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TV film fare -- week of Dec. 15, 2019


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NEW YORK (CNS) -- The following are capsule reviews of theatrical movies on network and cable television the week of Dec. 15. Please note that televised versions may or may not be edited for language, nudity, violence and sexual situations.

Sunday, Dec. 15, 11 a.m.-12:45 p.m. EST (Showtime) "The Man Who Invented Christmas" (2017). This charming fact-based historical drama tells the origin story of Victorian author Charles Dickens' (Dan Stevens) beloved novella, "A Christmas Carol." With his last three titles having failed to sell, Dickens fears falling into debt if his next production is equally unpopular. As he struggles with writer's block and the endless distractions of his burgeoning family's domestic life -- a visit from his feckless father (Jonathan Pryce), whom Dickens blames for the sufferings of his childhood, is a particular source of worry and conflict -- the writer fancifully summons up and interacts with his own characters, most prominently dour miser Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer). His patient wife (Morfydd Clark) and unpaid literary agent (Justin Edwards) offer him encouragement, and the conversion story he eventually pens finds a real-life counterpart in the amendment of Dickens' own behavior. Director Bharat Nalluri's adaptation of Les Standiford's 2008 book is family-friendly in most respects and will likely prove a winner with a broad range of age groups. A very vague sexual joke, a single mild oath. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating was PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Sunday, Dec. 15, 7-11 p.m. EST (ABC) "The Sound of Music" (1965). Particularly fine screen version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about the formative years of the Trapp Family Singers in Austria between the two world wars. Its interesting story, solid cast (headed by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer), lovely music and intelligent lyrics, colorful scenery and pleasant fantasy will entertain the mind and enliven the spirit. Directed by Robert Wise, the movie has held up over the years as thoroughly refreshing family entertainment. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating was G -- general audiences. All ages admitted.

Monday, Dec. 16, 6-8 p.m. EST (TCM) "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (1960). Good production of the Mark Twain classic, though Eddie Hodges is a mite sweet as Huck and former boxing champ Archie Moore a bit stiff as the runaway slave, Jim. Director Michael Curtiz conveys much of the spirit of the original and gets amusing support from the colorful cast of characters, especially Tony Randall and Mickey Shaughnessy as the Mississippi con artists. Enjoyable family fare. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-I -- general patronage. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Tuesday, Dec. 17, 10:15 p.m.-12:45 a.m. EST (AMC) "Miracle on 34th Street" (1994). Sweetly updated remake of the 1947 holiday classic about the department store Santa (Richard Attenborough) who believes he is actually Santa Claus and ends up in court defending his claim, in the process winning over the cynical mom (Elizabeth Perkins) who hired him and her dubious 5-year-old (Mara Wilson). Director Les Mayfield's gently values-centered but sluggishly paced family movie stresses faith in things unseen, hope for the future and a generous loving spirit that underlies the true meaning of Christmas. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating was PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Thursday, Dec. 19, 8-9:45 p.m. EST (TCM) "Topper Returns" (1941). Zany sequel with Topper (Roland Young) reluctantly aiding a ghost (Joan Blondell) to solve her own murder in the spooky mansion of her girlfriend (Carole Landis) whose ailing father (H.B. Warner) is in the care of a sinister doctor (George Zucco). Director Roy Del Ruth mixes perilous situations involving a cloaked mystery figure, sliding panels and hidden passages with the wacky goings-on of a very funny cast (Billie Burke, Eddie Rochester, Patsy Kelly, Donald McBride and Dennis O'Keefe). Comic menace. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-II -- adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Friday, Dec. 20, 8-10:10 p.m. EST (Showtime) "Green Book" (2018). High-minded saga of race relations in 1962 is hobbled by sentimentality and doesn't so much lean into stereotypes as take flying, cringe-worthy leaps. It's based on a real concert tour through the Midwest and South taken by African American pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) in the company of Anthony "Tony Lip" Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), an assistant maitre'd at New York's Copacabana nightclub who served as both chauffeur and bodyguard. Shirley was famous at the time for his recordings of jazz and show tunes (since, in that era, promoters thought audiences wouldn't accept a black classical musician). Director Peter Farrelly, who co-wrote the screenplay with Vallelonga's son, Nick, and Brian Currie, shows the journey as a series of individual challenges, depending on the venue. The film has merit despite its flaws, although it's never clear that either character is experiencing anything along the lines of personal growth. Pervasive racial slurs, references to homosexuality, fleeting rough language. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating was PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Saturday, Dec. 21, 8-9:40 p.m. EST (HBO) "The Sun Is Also a Star" (2019). Uneven adaptation of Nicola Yoon's best-selling novel for young adults chronicles a day in the lives of a pragmatic would-be astronomer (Yara Shahidi) struggling to keep her Jamaican family from being deported from New York and a Korean-American true believer in romance (Charles Melton) whose parents are forcing him to become a doctor rather than the poet he aspires to be. After their paths cross at Grand Central Terminal, he insists that they were destined to be together, but she has her doubts. So long as director Ry Russo-Young keeps the focus on the central pair, the quirky chutzpah of Melton's character, out to win over his lady love, is sufficiently appealing to maintain viewer interest. The pretentious pronouncements about life, the universe and everything that lard Tracy Oliver's script, by contrast, will likely try moviegoers' patience. Possibly acceptable for mature teens. Scenes of sensuality, a couple of mild oaths, at least one rough term, several crude and crass expressions. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating was PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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