This Week at the Movies: ‘Moana,’ ‘Allied,’ ‘Rules Don’t Apply’

Also out this week, in limited release: 'Miss Sloane' and 'Always Shine.'

  • The Thanksgiving weekend’s most likely money monster is Moana, the new Disney musical adventure, with songs co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (heard of him?) and an inspired lead vocal performance by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. They’re not exactly ripping up the studio playbook here – princess, animal sidekicks, themes of home and self-determination, ballads and show-stoppers to match – but what they do, they’re doing really well here. Check out our full review.
  • Maybe it’s a matter of drastically lowered expectations – I haven’t really enjoyed or recommended a Robert Zemeckis film in at least two decades – but Allied is a surprisingly robust and energetic WWII spy thriller, taut and thrilling and assembled with smooth professionalism. Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard smolder convincingly (in a series of divine costumes) as a pair of spooks who meet on the job and fall for each other, in spite of their best intentions to do otherwise; the early scenes, in which she’s teaching him how to seem in love with her, burn with both playful eroticism and a winking actor/director subtext. And the third act, which invests its breathless set pieces with urgent themes of trust and intimacy, verges on Hitchcock-level tension. Zemeckis can’t reach those heights, of course (few can), but he winds up with his best picture in years, faint praise though that may be.
  • Also going wide this weekend is Rules Don’t Apply, Warren Beatty’s verrrrrrry long-awaited return to the screen, which fuses post-Aviator Howard Hughes biopic and sparkly period Hollywood romantic comedy, with mixed results – top-shelf performances, wobbly execution, baffling editing and scoring. All failures should be so fascinating. Read more on that one here.

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  • “Our system is rotten,” announces Jessica Chastain’s title character, near the end of Miss Sloane (out Friday in limited release). “It rewards rats who are willing to sell out their country to keep their noses in the trough.” HEY THERE ANYBODY FEEL LIKE GETTING AWAY FROM THE HORRID EVENTS OF THE WORLD BY TAKING IN A MOVIE THIS WEEKEND? That little trigger warning aside, this is a mostly solid, Michael Clayton-style political procedural, filled with sharp turns, neat doublecrosses, and a hard, tough central performance by Ms. Chastain that’s mostly free of soft edges and pat redemptions. Jonathan Perera’s script is somewhat overwritten, particularly in the set-up, while director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) lets it run on a bit too long. But it’s a satisfying picture – and, earlier warning aside, one that’s proudly partisan, dealing with real issues in the real world rather than ghosting in abstracts.
  • Actor/director Sophia Takal’s psychological thriller Always Shine, out Friday in New York (Los Angeles next week, other markets to follow) follows a pair of actor friends (played by Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald) on a weekend getaway in Big Sur, where their bristling resentments and jagged jealousies come to the surface with only the slightest shove. It’s scored and paced like a De Palma picture, but with a knowing layer of commentary and insight into what it is to be a woman, particularly in show business. Takal has a way of making the most banal situations and everyday interactions pulse with sinister undercurrents; it’s a dazzlingly confident film, spinning like a wind-up toy, yet slicing with insight on each go-round. Check out our interview with Takal and Davis, and more on the movie in this month’s indie guide.

And there’s still plenty of good stuff hanging around from last week, or lots of good options for home viewing. Happy Thanksgiving!