Reviews

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Duck Soup (1933)

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

Probably the greatest and funniest film from one of the cinema’s funniest acts, Duck Soup is as absurdly nonsensical as comedy can be and still be about something. Read More >

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

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

Like the Paramount logo mountain peak in the now-famous opening dissolve that started it all nearly three decades ago, Raiders of the Lost Ark towers over the surrounding landscape. It is the apotheosis of its genre, the Citizen Kane of pulp action–adventure, definitively summing up all that came before and setting the indelible standard for all that comes after. Read More >

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)

A- | ***½ | +0| Teens & Up

Though diminished by decades of pop-horror incarnations, the vampire remains uniquely evocative of both dread and fascination, horror and seductiveness. Monsters from werewolves to Freddy Krueger may frighten, but neither victims nor audience are drawn to them. By contrast, the vampire suggests the horror of evil working on our disordered passions. Read More >

Robin Hood (1973)

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

Oo-de-lally! As post-Sleeping Beauty Disney animated features go, Robin Hood is a fine entry, better than The Sword in the Stone or The Fox and the Hound but not as good as The Jungle Book or The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Read More >

The Cell (2000)

F | ***½ | -4|

The Cell gives imaginative and visual shape to as it were the very soul of misogynism, perversion, depravity, sadism, and the supreme nihilism and egotism of the damned. The film also has some images of beauty, peace, and serenity; even some Christian symbolism — but all this is quickly overwhelmed, even betrayed and subverted, so that the dark themes dominate the film. Read More >

Hannibal (2001)

D- | ** | -3| Adults*

As directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator), Hannibal is stylishly mounted and has its entertaining moments. Ultimately, though, it’s like most horror movies: repellent where it should have been frightening, and, in the end, uninvolving and hollow. So many characters suffer such ghastly things, yet none of it seems to matter much. Read More >

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

A+ | **** | +4| Kids & Up

The film is more than a dramatization, more than a biopic, more than a documentary: It is a spiritual portrait, almost a mystical portrait, of a Christ-like soul sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Read More >

Shadow of the Vampire (2001)

C+ | *** | -2| Adults*

The making of Nosferatu — the first (if unauthorized) film version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and one of the 45 films on the Vatican film list — has passed into legend. Denied rights to Dracula by Stoker’s widow, German director F. W. Murnau simply had an adapted screenplay written with alternate character names: Count Dracula became "Count Orlock," Jonathan Harker became "Thomas Hutter," and so on. (Substantial changes were so minimal that at least one English-language edition actually restores Stoker’s original names in the title cards.) Read More >

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

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

This line from Macbeth, quoted by small-town librarian Charles Halloway (Jason Robards), perfectly evokes the unsettling milieu of Ray Bradbury’s dreamlike thriller about a creepy carnival coming to a small Illinois town. Significantly, this line is immediately followed in the film by the following verse from Longfellow, also quoted in the book: Read More >

What Lies Beneath (2000)

D+ | ** | -2| Adults

But when the plot then descends into a Lethal Weapon-type action-chase scene, it’s clearly gone off the rails: a proper ghost story has an entirely different atmosphere from a Lethal Weapon action flick. Read More >

Willard (2003)

C+ | *** | +1-2| Adults*

The original 1971 Willard, a nasty B-grade horror flick about an oppressed misfit whose only friends are an ever-growing army of rats, was not a movie that cried out for a remake. Given the decision to make one, though, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting casting choice than Crispin Glover. Read More >

Molokai: The Story of Father Damien (1999)

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

A native of Belgium, ordained in Honolulu, at the age of 33 Fr. Damien volunteered to become the first and only priest serving the leper colony. There he spent himself attending as best he could to the people’s needs, both spiritual and physical, offering the sacraments but also dressing wounds, helping to shelter them from the elements, even constructing coffins and digging graves. Read More >

Radio (2003)

C | ** | +1| Kids & Up

But Radio isn’t really interested enough in its title character as a person to show us much in the way of his supposedly edifying behavior. Radio is less an active character in his own film than a passive recipient of kindness or cruelty, a subject of debate and controversy, a political football to be kicked around. When high-school students between classes cheerfully greet Radio as he cautions them not to run in the hall, the point isn’t how much he cares about them, but how much they care about him. Read More >

Sister Helen (2002)

A- | ***½ | +3-2| Teens & Up

God bless Sister Helen Travis, with her foul mouth, black wimple, "I ♥ Jesus" T-shirt, and irascible, abrasive attitude. She might be a bit crazy, this feisty, diminutive 69-year-old Benedictine nun living in a rundown South Bronx building with as many as 20-plus male drug addicts and alcoholics abiding by her strict regiment of curfews, urine tests, community service, and biweekly house meetings. But she’s also the best thing that’s happened to many of them in a long time. Read More >

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

A- | ***½ | +1| Kids & Up*

In retelling these tales, the Disney animation house inevitably, yes, Disneyfied Milne’s creations, as it did everything it touched, from the dwarfs in Snow White to the satyr in Hercules. Read More >

Pieces of April (2003)

B+ | *** | +2-2| Adults

The film’s central conceit involves an unexpected culinary snag of anxiety-nightmare proportions mere hours before April’s family is to arrive, which forces April to appeal for help to her hitherto unknown neighbors, the previously anonymous faces in the hallways of her apartment building. It’s an updated version of the Pilgrims and the Indians — a point the film drives home just a bit too cutely as April tries to explain the meaning of Thanksgiving to a large Asian family: "There came a day when they knew they needed each other, when they knew they couldn’t do it alone." Read More >

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

A- | ***½ | +1| Kids & Up*

A worthy successor to the early classics Snow White and Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty is the one great fairy-tale adaptation of Disney’s post-war period, outshining Cinderella and unrivaled until 1991’s Best-Picture candidate Beauty and the Beast. Read More >

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

A+ | **** | +1| Kids & Up*

The story is the classic Robin Hood tale, and it’s all here: the fateful shooting of the King’s deer; Robin’s ignominious duckings upon his first meetings with Little John (Alan Hale) and Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette); Robin’s penchant for entertaining wealthy victims in high Sherwood style before relieving them of their gold; the trap archery contest which a disguised Robin wins by splitting his opponent’s arrow; the return of Richard (Ian Hunter) from the Crusades disguised in monk’s attire. Read More >

Don Q Son of Zorro (1925)

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

Don Q Son of Zorro, named one of the year’s ten best films by The New York Times, actually outdoes its predecessor, with a stronger and more sophisticated plot, better pacing, more interesting and complex characterizations, grander production values and set design, and more consistent action. Read More >

The Black Pirate (1926)

A- | ***½ | -1| Teens & Up

Fairbanks’s astonishing acrobatics remain dazzling today, and the climactic battle includes some great underwater footage of an aquatic assault on the pirates. This film includes Fairbanks’ most famous and widely copied stunt, riding down a sail on the edge of a knife; but my favorite is the scene in which he cuts loose the corner of a billowing sail and then holds on as the wind carries him up off the deck of the ship and high into the rigging. Read More >

Good Boy! (2003)

C | **½ | +0| Kids & Up

Take Two: The genial, blandly amusing tale celebrates the bond between man and dog, and occasional mildly crude humor is limited to flatulence jokes and the like. Kids won’t notice, but attentive parents will be irked that the filmmakers saw fit to insert fleeting depictions of an apparent homosexual couple in the supporting cast. Read More >

The Mark of Zorro (1920)

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

You haven’t seen Zorro until you’ve seen Douglas Fairbanks Sr. as Zorro in the 1920 silent swashbuckling classic. Read More >

The Mark of Zorro (1940)

A- | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up*

Powers can’t match the original Zorro’s astonishing acrobatics and doesn’t try — but the rousing climactic duel against Basil Rathbone’s villainous Captain Esteban, one of the best swordfights ever filmed at that time, almost makes up for it. Read More >

Robin Hood (1922)

A- | ***½ | +1| Kids & Up*

Silent action king Douglas Fairbanks Sr. is the most exuberantly athletic of Robin Hoods, for sheer physicality perhaps outdoing even Errol Flynn’s definitive performance. Read More >

The Kid Brother (1927)

A+ | **** | +1| Kids & Up*

As a first introduction to silent film, I would pick The Kid Brother over the best of Chaplin (Modern Times, City Lights) or Keaton (The General, Steamboat Bill, Jr.) every time. Read More >

The Big Sleep (1946)

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

The dialogue is hard-boiled and crackles with wit, the plot is fast-paced and nearly impenetrable, and Humphrey Bogart is coolly unflappable in Howard Hawkes’s stylish noir classic The Big Sleep, based on the Raymond Chandler novel. Read More >

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

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

A haunting, harrowing war movie, an emotionally devastating character study, and an extraordinarily restrained example of animé or Japanese animation, Grave of the Fireflies is a unique and unforgettable masterpiece. Read More >

The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)

A- | *** | +3-2| Teens & Up

Like The Mask of Zorro, Monte Cristo balances its anachronistic sensibilities and over-the-top set pieces with genuine emotion and a real moral dimension — even, in Monte Cristo, a spiritual dimension. This is an action movie that’s also a morality play, a tale of injustice and vengeance that actually reckons on God, faith, and divine justice. Read More >

I’m Going Home (2001)

A- | ***½ | +1| Teens & Up

From nonagenarian writer-director Manoel de Oliveira, who’s been making movies for over seven decades, comes a sad, thoughtful character study of an aging French actor named Gilbert Valence (Michel Piccoli). On stage, in productions of Ionesco’s Exit the King and Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Valence gives impressive readings of the dramatic death-speeches of aged protagonists; but his own words in a key moment of frailty and finality, though equally haunting, are much more prosaic and anticlimactic. Read More >

A Man for All Seasons (1966)

A+ | **** | +4| Kids & Up

The screenplay, well adapted by Robert Bolt from his own stage play, is fiercely intelligent, deeply affecting, resonant with verbal beauty and grace. Scofield, who for years starred in the stage play before making the film, gives an effortlessly rich and layered performance as Sir Thomas More, saint and martyr, the man whose determined silence spoke more forcefully than words, and who then spoke even more forcefully by breaking it. Read More >

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