Reviews

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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 >

Winged Migration (2001)

A- | ***½ | +0| Kids & Up

Director Jacques Perrin and his crew of pilots and cinematographers spent four years traversing the globe, capturing unprecedented images of migratory birds in flight and on land. Shooting from hot-air balloons and ultralight aircraft, the filmmakers insinuate the camera’s eye so intimately into the midst of airborne flights of birds that one can almost count the hairlike barbs on the feathers. Other times, one is staggered by the sheer number of birds captured in a single shot, sweeping across the sky like a curtain being drawn or covering an island to the horizon and the edges of the screen. Read More >

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

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

Lecter fascinates us because he embodies qualities that we associate with civilized, reasonable existence, yet he is murderously sociopathic. In our therapeutic age, he’s a shocking reminder that, beyond all psychobabble about “behavior modification” and the like, there remains the sheer reality of good and evil. The doctor is in: God help us all. Read More >

Top Hat (1935)

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

The quintessential Fred-and-Ginger vehicle, Top Hat features some of the most glorious, memorable dance sequences ever filmed. Read More >

Men in Black (1997)

B+ | ***½ | +0| Teens & Up

Based on the whimsical comic book series of the same name, Men in Black looks superficially like another Independence Day-style big-budget summer special-effects extravaganza with a catchy three-letter acronym. Yet MIB is smarter, leaner, funnier, and more human than most entries in the genre, relying less on spectacle than on the chemistry of the two leads and the wit of the script for its appeal. Read More >

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

A- | ***½ | +2| Teens & Up

From the very first sequence of Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers — a bravura opening that stunningly recalls and continues a central sequence from The Fellowship of the Ring — we feel that we’re in good hands. It’s a promise the subsequent three hours deliver on imperfectly. Read More >

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

A+ | **** | +3| Teens & Up

There can be no more fitting tribute to Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring than to apply to it the words with which C. S. Lewis acclaimed the original book when Tolkien first wrote it: “Here are beauties that pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a [film] that will break your heart.” Read More >

I.Q. (1994)

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

Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins are cast somewhat against type: Ryan often plays bubbleheaded and Robbins brainy, but here Ryan is a science whiz, if a bubbly one, while Robbins is a grease monkey, if a thoughtful one. The real twist, though, is that Catherine (Ryan) happens to be the niece of Albert Einstein — and, while she has a brainy fiancé, he’s a twit, and her uncle Albert decides that she really needs someone like Ed. Read More >

Man on the Train (2002)

B | *** | -1| Adults

Thanks to the skills of director Patrice Leconte, L’Homme du train (Man on the Train) would have made an excellent silent film, except that we would have missed the enchanting tones of Jean Rochefort’s retired poetry teacher, Monsieur Manesquier. Manesquier talks like a schoolboy who has yet to leave behind his school days — his rich words and phrases touch on his dreams and wishes, and are charmingly tinged with sexual innuendo and self-deprecation. Rochefort’s characterization is perfectly complemented by Johnny Hallyday’s stoic career criminal, Milan, who responds to questions with either silence or sapient, terse words. Read More >

The Cat in the Hat (2003)

D | ** | -2| Teens & Up

Yes, the Cat now has mojo — yeah, baby, groovy!
Except he goes “OH yeah!” instead in this movie.
What’s next? Will the Sneetches get wild and crazy?
Will the Lorax get jiggy with Daisy-Head Mayzie? Read More >

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

D | | -2| Teens & Up

By the time that you read this short essay of ours
The Grinch will have made ten squintillion more dollars!
The people have spoken! The Grinch is a hit!
So who cares if some critic writes critical crit? Read More >

Scooby-Doo (2002)

D+ | | -2| Teens & Up

Scooby Dooby Doo
And Shaggy too
You both look and sound great.
But Daphne, you’re too Buff
Fred thinks he’s tough
And Velma — wow, you’ve lost weight! Read More >

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

A- | ***½ | +0| Teens & Up

The most remarkable thing about Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is neither Johnny Depp’s mesmerizing performance, nor ILM’s literally eye-popping skeletal ghost-ship crew, but the sheer fact that the movie works at all. Read More >

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

A | **** | +2| Teens & Up*

Like a cannon blast across the bows, Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a thunderous, almost defiant declaration heralding the arrival of a force to be reckoned with. Read More >

The Santa Clause 2 (2002)

C- | **½ | -2| Kids & Up*

No, no, not that true spirit of Christmas. This is a Disney movie, after all. The most we can hope for is another serving of Dickensian "Christmas Carol spirit" — brotherhood, family, generosity, that sort of thing. Read More >

The Wild Thornberrys Movie (2002)

C+ | **½ | +0| Kids & Up*

(Written by Jimmy Akin) The film is a mixed success. Fans of “The Wild Thornberrys“ will enjoy it, but it doesn’t have much ability to reach beyond its core audience. Read More >

Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003)

C+ | **½ | +0| Kids & Up

(Written by Jimmy Akin) Kids will definitely want to see it, as will die-hard adult fans of the Looney Tunes characters. For their purposes, the movie is a resounding success. It gives us a big screen adaptation of the Looney Tunes characters which is faithful to the characters we grew up with. Their comic sensibilities are the same, the timing is the same, even many of the jokes are the same. And that’s part of the problem: There is a little too much sameness about all this. Read More >

Brother Bear (2003)

C | **½ | -2| Kids & Up*

(Co-written with Suzanne E. Greydanus) Based on a long-unfinished project dating to the New-Age / ultra-PC heyday of Disney’s ’90s renaissance, Brother Bear outdoes even Pocahontas and Atlantis: The Lost Empire with its New-Age mysticism and eco-spirituality gospel message. Read More >

Say Amen, Somebody (1982)

A- | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up*

If the toe-tapping gospel music of The Fighting Temptations appeals to you but you were put off by that film’s negative Christian stereotypes and lack of even rote Hollywood spiritual uplift or pro-faith sentiment, treat yourself to this engaging, gospel-infused documentary tribute to the African-American men and women who first began combining the heart and soul of Negro spirituals with the infectious rhythms of jazz and blues. Read More >

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