After the turkey, hit the theater

November 27, 2013 

Film Review Frozen

This image released by Disney shows Elsa the Snow Queen, voiced by Idina Menzel, in a scene from the animated feature "Frozen."

AP

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

Time: 1:34

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 “Eve’s 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

Time: 1:42

Rated: PG; some action and mild rude humor

Disney is onto something pretty cool with its latest princess picture, “Frozen.” It’s evolving a solid story template that will give its girl movies an identity distinct from the studio’s boy films.

The new movie, very roughly based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” bases its central conflict on misunderstanding rather than villainous aggression. There’s 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

Time: 1:40

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 you’d 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 won’t let sleeping DEA agents lie — to the finale, it’s all recycled and over-familiar. But let’s 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

It’s the letter everyone’s received. The one that gets your attention by saying you’ve won a million dollars but is actually all about selling magazine subscriptions. But what if someone truly believed they’d 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 Payne’s poignant and ruefully funny “Nebraska.” But summations can’t 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

Time: 1:34

Rated: R; strong brutal violence, disturbing images, some graphic sexuality and nudity, and language

Spike Lee’s new version of Chan-wook Park’s searing, uberviolent 2003 hit, “Oldboy,” deviates in a lot of minor and a few important ways. It’s 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 there’s a Hollywood-style spoon-fed epilogue that goes beyond merely “explaining” the reasons for what came before.

It doesn’t 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? It’s 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 that’s 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

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