Reviews

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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 >

Brave (2012)

A- | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up*

Among Hollywood animated films, it may be the most positive affirmation of family since The Incredibles and the best fairy tale since Beauty and the Beast. Read More >

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012)

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

I blame the penguins for Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. Read More >

Prometheus (2012)

D | ** | -3| Adults*

I don’t mind that Prometheus raises big questions without ultimately answering them. Unanswered questions are part of life, and there’s no reason you can’t have them in art. I do mind that Prometheus raises big questions and has virtually nothing interesting, insightful or thoughtful to say about them. If the questions aren’t interesting in this film, why should anyone care whether they’re answered in another one? Read More >

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

C+ | **½ | +1-1| Teens & Up

The film transposes its story from the register of fairy tale to that of epic myth — but it’s trying for unironic epic myth, iconic good vs. iconic evil. Iconic evil: check. Iconic goodness: There’s the rub. Read More >

For Greater Glory (2012)

B+ | *** | +3-1| Teens & Up*

For Greater Glory tells a story of religious freedom and oppression that is far too little known, and that would be important and worthwhile at any time, but is strikingly apropos in our cultural moment. Read More >

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

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

Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is widely celebrated as a beginning, the first feature-length animated film in Hollywood history. It’s just as correct, though, and perhaps more illuminating, to hail it as a culimination — as the crowning achievement of years of experimentation, discovery, growth and achievement by Disney’s animation team. Read More >

Men in Black 3 (2012)

C+ | **½ | +0| Teens & Up

It’s all acceptably diverting, and not actively unpleasant like the 2002 sequel. There are no grand twists or revelations comparable to the truth about the “galaxy” in the original. What the film could most use, I think, is a wide-eyed uninitiate like Linda Fiorentino in the original or Rosario Dawson in the sequel — but one from 1969, which would offer a fresh twist on the outsider’s experience of the MIB’s nutty world. Read More >

Dark Shadows (2012)

D+ | ** | -2| Adults

If you are in love with the 1970s and Johnny Depp, perhaps you will enjoy this. Andrew O’Hehir says he knew he would love the film when he spotted a banana-seat Schwinn bicycle leaning against the front porch of Collinwood in an early scene. All right. But then comes a “happening” featuring Alice Cooper as himself (!), with a disco ball and cage dancers. At Collinwood. Is this really anyone’s idea of a good time? Read More >

The Avengers (2012)

A | ***½ | +2| Teens & Up

If The Avengers isn’t necessarily the best superhero movie ever made, it is unquestionably the most superhero movie ever made — and, in that capacity, it is more than well-made enough to take comic-book entertainment to unprecedented levels. Read More >

The Pirates! Band of Misfits / In an Adventure with Scientists! (2012)

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

An Aardman film is always an exercise in absurdity, but The Pirates, directed by Peter Lord (Chicken Run) and Jeff Newitt, is possibly their silliest ever. This is the kind of film in which people say things like “Blood Island! So called because …it is the exact shape of some blood!” And: “You can’t always say Arrrrr! at the end of a sentence and think that makes everything all right.” And: “London town: the most romantic city in the world.” (Followed by: “London smells like Grandma!”) Those crazy Brits! Read More >

Chimpanzee (2012)

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

Disneynature’s Chimpanzee has the makings of a great nature documentary. It takes us places other films haven’t and shows us sights we haven’t seen on any screen. Visually, it’s a triumph of intripid nature documentary filmmaking, with an extraordinary and heartwarming twist in the lives of a chimpanzee community. Yet like other recent nature flicks, including Arctic Tale and African Cats, it’s wrapped in increasingly tiresome, condescending kiddie-movie packaging. It’s like discovering a rare dish prepared by eminent chefs, drizzled with waxy treacle and stuffed in a Happy Meal box. Read More >

We Have a Pope [Habemus Papam] (2012)

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

In a way it’s like the antithesis of a Dan Brown novel. Brown’s stories peer with feverish, lurid imagination at the inner workings of the Catholic hierarchy, discovering all manner of ridiculous subterfuge, ruthlessness and skulduggery. Moretti’s film hardly peers at all. Read More >

Mirror Mirror (2012)

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

What’s the last movie you saw that created an imaginary world that was actually beautiful, bursting with color and beauty and inspiration? A world that reminded you of the feeling you had as a child the first time you saw Dorothy open that door on the Technicolor world of Oz? A world you would actually like to enter and walk around in? Read More >

Wrath of the Titans (2012)

D | | -2| Teens & Up

“Let’s have some fun,” says one god to another, suggesting that they “put on a show.” The moment comes late in Wrath of the Titans. Very, very late. I don’t remember the response, if any, but “Why start now?” would have been appropriate. Read More >

October Baby (2011)

B- | **½ | +3| Teens & Up

October Baby is at its most thoughtful contemplating Hannah’s unresolved feelings about her biological mother and the tragic way that her life began. Read More >

The Hunger Games (2012)

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

Suzanne Collins says she got the idea for The Hunger Games while sleepily flicking channels between some reality-show game and footage of the invasion of Iraq until the images began to blur in her mind. What’s bracing about Gary Ross’ film of the first book in Collins’ wildly popular young-adult trilogy is that the topicality of the story’s origins still comes across. When was the last Hollywood science-fiction action blockbuster that felt like actual ideas about the world we live in were at stake? Read More >

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 >

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