I'm a longtime movie-buff. I grew up with a diverse appetite for movies and have read extensively about the history of film. I've completed both versions of the AFI top-100 movie lists and I've seen almost every Oscar winner older than five years. So I thought I would share some movie reviews.
My plan going into 2013 was to write a two or three line review of every movie I watched. Please understand that I'm not endorsing all of these movies. I'm not even giving a blanket endorsement to movie watching in general. But I watch movies with a view toward history, culture, spiritual worldview, so perhaps I can steer you toward (or away) from certain films based on that point of view.
Part 1 of this list represents the films I watched from January through June, 2013. My ranking system and special GOC warning follows the list.
• Man of Steel (2013) - How do you not like Superman in a Jayhawk shirt? It is so refreshing to have a super-hero who is heroic, noble, and moral instead of broken, dysfunctional, and dark. In fact, Superman's squeaky-clean image seems to have rubbed wrong some viewers, a bigger indictment of them than of the film, I think.
• Argo (2012) - Even if you know the end result of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, this story is so authentically told that it becomes surprisingly compelling. Nevertheless, it's still amusing that a film where filmmakers are real-life heroes was given so many awards by other filmmakers. Also the foul language was like a recurring character in the film and surely wasn't necessary. GOC
• Oz, The Great and Powerful (2013) - I was so impressed with this movie in contrast to what the reviews had said. My family thoroughly enjoyed it, it had a great message (virtue and goodness is better than self-promotion), and we all agreed that it was the best use of 3D we've yet seen.
• Shadowlands (1993) - Based on the true story of C.S. Lewis' relationship with Joy Davidman. This is the noblest of tearjerkers, warm and well written. You may hate to watch a movie about love and grief but this one is worth it.
• Looper (2012) - A great sci-fi/crime story, though the time-travel aspect can be confusing, which the characters themselves actually admit to onscreen to avoid an actual explanation. Nevertheless the story will keep you guessing. GOC
• October Baby (2011) - Based on its theme and message, this ought to be a five-star movie. But the film is so heavy handed with its emotional content that you'll feel whiplashed after nearly two hours of tear-jerking. Nevertheless, this is an emotional roller coaster I endorse.
• Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) - One of the all-time best Westerns; this film has dark and complicated sub-plots wrapped around four great characters (none of which are entirely "good guys"). It has great direction and great cinematography but not everyone will appreciate the Spaghetti-Western style, with the long silences, super close-ups, and dripping irony.
• The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012) - The latest claymation effort from the creator of Wallace and Gromit, Pirates is in that same eccentric vein of British comedy inhabited by Monty Python and everything Simon Pegg does.
• Rear Window (1954) - I didn't recall that the movie is a bit risqué at times and perhaps that pulled me out of the story a bit. I hate to say it but maybe the imitations and knock-offs have robbed this Hitchcock/Jimmy Stewart classic of some of its punch.
• This is What Winning Looks Like (2013) - This is a great documentary on the state of the Afghan police and military before the American-led coalition pulls out. In a word: corrupt. Other words would include inept, immoral, backward, incompetent, and failing.
• Bullit (1968) - Here is that Steve McQueen film with THE classic car chase. Honestly though, in the last 45 years, the filming and choreography of car chases has advanced so much that this one seems a bit pedestrian. The movie itself is surprisingly slow as we follow McQueen's gut instincts and hunches that don't pay off (or even feel justified) until the final act. These same themes, characters, and plots have been copied in a dozen police-centered television shows since, where they probably received better development.
• The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) - There's nothing wrong with this movie except that we've seen it before (and recently). This Spider-Man is more snarky and this story hits a few notes differently than its predecessor. It's a well-executed comic book movie that presumes an appetite for more Spider-Man, which you may or may not have.
• The Dark Knight Rises (2012) - A huge disappointment. Though it has its moments, weak acting and a weak plot almost ruined this film for me. It doesn't live up to the reputation of the second film in the trilogy.
• Here Comes the Boom (2012) - Another cute movie from Kevin James, this time he's a teacher that fights MMA to earn money to save the school's music program. Harmless, kind-hearted comedy here.
• Men in Black 3 (2012) - MIB3 has lame humor, a bad time travel plot, and assumes you remember something of the first two movies, which may be asking too much. That said, it's actually got a bit of heart and Josh Brolin impersonating a younger Tommy Lee Jones as "Agent K" is jaw-droopingly uncanny.
• Rio (2011) - Unremarkable but a perfectly cute movie. This movie actually caused the cancellation of a very similar Pixar movie about the last male newt of his species paired to a wild female. Rio came out first, Pixar dropped the project.
• Rock of Ages (2012) - I wouldn't normally like a musical like this much at all, but the star-studded film version of this jukebox musical is genuinely funny. If you're a child of the 80's, the familiar tunes may carry you happily through the cruder moments, otherwise it may be too much of a turnoff and altogether forgettable. GOC
• Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) - Almost epic, almost noteworthy. This film was actually better than I expected it to be and had a great twist in what would have been an otherwise transparent plot. The effects were magnificent, the acting was not so much (even Ian McShane lacked his usual fire). It was also intriguing that the movie had a few distinctly Christian elements bubbling under the surface.
• The Three Stooges (2012) - I was surprised to find this movie had an almost-innocent (though very juvenile) quality compared to how raunchy most comedies seem to be these days. But be warned, like the source material, this film is over-the-top stupid––if that's what you're shopping for, you'll find it here in spades.
• Wreck it Ralph (2012) - A cute movie with tons of heart and several clever references to the video game culture of the 80's and 90's, when arcades were still a thing. Much like Toy Story, it's kind of depressing to consider the idea of your toys dying. So thanks for that.
• Chronicle (2012) - The "found footage" conceit gets in the way of a story that needed a better treatment than this. It's not well acted (mostly) and not well put together. Chronicle has a great concept but it is so mediocre that it's almost bad.
• Four Lions (2010) - I watched this story of an inept British terror-cell in slack-jawed disbelief; is it mocking Muslims and terrorists or half-heartedly praising them? Is this a comedy or a tragedy? I haven't been this uncomfortable with (and uncertain of) the message of a movie in a long time.
• Wrath of the Titans (2012) - Bleh. Nothing about this sequel to 2010's uninspired Clash of the Titans is particularly good. It's got a simple plot but very pedestrian acting and writing. Like its predecessor, the story doesn't adhere strictly to actual Greek mythology, rather it's a cold serving of Greek mythology potpourri.
• Battleship (2012) - This movie has a bad case of the stupids, something that is normally unforgivable in sci-fi. But if you figure this movie already knows how silly its premise is, the rest isn't so bad. It's kinda funny, kinda exciting, kinda entertaining. Mostly. Cut out the language and it's perfect for 12-year olds.
• Total Recall (2012) - How do you make a classic Sci-fi story from the great and prolific Philip K. Dick into a tedious, emotionless, snore-fest? Total Recall found a way. I actually had to rewind multiple times because I kept falling asleep. If not for the action sequences and the core concept, this would be unwatchable.
• The Raid: Redemption (2011) - I was deeply disappointed in this overly-bloody action film. The fight choreography doesn't redeem this grisly, foul-mouthed film from it's worst, most glaring flaw: far and away the worst English voice-dubbing since Godzilla. Horrible. Horrible with awkward giggles and nervous sideways glances. GOC
5 stars - A great movie everyone should see.
4 stars - A great movie with some qualifications.
3 stars - An okay movie that will appeal to some audiences.
2 stars - Not very good to most audiences but with some redeeming qualities.
1 star - Not a movie worth seeing.
GOC - Warning: Gratuitous
Objectionable Content -- Please fast forward or, better yet, watch an
edited version of the film. Used especially in reference to nudity or
abusive use of vulgar content.
I have deliberately watched edited versions of some films and may not be aware of the content of the theatrical release or director's cut.