8 must-see blockbuster summer movies

La La Land. Photo: Supplied

La La Land. Photo: Supplied

Summer is here, which means it’s the perfect time to retreat into the air-conditioned darkness of your nearest cinema.

You might have already checked out Rogue One and Fantastic Beasts, but Boxing Day sees the floodgates open on a new wave of blockbusters. Here’s our pick of the best – and the rest.

 

La La Land

This Boxing Day release is pure magic. On the surface, it’s a cosy throwback to the golden age of Hollywood musicals, flavoured with serious rom-com chemistry by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

But there’s more to La La Land than a simple nostalgia trip. Both our leads are chasing old-fashioned sort of dreams, but they can’t quite shake off the modern world. Emma’s Mia is a wannabe actress, working at the coffee shop on the Warner Bros lot, while Ryan’s Sebastian is a jazz pianist living in an age where nobody actually listens to jazz.

While the first half of the film is rich with toe-tapping showstoppers, the second half strips away the gloss, layer-by-layer, and properly commits to the human drama at the film’s core. Dreams can come true – but not all at once and not without sacrifice.

Ryan and Emma give powerful performances of surprising depth (considering the film’s technicolour glow), but more important is the fact they’re great fun to spend time with.

Clever, swooning and utterly delightful, this is a sugar hit without the attendant guilt.

 

 

Lion

Based on the true story of an Indian boy separated from his family for 25 years, this Australian co-produced drama is sublimely heartbreaking.

Raised in a poverty-stricken Indian province, Saroo convinces his much-loved big brother Guddu to let him tag along to Guddu’s night job.

Tired from the train journey there, Saroo falls asleep on the station. When his brother doesn’t return as promised, he takes refuge in a carriage and wakes up to find himself thousands of miles away. Not speaking the language, he’s unable to return home.

Ultimately, he’s assigned to a new family in Hobart (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) and raised as an Australian. Moving to Melbourne in his 20s, he learns of the then-new Google Earth and begins an obsessive journey to track down his family – despite not knowing the name of his hometown.

Beautifully shot (the sweeping landscapes of Saroo’s two nations are breathtaking) and superbly cast, this is a film that will leave your heart bruised for weeks. Don’t miss it.

 

 

Allied

Max (Brad Pitt) parachutes into World War II Egypt, where he’ll meet fellow undercover agent Marianne (Marion Cotillard). The two will pose as a happily married couple before jointly assassinating a Nazi governor.

That all goes to plan, except our spies break the rules and fall in love. A baby arrives and family life back in war torn London seems sedate enough (air raids aside), until something happens to cast doubt on Marianne’s bona fides.

This romantic wartime thriller seems very much aimed at an older crowd – which might explain why the end credits are written in large print. Director Robert Zemeckis brings a great energy to the first half, as our leads execute their mission (so to speak), but in swapping exotic thrills for suburban intrigue the second half founders towards anticlimax.

Marion manages to bring some much-needed complexity to her femme fatale, but Brad seems to have other things on his mind.

It doesn’t help that he appears to have been so heavily airbrushed in post-production that he looks more like one of the uncanny, animated sprites from Zemeckis’s CG feature The Polar Express than a genuine human being.

 

 

Red Dog: True Blue

The first outing for the country’s favourite canine was a genuine family classic.

This prequel is… odd. It starts with a Perth dad (British actor Jason Isaacs doing an impressive Aussie accent) taking his two sons to see the film Red Dog (spoiler: the family like it). When his youngest son notices Dad seems upset post-credits, Dad confesses that he was actually the original owner of the titular pup – and proceeds to tell the real story behind the film.

Cue flashbacks to a remote WA homestead in the 1960s, where young Mick (Levi Miller) is sent to live with his curmudgeonly grandpa (Bryan Brown). There’s some attempt to recreate the ensemble camaraderie of the original, but it all falls a bit flat.

Only one of the farmhands has a distinctive character… and it’s not a very likeable one. Throw in an ill-judged romance and some frankly surreal thievery of Aboriginal mythology, and you have a weirdly undramatic hodgepodge. Bryan Brown brings a bit of star power, but other leads lack vitality and charisma. Strangest of all, the late Koko’s replacement has none of the screen presence of his doggy predecessor.

 

 

Jackie

Natalie Portman has a second crack at an Oscar with her portrayal of First Lady Jackie O. Chilean director Pablo Larraín revisits the American Camelot, tracking the fallout from JFK’s assassination in November 1963. Advance buzz is glowing in the extreme.

 

 

Passengers

This sci-fi thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt was rather disingenuously marketed as a rom-com in space but now looks to be something far more sinister. It also looks to be a rare miss for its two hotter-than-a-supernova stars, earning fierce thumbs down from overseas critics. Onboard a spaceship making the 120-year journey to a distant planet, two hibernation pods open three decades too soon. J-Law and beefcake soon fall in love (there’s not much else to do), but there’s a very dangerous reason why their snooze was curtailed.

 

 

Kids – Sing & Ballerina

Pixar’s Moana has had an underwhelming response, but there are two other cartoons sure to keep the kids entertained this summer.

Sing is a star-studded musical, in which a koala (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) stages a singing competition to save the theatre he calls home.

 

 

Sticking with a theatrical theme, French-Canadian fantasy adventure Ballerina sees young orphan Felicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) pursue her dream to be a world-class dancer – with a bit of help from her mad inventor friend Victor (Dane DeHaan).

 

 

 

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