Reviews

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Frequency (2000)

A | ***½ | +3| Teens & Up*

This is a film about the legacy of fatherhood and the inheritance of sonship, about the unbreakable connection and the unbridgeable gap between one generation and the next. It is a celebration of masculinity, but it contemplates how men relate to women as an index of their manhood. Read More >

The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas

D | ** | -2| Teens & Up

I think that a similar dynamic may be at work in The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, a prequel to the 1994 film that purports to tell us how young Fred and Barney first met and married Wilma and Betty (respectively). Kids may happily gobble up Viva just because it’s a movie based on a popular cartoon show; and even parents desperate for watchable family entertainment may allow themselves to be seduced by its colorful set pieces and the goofy charm of the cast. But really, it’s not at all good. Not so much nasty, like coffee ice cream to a child; but rather bland, inert, and joyless, like some insipid sugar-free fat-free Frozen Dessert Product. Read More >

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)

C- | **½ | -2| Teens & Up*

Based on a computer game, Final Fantasy is always interesting to look at, and is sometimes visually spectacular, but it hasn’t transcended its gaming origins. The sci-fi scavanger-hunt premise hasn’t been fleshed out into a coherent or satisfying story. The heroes, though eye-poppingly rendered, remain emotionally as one-dimensional as any computer-game avatar. Even basic rules and motivations never become clear. Read More >

Fantasia (1940)

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

If Fantasia failed to spark a hoped-for entertainment revolution, its achievement is all the more starkly singular. A joyous experiment in pure animation, an ambitious work of imaginative power, a showcase of cutting-edge technique, and a celebration of great music, it is without precedent and without rival. I’ve watched it far too many times to count, and I have yet to begin tiring of it. Read More >

The Family Man (2000)

D+ | ** | +1-2| Adults

If it were only predictable, syrupy, and overlong, The Family Man might still be worth watching for the appealing performances from Leoni and Cage. Alas, its problems are more deep-rooted than that. Read More >

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

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

“The story of a boy and his dog,” writes one critic. “Close Encounters for kids,” writes another. Still others focus on the Christological resonances, particularly in connection with another messianic sci‑fi film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, with its peaceful visitor from the heavens who dies and rises again. Read More >

Erin Brockovich (2000)

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

Watching Erin take on corporate ruthlessness and professional apathy, I often felt that while I couldn’t always condone her choice of words, I appreciated the spirit behind them — not to mention the effect they had on her hapless victims. This movie makes you feel that one person really can make a difference; especially since it’s based on a true story. Read More >

The End of the Affair (1999)

C | **½ | +2-2| Adults*

The answer, apparently, is that there are many film critics who can, since Neil Jordan’s film of The End of the Affair, which he adapted himself from Graham Greene’s novel of the same name, has been praised not only in general terms but specifically for its fidelity to the book. And, indeed, the film may be said to be largely faithful to the book, in the sense that the great majority of scenes are adapted more or less as they were written. But this is like saying that the character of Sarah (Julianne Moore) is largely faithful to her husband Henry (Stephen Rea) because the great majority of her time she isn’t sleeping with her lover Bendrix (Ralph Fiennes): the betrayal is crucial, and gives the lie to the supposed fidelity of the rest. If it’s not quite like making an otherwise "faithful" film about the life of Christ that omits the Crucifixion, it’s at any rate not entirely unlike making a film in which, some time after Good Friday, it turns out that Jesus hasn’t been crucified after all, but is actually living in Nazareth doing carpentry, and Pilate has to send up centurions to apprehend him and bring him forcibly to Jerusalem, where, after a six-month imprisonment, He is finally crucified shortly before Christmas. (Okay, it’s not exactly like that either, but you see what I’m getting at.) Read More >

The Dish (2000)

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

The Dish is closer in spirit to gentle British and Irish comedies like Waking Ned Devine and The Matchmaker than more characteristically edgy Australian comedies such as Strictly Ballroom, Muriel’s Wedding, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Sam Neill, leading the Australian cast, sets the tone; his deliberate, relaxed performance as Cliff is at the center of the film, as he plays Andy Griffith to the residents of this down-under Mayberry. Read More >

Die Hard (1988)

A- | **** | +1-2| Adults

Along with Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, John McTiernan’s Die Hard defined a generation of action-adventure movies. Read More >

The Detective [Father Brown] (1954)

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

Guinness makes a delightfully enjoyable Father Brown, and the film’s dialogue sparkles with flashes of Chestertonian wit. … Alas, this well-intentioned and otherwise enjoyable film is marred by several serious missteps. Read More >

Dead Man Walking (1995)

A | **** | +3| Adults*

Tim Robbins argues his point fearlessly, not taking the easy way out, not stacking the deck by emotionally manipulating the audience, but instead taking a worst-case scenario: Rather than giving us a murderer who isn’t really so bad, merely misunderstood and mistreated and so forth, Robbins gives us a thoroughly revolting individual, one who spouts racist propaganda not because he believes it but simply because it is shocking and antisocial and hateful; who tries to humiliate the one person interested in his welfare with leering come-ons aimed at her consecrated chastity. Read More >

Come to the Stable (1949)

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

The bishop (Basil Ruysdael) is a decent enough chap, sympathetic to the sisters’ mission but daunted by the practical difficulties. As their cause goes forward, however, he begins to suspect that what’s driving them is an irresistible force before which there is no known immovable object: "There hasn’t been for 2000 years." Read More >

Chicken Run (2000)

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

Real chickens, I have it on expert testimony, are homebodies who do not actually pine for freedom, as do the heroines of Chicken Run. Whereas these poultry-farm prisoners plot and scheme endlessly to contrive by any means necessary to get under, over, or around their chicken-wire prison wall, my wife’s hens actually perch atop the five-foot fence that surrounds our back yard. They are quite capable of escaping, but have no interest in doing so. Read More >

Cast Away (2000)

A- | ***½ | +0| Teens & Up

In a way, the obnoxious tell-all trailer for Cast Away gives away more than the film itself. That trailer, with moronic thoroughness, reveals the film’s set-up, the crisis, the hero’s ups and downs, his triumph, the climax, and the denouement. What it doesn’t let on is that the movie itself won’t tell you what to think or how to feel about what happens, even at the end. The trailer is typical Hollywood feel-good, inspirational fare; the story in the film is rather more ambiguous and challenging. Read More >

A Bug’s Life (1998)

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

Read More >

Black Hawk Down (2001)

A- | ***½ | +0| Adults*

The shadow of September 11 will not always hang over the movies, but as I watched Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down it seemed to be everywhere: an ominous column of smoke rising from a city skyline; people watching helplessly via video screens as a catastrophe unfolds before their eyes in real time; enemies striking an unexpected and terrible blow that seems to be as bad as anything can possibly be — followed by a second, equally terrible blow. Read More >

Big Fat Liar (2001)

C- | **½ | -2| Teens & Up*

In the end, when the parents realize all their son went through to win their trust, they can’t help but be proud of him. Another touching Hallmark moment brought to you by a Hollywood committee, none of whom has any children or parents of their own, or knows anyone who does. Read More >

Being John Malkovich (1999)

F | ***½ | -4|

The malleable, plastic vision of human nature in general and of sexuality in particular, in which gender and relationships shift and merge and re-form like blobs of goo in a lava lamp, represents a profoundly anti-human fantasy and an affront to personal dignity. Read More >

Becket (1964)

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

Peter O’Toole roars magnificently both in laughter and in rage; his Henry is a simple, direct, utterly unprincipled man who sees the world in two great categories: (a) things he wants, and (b) obstacles to getting them. Read More >

Battlefield Earth (2000)

F | 0 | +0| Teens & Up*

Here is the closest thing to a positive statement I can make about Battlefield Earth: Although it is an adaptation of a novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the sect of Scientology - and although it stars John Travolta, one of Hollywood’s most high-profile Scientologists and a long-time champion of this project - Battlefield Earth is not a cryptic tract or allegory of Scientology. Read More >

Babette’s Feast (1987)

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

In the end, Babette’s Feast is a quiet celebration of the divine grace that meets us at every turn, and even redeems our ways not taken, our sacrifices and losses. Whatever we think has been given up or lost, God gives back in greater abundance, one way or another. It may not be till heaven that we truly become all that he intends; but his grace is here and now, whatever our circumstances, and with him all things are possible. Read More >

Babe: Pig in the City (1998)

F | ½ | -2| Kids & Up*

As an enthusiastic fan of the first Babe, I wanted to believe in the sequel, even if it did turn out to be too dark for young kids. After all, Miller was also the screenwriter and producer for the original film, directed by Chris Noonan. So I came to Babe: Pig in the City with high hopes. Read More >

Babe (1995)

A+ | **** | +2| Kids & Up

The judges rating the pig’s performance might as well be grading the entire movie. Babe is a perfect 10. Read More >

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

D+ | *** | -2| Teens & Up*

Directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise (Beauty and the Beast) keep things moving fast enough to keep them from getting boring, and there are a few laughs along the way. Yet what could have made adequate summer entertainment for older kids and parents with low expectations is ultimately undone by pervasive echoes of New-Age pop spirituality and neopaganism in the film’s imagery and themes. Read More >

Armageddon (1998)

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

“Talk about the wrong stuff” is one officer’s disparaging comment as Willis’ team struts about NASA ostensibly preparing for their mission, hamming it up like class clowns in high school, ridiculing the process, flaunting their lack of couth like a badge of honor — all but letting their butt cracks stick out. Yes, in this film the honors science students are obliged to sit back and watch as the shop class saves the world. Read More >

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

B | ***½ | +2-2| Teens & Up*

The Dead End Kids have dirty faces, all right — but they’re no angels. Tough-talking young hoods much given to slapping one another’s faces and terrorizing their lower East Side Manhattan neighborhood, they may tolerate sincere, savvy Father Jerry Connolly (Pat O’Brien) and his efforts to divert them from the dangers of life on the street; but it’s in Fr. Jerry’s boyhood chum, infamous gangster Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney), that the Kids find a mentor and kindred spirit. Read More >

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

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

A.I. is a science-fiction fairy tale: a terrible, revisionistic revisiting of "Pinocchio," the story of the little manmade boy who wants to be real — as told by a nihilist who condemns Gepetto for creating Pinocchio, the world for laughing at him, and the Blue Fairy for leading him on when he’s better off being made of wood, which will after all be around long after Gepetto is pushing up daisies. Read More >

The 6th Day (2000)

B- | **½ | +1-1| Adults

Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s latest vehicle brings us to a rather well-realized, not-too-distant future ("sooner than you think" according to an ominous caption) in which human cloning is possible but forbidden by "sixth-day laws" (so called after the sixth day of creation week in Genesis 1, the day when God created man). Read More >

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

A+ | **** | +2| Kids & Up

The Wizard of Oz is one of a very few shared experiences that unite Americans as a culture, transcending barriers of age, locale, politics, religion, and so on. We all see it when we are young, and it leaves an indelible mark on our imaginations. We can hardly imagine not knowing it. It ranks among our earliest and most defining experiences of wonder and of fear, of fairy-tale joys and terrors, of the lure of the exotic and the comfort of home. Read More >

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