By John Mulderig | Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — The following are capsule reviews of theatrical movies on network and cable television the week of Nov. 29. Please note that televised versions may or may not be edited for language, nudity, violence, and sexual situations.
Sunday, Nov. 29, 4:30-7 p.m. EST (A&E) “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” (2016). Tom Cruise, in his second venture as the former Army officer-turned-freelance-detective invented by British novelist Lee Child, is as durable as a cast-iron stove. A somewhat mysterious knight-errant, Reacher is a strong moralist according to his own lights and descends into others’ predicaments like a deus ex machina. This go-round, he comes to the rescue of a military-intelligence operative (Cobie Smulders) who has been framed for an espionage charge involving murders in Afghanistan. He also learns that he may have a teenage daughter (Danika Yarosh) from a previous fling. The difference between this film and the 2012 original, in which Cruise sulked through Pittsburgh, is that director Edward Zwick, who co-wrote the screenplay with Richard Wenk and Marshall Herskovitz, provides occasional moments of pleasantly acidic domestic bickering. That helps break up the narrow escapes, shootings and slugfests — as well as the long sequences during which cast members simply break into a sprint. Stylized violence, including gunplay, fleeting crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating was PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Monday, Nov. 30, 10 p.m.-12:32 a.m. EST (AMC) “Fred Claus” (2007). Generally funny yet bittersweet tale of a sad-sack Chicago repo man (Vince Vaughn) who travels to the North Pole to help his younger, more popular brother, St. Nicholas (Paul Giamatti), at Christmas, while a devious efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey) threatens to shut down the elves’ toy factory. Underneath the laughs, Dan Fogelman’s script is a surprisingly resonant take on sibling rivalry, with lots of heart-tugging sentiment, and solid messages about family, self-esteem, forgiveness and ultimately redemption. Under David Dobkin’s deft direction, there’s sharp work by the leads and the classy supporting cast (Miranda Richardson, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates and John Michael Higgins). Mild innuendo, an implied premarital living arrangement, a suggestive costume and some crass humor and expressions. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating was PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
Tuesday, Dec. 1, 8-10:30 p.m. EST (PBS) (check local listings) “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (2018). This cheerful and reverent documentary about Fred Rogers (1928-2003), creator and host of PBS’ long-running “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” highlights his calm temperament, as well as his moral courage in the face of adversity and indifference. Director Morgan Neville, who includes interviews with Rogers’ family and supporting cast members in addition to vintage film clips, also enjoys making some faintly political points. Rogers’ spiritual life and his role as a Presbyterian minister are given only oblique references. But his gentle, soft-spoken personality shines through. Possibly acceptable for mature teens. A fleeting glimpse of rear male nudity, mature discussions of racism, homosexuality and death. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating was PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (An “Independent Lens” presentation.)
Wednesday, Dec. 2, 9-11 p.m. EST (Showtime) “Hitch” (2005). Entertaining, if not totally convincing, old-fashioned romance about a highly successful “date doctor” (Will Smith), who helps shy men woo the women they love but are too timid to approach. He falls for a gossip columnist (Eva Mendes) who just happens to be on the trail of an heiress (Amber Valletta) who is dating one of his clients (Kevin James), leading to predictable complications. Andy Tennant’s film is a refreshing throwback to the lighthearted fare that Hollywood used to produce. Nicely devoid of gratuitous sexual situations, it possesses a good moral tone and contains appealing performances. But the script just misses being a total success because of some implausible plot turns, while the broadness of some gags undermines the realistic foundation so essential to the best comedies. A few instances of profane, rough and crude language, one brief sexual situation and mature thematic elements. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating was PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Wednesday, Dec. 2, 9:45-11:45 p.m. EST (TCM) “All That Money Can Buy” (1941). Crackerjack adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benet’s story “The Devil and Daniel Webster” about a New England farmer (James Craig) who sells his soul to Satan (John Huston), then hires lawyer Webster (Edward Arnold) to argue his case before a jury from hell. Directed by William Dieterle, it’s a classic piece of regional Americana whose fantasy elements range from the sunny and playful to the dark and sinister, owing much of its success to Joseph August’s evocative photography. Highly entertaining tussle between good and evil, though some fairly intense scenes for young children. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-II — adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association.
Thursday, Dec. 3, 9:45-11 p.m. EST (TCM) “Employees’ Entrance” (1933). Brash tale of the ups and downs of a ruthless department store manager (Warren William) who believes in smashing others before they smash you, then trifles with the wife (Loretta Young) of his go-getter assistant (Wallace Ford) but somehow survives the consequences. Directed by Roy Del Ruth, the picture of a greedy materialist who has no time for women except as sex objects is intercut with that of his assistant who eventually learns that love is more important than business. Sexual situations and innuendo. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-III — adults. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association.
Saturday, Dec. 5, 8-9:50 p.m. EST (HBO) “The Photograph” (2020). Mature, though morally flawed, romantic drama interweaves the burgeoning current-day relationship between a museum staffer (Issa Rae) and a journalist (LaKeith Stanfield) with flashbacks to the 1980s bond between the curator’s mother (Chante Adams), then an up-and-coming professional photographer, and her less ambitious boyfriend (Y’lan Noel). Writer-director Stella Meghie works at a leisurely pace to craft a tale emphasizing the importance of communication, openness and commitment and evokes some potent performances. But her script not only takes prenuptial relations for granted but romanticizes them. Semi-graphic premarital sexual activity, partial and fleeting rear nudity, at least one mild oath, references to drug use and sexuality. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating was PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Saturday, Dec. 5, 8-10 p.m. EST (Cinemax) “Anna” (2019). This stylish, seat-of-your-pants thriller, written and directed by Luc Besson, reinvigorates the spy drama with more twists and turns than a roller coaster. In 1985 Russia, a young woman (Sacha Luss) is recruited by a KGB agent (Luke Evans) to join the ranks under the tutelage of a crusty former spy (Helen Mirren). Working undercover as a fashion model in Paris, she meets a CIA operative (Cillian Murphy) who convinces her to turn double agent to win her freedom. Though clever and highly entertaining, the film is strictly for discerning adult viewers, given its many objectionable elements. Graphic bloody violence, strong sexual content, including a lesbian relationship, brief nudity, a suicide attempt and occasional profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association rating was R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Saturday, Dec. 5, 9-10:35 p.m. EST (Showtime) “The Turning” (2020). Director Floria Sigismondi’s loose, updated adaptation of Henry James’ classic 1898 novella-length horror story “The Turn of the Screw” provides the occasional jolt on the way to a thoroughly incoherent ending. A newly hired live-in nanny (Mackenzie Davis) at an isolated country mansion presided over by an austere housekeeper (Barbara Marten) is gradually unnerved by the sinister behavior of her initially endearing young charge (Brooklynn Prince) and of the girl’s sullen, aggressive older brother (Finn Wolfhard). Is the manor haunted? Is the lad possessed? Or is the protagonist going mad? While James keeps readers on a knife edge with alternative possibilities, screenwriters (and brothers) Chad and Carey W. Hayes can’t seem to decide what direction their script should adopt, so they wind up veering all over the place. Since one of the possible ghosts had a taste for sadistic sex and a character meets a briefly glimpsed bloody death, their film is strictly for grown-ups. Some violence with momentary gore, occult and mature themes, including aberrant sexuality, an image of rear nudity, partial upper nudity, at least one profanity and a milder oath, a single rough and a couple of crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating was PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.