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      • 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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • Laggies poster image

        Laggies

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In "Laggies," Keira Knightley tries on a generic American dialect. Based on the results, the actress defines that as "nasal, and how!" Her character, Megan, is 28 years old and a Seattle native. She has thus far let life happen to her, and around her. She lacks a career (she freelances as a sign-twirler for her accountant father, played by Jeff Garlin) and finds herself through another year of a lengthy relationship with her boyfriend, nice but dull, played by Mark Webber.... (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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • The Best of Me poster image

        The Best of Me

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        For an hour or so, Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden gamely swim against the current, fighting the torpid tide of tripe that romance novelist Nicholas Sparks sends their way in the latest adaptation of one of his books. It's sad to watch them strain and struggle and then give up as the lachrymose "The Best of Me" drowns them in a sea of saccharine. It's yet another doomed last-chance love story set in the coastal South, with star-crossed lovers "destined" to be together ... (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)

      • Kill the Messenger poster image

        Kill the Messenger

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        "Kill the Messenger," the film about journalist Gary Webb's shocking newspaper stories that connected the Reagan-era CIA to America's crack epidemic, shows just how hard it is to film investigative journalism as a drama and get it right. The film about a reporter destroyed by a story that turned out to be one of the great scoops of all time feels muted, more compelling than riveting. But Jeremy Renner dazzles as Webb, giving him both the swagger of a guy willing to take on the CIA a... (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)

      • Left Behind poster image

        Left Behind

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        And away we go! A little traveling music, please, for the Rapture, the special guest star of "Left Behind," starring a sadly becalmed Nicolas Cage as a married airline pilot whose unconsummated lust for a cheap harlot of a flight attendant, played by Nicky Whelan, is enough to bring on God's wrath, the end of days and a cycle of protracted calamity, starting with the film itself. Make that a cycle-ette. We don't see much actual calamity in director Vic Armstrong's picture, described... (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)

      • The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby poster image

        The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips Films aren't so much born as worried into existence, and with some films the worrying -- the concern that the audience won't get it, or get out for it, or make the required time commitment -- never stops. Take, for example, "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby." There are three separate versions afoot. The one available currently came into being at the insistence of producer Harvey Weinstein, whose company backed writer... (read more)

      • The Maze Runner poster image

        The Maze Runner

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Forever indebted to H.G. Wells, William Golding and other cranky visionaries, the hardy, cockroach-like "Hunger Games"/"Divergent" genre has a nickname: "dyslit," after the dystopian best-sellers in which young adult protagonists must prove their physical and mental prowess and lead the revolution to save what's left of their crummy old world. The first "Hunger Games" movie came out in 2012. (Has it really only been two years?) Because that film was so ... (read more)

      • The Skeleton Twins poster image

        The Skeleton Twins

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Some weeks at the movies are like this. You settle for wonderful actors doing some wonderful acting with scripts that support those efforts even as they limit them. In "The Skeleton Twins," Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader play Maggie and Milo, grown twins who haven't seen each other in 10 years. In the opening shots Wiig's character, an unhappily married Nyack, N.Y., woman who's gotten a little too comfortable lying to her husband (Luke Wilson), stands in her bathroom with a fistful of ... (read more)

      • This Is Where I Leave You poster image

        This Is Where I Leave You

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Going by the new ensemble comedy "This Is Where I Leave You," you'd think Tina Fey was a medium acting talent at best, prone to overstatement and eye-rolling. Performers can't do it alone; they need guidance. But in the movies, very often performers end up doing solo acts in proximity to other solo acts, and the camera's either in the wrong place or the director and the editor hack up simple two-person conversations into frantic, competing moments. There's one bit in director Shawn ... (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)

      • Last Days in Vietnam poster image

        Last Days in Vietnam

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips Rory Kennedy's exceptional documentary "Last Days in Vietnam" will be broadcast in April on the long-running PBS series "American Experience." But it holds up on a bigger screen and deserves a large audience earlier than that. Ideally that audience includes younger viewers, for whom many of the specifics of Saigon's 1975 fall will be news. But it'll be of particular interest to older audiences who have a fogg... (read more)

      • The November Man poster image

        The November Man

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        Pierce Brosnan's perfect hair barely budges in the breeze, he fixes his eyes in that narrowed, steely stare and you remember, yes, he was a pretty good James Bond. But he's not Bond, not at 61. He's this fellow named Devereaux, and back in the day, when he showed up for an assignment it was like winter had hit. Everything was dead. That's why they called Devereaux "The November Man." Here's a humorless, muddled, bloody and generally unpleasant thriller about an ex-agent sucked back ... (read more)

      • If I Stay poster image

        If I Stay

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Artfully assaultive, "If I Stay" is better than average young adult material, cleverly adapted from Gayle Forman's 2009 novel about a teenage cellist experiencing true love, a terrible car crash and magical realism for the first time. Young adult fiction comes in too many shapes, sizes and qualities to court generalizations. But here goes. Director R.J. Cutler, who comes out of documentaries, reality TV ("Flip That House") and series television ("Nashville"), has... (read more)

      • The Giver poster image

        The Giver

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        At this point in the dystopian movie cycle, I'm ready for a story about a teenager with zero interest in questioning the system, let alone starting a revolution. A spineless conformist -- that's what the genre needs. Meantime there's "The Giver," director Phillip Noyce's film version of the 1993 Lois Lowry best-seller, which remains a staple of the young adult shelves alongside the "Hunger Games" and "Divergent" books. So here we are again. It's the future. Life ... (read more)

      • Let's Be Cops poster image

        Let's Be Cops

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        McClatchy Newspapers The laughs are loud, lewd and low in "Let's Be Cops," a spoof of cop "buddy pictures" that is pretty much the definition of an August comedy. The last month of summer is typically a dumping ground for titles studios don't have high hopes for. Sometimes that's due to the lack of marketable stars. Sometimes, they're just too hard to market, period. And sometimes, if they're comedies, it's because the belly laughs are few and far between. All of those app... (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)

      • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles poster image

        Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        McClatchy Newspapers The "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" franchise earns a Michael Bay-produced 3-D reboot that spares no expense in special effects and spares no decibels in the volume that is the soundtrack to all their new mayhem. These digitally animated supersize turtles have real-world presence and weight, stomping onto the scene like teenagers who haven't learned to do anything quietly. Their brawls with trigger-happy foes from the Foot Clan are a blur of body blows and bullet... (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)

      • 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)

      • Mood Indigo poster image

        Mood Indigo

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        The eccentric whimsy and invention overfill the screen of Michel Gondry's "Mood Indigo," an adaptation of a novel by the Frenchman who wrote "I Spit on Your Graves." Set in an alternate "Brazil"/"Delicatessen"/"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" reality, it's a blur of queer gadgets and odd doodads, see-through limousines and dinner tables on roller skates, all in a tale concocted by an office full of women clattering at a conveyor belt of... (read more)

      • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes poster image

        Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Three summers ago "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" proved it's possible to reboot a franchise while avoiding that sinking feeling of movie capitalism at its dumbest. Now, in a disappointing July dominated with a shrug by "Transformers: Age of Extinction," the follow-up "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" has arrived. Just in time. The nation's multiplexes need a solid hit to save face and lend the impression that all's right with the business preferences and practic... (read more)

      • Can a Song Save Your Life? poster image

        Can a Song Save Your Life?

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

        "Begin Again" is an insistent puppy of a movie, just about willing you to like it. And while it has appeal -- you'd have to be a troll to resist it completely -- you may end up wanting to enjoy it more than its qualities will allow. Starring Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, "Begin Again" is the latest film by John Carney, responsible for the landmark "Once," and although comparisons are invariably unfair, the two films have so much in common that the question of... (read more)

      • Earth to Echo poster image

        Earth to Echo

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        McClatchy Newspapers "Earth to Echo" is an engagingly unassuming "E.T." knockoff, a kids movie that serves up a similar alien-with-kids story in a "Blair Witch"/ "Paranormal" shaky-cam package. Disney produced it, but then sold it to Relativity. Cast with cute, likable kids, given a few decent effects and having that found-footage "reality," it doesn't have the financial or emotional heft of the mythic "phone home" tale. But it works... (read more)

      • 22 Jump Street poster image

        22 Jump Street

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The peculiar sweetness of "21 Jump Street" has taken a hiatus in "22 Jump Street," a brazen sequel that's both slightly disappointing and a reliable, often riotous "laffer" in the old Variety trade-magazine parlance. No question about it, I laffed, more at the little things -- Channing Tatum trying to cut glass with a laser pointer, for example -- than the brawls. And now it's crow-eating time. For a long time I misjudged Channing Tatum's abilities; not too many ... (read more)

      • The Fault in Our Stars poster image

        The Fault in Our Stars

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In the discreetly assaultive film version of "The Fault in Our Stars" there's a scene, faithful to the one in the best-selling John Green book, where Hazel and Augustus visit the Amsterdam home of a novelist whose cancer-related novel holds great personal meaning for two teenage Indianapolis cancer patients in love. The meeting is a bust. Their literary idol turns out to be a cynical, drunken lout. The kids decide to shake it off and tour the nearby Anne Frank museum. Gamely lugging... (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)

      • Chef poster image

        Chef

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Jon Favreau's "Chef" has one goal: to make you want to eat Cuban sandwiches twice a day for the rest of your life. Meat-eating moviegoers of all palates will have a difficult time controlling their drool, thanks to writer-director-star Favreau's close-ups of a snazzy food truck grill in action, sizzling, sizzling away, the ham looking like heaven, to say nothing of the bread and the pickles. Then, just when things have dried up in the region of your chin, Favreau presents a sequence... (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)

      • The Amazing Spider-Man 2 poster image

        The Amazing Spider-Man 2

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Already spinning large webs of money overseas, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is a decent superhero franchise product, lent some personality by Andrew Garfield's skyscraper hair and the actor's easy, push-pull rapport with co-star Emma Stone, who plays the eternally disappointed Gwen, freshly graduated from high school, frustratingly in love with Peter Parker. The love is mootual, as Teri Garr said in "Young Frankenstein." But Spandexed, web-slinging crime-fighting consumes ou... (read more)

      • Draft Day poster image

        Draft Day

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Draft Day" feels like a play, and I don't mean a football play. It feels like a play-play at its sporadic best, in the same way J.C. Chandor's 2011 "Margin Call" felt that way. Set mostly in a series of offices across 13 hours in a pressure-cooked day, the film lives and dies on the low-key, take-it-easy spectacle of Kevin Costner maneuvering his way through an administrative obstacle course, crises intermingling with draft-pick opportunities. Costner plays Sonny Weaver J... (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)

      • Jodorowsky's Dune poster image

        Jodorowsky's Dune

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips If I ever go through a wormhole, let me land on a planet where repertory cinema is alive and well and showcasing all the lost, cruelly abridged and, especially, unmade movies conceived on a grand, misbegotten scale. That'd be quite a three-day weekend. Murnau's "4 Devils," followed by von Stroheim's original cut of "Greed," plus the Welles version of "The Magnificent Ambersons." Plus Welles' never-m... (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)

      • American Hustle poster image

        American Hustle

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        My favorite minute of movie this year comes early in David O. Russell's "American Hustle." Christian Bale's character, the con man Irving Rosenfeld, based on the real-life Abscam linchpin Mel Weinberg, is riding high: His small-time investment scams, conducted with his wily mistress (played by Amy Adams), keep growing more profitable, and they're falling in love. Backed by the great Broadway finger-snapper "I've Got Your Number," Bale and Adams dance their way across a Man... (read more)

      • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug poster image

        The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        One year and several hundred films later, I confess my mind isn't over-full of vivid memories of director Peter Jackson's first "Hobbit." It did the job, in its leisurely, fill-out-the-trilogy fashion, albeit looking like clinically detailed crud when viewed in 48 frames-per-second digital projection. Maybe my eyes will catch up to the glories of this alleged improvement. Maybe not. Format aside: Why so much "Hobbit," when the book itself supplies just enough story for one... (read more)

      • The Christmas Candle poster image

        The Christmas Candle

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips If lush settings were plums and costumes were nuts, we'd all have fruitcake for Christmas. And we could enjoy it watching the good-looking but dramatically flat and emotionally sterile "The Christmas Candle," a pretty period piece of a holiday fable that lacks only the wit, decent story and better dialogue that might have made it a classic. Filmed in Gloucestershire, England, it's the tale of a village -- Gladbury -- t... (read more)

      • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire poster image

        The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is a lot like its own celebrity heroine, Katniss Everdeen, who begins this second "Hunger Games" movie fulfilling a public relations tour as penance for her killer -- literally, killer -- popularity. She is adored by millions; the books are too. The three Suzanne Collins novels, to be spread across four films, are being adapted with both eyes on fidelity to the source material. All "Catching Fire" had to do was to show up, look g... (read more)

      • Gravity poster image

        Gravity

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        ``Gravity defies itself. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play astronauts - a newbie scientist and a veteran cowboy - who dodge space debris and the usual narrative expectations while coping with a highly compressed series of crises 372 miles above the Earth's surface. It's a nerve-wracking visual experience of unusual and paradoxical delicacy. And if your stomach can take it, it's truly something to see. Director and co-writer Alfonso Cuaron, who wrote the script with his son, Jonas, has de... (read more)

      • Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 poster image

        Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Thanks to the likes of "Ice Age," most animated features rely on a general wash of sarcasm-based meanness atop sequences of hammering, photo-realistically rendered peril. Throw in a rote message of friendship and a reminder of the importance of family before the up-tempo closing credits, and the people will come. Same old thing but louder? Count me in. So when a modest, quick-witted charmer such as "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2" comes along, attention must be paid. ... (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)

      • White House Down poster image

        White House Down

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        If you see just one terrorists-take-over-the-White House thriller this year, make it "White House Down." Even if you saw the dour and bloody "Olympus Has Fallen," which has a lot in common with "White House Down," you owe it to yourself to check out Roland "2012" Emmerich's preachy, goofy, over-the-top take on "Die Hard" at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. From the earnest but earnestly funny president in jeopardy (Jamie Foxx), who doesn't like bad guys... (read more)

      • The Croods poster image

        The Croods

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It's "Ice Age" with humans and less ice. "The Croods" began life nearly a decade ago as "Crood Awakening," a collaboration of DreamWorks Animation and Aardman Studios, with a script co-written by John Cleese. Then Aardman, creators of the great Wallace & Gromit and the very good "Chicken Run," fell out of the development. Years later, here we are: Another DreamWorks movie perpetually on the run, desperately full of action because slapstick violence tran... (read more)

      • Beautiful Creatures poster image

        Beautiful Creatures

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        When classy, pedigreed British actors go hog-wild under the flowering dogwood trees of a Southern Gothic setting, often the results are good. Just as often, they're so bad they're good. And sometimes, as is the case with Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson in "Beautiful Creatures," they're simply doing the best they can under the circumstances. Many in the target teen audience for this romantic fantasy, taken from the young-adult novels by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, will be unfamili... (read more)

      • A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III poster image

        A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

        Sheri Linden, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Media Services Film Clips A vibe in no particular search of a plot, "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III" channels '70s mellow and '30s style through a prism of California dreamin'. In this Charlie Sheen vehicle, the fizzy mood and visuals are often, well, winning. For his second stint in the feature director's chair (after 2001's "CQ"), Roman Coppola has fashioned a noodling indulgence that's alternately freewheeling and de... (read more)

      • Zero Dark Thirty poster image

        Zero Dark Thirty

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        To consider what director Kathryn Bigelow has accomplished in "Zero Dark Thirty," imagine the events depicted by the story if they'd been given the "Argo" treatment. Not to take anything away from that rousing true(-ish) story of hostages freed and rights wronged and, in every sense, Hollywood triumphant. But think about it. If Ben Affleck or a lesser Ben Affleck had directed "Zero Dark Thirty," a film concluding with the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abb... (read more)

      • Django Unchained poster image

        Django Unchained

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In "Django Unchained," which has its moments of devilish glee in and among dubious wallows in numbing slaughter, writer-director-trash compactor Quentin Tarantino delivers a mashup of several hundred of his favorite movies, all hanging, like barnacles, onto a story of a freed slave (Jamie Foxx) and his bounty-hunter savior (Christoph Waltz) out to rescue Django's wife (Kerry Washington) from a venal plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). The plantation's "house slave" (Samu... (read more)

      • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey poster image

        The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "The Hobbit," the first of three movies to be yanked out of J.R.R. Tolkien's single novel, comes from Mister Middle-earth: Peter Jackson, who thrilled Tolkien fans worldwide with his lavish screen version of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. It's a moderately engaging launch to the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, the homey fellow temperamentally ill-suited to quests involving dragons and goblins and orcs. The many-hands screenplay by Jackson, Guillermo del Toro (originally sla... (read more)

      • Life of Pi poster image

        Life of Pi

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Life of Pi," Yann Martel's beautiful little book about a young man and the sea and a tiger, has transformed into a big, imposing and often lovely 3-D experience. If the results are less about poetry and wonder than the digital and cinematic engineering designed to evoke those things, with this story -- so very, very unlikely to succeed in any other medium -- "good" is achievement enough. The guiding hand belongs to Ang Lee, a director of versatile tastes, catlike patience... (read more)

      • Rise of the Guardians poster image

        Rise of the Guardians

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg recently lamented the dearth of holiday-themed movies headed to your multiplex this year. But in foisting "Rise of the Guardians" upon unsuspecting audiences for the holidays, it's clear he just wanted to take some of the pressure off this joyless, soul-dead piffle. "Guardians" is the worst animated movie to ever wear the DreamWorks logo. It's based on William Joyce's "The Guardians of Childhood" books, about a team tha... (read more)

      • The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 poster image

        The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The fifth and very likely final "Twilight" picture boasts one moment, perhaps three or four seconds in length, so delightfully intense and uncharacteristically juicy that the rest of the film -- most of the rest of the whole series, in fact -- looks pretty pale by comparison. Not vampire pale. Paler. I refer to Michael Sheen as Aro, chief executive officer of the undead Volturi and the president of the Gleeful British Ham Actors Union. At the moment in question, Aro mistakenly belie... (read more)

      • Wreck-It Ralph poster image

        Wreck-It Ralph

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Wreck-It Ralph," the exhaustingly dazzling new Walt Disney Animation Studios feature, qualifies as the most manic baby sitter in town, clever and detailed in its kaleidoscopic depiction of the private lives, seething resentments and yearning dreams of video game characters both "Donkey Kong" retro and "Call of Duty" modern. Certainly 2012-era moviegoers of a certain age who blew a fair number of hours playing "Donkey Kong" or "Centipede" (I l... (read more)

      • Argo poster image

        Argo

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The propulsive hostage thriller "Argo," the third feature directed by Ben Affleck, just plain works. It's heartening to encounter a film, based on fact but happy to include all sorts of exciting fictions to amp up the suspense, whose entertainment intentions are clear. The execution is clean, sharp and rock-solid. It's as apolitical as a political crisis story set in Iran can get. But "the first rule in any deception operation is to understand who your audience is." So wro... (read more)

      • Ice Age: Continental Drift poster image

        Ice Age: Continental Drift

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        First came the God particle, the Higgs boson. Then came ``Ice Age (2002). Then, ``Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006). Then ``Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009). And now arrives ``Ice Age: Continental Drift, informally known as ``Ice Age 4, also known as a paycheck and a likely haul for all involved at Blue Sky Studios and 20th Century Fox. The new picture contains a valuable lesson in recycling. It opens with what I believe is a slightly abridged version of ``Scrat's Continental Crack-Up, the ``... (read more)

      • To Rome With Love poster image

        To Rome With Love

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        If it's a zinger capped by the phrase "leper colony," if there's a hotel room being broken into by house detectives, if it's Penelope Cruz spilling out of an outfit borrowed from Mira Sorvino in "Mighty Aphrodite," then it's time for the new Woody Allen film. His latest overseas postcard, "To Rome With Love," lacks the clean lines and payoffs of "Midnight in Paris." On the other hand, it's not painful the way "Whatever Works" was, or a dullard... (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)

      • Ted poster image

        Ted

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Like "The Hangover" and its sequel, "Ted" is a bully of a comedy but a bully with just enough calculated heart to make it a hit. It plays like a movie tryout for a TV series, specifically a Seth MacFarlane series, which means a high quotient of startlingly crude ethnic and cultural stereotypes leavened by a sincere appreciation for American popular music of another era. The movie's soundtrack promises old-time sentiment and heartfelt pathos, with a little swing. The jokes,... (read more)

      • Snow White and the Huntsman poster image

        Snow White and the Huntsman

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Better and more darkly imaginative than its headache of a coming-attractions trailer suggests, "Snow White and the Huntsman" follows another Snow White re-do, "Mirror Mirror," into theaters by two months and two days. That's not much time for audiences to get re-interested in another twist on a classic fairy tale. But they should. The story elements going back to the early 19th century Brothers Grimm version remain present, with tweaks. Snow White, the daughter of the king... (read more)

      • Battleship poster image

        Battleship

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        There will be bigger movies this summer, and better ones and worse ones. But there will not be a dumber movie than "Battleship." Ponderous and pandering, shameless and head-slappingly silly, this Navy vs. Aliens epic delivers a few thrills and a few laughs. In between the head-slaps, that is. A pointless prologue establishes that NASA has sent signals to a distant Earth-like planet. Warnings from one scientist (Hamish Linklater, of "The New Adventures of Old Christine," ha... (read more)

      • The Hunger Games poster image

        The Hunger Games

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The hypocrisy at the heart of "The Hunger Games" is irresistible. Novelist Suzanne Collins, whose trilogy has been decreed "awesome" by, among others, my 5th grade son, indicts violence and organized brutality as tools of mass-audience manipulation. Yet "The Hunger Games" wouldn't have gotten very far without its steady supply of threatened or actual gladiatorial teen-on-teen bloodshed: death by arrow, javelin, genetically engineered wasp, plus knives. And land m... (read more)

      • John Carter poster image

        John Carter

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Set on Earth and Mars, the new science-fiction bash "John Carter" isn't much -- or rather, it's too much and not enough in weird, clumpy combinations -- but it is a curious sort of blur. And it was directed by Andrew Stanton, making his live-action feature debut after the Pixar successes he helmed, "Finding Nemo" and the splendid "Wall-E." He has the courage of his convictions; with Disney suits breathing down his neck, through all sorts of reshoots, he has made ... (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 Adventures of Tintin poster image

        The Adventures of Tintin

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Directed by Steven Spielberg, a longtime fan of the source material, "The Adventures of Tintin" begins with a gorgeous animated credit sequence, deftly incorporating bits of the narrative about to unfold. It's as nifty as the overture in Spielberg's earlier "Catch Me If You Can," both scored, with a glancing touch, by his longtime mood generator, composer John Williams. It's always gratifying to hear what Williams can do when he's not in attack mode. Then comes the film pr... (read more)

      • New Year's Eve poster image

        New Year's Eve

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Scrambling to accommodate its Big Gulp of an ensemble cast, for which disaster movie maven Irwin Allen would've killed, "New Year's Eve" does for its holiday what last year's "Valentine's Day" did for Valentine's Day. If this one's a hit, as was "V Day" ($200 million worldwide), surely we can expect "Presidents Day." With nice cameos for actual ex-presidents. As with "Valentine's Day," the template for director Garry Marshall and screenwriter ... (read more)

      • Arthur Christmas poster image

        Arthur Christmas

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Five years ago, the Bristol, England-based Aardman animation folks -- who created the stop-motion legends Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep and therefore are eligible for sainthood -- made the digitally animated British/American co-production "Flushed Away." Jampacked with peril, if not with charm, the film had both eyes on a crossover American audience that never materialized. Now comes happier news: a much better film. The company's second digitally animated feature, billed a... (read more)

      • Hugo poster image

        Hugo

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Rich and stimulating even when it wanders, director Martin Scorsese's first 3-D effort, "Hugo," takes place mostly within the confines of a railway station modeled on Montparnasse. The story, developed by screenwriter John Logan from Brian Selznick's graphic novel "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," ranges beyond the station. But every locale in Scorsese's vision of 1931 Paris looks and feels like another planet. The filmmaker embraces storybook artifice as wholeheartedly as h... (read more)

      • A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas poster image

        A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Comic effrontery is the Bic that lights the bong in the "Harold & Kumar" movies, but willfully strained outrageousness can turn sour like that. For a definition of "that," there's "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas," the weakest of the three. Here, the boy-men -- now 30ish men-boys, dealing with adult concerns and relationships, in addition to their perpetual White Castle jones -- hunt down a Christmas tree, mix it up with Ukrainian gangsters, briefly turn into ... (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)

      • 50/50 poster image

        50/50

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It's a cancer film; no getting around it. But the tender and funny "50/50" addresses its protagonist's health crisis and chances for survival directly, with a refreshing lack of narrative hemming, hawing or embroidery, so that it becomes something more: a picture with a commercial sensibility and a quippy streak, yet one honest enough to transcend the usual. While writing for "Da Ali G Show," writer and producer Will Reiser, not yet 25, contracted a rare form of cancer tha... (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)

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