Reviews

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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 >

Up (2009)

A | ***½ | +3| Kids & Up

As wonky as the proceedings get, director Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) and screenwriter and co-director Bob Peterson (Finding Nemo) never entirely lose touch with the ragged human emotions underlying the story. There’s an obvious metaphor in the film itself for the strange blend of realism and zaniness, partly tethered to solid ground, partly twisting in the capricious winds of whimsy. Read More >

Angels & Demons (2009)

D | **½ | -2| Teens & Up*

Once you’ve established that your story is set in a world in which Jesus Christ is explicitly not God, and the Catholic religion is a known fraud perpetuated by murder and cover-ups, it sort of sucks the wind out of whatever story it was you were going to tell us next. Langdon could be ironing his chinos and helping little old ladies across the street, and it would still be set in that world, and those of us who care about such things will find it hard to bracket that and just go along with the thrill machine. Read More >

Star Trek (2009)

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

And so, for the first time in forever, we have Star Trek really and truly boldly going where we haven’t been before — taking Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Checkov on a brand-new adventure for the very first time. Before you know it, you’re getting to know old friends in an entirely new light. It’s like what Alan Moore said about Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns: “Everything is exactly the same, except for the fact that it’s all completely different.” Read More >

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

C+ | **½ | +0| Teens & Up

If you’re a fan of the material, you’ll want to see it. There are some decent action scenes, and an inevitable, tragic climax. There are also things that make no sense. It’s not bad, really. What it’s most conspicuously lacking is any sense of surprise, of revelation, of creative boldness. Read More >

Battle for Terra (2009)

C+ | **½ | +1-2| Kids & Up*

Watching Battle for Terra, the latest computer-animated offering presented in 3D, is little like stepping into a breathtaking cathedral in a strange city and finding a church play going on in the middle of it. The drama may be competently done, but it’s the least interesting thing in the room. You keep looking past the action, stealing glances to one side or the other, absorbed in the splendor of the setting. Earnest as the players are, the moralizing story draws you in only fitfully, and most of the time you’d rather steal away and just wander aimlessly from one corner to another, taking it all in. Read More >

The Soloist (2009)

B- | **½ | +1| Teens & Up*

The Soloist is a story about a relationship across a socioeconomic chasm. Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) have absolutely nothing in common, unless you count a propensity for stringing words together — which doesn’t count, because Lopez gets paid for it by the Los Angeles Times, while Ayers’ disjointed, rambling volubility is largely incomprehensible. Read More >

Earth (2007)

A- | ***½ | +0| Kids & Up

Welcome to Earth. Adapted by directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield from producer Fothergill’s groundbreaking 550-minute BBC miniseries “Planet Earth,” Earth offers an impressive selection of some of the most astounding images ever captured of the natural world. Many of the film’s sights had never been witnessed or photographed before Fothergill and the BBC Natural History Unit set out to create “the definitive look at the diversity of our planet,” as “Planet Earth” is not unreasonably billed. Read More >

The Hiding Place (1975)

A | ***½ | +4| Teens & Up

Thirty years after its original release, The Hiding Place remains one of the best films ever produced by a faith-based group (Billy Graham’s World Wide Pictures). Read More >

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

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

Celebrated by fans as the “feel-good” film of 2008 and damned by skeptics as “poverty porn,” Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire is, I think, neither of these. It’s a wrenching fairy tale, a yarn rife with desperate want, loyalty and love, a fable of the vagaries of life that are often cruel but sometimes unexpectedly, sublimely kind. Read More >

Gulliver’s Travels (1939)

C+ | **½ | +0| Kids & Up

Coming on the heels of Disney’s landmark Snow White, Gulliver’s Travels, from rival Fleischer Studios, is an intriguing case study in the elusive gap between decent work by talented animators and a successful and satisfying film. Read More >

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

C | **½ | -1| Kids & Up

As a tale of female empowerment and male comeuppance, Monsters vs. Aliens might have been provocative, like, 50 years ago. Today, nothing seems more subversive — and unlikely — than a family film with a heroic leading man who’s the equal of the leading lady — one boys can look up to without having to learn a lesson about male weakness. Now that’s a movie I’d like to see. Read More >

Bolt (2008)

A- | ***½ | +1| Kids & Up

It’s not quite Pixar grade, but Bolt blots out tepid memories of the likes of Chicken Little and Home on the Range, standing comfortably beside the likes of Kung Fu Panda and Horton Hears a Who in the race for second-best computer-animated family film of 2008. Read More >

Return From Witch Mountain (1978)

B- | **½ | +0| Kids & Up

Better structured and faster-moving than its predecessor, the sequel has more energy and wit in one sequence — the gold theft at the museum, in which a rolling stagecoach and floating manniquins evoke scenes from a Western — than all the special effects in the first movie combined. Read More >

Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)

C+ | **½ | +0| Kids & Up

One of the most popular Disney films of its era, Escape to Witch Mountain only loosely follows Alexander Key’s comparatively dark original tale about a pair of troubled orphans escaping a grim juvenile-hall orphanage and a sinister pursuer with the help of a heroic Catholic priest. Read More >

Race to Witch Mountain (2009)

C+ | **½ | +0| Kids & Up*

Rather than a coming of age story, then, Race to Witch Mountain is a dark family action-adventure movie, with moderate doses of X-Files paranoia and Galaxy Quest sci-fi fandom satire, and a sometimes obnoxious rock soundtrack. It’s slicker, darker and funnier than the original films, though wall-to-wall action makes it a bit of a one-trick pony, and prevents the characters from catching their breath and displaying more than one side. Read More >

Oliver & Company (1988)

C- | | -1| Kids & Up*

The last gasp of Disney Animation’s post-Walt malaise before the 1990s Disney renaissance, Oliver & Company borrows names and vague situations from Oliver Twist, but in place of Dickens’s sentiment and Victorian moralizing Oliver has only a misguided stab at “attitude.” Read More >

Australia (2008)

C+ | **½ | -1| Adults

Much like Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, it’s a film that has been long labored over, and the artist’s love of the material is clear, but the inspiration has been lost along the way and the characters reduced to cartoony types. Read More >

Pinocchio (1940)

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

Emotionally resonant, visually dazzling, imaginatively captivating, thematically rich, Walt Disney’s Pinocchio may just be the greatest of all the early Disney masterpieces, possibly outshining Snow White, Fantasia and Bambi. Read More >

Watchmen (2009)

D | *** | -3| Adults*

The movie is an impressive work of transposition, but I can’t recommend it. Excessively brutal and sexually graphic as well as nihilistic and and antiheroic, it’s a thoroughgoing deconstruction of humanity as well as heroism, one that takes its world apart without putting it back together again. There are things to admire here, but Watchmen doesn’t make me care. If you can’t care about characters facing the end of the world, perhaps it’s time to turn back the clock and move on. Read More >

Coraline (2009)

B+ | ***½ | +0| Kids & Up*

With its dark tale of changeling parents and imprisoned souls, Coraline comes closer to the spirit of the traditional European fairy tale than perhaps any other film, animated or otherwise, in recent memory. Read More >

Taken (2008)

C | *** | -2| Adults

Well-crafted but improbable action set pieces cast the 56-year-old Neeson as an essentially indomitable force taking on and prevailing against almost any number of gun-toting assailants — like Jason Bourne, Bryan combines boundless resourcefulness with essentially indomitable physical prowess — but the film’s emotional force rests on the comparatively persuasive setup. Read More >

The Spirit (2008)

F | 0 | -1| Teens & Up

The movie version of The Spirit is a straightforward excursion into the Frank Miller Universe at its most reductionist, self-parodying and content-free. There are no characters or relationships, only placeholders where characters ought to be. There is no drama or conflict, only dueling line readings and cartoony brutality. There is nothing at stake and nothing and no one to care about, only a pointless, shapeless exercise in wildly veering moods and styles. Read More >

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