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It's sweetly amiable and solidly performed, but Black Nativity suffers from director Kasi Lemmons' heavy-handed treatment of its celebrated source material.
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All of Black Nativity proceeds with sort of clumsy obviousness.
By the time the credits rolled, my eyes were sore from all the rolling.
Points for dogged credulity: whether trying to pass off Times Square as Judea or Tyrese "Fast & Furious" Gibson as the Angel Gabriel, it sincerely believes it. You, of course, are at liberty not to.
Even the movie's most wretched characters glow in the Harlem lamplight.
Earnest, square and proudly evangelical, "Black Nativity" is so unusual that its rough aspects are easy to forgive.
Takes Hughes' nativity story and shoves it into the far background of a sincere but tritely told modern drama about family, faith, and redemption.
Even though the principal (and poignant) message of forgiveness eventually wins through, the melodrama endured to get there is a high price to pay.
I'm just going to describe the experience as Lemmons-esque, the result of a fearless and passionate dreamer whose deeper imaginative realms have become recognizable in her work.
Even though Black Nativity feels a little cluttered early on, a strong third act leaves the audience with the clarity of a more satisfying high note (and I mean that literally; a cover of the Stevie Wonder classic "As" plays over the closing credits).
"Black Nativity," loosely based on a play by Langston Hughes, is brought beautifully to life by writer/director Kasi Lemmons, a true auteur in every sense of the word.
Black Nativity is a jubilant experience.
Some devices don't work as well as others, however Kasi Lemmons has made a film that lives and breathes, even if it at times it doesn't work
Director, Producer, and Actor Kasi Lemmons had the film world buzzing in 1997 when her feature-length debut "Eve's Bayou" hit art-house screens and racked up film festival awards along the way. It was also during the time that "Eve's Bayou" launched the careers of two unknown actresses Jurnee Smollett and Meagan Goode,who would go on to bigger and better things in their entertainment professions. Since then Kasi Lemmons has gone on to direct several films after the success of "Eve's Bayou" which was the Oscar-nominated "Talk To Me" with Don Cheadle (2007),along with "The Caveman's Valentine"(2001) with Samuel L. Jackson(who was also in Eve's Bayou),and the supernatural 2002 thriller "The Battle of Cloverfield". Her newest project "Black Nativity",a musical adaptation of Langston Hughes' perennial holiday play is astounding to watch and it is very entertaining. "Black Nativity" ,based on Langston Hughes' play is based loosely on the way Jesus of Nazareth entered the world in a manger in Bethlehem. And once it finds its footing ,this Harlem variation on the Nativity story manages to be sweet enough to touch people the way Christianity's "The Greatest Story Ever Told" always has.
"Black Nativity" is brilliant in its casting as well as the sympathetic handling of the material by Kasi Lemmons. In the movie version based on Langston Hughes' play, Young Langston(newcomer Jacob Latimore),a Baltimore teen who narrates his biography in rhymed couplets,but whose mother(Oscar winning actress Jennifer Hudson) is about to lose their home. "Ain't no miracles," the kid figures out. "Just money," while the mother is struggling to survive and pay the bills to keep them afloat. His mother sends the kid off from the slums of Baltimore to live with her estranged parents,the Rev. and Mrs, Cobbs (played by Oscar winning actor Forest Whitaker,and Oscar nominated best supporting actress Angela Bassett both of whom for their work in films "The Last King of Scotland",and "What's Love Got To Do With It?")whom welcomes their grandson with open arms,but it isnt long when the kid strikes back at their hospitality,only to find out that the mystery surrounding the family has been separated for years. Since this is a musical that has a running time of just 97 minutes long,the performances are first rate especially coming from Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett as well as Jennifer Hudson's dynamic singing presence here and it shows. The supporting players are also brilliant ranging from Tyrese Gibson in his best role in decades since "Baby Boy"(2001),along with the great Vondie Curtis-Hall as a streetwise pawnbroker,and R&B songstress Mary J, Blige as an angelic parishioner at Rev. Cobbs' Holy Resurrection Baptist Church. Not to mention having on board rapper/producer Nasir Jones(better known in the hip-hop establishment as "Nas"),along with Grace Gibson and Luke James in supporting roles.
The music by Laura Karpman and Raphael Saadiq, is brilliant modern soul with a hint of hip-hop that is integrated into the story. The movie is a grand detail of the comings and goings of the character,but it is Forest Whitaker(who is up for his second Oscar nomination this year for "The Butler" which was released in August of 2013),and Jennifer Hudson that keeps the film its greatness and edge. A must see.
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