Reviews

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Signs (2002)

B- | **½ | +2| Teens & Up

Signs has the heart that was lacking in Unbreakable, but stumbles badly in its treatment of the paranormal, in this case the world of "X-Files" / "Twilight Zone" sci-fi. Glaring practical problems increasingly sap the movie’s plausibility, until eventually suspension of disbelief becomes possible only by not thinking about it. Read More >

X2: X-Men United (2003)

A- | ***½ | +1-2| Teens & Up*

Where other super-hero movies, like James Bond movies, take place in a static universe in which nothing really changes and the essential mythology remains the same, X2 is set in a world in flux. The plot is part of an ongoing story-arc reaching back to X-Men and building toward a future X3. Read More >

It Happened One Night (1934)

A- | ***½ | +2| Teens & Up

She’s fleeing from her concerned father (Walter Connolly) and returning to the shiftless beau (Jameson Thomas) she married in a civil ceremony to spite her father (who had her whisked away from the service, so it’s not final legally or sacramentally). Read More >

Sabrina (1954)

A- | ***½ | +0| Teens & Up

The prologue, with its storybook-like, slightly arch voiceover narration finely read by Audrey Hepburn, suggests a charming fairy tale with a satiric subtext. And, indeed, Sabrina, Billy Wilder’s delightful romantic comedy starring Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden, is a sort of Cinderella story, with a chauffeur’s daughter who is transformed into the belle of the ball and dances with the prince — except that the "prince" is, if not a beast, at least a shallow cad, while the real love interest is almost more a frog than a prince. Read More >

Friendly Persuasion (1956)

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

Scenes of silent, unstructured Quaker meetings are contrasted without comment or judgment to the boisterous singing of the local Methodist church, but — despite Eliza’s best efforts — the film is largely an account of the compromises the Birdwells are and aren’t willing to make. Their principles are repeatedly put to the test, at the local fair, on the Sunday morning ride to the meeting house as a smug neighbor blows past Jess’s slow horse every week, and so on. One of the best vignettes concerns an impasse between Jess and Eliza over the shocking purchase of an organ, and the delightful way the conflict is finally resolved. Read More >

Bringing Up Baby (1942)

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

The zaniest, most delightful, most romantic screwball comedy of them all, Bringing Up Baby features Katherine Hepburn at her effervescent best and Cary Grant in a marvelous performance combining stuffiness and injured dignity with his usual debonair charm. Read More >

Secondhand Lions (2003)

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

In the end, though, Secondhand Lions is a pleasant and entertaining film that’s neither as demanding nor as satisfying as the superior Holes. The setup promises more early conflict than the first act delivers, and the story-arc doesn’t give the protagonist enough to do. Beyond that, the film gestures at moral lessons it never quite fleshes out or illustrates, and what ought to have been a key plot point is relegated to a tacked-on coda, depriving it of the crucial significance it should have had. Read More >

What’s Up, Doc? (1972)

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

Yet where Hepburn’s character was merely flighty, Judy Maxwell exists, like the Cat in the Hat and Bugs Bunny (note the title line and the carrots she munches in one scene), in the mode of the Trickster archetype, with inscrutable motives, capricious behavior, and almost preternatural abilities, capable of whimsically making Bannister’s life a living nightmare — or putting things to rights again at a moment’s notice. Read More >

Holes (2003)

A- | ***½ | +0| Teens & Up

Holes manages that rare trick of faithfully evoking what was special about the book without becoming slavish or by-the-numbers. Davis captures the book’s blend of coming-of-age realism, tongue-in-cheek grotesquerie, fantasy, and adventure, and capably navigates the plot’s multiple timelines and settlings. Read More >

The Guys (2003)

A- | ***½ | +2| Teens & Up

Unsurprisingly, the film is true to its theatrical roots: low-key, set mostly within the confines of an upper West Side apartment, centered on the conversation between the fire captain and the writer. In keeping with the minimal production values of the stage play, the film was shot in nine days on a limited budget. Dramatic 9/11 footage, flashbacks of the missing firefighters, even a romance between Nick and Joan were all proposed by Hollywood producers, but the filmmakers rightly sensed that anything like this would have been disastrous. Read More >

Matchstick Men (2003)

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

When his supply of meds unexpectedly dries up, Roy predictably disintegrates, much to Frank’s concern. Soon, though, Roy is seeing a psychiatrist (Bruce Altman, Changing Lanes), who not only provides the medication he needs, but gets him talking and thinking about his life — in particular the woman who walked out on him fourteen years ago, and whether or not she was pregnant at the time. Read More >

Fantastic Voyage (1966)

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

A landmark of 1960s sci-fi, Fantastic Voyage remains compelling entertainment despite dated special effects, deliberate pacing, and indifferent dialogue and acting, thanks in part to the genuine wonder it brings to its premise. Read More >

Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

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

Sullivan wants to address the problem of human suffering, but his producers argue, rightly so, that he doesn’t know enough about suffering to make a movie about it. But their attempts to dissuade him backfire when he decides to go on the road with ten cents in his pocket in an effort to experience poverty first-hand. Read More >

Nicholas Nickleby (2002)

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

Writer-director Douglas McGrath, who previously adapted and directed the charming 1996 version of Emma, does a respectable job of retelling as much of Dickens’ tale as possible in the time alloted. The casting is generally very good, with Christopher Plummer as the heartless, well-to-do uncle Ralph Nickleby, Jim Broadbent as the squinting, leering Squeers of horrific Dotheboys Hall, and Juliet Stevenson as his equally terrible wife. Read More >

The Gathering Storm (2002)

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

Although the title is taken from the first volume of Churchill’s history of the war, The Gathering Storm is as much about Churchill’s personal life as his political trajectory — sometimes to excess, since the political side is usually more interesting. The warts-and-all portrait includes his loving but sometimes strained marriage to Clementina (Vanessa Redgrave), his financial troubles and hard drinking habits, his melancholia or "black dog," his amateur painting and bricklaying, and his habit of absent-mindedly losing himself in rehearsing or dictating speeches while in the bathtub or dressing and undressing. Read More >

Superman (1978)

A- | ***½ | +0| Teens & Up

A classic tribute to an American pop-culture icon, Superman is the first great comic-book movie and a nostalgic ode to the ideals of a more innocent time. Read More >

Animals are Beautiful People (1975)

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

Highlights include daredevil cartwheeling baboons, the remarkable partnership of the badger and the honey-guide bird, and the astonishingly intricate lengths to which the Kalahari bushmen go to find water. There’s a sequence with the animal residents of the fertile Kavango flood plains intoxicated on fermented fruit, and footage of an ostrich mating dance that strikingly resembles Fantasia’s animated ostrich ballet. Read More >

Knights of the Round Table (1953)

B | **½ | +2| Kids & Up*

The story starts a bit stiffly with the tale of Arthur’s rise to power, beginning with the adult Arthur (Mel Ferrer) and rival Mordred (Stanley Baker) meeting at the sword in the stone with their respective advocates, Merlin (Felix Aylmer) and Morgan le Fey (Anne Crawford). Things improve with the arrival of Lancelot (Robert Taylor), who even before meeting Arthur is willing to die for him and his ideals of chivalry, courtesy, and virtue. Read More >

Open Range (2003)

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

Gunplay is largely restricted to a single, lengthy sequence; and, where in a typical action movie thousands of bullets might be expended without anyone in the audience batting an eye, in this film every bullet counts, and the viewer feels its impact. Read More >

The Rookie (2002)

B+ | *** | +2| Kids & Up*

There’s an easygoing, folksy charm to this film, accentuated by a country-themed soundtrack and characters who say such things as “I’m gonna need a longer street for that talk” and “Lord knows I’m ready for both sides of the bed to be warm again.” Read More >

Rugrats Go Wild! (2003)

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

(Written by Jimmy Akin) When Cartoons Collide!!! That’s what they could have used as a tag-line for Rugrats Go Wild. Read More >

Rugrats in Paris (2000)

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

(Written by Jimmy Akin) The second Rugrats movie begins with a wedding: little Tommy Pickles’ widowed grandfather, Lou, is finally marrying his late-in-life flame, Lulu. Read More >

The Rugrats Movie (1998)

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

(Written by Jimmy Akin) Changes are coming to the pastel-colored Rugrats universe, and The Rugrats Movie brings them. It is the biggest things that has happened to the series in its nearly ten year run: a new Rugrat is being born. Read More >

The Medallion (2003)

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

Jackie’s current string of Hollywood buddy movies (the Rush Hour and Shanghai flicks; The Tuxedo) have brought him success in the U.S. — but at a price. For one thing, he’s never been allowed to do the kind of really elaborate, extended action-comedy sequences that were the heart and soul of solo efforts like First Strike and Rumble in the Bronx. For another, he’s had to share the spotlight with a string of costars ranging from alternately funny and irritating (Owen Wilson, funny in Shanghai Noon but irritating in Shanghai Knights, and Chris Tucker, alternatingly funny and irritating throughout both Rush Hour movies) to just plain irritating and not funny (Jennifer Love Hewitt in The Tuxedo). Read More >

The Wind in the Willows [BBC-Unwin] (1996)

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

Like the Peter Rabbit episodes, The Wind in the Willows begins and ends with charming live-action sequences, this time featuring a narrator (Vanessa Redgrave) telling the story to some children. Once again episodes and dialogue are drawn straight from the source material, though with Grahame’s much longer story more editing has been necessary. The animation, though less striking than Peter Rabbit’s lovely watercolor backgrounds, evokes the classic illustrations of Ernest Shepard. Read More >

The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends (1993)

A | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up

With evocative watercolor backgrounds and character design strongly reminiscent of Potter’s illustrations, animation ranging from fine to excellent, and dialogue and narrative drawn straight from the source material, the series is remarkably faithful to the text, spirit, and look of Potter’s beloved stories. Read More >

Rush Hour (1998)

C+ | **½ | -2| Teens & Up

After fifteen years of trying, Jackie Chan finally broke into the U.S. market with Rumble in the Bronx and Jackie Chan’s First Strike; but it wasn’t until Rush Hour that he really connected with mainstream American audiences. Read More >

Rush Hour 2 (2001)

C+ | **½ | -2| Teens & Up*

Rush Hour 2 follows so closely in the footsteps of its hugely successful predecessor that an actual review is practically unnecessary. Read More >

Shanghai Knights (2003)

C+ | **½ | -2| Teens & Up*

That includes this film’s predecessor, Shanghai Noon, which, as its witty title suggests, was a clever East-meets-Old-West tribute to the classic Hollywood Western. This sequel, set in London, barely manages to be a tribute to Shanghai Noon. Yet in his inventive, elaborate stunt choreography Jackie pays wordlessly eloquent homage to the great physical performers of the past: The Three Stooges, Gene Kelly, Keystone Cops, Harold Lloyd. And two ladder-fu sequences recall one of Jackie’s own memorable triumphs in Jackie Chan’s First Strike. Read More >

The Tuxedo (2002)

C+ | **½ | -2| Teens & Up*

The suit is in fact the Tactical Uniform Experiment (TUX), a high-tech weapons system that acts directly on the user’s nervous system, instantly enabling Jimmy — who, unlike most of Jackie’s characters, has no special skills of his own — to dance like Fred Astaire, climb walls and ceilings like Spider-Man, and, of course, fight like Jackie Chan. Read More >

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