Reviews

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The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)

A- | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up

The Spiderwick Chronicles is a smart, scary fantasy family thriller that offers depth and meaning in a genre littered with mere competent entertainment. Where films like Zathura and Night at the Museum offer roller-coaster excitement but little more, The Spiderwick Chronicles is actually about something. Read More >

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (2008)

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

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is worth seeing in the company of any American girl young enough to watch a G-rated movie in which the protagonist wants to be a reporter rather than get a makeover, become a pop princess or get the cute boy. If you can get away without shelling out for the matching dress, so much the better. Read More >

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

B- | **½ | +0| Teens & Up

Although most viewers will probably find The Incredible Hulk diverting but — after a strong first act — forgettable entertainment, for Hulk fans smarting from the limitations of the Ang film, it may just be balm for the soul. Read More >

Kung Fu Panda (2008)

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

The action, though no more realistic than the most cartoony chop-socky movies, is really intense — too intense for sensitive youngsters. For kids up for rolling with the punches, though, Kung Fu Panda may just be DreamWorks Animation’s most entertaining and endearing CGI cartoon to date. Read More >

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

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

Raiders of the Lost Ark is such a tour de force homage to the serial adventures of yesteryear that viewers who know nothing of those old cliffhangers are swept up in its nostalgia. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull plays to nostalgia for the earlier Indiana Jones films. In that capacity, it delivers more or less what one would expect, disposable popcorn entertainment and a reunion with a few old friends. Enjoy it for what it is, but don’t hope for more. Read More >

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)

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

If the first Narnia film got perhaps two-thirds of Lewis’s intended meaning, Caspian is lucky if it gets a quarter. … The upshot is that Caspian is a good-looking fantasy film with some appealing eye candy and comparatively little to do with the book, beyond basic themes of good versus evil and rather generic faith. On that level, if you can put Lewis out of your mind, it’s a pretty good ride. Read More >

Son of Rambow (2008)

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

After making his feature debut with the rather inspiration-challenged big-screen Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, director Garth Jennings wisely shifts to a more intimate and personal canvas with Son of Rambow, a quirky British indie, set in the early 1980s, that made a splash at Sundance. Although somewhat scattered and uneven, Rambow has enough heart and wit to sustain its 96-minute running time. Read More >

Iron Man (2008)

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

Smart, sardonic and more than a little silly, Iron Man is a successful super-hero movie that never takes itself too seriously. Read More >

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

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

And yet, compared with most Hollywood biblical epics, The Greatest Story Ever Told manages to sustain a spirit of genuine reverence and religiosity over showmanship and pageantry. Its deliberate pacing and dreamlike, otherworldly ambiance offer neither the entertainment value of The Ten Commandments nor the comparative psychological realism of Zeffirelli’s subsequent Jesus of Nazareth, yet it is arguably more evocative than either of the spirit of biblical literature. Read More >

Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who! (2008)

A- | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up

One book can’t contain Horton’s dogged heroics!
His stoical pluck shows up all other stoics! …
And it gets even better! I’m pleased to relate
That Horton’s the very best Blue Sky to date. Read More >

Once (2007)

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

At once delicate and gritty, wistful and deeply satisfying, John Carney’s Once is a intimate little film that, like a favorite song, you would rather play for someone than try to describe. Read More >

Be Kind Rewind (2008)

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

If I had to put Be Kind Rewind in a box, which is emphatically not where any Gondry film belongs, I might be tempted to call it Lars and the Real Girl by way of Bowfinger — the latter for its comic guerrilla filmmaking, but the former for its similarity of spirit, its gentle absurdism in an ode to benevolence and community togetherness. Read More >

In the Shadow of the Moon (2007)

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

Man’s own shadow, as much as the moon’s, lies across In the Shadow of the Moon, David Sington’s moving documentary of the U.S. Apollo program. An eloquent testament to the grandeur of creation as well as man’s unique place in it, In the Shadow of the Moon offers a remarkable look at the history and technology of the Apollo program, but an even more extraordinary glimpse of the men who lived it and made it happen. Read More >

Caramel (2007)

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

As the name implies, Caramel is a gooey, insubstantial confection, often sweet, occasionally cloying, sometimes sticky — in many respects about on a par with the likes of Beauty Shop. The humor is broad, characters stereotypical, the situations formulaic. Yet there’s no good–bad character divide, no requisite A‑story conflict, and few tidy resolutions. Read More >

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)

A- | **** | +3-2| Adults*

4 Months, like previous Romanian export The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, compels us not to avert our eyes. Even though the actual events remain out of sight — apart from a single, indelible shot not unlike images seen in some types of pro-life materials — its confrontation of the unmentionable is no less devastating. Read More >

Juno (2007)

A- | ***½ | +3-2| Teens & Up*

Yet it’s right around this point that Juno, which has been clever and insightful, unexpectedly reveals hidden layers of complexity and depth. Read More >

Enchanted (2007)

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

(Written by Suzanne E. Greydanus) Where is the real man here? Giselle’s rapport with Morgan and sweet naiveté are endearing; are we supposed to find Edward’s incompetence and arrogance equally so? Do our female hearts swoon when he checks his teeth in his sword, or boorishly flails it about at everything that moves? Why can’t the prince be an idealized example of chivalry, bravery, strength and honor, as Giselle is of sweetness and goodness? Read More >

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 >

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