DreamWorks Animation’s first movie was Antz, released two months before A Bug’s Life, and thus this studio was born into incessant comparison to Pixar’s output, molded by it, becoming the snarky and sarcastic foil to its competitor’s earnestness.
DreamWorks Animation would forge most of its identity and formula on the back of one giant, smelly, green ogre: Shrek, which has generated sequels, tie-ins, theme park rides, and billions of dollars, while ensuring Smash Mouth’s “All-Star” never leaving the pop culture’s ironic curriculum.
The studio’s other franchises include Kung Fu Panda, which introduced a whole new world of visual flair and surprising emotional depth to the DreamWorks movie canon, and Madagascar, which pulled off the mega-rare feat of each movie being higher-rated on the Tomatometer than the last. At least the mainline movies. (Penguins of Madagascar 73% is lower than the 79% Madagascar 3 has, but that’s a spin-off.)
Their latest releases were Spirit Untamed and Boss Baby: Family Business, with The Bad Guys and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish on the horizon. Now, we’re ranking all DreamWorks Animation movies by Tomatometer!
Critics Consensus: It's nowhere near as inventive as its off-the-wall premise might suggest, but Turbo boasts just enough colorful visual thrills and sharp voice acting to recommend as undemanding family-friendly fare.
Synopsis: Turbo (Ryan Reynolds) is a speed-obsessed snail with an unusual dream: to become the world's greatest racer. This odd snail... [More]
Critics Consensus: It regurgitates plot points from earlier animated efforts, and isn't quite as funny as it should be, but a top-shelf voice cast and strong visuals help make Megamind a pleasant, if unspectacular, diversion.
Synopsis: Though he is the most-brilliant supervillain the world has known, Megamind (Will Ferrell) is the least-successful. Thwarted time and again... [More]
Critics Consensus: With a tidy plot, clean animation, and humor that fits its source material snugly, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is entertainment that won't drive a wedge between family members.
Synopsis: George Beard and Harold Hutchins are two overly imaginative pranksters who spend hours in a treehouse creating comic books. When... [More]
Critics Consensus:Kung Fu Panda 3 boasts the requisite visual splendor, but like its rotund protagonist, this sequel's narrative is also surprisingly nimble, adding up to animated fun for the whole family.
Synopsis: Living large and loving life, Po (Jack Black) realizes that he has a lot to learn if he's going to... [More]
Critics Consensus: While simultaneously embracing and subverting fairy tales, the irreverent Shrek also manages to tweak Disney's nose, provide a moral message to children, and offer viewers a funny, fast-paced ride.
Synopsis: Once upon a time, in a far away swamp, there lived an ogre named Shrek (Mike Myers) whose precious solitude... [More]
Critics Consensus:Chicken Run has all the charm of Nick Park's Wallace & Gromit, and something for everybody. The voice acting is fabulous, the slapstick is brilliant, and the action sequences are spectacular.
Synopsis: This engaging stop-motion, claymation adventure tells the story of an American rooster who falls in love with a gorgeous hen... [More]
Jude Law made his breakthrough splash in The Talented Mr. Ripley, though anyone who had been following his early career through Gattaca, Music From Another Room, and Wilde already knew what he was capable of by the time the world saw him in the Anthony Minghella thriller. Not too long after that, Law would be working with the likes of Steven Spielberg (he was the robot Gigolo Joe in A.I. Artificial Intelligence), taking lead roles (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Alfie), and showing off his dark side as nasty villains (Road to Perdition).
And sometimes it seems Law is at his best in large ensemble casts: Just check out Cold Mountain, I Heart Huckabees, Contagion, The Grand Budapest Hotel, or even Captain Marvel for proof. His latest film was The Rhythm Section, starring Blake Lively. See where it places as we rank all Jude Law movies by Tomatometer!
Critics Consensus: This unnecessary remake wants Alfie to have his cake and eat it, too, but a lack of sexual fizz and a sour performance by Jude Law conspire to deliver audiences a romantic comedy that isn't romantic or funny.
Synopsis: British-born ladies' man Alfie (Jude Law) exploits his job as a New York City limousine driver to meet and sleep... [More]
Critics Consensus: Clint Eastwood's spare directorial style proves an ill fit for this Southern potboiler, which dutifully trudges through its mystery while remaining disinterested in the cultural flourishes that gave its source material its sense of intrigue.
Synopsis: In this adaptation of John Berendt's book, a young journalist, John Kelso (John Cusack), travels to Savannah, Ga., to cover... [More]
Critics Consensus: Jude Law is clearly having fun in Dom Hemingway's title role, but viewers may find this purposely abrasive gangster dramedy isn't quite as enjoyable from the other side of the screen.
Synopsis: After serving 12 years in prison, a skilled safecracker (Jude Law) seeks payback and a chance to reconcile with his... [More]
Critics Consensus: Terry Gilliam remains as indulgent as ever, but The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus represents a return to the intoxicatingly imaginative, darkly beautiful power of his earlier work, with fine performances to match all the visual spectacle.
Synopsis: Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), the leader of a traveling show, has a dark secret. Thousands of years ago he traded... [More]
Critics Consensus: Guy Ritchie's directorial style might not be quite the best fit for an update on the legendary detective, but Sherlock Holmes benefits from the elementary appeal of a strong performance by Robert Downey, Jr.
Synopsis: When a string of brutal murders terrorizes London, it doesn't take long for legendary detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.)... [More]
Critics Consensus: Although it softens the nasty edges of its source material, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is a gothic visual treat, and it features a hilariously manic turn from Jim Carrey as the evil Count Olaf.
Synopsis: After the three young Baudelaire siblings are left orphaned by a fire in their mansion, they are carted off to... [More]
Critics Consensus: With a rich sense of period detail, The Aviator succeeds thanks to typically assured direction from Martin Scorsese and a strong performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, who charts Howard Hughes' descent from eccentric billionaire to reclusive madman.
Synopsis: Billionaire and aviation tycoon Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a successful public figure: a director of big-budget Hollywood films such... [More]
Critics Consensus: Simultaneously broad and progressive, Spy offers further proof that Melissa McCarthy and writer-director Paul Feig bring out the best in one another -- and delivers scores of belly laughs along the way.
Synopsis: Despite having solid field training, CIA analyst Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) has spent her entire career as a desk jockey,... [More]
Ever since 1998 and into this Friday’s release of Kung Fu Panda 3, DreamWorks Animation has emerged as one of the dominant forces in animated storytelling worldwide, whose blend of state-of-the-art tech and raucous contemporary humor has carved their own identity in our current cartoon renaissance. Kung Fu Panda 3 inspires this week’s 24 Frames gallery, in which we explore the nearly two-decade history of DreamWorks Animation.
Some Santas want to spread joy to the world…and others just want to watch the world burn. As Christmas approaches, take some time to this week’s special extra 24 Frames gallery, looking at the variations of jolly St. Nick across movie history.
This week on home video, we’ve got four new releases that are Certified Fresh, including one multiple Oscar-winner, one animated adventure, a music doc, and an indie drama about alcoholism. On top of that, there’s also the relatively well-received biopic about Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho and a quirky Sean Penn-powered road trip drama. Lastly, we have a feature adaptation of the famed Cirque du Soleil troupe’s performances, as well as a handful of notable reissues. See below for the full list!
Yann Martel’s 2001 novel Life of Pi was a worldwide success, so it’s not surprising that development of a film adaptation began as early as 2003. Many considered the book “unfilmable,” however, so we didn’t get the movie until Ang Lee took up the helm (after several others dropped out) and felt technology was up to snuff to tell the story. The fantasy adventure revolves around Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma), an Indian teen whose parents own a struggling zoo and decide to sell all their animals to a buyer in Canada, where the family will settle. En route to Winnipeg, their freighter encounters a massive storm that wrecks the ship and leaves Pi stranded alone on a lifeboat with a few animals, including a fearsome Bengal tiger. Like its source novel, Life of Pi was met with both critical and commercial success, and was nominated for eleven Academy Awards; it won four Oscars, including Best Director for Ang Lee. Certified Fresh at 88%, it’s a trasportive, beautifully shot, technically impressive film, even if its underlying message may not resonate with everyone.
Another film based on a book (or series of books, rather, authored by William Joyce), Rise of the Guardians reimagines mythical childhood figures like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and Jack Frost as warrior-like protectors of the world’s children — in addition to their regular duties delivering presents and hiding Easter eggs, that is. Voiced by Chris Pine, Jack Frost is a bit of a mischief maker, starting snowball fights and conjuring blizzards, until he’s recruited by the existing guardians to help defeat Pitch (Jude Law), a dark spirit intent on taking over the world. In the process, Jack discovers both his true worth as a guardian and the secrets of his past life. Though critics felt the story itself could have been a little more focused, they also liked the clever premise of the film, as well as its lush animation and brisk pacing. Certified Fresh at 74%, Rise of the Guardians is a fresh take on some familiar characters that most will be able to appreciate.
Screenwriter Sacha Gervasi’s directorial debut, 2007’s Anvil! The Story of Anvil, earned heaps of praise, so hopes were high for his film about Alfred Hitchcock, especially considering Anthony Hopkins would be filling in the role of the great director and Helen Mirren would be playing his wife and collaborative partner, Alma Reville. Hitchcock specifically chronicles the director’s efforts to finance and produce Psycho and the tumultuous relationship that resulted between him and Reville during the making of the film. Although critics would have liked to see a bit more subtlety and insight, most found the film stylishly directed and worth watching, even if only for the inspired performances from Hopkins and Mirren. At 63% on the Tomatometer, Hitchcock isn’t the be all and end all of biopics on The Master of Suspense, but it’s a well-acted glimpse into his life and old Hollywood.
Last year, musician Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) purchased a vintage Neve 8028 mixing console from Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California, where he had taken part in recording the seminal Nirvana album Nevermind in 1991. The purchase inspired him to direct a documentary recounting the history of the influential studio, which oversaw the recording of several rock legends and musical icons ranging from Neil Young, Elton John, and Grateful Dead to Barry Manilow, Weezer, Metallica, and many more before it closed in 2011. Peppered with interviews and performances by many of those artists, Sound City weaves together the complete story of the studio and culminates in the purchase that inspired the film in the first place. The film, which opened in limited release just a month ago, has so far earned a 100% Tomatometer, with critics calling it an affectionately crafted passion project that’s thrilling, nostalgic, and a must-see for music fans.
Cirque du Soleil has been an expanding Las Vegas mainstay for several years now, but they’ve been a touring troupe for even longer, their television specials have won awards, and they’ve adapted their shows into films before. This latest venture, Worlds Away, is unique in that it also offers a 3D perspective for the first time, and what’s more? It’s James Cameron-approved 3D. Though it is, in fact, just another showcase for the talents of its performers, there is a narrative framing device: a young woman named Mia (Erica Linz) visits the local circus and falls into a dreamlike world with an aerialist; in order for the two to reunite, they must traverse the various tents of the circus and navigate through their performances. Critics were fairly split here; while some thought the film incoherently plotted and most conceded it was inferior to its live equivalent, others felt it was still beautiful to look at and entertaining enough. At 46%, Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away won’t compare to the real thing, but it’s not too bad if you can’t make it to one of the live shows.
Aaron Paul has already built up a considerable fanbase from his role in Breaking Bad, but while Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s star is slowly rising, she hadn’t quite landed the starring role that showcases her talents properly… until Smashed came along. In this low key indie, Paul and Winstead play Charlie and Kate, a young married couple who both decide to come to terms with their alcoholism. When Kate, an elementary schoolteacher, vomits in the middle of class, then drunkenly succumbs to smoking crack later that same night, she consequently joins group therapy and resolves to change her life. Critics roundly applauded Winstead’s performance, as well as director James Ponsoldt’s sensitive direction and the film’s melodrama-free script, en route to a Certified Fresh 84% on the Tomatometer. Costarring Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer, and Mary Kay Place, Smashed failed to generate much heat at the box office, but here’s hoping it leads to more substantial roles for Winstead.
At first glance, This Must Be the Place might seem simply like the latest in a long line of quirky indie comedy-dramas: Sean Penn, looking like a cross between Bono and Edward Scissorhands, is aging former rock star Cheyenne, who travels home to New York from Ireland in order to reconcile with his estranged father as he lies on his deathbed. Though his father dies before he arrives, Cheyenne soon discovers that he was an Auschwitz survivor whose lifelong mission was to track down the man who abused him there; Cheyenne takes up his father’s quest and sets out across the US to find his father’s persecutor. It’s a strange tale, to be sure, but critics mostly found it surprisingly touching, buoyed by Penn’s oddly charismatic performance. At 68%, This Must Be the Place might be a little too off-kilter for some, but if you give it a chance, it might surprise you.
Also available this week:
A 25th Anniversary Blu-ray release of Disney’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit (98%), with a collection of extras ported over from previous releases and an in-depth commentary track.
Two choices from the Criterion Collection: The original 1958 The Blob (69%), now on Blu-ray; and Fritz Lang’s Ministry of Fear on both DVD and Blu-ray.
Ron Howard’s 1988 fantasy flick Willow (46%) on Blu-ray.
This weekend in streaming, we’ve got an Oscar-nominated drama (The Master) and the conclusion to a certain teen vampire franchise (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2). Plus, we’ve got some well-reviewed indies, a feel-good French dramedy, and an Oscar-winner from the 1960s. Read on to find out what’s available to watch right now.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as a navy vet in the midst of personal turmoil who turns to Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic leader of a group called the Cause; soon, the two men are locked in a test of wills.
When a nightmare king named Pitch attempts to spread darkness all over the world, it’s up to such unlikely heroes as Santa Claus, Jack Frost, and the Easter Bunny to save the children from misery and despair.
Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is adjusting to her new life as both a mother and a vampire. But when malevolent Volturi go after their child, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Cullen round up a crew of sympathetic vampires and werewolves to stand with their family.
Over the course of a career spanning two decades and dozens of movies, Jude Law has become one of the most successful actors of his generation — in fact, just a few years ago, he made the industry’s “top 10 most bankable” list. This weekend, he has the honor of starring in the HBO miniseries The Young Pope, which centers on the reign of the first American pope, Pius XIII. To celebrate, we decided to take the opportunity to pay tribute to some of Mr. Law’s biggest critical hits. Of course, given his propensity for smaller parts, we had to prune a few entries from the upper reaches of Law’s Tomatometer; his roles in films like The Aviator, Hugo, and The Grand Budapest Hotel weren’t quite substantial enough to make the grade. Still, we think you’ll find plenty to love in this week’s list. Without further ado… Jude Law’s best movies!
If a person wanted to film an Oscar Wilde biopic, they could hardly do better than Richard Ellmann’s Pulitzer-winning biography for source material — and they couldn’t ask for a more perfect leading man than Stephen Fry, who uses 1997’s Wilde as an acting clinic. In fact, although most critics agreed Brian Gilbert’s film was flawed, they were too enthralled by Fry’s performance — in addition to solid supporting turns from Jennifer Ehle, Michael Sheen, and Law (who plays Lord Alfred Douglas, the self-absorbed object of Wilde’s ultimately ruinous affections) — to find much fault with Wilde. In the words of the Sunday Times’ Shannon J. Harvey, “There’s never been a better story about the misadventures of one of the world’s greatest writers. Fry should have been Oscar nominated, and Law is equally electrifying.”
It suffered from close proximity to The Matrix — not to mention an unfortunately spelled title — but most critics thought David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ was one of the more enjoyable, and overlooked, futuristic thrillers of the ’90s. This is admittedly a rather short list (Johnny Mnemonic, anyone?), but still — given Cronenberg’s track record, eXistenZ‘s ignominious commercial fate is a little puzzling. On the other hand, Cronenberg didn’t do himself any favors with a storyline about a game developer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a low-level employee at her company (Law) on the run from bad guys wielding freaky guns that shoot human teeth. Sound bizarre? It is, and that doesn’t even take into account the script’s constant shifts between the real world and an increasingly difficult-to-detect virtual reality. Not a film with particularly broad appeal, in other words, but it tickled the neuroreceptors of critics like Jim Ridley of the Nashville Scene, who wrote, “Cronenberg makes leaps of logic, character, and setting so baffling that they don’t become clear until the end. Even then, the final outcome is so devious you’ll sit poking yourself to make sure you won’t disappear with the click of the projector.”
As a book, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain was a bestselling phenomenon, and just the kind of sweeping, romantic period piece that cried out for a film adaptation. That cry was answered with Anthony Minghella’s stately take on the tale of a Confederate Civil War soldier (Law) who deserts and slowly wends his way back to his beloved (Nicole Kidman) while dodging Union troops and the southern Home Guard. Released on Christmas Day 2003, the Cold Mountain movie was a $173 million hit, but not without its detractors; Cinema Crazed’s Felix Vasquez Jr., for instance, called the Miramax production “So utterly manufactured for Oscar, it was nauseating.” Still, most critics were willing to look past the flaws in Minghella’s beautifully filmed epic; in the words of Philip Martin of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “There are intimations of a genuinely moving film; in its best moments, Cold Mountain is a fantasy that — like the Lord of the Rings movies — aspires to Shakespearean heights.”
One of a mind-boggling six movies Law starred in throughout 2004, Kerry Conran’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was sort of a beta Avatar, combining live action and computer-generated effects in new and exciting ways. Adding to the gee-whiz factor was Conran’s gleefully retro storyline, which pitted the heroic Sky Captain (Law, natch) against the giant robot army of the nefarious Dr. Totenkopf (Sir Laurence Olivier, in a display of technology both thrilling and sort of creepy) in an alternate version of 1939. Captain mimicked the Golden Age matinee serials so successfully that many modern filmgoers didn’t quite know what to make of it, and as a result, it went the fate of Totenkopf’s army at the box office — but it was welcomed with open arms by critics like Ed Park of the Village Voice, who wrote, “His nostalgia enabled by technology, Conran takes the ghosts in his machine seriously, and the results appear at once meltingly lovely and intriguingly inhuman.”
A project Stanley Kubrick had been working on since the early 1970s, A.I. was the Hollywood equivalent of vaporware for years; even after Kubrick handed the reins to Steven Spielberg in 1995, the movie remained largely in stasis until Kubrick’s unexpected death in 1999. As has been the case with more than one sci-fi epic (see: Avatar), the delay was at least partially fortuitous — by the time production started in earnest, special effects had evolved to the point where the tale of a robot boy (Haley Joel Osment) on his quest to become real could be believably told. A.I. was criticized for its uneasy blend of darkness and sentimentality, exemplified by Osment’s character’s friendship with Gigolo Joe, the prostitute robot played by Law. Despite grossing more than $230 million, A.I. was regarded by many as a disappointment — but most critics saw through the catcalls, including Jimmy O of Film Snobs, who wrote, “A.I. stands as a work that allows us to see ourselves in the things that we have created. For good or for bad, it is an eye-opening experience.”
Adapted from the Guardians of Childhood series authored by writer and illustrator William Joyce, Rise of the Guardians took the novel premise of the books — basically, that magical kids’ legends like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are members of an Avengers-like team of action heroes — and used it as the basis for a colorfully animated adventure with an all-star voice cast that included Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman, Chris Pine, and Law as the group’s deliciously evil adversary, Pitch the Nightmare King. Although this would-be franchise starter was regarded as a box office disappointment, it resonated with a good number of critics — including the Atlantic’s Christopher Orr, who called it “A children’s fable reimagined as a superhero flick — a peculiar but delightful hybrid that just may be the best animated offering of the year.”
In 1996, Dolly the sheep made headlines as the first cloned mammal, sending previously sci-fi-worthy topics like genetic engineering and eugenics to the forefront of public debate. You’d think that would make an instant smash out of a futuristic thriller about a man hiding behind someone else’s genetic identity — Columbia Pictures certainly thought so — but Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca still went down as one of 1997’s more notorious flops. Ethan Hawke starred as Vincent Freeman, a genetic “in-valid” who flouts the rules preventing him from joining the space program by buying off Jerome Morrow (Law), a paraplegic ex-swimmer with perfect DNA, setting in motion a chain of events that puts Freeman on a collision course with a squad of detectives led by his own brother (Loren Dean). It’s undeniably juicy stuff, and it was greeted with critical applause, but audiences weren’t interested for some reason — a disappointment for scribes like James Sanford, who called it “a smart, beautifully crafted piece of not-so-science-fiction that manages to successfully mix social commentary and suspense into a generally enthralling story.”
Tom Hanks as a ruthless Mafia assassin? It sounds like a sketch Saturday Night Live might have aired after Forrest Gump, but Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition was no joke — particularly not in the casting department, which surrounded Hanks with rock-solid supporting players like Paul Newman, Daniel Craig, and Jude Law as Harlen Maguire, the crime scene photographer/icky hitman hired to murder Hanks and his young son (Tyler Hoechlin). The only one of the movie’s characters not adapted from Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner’s graphic novel, Maguire could easily have provoked a negative response from fans of the book — but Law made a great, creepy villain, mussing his good looks behind sallow skin and bad teeth. Ken Hanke was one of the many critics who enjoyed Road, writing “It’s all done with tremendous style and backed by exceptional performances. Jude Law and Paul Newman are both brilliant and chilling, but the real revelation is Tom Hanks.”
Matt Damon got a lot of attention for his performance in the title role — and deservedly so — but The Talented Mr. Ripley revolves around the machinations of a sociopath who finds himself irresistibly drawn to a casually cruel, devastatingly handsome playboy, and who better to play that part than Jude Law? The BBC’s Stella Papamichael was one of several critics who singled out Law’s performance, saying “In a starry lineup, it’s Jude Law who commands most presence, playing the charmer so well that his absence in the latter half leaves a gaping void.” Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel had a lot of pitfalls to avoid on the way to the screen, and it didn’t sidestep all of them; still, 83 percent on the Tomatometer and a small boatload of awards (including Law’s BAFTA and Blockbuster nods) is pretty impressive for a deeply unsettling Christmas release with amoral, misanthropic overtones. Calling it “a gorgeously unsettling film,” New York Magazine’s Peter Raniner warned, “You can hide in the shadows, but luminescence exposes who you are, and the only escape is into another identity.”
Before they hooked up for Side Effects, Law and Steven Soderbergh worked together in Contagion, a chilly 2011 medical thriller that uses our ever-more-connected modern lifestyle as a framing device to demonstrate just how quickly and easily a contagious disease could spread across the planet. With a showy cast that included Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, and Gwyneth Paltrow, Contagion ran the risk of undermining its dramatic impact with a parade of famous faces, but as David Denby argued for the New Yorker, “The presence of movie stars helps: their authority is part of what keeps us fascinated by the gruesome fable, juicing it a bit, so that we can actually enjoy it.”
With Rise of the Guardians opening in cinemas, we take a look back over DreamWorks Animation’s first 25 features — from 1998-2012.
Since Thanksgiving is a time for family gatherings, it follows that there are plenty of choices in the multiplex this weekend. For the little kids, there’s Rise of the Guardians, featuring Santa and the Tooth Fairy. For older teens, there’s the visually sweeping Life of Pi. For brothers and cousins who want an action fix, there’s Red Dawn. And for home viewing, there’s a sparkling new Blu-ray of one of the greatest Anime films ever. Without further ado, check out the best bets for family viewing this week!
What’s it about? In this animated feature from DreamWorks, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Jack Frost, and other folkloric types team up to battle a nightmare-purveying baddie named Pitch.
Who’s it for?Rise of the Guardians is rated PG “for thematic elements and some mildly scary action.” Kindergarteners and above will probably be able to handle it, though the film does demystify its protagonists, which might be troubling to more sensitive children.
Is it any good? Critics say the little ones will probably like it just fine, and that their guardians will probably be mildly amused as well. It’s got some solid gags and terrific visuals.
What’s it about? A guy survives a shipwreck only to end up in a lifeboat with a tiger.
Who’s it for? It’s rated PG “for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril.” It will almost certainly bore little kids, but it should be fine for eighth graders up.
Is it any good? Critics say Life of Pi is visually masterful and philosophically intriguing; it’s the type of thing that could entrance thoughtful teenagers.
What’s it about? Foreign troops invade a small town in the Pacific Northwest. A group of photogenic teens fight back.
Who’s it for? It’s rated PG-13 “for sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language.” In any incarnation, Red Dawn is every teenage boy’s dream come true, and will probably delight less than discerning middle schoolers.
Is it any good? If you’re looking for an evening of father-son bonding over a cheesy action movie, you’re probably better off renting the original.
What’s it about? In the waning days of World War II, a brother and sister attempt to survive on their own amidst the barren landscape of war-torn Japan.
Who’s it for? Grave of the Fireflies is unrated, but with its scenes of starvation, death, and destruction, it’s not appropriate for children. It’s probably ok for young teenagers and up.
Is it any good?Grave of the Fireflies is a monumental work of animation and an anti-war masterpiece. It’s profoundly sad, touching, and beautiful. You should probably watch it, but beware: it’s a bona fide tearjerker.
On paper, Life of Pi shouldn’t work — it’s a 3D adaptation of a supposedly “unfilmable” magic realist novel. But critics say director Ang Lee’s film achieves the near impossible — it’s a phantasmagoric technical achievement that’s emotionally rewarding as well. Newcomer Suraj Sharma stars as a young man who survives a shipwreck only to be set adrift in a lifeboat — with a Bengal tiger. The pundits say the Certified FreshLife of Pie is so visually sumptuous, and newcomer Sharma is so strong, that occasional moments of so-so dialogue are easily forgiven. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Lee’s best-reviewed films.)
A sort of Avengers for the elementary school set, critics say Rise of the Guardians is stylish and briskly paced, but it’s only so-so in the storytelling department. When a nightmare king named Pitch attempts to spread darkness all over the world, it’s up to such unlikely heroes as Santa Claus, Jack Frost, and the Easter Bunny to save the children from misery and despair. The pundits say Rise of the Guardians should please small children with its whirl colorful action, and adults will find it to be a decent, if not groundbreaking, animated romp.
The original Red Dawn may have strained credibility, but at least there was a Communist Bloc to fear in 1984. Critics say a lack of topicality is only one of the problems with this new Red Dawn, which features some decent action sequences but gives a short shrift to character development and general logic. A foreign enemy has invaded a small town in Washington, and a group of teens that includes Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson wage guerilla warfare in order to save their community — and America itself. The pundits say Red Dawn makes precious little sense most of the time, and a solid cast of up-and-comers can do little with its generic dialogue. (Check out our 24 Frames gallery of the stars of Red Dawn.)
In the movies, characters fall in love all the time, but critics say they’re rarely as interesting as the folks in Silver Linings Playbook, a sharply written, terrifically acted film about fascinating people in dark situations. Bradley Cooper stars as a down-on-his-luck guy living with his parents after his release from a mental institution. He gets an unexpected boost when he meets a mysterious young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) who seems to offer a solution to his troubles. The pundits say the Certified FreshSilver Linings Playbook represents another triumph for director David O. Russell, who makes difficult material work splendidly with help from strong performances and witty dialogue.