New movies have been scarce in the silly sea­son build-up, but on Box­ing Day the flood­gates open, writes Philippa Hawker

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

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

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