Reviews

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Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

A- | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up*

After a rash of immature, bad-boy cinematic superheroes for whom responsibility is a bigger challenge than taking down supervillains — think Iron Man, Thor and Green Lantern — a hero for whom decency, humility and self-sacrifice come naturally is a breath of fresh air. Read More >

Winnie the Pooh (2011)

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

Disney’s new Winnie the Pooh is an unexpected gift, an unlikely return to a magical and gentle world that belongs so firmly to the past that I would have thought the journey all but impossible. Read More >

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

B+ | ***½ | +2-2| Teens & Up

Here at last, in the final chapter, the Harry Potter franchise rouses itself toward something approaching greatness. Read More >

Zookeeper (2011)

F | ½ | -2| Teens & Up

Zookeeper is offensive to women, men, children, parents, WASPs, Asians, African-Americans, animals and zookeepers. Also Nick Nolte fans may not be too happy. Have I overstated things? Possibly, but how will we ever know? It is a movie with no conceivable audience. Somewhere in Hollywood are producers who entrusted money and equipment to people who put talking zoo animals in the same movie as Kevin James inadvertently flashing Rosario Dawson and Leslie Bibb with his off-camera member. “Oh! That’s going to be hard to unsee,” Dawson exclaims in dismay. Parents: Think long and hard about those words. Read More >

Larry Crowne (2011)

C- | ** | +1-2| Teens & Up

It is with some astonishment that I realize that until now Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts have never played romantic leads opposite each other in a romantic comedy. Read More >

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

F | ½ | -2| Teens & Up

Like the title phrase, which is recognizably English and yet obviously wrong, Dark of the Moon offers just enough vestiges of grammatical intelligibility to be recognizable as a bloated, steroid-inflamed simulacrum of a mindless summer blockbuster action movie. I almost think it would be better, or at least it would hurt less, if it were a bit more incomprehensible, although I’m told that its predecessor, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, actually was, and it didn’t help. Read More >

Cars 2 (2011)

C+ | **½ | +0| Kids & Up*

Visuals aside, Cars 2 is the first Pixar film ever (or at least since A Bug’s Life) that could one could easily imagine as a DreamWorks filmócirca Shark Tale perhaps, with its punningly fishified analog of the human world. Or, with its frenetic action and gimmickry, Cars 2 bears some resemblance to a Blue Sky Studios cartoon (circa Robots, say, or Rio, with its world culture flavor). In a word, not only is Cars 2 mediocre, it doesn’t even feel like mediocre Pixar. Read More >

Midnight in Paris (2011)

B+ | *** | +1-2| Adults

It’s a nostalgic film about nostalgia — nostalgia for when Paris was Paris, for one thing. Even if you’ve never been to the City of Light, even if phrases like “the Lost Generation” and “la Belle Époque” hold for you none of the magic they do for Allen, the film makes you feel their power for his onscreen alter ego, appealingly played by Owen Wilson. For that matter, even if you aren’t an Allen fan — even if you aren’t convinced Allen was ever Allen — Midnight in Paris could almost make you nostalgic for the Allen that fans remember, or seem to. Read More >

Mr. Popper’s Penguins (2011)

D | | -2| Kids & Up*

While the Atwaters’ book is not exactly a classic, it’s beloved by generations of readers — but not by the people who have brought you this big-screen adaptation starring Jim Carrey. The makers of this film do not love Mr. Popper’s Penguins. At all. It’s hard to believe that this junk was directed by Mark Waters, who presided over the big-screen adaptation of The Spiderwick Chronicles, a smart, scary adaptation of a children’s book series that honors its source material almost as much as Mr. Popper’s Penguins doesn’t. Read More >

Green Lantern (2011)

C+ | **½ | +1-2| Teens & Up*

If only the filmmakers had put as much creative energy into the character of Hal Jordan as they did into his lovingly rendered CGI-enhanced suit, which pulses and glows as it hugs every bulge and swell on Ryan Reynolds’ impeccably sculpted torso. Read More >

Super 8 (2011)

C+ | **½ | -2| Teens & Up

Gone are the days when a movie like E.T. could open to a mere $11 million, build on word of mouth, and go on to earn more than $350 million in North America. Obviously, Abrams remembers those days. In a way, Super 8 is as derivative and familiar as anything in theaters today, only the movies it’s copying are all over a quarter of a century old: Spielbergian fare like The Goonies, E.T., Gremlins and Close Encounters, with echoes of earlier and later films. Read More >

X-Men: First Class (2011)

A- | ***½ | +1-2| Teens & Up*

Despite missteps, X‑Men: First Class succeeds in doing in some measure for the X‑Men what J. J. Abrams did for Star Trek two years ago: Not only does it bring new energy to a tired franchise, it reinvents a familiar cast of characters in unexpected ways, laying the foundations for the defining relationships and conflicts of later chapters, while telling a ripping story into the bargain. Read More >

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

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

Returning screenwriters Jonathan Abel and Glenn Berger recognize that what’s needed is deeper emotions and darker themes as well as more action and higher stakes … At the same time, the movie makes three key mistakes. Read More >

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

C+ | **½ | +2-2| Teens & Up

Was Catholic novelist Tim Powers’ 1987 historical fantasy-adventure novel On Stranger Tides in some way the inspiration, or an inspiration, not only for this fourth Pirates of the Caribbean flick, but for the whole franchise? Read More >

Priest (2011)

F | | -4|

Director Scott Charles Stewart seems to be making a career out of erasing Jesus from history, and celebrating supernatural heroes who rebel against God for the greater good … in apocalyptic action/horror movies starring Paul Bettany. Read More >

Thor (2011)

C+ | **½ | +0| Teens & Up

It starts pretty promisingly, and it stays pretty promising throughout, and at some point you realize it’s never actually going to deliver on that promise. There’s never a moment where it goes really wrong — it just never really gets started. Read More >

There Be Dragons (2011)

C | | +2| Teens & Up

As played by English actor Charlie Cox (Stardust), Josemaría emerges as a likable, dedicated, virtuous young man much loved by his circle of friends, the first generation of Opus Dei. There are a few evocative scenes, such as the impression that a barefoot friar’s tracks in the snow make on the young Josemaría. Yet despite a line or two about Opus Dei spreading to other countries, there’s little sense of Escrivá himself as a figure of any particular note. Read More >

Rio (2011)

B+ | ***½ | +1-2| Kids & Up*

From the arches of the Carioca Aqueduct to Sugarloaf Mountain, from the flamboyant costumes of the samba schools to the sundrenched beaches of Guanabara Bay, Rio is as colorful a look at a faraway world as kids are likely to get without reading subtitles. Read More >

The Conspirator (2010)

A | ***½ | +3| Teens & Up

Credibly researched by screenwriter James Solomon and beautifully filmed by Newton Thomas Sigel (The Usual Suspects, Three Kings, Valkryie), it’s a rare historical drama that credibly captures a sense of another era while allowing its characters to breathe and talk and argue like men and women living in the present tense. Read More >

Hop (2011)

D- | * | -2| Kids & Up*

Hop is the kind of movie that makes helpless critics wish we could stage an intervention. Parents! It doesn’t have to come to this! Read More >

Born to Be Wild (2011)

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

Really, Born to Be Wild is as much a celebration of the better side of human nature as of the natural world. In their own way, these ladies are carrying out the Edenic mandate given to Adam to take responsibility for creation, to tend the garden and share in God’s providential oversight of the animal world (cf. CCC #373). Read More >

Soul Surfer (2011)

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

Soul Surfer does nearly everything you expect it to, but it does it more likably and satisfyingly than you might think it would. Based on 21-year-old pro surfer Bethany Hamilton’s memoir Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family and Fighting to Get Back on the Board, it’s an inspirational sports biopic about a Hawaiian surfer whose devout faith helps her bounce back after losing an arm in a shark attack (at 13 in real life). Read More >

Source Code (2011)

B+ | ***½ | +2-1| Teens & Up*

One could almost regard Moon as a warm-up for Source Code. Both films center on a solitary grunt who’s a cog in a much larger machine — an isolated man squirreled away in a cold, metallic space, unable to contact his loved ones, unsure exactly what’s going on, caught up in the seemingly impossible circumstances of a mission he doesn’t entirely understand. Both films raise questions of identity, memory, and human dignity in dehumanizing systems. Read More >

Red Riding Hood (2011)

D | ** | -2| Teens & Up

Red Riding Hood is a movie of a sort that I would very much like to see if anyone could make it, which is another way of saying that it is not that sort of movie at all. A real Hollywood fairy tale is the rarest thing in the world. Hollywood is more comfortable with myth and legend. Partly, I think, it’s a matter of scale: Mythology provides the sort of sweeping, epic scope that lends itself to big-screen Hollywood feature filmmaking. Fairy tales are smaller and more intimate, and require a lighter touch. Read More >

Of Gods and Men (2010)

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

Xavier Beauvois’ sublime Of Gods and Men is that almost unheard-of film that you do not judge—it judges you. To one degree or another it defies every attempt to put it in a box, to reduce its challenge to a political or pious ideological stance to be affirmed or critiqued. Read More >

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

B | *** | +1-2| Adults

Part Hollywood romance, part paranoia thriller,The Adjustment Bureau is an enjoyable romp in large part on the strength of Damon and Blunt’s likability and chemistry — qualities notably absent in recent star vehicles like The Tourist and Knight and Day. Read More >

Sanctum (2011)

F | * | -3| Adults*

The shocking thing about Sanctum’s fictional survival story, relocated to Papua New Guinea, is not that it kills off one expedition member after another, often quite brutally. The shocking thing is how callously it treats their lives. More than one team member is euthanized by his fellows, submerged and drowned after sustaining catastrophic injuries. Read More >

The Rite (2011)

B | **½ | +2| Teens & Up*

In some ways, Mikael Håfström’s new film reminds me less of recent exorcism films than of the sort of movie that Terence Fisher made for Hammer Films in the late 1950s and 1960s, movies like The Devil Rides Out and the 1958 Dracula. If Father Lucas, an unconventional veteran exorcist working in Rome, had been played by Hammer icon Christopher Lee instead of Anthony Hopkins, he would have been right at home. Read More >

True Grit (2010)

A | **** | +2| Teens & Up

The Coens’ film is franker than its predecessor about the violence of the old West and of Portis’s book; it is also franker about the religiosity, from frequent scriptural references to a score shot through with hymnody. Read More >

Tron: Legacy (2010)

C+ | ** | +0| Kids & Up*

In the years since Tron, of course, video games have come closer and closer to approximating reality, and computer-graphics in movies have gone further still — and, in a way, this is the problem with Tron: Legacy. Read More >

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