Animals Emerge as Unsung Heroes in Animated Version of the Birth of Christ
Most movies based on the Bible have limited appeal beyond the faithful, because the stories are ordinarily dry adaptations basically recounting popular parables in a straightforward fashion. A novel exception to the rule is The Star, an animated reimagining of the Nativity.
What makes the production unique is that it unfolds from the point of view of a gang of anthropomorphic barnyard animals that apparently played a critical role in the birth of the Christ child. Who knew? Bo the donkey (Steve Yeun) is the ringleader of the meandering menagerie ultimately huddled around the manger in the iconic crèche tableau everybody knows.
Furthermore, instead of serving up a purely pious plotline, this relatively-lighthearted revision features a lot of humorous asides, much of it coming courtesy of a trash-talking camel played by the irrepressible Tracy Morgan (“Three wise men don’t get lost!”). Betwixt and between all the wisecracks, we witness the assorted ordeals of Joseph the Carpenter (Zachary Levi) and the Virgin Mary (Gina Rodriguez) as they negotiate the perilous gauntlet from Nazareth to a sacred stable in Bethlehem, in accordance with New Testament lore.
Think of The Star as an irreverent cross of Shrek (2001) and The Nativity Story (2006). The movie marks the noteworthy directorial debut of Timothy Reckhart, who recruited a big name cast that included Oprah, Tyler Perry, Mariah Carey, Ving Rhames, Anthony Anderson and televangelist Joel Osteen.
To make sure you get the Christmas spirit, the score has been stocked with a profusion of holiday classics, starting with the familiar strains of “Carol of the Bells.” If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s the catchy tune now better known as the “Give-a-Give-a-Give-a-Garmin” jingle from the GPS commercial. Also on the soundtrack are such standards as “O Holy Night,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “We Three Kings” and “Ave Maria.”
The Nativity revisited as a kiddie cartoon adventure guaranteed to enthrall tykes of any race, color or creed.
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG for mature themes
Running time: 86 minutes
Production Studio: Affirm Films / The Jim Henson Company / Walden media
Distributor: Sony Pictures Animation
Cory Hardrict Stars as Both a Gangsta and an Architect in Alternate Reality, Sci-Fi Saga
Sheed Smith (Cory Hardrict) is a drug dealer roaming Detroit’s mean streets in a bloody turf war being waged in the ‘hood where he was raised. Meanwhile, his doppelganger, Rasheed Smith (also Cory Hardrict), is an idealistic architect overseeing an urban renewal project designed to revitalize the same ghetto.
However, the two look-a-likes’ paths never cross. That’s because they exist in parallel universes. You see, Destined is one of those “What if?” affairs set in a couple of alternate realities. Thus, we are able to compare bad boy Sheed’s fate to that of his straitlaced alter-ego.
The picture was written and directed by Qasim Basir, who made a spectacular directorial debut in 2010 with the relatively-moving, Mooz-lum. This disappointing sophomore offering earns an A for ambition, if only a C for execution.
Cory Hardrict stars as both Sheed and Rasheed in a split screen saga that flits back and forth between storylines that never intersect. Unfortunately, neither plot is well enough developed to fully engage the viewer.
I suppose Basir was too in love with his bifurcated, sci-fi script to consider jettisoning one-half and fleshing out the other into a full-length feature. Instead, we’re treated to a one-trick pony that repeatedly illustrates the diverging fates of a guy who kept his nose clean and that of an identical stranger who ventured to the dark side.
An amusing idea that runs out of steam not long after the premise is established.
Fair (1.5 stars)
Running time: 91 minutes
Production Studio: Whitewater Films / Tilted Windmill Productions / Confluential Films
Distributor: XLrator Media
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening Nov. 24, 2017
BIG BUDGET FILMS
Coco (PG for mature themes) Animated musical fantasy revolving around a 12-year-old wannabe mariachi musician (Anthony Gonzalez) who runs away from home accompanied by a trash-talking trickster (Gael Garcia Bernal) after his disapproving parents deliberately destroy his beloved guitar. Voice cast includes Benjamin Britt, Edward James Olmos and Renee Victor. (In English and Spanish with subtitles.)
Molly’s Game (R for profanity, drug use and some violence) Jessica Chastain plays the title character in a biopic chronicling the rise and fall of Molly Bloom, the Olympic skier-turned-gambler who ran a high-stakes poker game for a decade until the FBI brought down the operation. A-list cast includes Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Graham Greene and Chris O’Dowd.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Unrated) Revealing retrospective about the Jewish matinee idol-turned-inventor (1914-2000) who fled Austria and helped the Allies defeat the Nazis by developing a deadly-accurate, radio guidance system for torpedoes. Featuring commentary by Mel Brooks, Diane Kruger and Peter Bogdanovich.
Brimstone & Glory (Unrated) Visually-captivating documentary, shot in Tultepec, Mexico, celebrating the compelling appeal and beauty of elaborate fireworks displays. (In Spanish with subtitles)
Call Me By Your Name (R for sexuality, nudity and some profanity) Homoerotic, coming-of-age tale, set in Italy in 1983, about a 17-year-old (Timothee Chalamet) who develops a crush on his dad’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) doctoral student (Armie Hammer) spending the summer at the family’s villa. With Amira Casar, Esther Garrel and Victoire Du Bois. (In English, Italian, French and German with subtitles.)
Darkest Hour (PG-13 for mature themes) World War II docudrama, set during the early days of the conflict, recounting how British Prime Minster Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) rallied the nation to prepare for an invasion as the Nazis rolled across the rest of Europe. With Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn and Kristin Scott Thomas.
Eric Clapton: A Life in 12 Bars (Unrated) Reverential rocktrospective featuring commentary about the blues guitar legend by late colleagues like B.B. King, George Harrison and Jimi Hendrix, courtesy of archival footage.
The Man Who Invented Christmas (PG for mature themes and mild epithets) Adaptation off Lee Standiford’s best-seller of the same name crediting Charles Dickens’ (Dan Stevens) A Christmas Carol for the cultural shift that turned a religious holiday into a gift-giving season. Featuring Christopher Plummer as Ebenezer Scrooge.
Mr. Roosevelt (Unrated) Offbeat comedy about a fledgling comedienne (Noel Wells) who moves back to Austin from Hollywood to care for her cat when informed by her ex-boyfriend (Nick Thune) that it has fallen seriously ill. With Britt Lower, Daniella Pineda and Andre Hyland.
What Happened in Vegas (Unrated) Eye-opening documentary exposing the Las Vegas Police Department’s widespread practice of covering up corruption and police brutality.