Reviews

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The Perfect Game (2009)

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

Perhaps as much as we love underdog stories, America is just too big and powerful in too many ways to fully appreciate what a 1957 Little League championship could mean to Mexicans even in 1957, let alone 2010. The Perfect Game is a reminder of what a game can mean. Read More >

Clash of the Titans (2010)

D | | -2| Adults

The gods of classical mythology have always been selfish and capricious, but in a tempestuous, grand, passionate style, sort of like “Dallas” in heaven. In the new Clash of the Titans, the gods are about as grand and passionate as “The Simpsons,” and not a tenth as interesting. The original 1981 Clash of the Titans gave us Zeus portrayed by Laurence Olivier with a sort of dissolute patrician dignity. As played by Liam Neeson in the remake, he’s merely grumpy and vacillating. No wonder his half-human son Perseus (Sam Worthington) keeps telling anyone who will listen that he’s a man, not a god. Read More >

The Secret of Kells (2009)

B+ | ***½ | +1-2| Kids & Up*

I love that Brother Aidan’s cat in The Secret of Kells is called Pangur Bán. The unknown eighth or ninth-century Irish monk who, in a playful respite from his normal work, penned in the margins of a Latin New Testament manuscript an affectionate ode in his native tongue to the mouse-catching prowess of his white cat would surely be astounded to find Pangur Bán again commemorated in pen and ink over a millenium later, romping across backgrounds that look at times like the decorative work of the monks themselves brought to life. Read More >

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

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

“Vikings versus dragons” is definitely one of the cooler premises for a computer-animated tale to come along in a while. Differentiate the dragons into half a dozen distinct species, each with unique traits, from the roly-poly Gronkle to the two-headed Hideous Zippleback and the stealthy, jet-black Night Fury, and it’s even cooler — especially if the dragons are ordinary beasties rather than anthropomorphized talking monsters. Read More >

The African Queen (1951)

A- | ***½ | +1| Kids & Up*

Crocodiles, tsetse flies, mechanical difficulties, African rains and burning sun, sickness, an erratic helmer — all these and more plagued the shooting of The African Queen, no less than the onscreen journey of the African Queen down the Ulonga–Bora River during the first World War. Read More >

The Blind Side (2009)

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

Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) is a red-state, family-values, guns-and-religion Erin Brockovich. Righteous, indomitable, unflappable, glamorous in plunging necklines and thigh-hugging skirts, she’s also a pistol-packing mama, a happily married homemaker and mother of two, a Bible-belt Evangelical and a dyed-in-the-wool gridiron junkie. She isn’t crass like Julia Roberts’ Oscar-winning part, but she’s as blunt and direct as an offensive tackle, and about as apt to be cowed by other people’s crass or intimidating behavior. Read More >

Green Zone (2010)

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

It’s tidy, comforting revisionism, like sending Rambo back into Vietnam so we can win this time. Instead of a morass in which the search for WMDs simply peters out, we get the closure of a smoking gun, a scapegoat whom Miller can buttonhole with righteous fury like Harrison Ford lacing into the president at the end of Clear and Present Danger. Read More >

Porco Rosso (1992)

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

Seaplanes combine Miyazaki’s twin gravity-defying loves of water and sky, flying and floating, as well as his affinity for vintage technology — and the movie’s haphazard, kitchen-sink style suggests that the director just wanted to kick back and have fun with this one. There are aerial dogfights, star-crossed romance, gorgeous scenery, a hat tip Fleischer-style vintage animation, a rip-roaring escape sequence set in Milan, a nightclub where enemies sit at adjacent tables like Rick’s in Casablanca and the proprietress sings torch songs, and a showdown between the titular hero and an American antagonist that plays like the ultimate Humphrey Bogart / Errol Flynn smackdown that never was. Read More >

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

D | | -1| Teens & Up

The film is actually a joint evisceration not only of Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, but also of “Jabberwocky,” with Alice recast as (so help me) a messianic warrior-hero destined to claim the fabled “Vorpal Sword,” don shining armor, and wage an epic battle on the fated “Frabjous Day” against the forces of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and the dragon-like Jabberwocky. Read More >

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)

A- | ***½ | +1| Kids & Up

From the Leonardo-like engineering illustrations of the opening credit sequence to the hauntingly surreal final image on the edge of space, Hayao Miyazaki’s Laputa, or Castle in the Sky as it’s been dubbed for English-speaking audiences, displays the filmmaker’s visionary brilliance as a shaper of worlds as compellingly as any film he has made. Read More >

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)

B- | **½ | -1| Teens & Up

Harry Potter meets Clash of the Titans in Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, the first installment of Rick Riordan’s fantasy pentalogy, directed by Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets). The target audience for Percy Jackson & The Olympians has never seen Clash of the Titans, of course (I mean the original Clash of the Titans, of course, not the coming remake). That they have seen Harry Potter goes without saying. Read More >

The Wolfman (2010)

C- | ** | -2| Adults*

The Wolfman retells the classic werewolf story, but has little to add besides volume and gore. Jump moments pile up to the point that you stop jumping and merely feel annoyed at the obvious, heavy-handed manipulation. Alone in the dark in his ancestral home, Lawrence Talbot seems to hear a creepy whisper, but it turns out he’s just remembering something from his youth. Then a minute later it happens again. Later on there’s a gotcha dream, with a menacing figure rising from the shadows and leaping at Lawrence in his bed — but then he wakes up. Or so it seems, but then it happens again — but it’s a dream again. It’s like a haunted house where they never stop jumping out and saying “Boo!” Read More >

Julie & Julia (2009)

B+ | *** | +1| Adults

Toward the end, the two storylines almost converge as Julie’s blog comes to Julia’s attention — and Julia’s reported response leaves Powell in tears. How that twist strikes you make depend in part on which storyline you have felt closer to, on whose movie it is for you. Either way, there’s something for everyone, and if there’s a couple of brief bedroom scenes, for once they involve happily married couples. Read More >

Crazy Heart (2009)

A- | ***½ | -1+2| Adults

Crazy Heart’s turning point becomes a moment of clarity not only for Bad, but for Jean as well. It’s a film that is more hopeful and redemptive than its characters have a right to be, but along with hope is awareness of potentially irrevocable consequences. Read More >

Bright Star (2009)

A | **** | +2| Teens & Up

Luminous, exquisitely acted and not without a sense of humor, Jane Campion’s Bright Star contemplates how this graceful, stylish, ignorant, sharp-tongued girl ensnared, and was ensnared by, a struggling young Romantic poet with no income and no critical acclaim. Read More >

Roma, cittą aperta [Open City] (1945)

A+ | **** | +2| Teens & Up

Developed in Rome during the Nazi occupation, shot in the Eternal City shortly after the Nazi withdrawal, Roberto Rossellini’s Rome Open City stunned audiences the world over who saw in it an unmediated authenticity more evocative of the documentary quality of wartime newsreels than of the artificiality of earlier, more conventional WWII dramas. Read More >

Creation (2009)

C- | **½ | -2| Teens & Up*

Where is the other side of the debate? Where is the Darwin who declared it “absurd to doubt that a man might be an ardent theist and an evolutionist”? Where are the likes of Charles Kingsley and Asa Gray — representatives of, respectively, religion and science, who saw no quarrel between their two worlds, and both of whom Darwin cited in this connection? Where, indeed, is the Reverend Innes who vouched that his friend Darwin “follows his own course as a Naturalist and leaves Moses to take care of himself”? Read More >

The Lovely Bones (2009)

D+ | | -2| Adults

Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones paints an unconvincingly ham-fisted, sometimes ridiculous picture of what happens when someone dies. No, I’m not talking about the film’s attempt to portray the afterlife with kaleidoscopic montages of trippy concept art. I’m willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt, there. Read More >

The Young Victoria (2009)

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

Jean-Marc Vallée’s The Young Victoria is frothy, spirited and fairly inconsequential. I like that about it. Read More >

Avatar (2009)

B+ | ***½ | -2| Teens & Up*

James Cameron’s Avatar is a virtual apotheosis of Hollywood mythopoeia. It is the whole worldview and memory of contemporary Hollywood, given shape in a narrative and pictoral form that is stunning in its finality and grandeur. It is like everything and there is nothing like it. Read More >

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

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

There’s a villain with magical powers — but instead of Disneyfied magic, like Aladdin’s friendly genie, the film’s New Orleans voodoo is an occult world of terrifying powers and principalities in which the villain himself is at much at risk as anyone. It’s almost Disney’s most overtly Christian depiction of magic and evil at least since Sleeping Beauty, if not ever — though the waters are muddied by a benevolent, swamp-dwelling hoodoo mama in a sort of fairy-godmother role. Read More >

The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)

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

Twilight and New Moon are essentially uncritical celebrations of that overwrought, obsessive passion that is the hallmark of immaturity — passion that wholly subordinates all sense of one’s own identity and elevates the beloved to summum bonum, or even the sole good; passion that leaps as readily to suicidal impulses and fantasies as to longing for union. Read More >

The 13th Day (2009)

A | ***½ | +4| Kids & Up

The 13th Day is the best movie ever made about Fátima — the most beautiful and effective, as well as one of the most historically accurate. Read More >

2012 (2009)

C | ** | -1| Teens & Up

Then there’s the scene in which President Glover, as an ecumenical prayer on behalf of the world, starts to recite Psalm 23 — but the transmission cuts out before he can even finish the first line. What, Ejiofor gets to cite Cusack’s crappy fiction again and again, but the president can’t get off one lousy Bible verse at the end of the world? Here is a melancholy thought: How many people in the audience won’t even know how “The Lord is my shep…” ends, or where it’s from? Read More >

Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)

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

It’s almost a shock to hear the words “Christ the Savior is born” in a big-budget Hollywood movie today, even a time-honored period piece like A Christmas Carol. Only five years ago, Zemekis’ own The Polar Express rang with “Silver Bells” and “Deck the Halls,” but not so much as a “rum pa pum pum” from the stable at Bethlehem (not even at Santa’s North Pole home, where everyone celebrates Christmas). Read More >

Stranded: I’ve Come From a Plane That Crashed in the Mountains... (2007)

A- | ***½ | +2-1| Teens & Up*

Survival is not the supreme value, but it has a unique power to put other values into perspective. We say, too often and unthinkingly, that we would “rather die” than do this or that. It is a salutary thing not to fear death, but there is nothing salutary about trivializing the precious gift of life — precious, not only to ourselves, but also to those left behind. Read More >

Amelia (2009)

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

The press called her a “lady pilot,” but Amelia Earhart called herself a “tramp flyer.” She seems to have preferred “flyer” to “pilot”; perhaps it was just a manner of speech, or perhaps it was the sky she cared about more than the airplane, the act of flying rather than the mechanics of manning an aircraft. The other word she liked was “vagabonding.” As imagined in Amelia, Mira Nair’s handsome biopic, Earhart craves freedom above all: “no borders, only horizons.” Read More >

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

A- | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up*

The Things are potent symbols that refuse to yield to a single interpretation. Carol blends Max’s angry, destructive impulses and anxieties with Max’s mother’s concern and, dimly, the reassuring voice of the father who isn’t there. It’s not hard to see where Carol and KW’s quarrels come from, and KW’s absences are the flip side of Carol’s surrogate fatherhood, but Max’s sister is also in KW, off cavorting with her new friends and leaving Carol, and thus Max, in the lurch. Read More >

The Informant! (2009)

A- | ***½ | +1| Teens & Up*

Each of us would like to think that, in such situations as the movie poses, we would do the right thing; in moments of crisis, we tell ourselves that that is what we have done. The Informant! confronts us with the inveterate human capacity for self-justification and self-deception, and the extent to which we are all prone to casting ourselves as the hero of our own drama and the victim of our own tragedy. Read More >

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

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

What’s the last family film you can think of that name-checked Nikola Tesla and Alexander Graham Bell? When in movie history has the girl ever revealed her true self and become more attractive to the hero by putting on spectacles and pulling back her hair? Read More >

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