Screening for attention

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Ian McKellen as Gandalf in the fantasy adventure The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Ian McKellen as Gandalf in the fantasy adventure The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
A reluctant video game villain seeks a new life in Wreck-It Ralph.

A reluctant video game villain seeks a new life in Wreck-It Ralph.

Christmas is over, so it's time for Australia's annual splurge at the movies. Amid all the Hobbits, singing superstars and video game villains, Garry Maddox offers some tips for your Boxing Day viewing.

HOLLYWOOD'S marketers have all sorts of devilishly clever ways of getting us to see new movies. They blitz us with TV advertising, bring Hollywood stars to town and host glittering premieres with red carpets stretching down the road and fizzy alcohol on tap.

Movie companies run so-called "word-of-mouth" screenings to get people talking and create buzz with social media campaigns, prize giveaways ("Win a family-of-four adventure in Lapland!") and promotional deals.

They invent enticing taglines. They release trailers that are sometimes better than the movie. And – a personal favourite – they release trailers promoting the release of the trailer.

But come Boxing Day, little of this magic is required. In vast numbers, Australians quite happily troop off to the cinemas.

No doubt, part of this holiday tradition is escaping all the discarded wrapping paper and Christmas leftovers to relax with family and friends for a few hours.

But it's is also a prime day for new movies. The start of a prime week, in fact.

"It's important there's a really wide range of films for all different kinds of people on Boxing Day," the managing director of the Hopscotch Group, Troy Lum, says. "Everybody goes. And people go to see more than one movie. At any other time of the year, a basic punter might see one film a month. Over the Boxing Day to new year period, they might see two or three films. It's obviously school holidays, so there are kids out as well."

With box-office takings topping $1 billion for the fourth consecutive year, we have likely made more than 85 million visits to the cinema during 2012, even with higher ticket prices for 3D and premium sessions.

The head of Universal Pictures in Australia, Mike Baard, expects the Boxing Day surge to push the box office close to the 2010 record of more than $1,132,000,000. So it will be busy. Here's Summer Herald's guide to choosing a movie . . .


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is what those canny marketers call a "four-quadrant movie", appealing to males, females, under 25s and over 25s. J. R. R. Tolkien's book has been so popular over the years – the Harry Potter of its day – that fans will want to see how it has finally been adapted. And those who enjoyed Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy will relish seeing him back in Middle-earth, with Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and a returning cast that includes Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel.

What to look out for Lots of dwarfs, epic fantasy action, Barry Humphries as the goblin king.

Buzz rating 8.5/10


Director Tom Hooper had a decent success two years ago with The King's Speech. He has moved from stuttering to singing with a lavish adaptation of the musical Les Miserables. And instead of going for musical-theatre names, he has underscored the drama in Victor Hugo's famous book by casting A-list actors, including Jackman as reformed prisoner Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as brutal Inspector Javier and Anne Hathaway as doomed Fantine. "Even after all the celebrity Les Mis has achieved, some people don't understand that it's a sung-through piece," Universal Pictures's Mike Baard says. "But 15, 20 minutes in, you get into the rhythm of the film." Baard believes musical fans will see Les Miserables more than once and, just to prove he doesn't only spruik his own movies, he also expects The Hobbit to be "wildly successful".

What to look out for Epic set-pieces, Hathaway's I Dreamed a Dream, lots of singing.

Buzz rating 8.5/10


Instead of appearing in a Fockers movie this Boxing Day, Dustin Hoffman, at 75, has directed the comic drama Quartet, about retired musicians who put on a concert to save their genteel care home. The veteran cast in this optimistic adaptation of an English play is headed by Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins and Michael Gambon.

What to look out for Smith being haughty, Connolly being lusty, the music of Verdi.

Buzz rating 7/10


There's always an animated movie on Boxing Day. This year, Disney's Wreck-It Ralph centres on a reluctant video game villain who wants a new life. In a 3D comic homage to classic video games, director Rich Moore takes affable Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) on adventures inside other games, teaming up with feisty Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman).

What to look out for Video game nostalgia, classy voicing by Reilly, Silverman and Jane Lynch, a cameo by Sonic the Hedgehog.

Buzz rating 7/10


Billy Crystal is an ageing baseball announcer who is sacked because he doesn't know how to tweet or use Facebook. Bette Midler is his lively wife. They learn all about the generation gap when they have to care for three tricky grandkids living in a house controlled by computers in Parental Guidance. Director Andy Fickman (She's the Man, Race to Witch Mountain) mixes old-school comedy with family sentiment.

What to look out for Fortunately for all, it's child-friendly when Bette Midler pole dances for exercise. The always-good Marisa Tomei is Billy Crystal's daughter.

Buzz rating 5/10


Remember those trippy old documentaries Koyaanisqatsi and Baraka? The director-cinematographer of that latter visual extravaganza, Ron Fricke, is back with Samsara, a documentary shot in 25 countries focusing on the world's visual wonders. His spiritual interest is suggested by a title that is the Tibetan word for the continuous life cycle. Hopscotch's Troy Lum expects Samsara to appeal to viewers seeking a different experience from the blockbusters in multiplexes. "I have very fond memories of Baraka when I was a uni student," he says. "Samsara is very much the same – it has stuff that you've never seen before and will probably never see again."

What to look out for Stunning visuals with a message.

Buzz rating 6/10


Just screening in a single cinema, Dendy Newtown, Sightseers is a dark horror-comedy about two glum British caravanners on a murder spree. Yes, that old Christmas holiday staple.

Buzz rating? 3/10


Already in cinemas, of course, are 007's latest adventure in Skyfall, the musical romance Pitch Perfect, the animated Rise of the Guardians and the Emma Watson charmer The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Then, on New Year's Day comes Ang Lee's Life of Pi.

All a-flicker after sunset

IT'S one of the great pleasures of the Sydney summer: heading out on a balmy evening to an outdoor movie.

There are free screenings across the city, as well as regular seasons that seem to book out in minutes.

Part of the fun is re-watching old favourites with a like-minded crowd. Or catching up on movies you have missed during the year.

Arguably the best-located outdoor cinema in the world, St George OpenAir on Sydney Harbour, is screening some of this year's best movies from January 10, including Argo, The Sessions, Seven Psychopaths, Monsieur Lazhar and The Intouchables, as well as premieres of Anna Karenina, This Is 40 and The Impossible.

Moonlight Cinema at Centennial Park will welcome wannabe Sandys and Dannys on Thursday at a Grease Sing-a-Long, followed by such cheesy favourites as The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off ("Anyone, anyone, anyone?"), Dirty Dancing, Top Gun, Zoolander, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and, on Valentine's night, Breakfast at Tiffany's.

At Sydney Olympic Park, Movies by the Boulevard has a free family-friendly program that starts with The Amazing Spider-Man on January 2. Highlights for what will be the city's most multicultural audience include Men in Black 3, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Sapphires and The Avengers.

At North Sydney, the Starlight Cinema opens with singing romance Pitch Perfect on January 16. Its season covers new releases and recent hits such as Looper, The Sapphires and The Intouchables and one classic, Dirty Dancing.

At Narrabeen, Summer Nights Cinema opens with the animated Brave on January 3. Also screening are The Hunger Games, Marley and The Dark Knight Rises.

And Flickerfest at Bondi Beach focuses on short films from Australia and around the world from January 11.

This story Screening for attention first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.