Reviews

Guardians of the Galaxy REVIEW

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians is a romp, a lark — rare descriptors for a popcorn summer movie, alas, in these days of dark, grim tentpoles from Maleficent to Hercules, Edge of Tomorrow to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

REVIEW

Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014)

With this sequel to last summer’s spin-off from the franchise that descended from Pixar’s Cars, the World of Cars has left behind not only stock cars, the open road, specific real-world settings and Larry the Cable Guy, but racing itself. Practically nothing is left of John Lasseter’s original vision, except those blasted windshield eyeballs. In this melancholy year without Pixar, it’s worse than no reminder at all.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes REVIEW

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Wait, where did this movie come from? Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is so not the sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes I expected or was prepared for.

Deliver Us From Evil REVIEW

Deliver Us From Evil (2014)

Why would a mother at the zoo throw her toddler over a railing into the moat of a lion enclosure? That’s the kind of horrible question that can look very different if you are a police officer or a priest.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 REVIEW

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

The first film related how Hiccup changed his village’s way of life forever, winning the love of the girl of his dreams, the approval of his authoritarian father and the respect of everyone in town — not to mention the loyalty of his magnificent new draconian friend, Toothless. Where do you go from there?

The Fault in Our Stars REVIEW

The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

The Fault in Our Stars — in cinematic as well as literary form — cares quite a bit about silly questions, such as the meaning of life and death and love and suffering in a universe sliding toward oblivion, and whether there is Something beyond giving some larger context to our existence, choices and experiences.

Maleficent REVIEW

Maleficent (2014)

It’s fair to say that Disney’s Maleficent plays to an extent as warmed-over Frozen. This is not a good thing, even, I think, if you are a fan of Frozen.

X-Men: Days of Future Past REVIEW

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

X-Men: Days of Future Past is one of the geekiest comic-book movies ever made — and one of the best. It’s easily the best superhero movie since The Avengers — and, like The Avengers, it plays as a triumphant climax to an uneven series of earlier films.

REVIEW

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s biggest liability is that it follows The Amazing Spider-Man. This sequel is so much better than its predecessor that I’ve gone from being merely disappointed with the 2012 reboot to being downright angry about it.

Noah REVIEW

Noah (2014)

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.

The Lego Movie REVIEW

The Lego Movie (2014)

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!

Saving Mr. Banks REVIEW

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

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?

REVIEW

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

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.

Frozen REVIEW

Frozen (2013)

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

12 Years a Slave REVIEW

12 Years a Slave (2013)

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?

Gravity REVIEW

Gravity (2013)

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.

REVIEW

Planes (2013)

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.

REVIEW

The Wolverine (2013)

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.

REVIEW

Turbo (2013)

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.

REVIEW

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

“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!)