“Black Nativity,” Grade A-minus: “Black Nativity” rises above the standard holiday film because of the strong writing, acting and music. There’s always going to be a certain amount of sentimentality that comes with such emotional redemption tales. That’s cushioned by the smart choices director Kasi Lemmons makes.
The standard approach to this kind of story is to have the protagonist already well down the path of sin. Bringing someone back from such a long and winding road often feels manipulative or forced. Because Lemmons quickly shows that the film’s central figure has a good heart and is only facing bad decisions, the transformation that eventually comes feels real and grounded.
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Grade: B-minus: A timid magazine worker goes on a true-life adventure. Ben Stiller stars as Mitty, a man who has lived most of his life dreaming of adventure. That’s the nature of Mitty.
Despite the film’s endearing qualities, it loses its way when Mitty goes from dreamer to doer. It is a beautifully shot movie.
“Nut Job,” Grade C: The film is strictly fun for kids. They will go nuts for the tale. But adults, they may just go nuts waiting for the rather redundant comic humor to end.
“The Nut Job” is filled with colorful woodland creatures that inhabit an idyllic park. Winter’s coming and they are dangerously low on food. A new supply is needed, especially when squirrel loner Surly (voiced by Will Arnett) puts an even bigger damper on the winter menus.
“The Invisible Woman,” Grade B: The film shows how Charles Dickens was living a life of great expectations as the perfect father who was also sharing his love with a mistress, Ellen Ternan, better known as Nelly.
The film, directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes as the Victorian writer, lovingly turns back the pages on Dickens’ life to show the emotional turmoil that he faced. Fiennes crafts a film that is content to walk around the edges of events so that the focus is more cerebral and less sexual. It’s presented much the same way a novel during the Victorian Era would treat salacious elements, with more innuendo than direct examination.
“Philomena”: Judi Dench plays a woman searching for her son.
“Better Living Through Chemistry”: Pharmacist starts a drug-and-alcohol-fueled affair.
“Midsomer Murders: Village Case Files”: The English village mystery gets a contemporary spin in this TV series.
“Ride Along”: High school security guard (Kevin Hart) must prove his worth on patrol.
“Boys of Abu Ghraib”: American soldier forms bond with a prisoner he’s guarding.
“Barney: Happy Birthday Barney!”: Kids throw Barney a birthday party.
“The Practice: The Final Season”: Legal drama that paved the way for “Boston Legal.”
“Camp Dread”: Director wants to resurrect summer camp horror genre.
“Making of a Lady”: Educated but penniless Emily Fox Seton (Lydia Wilson) struggles with love.
“Thomas & Friends: Railway Mischief”: There’s trouble on the tracks.
“Saint Seiya: Sanctuary”: Follows five mystical warriors called the “Saints.”
“Ripper Street: Season Two”: The job of protecting London’s Whitechapel district has never been harder for Detective Inspector Edmund Reid.
“Flowers In The Attic”: Mother hides four siblings in the attic.
“The Gabby Douglas Story”: Recounts how Douglas overcame obstacles to win Olympic gold.
Rick Bentley, The Fresno Bee