Niagara Gazette

December 4, 2013

CALLERI: Three movie choices beckon your holiday dollar

By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — As you fret about how soon Christmas will arrive, worry about the perfect gift for someone in your family, and wonder whether or not you’re going to send greeting cards, you may want to hide from it all in a movie theater.

Here’s a look at three new films that might have piqued your interest.

“Black Nativity” ranks as one of the strangest Christmas movies I’ve seen. It’s an earnest melodrama about faith and redemption that is so sugarcoated, it’s as if someone simply stuck a candy cane in my stomach without allowing me to slowly savor it.

The movie’s story is as old as a story can be. A single-mom loses her house. She sends her young son to live with her parents in another city as she tries to save her home. The son fights with his grandparents and demands to know who his father is. He’s lurking in the shadows. To this you should add Christmas Eve, the story of Mary and Joseph, a priceless stolen pocket watch, a pawn shop, a kindhearted cop, and a full gospel choir. 

I won’t reveal how it all ends, but you’d have to be numb not to know. What’s interesting is that as odd and clunky as “Black Nativity” is, it reaches a musical power that might actually stir you out of your numbness. It’s the music that gets to you. Songs and dancing abound.  

The film, which is set mostly in the Harlem section of Manhattan, is loosely based on a 1961 Off-Broadway drama with music by the legendary playwright and poet Langston Hughes. The cast is outstanding. The child’s grandparents are Forest Whitaker as a gruff minister and Angela Bassett as his soothing wife. Add Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Hudson, Vonde Curtis-Hall, Tyrese Gibson, and Jacob Latimore as the young boy, also named Langston. 

The movie is as light as a feather, but it does reach a crescendo in a Harlem church where hymns fill the air and the various plot threads are tied together. You accept its simplicity, but you wish it had reached for the rafters throughout.

The early box office has been stellar for “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” which has a pre-sold audience of teenagers who’ve read the books on which the movie series is based. This episode is the second of what will ultimately be four films. There are only three novels by Suzanne Collins, but Hollywood never relinquishes the chance to milk a cash cow; therefore, the third book will spawn two movies.

I wasn’t a fan of the first film, simply called “The Hunger Games,” primarily because I was bored by its theme of children killing children in some future fantasy world in which chaos has reigned and some bossy chief executive loves watching games played with real bows and arrows. 

It didn’t help that in the initial entry, the sets and action looked cheesy and the acting was unbelievable, especially the work of a very bland non-entity named Josh Hutcherson. He plays Peeta Mellark, a lad involved in the silly violence-as-entertainment war games with a lass named Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence who, though she may have an Oscar for “Silver Linings Playbook,” has yet to convince me that she’s worth all the fuss. I still think her best performance was in “Winter’s Bone” from 2010. 

Lawrence, Hutcherson, and more kids killing kids are back in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” and while watching it, I thought I was watching Part One. It’s practically the same movie, only this time around flames shoot out of the bodies of these pubescent gladiators. The special effects are sloppy and young Mr. Hutcherson still can’t create a character. 

Ms. Lawrence is called upon to represent teenage womanhood, which she does with a glare and a sour puss on her face. When the director called for “action,” he must have also said: “Don’t smile.” The movie’s not campy enough to be fun. It’s serial overload, certainly not worth any adult’s time.

Jason Statham is an entertaining action star, who I especially enjoyed in “The Transporter,” “The Bank Job,” and “Parker.” I like the fact that he’s willing to take small parts as bad guys in films such as “Cellular” and “Collateral.” 

Alas, Statham falters with “Homefront,” a by-the-numbers action picture written by Sylvester Stallone. Yes, Rocky himself. Statham is a former DEA agent who runs afoul of meth dealers. We then jump ahead. He’s now retired and living a quite life with his young daughter in rural Louisana. However, he again finds himself involved with menacing meth-heads, including James Franco. 

“Homefront” carts out too many character stereotypes and action clichés and never quite pulls itself out of its hole of familiarity. I still like Statham, but he loses some luster here. 

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at