Reviews

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The Wolfman (2010)

C- | ** | -2| Adults*

The Wolfman retells the classic werewolf story, but has little to add besides volume and gore. Jump moments pile up to the point that you stop jumping and merely feel annoyed at the obvious, heavy-handed manipulation. Alone in the dark in his ancestral home, Lawrence Talbot seems to hear a creepy whisper, but it turns out he’s just remembering something from his youth. Then a minute later it happens again. Later on there’s a gotcha dream, with a menacing figure rising from the shadows and leaping at Lawrence in his bed — but then he wakes up. Or so it seems, but then it happens again — but it’s a dream again. It’s like a haunted house where they never stop jumping out and saying “Boo!” Read More >

Julie & Julia (2009)

B+ | *** | +1| Adults

Toward the end, the two storylines almost converge as Julie’s blog comes to Julia’s attention — and Julia’s reported response leaves Powell in tears. How that twist strikes you make depend in part on which storyline you have felt closer to, on whose movie it is for you. Either way, there’s something for everyone, and if there’s a couple of brief bedroom scenes, for once they involve happily married couples. Read More >

Crazy Heart (2009)

A- | ***½ | -1+2| Adults

Crazy Heart’s turning point becomes a moment of clarity not only for Bad, but for Jean as well. It’s a film that is more hopeful and redemptive than its characters have a right to be, but along with hope is awareness of potentially irrevocable consequences. Read More >

Bright Star (2009)

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

Luminous, exquisitely acted and not without a sense of humor, Jane Campion’s Bright Star contemplates how this graceful, stylish, ignorant, sharp-tongued girl ensnared, and was ensnared by, a struggling young Romantic poet with no income and no critical acclaim. Read More >

Open City (1945)

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

Developed in Rome during the Nazi occupation, shot in the Eternal City shortly after the Nazi withdrawal, Roberto Rossellini’s Rome Open City stunned audiences the world over who saw in it an unmediated authenticity more evocative of the documentary quality of wartime newsreels than of the artificiality of earlier, more conventional WWII dramas. Read More >

Creation (2009)

C- | **½ | -2| Teens & Up*

Where is the other side of the debate? Where is the Darwin who declared it “absurd to doubt that a man might be an ardent theist and an evolutionist”? Where are the likes of Charles Kingsley and Asa Gray — representatives of, respectively, religion and science, who saw no quarrel between their two worlds, and both of whom Darwin cited in this connection? Where, indeed, is the Reverend Innes who vouched that his friend Darwin “follows his own course as a Naturalist and leaves Moses to take care of himself”? Read More >

The Lovely Bones (2009)

D+ | | -2| Adults

Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones paints an unconvincingly ham-fisted, sometimes ridiculous picture of what happens when someone dies. No, I’m not talking about the film’s attempt to portray the afterlife with kaleidoscopic montages of trippy concept art. I’m willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt, there. Read More >

The Young Victoria (2009)

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

Jean-Marc Vallée’s The Young Victoria is frothy, spirited and fairly inconsequential. I like that about it. Read More >

Avatar (2009)

B+ | ***½ | -2| Teens & Up*

James Cameron’s Avatar is a virtual apotheosis of Hollywood mythopoeia. It is the whole worldview and memory of contemporary Hollywood, given shape in a narrative and pictoral form that is stunning in its finality and grandeur. It is like everything and there is nothing like it. Read More >

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

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

There’s a villain with magical powers — but instead of Disneyfied magic, like Aladdin’s friendly genie, the film’s New Orleans voodoo is an occult world of terrifying powers and principalities in which the villain himself is at much at risk as anyone. It’s almost Disney’s most overtly Christian depiction of magic and evil at least since Sleeping Beauty, if not ever — though the waters are muddied by a benevolent, swamp-dwelling hoodoo mama in a sort of fairy-godmother role. Read More >

The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)

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

Twilight and New Moon are essentially uncritical celebrations of that overwrought, obsessive passion that is the hallmark of immaturity — passion that wholly subordinates all sense of one’s own identity and elevates the beloved to summum bonum, or even the sole good; passion that leaps as readily to suicidal impulses and fantasies as to longing for union. Read More >

The 13th Day (2009)

A | ***½ | +4| Kids & Up

The 13th Day is the best movie ever made about Fátima — the most beautiful and effective, as well as one of the most historically accurate. Read More >

2012 (2009)

C | ** | -1| Teens & Up

Then there’s the scene in which President Glover, as an ecumenical prayer on behalf of the world, starts to recite Psalm 23 — but the transmission cuts out before he can even finish the first line. What, Ejiofor gets to cite Cusack’s crappy fiction again and again, but the president can’t get off one lousy Bible verse at the end of the world? Here is a melancholy thought: How many people in the audience won’t even know how “The Lord is my shep…” ends, or where it’s from? Read More >

Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)

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

It’s almost a shock to hear the words “Christ the Savior is born” in a big-budget Hollywood movie today, even a time-honored period piece like A Christmas Carol. Only five years ago, Zemekis’ own The Polar Express rang with “Silver Bells” and “Deck the Halls,” but not so much as a “rum pa pum pum” from the stable at Bethlehem (not even at Santa’s North Pole home, where everyone celebrates Christmas). Read More >

Stranded: I’ve Come From a Plane That Crashed in the Mountains... (2007)

A- | ***½ | +2-1| Teens & Up*

Survival is not the supreme value, but it has a unique power to put other values into perspective. We say, too often and unthinkingly, that we would “rather die” than do this or that. It is a salutary thing not to fear death, but there is nothing salutary about trivializing the precious gift of life — precious, not only to ourselves, but also to those left behind. Read More >

Amelia (2009)

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

The press called her a “lady pilot,” but Amelia Earhart called herself a “tramp flyer.” She seems to have preferred “flyer” to “pilot”; perhaps it was just a manner of speech, or perhaps it was the sky she cared about more than the airplane, the act of flying rather than the mechanics of manning an aircraft. The other word she liked was “vagabonding.” As imagined in Amelia, Mira Nair’s handsome biopic, Earhart craves freedom above all: “no borders, only horizons.” Read More >

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

A- | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up*

The Things are potent symbols that refuse to yield to a single interpretation. Carol blends Max’s angry, destructive impulses and anxieties with Max’s mother’s concern and, dimly, the reassuring voice of the father who isn’t there. It’s not hard to see where Carol and KW’s quarrels come from, and KW’s absences are the flip side of Carol’s surrogate fatherhood, but Max’s sister is also in KW, off cavorting with her new friends and leaving Carol, and thus Max, in the lurch. Read More >

The Informant! (2009)

A- | ***½ | +1| Teens & Up*

Each of us would like to think that, in such situations as the movie poses, we would do the right thing; in moments of crisis, we tell ourselves that that is what we have done. The Informant! confronts us with the inveterate human capacity for self-justification and self-deception, and the extent to which we are all prone to casting ourselves as the hero of our own drama and the victim of our own tragedy. Read More >

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

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

What’s the last family film you can think of that name-checked Nikola Tesla and Alexander Graham Bell? When in movie history has the girl ever revealed her true self and become more attractive to the hero by putting on spectacles and pulling back her hair? Read More >

9 (2009)

C | ** | -2| Teens & Up

I don’t want to be too hard on 9. It’s the first film of a director who shows some promise, and a bravely idiosyncratic vision free from commercial pandering. It will probably fade quickly at the box office while soulless marketing machines like G. I. Joe and Transformers slog on and on. But Acker does himself no favors with rote anti-dogmatism and vapid characterizations. Read More >

District 9 (2009)

A- | ***½ | +2-2| Adults*

C. S. Lewis’s bleak prediction about human mistreatment of extraterrestrial creatures was framed in terms of human spacefarers encountering alien life on distant worlds, but the gist of his thesis is eminently applicable to the scenario proposed in District 9, a caustic and gory but sharply made sci-fi fable with a pungent South African flavor. Read More >

Ponyo (2008)

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

Although Ponyo seems as disjointed and free-floating as Howl’s Moving Castle, somehow the younger milieu here makes it more acceptable. Or maybe it’s just that there’s more here to latch onto emotionally. Read More >

Adam (2009)

B- | **½ | +1-2| Adults

Writer–director Max Mayer gets a lot right about Asperger syndrome, or AS, from Adam’s verbal literalism and scrupulous honesty to his difficulty gauging emotions in others and assessing what is socially acceptable or not; from his difficulty with eye contact to his driving fascination with a narrow range of topics and cultivation of extensive knowledge and technical vocabulary on those topics. Read More >

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

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

Potter fans, whether they’ve kept up with the books or not, will find that the latest film continues the trajectories of recent installments — it’s darker, more tragic and more romantic — while setting the stage for the final battle, now planned for two movies. Read More >

Public Enemies (2009)

C | **½ | -2| Adults

With its well-staged stickups and shootouts, its snappy fedoras and jaunty automobiles, it seems to be all surface — a glossy updating of 1930s Hollywood gangster melodrama without any substantial commentary or insight. Read More >

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009)

C- | **½ | -2| Kids & Up*

As a collection of parts, almost an anthology of ideas, Dawn of the Dinosaurs is fitfully entertaining … Alas, Dawn of the Dinosaurs also marks Blue Sky Studios’ descent into the kind of crude and suggestive humor they once left to DreamWorks. Read More >

Moon (2009)

A- | ***½ | +2| Teens & Up

There’s an ambitious modesty to Duncan Jones’s debut film Moon, a smart, existential science-fiction drama with one onscreen actor that runs 97 minutes and goes nowhere more exotic than our planet’s natural satellite. Read More >

Summer Hours (2008)

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

French director Olivier Assayas’s Summer Hours opens with a glimpse into a world that has already passed away, though not all the characters realize it yet. Read More >

My Life in Ruins (2009)

C- | ** | -2| Adults

Ironically, while paying lip service to Georgia’s high standards, My Life in Ruins really has its sights set on Nico’s lowest-common-denominator approach. Although the film shoot was granted unprecedented access to shoot in some of Greece’s most historically significant sites, including the Acropolis, there’s little effort to communicate any real sense of the history and significance of the sites. Read More >

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)

C | ** | +0| Kids & Up

Over and over the movie drives home one conclusion: Larry was born to wear the uniform of a museum night guard. The inventions, the managerial decisions, the corny televised banter with cameo-role celebrities … that’s not the real Larry. The real Larry, much like an artifact in an Indiana Jones movie, belongs in a museum. Read More >

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