Reviews

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John Carter [of Mars] (2012)

B- | **½ | -2| Teens & Up

Burroughs didn’t invent science fiction, but he perhaps created a genre of serial sci-fi fantasy adventure, with an idealized action hero going from one extraterrestrial adventure to another. Carter’s closest literary ancestor may be Sinbad from One Thousand and One Nights, which is saying something. Buck Rogers, James Kirk and Luke Skywalker are all his descendants, and Jake Sully — the hero of Avatar, which really is a patchwork borrowing from everything Burroughs inspired — is perhaps more indebted to John Carter than any other character in history. Read More >

The Lorax (2012)

C | **½ | +1-1| Kids & Up

Well … its heart’s in the right place. Give the filmmakers that.
This isn’t The Grinch or The Cat in the Hat.
It’s not outright ugly, though it slips off the rails.
It wants to be decent. It tries. But it fails. Read More >

The Secret World of Arrietty (2012)

A- | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up

The Secret World of Arrietty just might change the way you look at the world around you — right around you. A wide-eyed sense of discovery and revelation permeates the film, and what it reveals is … the mystery and wonder of an ordinary home. Read More >

The Grey (2012)

C+ | **½ | +2-2| Adults

The Grey is a thoughtful, tough-minded little tale of survival and attrition that sets its sights a bit further than its firepower takes it. Read More >

The Woman in Black (2012)

B- | **½ | +1-1| Teens & Up

For Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, who stars as a young solicitor named Arthur Kipps, The Woman in Black is an opportunity to make a reasonably graceful break from the role that has dominated his life since childhood. For the new owners of England’s legendary Hammer horror brand, until recently dormant from the 1970s, it’s an opportunity to stake their claim to continuing in the tradition of Terence Fisher, Jimmy Sangster et al. For curious movie watchers, it’s an opportunity to see how Radcliffe does in another role — and how an old-fashioned haunted house story plays today. Read More >

War Horse (2011)

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

In War Horse Spielberg harkens back to an earlier cinematic age, creating something more like a Golden Age Hollywood epic than any film I’ve seen in years, the one other notable example being Baz Luhrmann’s Australia. Read More >

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

C+ | **½ | +0-1| Kids & Up*

Tintin in the comics was the perpetual small-town boy next door. Tintin in the movie is like the boy next door who’s been watching “Mantracker,” “Man vs. Wild” and “Mythbusters” for so long that he’s completely jaded to reality. Read More >

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

A- | ***½ | +0| Teens & Up

Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is so preposterously entertaining that it makes watching other recent Hollywood action spectacles feel like work. What in the last few years even compares to it? Read More >

The Muppets (2011)

A- | ***½ | +1| Kids & Up

This is quite deliberately not a reboot or reimagining or any such thing. Perhaps we can call it a revisiting. Like this summer’s charming Winnie the Pooh (also from Disney), The Muppets is a happy throwback, very much of a piece with material that my generation grew up with, eclipsing the lameness of recent direct-to-video efforts. Who would have thought two classic family franchises that have lain fallow for so long would be reborn in the same year? Read More >

Happy Feet Two (2011)

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

Little ones are “tougher than we think,” a penguin remarks in Happy Feet Two, and you can tell director George Miller believes it. The animated sequel pulls few punches: It’s overshadowed by more darkness, menace, heartache and anxiety than any talking-animal picture I can think of since, well, Miller’s last family-film sequel, the execrable Babe: Pig in the City. Neither the classic Babe nor the original Happy Feet contained any hint of the darkness of the sequels. Apparently Miller’s strategy is to soften kids up first, then drop the bomb. Read More >

J. Edgar (2011)

C- | ** | -2| Adults

The life and work of J. Edgar Hoover offers grist for a dozen different movies or more, and Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar wants to be all of them at once. It’s the sort of staidly respectable, competently directed biopic that gives a bad name to competently directed biopics, and possibly to respectability. Read More >

Puss in Boots (2011)

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

Banderas’s swashbuckling Puss in Boots first appeared in Shrek 2, quickly establishing himself as one of the most popular supporting characters in the franchise. Now in a starring role in this spinoff, Puss spins the story in a direction strikingly different from the Shrek films. Read More >

The Mighty Macs (2011)

B- | **½ | +2| Kids & Up

The movie is full of Catholic iconography that Catholic viewers and fans of Golden Age Hollywood Catholicism will appreciate. Statues of Jesus, Mary and the saints are everywhere. I compared the movie’s Catholic milieu to a Bing Crosby film, but a Crosby film would actually have edgier personalities and more conflict. Read More >

The Mill & the Cross (2011)

A | **** | +3| Adults

There is a moment in The Mill & the Cross in which the power of art, in particular sacred art, to capture the eternal in the hugger-mugger of ordinary life — even in the most horrific and seemingly meaningless events — is revealed with stunning clarity. André Bazin, the great Catholic film critic and theorist, wrote about the mission of art to rescue the world from transience and corruption, to capture moments and events in time and space before they slip into the irretrievable past, and so bear witness to the hand of God in creation. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this idea more resoundingly affirmed than in The Mill & the Cross. Read More >

Footloose (2011)

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

The upshot is that this new Footloose is a dumbed-down, sexed-up take on a story that was already risqué and not too bright — one that shies away from the ’84 film’s critique of the church, but is also further from its lingering Christian worldview. Read More >

Real Steel (2011)

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

Real Steel is just plain unpleasant to sit through. So much of the movie is spent amid screaming crowds and abrasive music, often in dark, trashy dives, watching giant robots pound each other into scrap metal. The robot boxing is surprisingly good (Sugar Ray Leonard was a consultant). It’s the humans that are unpleasant. Read More >

The Way (2011)

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

Is there grace for such pilgrims as these? Perhaps, but it may not take the form they seem to be seeking. At the end of the road, some viewers might feel let down at what has not changed for the main characters, but perhaps this is to miss the change that matters most. Emilio has said that the film is “pro-people, pro-life.” So it is, in more ways than one. Read More >

The Lion King (1994)

C+ | **½ | +1| Kids & Up*

Chronologically, The Lion King stands between the striking triumphs of the early Disney renaissance (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin) and the bumpy deterioration of the latter 1990s (Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, etc.). One way or another, it’s at the turning point between Disney’s creative renewal and its eventual decline. Fans might locate it near the pinnacle, along with Beauty and the Beast, but I don’t feel the love. Read More >

Courageous (2011)

B- | **½ | +3| Teens & Up

Coming on the heels of Fireproof, Courageous is the fourth film from Sherwood Pictures, and it’s another step forward for the church-based film company … While the film’s church-based roots and the tendency toward didactic, schematic storytelling are still in evidence, Courageous is their most ambitious and watchable film to date. Read More >

Moneyball (2011)

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

Moneyball is an ugly name for such an exhilarating film. Indeed, it seems a misnomer, though the filmmakers were more or less stuck with it, since Michael Lewis’s explosive 2003 book, on which the film is based, made such an impact on the baseball world that the word has passed into baseball jargon. Read More >

Tower Heist (2011)

C | ** | -2| Adults

How could anyone in Hollywood have known, as the current batch of movies went into development, that at least three different films about the greed and ruthlessness of the wealthy few and its devastating impact on the masses—the 1% and the 99%—would hit theaters more or less simultaneously in the middle of the Occupy protests? Read More >

Warrior (2011)

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

Warrior opens with a rash of Christian iconography and references: a Pittsburgh church adorned with Eastern-style three-bar crosses from which we see Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) emerge; a rosary dangling from his rearview mirror as he drives home to discover his estranged son Tommy (Tom Hardy) waiting on the stoop of his house; a Bible that Tommy contemplates on Paddy’s table. Read More >

The Help (2011)

B- | **½ | +2-2| Teens & Up*

Based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling 2009 novel, The Help is largely about the daily humiliations and injustices to which black maids and nannies working in white homes were subject, and the invisibility of these humiliations to their white employers, until, in this fictional account, their stories are told, first in secret and then in public. Read More >

Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)

C+ | *** | +2-2| Adults*

In spite of these problems, I’m more struck by the movie’s generosity and empathy toward all its characters, and by its frank, countercultural clarity that acts such as adultery, divorce, casual sex and promiscuity — however understandable they may sometimes be, and however seemingly rewarding they may feel at the time — not only don’t lead to lasting happiness, not only are obstacles to true happiness, but ultimately bring a great deal of unhappiness, not only for oneself and one’s loved ones, but also to other people as well that another movie might not consider at all. Read More >

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

C+ | **½ | +2-2| Adults

Putting Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford in Stetsons is clearly an excellent idea. Both men have faces made for Westerns, rugged and rough-hewn. There is a sense of stoic reserve and working-class grit about them; neither is the sort of man one can only imagine being an actor, or leading a life of privilege. Read More >

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

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

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a smartly made, effective movie — but what sort of movie is it, exactly? Read More >

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

A- | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up*

After a rash of immature, bad-boy cinematic superheroes for whom responsibility is a bigger challenge than taking down supervillains — think Iron Man, Thor and Green Lantern — a hero for whom decency, humility and self-sacrifice come naturally is a breath of fresh air. Read More >

Winnie the Pooh (2011)

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

Disney’s new Winnie the Pooh is an unexpected gift, an unlikely return to a magical and gentle world that belongs so firmly to the past that I would have thought the journey all but impossible. Read More >

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

B+ | ***½ | +2-2| Teens & Up

Here at last, in the final chapter, the Harry Potter franchise rouses itself toward something approaching greatness. Read More >

Zookeeper (2011)

F | ½ | -2| Teens & Up

Zookeeper is offensive to women, men, children, parents, WASPs, Asians, African-Americans, animals and zookeepers. Also Nick Nolte fans may not be too happy. Have I overstated things? Possibly, but how will we ever know? It is a movie with no conceivable audience. Somewhere in Hollywood are producers who entrusted money and equipment to people who put talking zoo animals in the same movie as Kevin James inadvertently flashing Rosario Dawson and Leslie Bibb with his off-camera member. “Oh! That’s going to be hard to unsee,” Dawson exclaims in dismay. Parents: Think long and hard about those words. Read More >

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