Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Music makes the best Christmas magic in new movie offerings

So, you going to the movies for Christmas? Then follow the melodies (and these capsule reviews) that might help draw you into northeast Ohio theaters this holiday weekend.

A mom (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) with 25 piglets is a"Sing" scene-stealer.

"Sing" ($ $ $ $ out of $5): The highlight film of this day will start toes tapping from the get-go in a family-filled romp about an entertainment-oriented koala who runs a singing competition for an an assortment of talented animals. It's simply terrific, animated fun. (Rated "PG" and starring the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Tori Kelly, Jennifer Hudson and many others)

"Assassin's Creed" ($ $ and 1/2): Only legitimate video gamers might care that the ending lends itself to sequels, but we'll give it some extra points for actually playing a tad better than we thought it might. Considerable trimming (to under two hours) from an original 140-minute running time obviously helps, too. (Rated "PG-13" and starring, believe it or not, Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons)

"Passengers" ($ $): This one offers a tie between boring and absurd and a concept that must have been initiated on the heels of the huge success of 2013's "Gravity." Talk about giving new meaning to being lost in space. (Rated "PG-13" and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt and Michael Sheen, with cameos from a couple of aging actors who might have gained a few pounds during the movie's much-discussed hibernation process)


"La La Land" ($ $ $ $ $): I first saw this Tinseltown fantasy/musical/romance in September at the Toronto International Film Festival and loved it, then saw it again a few weeks ago and embraced it even more. Now the ideal Christmas Day release gives the gift of its ever-engaging lead couple, music and director Damien Chazelle's surefire Oscar-bound craftsmanship for all to behold. (Rated "PG-13" and starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt and John Legend)

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis show off their chops in "Fences."
"Fences" ($ $ $ $):  Despite its minimal Pittsburgh locales, this Denzel Washington-directed take on August Wilson's 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning play still looks, feels and sounds like a stage production. However, that doesn't mean that the words, written for the screen by Wilson before his death in 2005 and spit out by a mostly bitter garbage man (Washington), aren't as racially relevant today as they were in its '50s story. The ensemble acting is damn powerful, too, with Viola Davis a mortal lock for Best Supporting Actress as the put-upon wife. (Rated "PG-13" and starring Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson and Mykelti Williamson)

"Lion" ($ $ $ and 1/2): Truth-based lost-and-found stories such as this usually feature dogs or cats. Here, though, it's the rather slow, if moving tale of a poor, 5-year-old Indian boy who falls asleep in a train station and winds up in Calcutta, more than 1,500 miles from home. Of course, for Hollywood purposes, all the players get movie-star looks, except for the usually stunning Nicole Kidman, as an oddly plain mom. In fact, even the character she portrays seems a lot more lovely during a closing montage of the real people involved in it all. (Rated "PG-13" and starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara and charming little Sunny Pawar)

Check out more of John's ratings for most current releases at left.

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