Reviews

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The Mexican (2001)

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

There’s some freshness here amid the formula, but mainstream audiences are liable to find The Mexican too long and slow, too violent, and too off-putting. A few film aficianados and critics, numbed by the present dismal spate of lousy Hollywood efforts, may hail it as a wonderful find. But only the absence of worthwhile competition — and a highly watchable performance by "The Sopranos"’s James Gandolfini (who gets far more screen time with Roberts than Pitt does) — qualifies this middling effort as a modest success by any standard. Read More >

Memento (2001)

C- | ***½ | -2| Adults*

This device — unfairly dismissed by some critics as a mere gimmick — creates an experience that in one way resembles that of the protagonist, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce). Leonard suffers from a unique trauma-related condition that prevents him from retaining new memories. It’s amnesia in reverse: The amnesiac remembers only his life after his trauma; Leonard remembers only his life before. He knows his name, his past history, everything — up to a point. The last thing he remembers is failing to prevent the rape and murder of his wife. Read More >

Life is Beautiful (1997)

A | **** | +3| Teens & Up*

Contriving to hide the boy from camp officials (who soon put the other children to death), Guido tells Giosue that the concentration camp is actually an elaborate role-playing game in which the "players" are competing for points in the hopes of winning a real battle tank. From then on, Guido will take any risk, court any danger, to maintain his son’s illusion that none of it is real. Read More >

A Knight’s Tale (2001)

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

A Knight’s Tale is the kind of silly feel-good popcorn movie, like Independence Day or the 1999 The Mummy, that film critics generally enjoy ripping apart, and mainstream audiences generally just enjoy. Read More >

Kate and Leopold (2001)

C | ** | +1| Teens & Up

Fortunately, it’s mostly about Kate and Leopold. Read More >

Joseph: King of Dreams (2000)

B | *** | +3| Kids & Up

Joseph’s own dreams — the two biblical ones plus an extra one — are the best; I caught my breath at the first glimpse of these dreams, which look like living, flowing Van Goghs. The dream-sky swirls like Starry Night, and the grass ripples under the dream-Joseph’s feet like ripples in a pond. The dreamlike quality of these sequences is undeniable and memorable. Read More >

The Insider (1999)

B+ | ***½ | +2-1| Adults

These two "martyrs" are not saints; nor are they as cautious and discreet as Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, which leaves them open to unnecessary suffering. A sobering examination of corruption, courage, cowardice, and the sometimes catastrophic costs of telling the truth. Read More >

The Green Mile (1999)

C | **½ | +2-1| Adults

Other critics have already criticized the film on several fronts: social, aesthetic, cultural. In keeping with the general principles of this site, I’ll give priority to the spiritual and religious implications of the story. At the heart of The Green Mile is a powerful, compelling figure of almost preternatural innocence and goodness whose origins are obscure — one character describes him as having "fallen from the sky" — and who possesses a mysterious power to take the suffering of others upon himself. He is also able to weigh men’s hearts, and is startlingly capable of judgment and vengeance as well as mercy and healing. Read More >

Gosford Park (2001)

C+ | ***½ | -1| Adults

It’s this dynamic that Altman is really interested in, not “whodunit.” Or, if Altman does care whodunit, it’s only insofar as the answer illuminates the film’s real themes of snobbery and resentment, exploitation and interdependence, privilege and privation. Read More >

Gladiator (2000)

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

Director Ridley Scott made his name with the groundbreaking science-fiction films Blade Runner and Alien, both of which, like Gladiator, were triumphs of set design and visual style, memorable more for the haunting worlds they created than for any engaging character development or moral interest. In these earlier films, Scott had the advantage of showing us worlds we had never seen before. Gladiator takes us to familiar territory, though new computer effects and Scott’s strong direction make it worth seeing anyway. Read More >

The Fugitive (1993)

A | ***½ | +2| Teens & Up

Ford exudes decency in the role of the innocent man wrongly accused, as Kimble throughout the movie consistently goes out of his way to help other people at his own expense, regularly risking capture and even death for the sake of others. Best known for playing confident, capable action heroes in the Indiana Jones and Star Wars movies, Ford is also remarkably persuasive in the role of the unlikely action hero — the unassuming, nonphysical, white-collar professional who isn’t used to swashbuckling (a role he played also in Frantic and Air Force One). Read More >

Frequency (2000)

A | ***½ | +3| Teens & Up*

This is a film about the legacy of fatherhood and the inheritance of sonship, about the unbreakable connection and the unbridgeable gap between one generation and the next. It is a celebration of masculinity, but it contemplates how men relate to women as an index of their manhood. Read More >

The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas

D | ** | -2| Teens & Up

I think that a similar dynamic may be at work in The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, a prequel to the 1994 film that purports to tell us how young Fred and Barney first met and married Wilma and Betty (respectively). Kids may happily gobble up Viva just because it’s a movie based on a popular cartoon show; and even parents desperate for watchable family entertainment may allow themselves to be seduced by its colorful set pieces and the goofy charm of the cast. But really, it’s not at all good. Not so much nasty, like coffee ice cream to a child; but rather bland, inert, and joyless, like some insipid sugar-free fat-free Frozen Dessert Product. Read More >

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)

C- | **½ | -2| Teens & Up*

Based on a computer game, Final Fantasy is always interesting to look at, and is sometimes visually spectacular, but it hasn’t transcended its gaming origins. The sci-fi scavanger-hunt premise hasn’t been fleshed out into a coherent or satisfying story. The heroes, though eye-poppingly rendered, remain emotionally as one-dimensional as any computer-game avatar. Even basic rules and motivations never become clear. Read More >

Fantasia (1940)

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

If Fantasia failed to spark a hoped-for entertainment revolution, its achievement is all the more starkly singular. A joyous experiment in pure animation, an ambitious work of imaginative power, a showcase of cutting-edge technique, and a celebration of great music, it is without precedent and without rival. I’ve watched it far too many times to count, and I have yet to begin tiring of it. Read More >

The Family Man (2000)

D+ | ** | +1-2| Adults

If it were only predictable, syrupy, and overlong, The Family Man might still be worth watching for the appealing performances from Leoni and Cage. Alas, its problems are more deep-rooted than that. Read More >

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

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

“The story of a boy and his dog,” writes one critic. “Close Encounters for kids,” writes another. Still others focus on the Christological resonances, particularly in connection with another messianic sci‑fi film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, with its peaceful visitor from the heavens who dies and rises again. Read More >

Erin Brockovich (2000)

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

Watching Erin take on corporate ruthlessness and professional apathy, I often felt that while I couldn’t always condone her choice of words, I appreciated the spirit behind them — not to mention the effect they had on her hapless victims. This movie makes you feel that one person really can make a difference; especially since it’s based on a true story. Read More >

The End of the Affair (1999)

C | **½ | +2-2| Adults*

The answer, apparently, is that there are many film critics who can, since Neil Jordan’s film of The End of the Affair, which he adapted himself from Graham Greene’s novel of the same name, has been praised not only in general terms but specifically for its fidelity to the book. And, indeed, the film may be said to be largely faithful to the book, in the sense that the great majority of scenes are adapted more or less as they were written. But this is like saying that the character of Sarah (Julianne Moore) is largely faithful to her husband Henry (Stephen Rea) because the great majority of her time she isn’t sleeping with her lover Bendrix (Ralph Fiennes): the betrayal is crucial, and gives the lie to the supposed fidelity of the rest. If it’s not quite like making an otherwise "faithful" film about the life of Christ that omits the Crucifixion, it’s at any rate not entirely unlike making a film in which, some time after Good Friday, it turns out that Jesus hasn’t been crucified after all, but is actually living in Nazareth doing carpentry, and Pilate has to send up centurions to apprehend him and bring him forcibly to Jerusalem, where, after a six-month imprisonment, He is finally crucified shortly before Christmas. (Okay, it’s not exactly like that either, but you see what I’m getting at.) Read More >

The Dish (2000)

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

The Dish is closer in spirit to gentle British and Irish comedies like Waking Ned Devine and The Matchmaker than more characteristically edgy Australian comedies such as Strictly Ballroom, Muriel’s Wedding, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Sam Neill, leading the Australian cast, sets the tone; his deliberate, relaxed performance as Cliff is at the center of the film, as he plays Andy Griffith to the residents of this down-under Mayberry. Read More >

Die Hard (1988)

A- | **** | +1-2| Adults

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

The Detective [Father Brown] (1954)

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

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. Read More >

Dead Man Walking (1995)

A | **** | +3| Adults*

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. Read More >

Come to the Stable (1949)

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

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." Read More >

Chicken Run (2000)

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

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. Read More >

Cast Away (2000)

A- | ***½ | +0| Teens & Up

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. Read More >

A Bug’s Life (1998)

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

Read More >

Black Hawk Down (2001)

A- | ***½ | +0| Adults*

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. Read More >

Big Fat Liar (2001)

C- | **½ | -2| Teens & Up*

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. Read More >

Being John Malkovich (1999)

F | ***½ | -4|

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. Read More >

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