Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Out: Now screening (M, 134 minutes)
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn
Outline: Set in the day and hours before 1977’s original Star Wars, the first side story from the now Disney-owned galaxy far, far away is a dry heister thriller that becomes a war movie about the necessity of sacrifice, with the rebels led by the wayward Jyn Erso (Jones) and the wary Cassian Andor (Luna). Great supporting cast includes Ben Mendelsohn as the villain and Alan Tudyk voicing a sardonic droid.
Adult Irritation Potential: Come on, it’s Star Wars – you want to go, even if it’s just for the brief Darth Vader scenes. But the digitally reanimated Peter Cushing, as Grand Moff Tarkin, is haunting for all the wrong reasons.
Out: December 26 (PG, 107 minutes)
Director: Ron Clements & John Musker
Cast: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Jemaine Clement, Temuera Morrison
Outline: Disney updates its long line of animated princesses, in this Polynesian-themed adventure about a plucky young royal, Moana (Cravalho), who sails the unfamiliar Pacific to save her island home by finding and refocusing a disgraced demi-god, Maui (Johnson). Adversity is bettered, self-belief rediscovered, and the technical departments do exemplary work. Plus it works for a variety of ages.
Adult Irritation Potential: Very slight – this is a pleasing update of the Disney template and instead of an unrelenting belter like “Let it Go”, the best song is a David Bowie homage titled “Shiny” that Flight of the Conchords star Jemaine Clement delivers delightfully.
Red Dog: True Blue
Out: December 26 (PG, 88 minutes)
Director: Kriv Stenders
Cast: Phoenix, Levi Miller, Bryan Brown, Jason Isaacs
Outline: The hit 2011 Australian family film about a mining town’s beloved kelpie has been pushed into children’s territory for this 1969-set sequel, with Red Dog (Phoenix, stepping in for the late Koko) now the companion of a boy (Pan star Miller) adjusting to life on the West Australian cattle station owned by his grandfather (Brown). Director Kriv Stenders and screenwriter Daniel Taplitz return, with an odd mix of cultural awareness and corporate cameos.
Adult Irritation Potential: Minimal, but True Blue is certainly more of a coming-of-age tale than a four-legged adventure, and it loses something in that transition.
Out: December 26 (G, 108 minutes)
Directors: Garth Jennings & Christophe Lourdelet
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Seth MacFarlane
Outline: This is all you need to know: “Matthew McConaughey plays Buster Moon, an optimistic koala.” More? In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a struggling theatre owner (McConaughey) launches a singing competition that draws in an overworked pig who has 25 piglets to raise (Witherspoon), a mouse with Sinatra ambitions (MacFarlane), and a punk rock porcupine (Johansson). The show most definitely will go on.
Adult Irritation Potential: This could depend on McConaughey’s accent – and whether he slips in any lines from True Detective. The soundtrack sees the cast belting our diverse hits from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”.
The Edge of Seventeen
Out: January 5 (M, 104 minutes)
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Blake Jenner
Outline: This is a smart, emotionally rich comic-drama – for teenagers at the upper end of the adolescent scale – about a 17-year-old American high school student, Nadine (Steinfeld), whose fragile equilibrium is shattered when her best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), starts going out with her older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner). Caught up in confusion and uncertainty, Nadine pinballs from one possibility to the next, with only a very calm teacher (Harrelson) as her sounding board.
Adult Irritation Potential: Are you ready to have serious discussions with your teenager? Because that’s what this frank film, with its echoes of Pretty in Pink and Say Anything, is going to inspire.
Out: January 12 (G, 89 minutes)
Directors: Eric Summer & Eric Warin
Cast: Elle Fanning, Dane DeHaan, Maddie Ziegler
Outline: A dreams can come true digitally animated children’s fantasy about a pair of young friends from rural Brittany, hopeful dancer Felicie (Fanning) and budding inventor Victor (DeHaan) who run off to 1879 Paris where the bustling city soon separates them from their optimism and each other. Ziegler, Sia’s teenage music video clip muse, plays a privileged rival of Felicie’s who must be bested.
Adult Irritation Potential: Could be sizable depending on your tolerance of dance movie tropes, which are always muddled when animation replaces live-action.
Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life
Out: January 12 (PG, 92 minutes)
Director: Steve Carr
Cast: Griffin Gluck, Lauren Graham, Andy Daly, Isabela Moner
Outline: Paul Blart: Mall Cop director Carr gets his Wimpy Kid on with this prank-filled tale of a new kid, Rafe (Gluck), at an American junior high school who has a run-in with his officious principal (Daly) and decides to show him up by causing 12-year-old friendly havoc. A co-conspirator (Moner) provides a very gentle romantic interest in a film that is situated more in the tween than teen market.
Adult Irritation Potential: Probable. This bracket of anti-authoritarian Hollywood entertainment is more fantasy than anything factual. Gilmore Girls (or Bad Santa) fans do get Graham as Rafe’s mother.
Out: January 12 (G, 104 minutes)
Director: Chris Wedge
Cast: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Amy Ryan
Outline: A live-action mixture of Transformers, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Goosebumps, as another American high school student, Tripp (played by Till, another 20-something American actor), befriends a strange but friendly creature that ends up becoming the super-powered engine in his previously beat-up cross-country utility. The authorities and a fellow student (Levy) become involved, as the teens make the most of their mischievous motor.
Adult Irritation Potential: Decent, as the vehicular mayhem may well overpower the storytelling. Then again, if loopy conspiracy theories are your thing, you could read the plot as a plea for an oil-free future.
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