Reviews

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Changing Lanes (2002)

C | ** | +1-2| Adults

Neither Gipson nor Banek makes much of a poster child for the danger of civilized behavior devolving into savagery, since neither of them seems quite stable from the outset. Gipson’s a recovering alcoholic with violent tendencies who seems to cause trouble wherever he goes, while Banek’s a soulless shell of a human being too shallow to realize that he’s as unprincipled as everyone else around him, including his wife (Amanda Peet). That unstable human beings can do unpredictable and terrible things isn’t exactly a dramatic revelation; yet even so the film relies so much on contrivance and arbitrary behavior that the events and their consequences seem to have little to do with the human nature of the characters involved. Read More >

Galaxy Quest (1999)

B | *** | +0| Teens & Up

Besides satirizing Star Trek’s fan base, Galaxy Quest also takes aim both at the absurdities of the show itself and also at the behind-the-scenes reality. Most of the obvious Trek conventions are targeted: the principle that any extraneous character on an away mission always dies; the shipwide crisis that requires crew members to crawl through endless ducts; the isolation of the captain on a hostile planet where he must do hand-to-hand combat with an alien monster. Read More >

Monsoon Wedding (2001)

A- | ***½ | +2| Adults

This is one feel-good film that earns its goodwill honestly — not glossing over the harder realities and transgressions that afflict family life, but instead making the case that, however exasperating and even dysfunctional one’s family may happen to be, family remains very close to the center of things. Not just "family" in the abstract, either, or as an ideal, but the reality of family as we actually experience it. Read More >

A Beautiful Mind (2001)

A- | ***½ | +2-1| Teens & Up*

John Nash goes through life making connections, but not with other people. He sees meaningful patterns where the rest of us see only unintelligible randomness. Ideas are as real as people to him. Maybe more so. Eventually the ideas become too real — or the people not real enough — and Nash withdraws inexorably into the tangles of his own incandescent mind. Read More >

Pleasantville (1998)

F | **½ | -3|

The film’s central conceit is that the process of colorization is spread through acts of exploration or self-discovery by which people step outside their customary ways into a new world. In the black-and-white world of the 1950s TV sitcom, one common means of transformation is sexual activity, which didn’t exist in "Pleasantville" until the teenagers (Jennifer in particular) introduced it. When Jennifer gently explains the facts of life to her sitcom mother (Joan Allen), the latter is certain that her prosaic husband (William H. Macy) could never be induced to engage in such activity; so Jennifer proceeds to coach her mother (offscreen) on how to commit self-abuse. The mother then proceeds to do so, with such explosive results that by a kind of sympathetic magic the tree in the front yard bursts into flame. Read More >

What Women Want (2000)

C- | **½ | -2| Adults

Women are from Venus; men are from the gutter. Read More >

A Walk to Remember (2002)

B | ** | +3| Teens & Up

Like its heroine Jamie, A Walk to Remember is pious, wholesome, and eminently open to mockery and derision. Also like its heroine, it doesn’t care what people think of it. Read More >

Unbreakable (2000)

C+ | ***½ | -1| Teens & Up*

Such “hope” as Shyamalan has to offer is less persuasive and less memorable than the fears and horrors he conjures; the overall impression created by his film is an ultimately dehumanizing, depressing one. Read More >

Training Day (2001)

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

Washington’s knockout performance is the main reason to see Training Day. It may also be the crux of the film’s moral difficulty.
Read More >

Tortilla Soup (2001)

C+ | *** | -2| Adults

Tortilla Soup isn’t the delicacy that Eat Drink Man Woman was, nor does it compare with the exquisite meals prepared by the patriarchs of either film. But on the level of comfort food this remake is enjoyable enough, unless of course you’re a purist conoisseur like Martin. Watching it, I laughed out loud any number of times, and so did others in the theater. Read More >

The Time Machine (2002)

D | * | +0| Teens & Up

The Time Machine is so sloppy that it makes Kate and Leopold look like Back to the Future. It’s also pitiful entertainment, succeeding neither as spectacle, as action-adventure, or as love story. Read More >

Thirteen Days (2000)

A- | ***½ | +1| Teens & Up

Thirteen Days is about how a few imperfect men more or less saved the world. Whatever else Kennedy and these other men may or may not have done, this was perhaps their finest hour, and the world owes them a debt of gratitude. If the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction seems remote and antiquated today, it is at least partly because of the events dramatized in this film. Thirteen Days is a fitting dramatic tribute to the deadly brinksmanship that pulled us back from the edge during the most volatile two weeks of the Cold War. Read More >

The Straight Story (1999)

A | **** | +3| Kids & Up

We hear a few anecdotes about Alvin’s life, but nothing meant to make us say, "Aha — so that’s why…" The only "explanation" comes in the very last moments of the film, when we finally see for ourselves the point of Alvin’s determination to make the journey his own way; why he couldn’t accept a kind stranger’s offer to drive him the rest of the way. Read More >

Spy Game (2001)

B- | *** | -2| Adults

“It’s kind of difficult to explain,” CIA operative Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) hedges with a wry smile. It may be the most straightforward piece of information anyone gets from him in the entire film. Read More >

Space Cowboys (2000)

B | *** | +0| Teens & Up*

Overblown, overwrought, and overdone, Armageddon was a movie on overdrive, fueled by adrenaline and testosterone, lurching along in fits and starts. Eastwood’s film exudes easy charm and never takes itself too seriously; it runs on a slower-burning but higher-grade fuel: the likability and established audience goodwill of the four aging leads (Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner). Where Armageddon merely strutted, Cowboys swaggers. What’s the difference? Style. Read More >

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

A+ | **** | +0| Kids & Up

Celebrating its 60th anniversary in style, Singin’ in the Rain comes to Blu-ray with an astoundingly good-looking new transfer of the best available film elements. Read More >

Silverado (1985)

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

By the time the credits roll, we’ve had a whirlwind tour of virtually everything you can do in a Western. There are shootouts, standoffs, ambushes, jail breaks, posse pursuits, wagon convoys, saloon gunfights, outlaw hideouts, family feuds, wounded heroes, bucket-line firefighting, a cattle stampede, and much more. Read More >

Shadowlands (1993)

A- | ***½ | +3-2| Teens & Up

Anthony Hopkins plays “Jack” as a somewhat abstracted ivory-tower academic rather than the robust and jovial figure he actually was. But Lewis’ penetrating intellect and faith are here, as is his love for Joy (Winger), and the crippling grief that came afterwards. A challenging and inspiring film. Read More >

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

A- | ***½ | +2| Adults*

Steven Spielberg’s harrowing WWII drama opens with a horrifying recreation of the D-Day invasion of Normandy Beach that has been called the most realistic war sequence ever shot. Read More >

Rob Roy (1995)

A- | ***½ | +2-2| Adults*

Based on Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel, this is the story of Rob Roy MacGregor (Neeson), head of a Scottish highland clan who seeks to better the plight of his people with money borrowed from local nobility, only to have the money stolen by confederates of the corrupt nobility. Read More >

Return to Me (2000)

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

The pious, folksy Irish and Italian Catholicism of Carroll O’Connor and his cronies isn’t there for the sake of either mockery or preachiness, but is simply taken for granted, just as it might have been in a film of this sort from fifty years ago, when they still made them. The story also takes for granted (indeed, depends upon) the fact that the hero and the heroine manage to fall in love and grow together without taking their clothes off. Read More >

The Ref (1994)

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

A pity it’s not a brilliant film, only a pretty entertaining one. If it had been just a bit stronger, it could have offered a moral counterpart to the acclaimed but cold-hearted Beauty; as it is, it provides an interesting counterpoint. The Ref has its moments, and they’re funny moments, but the film’s premise had potential that was never quite realized. The premise is a peach, though. That, and crackling performances from the three leads, make The Ref worth watching — unless of course you don’t care for black comedy of any sort, or the crass language that can accompany it. Read More >

Red Planet (2000)

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

At least there’s stuff worth looking at. First-time film director Antony Hoffman has an eye for visuals; and the Martian landscape, shot in an Australian quarry and a Jordanian wadi, is stark and compelling. Then there’s the constantly swiveling, gyrating AMEE, a preposterous plot device of a robot which, in its (or "her") feline grace and unlimited range of free-flowing motion, resembles a high-tech computer-generated cross between Transformers and Battle Cats. I liked the little touches almost as much: the crew uses nifty, collapsible hand-held computers with a flexible, glossy display that pulls out from and rolls up into a cylindrical CPU like a window shade, looking for all the world like something you might actually see in a Macintosh commercial from 2050, when the movie is set. Read More >

The Prince of Egypt (1998)

A+ | **** | +4| Kids & Up*

Witness the astonishing animation of scale at work in capturing the towering monuments of Egypt, or the host of departing Hebrews: few if any traditional animated films have ever captured the sheer sense of size in this film. Watch the subtle storytelling in an early scene as the infant Moses, caught up in the Queen’s arms, eclipses the toddler Ramses in her line of vision, leaving him standing there with outstretched arms; foreshadowing the rivalry and ultimately the enmity between the heir to the throne and his Hebrew foster brother. Notice the small details in those quiet numinous moments: the pebbles rolling back at Moses’ feet at the burning bush; the halo of clear water around his ankles as the Nile turns to blood; the horror of an Egyptian servant as the surface of the water bubbles and the first frogs begin to flop out of the river onto the palace stairs; an extinguished candle flame or an offscreen sound of a jar crashing as the destroying angel swirls in and out among the Egyptians. Read More >

Pearl Harbor (2001)

D+ | | +1-1| Adults

Yet whereas Titanic was the work of a master manipulator, a man with a special genius for making cheesy melodrama seem moving and gripping, Michael Bay has so far in his career shown no competence for anything but pyrotechnics. Cameron’s film shrewdly focused on its three leads (Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, and Billy Zane), all of whom are gifted with real charisma and screen presence. Pearl Harbor, however, is burdened by a sprawling cast of characters, led by Ben Affleck (another Armageddon alum), who’s as blandly generic as no-name corn flakes — and doesn’t even compensate by taking likeable roles. Affleck’s out-acted by relative unknown Josh Hartnett (Blow Dry), the best friend and romantic rival (even though Hartnett’s character is equally underwritten); he’ll be opening movies himself before long. Read More >

The Patriot (2000)

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

Two things The Patriot isn’t are cynical or ironic. It’s corny, yes, and manipulative, not to mention clichéd, sentimental, and platitudinous. But at least it believes in its clichés and sentiments and platitudes. Its convictions may be half-baked, but it has the courage of them. Read More >

The Others (2001)

B | ***½ | -2| Teens & Up*

Then re-anchor the story to reality by asking whether there are really any ghosts at all — whether apparently spectral manifestations might not in fact be no more than an unstable woman’s imaginings, or the cruel pranks of a spiteful child, or the malicious work of mysterious servants with unguessable motives. Bear in mind that moviegoers are increasingly wise to Sixth-Sense style tricks, and will carefully analyze each of these characters in turn, trying to figure out what might not be as it seems. Read More >

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

B+ | ***½ | +0| Teens & Up

Despite the macabre humor, there’s something touchingly innocent about Halloweentown. Its inhabitants live for fear and thrills, yet there’s no real malice in any of them — with the exception of a sort of Halloween outlaw named Mr. Oogie Boogie and his three young protégés. Read More >

Monsters, Inc. (2001)

A- | ***½ | +0| Kids & Up

The world of Monsters, Inc. is a more artificial and contrived affair than the Toy Story world, and something of the figure of the Monster in myth and fairy tale and imagination has been lost. Yet there’s also a slyly satiric point: Childhood fears aren’t what they used to be. Read More >

Monsieur Vincent (1947)

A+ | **** | +4| Teens & Up

Monsieur Vincent, director Maurice Cloche’s beautifully crafted, award-winning biopic of St. Vincent de Paul, celebrates the saint’s single-minded devotion to the poor without romanticizing the objects of his devotion and recipients of his charity. Read More >

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