Genre: Animated Fantasy
Director: Chris Buck (Surf's Up), Jennifer Lee
Starring: (Voices) Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan TudykThe Story: A newly crowned queen — with the ability to freeze things — plunges her country into perpetual winter. The Lowdown: It's certainly dazzling to look at, but apart from the presence of two female leads and no real male hero, it's pretty standard Disney fare, decked out in a largely forgettable, but occasionally irritating, songs. Not a bad movie, but far from a great one.
Director: Gary Fleder (Don’t Say a Word)
Starring: Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth, Izabela VidovicThe Story: A former Drug Enforcement Administration agent gets on the wrong side of a small-time meth dealer. The Lowdown: An unfortunately straight-faced actioner that never embraces its own inherent trashiness.
Genre: Holiday Musical
Director: Kasi Lemmons (Talk to Me)
Starring: Jacob Latimore, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Tyrese GibsonThe Story: A frustrated teen is sent to Harlem for Christmas to stay with his estranged grandparents. The Lowdown: Despite a good heart and a respectful nature, the film lacks visual flare, has no memorable songs and relies too much on contrivances and melodrama.
Director: Ken Scott (Starbuck)
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders, Simon Delaney, Bobby MoynihanThe Story: A deadbeat who donated sperm over 600 times in the ‘90s discovers that he has more than 500 children, with a hundred or so wanting to track him down. The Lowdown: While a low-key performance from Vince Vaughn and an overall kindhearted nature help, the movie’s just too schmaltzy and can’t maintain any dramatic momentum.
Genre: Futuristic Action Thriller
Director: Francis Lawrence (Constantine)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour HoffmanThe Story: Sequel to The Hunger Games. The Lowdown: Mostly an improvement on the first film — until it gets to the action centerpiece of the game, whereupon it not only spins the same wheels, but relies too heavily on the assumption that you have seen the first movie.
Genre: WWII Drama
Director: Brian Percival
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nélisse, Ben Schnetzer, Nico Liersch, Barbara AuerThe Story: Story of a young girl living with a foster family in Nazi Germany. The Lowdown: Old-fashioned, a little stolid and safe, but well made and generally effective drama with some terrific performances that make up for most of its shortcomings.
Genre: Melodramatic Comedy
Director: Malcolm D. Lee (Roll Bounce)
Starring: Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Terrence Howard, Harold PerrineauThe Story: A group of old friends reunite for a week together during the holidays. The Lowdown: A mostly pleasant film that’s just too long and too melodramatic to work.
Genre: Comic Book Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Director: Alan Taylor
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Anthony HopkinsThe Story: Norse god of thunder and superhero Thor must stop some evil elves from destroying the universe. The Lowdown: An intensely straight-faced, flatly directed, run-of-the-mill fantasy yarn with no originality and little to add to the world of cinema besides providing an advertisement for another Avengers movie.
Director: Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure)
Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary SteenburgenThe Story: A senior citizen and his three buddies reunite for a bachelor party in Las Vegas. The Lowdown: A pleasant enough comedy thanks to its cast, though it’s rarely amusing and far too one-note.
Director: J.C. Chandor (Margin Call)
Starring: Robert RedfordThe Story: A man fights for survival on a sinking boat in the middle of the ocean. The Lowdown: While it doesn't live up to the critical hype — at least not for me — this solo turn from Robert Redford is unusual fare and certainly worth a look. Bear in mind that it is one very taciturn man holding the screen for the entire length of the film.
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