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Kyla’s Movie Review New chapters anticipated in ‘The Hunger Games’ franchise

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (PG-13) - Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Sam Claflin, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Jenna Malone, Sam Clafin and Jeffrey Wright. This is based on the novel by Suzanne Collins. This is the sequel to the original 2012 film, “The Hunger Games.” The movie picks up where the last one left off. Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Hutcherson), having won the 74th annual Hunger Games, are now expected to tour the various districts, playing the roles set for them by the dictatorial President Snow (Sutherland). However Katniss, who saved herself and Peeta by threatening suicide if they didn’t both “win,” has become a symbol of defiance. Worse, in Snow’s eyes, she’s become a symbol of hope. Snow believes she must be destroyed and the new Game Master (Hoffman) has just the thing: the 75th Hunger Games will be a special edition consisting of past champions. Out of necessity, the movie spends time recapitulating the pregame ceremonies and the game itself, but those wanting to see more spectacle or more violence (many of the deaths occur off-screen) are missing the point. They are like the decadent residents of Capitol City — the 1 percent, if you will — whose lives of luxury and laziness are built on the suffering of everyone else. Halfway through a proposed four-film cycle, this has proven to be one of the few franchises where additional chapters are anticipated rather than merely accepted. RATING: B+

BLACK NATIVITY (PG) - Starring Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Tyrese Gibson, Jacob Latimore and Mary J. Blige. This is based on the off-Broadway play by poet Langston Hughes. Youngster Jacob Latimore plays Langston Cobbs, a man-child coming of age in Baltimore. He’s starting to push the limits, but is also dedicated to mother Naima (Hudson). When they are served an eviction notice as Christmas approaches, hardworking Naima puts Jacob on a bus to stay with her estranged parents. Langston leaves the city of “The Wire,” headed to the one-time hub of African American cultural life. On that bus, he and a fellow passenger sing one of the movie’s songs, an update on the traditional spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” The teen may feel like a motherless kid, but he’s about to meet the grandparents. Whitaker offers a stern portrait of formidable preacher Cornell Cobbs. As Aretha Cobbs, Bassett hints at the tensions that can arise between being an astute parent and a preacher’s mate. Tyrese Gibson portrays a Harlem hustler with a twist. He and Langston first meet in a holding cell in a New York City jail. But the film is less focused on the problems of crime and justice, more mindful of the values of legacy — familial and cultural and, yes, spiritual. With this star-studded cast I was expecting a better film. It’s good to see Hudson in a major film again. RATING: C+

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (R) - Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner. The film tells the story of Ron Woodroof, a raging heterosexual homophobe who, over the course of several years in the mid-to-late 1980s, was transformed by circumstances from a card-carrying bigot into a staunch gay rights’ activist. After contracting AIDS through unprotected (heterosexual) sex in 1985, Woodroof was given thirty days to live. By going outside the FDA-approved guidelines and taking medications that had not been cleared in the United States, he managed to extend his life. (He died in 1992.) During that period, he founded the “Dallas Buyers Club,” an organization that gave away unapproved medications to its members. Through overseas contacts and by making drug runs into Mexico, he was able to supply hundreds of desperate HIV+ men and women. He frequently ran afoul of law enforcement officials (although many of them turned a blind eye), was viewed with skepticism by many doctors and engaged in skirmishes with the FDA. The most compelling aspect of the film comes from watching the way the character develops from a macho redneck into someone who shows respect and affection for the gay men and women he interacts with on a daily basis. This is McConaughey’s best piece of work. He most definitely should be nominated for an OSCAR. He not only transforms himself physically to play the character (he lost 50 pounds), he gives an amazing performance. The movie does what it sets out to do by providing a striking portrait of a remarkable character and offering a history lesson to those too young to remember how things were for AIDS sufferers during the dark ages of the 1980s. RATING: A-

OUT OF THE FURNACE (R) - Starring Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker and Tom Bower. Bale stars as Russell Baze. He works at a Pennsylvania mill and stays out of trouble. He and his uncle (Shepard) tend to his dying father, while his brother Rodney (Affleck) is still coping with his experience fighting in Iraq. Rodney has gambling debts and makes money with bare-knuckle fighting under the local bookie John Petty (Dafoe). He is supposed to throw his fights, but he doesn’t always remember. Ironically, Russell ends up in prison for a drunk driving incident in which lives are lost, and he accepts his punishment as his due, even as it endangers his relationship with Lena (Saldana). Meanwhile, Rodney insists on a fight arranged by Harlan DeGroat (Harrelson), which Petty sets up against his better judgment. We know it’s going to end badly because we’ve seen just how insanely violent Harlan is, and because the local lawman (Whitaker) warns Russell not to take the law into his own hands. This is moody and mysterious, but lapses in narrative logic and a confused sense of geography can create frustration. The movie takes its time and feels sluggish at times; the tone is that of a slow burner occasionally interrupted by sudden, violent interludes. Bale and Harrelson have the meatiest roles. The film explores revenge and justice as it follows a character whose every step has mass guilt weighing upon him. RATING: B-

HOMEFRONT (R) - Starring Jason Statham, James Franco, Izabela Vidovic, Winona Ryder, Rachelle Lefevre, Kate Bosworth, Clancy Brown and Frank Grillo. This is based on the novel by Chuck Logan. In a prologue, Phil Broker (Statham) is working as an undercover DEA agent. When things spin out of control, Broker keeps his cool and sees to it that the dealers are apprehended, dead or alive. Jump ahead in time - Statham is recently widowed and with a ten-year old daughter, Maddy (Vidovic), relocates to rural Louisiana to start anew. He immediately runs into trouble with some aggressive locals, including the psycho mother (Bosworth) of a local bully. She asks her brother, Gator (Franco), a meth cooker, to “scare” Phil, which sets off an unfortunate chain of events. Gator’s sleazy biker girlfriend, Sheryl (Ryder), makes contact with a drug kingpin Phil and he orders a hit. All hell then breaks loose when the goons come for Phil and his daughter. The film does nothing surprising or remarkable, moves briskly, generates a moderate level of suspense and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Movies like this don’t lend themselves to lengthy or detailed analysis. They are what they are and represent a kind of comfort food for a certain demographic. RATING: B-

FROZEN (PG) - Starring the talented voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Ciaran Hinds, Alan Tudyk and Santino Fontana. Although there is the usual Disney romance between a princess - in this case, Anna (Bell) - and a peasant - in this case, ice-cutter Kristoff (Groff) - the primary relationship in Frozen is between sisters. Anna is the younger sibling of Queen Elsa (Menzel), and the emotional heart of the movie beats in the feelings these two have for each other and how they come to acknowledge and express them. Because Elsa possesses a magical power over ice and snow, but can’t control her abilities, she represses her love for Anna lest she accidentally hurt her sister. When things go awry on the day of her coronation, she flees the city for an ice palace built on a lonely mountain, but Anna tracks her down (with the help of Kristoff). Perhaps the most interesting thing about Frozen is that there’s no obvious villain - no Wicked Stepmother, Evil Witch or Ursula. For older viewers, nostalgia will play a part in the film’s appeal. It’s almost impossible not to like the film if you grew up consuming Disney animation. This isn’t great Disney, but good enough to engage viewers young and old. RATNG: B-

TYLER PERRY’S A MADEA CHRISTMAS (PG-13) - Starring Tyler Perry, Anna Maria Horsford, Larry The Cable Guy, Kathy Najimy, Alicia Witt, Chad Michael Murray, Noah Urrea, Eric Lively, Tika Sumpter, J.R. Lemon and Lisa Whelchel. Madea (Perry) is fired from her department store greeter gig, thanks to her assorted threats. But Eileen (Horsford), her overbearing colleague, talks her into driving with her on a surprise Christmas visit to Eileen’s school teacher daughter, Lacey (Sumpter). Lacey’s a black teacher in a class full of white kids in tiny Buck Tussle, Ala. It’s a town about to lose its Christmas festival due to lack of funds, until Lacey’s ex-beau Oliver (Lemon) steps in and finds a corporate (and secular) sponsor. Times are hard in Buck Tussle, with farmers like Tanner (Murray) taking out his frustration on his wife (Witt) and son, Bailey (Urrea). Lacey’s secret love, Conner (Lively), is a college-trained crop specialist who somehow never learned which cows in his herd actually give the milk. When Eileen, Madea and Oliver show up, things get complicated. When Connor’s parents (Larry the Cable Guy and Najimy) arrive, there’s almost no room at the inn. Madea is famous for her mispronounced words. Mrs. Madea tells Lacey’s students “the story of the Nativitease. The Virgin Mary…J. Blige…she went into laborer…” Najimy matches Madea’s word-botching, calling Madea everything from “Medium” to “Mrs. Mandela.” While fans of Madea might enjoy the usual array of mispronouncing words and phrases, even the character seems bored this time around, and the film never really takes off. Be sure to skip this holiday mess. RATING: D

(Kyla Davis is a Nevada native and a movie enthusiast. She can be reached at kylalovesmovies@aol.com.)

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