Out of things to talk about? Try these cinematic diversions

I won’t pretend to know what your family is like on Thanksgiving.

Maybe you really can enjoy each other’s company while you spend all day in the kitchen and reminisce about holidays past like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

But if yours is the type that would rather sit in the dark and avoid conversation at any cost, there are five new movies — “Moana,” “Loving,” “Rules Don’t Apply,” “Bad Santa 2” and “Allied” — for you to consider.


You can’t win ’em all.

That goes for Disney as well as “Hamilton’s” seemingly infallible Lin-Manuel Miranda, who penned many of the songs for the animated “Moana.”

Moana (voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) is the daughter of the chief of Motunui Island, a lush paradise that’s falling on hard times. The coconuts are dying; the fish have disappeared. According to Moana’s Gramma Tala (Rachel House), it’s because a thousand years ago, the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the heart of Te Fiti, the mother island who was capable of creating life, and a growing darkness is taking over, one island at a time.

To set things right, Moana has to defy her father, who’s forbidden anyone from sailing past the reef, track down Maui, accompany him into the realm of monsters to help him reclaim the magic fishhook that’s the source of all his power and return the heart of Te Fiti, all while keeping tabs on an idiot chicken named Heihei.

“Moana” finally comes alive about 40 minutes in with the arrival of Maui and the song stylings of Johnson on “You’re Welcome,” the only memorable song in the bunch. The others are all far too literal. Take this excerpt from “Where You Are,” which explains how the people of Motunui use every part of the coconut: “We make our nets from the fibers/The water’s sweet inside/We use the leaves to build fires/We cook up the meat inside.”

“Frozen” it ain’t.

Still, “Moana” looks fantastic. There’s a cute running gag where Maui’s tribal tattoos come to life like a Greek chorus and skitter around his body. And screenwriter Jared Bush (“Zootopia”) gets to poke fun at other recent Disney musicals in a scene where Moana bristles when Maui calls her a princess. “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick,” he tells her, “you’re a princess.”


If only the rest of “Moana” exhibited that sort of wit. When Moana gets angry at the sea, all she can muster for an insult is, “Fish pee in you. All day.”



“Marriage is a fundamental right.”

Those words, delivered before the Supreme Court of the United States in “Loving,” are a simple enough concept — well, simple enough to most — that writer-director Jeff Nichols (“Mud,” “Midnight Special”) doesn’t have to tug at any heartstrings while telling the story of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga), who in 1958 were rousted out of bed in the middle of the night and thrown in jail solely for having been married.

Because Richard was white, Mildred was black and they lived in rural Virginia, they were charged with violating the state’s Racial Integrity Act, which the local sheriff (Marton Csokas) deems “God’s law.” Maybe he could have looked the other way if they were just shacking up, he tells the Lovings.

Because their lawyer (Bill Camp) is a “personal friend” of the judge, the Lovings’ yearlong prison sentence is deferred, so long as they leave Virginia — and their families — and don’t return for 25 years.

The Lovings don’t appeal, don’t cause a ruckus. They just pack up and watch the Civil Rights Movement unfold on television while living in exile in Washington, D.C., where they had married legally. But when Mildred can no longer stand that her children have nowhere to play — “I hate it for ’em. It’s like they’re caged. Not even any grass for them to run in” — and one of their sons is hit by a car while running in the street, they move home, no matter the risks.

A letter Mildred writes to Robert Kennedy gets the ACLU involved in their plight, but the plainspoken Richard can’t understand why they have to go to federal court. Can’t they just talk to the judge? Surely he’d reconsider.

The Lovings were simple people, played simply by Edgerton and Negga. He’s a man of few words, but Edgerton, all slumped shoulders and quiet shrugs, conveys his neverending love nonetheless.

There’s no swelling music, no histrionics, no eloquent speeches, no impassioned pleas. “Loving” is as workmanlike as bricklayer Richard. And it’s all the better for it.


Writer-director Warren Beatty has been trying to make his Howard Hughes movie, “Rules Don’t Apply,” for decades.

There’s a reason it took so long.

It’s just not good. At times, it’s borderline embarrassing.

Beatty portrays Hughes, beginning in 1958 during his Hollywood heyday, despite the fact that the real Hughes had been out of the movie business for years by then.

It’s that kind of movie.

Girls argue about how many homes Hughes has for the actresses he has under contract, with the answers ranging from 14 to 26. And each of those girls has her own driver to tend to her needs with only one rule: no “hanky panky.”

So, naturally, when Hughes signs small-town beauty queen Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins, daughter of Phil) and pairs her with Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich, the future young Han Solo), a devout Methodist fresh from Fresno, sparks begin to fly.

Tonally, “Rules Don’t Apply” is all over the place, pinging from madcap to morose, occasionally within the same scene. Hughes moves from bit player to center stage and back as his life becomes intertwined with theirs, and the movie grows as increasingly bizarre as Hughes’ behavior.

The key thing to remember is that almost nothing in “Rules Don’t Apply” actually happened, and the few real events are placed in different eras and fictionalized to the point of confusion. Much like “Miles Ahead,” Don Cheadle’s experimental Miles Davis biopic, “Rules Don’t Apply” bears almost no relationship to reality.

Hughes comes to Las Vegas for a hot minute, and Alec Baldwin has a cameo as his confidant Bob Maheu. But that’s about all anyone will recognize as fact.

Granted, “Rules Don’t Apply” opens with a disclaimer stating that “names and dates have been changed.” (Ya think?)

But like Hughes’ beloved Spruce Goose, the movie barely ever gets off the ground.


If you really can’t stand your relatives, take them all to see “Bad Santa 2.”

Then sneak out and see “Loving” or anything else playing in that multiplex.

It’s been 13 years since we’ve seen Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton), and the redemption and happy ending he’d earned after being shot eight times in the back by the police have long since abandoned him.

He’s at the end of his rope — he’s actually trying to hang himself — when his old pal Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly) shows up on his 21st birthday with a package from Marcus (Tony Cox), Willie’s former partner in holiday crime.

There’s a big job in Chicago, Marcus tells Willie, that could net them $2 million. Putting his trust issues aside — after all, the last time they saw each other, Marcus tried to kill him — Willie heads to the Windy City to learn he’s been duped. Twice.

First, the job involves knocking over a charity, run by the benevolent Diane (“Mad Men’s” Christina Hendricks) and her sleazy husband, Regent (Ryan Hansen). Second, their “inside man” on the job is Willie’s estranged mom, Sunny (Kathy Bates). Immediately upon seeing her, Willie punches her square in the jaw.

The rest of “Bad Santa 2” is filled with recycled short jokes at Marcus’ expense and a string of crude, largely unprintable, one-liners that feel more like they belong in an outtakes reel than a legitimate movie.

For all its vulgarity and shock value, the original “Bad Santa” had a layer of genuine heart beating just below the surface. The sequel, though, is just hateful and unpleasant from beginning to end.

I’d say it was a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking, but a lump of coal has actual value.


OK, I didn’t see this one, because it screened at the same time as “Bad Santa 2.”

And even though it stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, and there are rumors they had an on-set affair that destroyed Brangelina, let’s be honest: Most of us couldn’t pick Cotillard out of a lineup, despite her having won an Oscar, been nominated for another and having starred in both “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Anyway, “Allied” tells the story of World War II secret agents Max Vatan (Pitt) and Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard), who accidentally fall in love during a mission, get married and are pitted against each other as their loyalties to each other and their countries are tested.

Written by Steven Knight (“Peaky Blinders”) and directed by Robert Zemeckis, “Allied” is surely better than “Bad Santa 2.” It would be difficult to be any worse. But I saw that one so you wouldn’t have to.

Like Dwayne Johnson sings in “Moana,” you’re welcome.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch.

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