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The New Movies You Can Watch at New Zealand Cinemas From Boxing Day 2023

Spend the biggest cinema-going day of the year with Sydney Sweeney's Sydney-set rom-com, Anthony Hopkins' latest standout performance and animated ducks.
By Sarah Ward
December 26, 2023
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By Sarah Ward
December 26, 2023
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A destination wedding in Sydney or hopping between Greek islands? Animated ducks or a kingdom based around wishes? An affecting true tale of heroism or superhero fare? Cinemagoers of New Zealand, they're among your choices on the annual movie calendar's release day to end all release days.

That'd be Boxing Day, which always packs picture palaces with new flicks, plus eager audiences keen to see them. Indeed, along with recovering from your Christmas food coma, seeing a movie on December 26 is a yearly tradition.

Feel like you're spoiled for choice? Not sure which film should tempt you out of the summer sun and into an air-conditioned darkened room? Keen to see a few movies, but don't know where to start? Thanks to Boxing Day's hefty array of newcomers, plus Wonka still a fresh arrival on big screen, there's plenty of picks. We've watched them all — and here's our rundown.

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ANYONE BUT YOU

Greenlighting Anyone But You with Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell as its leads must've been among Hollywood's easiest decisions. One of the rom-com's stars has been everywhere from Euphoria and The White Lotus to Reality of late, while the other is fresh off feeling the need for speed in Top Gun: Maverick. They both drip charisma. If this was the 80s, 90s or 00s, they each would have an entire segment of their filmographies dedicated to breezy romantic comedies like this Sydney-shot film, and probably more than a few together. Indeed, regardless of his gleaming casting, Anyone But You director and co-writer Will Gluck makes his first adult-oriented flick in 12 years — since Friends with Benefits, with Annie and the two Peter Rabbit movies since — as if it's still two, three or four decades back. The gimmick-fuelled plot, the scenic setting, swinging between stock-standard and OTT supporting characters: even amid overt riffs on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, they're all formulaically present and accounted for. So is the fact that Anyone But You's story always comes second to Sweeney and Powell's smouldering chemistry, and that most of its obvious jokes that only land because the pair sell them, as well as the whole movie.

Bea (Sweeney) and Ben (Powell) meet-cute over a bathroom key in a busy cafe. That first dreamy day ends badly the next morning, however, with more pain in store when Bea's sister Halle (Hadley Robinson, Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty) gets engaged to Ben's best friend Pete's (GaTa, Dave) sister Claudia (Alexandra Shipp, Barbie). Cue their feud going international at the destination wedding in Australia, then getting a twist when Bea and Ben pretend that they're together. They're trying stop their fighting ruining the nuptials, get her parents to back off from pushing for a reunion with her ex (Darren Barnet, Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story) and make his own past love (model-turned-acting debutant Charlee Fraser) jealous. Every expected narrative beat is struck, then, while nodding to other rom-com wedding flicks — My Best Friend's Wedding co-stars Dermot Mulroney and Rachel Griffiths play Bea's mum and dad, with the latter also a Muriel's Wedding alum — and getting cheesily Aussie via koalas, endless shots of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, and Bryan Brown (Faraway Downs) and Joe Davidson (Neighbours) playing the stereotypical parts. And yet, Sweeney and Powell ace their performances and rapport, and also couldn't be more watchable.

Read our full review.

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ONE LIFE

Nicholas Winton's "British Schindler" label wasn't invented for One Life, the rousing biopic that tells his story; however, it's a handy two-word description that couldn't better fit both him and the film. In the late 1930s, when the then-Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland was occupied by Nazi Germany, the London-born banker spearheaded a rescue mission to get children — mostly Jewish — out of the country. After being encouraged to visit Prague in 1938 by friends assisting refugees, he was so moved to stop as many kids as possible from falling victim to the Holocaust that he and a group of fellow humanitarians arranged trains to take them to England. The immense effort was dubbed kindertransport, with Winton assisting in saving 669 children. Then, in the decades that followed, his heroic feat was almost lost to history. In fact, it only returned to public knowledge in 1988 when his wife Grete Gjelstrup encouraged him to show his scrapbook from the time to Holocaust researcher Elizabeth Maxwell, who was married to media mogul Robert Maxwell. Smartly, One Life captures both remarkable aspects to Winton's story, flitting between them as it tells its powerful and stirring true tale.

The film's jumps backwards and forward also allow room for two excellent performances, enlisting Anthony Hopkins as the older Winton and Johnny Flynn (Operation Mincemeat) to do the honours in his younger years. With The Two Popes, his Oscar win for The Father, Armageddon Time and now this, Hopkins has been enjoying a stellar run in his 80s. If matching one of Hopkins' great portrayals in a period filled with them — a career, too, of course — was daunting for Flynn, he doesn't show it. As with Kurt and Wyatt Russell on the small screen's Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, they're playing the same man but also someone who changes, as everyone does, through his experiences. Accordingly, a lively Flynn captures Winton's zeal and determination, while a patient Hopkins wears the haunted disappointment of someone who has spent half of their life thinking that he hasn't done enough. When he finally realises the full impact of his efforts, it's a devastatingly touching moment in a potent feature that looks the standard sombre part, but also knows that flashiness isn't what leaves an imprint in a story as important as this.

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AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM

The DC Extended Universe is dead. With Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, the comic book-to-screen franchise hardly swims out with a memorable farewell, hasn't washed up on a high and shouldn't have many tearful over its demise. More movies based on the company's superheroes are still on the way. They'll be badged the DC Universe instead, and start largely afresh; 2025's Superman: Legacy will be the first, with Pearl's David Corenswet as the eponymous figure, as directed by new DC Studios co-chairman and co-CEO James Gunn (The Suicide Squad). Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom ends up the old regime about as expected, however: soggily, unable to make the most of its star, and stuck treading water between what it really wants to be and box-ticking saga formula. Led by Jason Momoa (Fast X), the first Aquaman knew that it was goofy, playful fun. Its main man, plus filmmaker James Wan (Malignant), didn't splash around self-importance or sink into seriousness. Rather, they made a giddily irreverent underwater space opera — and, while it ebbed and flowed between colouring by numbers and getting entertainingly silly, the latter usually won out. Alas, exuberance loses the same battle in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.

Having spent its existence playing catch-up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DCEU does exactly that for a final time here. As with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, there's such a large debt owed to Star Wars that elements seem to be lifted wholesale; just try not to laugh at Jabba the Hutt as a sea creature. 2018's initial Aquaman used past intergalactic flicks as a diving-off point, too, but with its own personality — no trace of which bobs up this time around. Wan helms again, switching to workman-like mode. He's co-credited on the story with returning screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (Orphan: First Kill), Momoa and Thomas Pa'a Sibbett (The Last Manhunt), but there's little but being dragged out with the prevailing tide, tonal chaos and a CGI mess on show. Now king of Atlantis and a father, Arthur Curry has another tussle with Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Ambulance) to face, with his enemy aided by dark magic and exacerbating climate change. Only Aquaman teaming up with his imprisoned half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson, Insidious: The Red Door) will give the world a chance to survive. Even with an octopus spy and Nicole Kidman (Faraway Downs) riding a robot shark, a shipwreck results.

Read our full review.

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MIGRATION

It mightn't seem like Migration and Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget should be twin films. The first is Illumination's latest non-Minions effort. The second is the long-awaited sequel to 2000 claymation favourite Chicken Run. But this pair of animated movies is definitely the newest example of the long-running cinematic déjà vu trend. Past birds of a feather have included Antz and A Bug's Life, Deep Impact and Armageddon, Churchill and Darkest Hour, and Ben Is Back and Beautiful Boy — and oh-so-many more — aka pictures with similar plots releasing at around the same time. The current additions to the list both arrive in December 2023, focus on anthropomorphised poultry, and initially find their clucking and quacking critters happy in their own safe, insular idylls, only to be forced out into the scary wider world largely due to their kids. Chaos with humans in the food industry ensues, including a life-or-death quest to avoid being eaten, plus lessons about being willing to break out of your comfort zone/nest/pond. Famous voices help bring the avian protagonists to the screen, too — Elizabeth Banks (The Beanie Bubble) and Kumail Nanjiani (Welcome to Chippendales) are the parents in Migration, for instance, and Thandiwe Newton (Westworld) and Zachary Levi (Shazam! Fury of the Gods) in Dawn of the Nugget — although that's long been the industry standard in animation in general.

If you've seen Chicken Run's return, then, Migration will instantly feel familiar. This is an instance of two studios hatching near-identical films that both have their own charms, however. With Migration, a voice cast that also spans Awkwafina (Quiz Lady), Keegan-Michael Key (Wonka), Danny DeVito (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Carol Kane (Hunters) brings plenty of energy. As the key behind-the-camera talents, director Benjamin Renner (Ernest & Celestine) and screenwriter Mike White (yes, The White Lotus' Mike White) know how to enliven the narrative. That tale tells of mallards Mack (Nanjiani) and Pam (Banks), one nervous and the other adventurous, who follow another family from New England to Jamaica via New York City with their eager ducklings Dax (Caspar Jennings, Operation Mincemeat) and Gwen (first-timer Tresi Gazal), and cantankerous uncle (DeVito). But the Big Apple brings a run-in which a chef, after initially falling afoul of a flock of pigeons, befriending their leader (Awkwafina) and endeavouring to rescue the homesick parrot (Key) who knows the way to their sunny winter getaway.

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WISH

Arriving in the year that Walt Disney Animation Studios celebrates its 100th birthday shouldn't mean that Wish needs to live up to a century's worth of beloved classics. And it wouldn't for viewers, even with the Mouse House's anniversary celebrations everywhere, if the company's latest film didn't bluntly draw attention to Disney hits gone by. Parts are cobbled together from CinderellaSnow White And The Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio. Not just fellow animated efforts get referenced; alongside shoutouts to Bambi and Peter Pan, Mary Poppins earns the nod well. Overtly elbowing rather than winking, directors Chris Buck (Frozen and Frozen II) and Fawn Veerasunthorn (head of story on Raya and the Last Dragon) plus screenwriters Jennifer Lee (another Frozen alum) and Allison Moore (Beacon 23) ensure that their audience has the mega media corporation's other fare in their heads. It's a dangerous strategy, calling out other movies if the feature doing the calling out is by-the-numbers at best, and it does Wish no favours. No one might've been actively thinking "I wish I was watching a different Disney movie instead" if they weren't pushed in that direction by the flick itself, but once that idea sweeps in it never floats away.

While the importance and power of dreams is Wish's main theme, the film forgot to have many itself. If it hoped to be a generic inspiration-touting fairy-tale musical, however, that fantasy was granted. Ariana DeBose (West Side Story) and Chris Pine (Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves) star as teenager Asha and all-powerful sorcerer Magnifico, respectively. The latter created the kingdom of Rosas as a sanctuary to protect people's wishes, which hover in his castle — but he's stingy with granting them. When Asha discovers that the land's sovereign isn't as benevolent as he seems, then wishes on a star that becomes her beaming friend (and makes her goat Valentino talk, sporting the voice of Peter Pan & Wendy's Alan Tudyk), she decides to topple his rule and free the deepest desires of her fellow townsfolk. Oscar-winner DeBose brings her best to the movie's songs, which would've fallen flat and proven forgettable in anyone else's hands, but they're the most vivid part of a film that starts with the storybook cliche, leans too heavily on chattering critters and can't match its classic look with an instant-classic picture.

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TWO TICKETS TO GREECE

Laure Calamy is heading away again. In Full Time, France's current go-to actor could only dream of a getaway. Around that career-best performance, however, she's trekked with a donkey in Antoinette in the Cévennes, enjoyed family reunions on Côte d'Azur island Porquerolles in The Origin of Evil and now holidays on the Balkan Peninsula in the likeable-enough Two Tickets to Greece. Her latest packs more than a few other familiar elements into its suitcase: chalk-and-cheese protagonists, midlife crises, confronting the past, seizing the future, reviving old friendships, making new pals and finding oneself. Writer/director Marc Fitoussi, who reteams with Calamy after Call My Agent!, knows that every trip swims or sinks based on the company, though. He explores that very idea in his narrative, and has the film live it via Calamy as the chaotic Magalie, Olivia Côte (The Rose Maker, and also in Antoinette in the Cévennes) as her strait-laced childhood bestie Blandine — who she hasn't seen for decades after a teenage falling out — and an against-type-and-loving-it Kristin Scott Thomas (Slow Horses) as the go-with-the-flow Bijou.

Scott Thomas puts in such an earthy-yet-layered performance as Magalie's friend, who lives the island life in Mykonos with artist Dimitris (Panos Koronis, The Lost Daughter), that Two Tickets to Greece is a better movie once she's on-screen. It's a more-rounded film, relying less on an odd-couple dynamic — even though both Calamy and Côte perfect their parts. Fitoussi first introduces his main duo as high-schoolers (Les invisibles' Marie Mallia and Vise le coeur's Leelou Laridan) who obsessively adore 1988 diving drama The Big Blue. They only meet again as adults after Blandine's son Benjamin (Alexandre Desrousseaux, Standing Up) pushes them back into each other's lives out of worry for his divorced-and-unhappy-about-it mum. He's meant to be going to Greece with his mother, in fact, but soon the erratic and impulsive Magalie has his ticket. Their destination is Armogos, The Big Blue's setting, although every detour that can redirect the pair's sun-dappled path away from a stock-standard luxe hotel stay — ferry mishaps, cute surfers, dancing on restaurant tables, island-hopping, big fights, hard truths, health scares and the like — does.

Published on December 26, 2023 by Sarah Ward
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