NEW YORK (CNS) -- The following are capsule reviews of theatrical movies on network and cable television the week of Dec. 12. Please note that televised versions may or may not be edited for language, nudity, violence and sexual situations.
Sunday, Dec. 12, 7-9:15 p.m. EST (AMC) "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" (1989). In the third Griswold family saga, dizzy dad Clark (Chevy Chase) aims to create an old-fashioned Christmas at home despite his clumsy pratfalls and short-fuse patience pushed to the limit by wife (Beverly D'Angelo), kids, in-laws and other assorted relatives. Director Jeremiah S. Chechik keeps the gags moving quickly past the double entendres and gets some laughs from Clark's bumbling attempts to enjoy Christmas. Some rough language laced with vulgarities and sexual innuendoes. 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, Dec. 13, 8-10 p.m. EST (Showtime) "The Polar Express" (2004). Visually captivating animated fantasy -- in which Tom Hanks plays five separate roles -- about a doubting young boy who is whisked away on Christmas Eve aboard a magic train bound for Santa's village in the North Pole. Based on the children's novel by Chris Van Allsburg, director Rob Zemeckis' hauntingly beautiful fairy tale celebrates childlike wonder and -- though secular in tone -- imparts a profoundly faith-friendly message about the importance of believing in things that can't be seen. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association rating was G -- general audiences. All ages admitted.
Tuesday, Dec. 14, 6-8 p.m. EST (TCM) "Yours, Mine and Ours" (1968). Fact-based story of a Navy widower (Henry Fonda) and a Navy widow (Lucille Ball) who fall in love, get married and merge their 18 children into one big, happy family. Director Melville Shavelson's comedy has predictable but genuinely funny complications such as an interrupted honeymoon, identity crises, bathroom lineups, troop-movement planning and economy sizes. Underneath all the broad humor is a gently moving story that manages to keep in touch with human reality. Truly a family picture. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-I -- general patronage. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association. Wednesday, Dec. 15, 10 p.m.-midnight EST (TCM) "Anastasia" (1956). Absorbing drama from Marcelle Maurette's play set in 1928 Paris where a woman suffering from amnesia (Ingrid Bergman) is tutored by a White Russian general (Yul Brynner) to pass as the czar's youngest daughter who somehow escaped the 1918 Bolshevik massacre of the royal family. Director Anatole Litvak portrays the emigre scene with enough conviction to sustain interest in the growing mystery of the woman's true identity, but most memorable are the scenes between the spunky yet vulnerable Bergman and Helen Hayes as the regal dowager empress whose compassion leads to an emotionally satisfying conclusion. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-I -- general patronage. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association. Saturday, Dec. 18, 6:45-9 p.m. EST (Showtime) "Lee Daniels' The Butler" (2013). The personal collides with the political in this affecting fact-based drama adapted by director Lee Daniels from a 2008 Washington Post article by reporter Wil Haygood. Escaping the vicious racism of the early 20th-century Deep South, a plantation worker (Forest Whitaker) makes his way to Washington, where he eventually finds coveted employment on the domestic staff of the White House. But his patient hope that white Americans -- led by the series of presidents he works with at close hand, from Dwight D. Eisenhower (Robin Williams) to Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman) -- will see the light on racial issues increasingly conflicts with the civil rights activism of his older son (David Oyelowo). And the long hours he puts in at the executive mansion leave his strong-willed but fragile wife (Oprah Winfrey) feeling neglected. Appealing performances, especially Winfrey's complex portrayal, and a surprisingly nuanced view of the various chief executives -- an irretrievably self-absorbed Richard Nixon (John Cusack) alone excepted -- keep the unfolding events from feeling like a chronological checklist of postwar history. While vulgar language and other red-flag content would normally prevent recommendation for any but grown-ups, the moral significance of this uplifting journey -- undertaken within a context of implicit religious faith and strong marital commitment -- is such that at least some parents may consider it acceptable for older teens. Occasional action violence, an adultery theme, numerous mature references, a half-dozen uses of profanity, a couple of rough terms, some 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. Saturday, Dec. 18, 8-9:50 p.m. EST (HBO) "Ron's Gone Wrong" (2021). Endearing animated comedy in which a socially isolated middle schooler (voice of Jack Dylan Grazer) yearns for the robot toy that has become a status symbol among his classmates. But, when he receives one as a birthday gift from his cash-strapped, widowed dad (voice of Ed Helms) and Bulgarian immigrant grandmother (voice of Olivia Colman), it turns out to be a damaged model (voice of Zach Galifianakis) that he initially spurns. As he learns to appreciate the affection and sunny good nature underlying the eccentricities of his quirky new companion, co-directors Sarah Smith, Jean-Philippe Vine and Octavio E. Rodriguez's film, which Smith co-wrote with Peter Baynham, wreaks entertaining chaos while sending positive messages about friendship, altruism and the need to resist both peer pressure and mindless consumerism. Characters in peril, some mild scatological humor, a single slightly crass expression. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association rating was PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. - - - Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.