose himself in something fleeting but soothing — a sugar rush, in his case.

It was never going to take long for Julia to notice that Lucas is also victim; however, in adapting Nick Antosca's short story The Quiet Boy, one of the smartest things that Cooper, Antosca and their co-scribe Henry Chaisson do is to make the connection via a lesson on storytelling. Julia informs her class about the importance and function of spinning tales. Then, only because he's called upon, Lucas shares his own illustrated version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears that's definitely no fairytale. Antlers may too often opt for the obvious route as it tracks the horned creature stalking the town, as well as the illness that's overcome Lucas' father (Scott Haze, Minari) and younger brother (Sawyer Jones, Modern Family) — two things that are linked from the movie's very first scene in that aforementioned mine shaft-turned-meth lab — but in baking the way we use stories to cope with life's horrors into its frames, it's also devastatingly astute.

When Antlers is at its best, it echoes with unease, longing, guilt and sorrow. As both Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace have shown, Cooper is no stranger to the latter trio emotions — and as both prior movies also demonstrated, he's at his finest when his cast is up to the task of conveying all three. Russell and Thomas each fit the bill here with a sense of trauma that's always haunting. Their respective characters tussle with threats both external and internal (and supernatural and domestic), and weariness and tension seeps through their every move. Antlers perceptively makes that malaise pulsate in a broader sense as well; it's the malaise of people and towns, and of a culture and a land subjected to far more than it should have to bear. And, in its gore, ooze, horns and crunched bones, it ensures that pain feels visceral. Cooper can't always find the right balance from scene to scene, but when Antlers pierces, it wounds.

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RON'S GONE WRONG

In Ron's Gone Wrong, an internet-enabled R2-D2-style kids' gadget starts operating beyond its standard programming. Illegally sold to Barney Pudowski's (Jack Dylan Grazer, Luca) father (Ed Helms, Rutherford Falls) and grandmother (Olivia Colman, The Father), who are desperate to get the pre-teen the belated birthday gift he wants, the damaged robot sports an off-kilter personality and is nowhere near as concerned with mining the details of its owner's life for corporate data as it's meant to be. The same can't be said of this family-friendly animated film, unsurprisingly. It's a tech-focused all-ages flick straight out of the box, and designed to sell merchandise to its target audience. It's sweet, lively and bouncy enough, but also thematically problematic; stressing the importance of individuality and switching off while also positing that everyone needs an online device and social media to make friends and unlock their best will do that.

Ron (voiced by Zach Galifianakis, Baskets) is a B-Bot; "your best friend out of the box" is the marketing slogan. When Facebook-meets-Apple style tech giant Bubble releases the product, every student at Nonsuch Middle School soon has one — except Barney, who gets teased about his rock collection instead. The peer pressure to get his own robot soon gives way to disappointment when he learns of Ron's idiosyncrasies; however, in its broad strokes, Ron's Gone Wrong tells a story of acceptance. After Bubble learns that one of its products has gone rogue — including pushing around Rich (Ricardo Hurtado, Malibu Rescue), the prank-loving bully making Barney's life hell — it decides to claim Ron back and crush him, but an entire grade's worth of children come to discover that that's not how you treat a friend.

As spirited as Ron's Gone Wrong repeatedly proves, there's still a strong and inescapable sense of disconnection between its cavalcade of conflicting messages, which include: be yourself; be authentic; love your friends for who they are; don't try to change people; appearances don't matter; everyone has something in common; let technology help you find pals by showing what you all share; connect with others via your gadgets; and living your life online will lead to your best self. As a result, the film plays like a colourful mechanism for turning young viewers into eager consumers — of the Ron-shaped toys they'll now want immediately, and of social media — especially given how weakly it satirises big tech.

When it's just about Barney, Ron and the joys of having a best friend, a warm-hearted thread of human-AI buddy comedy does manage to lurk inside writer/director Sarah Smith (Arthur Christmas), co-directors Jean-Philippe Vine (Shaun the Sheep) and Octavio Rodriguez (The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants), and co-screenwriter Peter Baynham's (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) film. Much about the movie's parodies of technology's insidiousness and the way mobile phones have changed our daily lives balances both truth and humour, too — but not enough to make the overall formula, soulless product-spruiking and Ron's Gone Wrong glossy #sponcon Instagram post-esque atmosphere go right.

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If you're wondering what else is currently screening in cinemas, check out our rundown of new films released in Sydney cinemas when they reopened on October 11, and what opened on October 14 and October 21 as well.

You can also read our full reviews of a heap of movies currently screening, such as In the HeightsBlack WidowNine DaysSpace Jam: A New Legacy, Old, Jungle Cruise, The Suicide Squad, Free Guy, Respect, The Night House, Candyman, Annette, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Pig, The Killing of Two Lovers, Nitram, A Fire Inside, Lamb, The Last Duel, Malignant, The Harder They Fall and Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.

Published on October 28, 2021 by Sarah Ward

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