There’s passion to ‘Nativity Story’ 

'Bobby' ambitious; 'For Your Consideration' lame

A NEW TALE: With Joseph and Mary as real people.
  • A NEW TALE: With Joseph and Mary as real people.

If your image of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child is like all those Italian Renaissance paintings hanging in the Louvre — where Mary looks pure-as-the-driven-snow Caucasian and about mid-30s, all-knowing and motherly, and her baby is picture-perfect with a halo around his head — you’re going to be surprised by the picture provided in “The Nativity Story.”

You should be surprised, and most moviegoers should be pleased with “The Nativity Story,” which tells a story all of us know, but in a way none of us have seen before — nothing this raw. Not this real. Not this full of life.

“The Nativity Story” brings to life the gospel accounts and some historical fact, and some legend, of the birth of Jesus Christ in a way that’s never been tried. Plus, it’s still family friendly in a way that Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was not. Some big-time successful film folks of late — director Catherine Hardwicke (“Thirteen”) and writer Mike Rich (“Radio,” “Finding Forrester”), to name two — came together on the project, and the result is terrific, whether you’re a believer or just looking for a good story.

The Mary we see (played delicately by Keisha Castle-Hughes, who garnered a best actress Oscar nom for “Whale Rider”), is nothing more than a regular Hebrew teenage girl, a gentle soul with a little teen mischievousness, surrounded by a family who can’t fathom her pregnancy without it having occurred through some sordid dalliance or an assault by a Roman soldier, and given by her family to Joseph as his wife for his help in sustaining their plot. Joseph (Oscar Isaac), a kind-hearted fellow but street-wise, has to overcome much anguish to accept Mary’s predicament, with the fear that she could get stoned by the townfolk at any minute.

The film does what printed word cannot: convey to us the full extent of how hard life was for a Hebrew 2,000 years ago. Who knew when the Roman soldiers might whisk away a daughter of a farmer who wasn’t paying his taxes? Your every bite was ground out of an often-inhospitable earth. Traveling 100 miles by donkey, alone through mostly hot desert, was not your everyday jaunt to see grandma, either. All of this is explicitly laid out before our eyes with wonderful cinematography.

The story is bookended by a gospel account of King Herod (a crazy-scary Ciaran Hinds, who always impresses me) sending his army to kill all the male babies in Bethlehem, an act that most historians have since discounted.

The wise men (Eriq Ebouaney, Nadim Sawalha, Stephan Kalipha) and their choice to travel are a running subplot in the story, and they provide quite a bit of levity for the ride.

It’s a terrific family film at the right time of the year. Don’t miss this.

— Jim Harris

An ambitious ‘Bobby’

“Bobby,” directed by Emilio Estevez, is a series of vignettes artfully woven around one of America’s greatest political tragedies. Set in the Ambassador Hotel on June 4, 1968, this film serves as a day-in-the-life of many of those who were there the day Robert F. Kennedy was shot and killed.

With an exceptional and large cast reminiscent of a Robert Altman film, Estevez, who also wrote the film’s screenplay, takes us into the lives of people who would be directly affected by the events that day. Sharon Stone, Ashton Kutcher, Anthony Hopkins, Harry Belafonte, Laurence Fishburne and Freddy Rodriguez anchor this film, but they don’t complete it. That work is left to remaining members of the cast, notably Martin Sheen and Demi Moore, who provide serviceable roles, some stronger than others, and help move this film to its conclusion.



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