Reviews

REVIEW

Die Hard (1988)

Along with Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, John McTiernan’s Die Hard defined a generation of action-adventure movies.

REVIEW

The Detective [Father Brown] (1954)

Guinness makes a delightfully enjoyable Father Brown, and the film’s dialogue sparkles with flashes of Chestertonian wit. … Alas, this well-intentioned and otherwise enjoyable film is marred by several serious missteps.

REVIEW

Dead Man Walking (1995)

Tim Robbins argues his point fearlessly, not taking the easy way out, not stacking the deck by emotionally manipulating the audience, but instead taking a worst-case scenario: Rather than giving us a murderer who isn’t really so bad, merely misunderstood and mistreated and so forth, Robbins gives us a thoroughly revolting individual, one who spouts racist propaganda not because he believes it but simply because it is shocking and antisocial and hateful; who tries to humiliate the one person interested in his welfare with leering come-ons aimed at her consecrated chastity.

REVIEW

Come to the Stable (1949)

The bishop (Basil Ruysdael) is a decent enough chap, sympathetic to the sisters’ mission but daunted by the practical difficulties. As their cause goes forward, however, he begins to suspect that what’s driving them is an irresistible force before which there is no known immovable object: "There hasn’t been for 2000 years."

REVIEW

Chicken Run (2000)

Real chickens, I have it on expert testimony, are homebodies who do not actually pine for freedom, as do the heroines of Chicken Run. Whereas these poultry-farm prisoners plot and scheme endlessly to contrive by any means necessary to get under, over, or around their chicken-wire prison wall, my wife’s hens actually perch atop the five-foot fence that surrounds our back yard. They are quite capable of escaping, but have no interest in doing so.

REVIEW

Cast Away (2000)

In a way, the obnoxious tell-all trailer for Cast Away gives away more than the film itself. That trailer, with moronic thoroughness, reveals the film’s set-up, the crisis, the hero’s ups and downs, his triumph, the climax, and the denouement. What it doesn’t let on is that the movie itself won’t tell you what to think or how to feel about what happens, even at the end. The trailer is typical Hollywood feel-good, inspirational fare; the story in the film is rather more ambiguous and challenging.

REVIEW

A Bug’s Life (1998)

Pre-DecentFilms capsule review

REVIEW

Black Hawk Down (2001)

The shadow of September 11 will not always hang over the movies, but as I watched Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down it seemed to be everywhere: an ominous column of smoke rising from a city skyline; people watching helplessly via video screens as a catastrophe unfolds before their eyes in real time; enemies striking an unexpected and terrible blow that seems to be as bad as anything can possibly be — followed by a second, equally terrible blow.

REVIEW

Big Fat Liar (2001)

In the end, when the parents realize all their son went through to win their trust, they can’t help but be proud of him. Another touching Hallmark moment brought to you by a Hollywood committee, none of whom has any children or parents of their own, or knows anyone who does.

REVIEW

Being John Malkovich (1999)

The malleable, plastic vision of human nature in general and of sexuality in particular, in which gender and relationships shift and merge and re-form like blobs of goo in a lava lamp, represents a profoundly anti-human fantasy and an affront to personal dignity.

REVIEW

Becket (1964)

Peter O’Toole roars magnificently both in laughter and in rage; his Henry is a simple, direct, utterly unprincipled man who sees the world in two great categories: (a) things he wants, and (b) obstacles to getting them.

REVIEW

Battlefield Earth (2000)

Here is the closest thing to a positive statement I can make about Battlefield Earth: Although it is an adaptation of a novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the sect of Scientology - and although it stars John Travolta, one of Hollywood’s most high-profile Scientologists and a long-time champion of this project - Battlefield Earth is not a cryptic tract or allegory of Scientology.

REVIEW

Babette’s Feast (1987)

In the end, Babette’s Feast is a quiet celebration of the divine grace that meets us at every turn, and even redeems our ways not taken, our sacrifices and losses. Whatever we think has been given up or lost, God gives back in greater abundance, one way or another. It may not be till heaven that we truly become all that he intends; but his grace is here and now, whatever our circumstances, and with him all things are possible.

Babe: Pig in the City REVIEW

Babe: Pig in the City (1998)

As an enthusiastic fan of the first Babe, I wanted to believe in the sequel, even if it did turn out to be too dark for young kids. After all, Miller was also the screenwriter and producer for the original film, directed by Chris Noonan. So I came to Babe: Pig in the City with high hopes.

Babe REVIEW

Babe (1995)

The judges rating the pig’s performance might as well be grading the entire movie. Babe is a perfect 10.

REVIEW

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise (Beauty and the Beast) keep things moving fast enough to keep them from getting boring, and there are a few laughs along the way. Yet what could have made adequate summer entertainment for older kids and parents with low expectations is ultimately undone by pervasive echoes of New-Age pop spirituality and neopaganism in the film’s imagery and themes.

REVIEW

Armageddon (1998)

“Talk about the wrong stuff” is one officer’s disparaging comment as Willis’ team struts about NASA ostensibly preparing for their mission, hamming it up like class clowns in high school, ridiculing the process, flaunting their lack of couth like a badge of honor — all but letting their butt cracks stick out. Yes, in this film the honors science students are obliged to sit back and watch as the shop class saves the world.

REVIEW

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

The Dead End Kids have dirty faces, all right — but they’re no angels. Tough-talking young hoods much given to slapping one another’s faces and terrorizing their lower East Side Manhattan neighborhood, they may tolerate sincere, savvy Father Jerry Connolly (Pat O’Brien) and his efforts to divert them from the dangers of life on the street; but it’s in Fr. Jerry’s boyhood chum, infamous gangster Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney), that the Kids find a mentor and kindred spirit.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence REVIEW

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

A.I. is a science-fiction fairy tale: a terrible, revisionistic revisiting of "Pinocchio," the story of the little manmade boy who wants to be real — as told by a nihilist who condemns Gepetto for creating Pinocchio, the world for laughing at him, and the Blue Fairy for leading him on when he’s better off being made of wood, which will after all be around long after Gepetto is pushing up daisies.

REVIEW

The 6th Day (2000)

Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s latest vehicle brings us to a rather well-realized, not-too-distant future ("sooner than you think" according to an ominous caption) in which human cloning is possible but forbidden by "sixth-day laws" (so called after the sixth day of creation week in Genesis 1, the day when God created man).