Reviews

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Space Cowboys (2000)

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

Overblown, overwrought, and overdone, Armageddon was a movie on overdrive, fueled by adrenaline and testosterone, lurching along in fits and starts. Eastwood’s film exudes easy charm and never takes itself too seriously; it runs on a slower-burning but higher-grade fuel: the likability and established audience goodwill of the four aging leads (Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner). Where Armageddon merely strutted, Cowboys swaggers. What’s the difference? Style. Read More >

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

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

Celebrating its 60th anniversary in style, Singin’ in the Rain comes to Blu-ray with an astoundingly good-looking new transfer of the best available film elements. Read More >

Silverado (1985)

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

By the time the credits roll, we’ve had a whirlwind tour of virtually everything you can do in a Western. There are shootouts, standoffs, ambushes, jail breaks, posse pursuits, wagon convoys, saloon gunfights, outlaw hideouts, family feuds, wounded heroes, bucket-line firefighting, a cattle stampede, and much more. Read More >

Shadowlands (1993)

A- | ***½ | +3-2| Teens & Up

Anthony Hopkins plays “Jack” as a somewhat abstracted ivory-tower academic rather than the robust and jovial figure he actually was. But Lewis’ penetrating intellect and faith are here, as is his love for Joy (Winger), and the crippling grief that came afterwards. A challenging and inspiring film. Read More >

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

A- | ***½ | +2| Adults*

Steven Spielberg’s harrowing WWII drama opens with a horrifying recreation of the D-Day invasion of Normandy Beach that has been called the most realistic war sequence ever shot. Read More >

Rob Roy (1995)

A- | ***½ | +2-2| Adults*

Based on Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel, this is the story of Rob Roy MacGregor (Neeson), head of a Scottish highland clan who seeks to better the plight of his people with money borrowed from local nobility, only to have the money stolen by confederates of the corrupt nobility. Read More >

Return to Me (2000)

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

The pious, folksy Irish and Italian Catholicism of Carroll O’Connor and his cronies isn’t there for the sake of either mockery or preachiness, but is simply taken for granted, just as it might have been in a film of this sort from fifty years ago, when they still made them. The story also takes for granted (indeed, depends upon) the fact that the hero and the heroine manage to fall in love and grow together without taking their clothes off. Read More >

The Ref (1994)

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

A pity it’s not a brilliant film, only a pretty entertaining one. If it had been just a bit stronger, it could have offered a moral counterpart to the acclaimed but cold-hearted Beauty; as it is, it provides an interesting counterpoint. The Ref has its moments, and they’re funny moments, but the film’s premise had potential that was never quite realized. The premise is a peach, though. That, and crackling performances from the three leads, make The Ref worth watching — unless of course you don’t care for black comedy of any sort, or the crass language that can accompany it. Read More >

Red Planet (2000)

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

At least there’s stuff worth looking at. First-time film director Antony Hoffman has an eye for visuals; and the Martian landscape, shot in an Australian quarry and a Jordanian wadi, is stark and compelling. Then there’s the constantly swiveling, gyrating AMEE, a preposterous plot device of a robot which, in its (or "her") feline grace and unlimited range of free-flowing motion, resembles a high-tech computer-generated cross between Transformers and Battle Cats. I liked the little touches almost as much: the crew uses nifty, collapsible hand-held computers with a flexible, glossy display that pulls out from and rolls up into a cylindrical CPU like a window shade, looking for all the world like something you might actually see in a Macintosh commercial from 2050, when the movie is set. Read More >

The Prince of Egypt (1998)

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

Witness the astonishing animation of scale at work in capturing the towering monuments of Egypt, or the host of departing Hebrews: few if any traditional animated films have ever captured the sheer sense of size in this film. Watch the subtle storytelling in an early scene as the infant Moses, caught up in the Queen’s arms, eclipses the toddler Ramses in her line of vision, leaving him standing there with outstretched arms; foreshadowing the rivalry and ultimately the enmity between the heir to the throne and his Hebrew foster brother. Notice the small details in those quiet numinous moments: the pebbles rolling back at Moses’ feet at the burning bush; the halo of clear water around his ankles as the Nile turns to blood; the horror of an Egyptian servant as the surface of the water bubbles and the first frogs begin to flop out of the river onto the palace stairs; an extinguished candle flame or an offscreen sound of a jar crashing as the destroying angel swirls in and out among the Egyptians. Read More >

Pearl Harbor (2001)

D+ | | +1-1| Adults

Yet whereas Titanic was the work of a master manipulator, a man with a special genius for making cheesy melodrama seem moving and gripping, Michael Bay has so far in his career shown no competence for anything but pyrotechnics. Cameron’s film shrewdly focused on its three leads (Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, and Billy Zane), all of whom are gifted with real charisma and screen presence. Pearl Harbor, however, is burdened by a sprawling cast of characters, led by Ben Affleck (another Armageddon alum), who’s as blandly generic as no-name corn flakes — and doesn’t even compensate by taking likeable roles. Affleck’s out-acted by relative unknown Josh Hartnett (Blow Dry), the best friend and romantic rival (even though Hartnett’s character is equally underwritten); he’ll be opening movies himself before long. Read More >

The Patriot (2000)

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

Two things The Patriot isn’t are cynical or ironic. It’s corny, yes, and manipulative, not to mention clichéd, sentimental, and platitudinous. But at least it believes in its clichés and sentiments and platitudes. Its convictions may be half-baked, but it has the courage of them. Read More >

The Others (2001)

B | ***½ | -2| Teens & Up*

Then re-anchor the story to reality by asking whether there are really any ghosts at all — whether apparently spectral manifestations might not in fact be no more than an unstable woman’s imaginings, or the cruel pranks of a spiteful child, or the malicious work of mysterious servants with unguessable motives. Bear in mind that moviegoers are increasingly wise to Sixth-Sense style tricks, and will carefully analyze each of these characters in turn, trying to figure out what might not be as it seems. Read More >

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

B+ | ***½ | +0| Teens & Up

Despite the macabre humor, there’s something touchingly innocent about Halloweentown. Its inhabitants live for fear and thrills, yet there’s no real malice in any of them — with the exception of a sort of Halloween outlaw named Mr. Oogie Boogie and his three young protégés. Read More >

Monsters, Inc. (2001)

A- | ***½ | +0| Kids & Up

The world of Monsters, Inc. is a more artificial and contrived affair than the Toy Story world, and something of the figure of the Monster in myth and fairy tale and imagination has been lost. Yet there’s also a slyly satiric point: Childhood fears aren’t what they used to be. Read More >

Monsieur Vincent (1947)

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

Monsieur Vincent, director Maurice Cloche’s beautifully crafted, award-winning biopic of St. Vincent de Paul, celebrates the saint’s single-minded devotion to the poor without romanticizing the objects of his devotion and recipients of his charity. Read More >

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

D+ | **½ | -2| Adults*

This second Mission: Impossible film has almost as little to do with the 1996 blockbuster original as the latter had with the classic TV series whose name it happened to share. Read More >

The Mission (1986)

A- | ***½ | +4| Teens & Up*

From the unforgettable opening sequence, with its stunning depiction of the martyrdom of a silent Jesuit missionary at the hands of equally silent South American natives, the film is shot through with piercing, haunting imagery, pictures of enduring imaginative force. Read More >

The Miracle Maker (2000)

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

In The Miracle Maker, the film’s makers have a small miracle of their own: a simple, modest retelling of the gospel story of the ministry and passion of Christ that does little more than present the bare events of the gospel narratives, without adornment or invention, without idiosyncratic "explanations" or editorial spin, without elaborations for the sake of amusement or excitement. Read More >

The Mexican (2001)

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

There’s some freshness here amid the formula, but mainstream audiences are liable to find The Mexican too long and slow, too violent, and too off-putting. A few film aficianados and critics, numbed by the present dismal spate of lousy Hollywood efforts, may hail it as a wonderful find. But only the absence of worthwhile competition — and a highly watchable performance by "The Sopranos"’s James Gandolfini (who gets far more screen time with Roberts than Pitt does) — qualifies this middling effort as a modest success by any standard. Read More >

Memento (2001)

C- | ***½ | -2| Adults*

This device — unfairly dismissed by some critics as a mere gimmick — creates an experience that in one way resembles that of the protagonist, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce). Leonard suffers from a unique trauma-related condition that prevents him from retaining new memories. It’s amnesia in reverse: The amnesiac remembers only his life after his trauma; Leonard remembers only his life before. He knows his name, his past history, everything — up to a point. The last thing he remembers is failing to prevent the rape and murder of his wife. Read More >

Life is Beautiful (1997)

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

Contriving to hide the boy from camp officials (who soon put the other children to death), Guido tells Giosue that the concentration camp is actually an elaborate role-playing game in which the "players" are competing for points in the hopes of winning a real battle tank. From then on, Guido will take any risk, court any danger, to maintain his son’s illusion that none of it is real. Read More >

A Knight’s Tale (2001)

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

A Knight’s Tale is the kind of silly feel-good popcorn movie, like Independence Day or the 1999 The Mummy, that film critics generally enjoy ripping apart, and mainstream audiences generally just enjoy. Read More >

Kate and Leopold (2001)

C | ** | +1| Teens & Up

Fortunately, it’s mostly about Kate and Leopold. Read More >

Joseph: King of Dreams (2000)

B | *** | +3| Kids & Up

Joseph’s own dreams — the two biblical ones plus an extra one — are the best; I caught my breath at the first glimpse of these dreams, which look like living, flowing Van Goghs. The dream-sky swirls like Starry Night, and the grass ripples under the dream-Joseph’s feet like ripples in a pond. The dreamlike quality of these sequences is undeniable and memorable. Read More >

The Insider (1999)

B+ | ***½ | +2-1| Adults

These two "martyrs" are not saints; nor are they as cautious and discreet as Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, which leaves them open to unnecessary suffering. A sobering examination of corruption, courage, cowardice, and the sometimes catastrophic costs of telling the truth. Read More >

The Green Mile (1999)

C | **½ | +2-1| Adults

Other critics have already criticized the film on several fronts: social, aesthetic, cultural. In keeping with the general principles of this site, I’ll give priority to the spiritual and religious implications of the story. At the heart of The Green Mile is a powerful, compelling figure of almost preternatural innocence and goodness whose origins are obscure — one character describes him as having "fallen from the sky" — and who possesses a mysterious power to take the suffering of others upon himself. He is also able to weigh men’s hearts, and is startlingly capable of judgment and vengeance as well as mercy and healing. Read More >

Gosford Park (2001)

C+ | ***½ | -1| Adults

It’s this dynamic that Altman is really interested in, not “whodunit.” Or, if Altman does care whodunit, it’s only insofar as the answer illuminates the film’s real themes of snobbery and resentment, exploitation and interdependence, privilege and privation. Read More >

Gladiator (2000)

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

Director Ridley Scott made his name with the groundbreaking science-fiction films Blade Runner and Alien, both of which, like Gladiator, were triumphs of set design and visual style, memorable more for the haunting worlds they created than for any engaging character development or moral interest. In these earlier films, Scott had the advantage of showing us worlds we had never seen before. Gladiator takes us to familiar territory, though new computer effects and Scott’s strong direction make it worth seeing anyway. Read More >

The Fugitive (1993)

A | ***½ | +2| Teens & Up

Ford exudes decency in the role of the innocent man wrongly accused, as Kimble throughout the movie consistently goes out of his way to help other people at his own expense, regularly risking capture and even death for the sake of others. Best known for playing confident, capable action heroes in the Indiana Jones and Star Wars movies, Ford is also remarkably persuasive in the role of the unlikely action hero — the unassuming, nonphysical, white-collar professional who isn’t used to swashbuckling (a role he played also in Frantic and Air Force One). Read More >

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