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New Movies to Watch This Week: ‘Freaky,’ ‘Fatman’ and ‘Wolfwalkers’

New Movies to Watch This Week: ‘Freaky,’ ‘Fatman’ and ‘Wolfwalkers’

With coronavirus cases surging around the country, Friday the 13th might not be the time to test your luck in theaters — though that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from serving up an unusually enticing slate of fresh releases exclusively in cinemas. From body-swap slasher movie “Freaky” to Mel Gibson’s nutzo Santa satire “Fatman,” the week’s new releases will have some weighting the risks.

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Meanwhile, the streamers have stepped up. Netflix has an especially strong week, debuting Oscar contender “Mank” (about the screenwriter responsible for “Citizen Kane”) in theaters a month before it hits the service. Subscribers can watch Ron Howard’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” featuring scenery-chewing turns from Glenn Close and Amy Adams, or catch the return of Italian acting legend Sophia Loren in “The Life Ahead” (a remake of the film “Madame Rosa,” which won a foreign language Oscar in 1978). Speaking of international Oscar contenders, Netflix also launched Spanish contender “The Endless Trench” and Austrian submission “What We Wanted.”

Other digital services are going gangbusters this week as well. Hulu serves up Greta Thunberg documentary “I Am Greta,” which shows the home life of the teenage environmental activist, while Apple TV Plus debuts Werner Herzog’s latest, “Fireball.” Wait a few weeks, and Apple subscribers can home-view the stunning new Irish animated feature “Wolfwalkers,” from the Oscar-nominated director of “The Secret of Kells” — or watch in now on the big screen, if it happens to be playing in your town.

Also on the family film front, a pair of kid-friendly fantasy movies warrant special attention for shaking things up on the casting front. Netflix holiday musical “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” features classic holiday appeal with a predominately Black cast, while “Come Away” toys with a scenario in which Peter Pan and Lewis Carroll’s Alice are not just siblings, but the product of a mixed-race marriage.

Finally, for those seeking an at-home art-house fix, the options are strong. “Crazy Rich Asians” star Henry Golding plays a gay man looking to reconnect with his native Vietnam in “Monsoon,” while lifetime best friends test the limits of the loyalty in Cannes-launched indie dramedy “The Climb.”

Here’s a rundown of those films opening this week that Variety has covered, along with links to where you can watch them. Find more movies and TV shows to stream here.

Hillbilly Elegy
Lacey Terrell/NETFLIX

Exclusive to Netflix

Hillbilly Elegy (Ron Howard)
Where to Find It: Netflix
“Hillbilly Elegy,” an adaptation of J.D. Vance’s 2016 memoir, is about an extended family mired in dysfunction, though the reason the book became a bestseller is that it took us into the realm of something far more exotic than mere dysfunction. The movie is one of those dramas made by the Ron Howard who’s drawn, at least in theory, to edgy material. Hard drinking, domestic violence, suicide, all-around ornery viciousness. The movie is an American Gothic redneck soap opera, built to showcase the cussed flamboyance of characters played by Glenn Close and Amy Adams. — Owen Gleiberman
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Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (David E. Talbert)
Where to Find It: Netflix
After two decades of dreaming, Netflix has made Talbert’s musical a reality — the latest bauble in the streamer’s ever-expanding Christmas-movie catalog — and though the film foregrounds Black actors in nearly all its lead live-action roles, the audience needn’t be limited to one race. Talbert has crafted an upbeat eyeful, set in a Dickensian toy store where steampunk gizmos with shiny brass gears whistle and whirl and all but overwhelm the senses, to say nothing of the pinwheel pleasures of all those splendid, spinning faux-Victorian costumes. — Peter Debruge
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The Life Ahead (Edoardo Ponti)
Where to Find It: Netflix
The last time most of us saw Sophia Loren on screen, we barely saw her at all: not just because her role in 2009’s “Nine” was so minor, but because that film was so enamored of the shimmery silver radiance of its stars that it often forgot to look at them directly. That’s not a failing of this fresh adaptation of Romain Gary’s popular novel “The Life Before Us.” That extraordinary face, regal and leonine as she heads into her mid-eighties, is so generously and adoringly cradled by the camera, it sometimes seems she has to be yanked out of scenes entirely for the narrative to progress. — Guy Lodge
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What We Wanted (Ulrike Kohler)
Where to Find It: Netflix
Viennese couple Alice and Niklas arrive at a Sardinian beachside resort under a low cloud of discontent: They’re in their early forties, their latest attempt at in vitro fertilization has just failed, and they’re staring down the future of a marriage they don’t know how to complete, if not with an elusive and long-desired child. Kofler’s debut feature follows in a long tradition of marital dramas negotiating this particular impasse or turning point, and it’s a handsome, sensitive entry in the genre — one that treats its internally bruised characters with the care of a patient, kindly therapist. — Guy Lodge
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Fatman
Courtesy of Saban Films

New Releases in Theaters

The Climb (Michael Angelo Covino) CRITIC’S PICK
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Where to Find It: In theaters now
The word “bromance” was a pretty awful one to begin with, but it’s been done a disservice by years of pop-cultural ubiquity. Now tediously hauled out any time two straight men so much as pat each other on the back, it tends to denote palliness more than any particular emotional intimacy. “The Climb,” however, thoughtfully returns to the root of the term: In Covino’s clever, open-souled debut feature, a long-term friendship between two average guys is given the dramatic shape and structure of a tempestuous love story, rich in conflicts, faultlines and intense feeling that fights any other relationship standing in its way. — Guy Lodge
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Dreamland (Miles Jorris-Peyrafitte)
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Where to Find It: In theaters now, followed by digital platforms and VOD release Nov. 17
From its opening lines of narration, this revisionist outlaw saga endeavors to set the record straight about one Eugene Evans, a naive Texas teen who ran off with on-the-law beauty Allison Wells and wound up etched beside her legend in history. These words are spoken with a kind of purity that recalls the dreamy voiceover of Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven” — as mythic an influence on “Dreamland” as Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde,” which could have been its prequel, had Clyde died and Bonnie stumbled away wounded from that climactic shootout. — Peter Debruge
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Fatman (Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms)
Distributor: Saban Films, Paramount Pictures
Where to Find It: In theaters now, followed by digital platforms and VOD release Nov. 24
In “Fatman,” Mel Gibson is Chris (as in Cringle), and the joke of his performance is that with his spooky-sensitive blue-eyed stare, the crinkles-within-wrinkles that now frame those eyes, a beard of the most formidable bushiness that’s white on the bottom but with a dark mustache that curls upward, and a voice that scrapes the booming canyon depths to the point that he sounds like John Wayne with elocution lessons, he could pass for a real-world Father Christmas — or a backwoods serial killer. — Owen Gleiberman
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Freaky (Christopher Landon)
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Where to Find It: In theaters now
A delightful mutant hybrid of two seemingly incongruous teen movie genres, cheeky Blumhouse satire “Freaky” might just as well have been called “Freaky Friday the 13th.” That’s essentially the pitch for a mashup that’s half slasher movie and half body-swap comedy, as a serial killer known as “the Blissfield Butcher” (Vince Vaughn) unwittingly trades places with his latest victim, dorky high school misfit Millie (Kathryn Newton). Landon, who also helmed “Happy Death Day,” excels at both the sly comedic and high-style horror halves of the movie’s personality. — Peter Debruge
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Mank (David Fincher) CRITIC’S PICK
Distributor: Netflix
Where to Find It: In theaters now, on Netflix starting Dec. 4
When you watch a biographical movie about an artist, the drama of creativity tends to be front and center. But in “Mank,” Fincher’s raptly intricate and enticing movie about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and how he wrote the script for “Citizen Kane,” the act of creation is just one of many things that flow by. “Mank” is a tale of Old Hollywood that’s more steeped in Old Hollywood — its glamour and sleaze, its layer-cake hierarchies, its corruption and glory — than just about any movie you’ve seen, and the effect is to lend it a dizzying time-machine splendor. — Owen Gleiberman
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Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore, Ross Stuart)
Distributor: GKIDS
Where to Find It: In theaters now, on Apple TV Plus starting Dec. 4
When wolves feature into fairy tales, they’re nearly always the source of wickedness and deceit. But in “Wolfwalkers,” it’s the humans who are frightening, and these special guardians — gifted with the ability to shape-shift between human and canine form — who serve as our heroes. Kids need movies like this that respect their intelligence, center strong female characters and question policies of blind obedience, while making an effort to integrate the rich cultural influences of a past that’s rapidly being bulldozed out of memory. — Peter Debruge
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Chick Fight
Courtesy of Quiver Distribution

New Releases on Demand and in Select Theaters

Chick Fight (Paul Leyden)
Distributor: Quiver Distribution
Where to Find It: Available on demand and digital platforms
Just hearing the words “Chick Fight” immediately body-slams expectations to the mat, after which this anodyne comedy manages to just about put them in a submission hold. Dude, one can almost anticipate saying, it’s called “Chick Fight,” what did you expect? On the other hand, the very crowd attracted by the R-rating and promisingly un-PC title may feel cheated. Instead of the cleavage, hair-pulling and Jerry Springer antics it teases, “Chick Fight” serves up a blandly formulaic and scrupulously inoffensive tale of female empowerment. — Jessica Kiang
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Coded Bias (Shalini Kantayya)
Distributor: Self-distributed
Where to Find It: Available exclusively via Metrograph virtual cinema
By its very nature, science is supposed to be an impartial judge. But is it really? In her thought-provoking documentary, director Kantayya questions the neutrality of technology, arguing that computers have a built-in bias that reflects the faulty assumptions of the people (usually men) who program them. Her emphasis is on the impact that such bias has on marginalized communities via corporate business and law enforcement. Delving into the root causes of these problems, ”Coded Bias” serves as both a wake-up call and a call to action. — Valerie Complex
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Come Away (Brenda Chapman)
Distributor: Relativity
Where to Find It: In theaters, on demand and via digital platforms
For some, the prospect of former Pixar director Brenda Chapman (“Brave”) making her live-action debut will make “Come Away” seem exciting. For others, it’s the film’s literary conceit that appeals: What if Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan had been siblings? And then there’s the casting of Angelina Jolie and David Oyelowo as the parents, which suggests certain possibilities in terms of how the story might deal with certain seldom-examined social dynamics within its period setting. Alas, “Come Away” squanders all of these opportunities on a ponderous family drama. — Peter Debruge
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Dirty God (Sacha Polak)
Distributor: Dark Star Pictures
Where to Find It: In theaters now, followed by digital platforms on Nov. 15
A young working-class woman in London barely has the mechanisms to cope with a horrific acid attack that’s left her face permanently scarred in “Dirty God,” the first English-language feature from Dutch director Polak. Neatly fitting into Polak’s liberatingly frank takes on female sexuality (“Hemel,” “Zurich”), the film boasts a stand-out performance from newcomer Vicky Knight and an unflinching portrait of a strong-willed yet immature protagonist facing a radical change in how the world looks at her as well as how she sees herself. — Jay Weissberg
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Divine Love (Gabriel Mascaro)
Distributor: Outsider Pictures, Strand Releasing
Where to Find It: In theaters and virtual cinemas
For all its creamy, dreamy styling, this limber, sensual sci-fi functions as an urgent cautionary allegory. Set in Brazil’s near future, where conservative Evangelical values — precisely those that the country’s recently elected far-right leadership rode to victory — have swept the population, it’s a heady vision of a secular state hanging by a slender thread. Sustaining an atmosphere that runs from the sweatily carnal to the clinical, “Divine Love” envisions an unsettling compromise reached between Brazil’s most puritanical and most hedonistic extremes of society. — Guy Lodge
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The Giant (David Raboy)
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Where to Find It: Available via digital platforms and on demand
Expanding his own short of the same title, Raboy’s elliptical psychological thriller “The Giant” gives us the story of a small Southern town beset by a killing spree, yet his real interest is in the constant changes in barometric pressure: the heaviness of the sticky, buggy Georgia air; the gathering storm that builds and builds just over the horizon for the entirety of the film. But he lays the atmosphere on so think that it threatens to suffocate everything within, and the film holds its audience at such a remove that eventually you stop trying to connect. — Andrew Barker
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Monsoon (Hong Khaou)
Distributor: Strand Releasing
Where to Find It: Watch on demand, digital or via virtual cinema
In “Mortal,” a film plagued by assorted crises and confusions of identity, one stands out at the very beginning: It’s an R-rated superhero movie that assumes its audience doesn’t know the meaning of its title. An introductory chyron helpfully offers the single dictionary definition “a human being,” without going into any of the others. That doesn’t bode well for a wealth of words or ideas in Norwegian director André Øvredal’s allegedly original adventure, which starts on a chilly, mildly intriguing note before sinking into its own puddle of very, very familiar reference points. — Guy Lodge
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Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds
Toronto Intl. Film Festival

Exclusive to Apple TV Plus

Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds (Werner Herzog)
Where to Find It: Apple TV Plus
“Fireball” is a documentary about meteorites, but what makes it a Herzog film is that it’s in love with meteorites. It sees them not as random pieces of cosmic debris but as visitations from the world out there. And it’s not only Herzog who sees them that way. He’s channeling how people have always viewed meteors and meteorites — as larger-than-life forces exerting their energy upon the earth. Herzog revels in the poetry of meteorites. And he earns it, since his mystic curiosity is, at heart, rooted in a respect for science. — Owen Gleiberman
Read the full review=

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I Am Greta
Courtesy of Hulu

Exclusive to Hulu

I Am Greta (Nathan Grossman)
Where to Find It: Hulu
This slickly assembled bio-documentary feigns to ask the question answered by its declamatory title, only to present us with all the details we already knew in response. As a summation of her remarkable achievements to date in public life, the film is reasonably thorough, and sometimes rousing, amply showcasing Thunberg’s candid gifts as a truth-to-power speaker. Yet as a portrait of the girl behind the cause, it’s cautious and rarely illuminating, speckled with moments of domestic intimacy that nonetheless feel carefully vetted. — Guy Lodge
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Exclusive to Mubi

Nova Lituania (Karolis Kaupinis)
Where to Find It: Mubi
In the late 1930s, Lithuanian geographer Kazys Pakstas proposed a radical idea: The purchase and annexation of a large tract of land on the African or American continent, and the creation there of a “backup Lithuania.” Eighty years later, filmmaker Kaupinis has taken this eccentric idea as the kernel of truth from which his beautifully poker-faced feature debut can sprout into an elegant, offbeat fiction that is both steeped in pre-war Lithuanian history and starkly relevant to our current moment — wherever nationalism is being invoked for political capital by powerful cowards. — Jessica Kiang
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Written by Oli Coleman

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