One of Disney’s best movies and a soulful father-son drama are the best of a busy Thanksgiving weekend at the multiplex.
“Frozen” is Disney’s latest animated feature, and it’s a beautiful mix of new technology and old-school Disney storytelling. It’s a full-on fairy-tale musical, with two princesses -- one (voiced by Idina Menzel) with powers of making ice and snow, the other (voiced by Kristen Bell) trying to rebuild their sisterly bond after years of separation. The animated ice effects are gorgeous, the songs (by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez) are moving, and the story is well-paced and heartwarming.
Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” is a simple story of an addled father, Woody (Bruce Dern), and his put-upon son, David (Will Forte), who take a road-trip from Billings, Mont., to Lincoln, Neb., to pursue a sweepstakes prize that the father is sure he won. Payne tells the movie with stark black-and-white photography that matches the unvarnished emotions in this troubled father-son relationship. Dern and Forte are excellent, as is June Squibb as Woody’s blunt-talking wife.
“Philomena” is another two-for-the-road comedy drama, this one involving an elderly Irish woman (Judi Dench) looking for the son she gave up for adoption 50 years earlier and the jaded journalist (Steve Coogan, who co-wrote the script) who helps in the search. The script is a sweet-and-sour affair, with some harsh criticism of the Catholic church (and the nuns who called Philomena sinful and profited from the child’s adoption) balanced by the warm relationship between the woman and the writer.
“The Book Thief” is a World War II drama that takes on the thankless task of providing a child’s-eye view of the Third Reich, with an orphaned German girl (Sophie Nélisse) who is taken in by an older couple (Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson). She witnesses a Nazi book-burning, and discovers the joy of reading -- which she uses later to befriend a young Jewish man (Ben Schnetzer) who her foster parents hide in the basement. The drama is heavy-handed and pretentious, to the point of making Death the narrator, but the performances — particularly Rush and Nélisse — are touching.
If your tastes aren’t so lofty, there’s “Homefront,” a fairly bloody action thriller starring Jason Statham as a retired DEA agent who has relocated to a quiet Louisiana town with his daughter (Izabela Vidovic). But when he upsets the locals, he becomes the target of a nasty meth dealer (James Franco). This adaptation of a Chuck Logan novel, scripted by Sylvester Stallone (whom you could imagine in the lead role 20 years ago), is slightly more grounded than the average Statham movie, and it’s interesting seeing Franco treating this role as part of the perpetual performance-art piece that is his career.
Lastly, there’s the drama “Black Nativity.” It’s an adaptation of Langston Hughes’ musical drama, about a single mom (Jennifer Hudson) sending her teen son (Jacob Latimore) to live with her strict parents (Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett). The Tribune’s colleague Scott D. Pierce reviewed the film, and found it rather basic, in spite of the stellar cast.