Black Nativity (3.5 out of 5 stars)
Cast: Jacob Latimore, Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Tyrese Gibson, Mary J. Blige
Director: Kasi Lemmons
Rated: PG; thematic material, language and a menacing situation
Black Nativity is a musical updating of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes play, based loosely very loosely on the way Jesus of Nazareth entered the world in a manger in Bethlehem. And once it finds its footing, this variation on the Nativity story manages to be sweet enough to touch people the way Greatest Story Ever Told always has.
Credit the cast, especially the supporting players, and a sympathetic handling of the material by writer-director Kasi Lemmons (Talk to Me and Eves Bayou). They ensure that the sentimental never turns maudlin and that even the sermonizing goes down lightly.
Roger Moore, MCT
Frozen (3.5 out of 5 stars)
Cast: Voices of Kristin Bell, Idina Menzel, Ciaran Hinds, Josh Gad, Alan Tudyk, Jonathan Groff Director: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Rated: PG; some action and mild rude humor
Disney is onto something pretty cool with its latest princess picture, Frozen. Its evolving a solid story template that will give its girl movies an identity distinct from the studios boy films.
The new movie, very roughly based on Hans Christian Andersens The Snow Queen, bases its central conflict on misunderstanding rather than villainous aggression. Theres a kingdom in peril, but its fate is secondary to the threatened loss of a precious relationship. And the third act, for all its exhilarating rough-housing, is about reaffirming emotional bonds, not beating back an evildoer. This shift of emphasis gives Frozen an innovative charge that compensates for its average joke quota and undercooked musical score.
Colin Covert, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Homefront (1.5 out of 5 stars)
Cast: Jason Statham, James Franco, Kate Bosworth, Izabela Vidovic, Winona Ryder, Clancy Brown
Director: Gary Fleder
Rated: R; strong violence, pervasive language, drug content and brief sexuality
The Jason Statham vehicle Homefront is such a generic tough-guy-against-the-odds, 80s-style action flick that youd swear Sly Stallone starred in it. (He did, back in the day. Or versions of it.) From the setup ex-DEA agent who just wants to be left in peace in a meth-mad Louisiana town where they wont let sleeping DEA agents lie to the finale, its all recycled and over-familiar. But lets get to the good part: You have never seen actress/bombshell Kate Bosworth like this in a movie. She goes shrieking redneck harpy here, a regular Maury Povich/Duck Dynasty nightmare essay in trash.
Roger Moore, MCT
Nebraska (4.5 out of 5 stars)
Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach
Director: Alexander Payne
Running time: 1:50
Rated: R; some language
Its the letter everyones received. The one that gets your attention by saying youve won a million dollars but is actually all about selling magazine subscriptions. But what if someone truly believed theyd won that million? And what if that individual was your crabby, cranky and cantankerous father and he insisted on going to prize headquarters to collect his money? In person.
That, in a nutshell, is the premise of Alexander Paynes poignant and ruefully funny Nebraska. But summations cant convey the filmmaking delicacy that marries tart-tongued comedy with unexpected warmth in a story that touches on family, memory, getting old and staying alive. Plus allowing 77-year-old Bruce Dern the opportunity to give the performance of a lifetime.
Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
Oldboy (3 out of 5 stars)
Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley
Director: Spike Lee
Rated: R; strong brutal violence, disturbing images, some graphic sexuality and nudity, and language
Spike Lees new version of Chan-wook Parks searing, uberviolent 2003 hit, Oldboy, deviates in a lot of minor and a few important ways. Its still the story of a man drugged, kidnapped and locked up, with no human contact, for 20 years. He gets out, furious and foaming at the mouth for revenge.
But this new Oldboy has a much longer prologue, suggesting that Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) is enough of a drunken lout to actually deserve his life-altering fate. And theres a Hollywood-style spoon-fed epilogue that goes beyond merely explaining the reasons for what came before.
It doesnt so much ruin the movie as misunderstand certain fundamentals about why the first version worked so very well.
Roger Moore, MCT
Philomena (4 out of 5 stars)
Cast: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark
Director: Stephen Frears
Running time: 1:38
Rated: PG-13; some strong language, thematic elements and sexual references.
Ask any good chef: why do some recipes work, while others, with the very same ingredients, do not? Its the quality of the ingredients that matters, that chef will probably say.
And so it is with Stephen Frears Philomena, a film in which a cinematic recipe seems tricky at best: Take a shocking and tragic tale a true one, involving the Catholic Church, no less and make it into a film thats part serious drama, part jaunty road-buddy movie and part comedy.
Such an unwieldy mix flirts with danger, even tastelessness, but Philomena works, thanks to the quality of its ingredients especially the sensitive and nuanced performances by the ever-superb Judi Dench and by Steve Coogan, who also co-wrote the script.
Jocelyn Noveck, The Associated Press