‘Delivery’ is sweet, ‘Fire’ is not so hot and ‘Nebraska’ is beautiful

Among the new movies that were released Friday, Nov. 22 at theaters throughout the Valley are a new comedy starring Vince Vaughn, the sequel to “The Hunger Games” and a black-and-white dramedy from director Alexander Payne.

Angels Sing

Harry Connick, Jr. plays a man who, having had his holiday spirit permanently crushed as a result of a tragic accident during his childhood, meets a mysterious man (Willie Nelson) who gives him a gift and instills in him the courage to find the joy that he lost. Playing exclusively at Harkins Shea. (PG – 90 minutes)

“Angels Sing” harnesses the happiness of the holidays and spreads smiles across the faces of everyone who watches it. The new family flick also spreads a very admirable message about living life in a joyful way that honors our loved ones – living and deceased – rather than allowing inevitable tragedies that we cannot control to obstruct our spirit. Best of all, it boasts an accomplish cast of musical artists/actors and a spectacular soundtrack of Christmas music while ending on a note that feels emotionally rewarding and even a little bit spiritually resonant – all without ever getting cheesy or preachy. (Thumbs Up!)

The Christmas Candle

Hans Matheson plays a progressive young minister whose 1890 quest to modernize in a small village deep in the heart of the English countryside sets him at odds with an old world candlemaker who wants to preserve a local legend that grants a Christmas Eve miracle to one resident every 25 years. Playing exclusively at Harkins Arizona Mills and Harkins Superstition Springs. (PG – 100 minutes)

“The Christmas Candle” drips just a little too slowly and its wax is a bit too thick for most audiences. Although the new holiday-themed period piece has got its heart in the right place and features impressive production values that make for some gorgeous sights, its pacing and preachiness is its Achilles’ heel. Ultimately, it feels more like a made-for-television movie than a major motion picture due to its limited appeal – primarily to fans of faith-based entertainment. Having said that, it does handle the theme of skepticism and struggling with one’s faith rather well. (Thumbs Down!)

Cold Turkey

Alicia Witt plays an estranged daughter who makes a surprise visit home for Thanksgiving and clashes with her stepmother (Cheryl Hines) and sister (Sonya Walger) while her half-brother (Ashton Holmes) tries to keep a massive gambling debt a secret. Meanwhile, the family patriarch (Peter Bogdanovich) has his own dramatic news to share. Playing exclusively at Harkins Valley Art. (NR – 84 minutes)

You know what they say: It’s not really Thanksgiving until somebody gets stabbed with a fork. Well, maybe “they” don’t really say that, but it certainly seems to be the case in movies about dysfunctional families. “Cold Turkey” does not exactly stand out from the flock as writer/director Will Slocombe more or less follows the genre’s formula. If anything, Slocombe makes it more difficult to relate to these characters who, even with their financial woes, will always be wealthier than us. However, it is always entertaining to see someone else’s family self-destruct during the holidays – and this one does so catastrophically. Best of all, Slocombe does not sugar coat his ending, honoring the fact that family feuds lead to lonely lives. (Thumbs Up!)

Delivery Man

Vince Vaughn plays an affable underachiever who finds out that he has fathered 533 children through anonymous donations to a fertility clinic 20 years ago. Now he must decide whether or not to come forward when 142 of them file a lawsuit to reveal his identity. (PG-13 – 105 minutes)

“Delivery Man” is kind of an unnecessary motion picture. After all, the new comedy is mostly a shot-for-shot, word-for-word remake of French-language flick “Starbuck” so the experience is a little deja vu-ish and even somewhat awkward as the actors essentially regurgitate lines written for other people. Having said that, along with everything else, the original’s good-intentioned sweetness and sentimentality are also carried over. And, let’s face it, a Vince Vaughn vehicle is much more accessible to American audiences and therefore worth watching – if only to realize that we should all be so lucky to have families this big. (Thumbs Up!)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Jennifer Lawrence reprises her role as Katniss Everdeen who, having won the Hunger Games, must turn around and leave her family and close friends, embarking on a “Victor’s Tour” during which she senses a rebellion simmering. (PG-13 – 146 minutes)

On the one hand, the first half of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” would make for an amazing arthouse flick. However, that crowd would more than likely lose interest at the onset of the second half, which is essentially a retread of the first film in the series inspired by Suzanne Collins’ books – albeit a bit darker (both figuratively and literally). Meanwhile, fans of the franchise are guaranteed to become bored – and “hungry” for action – as they wait for the “games” to begin or something to “catch fire.” And everyone will be a bit underwhelmed with the anticlimactic ending which is just begging for a “To Be Continued…” card. On the other hand, it’s still sufficiently entertaining. (Thumbs Up!)

Nebraska

Will Forte plays a man who grudgingly agrees to drive his tempestuous father (Bruce Dern) to Nebraska to claim a million dollar prize that he is convinced that he has won via a magazine sweepstakes. Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview. (R – 110 minutes)

“Nebraska” is an extremely simple but exceptionally special feature film. Granted, director Alexander Payne’s new black-and-white dramedy moves along at a very measured pace, literally taking the time to appreciate the picturesque landscapes. However, this deliberate approach only teaches patience, rewarding viewers with an enjoyable journey that includes a vociferously hilarious misunderstanding involving an air compressor and an emotionally resonant destination that delivers one of the most life-affirming movie moments of the year. It also teaches empathy, encouraging each and every one of us to embrace our family members’ eccentricities and never take away anyone’s dignity by denying them. (Breakthrough!)

Joseph J. Airdo

Joseph J. Airdo is a film critic, producer and on-air personality for Breakthrough Entertainment, a talk radio show airing 10-11 a.m. Saturdays on KPHX 1480 AM and BreakRadioShow.com that shines a spotlight on the practical perspectives of the topics and themes explored in movies. He has a pet duck named Frozen who is as opinionated about movies as he is. E-mail him at joseph.airdo@gmail.com.

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