Reviews

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St. Vincent (2014)

B | **½ | +2-2| Teens & Up*

When a Hollywood comedy pairs a dissolute, misanthropic curmudgeon with a cute young kid, you expect a story of redemption — particularly when the movie is called St. Vincent, and the curmudgeon’s name is Vincent. When the curmudgeon played by Bill Murray, it’s a done deal. Read More >

The Song (2014)

C | ** | +2| Teens & Up

A faith-based romantic drama with a country music milieu, The Song is couched as a contemporary reimagining of the life of King Solomon, son of David. Read More >

The Boxtrolls (2014)

D+ | ** | -2| Kids & Up*

The Boxtrolls is so defiantly weird and bleak, so committed to the bitter end to its grotesque aesthetic and chilly story, that even as the film crashes and burns you can’t help being moved by the hardworking stop-motion animators’ devotion to their craft. Read More >

Calvary (2014)

B+ | ***½ | +3-2| Adults*

Sometimes misleadingly described as a dark comedy, Calvary is certainly dark, and there are sporadic bits of absurdist humor. In keeping with its title, though, it really is a passion play, with Father James as an innocent victim to be sacrificed for the sins of the Church. Read More >

When the Game Stands Tall

C+ | ** | +2| Teens & Up

Sports movies love underdogs scrapping their way to the top. When the Game Stands Tall is about what happens when a ridiculously successful team finally stumbles. Read More >

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

A- | ***½ | +1-1| Teens & Up

Guardians is a romp, a lark — rare descriptors for a popcorn summer movie, alas, in these days of dark, grim tentpoles from Maleficent to Hercules, Edge of Tomorrow to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Read More >

Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014)

C | ** | -1| Kids & Up

With this sequel to last summer’s spin-off from the franchise that descended from Pixar’s Cars, the World of Cars has left behind not only stock cars, the open road, specific real-world settings and Larry the Cable Guy, but racing itself. Practically nothing is left of John Lasseter’s original vision, except those blasted windshield eyeballs. In this melancholy year without Pixar, it’s worse than no reminder at all. Read More >

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

A | ***½ | +2| Teens & Up

Wait, where did this movie come from? Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is so not the sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes I expected or was prepared for. Read More >

Deliver Us From Evil (2014)

B | *** | +2| Teens & Up

Why would a mother at the zoo throw her toddler over a railing into the moat of a lion enclosure? That’s the kind of horrible question that can look very different if you are a police officer or a priest. Read More >

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

C+ | **½ | +1-2| Kids & Up*

The first film related how Hiccup changed his village’s way of life forever, winning the love of the girl of his dreams, the approval of his authoritarian father and the respect of everyone in town — not to mention the loyalty of his magnificent new draconian friend, Toothless. Where do you go from there? Read More >

The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

B | *** | +2-2| Teens & Up*

The Fault in Our Stars — in cinematic as well as literary form — cares quite a bit about silly questions, such as the meaning of life and death and love and suffering in a universe sliding toward oblivion, and whether there is Something beyond giving some larger context to our existence, choices and experiences. Read More >

Maleficent (2014)

D | | -2| Kids & Up*

It’s fair to say that Disney’s Maleficent plays to an extent as warmed-over Frozen. This is not a good thing, even, I think, if you are a fan of Frozen. Read More >

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

A- | ***½ | +2| Teens & Up

X-Men: Days of Future Past is one of the geekiest comic-book movies ever made — and one of the best. It’s easily the best superhero movie since The Avengers — and, like The Avengers, it plays as a triumphant climax to an uneven series of earlier films. Read More >

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

B+ | *** | +2| Teens & Up

The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s biggest liability is that it follows The Amazing Spider-Man. This sequel is so much better than its predecessor that I’ve gone from being merely disappointed with the 2012 reboot to being downright angry about it. Read More >

Noah (2014)

B+ | ***½ | +2-2| Teens & Up*

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah pays its source material a rare compliment: It takes Genesis seriously as a landmark of world literature and ancient moral reflection, and a worthy source of artistic inspiration in our day. Read More >

The LEGO Movie (2014)

B+ | ***½ | +1| Kids & Up

Here is something I didn’t see coming: The freshest, most unique animated family film from any Hollywood studio in well over a year is … based on a line of brightly colored plastic construction blocks and assorted accessories. I’m not kidding! Read More >

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

B+ | *** | +1| Teens & Up

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. That’s almost enough to sell the picture by itself, isn’t it? Who but Hanks can one imagine in the role? Read More >

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

C | **½ | -2| Teens & Up

Now, two installments into the epically epic trilogification of Tolkien’s slender fairy tale for children, it seems Jackson and company have only one abiding goal: to keep one-upping themselves with ever more preposterous action sequences, nastier violence and more inappropriate humor. Read More >

Frozen (2013)

C+ | **½ | +1-1| Kids & Up

Frozen may be the most tragic fairy tale in the Disney canon, which is saying something. Read More >

12 Years a Slave (2013)

A | **** | +3-1| Adults*

What if I were to tell you that there has never until now been a major historical motion picture about the slave experience in America? Could that possibly be true? Read More >

Gravity (2013)

A- | ***½ | +2| Teens & Up*

Gorgeous, nerve-racking, literally awesome, Gravity takes us to a world much nearer in both time and space than Duncan Jones’ Moon; nearer even than the layer of satellites that our mobile phones and GPS devices talk to every day: only about 350 miles away, in the low Earth orbit of the Hubble Space Telescope. Roughly the distance from Los Angeles to San Francisco — but oh, that’s far enough. Read More >

Planes (2013)

B | *** | +2| Kids & Up

Both the big race and international flavor recall Cars 2 as well as DreamWorks’ Turbo, the protagonist of which had the same personal crisis as Dusty, a longing for speed he wasn’t built for. Yet Planes, in its modest way, cannily avoids the pitfalls that made those films unsatisfying. Read More >

The Wolverine (2013)

B+ | *** | +1-1| Teens & Up*

It’s not a great film, but it’s a pretty good one. This year, that’s enough to make The Wolverine not only the season’s best superhero film, but arguably its best popcorn action movie: a gingery palate cleanser in a summer of overcooked Big Macs. Read More >

Turbo (2013)

C+ | **½ | +0| Kids & Up

At some point, alas, it becomes apparent that Turbo’s more daring elements are all surface, and the story is locked into a well-worn path to an all-too-obvious destination. Writing about Monsters University, I noted that, like many other Pixar films, it pours cold water on the familiar family-film platitude that you can achieve anything you put your mind to if you just want it enough. Turbo embraces the platitude. Read More >

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

B- | **½ | +1| Kids & Up

“Dr. Evil without Austin Powers,” I called Gru in my review of Despicable Me. Turning Dr. Evil into Austin Powers (mutatis mutandis, for a family film) is the best possible way to keep the reformed character from losing his mojo. (Oh, how Mike Myers has influenced this discussion!) Read More >

The Lone Ranger (2013)

D | | -2| Teens & Up*

Even more than Man of Steel, The Lone Ranger is the poster child for our culture’s terminal inability to offer children today heroic role models … I’ve seen many movies that were objectively worse than The Lone Ranger. Very few have made me angrier. Read More >

Monsters University (2013)

B | *** | +2-1| Kids & Up

Monsters University, from first-time director Dan Scanlon, is a charming, well-crafted trifle — at least until the subversive last act, when it sets its sights a bit higher. Read More >

Man of Steel (2013)

C+ | **½ | +2-2| Teens & Up

To borrow a line from Man of Steel producer Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight: This isn’t the Superman movie we need, but it’s the one we deserve. Read More >

Epic (2013)

B- | **½ | +1-1| Kids & Up

At its best, Epic produces images of poetic power, even grandeur … The catch is that the world the filmmakers create is far more interesting than the story they tell in it or the characters they put in it. Read More >

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

B+ | *** | +1-1| Teens & Up

Star Trek Into Darkness outdoes its predecessor in most respects, except creative ambition. Read More >

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