Reviews

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Noah (2014)

B+ | ***½ | +2-2| Teens & Up*

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah pays its source material a rare compliment: It takes Genesis seriously as a landmark of world literature and ancient moral reflection, and a worthy source of artistic inspiration in our day. Read More >

The Lego Movie (2014)

B+ | ***½ | +1| Kids & Up

Here is something I didn’t see coming: The freshest, most unique animated family film from any Hollywood studio in well over a year is … based on a line of brightly colored plastic construction blocks and assorted accessories. I’m not kidding! Read More >

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

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

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. That’s almost enough to sell the picture by itself, isn’t it? Who but Hanks can one imagine in the role? Read More >

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

C | **½ | -2| Teens & Up

Now, two installments into the epically epic trilogification of Tolkien’s slender fairy tale for children, it seems Jackson and company have only one abiding goal: to keep one-upping themselves with ever more preposterous action sequences, nastier violence and more inappropriate humor. Read More >

Frozen (2013)

C+ | **½ | +1-1| Kids & Up

Frozen may be the most tragic fairy tale in the Disney canon, which is saying something. Read More >

12 Years a Slave (2013)

A | **** | +3-1| Adults*

What if I were to tell you that there has never until now been a major historical motion picture about the slave experience in America? Could that possibly be true? Read More >

Gravity (2013)

A- | ***½ | +2| Teens & Up*

Gorgeous, nerve-racking, literally awesome, Gravity takes us to a world much nearer in both time and space than Duncan Jones’ Moon; nearer even than the layer of satellites that our mobile phones and GPS devices talk to every day: only about 350 miles away, in the low Earth orbit of the Hubble Space Telescope. Roughly the distance from Los Angeles to San Francisco — but oh, that’s far enough. Read More >

Planes (2013)

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

Both the big race and international flavor recall Cars 2 as well as DreamWorks’ Turbo, the protagonist of which had the same personal crisis as Dusty, a longing for speed he wasn’t built for. Yet Planes, in its modest way, cannily avoids the pitfalls that made those films unsatisfying. Read More >

The Wolverine (2013)

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

It’s not a great film, but it’s a pretty good one. This year, that’s enough to make The Wolverine not only the season’s best superhero film, but arguably its best popcorn action movie: a gingery palate cleanser in a summer of overcooked Big Macs. Read More >

Turbo (2013)

C+ | **½ | +0| Kids & Up

At some point, alas, it becomes apparent that Turbo’s more daring elements are all surface, and the story is locked into a well-worn path to an all-too-obvious destination. Writing about Monsters University, I noted that, like many other Pixar films, it pours cold water on the familiar family-film platitude that you can achieve anything you put your mind to if you just want it enough. Turbo embraces the platitude. Read More >

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

B- | **½ | +1| Kids & Up

“Dr. Evil without Austin Powers,” I called Gru in my review of Despicable Me. Turning Dr. Evil into Austin Powers (mutatis mutandis, for a family film) is the best possible way to keep the reformed character from losing his mojo. (Oh, how Mike Myers has influenced this discussion!) Read More >

The Lone Ranger (2013)

D | | -2| Teens & Up*

Even more than Man of Steel, The Lone Ranger is the poster child for our culture’s terminal inability to offer children today heroic role models … I’ve seen many movies that were objectively worse than The Lone Ranger. Very few have made me angrier. Read More >

Monsters University (2013)

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

Monsters University, from first-time director Dan Scanlon, is a charming, well-crafted trifle — at least until the subversive last act, when it sets its sights a bit higher. Read More >

Man of Steel (2013)

C+ | **½ | +2-2| Teens & Up

To borrow a line from Man of Steel producer Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight: This isn’t the Superman movie we need, but it’s the one we deserve. Read More >

Epic (2013)

B- | **½ | +1-1| Kids & Up

At its best, Epic produces images of poetic power, even grandeur … The catch is that the world the filmmakers create is far more interesting than the story they tell in it or the characters they put in it. Read More >

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

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

Star Trek Into Darkness outdoes its predecessor in most respects, except creative ambition. Read More >

Iron Man Three (2013)

C+ | **½ | -1| Teens & Up*

It’s a potentially promising setup for a slam-bang finale to what has been, despite its flaws, one of the brightest and most entertaining franchises around. Unfortunately, the slapdash plot is pretty much a disaster. A string of miscalculations hamper the fun. And a late revelation, when you stop and think about it, undermines most of the preceding drama. Read More >

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

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

Oz the Great and Powerful is brightly colorful, sincere and meant for children. That doesn’t make it good, exactly, but at least it’s basically the right kind of movie, which is saying something these days, alas. Read More >

The Kid With a Bike (2011)

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

Here is a film that will break your heart, fill it with hope and challenge you to say Yes to God and to your neighbor, all at once. Read More >

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

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

Jan Struther, who created Mrs. Miniver for a series of newspaper columns later published in book form, was also the author of a number of Anglican hymns, including “Lord of All Hopefulness” (a staple in our family’s evening devotions). That biographical detail puts an interesting light on the religious elements in William Wyler’s Oscar-winning adaptation, Mrs. Miniver. Read More >

Grand Hotel (1932)

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

Grand Hotel was the first film in history to fully realize the power of the Hollywood star system — the first all-star ensemble Hollywood film. Read More >

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

B- | **½ | +1| Teens & Up

There is an early moment in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey that captures the evocative poetry of Tolkien’s songs — something that The Lord of the Rings films, for all their achievements, never did. By the time the credits roll, that moment feels like it belonged in a very different film. Read More >

Lincoln (2012)

A | ***½ | +2| Teens & Up*

Steven Spielberg’s masterful Lincoln might more accurately have been called The 13th Amendment — and while the choice of the more marketable title is easy to understand, the more crucial decision to limit the scope of the film to the last few months of Lincoln’s life, and to focus less on Lincoln himself than on the political machinations of bringing about his most enduring legal legacy, must have been harder to make. Read More >

Argo (2012)

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

The fact-based premise is almost enough to sell Argo by itself. Argo opens and closes as a tense political spy caper, but it’s also an affectionate send-up of the movie-making process. The old advice to writers to “write what you know” is applicable to movies about movies, from Singin’ in the Rain to The Artist, and few subjects inspire Hollywood — or appeal to movie fans and film critics — more reliably than Hollywood itself. Read More >

Finding Nemo (2003)

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

(New review for 3-D rerelease) Andrew Stanton’s Finding Nemo is the best father-son story in all of Hollywood animation, and maybe animation generally. It’s also a stunningly gorgeous film that exploits the potential of computer animation like no film before it and few films after it. Read More >

ParaNorman (2012)

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

Why does stop-motion animation work so well as a medium for the macabre, from The Nightmare Before Christmas to Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride to Coraline? Read More >

Whisper of the Heart (1995)

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

(Reviewed by Sarah E. Greydanus) Even at their most stunningly far-fetched, Ghibli films also have a history of celebrating the details of everyday life: cooking, cleaning, planting, studying, mending, become important and precious functions, worthy of devoted attention … Whisper of the Heart may represent the studio’s simplest gesture of this honoring of everyday life. Read More >

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

B+ | ***½ | +2-2| Teens & Up*

The Dark Knight Rises is very nearly the thunderous finale that Christopher Nolan’s unprecedented super-hero trilogy needed after the pitch-black nihilism that Heath Ledger’s Joker brought to The Dark Knight … Yet something crucial is missing — a major omission that lingers over the whole trilogy, a question raised ever more insistently in all three films, and at best left unanswered, if not answered negatively. Read More >

Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012)

C | ** | +1| Kids & Up

Ice Age: Continental Drift is more like a Happy Meal than a movie. It’s another serving of exactly the same product that millions of families have been served before and will come back to again and again. Its brand-name familiarity and reassuring sameness are its stock in trade. Nothing is different except for the toys; last time it was dinosaurs, this time it’s pirates. It’s more resolutely like the three previous Ice Age movies than they are like themselves. Read More >

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

C+ | **½ | +0| Teens & Up

For all that, the new film bungles who Spider-Man is, where he’s coming from. This isn’t the only problem (there are notable issues around the plot and the interpretation of Spider-Man’s reptilian foe, the Lizard), but for me it’s the most intractable, because it undermines the hero’s moral center. Read More >

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