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Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)

A- | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up*

Like director John Huston’s similarly themed The African Queen, the film finds conflict mixed with romantic tension in a tale of a demure religious woman thrown together with a rugged male loner. Here, though, the complicating factor is not fastidiousness on the part of the religious woman, but the woman’s vocation. Read More >

Spellbound (2003)

A- | ***½ | +1| Kids & Up

Spellbound, Jeffrey Blitz’s endearing, heartbreaking, deeply rewarding documentary about eight brainy middle-school kids competing with nearly 250 other spellers in front of the ESPN-watching world, is full of such unforgettable moments. Not just a documentary of a contest, Spellbound is a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of contestants of various regional and socioeconomic backgrounds whose only common bond is a facility with putting words together. Read More >

The Court Jester (1956)

A+ | **** | +0| Kids & Up

Not only does it terrifically succeed where movies like Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights miserably fail, The Court Jester also as merry, high-spirited, and wholesome as the adventures it parodies, with none of the cynical, anarchic spirit (or content issues) of the likes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Read More >

Hulk (2003)

B+ | *** | +0| Teens & Up*

Not the best or most exciting of comic-book movies to date, but the most thoughtful and arguably one of the most interesting, Ang Lee’s Hulk offers a new look at Marvel Comics’s green-skinned Jekyll-and-Hyde pulp anti-hero through the director’s poetic, psychologically attuned sensibilities. Read More >

Microcosmos (1996)

A | **** | +0| Kids & Up

What Winged Migration did for birds and Atlantis did for life under the sea, Microcosmos does for the insect world. It’s an astonishingly up-close and personal look at an infinitesimal world as alien as anything captured by the Hubble telescope or the Mars rovers — but also a world of strange fascination and unexpected beauty. Read More >

Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)

A- | ***½ | +0| Teens & Up

Despite numerous cinematic adaptations — including Steve Martin’s cute romantic-comedy update Roxanne — the definitive Cyrano is probably Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s boisterous, full-blooded film, with France’s greatest actor, Gérard Depardieu, making the part forever his own. Read More >

Holiday (1938)

A+ | **** | +2| Kids & Up*

Why is The Philadelphia Story so well known, while the equally unforgettable Holiday, from the same director, writers, and leads, suffers comparative neglect? Read More >

The Road Home (2001)

B+ | ***½ | +0| Kids & Up*

The film knows that to a young girl hopelessly in love, this race is no grandly romantic gesture, but a matter of desperate necessity. She must, must catch the wagon; he must have the dumplings. Her future happiness depends upon it; all is lost if she fails. Read More >

The Navigator (1924)

B+ | ***½ | +0| Kids & Up

Buster Keaton’s most popular vehicle in his own day, and said to be Keaton’s favorite of his own films, The Navigator isn’t as sophisticated and satisfying as his best work (e.g., The General), but it’s still brilliant slapstick comedy, with a rousing third act and a slam-bang climax. Read More >

Bringing Down the House (2003)

D | ** | -3| Adults

"Everything he ever needed to know," blurbs the tagline, "she learned in prison." More accurately, everything he ever needed to know, she learned in the ghetto; the larger point is that she has everything to teach and nothing to learn, and he has everything to learn and nothing to teach. Read More >

A Christmas Story (1983)

A- | ***½ | +0| Kids & Up*

Like many Christmas-themed movies, it offers no insight into the true meaning of Christmas, but it brims with insight into the human condition — particularly the condition of boys at Christmastime. Read More >

Holiday Inn (1942)

B | *** | +0| Kids & Up*

True to type, Crosby plays nice and Astaire shallow: Jim (Crosby) loves his dance partner and wants to marry her and settle down, but Ted (Astaire) wants to dance with her, and steals her away from Jim. Heartbroken, Jim retires to the Connecticut farm where he had hoped to settle down, but soon finds that show business is in his blood, and hits on the novel idea of turning his farmhouse into a dinner theater that operates only on holidays. Read More >

Oklahoma! (1955)

A- | ***½ | +1-1| Teens & Up

Oklahoma! was the first of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical collaborations, and it changed the face of musical theater. Read More >

One Man’s Hero (1999)

C+ | **½ | +2-2| Teens & Up*

Who is right? The issues are complex, and historians and faithful Catholics disagree (see related article). One Man’s Hero is sympathetic to the St. Pats and critical of American "Manifest Destiny" expansionism and anti-Catholicism. Read More >

Piglet’s Big Movie (2003)

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

With Piglet’s Big Movie, Pooh finally returns to his roots, bringing three of Milne’s original tales to the screen for the first time in an anthology-style story. Framed as a series of flashbacks in a story with Pooh and his friends searching for the missing Piglet, the movie recalls the tales of Christopher Robin’s expedition to the North Pole, the house at Pooh Corner, and the arrival of Kanga and Roo in the Hundred Acre Wood. Running through all three episodes as well as the framing story is the film’s unifying theme, little Piglet’s big heart and heroism. Read More >

Teacher’s Pet (2004)

C+ | **½ | -1| Kids & Up*

(Review by Jimmy Akin) Teacher’s Pet is the story of a boy and his dog. It’s not the usual boy and his dog story, though. In this case, the dog wants to be a boy. And in this movie, he gets his wish. Read More >

Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969)

A- | ***½ | +0| Kids & Up*

James Garner brings a variation on his "Maverick" persona to this classic satirical Western that, even more than Destry Rides Again, does for Westerns what The Princess Bride did for fairy-tale fantasy, at once spoofing and honoring the genre’s conventions and clichés. Read More >

Father Goose (1964)

B | *** | +0| Kids & Up*

Cary Grant cheerfully plays against a lifetime of typecasting in this modestly entertaining romantic comedy with comic echoes of The African Queen and Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, directed by Ralph Nelson (The Lilies of the Field). Read More >

Lilies of the Field (1963)

B+ | *** | +3| Kids & Up

Smith is determined to move on, but soon agrees to a day’s work; and proceeds to find himself faced with one task after another. Exactly how much Mother Maria intends to ask of him — and how much she is able to pay him — are not immediately clear; nor is the extent to which the language barrier is a hindrance to her and the extent to which she is hiding behind it. Read More >

Platinum Blonde (1931)

B | *** | +0| Teens & Up

This theme of romantically linking an upper-class society girl and a man beneath her station would become a popular device in screwball comedies, appealing to Depression audiences both as escapist entertainment and as satire of the idle rich and celebration of the hardworking poor. Read More >

Russian Ark (2002)

A- | **** | +0| Kids & Up

Once the advent of digital video freed filmmakers from the constraints of physical film, it was only a matter of time before someone made the first feature film entirely in one take, without a single edit or cut. Russian Ark, Aleksandr Sokurov’s experimental art-house meditation on Russia’s cultural heritage and current identity crisis, has the distinction of being that film. Read More >

The Hobbit (1977)

C+ | **½ | +0| Kids & Up

Character design is a mixed bag: Gandalf looks very much himself, but Bilbo is rather cherubic, and the dwarves are uninspired. Worse is Gollum, disappointingly bloated and stiff rather than agile and emaciated, and the dreadfully goblin-like Wood-Elf King. (On the other hand, the Elf-lord Elrond, with his distinguished features and strange crown-halo, is far preferable to Bakshi’s dismally graceless version of the same character.) Read More >

The Lord of the Rings (1978)

B | *** | +0| Kids & Up*

Notwithstanding this and other weaknesses, this Lord of the Rings is in some respects quite impressive and remains worth a look, especially for Tolkien fans, and perhaps younger viewers not quite old enough for Peter Jackson’s more intense adaptation — though even the Bakshi is darker and more intense than most cartoons. (Younger viewers might also be interested in the animated Rankin-Bass versions of The Hobbit and The Return of the King.) Read More >

The Return of the King (1980)

C | ** | +0| Kids & Up

The film hits the most critical plot points, but is clearly aimed at the younger set, with little to interest even the most avid adult Tolkien and/or animation buff. Unfortunately, this style works even less well here than in The Hobbit, which really is a children’s story. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is a much more adult work, but Rankin-Bass essentially makes a kid movie out of it. Even so, for kids too young for the Jackson or even Bakshi versions, the Rankin-Bass cartoons might be just the ticket. Read More >

Big Fish (2003)

C | **½ | -1| Teens & Up

Like Haley Joel Osment in Secondhand Lions wanting to know the truth about the tales of his uncles’ alleged exploits, Ed’s son Will (Billy Crudup) wants to know whether his dying father really was a Big Fish in a small pond, or whether his father’s tales were just Big Fish stories. Big Fish also echoes Secondhand Lions by ending with a funeral scene that provides some answers as Will finally meets certain individuals from his father’s past. Read More >

Vanilla Sky (2001)

D | **½ | -2| Adults*

Now, you can have a sci-fi movie in which Haley Joel Osment plays a robot. What you can’t do is suddenly bring human-like robots into the end of a ghost story in which the existence of that kind of technology hasn’t been established. And you can have Kevin Spacey claim to be from another planet, but not in the last reel of what had until then looked like a solidly earthbound crime thriller. Read More >

Return to Never Land (2002)

C+ | *** | +0| Kids & Up

Return to Never Land is Peter Pan Lite, if I can say that without conjuring images of low-fat peanut butter. Read More >

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

A+ | **** | +3| Kids & Up*

“No one is born to be a failure. No one is poor who has friends.” These platitudes, plastered across the packaging of home-video editions of Frank Capra’s evergreen Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, exemplify the film’s popular but misleading image as sentimental, schmaltzy “Capra-corn.” Yet the film itself is leavened by darker themes and more rigorous morals about self-sacrifice, disappointment, and the fragility of happiness and the American dream. Read More >

Elf (2003)

B- | *** | +0| Kids & Up*

(Written by Jimmy Akin) Elves love to tell stories, or so Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) tells us at the beginning of this elf story. It is an unusual tale in that it is the other side of all the changeling stories that have circulated in folklore for centuries. Instead of being the tale of a fairy raised among mankind, it is the story of a human raised among elves. Read More >

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

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

One of the cinema’s grandest spectacles, Lawrence of Arabia is at turns exhilarating, devastating, and puzzling as it ponders the mystery of a man who was a mystery to himself. Read More >

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