Mandela feels like homework for adults, but PEOPLE's critic says Frozen is frosty fun

By Alynda Wheat
Updated November 27, 2013 04:15 PM
Credit: Disney

Send the kids to Frozen and the adults to Homefront for a satisfying holiday weekend, says PEOPLE’s critic.

Here’s what to see and what to skip in movie theaters this Thanksgiving.

See This

A cast packed with Broadway vets delivers a Snow Queen update that should charm kids and adults alike. Girls are front and center in this Disney showcase, featuring sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell), who are incredibly close until Elsa realizes that she can’t control her magic freezing powers. A long estrangement is punctuated by bombastic songs that, while beautifully sung, tend to wear themselves out.

Frozen comes alive after Elsa’s botched coronation, when she covers the entire land in frost, then runs away to live a hermit’s life in her ice castle. That puts Anna on a quest to find her sister, only to happen upon burly ice salesman Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and a summer-loving snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad). It’s Gad who all but runs away with the movie, with Olaf the best animated sidekick since Up‘s Dug hid under Mr. Fredricksen’s porch because he loved him. If that means more recognition for the ber-talented but undersung Gad, then I say, let it snow.

And This

If you’re not into the idea of Jason Statham stomping a vicious meth-dealing maggot into the ground from which he squirmed, then you don’t know from fun. Did I mention that said maggot is played by James Franco? (No, I did not. I should have. Apologies.) Statham stars as Phil Broker, a former DEA agent who leaves the old life behind and moves with his kid to a small town. One tiny misunderstanding later, local thug in charge Gator (Franco) is on Broker’s case, getting his tweaker girlfriend Sheryl (Winona Ryder) to help make trouble for the ex-fed. It all ends in terrific fights and big explosions, which sounds like a fine Thanksgiving to me.

Flip a Coin on This One

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Well-meaning but overambitious, Mandela tries to tackle the whole of the ex-South African president’s life, delivering a dutiful take on an epic figure. Idris Elba stars as Nelson Mandela, a womanizing young lawyer fighting for civil rights one day, an enduring symbol for black South Africans the next. The film doesn’t give him much to work with, in terms of injecting personality and dimension into the role, as it marks key moments in Mandela’s path almost by rote. Skyfall‘s Naomie Harris gets a bit more freedom as the fiery, highly controversial Winnie Mandela, a woman with a far starker dramatic arc than her beloved husband. Both actors are so charismatic, it’s a shame they didn’t have a script that homed in on one key period in the Mandelas’ lives, and let them explore it in its fullness.

But Skip This

Black Nativity
Even with incredible talent on hand, from Jennifer Hudson and Mary J. Blige, to Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett, there’s no escaping how thin Nativity‘s plot is. Based on a Langston Hughes play, the film sends teen Langston (Jacob Latimore) from Baltimore, where mom Naima (Hudson) is being evicted, to Harlem to spend the holidays with his estranged grandparents, the Cobbs (Whitaker and Bassett). The Rev. Cobbs is pompous but well-meaning, his wife a sweet, understanding woman. But Langston is so full of resentment and teen angst that he can’t see their value. The drama works well, but it’s drowned out by melodramatic musical numbers, some voices soaring far higher than others. Inarguably, though, Nativity has its heart in the right place.

And This

The award-winning 2003 Korean film about a man imprisoned for 15 years for a crime he didn’t commit, only to emerge in a fresh hell of violence and secret plots, gets an update courtesy of Spike Lee. I confess, I have no idea what fans of the original will make of this version, though I find the story tawdry and irredeemably twisted.

Josh Brolin plays Joe Doucett, a hard-drinking creep who sabotages his own success. Doucett pays hard for his sins, though, with 20 years trapped in a secret prison outfitted like a spare hotel room, while the world believes he murdered his wife and went on the lam. Occasional news stories about his daughter keep him motivated. Before he can escape, Joe is released, dropped in the middle of nowhere with a plan to find his daughter. Instead, he finds Marie (Elizabeth Olsen), a do-gooding volunteer who helps him piece together what’s happened – and still is happening – to him.

That’s where Oldboy loses me, as it turns into a surprisingly conventional tale of revenge, punctuated by stylized fights and moments of baroque violence. The ending is a howler, a nonsensical burst of ridiculousness featuring Elysium‘s Sharlto Copley as a villain so over-the-top mad, he’s more pitiful than scary. Unless you’re a fan of the original, I’d suggest taking a pass.