Reviews

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The Mormons [The American Experience/Frontline] (2007)

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

Directed by Helen Whitney (“John Paul II – The Millennial Pope”), “The Mormons” is at once as scrupulously respectful and sympathetic as any religious adherent might hope for in such a treatment, while also dealing directly and fairly with thorny subjects from Joseph Smith’s evolving accounts of his religious experiences to the Mountain Meadow Massacre of 120 travelers by Utah Mormons and the subsequent church cover-up. Read More >

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

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

The level of magical eye candy is noticeably lower than previous installments… On the other hand, Ron and Hermione, though probably short-changed compared to the book, are better used here than in the previous film. Best of all is Harry’s leading role in Dumbledore’s Army, marking a major advance in proactive engagement from a protagonist who for too much of the first four chapters has been largely passive. Read More >

Ratatouille (2007)

A- | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up*

Ratatouille is a revelation — a delightfully surprising discovery in a genre that seldom surprises even savvy youngsters, a warm and winsome confection that will be treasured by viewers young and old long after the mediocrities of summer 2007 have been justly forgotten. Read More >

Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

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

Wisely, Live Free doesn’t try to replicate the paranoia or intimidation of the first film. Twenty years later, battered by life, John can no longer be that panicky, brash cop, and Live Free shrewdly uses his history to advantage, establishing him as a dogged, world-weary old warrior who may still get mad and even desperate, but can’t really get all that frightened any more. Read More >

Evan Almighty (2007)

C+ | ** | +1| Kids & Up

Harmless, diverting, very mildly uplifting, Evan Almighty offers passable family entertainment meant to appeal equally to Bible-believing conservatives and left-leaning environmentalists. Read More >

Longford (2006)

A | ***½ | +3| Teens & Up*

Though thematically similar to Dead Man Walking, Longford grapples more directly and thoughtfully with religious themes, and doesn’t glorify its eccentric, somewhat tragic protagonist the way Dead Man Walking extols Sister Préjean. Read More >

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

C | ** | -1| Teens & Up

Perhaps this is what is most fundamentally wrong with the Fantastic Four franchise: None of these allegedly “fantastic” heroes has any gravitas, any actual heroic weight or depth of character. There’s nothing particularly noble, compelling or even interesting about them. Far from inspiring admiration, they don’t rise even to the level of thinking, acting and relating like grown-ups. Read More >

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

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

If Dead Man’s Chest was inspiration gone amok, At World’s End is more — much, much, much more — of the same, only without the inspiration. In every respect it outdoes its predecessor, except in charm, entertainment and fun. Add Pirates of the Caribbean to the roster of franchises foundering on the rocks the third time out. Read More >

Shrek the Third (2007)

C | ** | -1| Kids & Up*

Shrek the Third continues the deliberate bad taste that is the franchise’s hallmark, with the usual hit-and-miss results… What’s missing is the heart that leavened the first two films. Read More >

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

A- | ***½ | +1| Teens & Up

Spider‑Man 3 is a movie stuffed to bursting — with action, plotlines, characters, humor, energy, moods, spectacle and certainly inspiration. Like its web-headed hero careening crazily through the canyons of Manhattan at the end of a web-line, the film swings breathlessly and without warning from one thing to another, from breakneck excitement to outrageous silliness to comic-book morals about responsibility, sacrifice and now even vengeance and forgiveness. Read More >

Happy Feet (2006)

C- | *** | -2| Kids & Up*

No, it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to call the CGI cartoon Happy Feet an effort to claim penguins for the other side of the culture wars. But it wouldn’t be wholly wrong either. Read More >

Children of Men (2006)

B | *** | +1-2| Adults*

It is a truism that every childbirth is a miracle. Children of Men sets that truism in sharp relief, envisioning a world in which a single ordinary conception, pregnancy and childbirth seems almost as miraculous — and portentous — as a virgin birth. Read More >

Bridge to Terabithia (2007)

B- | **½ | +1| Kids & Up*

As with Walden’s recent Charlotte’s Web, the key points of the book are here, for the most part, but hampered by irrelevant “family film” clutter — in this case unmagical fantasy sequences jarringly at odds with the story’s most significant plot point. Read More >

The Namesake (2007)

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

At the end of its 122 minutes, perhaps, few if any of the story’s various partial threads have really been resolved. Open-ended and somewhat scattered, The Namesake is generally engaging but feels elusively incomplete. One could say it is about the journey rather than the destination. A more disciplined approach to the screenplay might have distilled Lahiri’s 300-page novel into something more satisfyingly focused. Instead, frequent Nair collaborator Sooni Taraporevala chooses to sketch in and gesture at as much of the book as possible, trusting viewers to supply the rest. Read More >

Fires on the Plain (1959)

B+ | ***½ | +1| Teens & Up*

Unlike Ichikawa’s The Burmese Harp, which preserved the overt Buddhist milieu of the original book, the film version of Fires on the Plain eliminates the religious, in this case Christian, dimension of its source material. While both films may be called “anti-war” or “pacifist,” The Burmese Harp has a larger humanistic perspective on the riddle of suffering and the place of human values amid inhuman circumstances that goes far beyond a simple deploring of war. Fires on the Plain doesn’t transcend the “war is hell” genre in the same way, though the aesthetic rigor of its descent into hell is about as exacting and definitive as such a thing can be. Read More >

Beyond the Gates (2005)

B | **½ | +2| Teens & Up

Beyond the Gates is most worth seeing for its uncompromising portrait of a more representative episode in the Rwandan genocide than the events depicted in Hotel Rwanda. At the same time, it offers little insight into the Hutu or Tutsi experience. Read More >

Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951)

B+ | ***½ | +0| Kids & Up*

Directed by Raoul Walsh (The Thief of Bagdad) from a screenplay adapted by Forester himself from his first three novels, the film deftly balances some of the best age-of-sail sea battles ever filmed with a love-interest storyline in which Hornblower finds himself unexpectedly taking on a female passenger, Lady Barbara Wellesley (Virginia Mayo). Read More >

The Astronaut Farmer (2007)

B- | **½ | +1-1| Kids & Up*

Like the full-sized rocket in Charlie’s barn, the Polishes’ film looks every inch what it seems to be. It’s been compared to a Frank Capra film, though it lacks the dark undercurrent and comedic edge that give Capra’s films their heft and stature. Read More >

Ghost Rider (2007)

C- | ** | -2| Teens & Up*

For all their evident interest and affinity for the material, though, the filmmakers haven’t made a very good movie. They’ve figured out how to get Blaze (Cage), the motorcycle-riding hellion who makes a deal with the devil, into the same picture as Carter Slade (Sam Elliott), the originally unconnected (and not even supernatural) Ghost Rider of the Old West. But they haven’t figured out either who Johnny Blaze is as a character, or what the Ghost Rider is all about. Read More >

Into Great Silence (2005)

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

Ultimately, Into Great Silence reveals itself to be about nothing less than the presence of God. So many spiritually aware films — The Seventh Seal, Crimes and Misdemeanors — are about God’s absence or silence. Here is a film that dares to explore the possibility of finding God, of a God who is there for those who seek him with their whole hearts. Read More >

Green for Danger (1946)

A- | ***½ | +0| Teens & Up

Sidney Gilliat’s Green For Danger is an overlooked gem that transplants the trappings of a droll British murder mystery in an unexpected WWII context, with Nazi air raids and an emergency wartime hospital set up in a rural manor home outside London. Read More >

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2005)

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

The themes are timeless and humane, and if the film isn’t always entirely persuasive, it earns enough viewer goodwill to make up the difference. Funny, visually sumptuous, and bittersweet, Riding Alone movingly suggests that it’s better not to. Read More >

Hollywoodland (2006)

C- | **½ | -2| Adults

Just as real tragedy requires some sort of greatness, and real blasphemy presupposes some real sense of the sacred, so the iconoclastic depends on the iconic. Hollywoodland portrays a man so thoroughly trivial, so shallow and small, that it’s hard to see why anyone would want to make a movie about him, or watch one. Read More >

Happily N’Ever After (2007)

C | ** | +0| Kids & Up

Ella’s so blindly devoted to the Prince, and so convinced that he’s the one to save the day, that she seems just another swooning groupie rather than a worthy heroine. If she hasn’t any more sense than that, what exactly does Rick see in her? What does that say about him? Read More >

We Are Marshall (2006)

B+ | ***½ | +1| Kids & Up*

More than most films of its ilk, We Are Marshall rises above the clichés that define the genre, connecting sport to larger issues in an emotionally satisfying way. Read More >

Charlotte’s Web (2006)

B- | **½ | +1| Kids & Up

Competently directed by Gary Winick (13 Going on 30), the film basically sticks to the plot of the book, and the story’s essential charm is echoed in the film. At the same time, the film also dumbs down White with excursions into gimmicky broad humor and bestiary slapstick — something the makers of Babe found unnecessary to do. Read More >

Apocalypto (2006)

C+ | ***½ | +1-2| Adults*

Gibson is a consummate filmmaker, and the action is never less than riveting. Yet as the film repeatedly ratchets up the wince factor beyond what seems necessary or appropriate, it’s hard not to feel that suffering has been reduced to spectacle. Read More >

The Nativity Story (2006)

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

From It’s a Wonderful Life to A Christmas Carol, from Miracle on 34th Street to Tim Allen’s Santa Clause films, there are more Christmas movies than you could watch in all twelve days. Yet even at the height of Hollywood biblical epics, the real meaning of Christmas was essentially ignored (a few brief scenes in Ben-Hur notwithstanding). The Nativity Story goes a long way toward redressing this historic omission. Read More >

Déjà Vu (2006)

B | *** | -1| Adults

If it isn’t the brilliant film it could have been, Déjà Vu still contains enough flashes of that film to make it entertaining while you’re watching it. On reflection, though, it feels a bit like a shell game in which the conjurer himself has lost track of where the pea is supposed to be. Read More >

Flushed Away (2006)

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

If Flushed Away doesn’t reach the heights of demented genius of The Curse of the Were-Rabbit or even the lesser charms of Chicken Run, it’s still got a goofy inventiveness that puts it in the better half of this year’s crop of CGI films. Read More >

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