The Thanksgiving weekend doesn’t just herald big business for stores. It’s also the starting gun for the annual holiday movie season that will flood theaters with high-profile pictures between now and the end of the year. As a result, this week sees a bountiful harvest of new and noteworthy films — and “Frozen” (PG) leads the pack.
An animated film from Disney, “Frozen” wasn’t screened in advance in our area but has drawn wild early acclaim from critics. Like many Disney ’toons, this one is based on a fairy tale – Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” to be exact.
Kristin Bell (still best known for TV’s “Veronica Mars”) and Broadway diva Idina Menzel play princesses Anna and Elsa. Elsa, the eldest, is set to become queen but is cursed with an uncontrollable magic ability to create snow and ice. Those powers accidentally create a permanent winter that drives Elsa into seclusion — and it’s up to Anna, a mountain man named Kristoff and his reindeer Sven to join forces and find her.
I think it’s against the law to cast Menzel in a movie unless that movie is a musical — and based on early reports, look for Broadway-style numbers and a strong visual style to be among the movie’s highlights. But even if “Frozen” leaves you cold, there’s bound to be something in area theaters to suit your tastes. Here’s the rundown on the rest of the week’s new films:
“Black Nativity” (PG) – Kasi Lemmons is an exceptional (and tragically underemployed) director, and after “Eve’s Bayou” and “The Caveman’s Valentine,” I’ll watch any film with her name on it. Her latest, a musical adaptation of Langston Hughes’ 1961 play, follows a Baltimore teen (Jacob Latimore) forced to spend the holidays with extended family in New York City — including his grandfather (Forest Whitaker), a by-The-Book reverend whose earnestness creates oil-and-water conflict with the young out-of-towner. Angela Bassett and Tyrese Gibson also star.
“The Book Thief” (PG-13) — Mixed buzz has greeted this adaptation of the 2005 Markus Zusak novel about a young girl (Sophie Nélisse) and her awkward relationship with foster parents (Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson) amid the chaos of World War II-era Germany. Even the film’s marketing is uncertain: When ads boast of it being “from the studio that brought you ‘Life of Pi’” — as if a studio makes the artistic choices for a film — they’re clearly hurting for nice things to say.
“Homefront” (R) – Gary Fleder (“Runaway Jury”) directs this new Jason Statham film, with the action star playing a former DEA agent, now retired with his daughter to an out-of-the-way bayou setting. He runs into trouble with a local drug dealer (James Franco) and things turn violent, because that’s what happens in Jason Statham films. Statham isn’t known for breaking into song, you know. Also starring Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder.
Page 2 of 2 - “Oldboy” (R) — Here’s a controversial arrival for film buffs: Spike Lee’s remake of the legendary 2003 Korean revenge picture from Park Chan-wook. Josh Brolin stars as a man who is kidnapped and mysteriously imprisoned — only to be set free, just as mysteriously, 20 years later. He wants answers, and he wants his life back, but neither goal will be easy — or violence-free. With Elizabeth Olsen (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”), Sharlto Copley (“District 9”) and Samuel L. Jackson.
“Philomena” (PG-13) – In a crowded year for potential Best Actress nominees, what does it say that Judi Dench is being put on the Oscar shortlist by critics who have seen this film? She plays a Irish woman who sets out to find the out-of-wedlock son she was forced to give up 50 years earlier; Steve Coogan (“Ruby Sparks,” “The Other Guys”) is the British journalist who joins her on her hunt through a half-century of history. Stephen Frears (“The Queen,” “Dangerous Liaisons”) directs.
Erich Van Dussen’s film reviews have been featured in newspapers and magazines, on the radio, and online for more than 20 years. He lives in the Finger Lakes region.