Reviews

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Solaris (2002)

D | *** | -3| Adults

This year’s Solaris from writer-director Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich is part of an ongoing trend toward science fiction aspiring to the tradition of 2001. Not long ago, science fiction had become a wasteland of forgettable, mindless action flicks. The year 2000, for example, gave us Red Planet, Battlefield Earth, The 6th Day, Hollow Man, Pitch Black, and Supernova (as well as Mission to Mars, which didn’t fit the mindless-action pattern but managed to be lame anyway). Even the previous year’s The Matrix was notable primarily for its kinetic impact and craft; the story, though clever, was long on allusions and short on genuine resonance. Read More >

K-PAX (2001)

D | ** | -3| Teens & Up*

Prot pulls off these party tricks quite convincingly. Yet get him started on his theories about mankind, family, society, and the like, and the spell is broken: He’s clearly delusional. Not that I’m saying anything about the truth or falsehood of his claims. Prot may very well be an alien. That doesn’t mean he isn’t delusional. Read More >

Nurse Betty (2000)

D- | *** | -3| Adults*

In the end, how you feel about Nurse Betty will in good part depend, I suppose, upon whom you agree with, Charlie or Wesley. If you find Betty as enchanting and remarkable as Charlie does, then you may be relieved and happy when her troubles are over and she is at last able to realize her dreams. On the other hand, if like Wesley you regard her as ridiculous and pathetic, then you will find this movie a contemptuously hateful tale of cruelty and delusion, devoid of any spark of sympathy or compassion. Read More >

Adaptation (2002)

D | **½ | -3| Adults*

Formally, Adaptation resembles the sort of essay a clever student will sometimes pull together by taking the assigned topic as a point of departure for a composition of his own choosing, knowing that it will stand out for originality amid monotonous submissions and win points for daring and wit from a bored teacher appreciative of any show of interest. Read More >

The Four Feathers (2002)

C | **½ | -2| Adults

Monte Cristo is also the only one of the three that knows it’s essentially a comic-book movie, and has appropriately modest aspirations. Like Road to Perdition, The Four Feathers feels like a weighty epic, though neither movie weighs in at more than about two hours, and neither really knows what it’s about. Read More >

Extreme Ops (2002)

D- | * | -2| Adults

Extreme Ops (Paramount) looks an awful lot like one of those supercharged sports-themed TV commercials, with its glossy footage of daredevil athletes snowboarding down sheer ice walls, skateboarding atop trains, and throwing themselves off precipices. In fact, given that few other situations call for such extreme antics, the movie is actually about the making of a sports-themed TV commercial. Read More >

I Spy (2002)

C+ | **½ | -2| Adults

Wilson, a capable comic force in his own right, gets laughs too, but for the most part he’s content to play the laid-back straight man setting up Murphy’s punchlines. There’s an early scene in which, discussing their working relationship, Wilson uses a Harlem Globetrotters analogy to argue that he, the professional spy, should be team leader Meadowlark Lemon, and Murphy, a boxing champ, should be Fred "Curly" Neal, Meadowlark’s sidekick. Murphy, of course, ridicules this suggestion; and, whatever the ultimate relationship of their characters, which of the actors is Meadowlark and which is Curly is never in dispute. Read More >

Tuck Everlasting (2002)

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

The story, originally set in 1880 but moved to 1914 for the movie, concerns a sheltered young girl from a well-to-do family who is called "Winifred" by her overprotective parents and grandmother, and might be called "Winnie" by her friends if she had any. Winnie (Alexis Bledel of TV’s "Gilmore Girls") is so timid that when she decides to run away from home, she heads for the family-owned woods adjacent to her house, never actually setting foot off her parents’ property. Read More >

Spirited Away (2001)

A- | **** | -2| Teens & Up*

Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is a work of pagan imagination. So are the works of Homer and Sophocles. In all these works there is much for Christian audiences to take exception with as Christians, but also much to marvel at as audiences. Read More >

Amélie (2001)

B- | ***½ | -2| Adults*

Like the similarly acclaimed Moulin Rouge!, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie is a whimsical, hyperactive, self-aware, lavishly overdesigned fantasy-romance, set in a retro, fairy-tale Paris, about a tender young idealist who falls in love with a sex-industry employee — but there the similarities end. Read More >

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

C+ | **½ | +1-1| Adults

Unfortunately, these novel elements are tied to a human conflict between two antagonistic captains (Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson) that is not only hackneyed and uninvolving, but morally simplistic and finally flat-out insulting. It’s hard to be unmoved by what the men of the K-19 go through, but it’s equally hard to overlook the glaring flaws in the human drama — especially when the latter is directly related to the former. As an exercise in logistics and adversity, K-19 is compelling, but as a story about human decisions and moral issues, it’s full of holes and clichés. Read More >

Men in Black II (2002)

C- | ** | +0| Teens & Up

Beyond more action and bigger effects, the sequel brings nothing new to the table. You’ll wait in vain for satirical "revelations" about the presence of aliens among us to match the wit of the jokes in the original about cab drivers or the World’s Fair. Instead, we get limp gags like the one about the Post Office being staffed by aliens. (Why? Is it a joke about postal efficiency? The "going postal" stereotype? The fact that they make rounds? What?) Read More >

Stuart Little 2 (2002)

B+ | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up

Remarkably, Stuart Little 2 manages to be both more satisfying for adults and more kid-friendly than the original. Older viewers will appreciate the sequel’s stronger story and witty script; and even little kids who might have found the original film’s menacing Central Park gangster cats too intense may be able to watch this film’s villainous falcon without fear of bad dreams. Read More >

American Beauty (1999)

F | ***½ | -3|

Some movies have a moral. I say that as a mere statement of fact, with no implication that either having or not having a moral necessarily makes a movie better or worse. Some movies have a moral; American Beauty - and this is also a mere observation, not a value judgment - has an aesthetic. Read More >

Dragonfly (2002)

C- | **½ | -2| Teens & Up*

Dragonfly is a ghost story of sorts, but it isn’t a horror film (though it occasionally thinks it is). The ghost seems to be the late wife of Dr. Joe Darrow (Kevin Costner); and who would be frightened of his own best beloved, even if she happened to be a ghost? Read More >

Lilo & Stitch (2002)

B+ | ***½ | +1| Kids & Up*

Lilo & Stitch is a unique imaginative achievement that succeeds in its own right, without laying down any kind of template for future films to follow. Attempts to repeat its success, to make it into a formula, would be a dismal failure, unless perhaps the formula were to be "Give the creative people room to try something new and let them work without a safety net." What a concept. Read More >

Minority Report (2002)

A | **** | +1| Adults

Spielberg has always known how to manipulate an audience’s emotions, a knack he makes effective use of here. Humor alternates with squirming discomfort and emotional release as the director pokes fun of Cruise’s sex-symbol status in a couple of funny incidents, then leaves us wincing with a number of scenes involving eyeballs, or a character fumbling blindly for the one edible sandwich in a squalid refrigerator. Read More >

Road to Perdition (2002)

C | **½ | -2| Adults

Dissatisfied after the screening, I went out and bought the original 1998 graphic novel, written by novelist and "Dick Tracy" scribe Max Allan Collins and illustrated by comic-book artist Richard Piers Rayner ("Swamp Thing"), and read it in one sitting. ("Graphic novels" use comic-book storytelling for longer, and hopefully more substantial, stories than traditional comic books.) Read More >

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

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

The Empire Strikes Back is the backbone of the Star Wars saga. It takes the story and themes of the first film into deeper waters. Read More >

Bad Company (2002)

C | ** | +1-2| Adults

The first hour works quite a bit better than the second hour, in part because there is a second hour. The setup: When CIA agent Kevin Pope (Rock) is murdered in the middle of an important undercover operation involving the black-market sale of a miniature thermonuclear device, Pope’s CIA mentor Gaylord Oakes (Hopkins) must convince the sellers that Pope (or rather his undercover persona) is still alive. To do this, Oakes must turn to — you guessed it — Pope’s long-lost twin brother. Read More >

The Bourne Identity (2002)

A- | ***½ | +1-1| Adults

Like the memory-impaired antihero of Memento, the protagonist of Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity (and a trilogy of Robert Ludlum novels before that) has no choice but to trust himself even though he can’t be sure he’s a trustworthy individual. Perhaps his honorable aspirations themselves are a good sign. Certainly the amazing abilities and instincts that suddenly surface when needed are clues to who and what he is. Jason may not know much, but he’s pretty sure he’s something out of the ordinary. Read More >

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002)

B- | *** | +2-2| Adults

Despite being more of the "Yo" than "Ya" persuasion, I think I’m pretty receptive toward what are commonly called "chick flicks." After all, my wife and I enjoy the same "guy movies"; why shouldn’t we enjoy the same romances and other female-targeted films? Read More >

Star Wars [Episode IV – A New Hope] (1977)

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

(Review by Jimmy Akin) Like earlier pulp films, Star Wars draws on mythic and fairy-tale archetypes: a young orphan-hero; a mysterious wizard-mentor; a fearsome dark lord; a magical sword; a princess held prisoner; a gallant rescue mission. Yet on a deeper level, Star Wars is more convincing as a myth or fairy tale in its own right. Read More >

The Sum of All Fears (2002)

B- | *** | -2| Adults*

Though constructed as an action-oriented thriller, the film’s centerpiece is a wrenching glimpse of a scenario that may be in our nation’s future, depicted in a way that’s neither sensationalized nor minimized. Read More >

Insomnia (2002)

B+ | ***½ | +1| Adults

Daylight floods Dormer’s life, relentless, ubiquitous — like the penetrating glare of the ongoing Internal Affairs probe back in LA, where Dormer may or may not have something to hide. Like the searching gaze of Alaskan local cop Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank) as she investigates Dormer’s account of a second killing that occurs when an attempt to catch the killer goes tragically awry. Like "the eye of God that will not blink," as Roger Ebert describes the Arctic Circle’s midnight sun in his review of the original film. Read More >

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)

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

A strangely grim indoctrination into the politics of victimization, Spirit apparently expects kids to slog willingly through scene after scene of this stuff, not because it’s all such fun to watch, but because the filmmakers are so sure it’s Good For You. Read More >

The Salton Sea (2002)

D | ***½ | -3| Adults*

This is not a thought Tom takes to heart. Nor is it one he struggles with, or indeed ever thinks about again. The quest for revenge is at the heart of The Salton Sea, and although in this one scene the film fleetingly acknowledges the possibility of an alternative to bitterness and hatred, it’s not in the context of any larger interest in or exploration of the moral issues. Read More >

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

A | **** | +0| Adults

The story is said to be set in 19th-century China, but its roots are older, reaching for a mythic age of larger-than-life heroes and superhuman derring-do. Heroes with paranormal abilities were also a theme of the recent Unbreakable; but Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has what was lacking in Unbreakable: a sense of wonder, of exhilaration, of mystery and beauty and hope. Read More >

Modern Times (1936)

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

Silent films were already old-fashioned and out of vogue in 1936 when Charlie Chaplin completed his last silent feature film, Modern Times, almost ten years after the sound revolution began with The Jazz Singer. A silent film consciously made for the sound era, Modern Times is a comic masterpiece that remains approachable today even for movie lovers raised on computer imaging and surround sound. Read More >

High Crimes (2002)

C- | ** | -2| Adults

Only Jim Caviezel (The Count of Monte Cristo; Frequency) brings anything new to the table, displaying even more range and subtlety than in his recent starring turn in The Count of Monte Cristo. Other than his performance, High Crimes holds few surprises. Read More >

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