MOVIE BUFF-ET: Something for most everyone in local theaters this weekend

Paramount Pictures

Between Thanksgiving and Black Friday, this is one of the busiest weeks of the year for many, but if you are looking for a place to retreat from the hustle and bustle of the season, the movie theater isn’t a bad option.

Four new films open in local theaters Wednesday, and it looks like a pretty good crop to go along with several other strong releases from earlier in the month.

If you like drama, Brad Pitt’s new film Allied might work for you. Pitt plays an World War II intelligence officer that marries a member of the French resistance, who is suspected of being a Nazi spy. The film is the latest from Robert Zemekis, director of Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, among many others.

New In Local Theaters

  • Allied (R) 2 hr. 4 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle)
    » Watch trailer
  • Bad Santa 2 (R) 1 hr. 32 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Rogers Towne)
    » Watch trailer
  • Moana (PG) 1 hr. 53 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle)
    » Watch trailer
  • Rules Don’t Apply (PG-13) 2 hr. 6 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Rogers Towne)
    » Watch trailer

Warren Beatty’s latest effort is Rules Don’t Apply. He directs and plays Howard Hughes in a film set in 1958 Hollywood. Rising actress (Lilly Collins) falls for Hughes’ driver (Alden Ahrenreich); however, Hughes doesn’t allow his employees to date actresses he has under contract. The film is said to be loosely inspired on some of Beatty’s own experiences as a young actor in Hollywood. The movie which finds the two young lover’s conflicted about their personal beliefs and their new Hollywood lifestyle is getting mixed reviews. As a side note, Ahrenreich has recently been cast to play a young Han Solo in a film based on the popular scoundrel from the Star Wars films.

The biggest film opening this week is Disney’s latest family-friendly animated movie Moana. It featuries the voice talents of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the demigod Maui and Auli’I Cravalho as Moana, an adventurous teenager who sets out on a daring voyage with a mission to save her people. The movie has a 100 percent fresh rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Considering, it’s a Disney movie powered by the charm and charisma of Johnson, whom People Magazine recently named it’s Sexiest Man of the Year, the film could end up being the biggest box-office draw of the season.

If you feel a little naughty, native Arkansan and Academy Award winner Billy Bob Thornton returns as whiskey-soaked Willie Soke in the decidedly un-family-friendly Bad Santa 2. The small-time crook uses a Santa Claus gimmick with his partner-in-crime Marcus (Tony Cox) in an attempt to rob a charity on Christmas Eve. The movie also features Kathy Bates and Brett Kelly. Critics are pounding the movie, which has a 32 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

If those movies aren’t appealing, there are several other solid films that opened earlier in the month.
Edge of Seventeen is a coming-of-age dramadey that might remind some of Fast Times at Ridgemont High or even aspects of the John Hughes’ teen films of the 1980s. The movie is modern, though, and has a harsher edge than any of Hughes’ films.

If fantasy and action are more to your liking, you might want to check out Dr. Strange, Marvel’s latest film, or Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the latest film featuring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling.

Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge is a violently brutal true story of heroism set in the Pacific Theater of World War II, and Almost Christmas is a family comedy set around a dysfunctional gathering for Thanksgiving.

Classics Corner

Maureen O’Hara and John Payne in Miracle on 34th Street

I don’t know if there is such thing as a perfect movie, but director George Seaton’s 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street has to be close.

Just thinking of the film that tells the story of what happens when Santa Claus faces a competency hearing in New York City brings a smile to my face.

I have no clue how many times I’ve seen the movie that stars Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, a young Natalie Wood, and the perfectly cast Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle.

When I was a child in the 1970s, the CBS affiliate in Memphis that serviced eastern Arkansas always aired the movie each Christmas Eve after the 10:30 p.m. local news.

At that time, CBS didn’t have a late-night talk show to compete with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, and wouldn’t for a couple of decades. The same station always played It’s a Wonderful Life on New Year’s Eve. I fondly remember staying up late with my mom to watch both several times as a kid.

As a teen I missed watching both several years as time with friends grew more important to me than sentimental old family traditions, but in an effort make sure I never transformed into Scrooge-like character myself, I began watching films like Miracle on 34th Street each Christmas season.

In the last decade or so, I’ve taken to watching Miracle on 34th Street late on Thanksgiving night, after I’ve had too much turkey and pie and the day’s football games are over.

What better way to usher in the Christmas season than with Santa Claus? For my money, no one has portrayed the kindly old gift-giver any better than Gwenn, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the role.

His eyes practically sparkle in every scene, whether he’s singing a song with the little Dutch girl who doesn’t understand English, or teaching the all-too practical Wood how to use her imagination to get along better with other children her age.

There’s passion in those eyes, too, especially when Marcy’s human resources scoundrel Mr. Sawyer (Porter Hall) makes a lay psychological diagnosis for Kris’ friend Alfred, a young man who enjoys portraying Santa Claus for children.

But the true magic of the film is how Kringle’s lovely delusion brings joy to Wood’s character and hope to her cynical mother (O’Hara). The film’s courtroom climax remains ingenious. I won’t give away the details in case you’ve never see it.

It’s truly a movie everyone should see at least once.

TCM airs a day of classic Christmas films on Dec. 30

Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan in Christmas in Connecticut

If you do enjoy old Christmas-themed movies and have ample space on your DVR, Turner Classic Movies has a treat for you on Dec. 30. From 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. it’s wall-to-wall Christmas flicks.

Here’s a list:

  • 5 a.m. – Holiday Affair (1949) — A young widow is torn between a boring businessman and a romantic ne’er-do-well. With Robert Mitchum and Donna Reed.
  • 6:30 a.m. – Bundle of Joy (1956) — A shop girl is mistaken for the mother of a foundling. With Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.
  • 8:30 a.m. – In the Good Old Summertime — In this musical remake of The Shop Around the Corner, feuding co-workers in a small music shop do not realize they are secret romantic pen pals. With Judy Garland and Van Johnson.
  • 10:30 a.m. – Meet John Doe (1941) — A reporter’s fraudulent story turns a tramp into a national hero and makes him a pawn of big business. With Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck.
  • 12:45 p.m. – A Christmas Carol (1938) — In this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic tale, an elderly miser learns the error of his ways on Christmas Eve. With Reginald Owen and Gene and Kathleen Lockhart.
  • 2 p.m. – Christmas in Connecticut (1945) — A homemaking specialist who can’t boil water is forced to provide a family holiday for a war hero. With Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan.
  • 3:45 p.m. – Snowed Under (1936) — A playwright in search of solitude is besieged by three women.
  • 5 p.m. – The Shop Around the Corner (1940) — Feuding co-workers don’t realize they’re secret romantic pen pals. With Margaret Sullivan and Jimmy Stewart.