The Descendants (Fox Searchlight)
Spiritually bereft dark comedy in which, with his wife (Patricia Hastie) left brain-dead by an accident, a grieving Hawaii lawyer (George Clooney) and previously neglectful father is forced to deal with the impact of her loss on their two daughters (Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller) as well as with a family crisis involving the planned sale of a pristine beachfront property held in trust for generations. Director and co-writer Alexander Payne's astringent adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings' novel is neither hostile to religion nor to people of faith. But belief of any sort is conspicuously absent as characters grapple with fundamental questions and emotions. Mature themes, including end-of-life issues and adultery; frequent rough and crude language; and fleeting profanity. (L, R)
Mission: Impossible --- Ghost Protocol (Paramount)
This dizzying roller-coaster ride of an espionage thriller propels viewers from the depths of urban sewers to the top of the world's tallest building, and throws in outer space for good measure. The leader (Tom Cruise) of a team of agents for the elite Impossible Missions Force is framed for a terrorist bombing of the Kremlin. Driven underground, and pursued by the Russian police, his associates (most prominently Paula Patton and Simon Pegg) join him in the struggle to stop the actual bomber (Michael Nyqvist) before he can unleash global nuclear war, an effort in which they're eventually joined by another operative (Jeremy Renner), whose motives are not entirely clear. In his live-action debut, established animation director Brad Bird oversees spectacular cinematography (especially in Imax), with the camera swooping and soaring with each death-defying stunt. Intense action violence, including gunplay, some rough language. (A-III, PG-13)
My Week With Marilyn (Weinstein)
This behind-the-scenes look at the making of 1956's "The Prince and the Showgirl" --- one of Marilyn Monroe's least successful films --- offers a fascinating study of her tortured soul and of a clash of cultures in 1950s Britain. The young assistant (Eddie Redmayne) to the movie's distinguished director and leading man, Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), is smitten by Monroe (Michelle Williams) and eager to protect her from the sniping establishment, who resent her beauty and lack of classical training. Monroe, on the other hand, is desperate to be taken seriously as an actress but hampered by her dependence on pills and alcohol. When the set becomes a battleground of titans, Monroe retreats to the country with her newfound friend in tow. Directed by newcomer Simon Curtis, this screen version of Colin Clark's 1995 memoir is, for the most part, surprisingly chaste and free of exploitative intent. Fleeting rear female nudity, brief adulterous kissing, a few profane expressions, some rough language. (A-III, R)
New Year's Eve (Warner Bros.)
Painfully forced romantic comedy tracking the sometimes intersecting paths of, among others, the executive (Hilary Swank) in charge of the titular holiday's iconic celebration in New York's Times Square, the rock star (Jon Bon Jovi) headlining the evening's entertainment there, the up-and-coming caterer (Katherine Heigl) to whom the rocker was once engaged, and one of his backup singers (Lea Michele) who finds herself trapped in an elevator for hours with a New Year's-averse slacker (Ashton Kutcher). Also thrown into the ensemble are Robert De Niro as a dying hospital patient, Halle Berry as his faithful nurse, Michelle Pfeiffer as an inhibited middle aged office worker out for adventure and Zac Efron as the bike messenger she enlists to help her find it. Reuniting for a follow-up to 2010's "Valentine's Day," director Garry Marshall and screenwriter Katherine Fugate weave a web of love stories largely free of the moral tangles that marred their earlier collaboration. A few one-liners aside, though, the humor falls flat, while the script's strained effort to transform Dec. 31 into a kind of secular High Holy Day is simply irritating. Some sexual references and humor, at least one use of the F-word, occasional crude language and crass slang. (A-III, PG-13)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Warner Bros.)
Sprawling, brawling adventure sequel --- set in 1891 --- in which Robert Downey Jr.'s he-man Holmes and his recently wed sidekick Dr. Watson (Jude Law) battle a conspiracy by evil genius Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) to destabilize European politics and bring on a general war. The iconic pair is aided in their struggle by a Gypsy fortuneteller (Noomi Rapace) and by Holmes' bon vivant older brother (Stephen Fry). Director Guy Ritchie's second take on the classic detective fiction of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle downplays old-fashioned sleuthing in favor of a constant flow of confrontations, escapades and escapes. Still, adults with a high degree of tolerance for stylized violence will likely find the proceedings diverting enough. Constant action violence, including a suicide, torture and some glimpses of gore; partial rear and implied full nudity; fleeting sexual humor; and a few crass terms. (A-III, PG-13)
The Sitter (Fox)
A schlubby college student (Jonah Hill) becomes the unlikely baby sitter for three troubled children (Max Records, Landry Bender and Kevin Hernandez). With the kids in tow, he visits a drug dealer to buy cocaine. But the deal goes awry, and he spends the rest of the night hurtling around New York City trying to make things right and "solving" problems for the kids with a series of oversimplified lectures. Amid these supposedly humorous adventures, director David Gordon Green's film runs the gamut of degradation while attempting to pass off felony child endangerment as comedy. An explicit nonmarital sex act, fleeting profanity, acceptance of homosexual activity, pervasive rough, crude and crass language, frequent references to drug use, body functions and pedophilia, racial stereotyping. (O, R)
War Horse (Dreamworks)
Epic screen version of Michael Morpurgo's 1982 novel, previously made into a successful stage play, about an English farmer's son (newcomer Jeremy Irvine) who trains and cares for a thoroughbred horse that his father (Peter Mullan) misguidedly buys just to thwart the local squire (David Thewlis). Despite the animal's successful adaptation to farm work, and the lad's emotional bond with him, at the start of World War I, the tiller sells him to an army officer (Tom Hiddleston) bound for the Western Front, thus initiating a series of adventures and trials that are, by turns, touching and harrowing. While the intensity of the drama, the level of violence and some of the vocabulary used make director Steven Spielberg's vast canvas unsuitable viewing for kids, mature audience members will encounter a stirring affirmation of human solidarity amid the tragedy of the trenches --- a realization of shared values brought about, ironically, by the heroism and endurance of the nonhuman protagonist. Considerable combat and other violence, including an execution; about a half-dozen uses of crass language; and a few vague sexual references. (A-III, PG-13)
Young Adult (Paramount)
Pretentiously droll and condescending examination of small-town relationships in which Charlize Theron plays a moderately successful ghostwriter of young-adult fiction. Divorced and unhappy with the direction of her life in Minneapolis, she returns to her rural Minnesota home in hopes of rekindling a romance with her high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson), despite the fact that he is now a husband and father --- and in the teeth of sensible advice from another former classmate (Patton Oswalt). Director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody draw the caricatures in thick crayon, as the intelligent and caring --- if bitter --- people around her never seem to notice that Theron's character is constantly either depressed, drunk or hung over. Two scenes of implied nonmarital sexual activity, fleeting profanity, pervasive rough and brief crass language, sexual banter. (L, R)
Catholic News Service classifications: A-I ---- general patronage; A-II ---- adults and adolescents; A-III ---- adults; L ---- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling; O ---- morally offensive. Full-length reviews: www.catholicnews.com/movies.htm.
Prayer of the MonthPapal intentions for November: That priests who experience difficulties may find comfort in their suffering, support in their doubts, and confirmation in their fidelity. That as fruit of the continental mission, Latin American Churches may send missionaries to other Churches.
Papal intentions for December: That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.