This week, entertainment editor John Turnbull takes a look at the best and worst films coming out over summer for families, blockbuster fans and people who appreciate well-written, adult cinema.
In terms of cinema receipts, Boxing Day is the biggest day of the year, with studios pumping millions of dollars into advertising and promotion to try and capture your holiday buck. Massive franchise pictures such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter saga have traditionally performed well in this arena, with smaller quality films often relegated to arthouse theatres or lost in the blockbuster shuffle.
Summer cinema provides something for everyone, and hopefully the following guide will help you decide where to spend your hard-earned movie dollars.
Paddington (in cinemas now)
Starring a who’s who of British talent including Michael Gambon, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent and Hugh Bonneville, Paddington is a live-action adaptation of the classic children’s tale of a lost bear and his adventures in the big city.
While the story of Paddington may be familiar to most of the older generation, many of today’s kids have never heard of the iconic bear, and as such this movie is an origin story of sorts.
Paddington, voiced by the somewhat inspid Ben Whishaw after Colin Firth pulled out, arrives in London from his home in Peru and befriends the Brown family, then tries his best to avoid being stuffed by an evil taxidermist.
Nicole Kidman makes the most of her immobile face to play villain Millicent, a taxidermist who wants to stuff Paddington and add him to her collection. While this may raise troubling questions for kids who think about it (was my teddy once alive and horribly killed?) this looks to be a traditional tale of friendship and adventure, with enough quality actors to keep parents amused.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (in cinemas December 26)
It is rare that the fourth film in a series is the best and it seems unlikely that NATM:SOTT will break that trend.
Featuring Ben Stiller returning to the role of security guard Larry Daley, along with series regulars Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan and Ricky Gervais, this film is notable in that it features Robin Williams in one of his final performances before his untimely death.
The plot (such as it is) will be familiar to anyone who has seen any of the previous NATM instalments; ancient relic brings historical relics to life, shennanigans ensue. While this is hardly breaking new ground, the fast pace and frequent gags will likely keep the kids happy and there may even be some educational value, when their parents explain the history of the characters running amok.
Annie (in cinemas now)
Annie is the film that Sony hopes will revive their ailing fortunes following the embarrassing hack that saw thousands of emails and marketing materials released online, reportedly by North Korean sponsored hackers protesting the release of upcoming Seth Rogen comedy The Interview.
A reboot of the classic musical comedy, this version features Oscar nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild star Quvenzhane Wallis in the title role, along with Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne and Jamie Foxx as business tycoon Will Stacks (replacing the old-timey Daddy Warbucks in the creepy adopted father role).
Whether this movie appeals to you will depend on your feelings on the original and your attitude to remakes — to be honest it’s probably going to be a tough sell considering the competition.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (in cinemas December 25th)
Directed by Peter Jackson based on a children's novel by J.R.R Tolkien, The Hobbit series is an example of everything wrong with the movie business today – an 8 hour plus trilogy that should have been a single movie. The Battle of the Five Armies features amazing special effects, a couple of impressive battle sequences and a talented cast trying their best to make the most of wafer-thin source material. Oh, and Orlando Bloom.
With a running time of 144 minutes, early reviews suggest that The Battle of the Five Armies is bloated and disappointing, particularly compared to the original LOTR trilogy. Still, if you’ve already committed around 14 hours to movies about little people, it probably makes sense to complete the journey.
The Water Diviner (in cinemas December 26th)
Following a run of somewhat disappointing films including the risible Noah, Russell Crowe takes the directors chair for this epic tale of war, family and obsession. Crowe plays family patriarch Joshua Connor, whose three sons are missing and presumed dead following the catastrophic assault on Gallipoli in the early days of WWI.
An Australian blockbuster is a rarity in this day and age, particularly if you discount the style-over-substance epics directed by Baz Luhrmann (which I do). The fact that Rusty both directs and stars in The Water Diviner is a tribute to his star power and self-confidence – there are few Australian actors who could secure a production budget of $9 million and fewer still who would have the confidence to make their directorial debut with a film about Australia’s defining military operation.
Also starring former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko and Aussie on the rise Jai Courtney, The Water Diviner unfortunately takes it’s title from a thoroughly debunked pseudoscience – I have to wonder if people would be lining up on Boxing Day to see Big Russ in The Spoon Bender…
Big Hero 6 (in cinemas December 26th)
When the first trailer for Big Hero 6 hit screens mid-way through the year, my reaction was cautious enthusiasm. Produced by animated powerhouse Disney, the film takes a distinctly Japanese approach to character design and addresses issues of loss and grief, which makes it a little deeper than most animated releases outside of the Pixar stable. Best of all, it casts a giant marshmallow robot as the lead hero.
Is it weird that the trailer for an animated superhero movie evokes more emotion in this reviewer than lost sons and scenes of destruction on the Turkish battlefield?
Avoiding the temptation to cast big name stars rather than talented voice actors in the lead roles, Big Hero 6 is currently sitting at 89 per cent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and is my early pick for best movie of the Summer.
St Vincent (in cinemas December 26th)
Bill Murray is something of an anomaly in Hollywood. After a strong career in broad comedies such as Caddyshack, Meatballs and Ghostbusters, Murray chose a change in direction and took on smaller independent roles in movies such as Rushmore, Broken Flowers and the sublime Lost In Translation.
By reinventing himself, Murray has rejuvenated his career and genuinely seems to be enjoying acting, becoming an elder statesman rather than a grumpy old man like contemporary Chevy Chase.
St Vincent sees Murray playing curmudgeonly Vietnam veteran Vincent, whose life is given new meaning when a single mother and her son move in next door. While this plot may seem familiar and somewhat predictable, the joy comes from watching Murray break every rule of child rearing and still form a bond with the awkward Oliver, played by newcomer Jaeden Lieberher. Also starring Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd and Naomi Watts, this movie won’t be for everyone but has the potential to be the sleeper hit of the season.
The Imitation Game (in cinemas January 1st)
Starring actor-du-jour Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game tells the story of maths genius Alan Turing, the man who eventually cracked the Enigma code and changed the course of WW2. The definition of a tortured genius, Turing was gay at a time when homosexuality was a crime, and was eventually imprisoned for his proclivities.
Also starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and Charles Dance, The Imitation Game is akin to A Beautiful Mind in that it takes complex mathematical concepts and makes them somewhat accessible through interpersonal drama. While the subject matter may scare away some viewers, early reviews are positive and the film has been tipped as an early Oscar contender.
Birdman (in cinemas January 15th)
Birdman tells the story of an actor who became famous playing a superhero, found himself typecast and slipping into obscurity, and his struggle to reinvent himself as a serious dramatic actor. Loaded with subtext, Birdman is a movie that lives or dies on the performance of lead actor Michael Keaton. The man who reinvented Batman (along with director Tim Burton) has travelled a similar path to Riggan Thomas, although hopefully without the hallucinations…
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (Babel, 21 Grams), Birdman also stars Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis in a rare serious role.
This may well be Keaton’s comeback role and is worth a look for anyone who has ever wondered what happens to movie superheroes when they get old.
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