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      • Focus poster image

        Focus

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In August 2016, Will Smith and Margot Robbie will lead the ensemble of the DC Comics adaptation "Suicide Squad," a presumptive superantihero franchise in the making. Meantime, consider the new film "Focus" as a sort of Intro-to-Chemistry test for the same actors. Do they pass? Screen chemistry between two individuals isn't really a pass/fail proposition. There are degrees involved. But let's pretend otherwise and say yes, Smith and Robbie pass, barely, with less than flyin... (read more)

      • Hot Tub Time Machine 2 poster image

        Hot Tub Time Machine 2

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        John Cusack has been reduced to Z-grade action comedies, shot in Australia and co-starring Thomas Jane, at this stage of his career. And he still turned down the payday that "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" promised, which tells you all you need to know about this half-baked sequel. It's just as well, as Cusack was basically the aging straight man in the first version of this stoner time travel comedy. Craig Robinson walked off with the picture, about three friends and a young guy who turns... (read more)

      • McFarland, USA poster image

        McFarland, USA

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A less talented and more shameless director might've turned it into cornmeal mush, but Niki Caro ("Whale Rider") has delivered unto the Disney corporation a Kevin Costner sports movie that works. Commercially? We'll see. But as an inspirational true story, fictionalized to the usual degree, it works. "McFarland, USA" is good news for a lot of reasons. One: Costner's previous film, "Black or White," was pretty lousy. Two: Upbeat, inspirational films about cross-co... (read more)

      • The Duff poster image

        The Duff

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "The DUFF" stands for "Designated Ugly Fat Friend." From that cruel acronym, we now have a movie designed to appeal to fans of the source material. Kody Keplinger wrote the book when she was 17 and a merry slave to high school clique cliches. But her sense of humor appealed to older readers as well -- basically to anyone who hadn't left behind the old teenage insecurities about looks, status, social stratification and feeling like a loser. We've all been there. What happen... (read more)

      • Fifty Shades of Grey poster image

        Fifty Shades of Grey

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Adapted and directed by women of considerably larger talent than novelist E.L. James, the film version of "Fifty Shades of Grey" turns out to be an intriguing tussle -- not in the sack, or in the Red Room of Pain, but in its internal war between the dubious erotica of James' novel (the first of three) and the far craftier trash offered by the movie. It's poetic justice. James' love story concerns an impossibly rich, sexually exotic, emotionally remote billionaire and the collegiate ... (read more)

      • Kingsman: The Secret Service poster image

        Kingsman: The Secret Service

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Silly, sadistic and finally a little galling, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" answers the question: What would Colin Firth have been like if he'd played James Bond? With faint traces of boredom in his eyes, Firth portrays one of the crack gentlemen-spies working for a supersecret and extraordinarily well-funded agency out to save the world from a crackpot billionaire philanthropist (Samuel L. Jackson, with a wee lisp and a plan to destroy the human species). As Firth's beautifully ta... (read more)

      • Old Fashioned poster image

        Old Fashioned

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        The faith-based romance "Old Fashioned" is a slow, preachy romantic comedy opening Valentine's Day week opposite "Fifty Shades of Grey," counterprogramming "love" that's kinky with love from Corinthians: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud ..." But pride, or pricing, is the film's worst enemy. The writer-director, perhaps for reasons of economy (surely not vanity), cast himself as the romantic lead. And R... (read more)

      • The Last Five Years poster image

        The Last Five Years

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Already, you can watch "The Last Five Years" on demand, on your couch, in your jammies. Adapter and director Richard LaGravenese's film version of the Jason Robert Brown stage show was made available last week on multiple platforms simultaneously. At home or in what the old folks call "a theater," the results -- modest, shrewd, uncompromised -- deserve the attention and the 94 minutes of any fan of the musical genre. This is not to say "The Last Five Years" is ou... (read more)

      • The Rewrite poster image

        The Rewrite

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips Hugh Grant doesn't flutter his eyes and stammer for comic effect any more. The long forelock that bounced over one sparkling blue eye was victim of that middle-aged-man trim from the hair stylist. But the guy still has a way with an offhandedly witty, cutting line. So in "The Rewrite," he is well cast as a once-hot screenwriter forced to pitch his ideas to the mere "embryos" who run film studios today, mispla... (read more)

      • Jupiter Ascending poster image

        Jupiter Ascending

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In "Jupiter Ascending" Channing Tatum's character is a "splice," an intergalactic bounty hunter with a distaste for shirts. His genetically engineered DNA contains both wolf and human strands. He sports wee pointy ears, a lemon-brown goatee and a terrific pair of jet boots. He's basically Shakespeare's Puck plunked down in a story recalling "The House of Atreus," but in space. The movie doesn't really work, but the jet boots would be the envy of Iron Man, and the... (read more)

      • Seventh Son poster image

        Seventh Son

        Peter Debruge, Chicago Tribune

        Variety Legend has it that the seventh son of a seventh son is born with certain special powers, which, in Joseph Delaney's "Wardstone Chronicles" fantasy-lit series, include the ability to see supernatural beings and, potentially, to kill witches. But given the unusually long gestation period for Universal's film adaptation, "Seventh Son," which opens in the U.S. Friday, nearly a year later than originally planned, one shouldn't be all that surprised to discover some pret... (read more)

      • The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water poster image

        The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        There's a new "SpongeBob" movie out, "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water." It's passable. The trade publication Variety predicts it will be "equally popular among the franchise's key grade-schooler and head-shop-owner demographics," and that sounds right to me. But I've always found SpongeBob's world terrifying, and while I'm probably overreacting, well, that's in the spirit of the fry-cook protagonist himself. "SpongeBob SquarePants" made its Nic... (read more)

      • Black or White poster image

        Black or White

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Is there anything more dispiriting than a sentence beginning with the phrase "It means well, but ..."? Here's a variation on that, and a dispiriting movie to go with it. "Black or White" may not be racist, exactly, but it patronizes its African-American characters up, down and sideways, and audiences of every ethnicity, background, hue and predilection can find something to dislike. Clearly, writer-director Mike Binder ("The Upside of Anger") wanted a uniter, not... (read more)

      • Project Almanac poster image

        Project Almanac

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        A couple of ingenious wrinkles distinguish this "Back to the Future" from "Looper" and its other cousins. It's not as moving as the best films of the genre, but it boasts decent effects (unlike the far funnier and more moving "Safety Not Guaranteed") and the kids-eye-view of what one does with this power makes it an entertaining ride. "You HAVE to kill Hitler. It's like 'Time Travel 101.'" Not if there are grades to be improved, lotteries to win, concer... (read more)

      • Cake poster image

        Cake

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Why didn't Jennifer Aniston get an Oscar nomination for "Cake"? The short answer to that question: With one of the five best actress slots taken by Julianne Moore for "Still Alice," there was simply no room for another routinely made health-crisis indie, salvaged by a strong, confident, unfussy turn from its female lead. Indifferently received at last year's Toronto film festival, "Cake" comes from a script by Patrick Tobin that poses another question: How does a... (read more)

      • Mommy poster image

        Mommy

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The first half of Montreal-born Xavier Dolan's "Mommy" feels like a modern classic, driven by galvanizing performances from Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement and Antoine Olivier Pilon. The second half succumbs to a less original, more manipulative brand of emotional excess. But see it; see those three performers go to town. This is Dolan's fifth feature, and he's only 25. The former child actor (he still acts) made a splash with his debut, "I Killed My Mother," a cry from a rag... (read more)

      • Mortdecai poster image

        Mortdecai

        Guy Lodge, Chicago Tribune

        Variety Critic Should the recent surge in male facial hair as a fashion accessory stall in 2015, barbers would be within their rights to blame "Mortdecai," a perky but obstinately unfunny heist caper with a hero irksome enough to make any happily mustachioed man reconsider his life choices. Directed by an off-form David Koepp, the film shoots for the swinging insouciance of '60s farce, but this story of a caddish art dealer enlisted by MI5 to assist in a knotty theft case is longer ... (read more)

      • Song One poster image

        Song One

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        It's common Hollywood practice to follow an Oscar win with a trip to big budget land, where the paychecks, the trailers and the impact on the culture are potentially huge. So Sandra Bullock did "Gravity" right after "Blind Side," and Anne Hathaway did "Interstellar" not long after picking up an Oscar for "Les Miserables." But Hathaway tried something altogether more modest and intimate in between paydays. "Song One" is a low-budget New York ro... (read more)

      • The Boy Next Door poster image

        The Boy Next Door

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        As the song from "Meet Me in St. Louis" put it, in a different story context: How can she ignore the boy next door? She can't! Jennifer Lopez just can't. The boy next door, played by Ryan Guzman, is just too darn hot. Psycho, but hot. And this week, after so much "American Sniper" analysis of patriotism, jingoism, geopolitical morality and cinematic debate, it's important to remember what two things we, as a nation, fight for every day of our lives: the sight of Lopez's ep... (read more)

      • The Humbling poster image

        The Humbling

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        We have forgotten how subtle Al Pacino could be, pre-"Hooah!" Something about his Oscar-winning turn in "Scent of a Woman" unleashed the beast, a performer as big, broad and puffed up as that mountain of hair he keeps teased about his head. So it's a bit of a jolt to see him as Simon Axler, a famous, fading stage and screen actor who is losing his grip and his ability to stay on script in "The Humbling." He rarely allows Simon the Pacino bellow, rarely cranks up ... (read more)

      • American Sniper poster image

        American Sniper

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        People will take what they want to take from "American Sniper," director Clint Eastwood's latest film. Already it has turned into an ideological war to be won or lost, rather than a fictionalized biopic to be debated. It's the most divisive movie on screens at the moment, and it appears to have caught a wave of desire among audiences -- conservative, liberal, centrist -- to return to stories of nerve-wracking wartime heroism in varying degrees of truth and fiction, from "Fury&q... (read more)

      • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) poster image

        Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Birdman" proves that a movie -- the grabbiest, most kinetic film ever made about putting on a play -- can soar on the wings of its own technical prowess, even as the banality of its ideas threatens to drag it back down to earth. Much of what you've heard is true. The movie's just plain fun to watch. Its star, Michael Keaton, is someone everyone likes and many love, an actor who made millions on "Batman" and settled for a different level of fame and smaller pieces of small... (read more)

      • Blackhat poster image

        Blackhat

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Blackhat" is a thickly plotted disappointment, yet it has three or four big sequences proving that director Michael Mann, who gave us "Thief," "Heat," "Collateral" and others, has lost none of his instincts for how to choreograph, photograph and edit screen violence. My favorite moment comes in a waterfront chase taking place in Hong Kong -- the movie's set variously in Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Malaysia and Indonesia -- when Mann's hand-held digital cam... (read more)

      • Paddington poster image

        Paddington

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Never judge by appearances. The poster image for "Paddington," already a hit in Britain, depicts the valiant little bear in the red hat and blue jacket careening down a flooded staircase in a bathtub, and the image (from the first of creator Michael Bond's 26 "Paddington" books) is rendered in such a way as to make the film look pushy and twee and eminently skippable. And yet the film isn't any of those things. It's witty and charming, with a considerable if sneaky emotion... (read more)

      • Still Alice poster image

        Still Alice

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

        Losing your mind is a terrible thing to watch, but the splendid acting in "Still Alice" makes it worth the pain. Scarier than any Elm Street nightmare, it succeeds despite itself not because of one strong performance but two. Oscar-nominated Julianne Moore stars as respected academic Alice Howland, shocked by her diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's disease, and the actress's work as someone coping with the ravages of the unthinkable deserves all the plaudits it's going to get. But ... (read more)

      • The Wedding Ringer poster image

        The Wedding Ringer

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        "The Wedding Ringer" is "Wedding Crashers Redux," a "Hangover Lite" that softens manic funnyman Kevin Hart's persona into someone almost as funny, but more sentimental than abrasive. That helps "Ringer" work as a bromantic comedy that feels like a romantic comedy. Like "Crashers," it's built on a killer conceit. It's about a guy who hires himself out as a rent-a-best-man. Jimmy Callahan (Hart) rescues grooms who have failed to create and hang ... (read more)

      • Inherent Vice poster image

        Inherent Vice

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It takes a genuine film artist to create an alternate-reality version of a familiar place -- real enough to make us feel we've been there, or somewhere near there, unreal enough to push it over the edge of familiarity and even sanity. Sorry, must be the dope talking. But this is what writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has done with "Inherent Vice," an exasperating shaggy dog of a noir goof, nearly 21/2 hours in length, based on the relatively compact 2009 Thomas Pynchon novel. The... (read more)

      • A Most Violent Year poster image

        A Most Violent Year

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Writer-director J.C. Chandor has made three good movies in a row, and they're his first three. He's a heartening exception to the usual percentages. His first, "Margin Call," compressed an epoch's worth of financial meltdowns and ruinous corruption into a few long, involving late-night conversations performed by all sorts of skillful actors dressed like people you'd trust with your money. His second, "All Is Lost," was as terse as "Margin Call" was yakky, putting... (read more)

      • The Imitation Game poster image

        The Imitation Game

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Actors love many things, but playing the smartest person in any given room is loveliest of all. Pleasant or hostile, elegant or socially maladroit, the smartest one in the room enjoys the zingers, the verbal checkmates and all the attention. As mathematician, code-breaker and martyred gay icon Alan Turing, one of the most ill-served heroes of World War II, Benedict Cumberbatch goes to town -- discreetly -- in the new film "The Imitation Game." Director Morten Tyldum ("Headhunte... (read more)

      • Unbroken poster image

        Unbroken

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 nonfiction account "Unbroken" introduced millions to Louis Zamperini, the Italian-American who competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and, in World War II, became an Army Air Corps bombardier flying missions over the South Pacific. In 1943 Zamperini was aboard a rickety B-24 aircraft, the "Green Hornet," when it crashed in the water. He and two other survivors, "Phil" Phillips and "Mac" McNamara, survived 33 days on a life raft, c... (read more)

      • Annie poster image

        Annie

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It brings no pleasure to report this, especially when the distributing studio, Sony, is dealing with a monstrous hacking scandal and a hard-knock year. Let's put it charitably. The risks taken by co-writer and director Will Gluck ("Easy A," "Friends With Benefits," both quite good) begin with pulling "Annie" out of the 1930s and plopping it down in contemporary Manhattan. Living in foster care up in Harlem, the girl formerly known as "orphan" (each time... (read more)

      • Mr. Turner poster image

        Mr. Turner

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Some films assert their rightness and sureness in the opening shot. Mike Leigh's excellent "Mr. Turner" is one of them, though Leigh and his inspired cinematographer, Dick Pope, are less concerned with conspicuous camera movement than with a charged sort of stillness. It's a beautiful film, and not merely that. When it's over you feel as if you have been somewhere, to another century, peering at the world through a different set of eyes. Now for that first shot. In 1820s Holland, a ... (read more)

      • Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb poster image

        Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb," otherwise known as "Night at the Museum 3," rates as more determinedly heartfelt than the first and not as witty as the second (and best). Also, no Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart in jodhpurs this time around. "Night at the Museum 3" closes out director Shawn Levy's effects-driven, family-friendly trilogy with three separate farewells. The most bittersweet parting involves the late Robin Williams. It's both touching and diff... (read more)

      • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies poster image

        The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        There is a moment late in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," after what may be the longest on-screen battle in movie history, when Ian McKellen's Gandalf sits quietly beside Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins and starts fussing with his pipe. No one fusses with a pipe more fussily than a great veteran English character actor, and as McKellen carefully scrapes out the bowl, getting it ready for a nice little smoke, you wonder if director Peter Jackson is going to turn this bit ... (read more)

      • Exodus: Gods and Kings poster image

        Exodus: Gods and Kings

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        What do the entrails say about "Exodus: Gods and Kings," director Ridley Scott's ambitious retelling of the Moses story, the exodus from Egypt, the burning bush, the frogs, the boils, the hail, the commandments, the Red Sea crossing and the rest of it? Not bad, they say. Not great; not bad. Those anticipating a camp hoot will be disappointed. For all his reliance on digital effects, director Scott's sensibilities lean old-school, and he has sense enough to keep everybody on screen i... (read more)

      • Top Five poster image

        Top Five

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "I don't feel funny anymore," complains the movie star played by Chris Rock in "Top Five," but don't worry. Unlike Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories," this cinematic confessional, which is also a genial wish-fulfillment fantasy, is actually funny. It's also indulgent, uneven and naggingly misogynist, which is weird, given how sharp writer-director Rock has been on any number of other subjects lately. In the runup to the release of "Top Five," Rock has be... (read more)

      • Horrible Bosses 2 poster image

        Horrible Bosses 2

        Justin Chang, Chicago Tribune

        Variety At the risk of suggesting that "Horrible Bosses 2" has a compelling reason to exist, it's worth noting that the movie does function, on one level, as an anti-capitalist revenge fantasy aimed at the excesses of the 1 percent. Mainly, however, this inane and incredibly tasteless sequel qualifies as an excuse to bring back those hard-working funnymen Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis for another round of amateur-criminal high jinks and semi-improvised vulgarity, jab... (read more)

      • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 poster image

        The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In honor of the title we'll break this part of the sentence with a colon, and then use a portentous dash: "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1" is a worthy third movie in the Suzanne Collins franchise -- destined to satisfy the legions of filmgoers willing to swing with a lot of scheming and skulking in an underground bunker resembling the world's most frightening Marriott, in order to get to the revolution. The third book in Collins' dystopian-literature juggernaut has been halv... (read more)

      • Beyond the Lights poster image

        Beyond the Lights

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        "Beyond the Lights" is another pain-behind-the-music romance. But it's so well written, cast and played that we lose ourselves in the comfort food familiarity of it all. This hip-hop-era "Bodyguard" has heart and soul, thanks to stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Minnie Driver and Nate Parker. Simple as it is, it simply works. Mbatha-Raw shows a totally different set of skills from those on display in her breakout period piece hit "Belle." As rising hip-hop phenom Noni, she ... (read more)

      • Dumb and Dumber To poster image

        Dumb and Dumber To

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        Twenty years after they permanently lowered the bar on broad and dumb character comedies, Lloyd and Harry are back, "Dumb and Dumber" than ever in "Dumb and Dumber To." And within moments of the opening credits, you may find yourself overcome with sentimental warmth at seeing two 50-something actors as characters that the years have not made smarter. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels energetically reprise their popular roles, and the warmth follows. Those fart joke farceurs, the... (read more)

      • Foxcatcher poster image

        Foxcatcher

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Does extreme privilege point, like an arrow, to a sort of rot within the true-blue American spirit? Putting criminal insanity aside for a moment, the answer's a qualified, sorrowful yes in director Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher," a true-crime drama hailed in many quarters as a modern classic since it debuted six months ago at the Cannes Film Festival. Sometimes you encounter a movie begging to be revisited a decade from now, simply to see which one of you has changed more in the inte... (read more)

      • The Homesman poster image

        The Homesman

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In its setting and in its blunt, unfussy style, director, co-writer and star Tommy Lee Jones' "The Homesman" is a film out of time. It takes place in 1855, the year after the creation of the Nebraska Territory. Like Jones' previous theatrical feature, the excellent "Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," "The Homesman" expands the conventional notion of what Westerns typically address in terms of story, geography and mythology. This one's a margin Western. Frustra... (read more)

      • Big Hero 6 poster image

        Big Hero 6

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Big Hero 6" we have a robot considerably more beguiling than his movie. Yet there's enough visual invention afoot, and enough spirited interplay among the human characters, to keep things bobbing along. Baymax is the name of the robot in question. He resembles a flotation device or the Michelin Man's blobbier brother. He and his adventures come from the pages of Marvel Comics, which marks a first for Disney animation. It will not be the last; Disney's purchase of Marvel five years ... (read more)

      • Interstellar poster image

        Interstellar

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A knockout one minute, a punch-drunk crazy film the next, "Interstellar" is a highly stimulating mess. Emotionally it's also a mess, and that's what makes it worth its 165 minutes -- minutes made possible by co-writer and director Christopher Nolan's prior global success with his brooding, increasingly nasty "Batman" films, and with the commercially viable head-trip that was "Inception." You can call "Interstellar" corny or reiterative or just plain dau... (read more)

      • Rosewater poster image

        Rosewater

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        How many casual American moviegoers would be interested in "Rosewater" if an unknown Jon had written and directed it, instead of Jon Stewart, famous "Daily Show" host and first-time feature filmmaker? Well, Stewart did direct "Rosewater," and even with its limitations, the film works. Stewart has serious, dramatically astute talent behind the camera, as well as (big shock) a sense of humor. He's telling his fictionalized version of the story of Maziar Bahari, a L... (read more)

      • The Theory of Everything poster image

        The Theory of Everything

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Relationally, you can't entirely trust what you're seeing in "The Theory of Everything," the romanticized portrait of astrophysicist superstar Stephen Hawking and his many years spent with his first wife, Jane Hawking. Yet biopics are funny this way: Even satisfying ones can fudge and elide and gloss over any number of difficulties, while in this instance offering a steadily absorbing and movingly acted depiction of a marriage whose time comes, and then goes. Eddie Redmayne, last se... (read more)

      • Horns poster image

        Horns

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        If "Horns" had the zip of the source novel's first two paragraphs, we'd have a movie instead of a mess. The book, published in 2010, begins by laying out the dilemma author Joe Hill invents for his protagonist. Ignatius "Ig" Perrish has a hangover, and the morning after a night of unspecified "terrible things," he puts his hands to his temples and realizes he has a "pair of knobby pointed protuberances" where none used to be. A murder mystery, "Hor... (read more)

      • Nightcrawler poster image

        Nightcrawler

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Jake Gyllenhaal lost 30 pounds for his new movie, "Nightcrawler," and the result is simple and eerie, much like the film itself. He appears to be wearing a Jake Gyllenhaal mask, all cheekbones, sallow complexion and unblinking laser-beam eyes. His character is Lou Bloom, a freelance LA crime scene videographer. Is this man human, exactly? Lou's small talk leans heavy on the self-help axioms and self-directed pep rallies; it's as if he were an alien learning to pass for earthling by ... (read more)

      • Citizenfour poster image

        Citizenfour

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips A cool, steady stream of anxiety, Laura Poitras' documentary "Citizenfour" draws from the visual language and buggy paranoia of the best-known 1970s political thrillers: "The Conversation," "The Parallax View," "Three Days of the Condor," "All the President's Men." Each of the cities filmed in "Citizenfour" gets its own quiet yet sinister establishing shot, so that Rio ... (read more)

      • Low Down poster image

        Low Down

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It'll be a chilly day in hell before John Hawkes gets an Oscar nomination for his work in the cinematic memoir "Low Down," given the focus on Michael Keaton for "Birdman" and Benedict Cumberbatch for "The Imitation Game" and so on. So be it. "Low Down" is small, with virtually no marketing behind it. It's also very good. Hawkes breaks your heart as a man struggling with addiction and disappointment. The actor, who first came to wide attention in "W... (read more)

      • St. Vincent poster image

        St. Vincent

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        For all the boozed and abusive amusement provided by the great Bill Murray in the good-enough "St. Vincent," the moment I liked best was Naomi Watts as a pregnant Russian stripper, manhandling a vacuum across the Murray character's ancient carpet. In movies as in life, it's the little things. In another scene, the alcoholic, misanthropic Vietnam vet played by Murray is locking horns with a snippy young teller at his bank. In frustration Murray thunks his forehead against the glass. ... (read more)

      • Dear White People poster image

        Dear White People

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        So many movies come out of the Sundance Film Festival, and others like it, laden with praise but oddly short on narrative invention, visual instincts and a story with something on its mind. Heartiest congratulations to "Dear White People," which is equipped with all three. It's a slyly provocative achievement and a serious calling card for its writer-director, Justin Simien. He sets his ensemble affair on the campus of the fictional Ivy League enclave Winchester University, where Af... (read more)

      • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day poster image

        Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        Whatever else children take from Judith Viorst's delightful "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," the sly subtext of this picture-heavy book is how exhausting and sometimes misguided the optimism of the eternally optimistic can be. Parents who smile all the time, who make light of the weight of the world kids carry around sometimes? Annoying, especially to those kids. That's what the film version kicks around the block, and rather amusingly, a few times. Lif... (read more)

      • One Chance poster image

        One Chance

        Annlee Ellingson, Chicago Tribune

        Before Susan Boyle there was Paul Potts, a schlubby car-phone salesman from Wales who blew Simon Cowell and his fellow judges away on the first episode of "Britain's Got Talent" with his rendition of Puccini's aria "Nessun Dorma." The son of a steelworker with a chipped front tooth and the voice of an angel won that first season of the reality show, but his progression through the competition is just an afterthought in "One Chance," the story of his life leading ... (read more)

      • The Judge poster image

        The Judge

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Of the 141 minutes in "The Judge," roughly 70 work well, hold the screen and allow a ripe ensemble cast the chance to do its thing, i.e., act. The other 71 are dominated by narrative machinery going ka-THUNKITA-thunkita-thunkita. This is the same sound a clothes dryer makes when a half-dozen John Grisham hardcovers are tossed in with an iron-plated movie star and 30 pounds of rocks. Even when it clutters up the story, the script by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque takes every opportunit... (read more)

      • Annabelle poster image

        Annabelle

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The devil-doll lark "Annabelle" exists to make its host movie, last year's excellent "The Conjuring," look even better by comparison. As prequels go, it's not bad, though a couple of things keeping it from amounting to more are worth discussing, briefly, before we all get back to our lives. Here's one drawback: It looks like cheap digital crud. Horror fans are used to lo-fi visual scares, especially in the found-footage genre, but "Annabelle" is not one of those ... (read more)

      • Gone Girl poster image

        Gone Girl

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        David Fincher's film version of the Gillian Flynn bestseller "Gone Girl" is a stealthy, snake-like achievement. It's everything the book was and more -- more, certainly, in its sinister, brackish atmosphere dominated by mustard-yellow fluorescence, designed to make you squint, recoil and then lean in a little closer. So often in Fincher's movies, and especially in this one, actors are placed precisely against a window, or in shadows surrounded by low-wattage electric light sources. ... (read more)

      • The Boxtrolls poster image

        The Boxtrolls

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Fans of "Coraline" and "ParaNorman," the deft, eccentric supernatural fairy tales created by Oregon-based Laika animation house, have every reason to anticipate "The Boxtrolls." Laika's latest feature is based on Alan Snow's 2005 book "Here Be Monsters!" part one of "The Ratbridge Chronicles." For the film's purposes, the mythical hilltop town of Ratbridge has changed its name to Cheesebridge. Something else has changed en route to the screen.... (read more)

      • The Equalizer poster image

        The Equalizer

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Based loosely on the 1985-1989 television series, on which Edward Woodward never stuck garden shears in an enemy's throat and never, ever stabbed anyone through the neck with a corkscrew, "The Equalizer" smells like a hit. But I wish it had one completely honest scene, where (for example) someone asks the avenging angel-hero: "Who are you?" And he answers: "I'm Denzel Washington. And Denzel Washington can make even this thing watchable." More and more with action... (read more)

      • Dolphin Tale 2 poster image

        Dolphin Tale 2

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        You might have thought "Dolphin Tale," the sleeper hit kids' film of a few falls back, was a complete, compact and uplifting story that didn't really need a second act. If so, you were on the money. It was the fictionalized account of the true story of Winter, a badly injured dolphin who was rescued by the Clearwater (Fla.) Aquarium, and how a prosthetic tail was fabricated for her, allowing her to swim and survive and inspire veterans, cancer survivors and accident victims of all a... (read more)

      • The Drop poster image

        The Drop

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Even a terrible actor could win friends and influence moviegoers in the role of Bob, a sweetie-pie Brooklyn bartender who saves an injured pit bull puppy from a garbage can in the opening minutes of "The Drop," expanded by screenwriter Dennis Lehane from his own short story, "Animal Rescue." For the record, Tom Hardy is not a terrible actor. He's an excellent one. In "The Drop," Hardy, brandishing (or, rather, Brando-ishing) an outer-borough dialect and mumble, i... (read more)

      • Love Is Strange poster image

        Love Is Strange

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Something wonderful happens in the final minutes of "Love Is Strange." A careful, humble examination of a marriage opens up emotionally, thanks in large part to co-writer and director Ira Sachs' use of a gorgeous lullaby, Chopin's Berceuse Op. 57 in D-flat major. From the moment a key supporting character at last allows himself to grieve the loss of a loved one, up through the ensuing 11 or 12 exterior shots, photographed on the streets of New York alive with renewal and young love,... (read more)

      • Into the Storm poster image

        Into the Storm

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Like "The Passion of Joan of Arc," "Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki" and "Dude, Where's My Car?" "Into the Storm" is a movie. And like the wind, this particular movie blows tall, unstable columns of hot air willy-nilly. In the spirit of "Sharknado" and "Sharknado 2," "Into the Storm" eventually goes into blender mode and mixes its elements of wind column terror, smoothie-style. At one point one of the twisters (there are severa... (read more)

      • Guardians of the Galaxy poster image

        Guardians of the Galaxy

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Like the '70s cassette mix tape so dear to its hero, "Guardians of the Galaxy" scavenges all sorts of "greatest hits" precedents, from "Iron Man" on down, to come up with its own summertime fling. It's looser, scruffier and more overtly comic than the average Marvel action fantasy. And despite the usual load of violence, not all of it properly handled, the film owes its relative buoyancy above all to Chris Pratt as the wisecracking space rogue at the helm. There ... (read more)

      • Lucy poster image

        Lucy

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Le schlockmeister Luc Besson has no beef with men and guns, or he wouldn't have made the "Transporter" movies with Jason Statham. Or written "Taken." But in the world according to Besson, older girls ("La Femme Nikita") and young women in wee skirts and stiletto heels, gliding in slow motion toward their latest deserving victims of firearm violence, carrying nicely polished automatic weapons in each perfectly manicured hand -- that's the stuff, that's what makes ... (read more)

      • Magic in the Moonlight poster image

        Magic in the Moonlight

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Among recent Woody Allen films, the crabby but pretty "Magic in the Moonlight" is a well-thumbed playing card from the middle of the deck, not one of his fully good ones ("Midnight in Paris," "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), not one of the whiffs ("Cassandra's Dream," "Scoop," "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"). The new one's set in 1928 in the south of France, where people really do seem on the verge of asking, "Tennis, anyone?&... (read more)

      • Alive Inside poster image

        Alive Inside

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips Think of them as Lazarus moments. One by one, we are introduced to a series of elderly people with serious dementia. People who've barely said a word in years, who don't recognize their children, who sit around nursing homes like the living dead. Then Dan Cohen does something to them, and it's like a switch has been turned on. They become gloriously happy and alive. As detailed in the joyous, unexpectedly uplifting "Alive I... (read more)

      • Boyhood poster image

        Boyhood

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By the midpoint of writer-director Richard Linklater's gentle marvel "Boyhood," the round-faced young Texas boy played by Ellar Coltrane has become a lanky, plaintive teenager. Already an hour or so of screen time has floated by. Linklater made the film with a core group of actors over a 12-year period, starting with the kids played by Coltrane and Linklater's daughter, Lorelei Linklater, at ages 7 and 9, respectively. They change so quickly, these two. As the characters become teen... (read more)

      • Edge of Tomorrow poster image

        Edge of Tomorrow

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Insanely derivative, frenetically enjoyable, "Edge of Tomorrow" takes gaming to a new level of big-screen indulgence, sending Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt through the same alien-invasion scenario over and over until they learn how to win, put down the consoles and get off the couch for a little lunch and some fresh air, maybe. The film is based on a Japanese graphic novel "All You Need is Kill." It owes a tremendous amount of its structure, and appeal, to "Groundhog Day... (read more)

      • Maleficent poster image

        Maleficent

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The formula works. It worked with "Wicked" on stage and it worked with "Frozen" on film -- tilting the storytelling prism so that a new angle on a well-known fairy tale appears in the light. The strategy depends on humanizing characters formerly known as evil, so that another tale of conflicted impulses emerges from the story we know, driven by female antagonist/protagonist hybrids who aren't bad, just misunderstood. So it goes with "Maleficent," the Disney corpo... (read more)

      • Ida poster image

        Ida

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips One of the year's gems, photographed in velvety, expressive black-and-white by two different cinematographers working as one, "Ida" accomplishes so much, so surely in its 80 minutes, it's as if the director Pawel Pawlikowski had dared himself: How can I tell this fascinating story efficiently yet without rushing and abridging the narrative? His answer is the film itself, set in early 1960s Poland, not so many years aft... (read more)

      • Rio 2 poster image

        Rio 2

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In the commercial animation realm, there are movies that reach for something, or many things. Others are content merely to baby-sit. The 2011 hit "Rio" was a baby sitter. And so is "Rio 2," a routine sequel following the perilous adventures of the rare blue macaws Blu (wow, clever character name), Jewel and their offspring as they leave urban Rio life for a chaotic trip to Amazon rain forest country. In the jungle the birds' sympathetic human protectors Linda and Tulio (no... (read more)

      • The Missing Picture poster image

        The Missing Picture

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips As brilliantly as Art Spiegelman examined his parents' experiences of the Holocaust in the graphic novel "Maus," the Cambodian-born filmmaker and author Rithy Panh relives his own survival of the Khmer Rouge regime in "The Missing Picture." It's a fantastic film, and while I loved the movie that won this year's best documentary Oscar, "Twenty Feet From Stardom," that one's a blip on the world radar ... (read more)

      • Big Men poster image

        Big Men

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

        No single resource is more essential to modern life than oil, and no film offers a more incisive look at how the enormous wealth oil creates subverts the morality of individuals, corporations, even entire countries than Rachel Boynton's compelling documentary "Big Men." Those who remember Boynton's excellent previous film, "Our Brand Is Crisis," an examination of political consultants working at the highest levels of Latin American elections, know this director's specialty... (read more)

      • The Grand Budapest Hotel poster image

        The Grand Budapest Hotel

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Ever since the moment in "Bottle Rocket" (1996) when Luke Wilson's character paused during a robbery of his own boyhood home to straighten a toy soldier on a bedroom shelf, writer-director Wes Anderson announced his intentions as an artist of serenely extreme exactitude. This is a filmmaker, working in varying degrees of visual stylization, who operates within precise notions of how the universe of his imagining will proceed in terms of story and how his characters will operate with... (read more)

      • The LEGO Movie poster image

        The LEGO Movie

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Finally! A comedy that works. An animated film with a look -- a kinetic aesthetic honoring its product line's bright, bricklike origins -- that isn't like every other clinically rounded and bland digital 3-D effort. A movie that works for the Lego-indebted parent as well as the Lego-crazed offspring. A movie that, in its brilliantly crammed first half especially, will work even if you don't give a rip about Legos. "The Lego Movie" proves that you can soar directly into and then stra... (read more)

      • Finding Fela poster image

        Finding Fela

        Sheri Linden, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips An audacious performer and iconoclast, the Nigerian musician Fela Kuti proves a challenging subject for a conventional documentary. That's a theme of sorts in Alex Gibney's "Finding Fela!," which is admirably comprehensive but disappointingly short on emotional impact. Amid the densely packed mix of archival material and talking-head interviews, the footage and audio recordings of Fela himself are often electrifying, w... (read more)

      • Walking With Dinosaurs poster image

        Walking With Dinosaurs

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        The BBC series "Walking With Dinosaurs" gets a kid-friendly big-screen treatment, complete with cutesy story and dino-poop jokes, in "Walking With Dinosaurs 3D." Aimed squarely at that dino-crazy demographic (7-12), it pumps a few IQ points into a kid film genre sorely in need of them. "Walking" takes care to ID each new dinosaur species introduced, including factoids about what they ate and any special skills they might have had. It's downright educational. Just... (read more)

      • Philomena poster image

        Philomena

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips On the job for 55 years, Judi Dench elevates everything she does, from M in the James Bond epics to the less intimidating but equally determined "little old Irish lady" who's the title character in "Philomena." Dench is not the only reason to see this unapologetic crowd-pleaser, but she is the best one. As directed by the veteran Stephen Frears, "Philomena's" "inspired by true events" narr... (read more)

      • Nebraska poster image

        Nebraska

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The small and medium towns in the Midwest and the Great Plains region aren't so different from any other part -- rural, urban or in between -- of the United States. Half the people don't talk much, while the other half chatter to fill the silence. It's a time-honored cliche according to Garrison Keillor, but there's truth in it. And there truly are a million or more men in this country like Woody Grant, the tight-lipped subject of Alexander Payne's latest film, "Nebraska." Throughou... (read more)

      • Last Vegas poster image

        Last Vegas

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A genial "Hangover" for the AARP set, "Last Vegas" is roughly what you'd expect, or fear, but a little better. The four stars, born between 1937 and 1947, are Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline. The setup: Lifelong Flatbush-born pals reunite for the bachelor party of the Douglas character, a Malibu slicko marrying a much younger woman. Old grudges reignite; new high jinks (biking contest judging, fistfights with twerps one-third their age) ensu... (read more)

      • Lee Daniels' The Butler poster image

        Lee Daniels' The Butler

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The best scenes in "Lee Daniels' The Butler" -- a family farewell at a bus station; a few drinks and a few dangerous glances among friends in an ordinary Washington, D.C., living room -- steer clear of the White House and keep a comfortable and freeing distance from the flotilla of celebrity impersonations sailing by. The supporting cast of "The Butler" is being described by the Weinstein Company promotional materials as "incredible," and that's accurate, in the ... (read more)

      • Only God Forgives poster image

        Only God Forgives

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Nicolas Winding Refn's pretty little bore "Only God Forgives" stars the director's "Drive" dreamboat Ryan Gosling, this time speaking less and staring, unblinkingly, more than he did in "Drive." Gosling portrays Julian, a Bangkok drug dealer and kickboxing promoter whose sole function in the film is to glare, or glower, while the blood-red neon glows all around him. This is the worst, least, dumbest picture made by people of talent this year, although Kristin Sco... (read more)

      • Turbo poster image

        Turbo

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        In animation shorthand, "Turbo" is "Cars" with snails. It's light on the jokes, but cute, with animation so vivid it looks photo-real. It's another "impossible dream" tale, this time of a motor head mollusk who has a need for "terrifying, blinding speed." Theo (Ryan Gosling) is an auto-racing obsessed garden snail who longs to escape his colony of tomato-munchers. The occasional terror by a Big Wheel-riding tyke nicknamed "Shell Crusher" and t... (read more)

      • Pacific Rim poster image

        Pacific Rim

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The Summer of Loud continues this week with "Pacific Rim," full of sound and fury signifying nothing more than a monster movie in full roar. Director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro's clever if rather wearying ode to Japanese sea-beast mythology is best enjoyed with a pair of earplugs and on a short night's sleep. That is to say: It's closer to the hammering "Transformers" aesthetic than expected. Yet the weirdness around the edges saves it from impersonality. In this nea... (read more)

      • Fast & Furious 6 poster image

        Fast & Furious 6

        Christopher Borrelli, Chicago Tribune

        "Fast & Furious 6," which surely maxed out Universal's tank-top budget for the year, and sustains its joyful, unpretentious ridiculousness so perfectly that I secretly hoped the "6" meant "hours long," ends with a disclaimer, the sort of legalese that typically arrives at the tail end of the closing credits. To paraphrase: On the way out of this theater, should you get the urge to drive your tank into traffic across a towering bridge in Spain, or feel the need to... (read more)

      • Magic Mike poster image

        Magic Mike

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It's crazy to oversell "Magic Mike," or fluff it up into something its makers never intended. It is not a major motion picture. It is not searing melodrama, though in story outline terms -- the least interesting terms by which to engage with director Steven Soderbergh's loose, funky and blithely engaging workplace comedy -- it resembles "Showgirls" with showboys, though without the hysteria or the punitive humiliation. So what is it, then? Inspired by star and producer Cha... (read more)

      • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel poster image

        The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Media Services Film Clips A comedy-drama saved by the casting bell, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" arranges for a tiptop collection of British character women and men to bring out the best in a pleasantly predictable story. Wait. Shouldn't that be "unhappily predictable"? Not always, folks: Some projects are better off going easy on the surprises, and concentrating on a reassuring level of actorly craft. When the racist crank comple... (read more)

      • The Pirates! Band of Misfits poster image

        The Pirates! Band of Misfits

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Maniacally inventive and tightly packed, if not overpacked, "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" comes from the Aardman animation folks behind "Wallace & Gromit," "Chicken Run" and, more recently, "Arthur Christmas." Their latest may be easier to admire than to love; it's more tone-funny and incidental-muttered-aside funny than, for example, your average DreamWorks smash, where every other comic beat ends with a cartoon animal getting bashed in the nethers an... (read more)

      • Dr. Seuss' the Lorax poster image

        Dr. Seuss' the Lorax

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The new animated feature "The Lorax," known in its entirety as "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" to keep it straight from "John Grisham's The Lorax," does a few smaller things right but the bigger things not quite. I've come to fear these movies. I love Seuss so much, even his second-shelf works. Who doesn't feel protective of authors and illustrators they love? And not just because we were young when we made their acquaintance. As with "Horton Hears a Who!" four ... (read more)

      • The Vow poster image

        The Vow

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Two new products -- and that's what they are -- at the movies this week present packages of nearly identical quality (eh), transcended by their respective top-billed stars who happen also to be excellent, crud-elevating actors. This is an excellent skill to hone if you're both an actor and a star, because a significant portion of most careers is spent elevating crud. But "The Vow"is agreeable enough. It may be puddin'-headed but it's not soul-crushing. Thirty minutes into the pictur... (read more)

      • The Muppets poster image

        The Muppets

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A frisky new film showcasing some old pals made out of felt, charm and some kind of genius, the Disney release "The Muppets" overcomes a jaded streak reflecting its makers' nervousness about selling Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and the gang to an audience unfamiliar with "Sesame Street" (a Muppets chapter conspicuously left out of Disney's production notes) or "The Muppet Show" or the best of the earlier feature-length films, "The Great Muppet Ca... (read more)

      • Puss in Boots poster image

        Puss in Boots

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        DreamWorks' cunning casting of the silky Spaniard Antonio Banderas as a swashbuckling Puss in Boots pays off, brilliantly, in "Puss in Boots," a star vehicle for the nursery rhyme kitty cat from the "Shrek" movies. Thanks to Banderas and his Corinthian-leather purr and writers who know how to use it, "Puss" is the best animated film of 2011. This is no mere "Shrek" sequel. There is sex appeal in every syllable, swagger in every line. And even kids get t... (read more)

      • Drive poster image

        Drive

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Drive" begins extremely well and ends in a muddle of ultraviolence, hypocrisy and stylistic preening, which won't be any sort of deterrent for those who like its looks. Director Nicolas Winding Refn's avenging-angel thriller premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival, where Refn won the directing prize, and every supersaturated image is designed for hushed adoration. If the movie were a movie star, it'd be looking just past you to see if someone cooler had recently come in. Ryan... (read more)

      • Crazy, Stupid, Love. poster image

        Crazy, Stupid, Love.

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In the aggravatingly punctuated romantic comedy "Crazy, Stupid, Love." (can you even believe that period?) does anyone ever discuss why the central couple, played by Steve Carell and Julianne Moore, should or shouldn't be together? Or the romantic challenges that face two people who met in high school, when they were pre-adults, and settled down when their friends were still wound up over their latest romances? No, they don't. They do not talk about such matters. Too bad, because th... (read more)

      • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 poster image

        Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It has taken Harry Potter eight full-length films to really have it out with Lord Voldemort, the reptilian prince of darkness with the undeniable leadership qualities and a clear, can-do game plan. With an ordinary franchise, the audience -- even an audience pre-devoted to J.K. Rowling's books -- would've grown itchy long ago, renouncing its allegiance and moving on. But this is no ordinary franchise. As the 21st century has lurched, in the Muggle world, from terrorism to pervasive, political... (read more)

      • Fast Five: The IMAX Experience poster image

        Fast Five: The IMAX Experience

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        As adolescent male power fantasies go, "Fast Five" has an undeniable trashy charm. Things blow up right and left, muscle cars are pulverized, sexpots vamp and brawny men wallop the tar out of one another. Yet there are pauses between adrenaline-packed driving sequences, shootouts and explosions for three romance subplots and two involving babies. Here's a summer popcorn flick strong enough for a man and gentle enough for a woman. The story, such as it is, begins with an exhilarating... (read more)

      • Rango poster image

        Rango

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        As a family demographic product, "Rango" has a million selling points, among them an unusually strong voice cast headed by Johnny Depp in tremulous-aesthete mode, a popular live-action director making his feature animation debut, and a twist on a genre temporarily back in vogue, thanks to "True Grit." It is, for what it is, a work of considerable care and craft. And it's completely soulless. I may be in the minority. But seeing this sour riff on everything from "Cat B... (read more)

      • Black Swan poster image

        Black Swan

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Mainlining Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" ballet score like a drug addict, "Black Swan" pushes its protagonist, a Manhattan ballerina devoted (and then some) to her craft, to the brink of insanity and then a couple of subway stops beyond. Director Darren Aronofsky's film is with her all the way. Its intensity risks absurdity in nearly every scene, even the ones not featuring Winona Ryder as the alcoholic castoff of the sneering ballet impresario played by Vincent Cassel. Is &qu... (read more)

      • Tron: Legacy: The IMAX Experience poster image

        Tron: Legacy: The IMAX Experience

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Imagine being "trapped ... inside an electronic arena!" This is how the coming-attractions trailer for the original "Tron" sold the goods back in 1982. Now comes Disney's remake of its cult property, fancied up with 3-D and the high-minded title, "TRON: Legacy." The results impart that "trapped" feeling all too well. It's a sullen affair, dominated by a grim visual palette that intrigues for about 30 minutes. Thereafter I found myself wishing I could sw... (read more)

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