Reviews

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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 >

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 >

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