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      Movie Reviews

      • Good Kill poster image

        Good Kill

        Guy Lodge, Chicago Tribune

        Variety Sci-fi futures characterized by complex moral and political architecture have long been writer-director Andrew Niccol's stock-in-trade. Yet while there's not a hint of fantasy in "Good Kill," a smart, quietly pulsating contempo war drama, it could hardly feel more typical of Niccol's strongest work. To many, after all, drone strikes -- the controversial subject of this tense but appropriately tactful ethics study -- still feel like something that should be a practical and le... (read more)

      • Tomorrowland poster image

        Tomorrowland

        Christopher Borrelli, Chicago Tribune

        By now you probably heard that the series finale of "Mad Men" ended with adman Don Draper dressed in loose-fitting whites, chanting "om" on the lawn of a commune in California, perched at the edge of the Pacific, the 1960s having slid into the 1970s. Then, just as we assumed Don had found spiritual release, a smile flickered at his mouth. He had an idea, and the show cut to that most characteristic of '70s corporate hosannas -- a field of people singing they would like to ... (read more)

      • I'll See You in My Dreams poster image

        I'll See You in My Dreams

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Our attraction to the movies starts from simple building blocks: a face, a heart-wrenching separation, a pratfall. But here are two simple pleasures I defy anyone to argue against. I speak of Blythe Danner's and Sam Elliott's speaking voices. Both instruments are showcased in the modest, Kickstarter-funded heartwarmer "I'll See You in My Dreams." To reiterate what others have already noted, it's stupidly uncommon for an American indie (let alone a better-funded studio project) to gi... (read more)

      • Mad Max: Fury Road poster image

        Mad Max: Fury Road

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        You remember "Happy Feet." This is George Miller's "Happy Wheels." The creator of the original "Mad Max" trilogy has whipped up a gargantuan grunge symphony of vehicular mayhem that makes "Furious 7" look like "Curious George." The full title of Miller's remake of "Mad Max" is "Mad Max: Fury Road." It stars Tom Hardy, who says very little, in the old Mel Gibson role of the post-apocalyptic road warrior. Here the character's... (read more)

      • Pitch Perfect 2 poster image

        Pitch Perfect 2

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        Can we please talk about the snottiness of "Pitch Perfect 2"? It's seriously snotty. It's a two-hour lesson in how to act like a frenemy to your alleged friends. And it's not funny enough. Correction: For the sequel to become a global success, yes, it's funny enough. And some of the vocals are choice. But I am not representing the a cross-section of the planet's "Pitch Perfect" fan base with this review, I'm representing myself, and I found the new movie snide and lazy ins... (read more)

      • Slow West poster image

        Slow West

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        There's an alien feel to "Slow West," an unconventionally conventional Western about a romantic tenderfoot provided safe passage to the frontier by a grizzled, unsentimental gunman. Credit the New Zealand locations, fresh and convincingly Western, with nary a hobbit to be found. Credit the German-Irish Michael Fassbender, who heads a cast that gives this immigrant era a distinctly international feel. But credit most of all first-time director John Maclean, an old friend of Fassbende... (read more)

      • Where Hope Grows poster image

        Where Hope Grows

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        "Where Hope Grows" is a sometimes moving and generally watchable melodrama about a drunken ex-ballplayer who finds purpose and a friend back in his home town. But unlike most faith-based films, it isn't a church that saves him, or a pastor or devout Christian who shows him the way. It's a teen with Down syndrome. The kid's nicknamed Produce, thanks to his job at the local supermarket. That's where Calvin Campbell (Kristoffer Polaha) stumbles into him. Calvin's a single-dad whose tee... (read more)

      • 5 Flights Up poster image

        5 Flights Up

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        The considerable cinematic charms of Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman are no match for the hell that is the New York real estate market in "5 Flights Up," a middling comedy about getting old, trying to downsize and running up against real estate agents, hagglers and looky Lous. If you've ever sold anything, you know that last category of gawker. They're the best running gag in "5 Flights Up," the assorted flakes, narcissists, power couples and others who acquire nicknames a... (read more)

      • Hot Pursuit poster image

        Hot Pursuit

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        Cheap, short and slow, "Hot Pursuit" is a comedy that never lets you forget that pairing up Sofia Vergara with Reese Witherspoon should have worked better than this. A mismatch-misfire badly misdirected by the director of "The Guilt Trip" and "27 Dresses," it wastes the Oscar-winning Reese and the spirited spitfire Vergara, cast as a comically disgraced cop who escorts the wife of a drug lord to court. It's "Midnight Run" without enough running, "T... (read more)

      • I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story poster image

        I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        No negative thoughts, words or deeds intrude upon "I Am Big Bird," Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker's documentary about Caroll Spinney, the man behind the voice, walk, heart and soul of the beloved Sesame Street character for the last 45 years. But as endless processions of friends and colleagues attest to Spinney's genius, and the filmmakers wallow in behind-the-scenes imagery, they fail to fully capture the actual art of puppeteering, with woefully few substantial excerpts from the ... (read more)

      • The D Train poster image

        The D Train

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        In "The D Train," Jack Black plays a guy who never forgot his first high school "man crush." Dan Landsman was the awkward lump nobody remembers. And the object of his crush? The swaggering jock, the popular and talented hunk, king of the prom. In high school back in the '90s, Dan was "D-Money, D-Dogg," but only in his mind. Even now, helping overorganize his suburban Pittsburgh high school's 20th reunion, the balding, aging once "cool" kids don't invite... (read more)

      • Avengers: Age of Ultron poster image

        Avengers: Age of Ultron

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        When I say "Avengers: Age of Ultron" won't disappoint a majority of its pre-sold, culturally obligated fans around the world -- the world perpetually on the verge of extinction in the Marvel universe -- you know what I mean. You know what the movie promises, and would be foolish, or inept, not to deliver. Action, relentless and assaultive. Wisecracks, numerous, pretty sharp and evenly parceled out among Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Chris... (read more)

      • Far From the Madding Crowd poster image

        Far From the Madding Crowd

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Equipped with its own brand of rough-hewn glamour, the new film version of the 1874 love quadrangle "Far From the Madding Crowd" is a long way from the widescreen, 171-minute running time and anachronistic Julie Christie eyeliner of the Thomas Hardy novel's best-known previous adaptation, released in 1968. In '68 the posters for director John Schlesinger's version touted the story of "a willful passionate girl ... and the three men who want her!" Little of that sort of ful... (read more)

      • The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared poster image

        The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

        Betsy Sharkey, Chicago Tribune

        Echoes of the hilarious ineptitude of Woody Allen's "Take the Money and Run" and the historic kookiness of "Forrest Gump" turn up throughout "The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared," starring Sweden's beloved comic actor Robert Gustafsson. It's a hoot and a half. based on the fanciful international best-seller of the same name, the film is directed with an appropriately wry touch by Felix Herngren. It captures the quintessential baby boom... (read more)

      • Welcome to Me poster image

        Welcome to Me

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        As a comic performer with admirably sneaky dramatic instincts, Kristen Wiig works like a pair of binoculars as peered into from the wrong end. Tiny throwaway mutterings become the activation point of an exchange, even an entire scene, while conventionally emotional big moments are often glancing, unexpected and gone before you know it. In "Welcome to Me," Wiig plays a wobbly Palm Desert, Calif. woman whose name -- Alice Klieg -- points to a date with showbiz destiny. Like Rupert Pup... (read more)

      • Adult Beginners poster image

        Adult Beginners

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        With an awful lot of American indies, there appears to be some sort of self-regulation in place preventing any serious highs or lows, any stylistic risks or surprises. Even if the scripts juggle comedy and drama in quick succession, it's as if they're under the influence of mood stabilizers. The quirk's the thing, but too often it's well-acted, neatly scripted quirk in search of some flesh and blood. Some of those indies made for decent company anyway, usually because of who's on screen. Thou... (read more)

      • Ex Machina poster image

        Ex Machina

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A grandly ridiculous theatrical tradition born in ancient Greece, deus ex machina meant, literally, a god borne by a machine descending from the sky to determine a story's outcome. The hardware in writer-director Alex Garland's crafty new thriller "Ex Machina" signifies something a little less clunky and considerably more ambiguous. In this case the object of adoration is a superadvanced example of artificial intelligence. The hook, hardly new, is this: Can A.I. be made not simply t... (read more)

      • Little Boy poster image

        Little Boy

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Little Boy" answers a question most tear-jerkers wouldn't have the nerve to ask: Can the bombing of Hiroshima be manipulated narratively, if briefly, into a position of warming our hearts? The answer is no. The film's D-Day-like assault on our emotional defenses tries all it can to turn that no into a yes. The story takes place in a storybook California coastal village named O'Hare. Director and co-writer Alejandro Monteverde shot 'Little Boy' in Mexico's Baja Film Studios; cinemat... (read more)

      • The Water Diviner poster image

        The Water Diviner

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Russell Crowe's feature directorial debut, "The Water Diviner," stems from an honest impulse to dramatize ordinary people who honor their dead. Yet the results are narratively dishonest and emotionally a little cheap. A single performance lifts the film above the level of mediocrity; more on that later. The idea came from a single line of description uncovered by co-screenwriter Andrew Anastasios when he was researching another project. In the wake of the horrendously costly Battle ... (read more)

      • Child 44 poster image

        Child 44

        Peter Debruge, Chicago Tribune

        Variety Part serial-killer thriller, part old-school anti-Soviet propaganda, "Child 44" plays like a curious relic of an earlier Cold War mindset, when Western audiences took comfort that they were living on the right side of the Iron Curtain and relied on movies to remind them as much. Here, the central character is an obedient MGB, or secret police, agent played by Tom Hardy who, like the rest of the pic's starry Euro ensemble, delivers his lines in a thick Russian accent. Set in ... (read more)

      • Desert Dancer poster image

        Desert Dancer

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        "So you're an artist," Iranian member of the Basij, the country's paramilitary morality police, hisses at the hero of "Desert Dancer," who is about to be punished. "Beat him ... artistically!" You have to get by the occasional risible moment of melodrama to get into "Desert Dancer," another account of personal and artistic repression in modern-day Iran. It's a film as predictable as its title. But this "true story" of a dancer longing to expre... (read more)

      • Monkey Kingdom poster image

        Monkey Kingdom

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Compile all the sufferings and adversities heaped upon all the vulnerable protagonists in the complete works of Charles Dickens, from "Little Dorrit" to "Oliver Twist," and you'd still fall short of the 81 minutes of hardship endured by Maya, the simian heroine of Disneynature's new nature documentary "Monkey Kingdom." I write this as someone who finds all of nature ruthlessly manipulative -- a cheap excuse to make us cry, basically, though a lot of it's amazing ... (read more)

      • True Story poster image

        True Story

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "True Story" a case of a well-crafted film, made by a first-time feature director with an impressive theatrical pedigree, that nonetheless struggles to locate the reasons for telling its story. That story comes from the 2005 memoir by Michael Finkel, played in "True Story" by Jonah Hill. In 2002, writing for The New York Times Sunday magazine, journalist Finkel disgraced himself by fabricating an interview subject -- a composite cooked up with details and quotes from sever... (read more)

      • Cybernatural poster image

        Cybernatural

        Rick Bentley, Chicago Tribune

        The Fresno Bee Not since "The Blair Witch Project" in 1999 has a horror film taken such a creative approach to conjure scares as "Unfriended." It's a cautionary tale of friends who become the target of an unseen cyberentity starving for revenge. What makes this film so different is that it's shot looking at a computer screen. The actors interact through Skype, with back-story elements handled through online searches. Even the soundtrack is created using the tunes stored on... (read more)

      • Clouds of Sils Maria poster image

        Clouds of Sils Maria

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Now 60, and always more of a wry classicist than a maverick, the writer-director Olivier Assayas is one of the steadiest and most reliable filmmakers in contemporary cinema. I like his latest, "Clouds of Sils Maria," a great deal; it's beautifully acted and has a few wise (if familiar) things to impart regarding how age and experience must make way for, or at least accommodate, the brashness of youth. You should know, however, what sort of dramatic strategies you're dealing with, si... (read more)

      • The Longest Ride poster image

        The Longest Ride

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        No less than the "Harry Potter" adaptations or the "Fast and Furious" movies, the novels of Nicholas Sparks form the basis of a consistent film franchise in which the characters' names and crises and letters-read-aloud voice-overs may change, but it's the same wish-fulfillment universe across title after title. The public likes what the public likes, even if the public likes some Sparks adaptations more than others. "The Longest Ride," the 10th Sparks title to hi... (read more)

      • While We're Young poster image

        While We're Young

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The vantage point of middle age is delightfully cruel, affording a clear view of the generation of hotshots coming up on the rail from behind and the generation of long-distance thoroughbreds five lengths ahead. The opportunities for angst are limitless. This is the comic perspective -- justifiable paranoia, creative class division -- providing the material for writer-director Noah Baumbach's zesty tale of two marriages, "While We're Young," the filmmaker's fifth worthwhile (or bett... (read more)

      • Woman in Gold poster image

        Woman in Gold

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In "Woman in Gold," a paint-by-numbers account of a gorgeous Klimt and its tortured history of ownership, there's really no other word for what Helen Mirren is doing in certain reaction shots, out of subtle interpretive desperation: mugging. She's mugging. She is a sublimely talented performer, and this is material with fascinating implications, and I doubt there's a moviegoer in the world who doesn't like Helen Mirren. But even the best actors need a director to tell them to tone i... (read more)

      • Furious 7 poster image

        Furious 7

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Under the hood, we're all Vin Diesel, trying to live a meaningful life a quarter-mile at a time. Yet the film series begun in the pre-9/11 era with "The Fast and the Furious" has sustained itself through weak sequels and exuberant ones, and has become not a drag race but the Indy 500 of the movies: a reliable if repetitive ode to fossil fuel. Keep it coming, pal. We'll tell you when we've had enough. "They say the open road helps you see where you've been ... and where you're g... (read more)

      • Lambert & Stamp poster image

        Lambert & Stamp

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        There have been better, more thorough documentaries about the seminal rock band The Who. "The Kids Are Alright" set the standard in '79, and "Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who" seemed to fill in the gaps of that earlier film. But "Lambert & Stamp," an alternative history of the band as chaotically organized as The Who itself, is still an eye-opener. James D. Cooper's film, built around two British filmmakers who took over management of the band and led them t... (read more)

      • Danny Collins poster image

        Danny Collins

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        On screen, looking like Keith Richards' bright-eyed, bushy-tailed life coach and partner in debauchery, Al Pacino is a man whose aura screams, "I love the '70s!" Meaning: his own. Turning 75 next month, Pacino has a high old time in the slight, moderately charming "Danny Collins," and he bounces off plenty of good and great co-stars, among them Annette Bening (as the New Jersey hotel manager he's hot for) and Bobby Cannavale, calmly effective as the estranged son of the ag... (read more)

      • Get Hard poster image

        Get Hard

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        An awful lot of "Get Hard" depends on gay-panic humor of a weirdly squirmy and dated sort, making you wonder if this new Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart mystery might best be viewed alongside reissues of "Cruising" and "Norman ... Is That You?" I call it a mystery because that's what it contains -- a series of mysteries. It's a mystery why two bona fide comic stars, working very, very hard to keep this thing from tanking, couldn't pressure their collaborators for another... (read more)

      • The Salt of the Earth poster image

        The Salt of the Earth

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Watching "The Salt of the Earth," the compelling new documentary about photographer Sebastiao Salgado, it becomes clear early on just how odd it is to experience Salgado's work on someone else's timetable. With an exhibition or a book of photographs, you set your own clock, spending as much time or as little inside a particular image as you like. With film, that's not the case. Co-directors Wim Wenders (a huge Salgado fan) and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado (the photographer's son) linger ... (read more)

      • White God poster image

        White God

        Guy Lodge, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips Variety The words "release the hounds" take on vibrant new meaning in "White God," a thrillingly strange update of the "Lassie Come Home" formula in which one lost mutt's incredible journey to sanctuary evolves into a full-scale man-versus-beast revolution. Otherwise given no explanation in the film, the title "White God" may be a tip of the hat to Samuel Fuller, whose 1982 race-relations ... (read more)

      • Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter poster image

        Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

        Betsy Sharkey, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips Los Angeles Times "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter" is a moody comic allegory about desperation, disconnection and dreams that uses "Fargo," the Coen brothers classic, as a touchstone to examine modern life. The film stars Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi, Oscar nominated for her stirring portrayal of a deaf teen in "Babel," as Kumiko, a depressed cog in a corporate wheel being slowly ground down. Her sto... (read more)

      • The Divergent Series: Insurgent poster image

        The Divergent Series: Insurgent

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Chicago as never looked less toddlin' than it does in "Insurgent," the second of four planned movies to be pulled, taffylike, out of the hugely popular Veronica Roth trilogy. At one point our fierce yet humble dystopian world saver, Tris Prior, played by the fierce but humble franchise saver, Shailene Woodley, strolls beneath rusted bridges along the dried-up remains of the Chicago River. I knew that St. Patrick's Day dye wasn't safe! I kid. I kid the post-apocalypse. It is no laugh... (read more)

      • Run All Night poster image

        Run All Night

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In a convention-bound action movie such as "Run All Night," some nicely rumpled actors can go a long way toward redeeming the cliches, the primary cliche being a flawed protagonist who seeks redemption for his sins. Well! This is like an honor roll of the rumpled, beginning with Liam Neeson, our supreme late-winter action star. The film co-stars Ed Harris: very well-rumpled and, like Neeson, deeply creased around the eyes in interesting ways. Vincent D'Onofrio rumples his way throug... (read more)

      • Seymour: An Introduction poster image

        Seymour: An Introduction

        Justin Chang, Chicago Tribune

        Variety Although clearly designed as a reverent tribute from one artist to another, this first documentary directed by Ethan Hawke happily sidesteps any vanity-project pitfalls, granting full expression to great classical pianist Seymour Bernstein's wise and witty commentary on a craft that he's spent decades honing -- as well as the proper application of that craft when the demands of art are often outweighed by the pressures of commerce. Although he's only onscreen for a few minutes, Hawke ... (read more)

      • Chappie poster image

        Chappie

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        I found lots to admire in writer-director Neill Blomkamp's "District 9" and, despite its heavy-handed universal health care polemics, the Matt Damon space station allegory "Elysium." But his latest science fiction outing, co-written (like "Elysium") with his wife, Terri Tatchell, is a misjudgment from metallic head to titanium toe. After Wednesday's advance screening, the dialogue en route to the parking garage was clear and pointed. Woman 1: "Wasn't that th... (read more)

      • Merchants of Doubt poster image

        Merchants of Doubt

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

        Los Angeles Times Don't underestimate Robert Kenner's "Merchants of Doubt." It may sound like a standard-issue advocacy documentary concerned, as so many are, with the perils of global warming, but it's a lot more than that. It's not just that "Merchants of Doubt" is loaded with jazzy visuals and starts with a performance by close-up magician Jamy Ian Swiss. This enthralling film, based on the book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, is as fascinating as it is horrifying.... (read more)

      • The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel poster image

        The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Three years ago, on a somewhat different scale, the success of the first "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" was weirdly akin to the success of the first "Avengers" movie. Both relied on ensemble superheroics and charmingly fractious banter among movie stars. This year brings sequels to both films. First up is "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," the one without the explosions. Director John Madden's easygoing follow-up resembles a slightly scattered second season o... (read more)

      • '71 poster image

        '71

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        First performed in 1923, following an early chapter in that quaint, understated late 1960s-coined cycle of violence known as the Troubles, Sean O'Casey's play "The Shadow of a Gunman" imagined a crowded tenement house that becomes a microcosm of the Irish War of Independence. A key scene in that play depicts British Black and Tan forces conducting a raid, to deadly results. Ireland's troubles with Britain have explored in hundreds of plays and films by now. The latest film is one of... (read more)

      • 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)

      • Kung Fu Elliot poster image

        Kung Fu Elliot

        Michael Rechtshaffen, Chicago Tribune

        Los Angeles Times The already murky parameters of contemporary reality filmmaking are further fudged in "Kung Fu Elliot," an entertaining documentary following two years in the life of an idealistic amateur filmmaker intent on becoming Canada's first action hero. With a pair of Ed Wood-type productions under his belt, self-proclaimed karate champion Elliot Scott is convinced his latest micro-budgeted epic, "Blood Fight," will make him the Chuck Norris of Halifax, Nova Scot... (read more)

      • The Hunting Ground poster image

        The Hunting Ground

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        From its first moments, the new documentary "The Hunting Ground" instills a sense of dread that is very, very tough to shake. To the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance," filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering introduce us to a variety of high school graduates, captured on what appears to be cellphone camera footage, each receiving news of their college acceptance. "I got in!" one girl whoops with joy. We're being set up, deliberately, for a terrible turn of events. De... (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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • Big Eyes poster image

        Big Eyes

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        For "Big Eyes," director Tim Burton cast four of the biggest, widest eyes in contemporary movies. Two of them belong to Amy Adams, who plays painter Margaret Keane, creator of countless canvases of huge-orbed waifs mysteriously popular for a time but credited, for years, to her scoundrel of a husband. Walter Keane is played by Christoph Waltz, here working overtime to beguile, in an oily way, often in formidable close-up. I've never thought of Waltz as especially wide-eyed until thi... (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)

      • 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)

      • She's Beautiful When She's Angry poster image

        She's Beautiful When She's Angry

        Sheri Linden, Chicago Tribune

        Los Angeles Times Those who bristle at the term "feminist," which inexplicably has fallen out of fashion among many young adults, might find a vibrant new documentary enlightening and inspiring. "She's Beautiful When She's Angry," director Mary Dore's incisive portrait of so-called second-wave feminism of the late 1960s, is an exceptional chronicle, its mix of archival material and new interviews bristling with the energy and insight of one of the most important social mov... (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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • 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 Guest poster image

        The Guest

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A pretty crafty genre pastiche until it stalls, director Adam Wingard's "The Guest" introduces its title character after he knocks on the front door of a small-town New Mexico family that recently lost their older son in the Iraq War. Door opens, a man's head is turned away from the camera ... .. And then, after a strange little two-second pause, he turns around and it's a dashing yet sinister Dan Stevens, of "Downton Abbey," here playing the role of a mysterious combat ve... (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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • Transformers: Age of Extinction poster image

        Transformers: Age of Extinction

        Christopher Borrelli, Chicago Tribune

        "Transformers: Age of Extinction," the fourth installment of Michael Bay's $2.6-billion blue-chip franchise about a race of super robot freedom fighters that wear codpieces (to hide the junk under their trunk) and appear fundamentally incapable of not banging into stuff (even when these things are in an open field they find the one barn or tractor for miles around to collide with), is an aggressively charmless act of digital confetti. It is scattered, weightless, impossible to get h... (read more)

      • Jersey Boys poster image

        Jersey Boys

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Jersey Boys" the movie is a different, more sedate animal than "Jersey Boys" the Broadway musical. Often this happens when a stage success comes to the screen, even with many of the same performers and artistic team members on board. Changes are made; ardent fans of the original are variously pleased or disappointed. And in this case, those who missed the theatrical edition of the tale of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons -- how they found their sound and wrestled with t... (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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • Captain America: The Winter Soldier poster image

        Captain America: The Winter Soldier

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is a better-than-average Marvel superhero bash, intriguingly plotted and pretty clever in its speculations about 21st-century life for Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, the greatest of the Greatest Generation warriors, as he contends with contemporary American geopolitical ideals run amok. The movie does its duty. It's a reliable commodity, delivered efficiently and well, like pizza. In its frenzied action style and overall visual approach, the... (read more)

      • Muppets Most Wanted poster image

        Muppets Most Wanted

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Michael Phillips High spirits and good times are hard to come by in "Muppets Most Wanted," the anxious follow-up to the commercially successful 2011 reboot ("The Muppets") and the seventh Muppet sequel to follow in the animal tracks of "The Muppet Movie" in 1979. I'm not sure what young newcomers will make of this sardonic take on the felt-covered universe, created by the late Jim Henson long before Disney got ahold of it. The pop culture references, mostly fleet... (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 Nut Job poster image

        The Nut Job

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Mighty oaks from little acorns grow, and all that, but "The Nut Job" didn't work out that way. This 3-D animation job, a co-production of South Korea's Redrover Co. and the Canadian outfit ToonBox Entertainment, generates such little interest in the fates of its urban park critters, you may find yourself pondering mixed-use development schemes to rid the film of its key setting altogether. Director and co-writer Peter Lepeniotis' movie comes from "Surly Squirrel," an anima... (read more)

      • August: Osage County poster image

        August: Osage County

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Over and over, the negative reviews of "August: Osage County" have pulled variations on a sad theme, with various New York- and LA-based critics wrestling with the film without having seen, or read, the Tracy Letts play that came before it. Paraphrased, the theme goes like this: "Well, at least now I don't have to see the play. The movie doesn't work for me. Why would I ever take time to see the original?" And this is why weak, misdirected film versions of worthy stage pro... (read more)

      • Her poster image

        Her

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A delicate, droll masterwork, writer-director Spike Jonze's "Her" sticks its neck out, all the way out, asserting that what the world needs now and evermore is love, sweet love. Preferably between humans, but you can't have everything all the time. It tells a love story about a forlorn writer, whose firm --BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com -- provides busy, digitally preoccupied customers with personalized correspondence crafted by professionals like Theodore Twombly, played by refres... (read more)

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