THE BOX OFFICE AND BEYOND
New movies have been scarce in the silly season build-up, but on Boxing Day the floodgates open, writes Philippa Hawker
Summer at the movies is a flurry of activity and a plethora of choices, as high-profile films jostle for space and attention, with smaller works easily getting lost in the rush. Oscar-touted films, big and small, tend to crowd the schedules at the end of the year, and Boxing Day is always a big event in the Australian cinema calendar.
Mid-December this year, however, there’s a sudden lull. Star Wars: Rogue One — the muchanticipated offshoot of the Star Wars universe — has the field almost to itself on December 15. It’s a spin-off from the main narrative with a new cast of characters, but its appeal is surely irresistible: what other film would dare take on the force of the franchise?
Yet there is an option for moviegoers who want to look elsewhere for something new on December 15: The Wasted Times from Chinese director Cheng Er, opening nationally in selected cinemas. Set in Shanghai in the 1930s, it is a story of murder, betrayal and revenge that looks to be a period thriller with style to burn, and it features a star cast, including Zhang Ziyi and Asano Tadanobu.
A week later, another lull, and Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson (December 22), starring Adam Driver as a bus-driver poet, has a clear run. Then, on Boxing Day, the floodgates open.
One of the most-anticipated is undoubtedly the Australian movie Red Dog: True Blue, the prequel to the much-loved Red Dog, the 2011 hit that took more than $20 million at the local box office. This new movie is an origin story that cheekily acknowledges the success of the first film by building it into the narrative. It’s a tale that links past and present, taking us back to the late 1960s, when the legendary red dog was a mere puppy. The cast includes young Levi Miller ( Pan) as Mick, the dog’s first companion, Bryan Brown as Mick’s grandfather, and an almost unrecognisable John Jarratt as mining magnate Lang Hancock.
Disney has a Boxing Day offering, an animated feature called Moana that is about a princess — but she’s no Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, and she doesn’t live anywhere remotely frozen. Moana (voiced by Hawaiian actor Auli’i Cravalho) is the strong-minded daughter of a Polynesian chieftain who goes on a heroine’s Moana journey with her animal sidekicks. It also features music by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Jemaine Clement as a monster crab. Reviewers have placed it alongside Disney classics such as Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, but granted it distinctive qualities of its own
Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is also a Boxing Day opener, a film greeted with extravagant enthusiasm since its Venice premiere. Chazelle, whose feature debut was Whiplash — a tale of jazz drumming and brutal pedagogy — has gone big this time. La La Land is a full-blown movie musical that consciously pays tribute to the pictures of the 40s and 50s, and the more recent films they inspired in turn. His stars — appearing together for the third time — are Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as a would-be actor and a jazz musician respectively. Stone and Gosling don’t have the song-and-dance experience of the Hollywood stars to whom Chazelle pays tribute, although Stone recently played Sally Bowles in Cabaret on Broadway and Gosling was a youthful Mickey Mouse Club regular alongside the likes of Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera.
Allied, the World War II thriller from Robert Zemeckis, featuring Brad Pitt as a US intelligence officer and Marion Cotillard as a Resistance agent who fall in love in the course of a mission, opens on Boxing Day too. Cotillard is also the star of Assassin’s Creed (January 1), an intriguing departure for Australian director Justin Kurzel. After the bleak, unsparing Snowtown, he tackled Macbeth, with Cotillard and Michael Fassbender in the lead roles. He has brought the two actors together again — not for