Reviews

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The Golden Compass (2007)

D | *** | -3| Teens & Up*

Overarching all of this is the depraved caricature that the books call “the Church” or “the Magisterium,” but is referred to in the film solely by the latter, less familiar term, which many viewers won’t recognize as a real-world reference to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. Obsessed with preserving “centuries of teaching” from the dangers of “heresy” and “freethinkers,” by deadly means if necessary, Pullman’s Magisterium is not just oppressive but essentially equivalent to the forces of darkness, akin to Tolkien’s Mordor or the Empire in Star Wars. Read More >

Amazing Grace (2006)

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

The title reflects the supporting role of John Newton, played with gusto by Albert Finney, as a penitent ex-slave ship captain, now a mentor of sorts to Wilberforce as well as the writer of the beloved American hymn. (“A wretch like me,” Newton was not afraid to call himself in the original lyrics, with a biographical and theological honesty too direct for the revisionist vandals of hymnody responsible for many missalettes and hymnbooks.) Read More >

Bella (2006)

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

In the end, Bella has something to challenge everyone, pro-life or otherwise. For pro-lifers, the inspiring ending represents a call to love of neighbor. It isn’t enough just to oppose abortion: We are called to love those in need with the love of Christ, potentially at a cost to ourselves. For those who favor abortion, the ending represents a challenge to recognize that life is a beautiful and precious gift even in far from ideal circumstances, and the choice to embrace life, even when it involves great sacrifice, is also beautiful. Read More >

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

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

Lars Lindstrom goes through life doing his utmost not to. Every day he negotiates his world as an obstacle course, and the obstacles are other people. The awkwardness of proximity that many people feel in a crowded elevator as they avoid eye contact with strangers and put conversations on hold is how Lars feels with anybody, anywhere. You could say he is socially maladjusted, except I’m not sure he could be called anything with “socially” in it. Read More >

Things We Lost in the Fire (2007)

B+ | *** | +2-1| Adults

Though not always faithful in small things, Things We Lost is faithful in much. The individual moments are sometimes off, but the large emotional resonances are right. Read More >

The Ten Commandments (2007)

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

Although less speculative and less freely adapted than the earlier film, The Ten Commandments shamelessly rips off interpretive conceits and even specific dramatic beats from The Prince of Egypt, from the menacing of Moses’ basket by a passing croc to the foundering of Ramses’ chariot on the shores of the Red Sea, allowing him to live to see the destruction of his army and the escape of the Israelites. Read More >

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

F | * | -4| Adults

A lurid sort of Christopher Hitchens vision of history pervades Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Shekhar Kapur’s sequel to his 1998 art-house hit Elizabeth. Read More >

The Jungle Book (1967)

B+ | ***½ | +1| Kids & Up

As interpreted by Disney and director Wolfgang Reitherman, The Jungle Book is essentially a coming-of-age parable about carefree childhood and adult responsibility, embodied respectively by Mowgli’s two mentors, Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther (Sebastian Cabot). Read More >

Trade (2007)

C | **½ | +2-2| Adults*

Trade needed to be the United 93 of the human trafficking crisis. It’s closer to being the World Trade Center. Read More >

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

B+ | *** | -1| Adults

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is the best name for a western of any film in history. It’s the second half of the title that does it — the editorial moralizing, redolent of a 19th-century dime novel or monograph. The kind of thing that boys like young Bob Ford eagerly devoured in their beds at night as they dreamed of being daring and admired like Jesse James. Read More >

The Brave One (2007)

D+ | **½ | -3| Adults*

It’s a movie in which every slimeball Erica encounters menaces her with remorseless, repulsive sadism — there’s never anyone who just has a lewd comment, say, or even just wants to steal her purse. Everyone wants to bludgeon or shoot her, mutilate and molest her, enslave her, run her over, what have you. Read More >

3:10 to Yuma (1957)

A- | ***½ | +2| Teens & Up

Although not as nerve-wracking as High Noon, 3:10 to Yuma is even more claustrophobic — the heart of the film is the verbal sparring between Evans and Wade in a second-story hotel room — and the two-character drama is more intriguing than High Noon’s protagonist standing alone. Read More >

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

D | **½ | -3| Adults*

There’s no spiritual duel, no earned respect and debt of honor. There is just a broken man and a capricious one: one harboring hopeless dreams of being a man again in the eyes of his wife and son but no hope of achieving it; the other larger than life, an implacable force of nature able to kill men and seduce women essentially at will, and who never has any reason to honor or respect the other man, but could conceivably take pity on him and go along with him, if it strikes his fancy. Read More >

The Dark Crystal (1982)

C | **½ | -2| Teens & Up*

Imaginatively ambitious and often visually engaging, The Dark Crystal resolutely remains a distant, uninvolving experience. The filmmakers’ attention seems occupied by the technical challenges of bringing this fictional world to life; characters and emotions, even by the archetypal standards of high fantasy, never come to life, and the overarching mythology seems too self-consciously contrived rather than taking on a mythic reality of its own. Read More >

Labyrinth (1986)

C | **½ | -1| Kids & Up*

Despite some imaginative visuals, such as the Escher-inspired omnidirectional castle at the finale, Labyrinth suffers from a distinct lack of charm, with poorly thought-out characters, limp plotting and a limp climax. Although positioned as a coming-of-age tale, Labyrinth indulges rather than challenges Sarah’s heroic-princess fantasies, with a made-to-order adversary whose whole world, for no very obvious reason, seems to revolve around Sarah. Read More >

Arctic Tale (2007)

B- | **½ | +0| Kids & Up

Arctic Tale is co-presented by National Geographic Films, which released March of the Penguins, and Paramount Classics, which released An Inconvenient Truth, and when it grows up Arctic Tale would like to be both of those films. Read More >

Rush Hour 3 (2007)

C+ | **½ | -2| Teens & Up*

Rush Hour 3 is a half-hour of brilliance, preceded by an hour of dreck. That’s a roughly comparable dreck-to-brilliance ratio to the first two Rush Hour movies, I guess, and par for the course for Jackie Chan’s Hollywood films (and a fair number of his Asian ones). It’s just that the earlier Rush Hour movies are hit-and-miss throughout, whereas Rush Hour 3 is basically non-stop missing for an hour, saving all its hits for the end. Read More >

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

A- | ***½ | +2| Adults

With The Bourne Ultimatum the eponymous hero has accomplished something rare indeed: Jason Bourne has gone the distance for three straight films. With The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum seals the achievement of a rare action franchise for thinking adults, combining gripping entertainment with an undercurrent of moral seriousness. Read More >

Sunshine (2007)

B- | *** | -1| Adults

For an hour or so it threatens to be one of the best movies of the year, but in the end, despite sci‑fi razzle-dazzle and some undeniably powerful images, Sunshine ultimately settles for puzzling rather than mysterious. Read More >

The Mormons [The American Experience/Frontline] (2007)

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

Directed by Helen Whitney (“John Paul II – The Millennial Pope”), “The Mormons” is at once as scrupulously respectful and sympathetic as any religious adherent might hope for in such a treatment, while also dealing directly and fairly with thorny subjects from Joseph Smith’s evolving accounts of his religious experiences to the Mountain Meadow Massacre of 120 travelers by Utah Mormons and the subsequent church cover-up. Read More >

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

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

The level of magical eye candy is noticeably lower than previous installments… On the other hand, Ron and Hermione, though probably short-changed compared to the book, are better used here than in the previous film. Best of all is Harry’s leading role in Dumbledore’s Army, marking a major advance in proactive engagement from a protagonist who for too much of the first four chapters has been largely passive. Read More >

Ratatouille (2007)

A- | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up*

Ratatouille is a revelation — a delightfully surprising discovery in a genre that seldom surprises even savvy youngsters, a warm and winsome confection that will be treasured by viewers young and old long after the mediocrities of summer 2007 have been justly forgotten. Read More >

Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

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

Wisely, Live Free doesn’t try to replicate the paranoia or intimidation of the first film. Twenty years later, battered by life, John can no longer be that panicky, brash cop, and Live Free shrewdly uses his history to advantage, establishing him as a dogged, world-weary old warrior who may still get mad and even desperate, but can’t really get all that frightened any more. Read More >

Evan Almighty (2007)

C+ | ** | +1| Kids & Up

Harmless, diverting, very mildly uplifting, Evan Almighty offers passable family entertainment meant to appeal equally to Bible-believing conservatives and left-leaning environmentalists. Read More >

Longford (2006)

A | ***½ | +3| Teens & Up*

Though thematically similar to Dead Man Walking, Longford grapples more directly and thoughtfully with religious themes, and doesn’t glorify its eccentric, somewhat tragic protagonist the way Dead Man Walking extols Sister Préjean. Read More >

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

C | ** | -1| Teens & Up

Perhaps this is what is most fundamentally wrong with the Fantastic Four franchise: None of these allegedly “fantastic” heroes has any gravitas, any actual heroic weight or depth of character. There’s nothing particularly noble, compelling or even interesting about them. Far from inspiring admiration, they don’t rise even to the level of thinking, acting and relating like grown-ups. Read More >

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

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

If Dead Man’s Chest was inspiration gone amok, At World’s End is more — much, much, much more — of the same, only without the inspiration. In every respect it outdoes its predecessor, except in charm, entertainment and fun. Add Pirates of the Caribbean to the roster of franchises foundering on the rocks the third time out. Read More >

Shrek the Third (2007)

C | ** | -1| Kids & Up*

Shrek the Third continues the deliberate bad taste that is the franchise’s hallmark, with the usual hit-and-miss results… What’s missing is the heart that leavened the first two films. Read More >

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

A- | ***½ | +1| Teens & Up

Spider‑Man 3 is a movie stuffed to bursting — with action, plotlines, characters, humor, energy, moods, spectacle and certainly inspiration. Like its web-headed hero careening crazily through the canyons of Manhattan at the end of a web-line, the film swings breathlessly and without warning from one thing to another, from breakneck excitement to outrageous silliness to comic-book morals about responsibility, sacrifice and now even vengeance and forgiveness. Read More >

Happy Feet (2006)

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

No, it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to call the CGI cartoon Happy Feet an effort to claim penguins for the other side of the culture wars. But it wouldn’t be wholly wrong either. Read More >

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