• Star Trek (Abrams, 2009)

    I don't imagine kids running out of Abrams' movie and staring at the nighttime sky, and wondering about the mysteries of the universe, and perhaps getting inspired to visit their local science museums or become engaged with astronomy or space travel. What I see are frat boys saying, "dude, let's get totally smashed and check out that bangin' Star Trek movie," and then forgetting about having watched it ten minutes after the movie's over.

  • Luis Buñuel

    Or, perhaps it is just my personal history (or lack of it) that leaves me probing the surfaces of Buñuel's works like blocks of marble, trying to feel my way around to the human portrait that lies beneath. Am I not Roman Catholic enough to "get it"? Not Latin enough? Surely it's not a case of my being not cynical enough? I mean, I find the contemptous light to which everyone in Buñuel's universe gets held up to misanthropic and tedious, and that's coming from a man who loves Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

  • Les Miserables (Bernard, 1934)

    Victor Hugo's novel is a timeless classic which has been retold and well loved since its inception, in part because it tells the story of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. The contemporary stage adaptation focuses on the antagonistic relationship between Valjean and Javert, but Bernard's film really focuses more on Valjean's spiritual development, echoing the novel's emphasis on his experience of grace and the way that it changes him gradually. Valjean is one of the great characters in the history of literature, and Harry Baur is totally up to the task of bringing him to life. The film feels less like an adaptation than a translation, and every time I assumed there would be a concession to staging or special effects--the barricades, the sewers--Bernard is able to take us there without drawing attention to the effects for effects sake.