A three star movie, for me, is a good movie that falls short of being great or even very good. Still, it's the star rating at which I start recommending films. I tend to give three star movies what I call a "conditional recommendation." These are movies that aren't great enough that I think you really need to see them, but you'll have a good time. If you're interested in the film for some reason, then you'll have better than a good time. Regardless, you'll like these movies, even if they aren't essential.
Good – “Sure, why not?” (11) – Conditionally Recommended
Following the Ninth: In the Footsteps of Beethoven’s Final Symphony (2013) – Kerry Candaele - ***
Documentary about the historical usage of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in times of upheaval and rebellion is engaging, but never quite as powerful as it could be.
The F Word (2013) – Michael Dowse - ***
The chemistry of Daniel Radcliffe & Zoe Kazan and a slightly smarter than usual script elevates this rom-com above the totally formulaic.
Get On Up (2014) – Tate Taylor - ***
Electrifying music and an astonishing performance from Chadwick Boseman as James Brown; script unfortunately isn’t particularly deep or insightful.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) – Peter Jackson - ***
Weakest of Jackson’s trilogy suffers from extreme overlength and, in Smaug, an annoyingly incompetent villain; still, the thrills are sporadically there.
The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) – Lasse Hallstrom - ***
Clichéd tale of restaurateurs & culture clash is more evocative and smartly written than expected; astoundingly beautiful cinematography.
Jerusalem (2013) – Daniel Ferguson - ***
Forty-five minute IMAX film takes the viewer on a wonderful journey through Jerusalem’s history and landmarks; the attempt to explore the lives of three girls that live in modern day Jerusalem is corny and unnecessary.
Karama Has No Walls (2013) – Sara Ishaq - ***
Short documentary about one particular skirmish in the Arab Spring; certainly gripping, but without anything particular to say.
Particle Fever (2013) – Mark Levinson - ***
Documentary about the search for the Higgs-Boson particle is accessible to non-experts, but occasionally hammers its points about technology and science home with a sledge-hammer.
Penguins of Madagascar (2014) – Eric Darnell, Simon J. Smith - ***
Undeniably silly and often to corny to be funny, but when it’s funny, it’s gut-bustingly hilarious. Great voice cast too.
Pretty Woman (1990) – Garry Marshall - ***
Iconic film remains morally troublesome and surprisingly dark; the late film decision to push for a happy ending is a mistake.
The Rover (2014) – David Michod - ***
Guy Pearce gives his best performance in over a decade as a bitter, broken man traversing the wilds of Australia in a grim, post-apocalyptic world; nihilistic script is his equal, but co-star Robert Pattinson is genuinely awful. Too bad; everything else here is phenomenal.
The Theory of Everything (2014) – James Marsh - ***
Anchored by two wonderful performances, this biography of Stephen Hawking is diminished by its fruitless search to find something of thematic interest.
The Unknown Known (2013) – Errol Morris - ***
Donald Rumsfeld is a compelling interview subject, but not even a gifted filmmaker like Morris is really able to crack the enigmatic man or understand him.