By Kurt Jensen
Like time travelers from the Golden Age of Hollywood studio films, the characters played by Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in "Allied" (Paramount) don't allow a little event like World War II to muss their elegant coifs.
Whether taking out the German ambassador in Casablanca with their burp guns or having their daughter born outdoors in London during an air raid, this perpetually chic couple keeps matters neat and nice, laundered and pressed.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. The overwrought plot -- which combines doomed love, purse-lipped Nazis and occasional choruses of chanteuse Rina Ketty's occupation-resonant hit "J'attendrai" ("I Will Wait") -- has no surprises.
So why not enjoy the journey as a costume drama? Cotillard's impressive collection of silk negligees and Pitt's crisp double-breasted suits are their own show.
The downfall of such an approach comes, however, when the duo shed their clothes -- as they do more than once -- to demonstrate that they are lustily in love. These peeks into the bedroom considerably restrict the appropriate audience for director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter Steven Knight's drama.
Pitt's Max, a Canadian wing commander, and Cotillard's Marianne, a French resistance fighter with a murky past, are first shown as part of an espionage operation in which they have to pass themselves off as husband and wife.
In keeping with the cherished rules of this formula, they hit it off for real, and decide on a hasty wedding in London, despite a warning from Max's commanding officer, Frank (Jared Harris). "Marriages made in the field," he admonishes, "never work."
Oh, but theirs flourishes. At least, it does so until Max is summoned to an underground warren to be informed that British intelligence thinks Marianne, who allegedly took part in a botched mission in Paris, may not be the person she appears to be. In fact, she may be passing secrets to the enemy.
The resulting stakes are nothing short of staggering: If the accusation against Marianne turns out to be true, Max himself will be obliged to shoot her.
At that point, the story finally gains traction as stiff-upper-lip style military duty competes with lush romantic pathos.
The film contains strong sexual content, including brief but graphic premarital sex, an aberrant act, upper female and rear nudity, some combat violence, occasional profanity and frequent rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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By Joseph McAleer
The same tropical setting that provided the backdrop for the 1949 musical "South Pacific" now lends its exotic flavor to the animated feature "Moana" (Disney).
As for the feminism-friendly story of the movie's eponymous heroine, well, as Rodgers and Hammerstein's lovelorn Seabees so famously declared, "There is nothing like a dame."
The spunky heroine of Disney's 56th animated film is a 16-year-old Polynesian princess (voice of Auli'i Cravalho) who seeks not a boyfriend but a grand adventure on the high seas, all to save her world from destruction.
There's no mistaking the entertainment value of "Moana," gloriously rendered in 3-D, with a delightful array of characters and toe-tapping songs co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Broadway's "Hamilton." The film also offers good lessons about family, friendship and the need to be responsible.
But Christian parents may be concerned to find that Jared Bush's screenplay is steeped in indigenous mythology. "Moana" presents a view of creation at odds with the biblical account, and could confuse impressionable minds. Well-catechized teens, however, will likely slough these elements off as mere fantasy.
As "Moana" tells it, in the beginning was not God but a comely goddess named Te Fiti, who commanded the oceans and brought life to the world.
Te Fiti was joined by a demigod (half -god, half-human) named Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson). Maui had a nifty talent of pulling islands up from the sea with his trusty fishhook. But he was greedy, and stole the magical "heart" of Te Fiti. Darkness covered the world, and Maui was banished.
Fast-forward several centuries to the tranquil island of the so-called "Chosen One," Moana. Since her name means "ocean," it's no wonder that Moana is drawn to the open waters beyond her island's protective reef, despite the warnings of her father, Chief Tui (voiced by Temuera Morrison).
"No one goes beyond the reef," he says. "It keeps us safe."
But the ocean has a mind of its own, and -- in a manner strikingly similar to the animated column of water in 1989's "The Abyss" -- the sea pokes and prods Moana into seeking her destiny. Her quest is to locate Maui, transport him across the sea (demigods don't swim), and restore Te Fiti's heart before the encroaching darkness reaches Moana's island.
Maui is more surfer dude than classical Greek god. He's also accustomed to adulation, not the commands of a teenager. The tattoos covering his ample girth spring to life, acting either as a voice of approval or an admonishing, Jiminy Cricket-like conscience.
Throw into the mix Moana's pet, a dimwitted rooster named Heihei (voice of Alan Tudyk), and you have the recipe for a chaotic but amusing journey across the sea.
With previous helming credits like "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin," co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker represent the aristocracy of Disney animation. Yet "Moana" does feel derivative at times, with echoes of previous films. And storm sequences as well as creature battles may be too intense for younger viewers.
Preceding "Moana" is an amusing animated short called "Inner Workings." A riff on last year's "Inside Out", it tells the story of a man stuck in a dead-end job in the firm of "Boring, Boring, and Glum." When he imagines doing crazy, potentially risky things like surfing, his brain works overtime to keep him safe, lest he wind up dead (depicted by his gravesite, with a Latin-chanting priest offering a blessing.)
The film contains nonscriptural religious ideas, mildly scary action sequences and occasional bathroom humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II-- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
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Bad Santa 2
By Kurt Jensen
As soul-deadening as its squalid urban setting, "Bad Santa 2" (Broad Green) attempts to mine laughs out of human degradation.
As he did in the 2003 original, Billy Bob Thornton's alcoholic safe-cracker Willie somehow manages to desecrate more Christmastime traditions than might seem possible.
He's again on the loose with his partner, Marcus (Tony Cox), and hopelessly naive hanger-on Thurman (Brett Kelly), the only person who actually loves and trusts him. This time out, Willie is also joined by his con-artist mother, Sunny (Kathy Bates).
The plot involves a plan to rob a corrupt Chicago charity that ostensibly helps the needy. The fact that this concern somehow hires ex-convicts as sidewalk Santas gives Willie, Marcus and Sunny the means to don holiday costumes and execute the heist.
When he's not too busy planning this rancid caper, Willie, who has just enough self-awareness to realize his misery, lashes out continuously at his companions.
All women in this scenario are cynical, nearly brainless and alternate between having sex and loudly discussing it. Joyless fornication provides Willie with the only thing approaching a real connection to humanity.
Director Mark Waters and screenwriters Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross go far beyond the tropes of dark comedy to give a sour portrayal of hell on earth. Several hard punches to the face are likely to feel more entertaining.
The film contains some gun violence, strong sexual content, including aberrant acts, full nudity and low-minded banter, and pervasive profane, rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Rules Don't Apply
By John Mulderig
Warren Beatty wrote, directed and stars in "Rules Don't Apply" (Fox), a loosely fact-based tale set within the secretive world of eccentric industrialist Howard Hughes (1905-1976).
Part romantic comedy, part biopic, the film suffers from an unstable tone. Additionally, Beatty's script adopts a mostly negative attitude toward the influence of Christian faith in the personal lives of his two principal characters.
Small-town beauty queen and aspiring actress Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) finds herself a cultural fish out of water when she becomes one of the many fetching would-be stars summoned to 1950s Hollywood by Hughes (Beatty), whose holdings then included RKO Pictures. Like her peers, she's housed in style and assigned a chauffeur, Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich). Part of Frank's job is to report any misbehavior with men he might observe.
Despite strict rules against fraternizing, the two young people fall for each other. But the looming, though often invisible, presence of their increasingly unhinged employer complicates matters in unexpected ways, threatening to thwart their happiness.
Religion plays a prominent part in the film. As we learn early on, both Marla and Frank have been hired by Hughes in part because they are devout mainline Protestants. He's a Methodist, and she belongs to the Baptist Church in which Beatty himself was raised. Beatty's slightly sneering script portrays the duo's faith-based sexual mores as naive and repressive and their eventual loss of innocence as at least partially liberating.
There's a good deal of moral confusion along their path to supposed sophistication: a hidden love affair, an unexpected pregnancy, an engagement that's called off almost as soon as it's made -- but not before it's used as a green light for sex. Along with the movie's anti-religious undercurrent, all these plot twists call for careful assessment by mature viewers.
And then there's the artistic imbalance. Frank and Marla's love story sits uncomfortably beside the awkwardly humorous spectacle of a brilliant billionaire slowly going bonkers. Nor is Hughes' mental decline always played for laughs. His obsession with his dead father involves a painful sense of loss and disappointment while the fact that no one is willing to defy him, even for his own good, feels tragic.
The film contains an ambivalent depiction of Christian faith, semi-graphic scenes of premarital sex, some distasteful visual humor, mature themes, including abortion, several profanities, at least one use each of rough and crude language and a few crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.