Summaries and mini-reviews of movies playing now, from e3 magazine:
ANGELS SING. (Opens Friday ). A husband and father who dislikes Christmas must confront his past when his young son faces a tragedy. With Harry Connick Jr., Connie Britton and Chandler Canterbury. Written by Lou Berney. Directed by Tim McCanlies. (Los Angeles Times). 87 minutes. Rated PG. SAV.
BLACK NATIVITY. This holiday drama focuses on Langston (Jacob Latimore), a teenage boy who is sent by his single mother Naima (Jennifer Hudson) to live with his stern grandparents, the Rev. Cornell Cobbs and his wife (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett). Problems ensue thanks to the generation gap that exists between them, and when the young man runs away, you know a Christmas miracle is in the offing. The film has far too many predictable moments and is far too schmaltzy to be taken seriously. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 93 minutes. Rated PG. AMC, SAV.
THE BOOK THIEF. This adaptation of the best-selling novel by Markus Zusak tells of the experiences of young Liesel (Sophie Nelisse), an orphan taken in by Hans and Rosa (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) as the Nazis come to power in Germany. She finds solace in books as well as by caring for a young Jewish man (Ben Schnetzer) they are hiding. While it is obvious that director Brian Percival's intent was to make a film about the Holocaust that would be accessible to all, his approach to the subject lacks the proper gravity while the movie's overly sentimental tone does it no favors. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 131 minutes. Rated PG-13. SAV.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. Matthew McConaughey gives a dynamic performance as Ron Woodroof, a good old boy from Texas who contracts AIDS in the mid-1980s and finds himself at the forefront of a movement to provide better medical options for those who have been ignored by the government and health care establishment. Inspiring and infuriating, the film is a reminder of the negligence that occurred during this bigoted and fearful era and serves as an effective cautionary tale. McConaughey is matched by Jared Leto, who gives a heartbreaking turn as a transvestite who joins Woodroof in his fight; expect both actors to be in the hunt for end-of-the year awards. 3-1/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 117 minutes. Rated R. ART.
DELIVERY MAN. Vince Vaughn stars as an immature man who finds that due to negligence at the sperm bank where he made numerous donations, he's the biological father of more than 500 children. The film fails to build any sense of momentum as our hero sets out to connect with some of his offspring, while the script ends up insulting us by providing simple solutions to complex problems. Vaughn gives a lackluster performance, making it hard to sympathize with his character. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 103 minutes. Rated PG-13. SAV.
EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. (Starts Friday). Johnny Depp plays a character who has blades for hands — when his creator dies before finishing his project. This fable is visually intriguing, but the script is less than satisfactory. Depp turns in a good, sometimes even moving, performance; Alan Arkin and Diane Wiest almost steal the film. 3 stars (Richard Leskosky). Rated PG-13. ART.
ELF (2003). (Starts Thursday, Dec. 12). This modern holiday classic features Will Ferrell at his most sublime as Buddy, an orphan who is mistaken for an elf, grows up in Santa's North Pole workshop and then sets out to find his birth father (James Caan) in New York City. Funny without being crude, poignant without laying the sentiment on too thick, the film perfectly sums up the joy and wonder of the season. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 93 minutes. Rated PG. NOR.
FROZEN. Inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen story "The Snow Queen," this animated feature from Disney concerns a young woman named Anna (voice by Kristin Bell) and her efforts to find her sister Elsa (Idina Menzel), who has the power to create snow and ice, which she can no longer control. Smart, funny and containing some of the best songs to be found in a Disney film in recent memory, the movie succeeds in entertaining us in the grand tradition the studio has become famous for. While the film is not wholly original, the enthusiasm with which it's executed makes up for its familiarity. 3-1/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 108 minutes. Rated PG. AMC, ONA, SAV.
GRAVITY. An astronaut (George Clooney) and an engineer (Sandra Bullock) must keep their wits about them as they find themselves adrift in space after the telescope they're repairing is bombarded with debris. Director Alfonso Cuaron delivers one of the most visually spectacular films ever made, capturing the beauty and danger of space by immersing us completely in this treacherous environment. Seeing this in IMAX is required. Too bad the story isn't nearly as ambitious as it becomes obvious early on that the themes explored are as pedestrian as the visuals are groundbreaking. 3-1/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 90 minutes. Rated PG-13. SAV.
HOMEFRONT. Jason Statham stars as an ex-DEA agent who moves to a small town to settle down with his young daughter. Unfortunately, he crosses paths with a local drug lord (James Franco), and when his old instincts kick in, he goes on a rampage to clean things up. Predictable and unimaginative, this is the sort of movie where you sit wondering just how much money the talented cast got to star in this sort of disposable exercise. 2 stars (Chuck Koplnski). 100 minutes. Rated R. SAV.
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE. This second film in the "Hunger Games" franchise is a vast improvement over the first entry as director Francis Lawrence brings a sense of urgency that was missing, while the crisp pace and more serious tone sucks the audience in immediately. Katniss and Peeta (Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson), winners of the recent Hunger Games, unwittingly find themselves as symbols of revolution. As a result, the populace of Panem is clamoring for change while President Snow (Donald Sutherland) scrambles to keep the peace. Quick and smart, this sequel has a sense of purpose that keeps us engaged, even when the final death match reaches ridiculous heights. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 146 minutes. Rated PG-13. AMC, SAV.
LAST VEGAS. (Starts Friday). Five Oscar winners get together for a pseudo-comedy that won't be mentioned as a highlight in any of their filmographies. Four childhood best friends (Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline) reunite in Las Vegas when one of them decides to marry a much younger woman. Old resentments bubble to the surface, and things become complicated when they meet a lounge singer (Mary Steenburgen) that two of them try to woo. The script is as tired as the cast looks, the jokes are woefully predictable, and the story begs for our tears rather than earns them. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 105 minutes. PRI.
MYSTERY CHRISTMAS TV SPECIAL SHOW. (Wednesday). Two legendary (and secret) Christmas TV specials. One of the best and one of the worst. 120 minutes. Not rated. ART.
NOEL COWARD'S PRIVATE LIVES FROM LONDON'S WEST END. (Wednesday). Following a sold-out run at Chichester Festival Theatre, the 1930s comedy was pre-recorded at London's Gielgud Theatre and will feature an exclusive behind-the-scenes experience with cast and crew, combined with a special celebrity featurette exploring the continuing allure of Noel Coward. SAV.
OUT OF THE FURNACE. (Opens Friday). Christian Bale delivers a moving performance as Russell Baze, a blue-collar working stiff who sets out to find his brother (Casey Affleck), who has gone missing after getting involved in a bare-knuckle fighting ring led by Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson, at his most menacing). The script lays far too many tragedies at its main character's feet, stretching its logic to the limit. However, Bale saves the film with his subtle, affecting turn as he gives us a man who struggles to maintain his moral center as fate continually conspires against him. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 116 minutes. Rated R. SAV.
PHILOMENA. Judi Dench stars in the title role of this true story about a woman who sets out to find her son whom she gave up for adoption some 50 years earlier. This adaptation of the book by reporter Martin Sixsmith is not only a gripping mystery and fierce indictment of the Catholic Church but also a heartwarming story of love and perseverance. Surprisingly, it's quite funny as well as Dench and Steve Coogan as Sixsmith provide a surprising rapport that keeps the film grounded. An unexpected delight. 3-1/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 98 minutes. Rated PG-13. SAV.
SCARY NORMAL. (Tuesday). Chelsea just wants to be a typical teen, but her stepdad's life making low-budget indie horror films surrounds her with an array of wild characters who leave her embarrassed and frustrated. When she meets Danielle, a fiery young lesbian rejected by her own family, they form a bond that allows Chelsea to re-evaluate her desire for a life that is nothing more than ordinary and come to appreciate her wacky family. Written by Hot Diggity Productions. 95 minutes. Not rated. Release party for local filmmaker Jennifer Bechtel. ART.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD. Chris Hemsworth returns as the god of thunder who must do battle with an ancient enemy (the Dark Elves), grapple with his love for an earthling (the luminous Jane Foster) and take an untrustworthy foe as an ally (his half brother Loki). Following the Marvel Films' formula to the letter, the film has the proper amount of spectacle, pathos and humor to deliver a rousing entertainment that will satisfy loyal fans and perhaps convert those who have been on the fence where superhero films are concerned. 3-1/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 120 minutes. AMC, SAV.
12 YEARS A SLAVE. Steve McQueen's lacerating look at America's Peculiar Institution is unflinching in its portrayal of American slavery in the 19th century as it recounts the tragic misadventures of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a black man born free but then abducted and sold into slavery in the South. The film pulls no punches in its depiction of the physical and psychological cruelty meted out to the characters in question nor in the way it indicts those who stand idly by as moral atrocities occur. A film long overdue that, while difficult to watch, should be required viewing for all. 4 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated R. 134 minutes. AMC.
WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954). Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby star as a song-and-dance duo who team with a sister act (Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen) to save an inn from foreclosure that's owned by their former commanding officer (Dean Jagger). Complications, romance and many musical numbers ensue in this holiday classic that gets by on the charm of its cast and the great Irving Berlin songs. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 120 minutes. Not rated. NOR.