Perf. Arts

Four movies to check out at the theater over the holidays

By TOM JOZWIK - Special to TimeOut

December 5, 2013


WAUKESHA - With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror, the holiday season is upon us, which means a number of movies, seasonally themed or not, are opening. Four of the newcomers are summarized below. “The Armstrong Lie” debuts Dec. 13; the other three have started their runs. For showings, visit

“Delivery Man”

(Directed by Ken Scott, 105 minutes, PG-13): Miscast as Norman Bates in the 1998 “Psycho” remake, Vince Vaughn is a watchable David Wozniak in another redo, this time of the 2011 R-rated Canadian comedy “Starbuck.” That film from north of the border was named for a bull said to have sired thousands upon thousands of offspring; the remake’s title is a double entendre referring to Wozniak, who delivers meat for the family business and, years ago, while associated with a fertility clinic, delivered well, you see where this is going. Because of the clinic’s “overusing your donations,” as his lawyer phrases it to Wozniak, the latter is father to 533 twentysomethings. Approximately one-quarter of these kids have taken legal action in an attempt to meet their heretofore unidentified dad, who performed his clinical duties under the alias of - you guessed it, Starbuck.

To call “Delivery Man’s” plot incredible would be to discount the true story of Dr. Cecil Jacobson, who became a father perhaps 75 times in the 1980s as an anonymous donor at his own clinic. OK. But 533 sons and daughters? And would 142 of them really welcome with open arms an absent-for-years progenitor? Would that progenitor suddenly become obsessed with acting as “guardian angel” to several of the kids after 20 years? Would a good-looking cop (Cobie Smulders of the TV sitcom “How I Met Your Mother”) really choose for her significant other a ne’er-do-well who owes mobsters money? Would even the most simplistic ne’er-do-well really say, out loud, “Doing the right thing is harder than I thought”?

“Delivery Man” is a silly tall tale. Yet it’s quite entertaining. Unlike his father’s (the talented Andrzej Blumenfeld) onscreen evaluation of David Wozniak, the film does not have “countless faults,” but neither does it quite qualify as “marvelous” company. If the three-star assessment seems generous, this is the season of giving, after all.

Rating: 3 stars

“Black Nativity”

(Directed by Kasi Lemmons, 93 minutes, PG): With a Hollywood feature template, “Black Nativity” offers a full measure of music, more than a pinch of poetry, a smattering of cinema verite - and a heavy dose of schmaltz.

The movie mostly runs a sensible course, but loses its way perhaps 20 minutes from the end. That’s when an unlikely poetry fan recites “Harlem” by Langston Hughes, author of the play on which this movie is based and the man after whom the movie’s central character is named. As admirable as Hughes’ poem is, actor Tyrese Gibson’s spouting of it during a one-sided gun battle doesn’t make much sense. Nor does the remainder of the film.

Screen stories of reconciliation at Yuletide have often succeeded. Despite gifted singers overmatched by acting challenges (e.g., Jennifer Hudson), despite song lyrics with far-fetched rhymes like “lost your mind”-”welfare line” and “attitude”-”daddy’s blues,” this dramatic musical (with its viewers rooting for the estranged family members) seems destined for success as well. Until, that is, the poetry recitation, followed by a noticeable decline in dialogue quality, a supposedly startling revelation that just isn’t and a conclusion bordering on saccharine.

It is worth noting that the Langston role is filled, commendably, by 17-year-old Milwaukee native Jacob Latimore, scion of a singing family. Forest Whitaker plays opposite Latimore, as a “very proud” (his screen wife’s words) Baptist minister. Whitaker does not disappoint, even if the movie does. The estimable star of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” delivers a Christmas Eve sermon so skillfully in “Black Nativity” that viewers will swear he missed his calling.

Rating: 2 stars

“The Armstrong Lie” 

(Directed by Alex Gibney, 122 minutes, R): “I have never doped.” Lance Armstrong, seven-time Tour de France winner, utters that statement in an older clip included in this up-to-date film. One thinks of Richard Nixon’s line, “I am not a crook.”

“The Armstrong Lie” is a relatively riveting documentary, much more than a parade of talking heads. There is considerable commentary - from Armstrong, his doctor, teammates, writers. But there’s a lot of action, too - action footage, particularly from Armstrong’s comeback 2009 Tour (maybe too much from there), some in slow motion and some so rapidly moving as to make it seem bicyclists can turn themselves into a massive blur. There are shots from newscasts, talk shows - even “Saturday Night Live,” which Armstrong apparently guest- hosted. There are background songs and provocative points made and remade. “I can’t stand the idea of losing because, to me, that equals death,” Armstrong remarks, while an observer speaks of the man’s “urge to dominate, not just win.”

Begun as an inspirational story, the movie took a different turn once its subject was stripped of his Tour accolades for drug use he now admits. Understandably, documentarian Gibney salvaged what he could after his focus changed, but Gibney’s narration sounds too adulatory at times. Such positivity is in keeping with the filmmaker’s attempt to avoid one-sidedness, however. Moviegoers are given to understand drug use was not unusual among Armstrong’s professional peers. They also learn that Armstrong “never knew his father,” hear about the cyclist’s testicular cancer and his vast fundraising to help eradicate the disease, see Armstrong interacting charmingly with his own and other children.

Still, he comes across as testy, self-centered, a pathological liar. More content depicting Armstrong’s personal life might’ve mitigated this portrayal (and made an interesting motion picture even more so). But maybe there just wasn’t much to mitigate.

Rating: 3 stars


(Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, 85 minutes, PG) “Love is putting somebody else’s needs before yours.”  “Only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart.”

Come up with a few more like those and you’re well on your way to compiling a love-focused sequel to “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” In fact, you could add “Being in love is never having to say you’re sorry,” but then you’d have a movie tagline from 1970 supplementing sentiments expressed in 2013’s “Frozen.” The just-released cartoon feature (whose animation does justice to its Disney brand), “inspired by” Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” functions quite well on its own.

Should you decide to take in just one family flick this holiday season, especially if you’re a young family, this is the one. The single-digit age group, along with parents and grandparents, laughed heartily during - and applauded loudly at the end of - a preview screening last week.

You’ve already gotten the idea “Frozen” is something of a love story. In a broader sense, as a trailer describes it, “Frozen” is “an epic journey of fun and adventure.” Much of the fun is provided by the klutzy but endearing Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad), an unfailingly good-humored snowman. Pierced by an icicle, this animated combination of Moe, Larry and Curly comments matter-of-factly, “Oh look at that. I’ve been impaled.”

The adventure aspect involves Princess Anna’s (Kristen Bell) quest through the worst of wintry weather and at least one wolfpack to find her sister and convince that sister to return to the throne of Arendelle. Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) has abandoned the kingdom, explaining, “I belong alone, where I can be what I am without hurting anybody.” In a reversal of the Midas touch, everything Elsa touches turns to ice.

Along the way, of course, love finds a couple of the characters. There are songs, but, frankly, their lyrics and melodies are largely forgotten by the time “Frozen” concludes. (Why can’t they write cartoon tunes like “Somewhere Out There” from “An American Tail” anymore?)

Rating: 3 1/2 stars