Reviews

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Spirited Away (2001)

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

Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is a work of pagan imagination. So are the works of Homer and Sophocles. In all these works there is much for Christian audiences to take exception with as Christians, but also much to marvel at as audiences. Read More >

Amélie (2001)

B- | ***½ | -2| Adults*

Like the similarly acclaimed Moulin Rouge!, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie is a whimsical, hyperactive, self-aware, lavishly overdesigned fantasy-romance, set in a retro, fairy-tale Paris, about a tender young idealist who falls in love with a sex-industry employee — but there the similarities end. Read More >

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

C+ | **½ | +1-1| Adults

Unfortunately, these novel elements are tied to a human conflict between two antagonistic captains (Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson) that is not only hackneyed and uninvolving, but morally simplistic and finally flat-out insulting. It’s hard to be unmoved by what the men of the K-19 go through, but it’s equally hard to overlook the glaring flaws in the human drama — especially when the latter is directly related to the former. As an exercise in logistics and adversity, K-19 is compelling, but as a story about human decisions and moral issues, it’s full of holes and clichés. Read More >

Men in Black II (2002)

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

Beyond more action and bigger effects, the sequel brings nothing new to the table. You’ll wait in vain for satirical "revelations" about the presence of aliens among us to match the wit of the jokes in the original about cab drivers or the World’s Fair. Instead, we get limp gags like the one about the Post Office being staffed by aliens. (Why? Is it a joke about postal efficiency? The "going postal" stereotype? The fact that they make rounds? What?) Read More >

Stuart Little 2 (2002)

B+ | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up

Remarkably, Stuart Little 2 manages to be both more satisfying for adults and more kid-friendly than the original. Older viewers will appreciate the sequel’s stronger story and witty script; and even little kids who might have found the original film’s menacing Central Park gangster cats too intense may be able to watch this film’s villainous falcon without fear of bad dreams. Read More >

American Beauty (1999)

F | ***½ | -3|

Some movies have a moral. I say that as a mere statement of fact, with no implication that either having or not having a moral necessarily makes a movie better or worse. Some movies have a moral; American Beauty - and this is also a mere observation, not a value judgment - has an aesthetic. Read More >

Dragonfly (2002)

C- | **½ | -2| Teens & Up*

Dragonfly is a ghost story of sorts, but it isn’t a horror film (though it occasionally thinks it is). The ghost seems to be the late wife of Dr. Joe Darrow (Kevin Costner); and who would be frightened of his own best beloved, even if she happened to be a ghost? Read More >

Lilo & Stitch (2002)

B+ | ***½ | +1| Kids & Up*

Lilo & Stitch is a unique imaginative achievement that succeeds in its own right, without laying down any kind of template for future films to follow. Attempts to repeat its success, to make it into a formula, would be a dismal failure, unless perhaps the formula were to be "Give the creative people room to try something new and let them work without a safety net." What a concept. Read More >

Minority Report (2002)

A | **** | +1| Adults

Spielberg has always known how to manipulate an audience’s emotions, a knack he makes effective use of here. Humor alternates with squirming discomfort and emotional release as the director pokes fun of Cruise’s sex-symbol status in a couple of funny incidents, then leaves us wincing with a number of scenes involving eyeballs, or a character fumbling blindly for the one edible sandwich in a squalid refrigerator. Read More >

Road to Perdition (2002)

C | **½ | -2| Adults

Dissatisfied after the screening, I went out and bought the original 1998 graphic novel, written by novelist and "Dick Tracy" scribe Max Allan Collins and illustrated by comic-book artist Richard Piers Rayner ("Swamp Thing"), and read it in one sitting. ("Graphic novels" use comic-book storytelling for longer, and hopefully more substantial, stories than traditional comic books.) Read More >

Bad Company (2002)

C | ** | +1-2| Adults

The first hour works quite a bit better than the second hour, in part because there is a second hour. The setup: When CIA agent Kevin Pope (Rock) is murdered in the middle of an important undercover operation involving the black-market sale of a miniature thermonuclear device, Pope’s CIA mentor Gaylord Oakes (Hopkins) must convince the sellers that Pope (or rather his undercover persona) is still alive. To do this, Oakes must turn to — you guessed it — Pope’s long-lost twin brother. Read More >

The Bourne Identity (2002)

A- | ***½ | +1-1| Adults

Like the memory-impaired antihero of Memento, the protagonist of Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity (and a trilogy of Robert Ludlum novels before that) has no choice but to trust himself even though he can’t be sure he’s a trustworthy individual. Perhaps his honorable aspirations themselves are a good sign. Certainly the amazing abilities and instincts that suddenly surface when needed are clues to who and what he is. Jason may not know much, but he’s pretty sure he’s something out of the ordinary. Read More >

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002)

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

Despite being more of the "Yo" than "Ya" persuasion, I think I’m pretty receptive toward what are commonly called "chick flicks." After all, my wife and I enjoy the same "guy movies"; why shouldn’t we enjoy the same romances and other female-targeted films? Read More >

The Sum of All Fears (2002)

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

Though constructed as an action-oriented thriller, the film’s centerpiece is a wrenching glimpse of a scenario that may be in our nation’s future, depicted in a way that’s neither sensationalized nor minimized. Read More >

Insomnia (2002)

B+ | ***½ | +1| Adults

Daylight floods Dormer’s life, relentless, ubiquitous — like the penetrating glare of the ongoing Internal Affairs probe back in LA, where Dormer may or may not have something to hide. Like the searching gaze of Alaskan local cop Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank) as she investigates Dormer’s account of a second killing that occurs when an attempt to catch the killer goes tragically awry. Like "the eye of God that will not blink," as Roger Ebert describes the Arctic Circle’s midnight sun in his review of the original film. Read More >

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)

D+ | ** | -1| Kids & Up

A strangely grim indoctrination into the politics of victimization, Spirit apparently expects kids to slog willingly through scene after scene of this stuff, not because it’s all such fun to watch, but because the filmmakers are so sure it’s Good For You. Read More >

The Salton Sea (2002)

D | ***½ | -3| Adults*

This is not a thought Tom takes to heart. Nor is it one he struggles with, or indeed ever thinks about again. The quest for revenge is at the heart of The Salton Sea, and although in this one scene the film fleetingly acknowledges the possibility of an alternative to bitterness and hatred, it’s not in the context of any larger interest in or exploration of the moral issues. Read More >

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

A | **** | +0| Adults

The story is said to be set in 19th-century China, but its roots are older, reaching for a mythic age of larger-than-life heroes and superhuman derring-do. Heroes with paranormal abilities were also a theme of the recent Unbreakable; but Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has what was lacking in Unbreakable: a sense of wonder, of exhilaration, of mystery and beauty and hope. Read More >

Modern Times (1936)

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

Silent films were already old-fashioned and out of vogue in 1936 when Charlie Chaplin completed his last silent feature film, Modern Times, almost ten years after the sound revolution began with The Jazz Singer. A silent film consciously made for the sound era, Modern Times is a comic masterpiece that remains approachable today even for movie lovers raised on computer imaging and surround sound. Read More >

High Crimes (2002)

C- | ** | -2| Adults

Only Jim Caviezel (The Count of Monte Cristo; Frequency) brings anything new to the table, displaying even more range and subtlety than in his recent starring turn in The Count of Monte Cristo. Other than his performance, High Crimes holds few surprises. Read More >

Romero (1989)

A- | *** | +4| Teens & Up*

The first feature film from the Paulist Fathers’ moviemaking division, John Duigan’s Romero tells the true story of Latin America’s best-known and most revered modern martyr, Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Goldamez, a man whom John Paul II described as a "zealous pastor who gave his life for his flock," and at whose tomb in San Salvador Pope John Paul II has prayed when visiting El Salvador. Read More >

X-Men (2000)

A- | ***½ | +0| Teens & Up*

This is a world in which characters are not larger-than-life cardboard cutouts, but human beings with affecting problems, motives, conflicts, and interests; in which opposing ideas are at least as important as clashing super-powers or martial-arts moves; in which super-powers and special abilities are more than mere arbitrary plot shortcuts or empty pretexts for colorful special effects, but are treated thoughtfully as serious story elements with logical consequences in immediate events and also wider social implications. Read More >

Life or Something Like It (2002)

D | ** | -2| Adults

Meet Pete (Ed Burns). He’s a cameraman who dresses and behaves in slacker fashion, drinks beer on the job, sleeps around, and says rude things to Lanie. This means he’s an alright guy who Does Know How to Have Fun. Read More >

Mumford (1999)

D | **½ | +1-3| Adults*

It’s not hard to play connect-the-dots and pair off likable characters with one another. It’s harder to put them in a story that’s worthwhile. This is a film without conviction, about a town full of people with problems without depth, aided by a guru without soul. Mumford is a fraud. Take that in whatever sense you like. Read More >

Behind Enemy Lines (2001)

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

Read More >

Changing Lanes (2002)

C | ** | +1-2| Adults

Neither Gipson nor Banek makes much of a poster child for the danger of civilized behavior devolving into savagery, since neither of them seems quite stable from the outset. Gipson’s a recovering alcoholic with violent tendencies who seems to cause trouble wherever he goes, while Banek’s a soulless shell of a human being too shallow to realize that he’s as unprincipled as everyone else around him, including his wife (Amanda Peet). That unstable human beings can do unpredictable and terrible things isn’t exactly a dramatic revelation; yet even so the film relies so much on contrivance and arbitrary behavior that the events and their consequences seem to have little to do with the human nature of the characters involved. Read More >

Galaxy Quest (1999)

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

Besides satirizing Star Trek’s fan base, Galaxy Quest also takes aim both at the absurdities of the show itself and also at the behind-the-scenes reality. Most of the obvious Trek conventions are targeted: the principle that any extraneous character on an away mission always dies; the shipwide crisis that requires crew members to crawl through endless ducts; the isolation of the captain on a hostile planet where he must do hand-to-hand combat with an alien monster. Read More >

Monsoon Wedding (2001)

A- | ***½ | +2| Adults

This is one feel-good film that earns its goodwill honestly — not glossing over the harder realities and transgressions that afflict family life, but instead making the case that, however exasperating and even dysfunctional one’s family may happen to be, family remains very close to the center of things. Not just "family" in the abstract, either, or as an ideal, but the reality of family as we actually experience it. Read More >

A Beautiful Mind (2001)

A- | ***½ | +2-1| Teens & Up*

John Nash goes through life making connections, but not with other people. He sees meaningful patterns where the rest of us see only unintelligible randomness. Ideas are as real as people to him. Maybe more so. Eventually the ideas become too real — or the people not real enough — and Nash withdraws inexorably into the tangles of his own incandescent mind. Read More >

Pleasantville (1998)

F | **½ | -3|

The film’s central conceit is that the process of colorization is spread through acts of exploration or self-discovery by which people step outside their customary ways into a new world. In the black-and-white world of the 1950s TV sitcom, one common means of transformation is sexual activity, which didn’t exist in "Pleasantville" until the teenagers (Jennifer in particular) introduced it. When Jennifer gently explains the facts of life to her sitcom mother (Joan Allen), the latter is certain that her prosaic husband (William H. Macy) could never be induced to engage in such activity; so Jennifer proceeds to coach her mother (offscreen) on how to commit self-abuse. The mother then proceeds to do so, with such explosive results that by a kind of sympathetic magic the tree in the front yard bursts into flame. Read More >

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