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      • 20th Century Women poster image

        20th Century Women

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Set in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1979, the easygoing, wonderfully acted "20th Century Women" is a movie about a boy and the estrogen in his life. The boy comes from writer-director Mike Mills' memories of growing up in a benevolent, amorphous, vexing, highly stimulating matriarchy. The filmmaker establishes a lovely hangout factor, at once carefully scripted and narratively spacious. Both the characters and the actresses (and actors) are fine company. Annette Bening is Dorothea, a c... (read more)

      • Patriots Day poster image

        Patriots Day

        Cary Darling, Chicago Tribune

        Fort Worth Star-Telegram "Patriots Day," Peter Berg's film about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, lands with all the subtlety of one of the deadly explosions that claimed three lives and injured 264 others. Terrorism, bad. Law enforcement, first responders, marathon runners and onlookers as embodied by the fictional, Boston-proud composite character played by Mark Wahlberg who just happens to be at most of the pivotal plot points at the right time good. There are no shades of cine... (read more)

      • The Bye Bye Man poster image

        The Bye Bye Man

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        First things first, let's get it out of the way "The Bye Bye Man" is an absolutely ludicrous title for a horror movie. However, it's pretty obvious that the filmmakers are in on the joke too. If we're laughing, it's with the movie, not at it. Besides, the most fun horror movies are often the ones that deliver laughs and scares hand in hand, albeit totally straight-faced. The tale comes from the chapter titled "The Bridge to Body Island" in Robert Damon Schneck's book "... (read more)

      • Hidden Figures poster image

        Hidden Figures

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Hidden Figures" is a fairly entertaining gloss of a docudrama elevated by its cast. It takes place mostly in 1961 and early 1962, three years into the life of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA. At this point "computers" were people, by and large, not machines. With Russia's successful launch of Sputnik, America had to play catch-up in the space race. Based on Margot Lee Shetterly's nonfiction account of the same name, "Hidden Fig... (read more)

      • Fences poster image

        Fences

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Robust, delicate, sublimely acted and a close cinematic cousin to the theatrical original, director Denzel Washington's film version of "Fences" makes up for a lot of overeager or undercooked stage-to-screen adaptations over the decades. The performances of Washington, Viola Davis and their colleagues offer something more than mere skill or easy familiarity with August Wilson's 1987 drama. (Washington and Davis won Tony Awards for their work in the 2010 Broadway revival.) Even as Wi... (read more)

      • Assassin's Creed poster image

        Assassin's Creed

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        You be soft, all right. As a gaming phenomenon, the Ubisoft video game series "Assassin's Creed" has been piling up bodies worldwide since 2007. Now we have the stupendously pretentious film version, starring Michael Fassbender (also producer) and Marion Cotillard, one frequently topless, the other not. Fassbender and Cotillard first worked with director Justin Kurzel on an adaptation, released last year, of Shakespeare's "Macbeth," which Kurzel treated as a frantically ki... (read more)

      • Lion poster image

        Lion

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        The moving "Lion" is the incredible true story of two profoundly remarkable journeys that Saroo Brierley took in his life -- one far away from home, and his return trip back. Based on his memoir, "A Long Way Home," the film is split into two halves that reflect his round trip. But the film, directed by Garth Davis, with a screenplay adapted by Luke Davies, covers far more than just distance, delving into the deep emotional journey required for such a voyage. The first half... (read more)

      • Collateral Beauty poster image

        Collateral Beauty

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        "Collateral Beauty" should win some kind of award for Best Execution of a Truly Dreadful Concept. Chock-a-block with magnetic movie stars, and shot beautifully by talented cinematographer Maryse Alberti, all twinkling lights and Christmas in the city, it looks like an important and meaningful film. That's all smoke and mirrors. Stars and cinematography can't save the story, which is a misguided tale filled with armchair philosophizing and ultimately meaningless twists. It feels as t... (read more)

      • Manchester by the Sea poster image

        Manchester by the Sea

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Without revealing too much: The crucial moment in Kenneth Lonergan's third feature, "Manchester by the Sea," arrives in a scene set in the police station of the Massachusetts coastal town of the title. Lee, played by a rivetingly contained Casey Affleck, is relaying the details of the incident that has changed his life. When he comes to the point in the interrogation when he reveals the small, horribly plausible human error at the heart of his tragedy, the one alluded to by various ... (read more)

      • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story poster image

        Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," the tale of a controversial Death Star and those who loathe it, operates as a prequel to the 1977 movie that became a flexible, malleable religion (with ray guns!) to millions. The new movie is a little bit "Guardians of the Galaxy," a little bit "Dirty Dozen" in its mass wartime slaughter, and a pretty good time once it gets going. The opening title crawl to the '77 original made reference, as you may recall, to "Rebel spies&... (read more)

      • Office Christmas Party poster image

        Office Christmas Party

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        When it comes to big, brassy studio comedies, a filmmaker can do worse than to gather the brightest, funniest stars, situate them in an odd, yet relatable situation and let 'em rip. That's exactly what directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck do with "Office Christmas Party," the delightfully debauched holiday desecration we need this year. Working from a screenplay credited to no less than six writers, the greatest strength of "Office Christmas Party" is its casting. If you'v... (read more)

      • Allied poster image

        Allied

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        If a movie's central narrative hook is hanging right there, in the middle of a coming-attractions trailer already seen online and in multiplexes by millions, are we really going to get hung up on what's a spoiler and what isn't? In the swank but waxy new World War II-era Robert Zemeckis film "Allied," starring Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard and whatever sunglasses they happen to be wearing at the time, we're in the land of patently artificial intrigue, as opposed to fakery trying to be... (read more)

      • Bad Santa 2 poster image

        Bad Santa 2

        Colin Covert, Chicago Tribune

        In calling "Bad Santa 2" the feel-bad movie of the season, let me be clear: I don't mean that it revives the rude-and-crude fun of the original hit, which turned the traditional Christmas film on its head. I mean the opposite. Trying to recapture that dark magic doesn't work the second time around. This lazy sequel is a lump of coal in a dirty stocking. Terry Zwigoff's provocative 2003 film, produced and evidently script-polished by those master cynics Joel and Ethan Coen, created a... (read more)

      • Rules Don't Apply poster image

        Rules Don't Apply

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        What better way to round out the month of November 2016 than with a hectic, over-stuffed biopic about an eccentric billionaire despot who uses his inherited wealth to make a giant mess of things in both the entertainment industry and federal government? Truly, there's a deep sense of irony in the release date of Warren Beatty's Howard Hughes film, "Rules Don't Apply." And yet, it would still be a stinker even if it wasn't cloaked in a dark shroud of cultural and political relevancy.... (read more)

      • Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk poster image

        Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Director Ang Lee has given us "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "The Ice Storm," "Brokeback Mountain" and "Life of Pi," films with little in common except the important things: calm visual assurance, bittersweet magic, carefully observed worlds unto themselves. Lee's enough of a filmmaker, and a grown-up, to make even his misfires interesting. "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" is an interesting misfire. It's also the victim of lousy timing. Af... (read more)

      • Bleed for This poster image

        Bleed for This

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        No flatfoot, no knockout, writer-director Ben Younger's "Bleed for This" wins on points. Miles Teller stars as Vinny Pazienza, later known as Vinny Paz, also known as the Pazmanian Devil. The fighter, a working-class Rhode Island hero, held world titles in three weight classes: lightweight, junior middleweight and super middleweight. Teller seizes the day; the actor, best known for "Whiplash" and for not getting the Ryan Gosling role in "La La Land," is now free ... (read more)

      • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them poster image

        Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Five years have passed since the last of the Harry Potter movies, "Deathly Hallows: Part 2," wrapped up J.K. Rowling's staggeringly popular film franchise, the natural extension of the greatest publishing phenomenon in the history of wands. But endings often leave a door open, and a map to somewhere new. In handsome, generally diverting fashion "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," directed by Potter alum David Yates and adapted by Rowling from her 2001 book, takes us... (read more)

      • Arrival poster image

        Arrival

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The alien spacecraft in "Arrival" arrive by the dozen, each of the looming, egg-sliced-in-half-shaped wonders looking like the latest in KitchenAid gadgetry writ large. All around the globe, their contents a mystery to paranoid earthlings, the visitors hover just above the planet's surface. Why have they come? Do they come in peace? Will the U.S. military and other nations' leaders give peace a chance? True to the spacecraft, director Denis Villeneuve is one sleek craftsman. Every s... (read more)

      • Doctor Strange poster image

        Doctor Strange

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Doctor Strange," starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a neurosurgeon who learns to bend time, space and his workaholic, narcissistic ways, can't escape all its Marvel Universe corporate imperatives and generic third-act battles for control of the planet. If it could, it'd be like a new Olive Garden opening with some sort of crazy "no breadsticks" rule. Financially it behooves Marvel's superheroes to stick to the plan, and the plan, to borrow a line from the old musical "... (read more)

      • Hacksaw Ridge poster image

        Hacksaw Ridge

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        For all sorts of emotional and psychological reasons I'm trying to figure out as a critic and, relatedly, as a human, audiences tend to remember and even admire what traumatizes them in the name of entertainment. But even a film determined to show us the grisliest horrors of war must traumatize and -- more palatably -- excite in roughly equal measure, in order to make a lot of money. I think director Mel Gibson's "Hacksaw Ridge" is going to make a lot of money. Its old-fashioned sto... (read more)

      • Off the Rails poster image

        Off the Rails

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

        Los Angeles Times "I'm just a train buff," Darius McCollum says, which is a little bit like Mozart saying, "I just fool around with notes." For, as the excellent documentary "Off the Rails" demonstrates, McCollum is obsessed with trains (and buses for that matter) past the point of legality, or even reason. And he has more than paid the price for his passion. Something of a media celebrity in New York, where headlines about his behavior range from "Transit R... (read more)

      • Certain Women poster image

        Certain Women

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Certain Women" feels like a movie that just sort of ... happened. It's suffused with delicate but true magic, tying its three stories together with something akin to invisible string. This is writer-director Kelly Reichardt's sixth feature, and her third with one of the best cinematographers alive, Christopher Blauvelt. In "Meek's Cutoff" (2010), they collaborated to create a muted, unglamorous vision of mid-19th-century frontier life. In the more conventional "Night... (read more)

      • Jack Reacher: Never Go Back poster image

        Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The new "Jack Reacher" movie, subtitled "Never Go Back," arrives four years after Tom Cruise made his first Reacher movie, subtitled nothing. It wasn't a huge hit, but it was hit enough. Some franchises are born; some are made; others thrust themselves upon the public. The books keep coming: British author Lee Child has written 21 novels (the new one's due later this year) about the ex-U.S. Military Police Corps major, now living off the grid as a freelance knight-errant w... (read more)

      • The Accountant poster image

        The Accountant

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Reassuring the audience that, yes, there will be blood in a movie about a strip-mall accountant, "The Accountant" opens with a flashback of a multiple-murder scene involving mobsters, federal agents and an obscure sense of narrative purpose. Then, another flashback, this one to 1989: We're at a neuroscience center for children who live somewhere along the wide spectrum of autism. The boy who will become the math savant played by Ben Affleck is solving a picture puzzle, rocking back ... (read more)

      • American Honey poster image

        American Honey

        Guy Lodge, Chicago Tribune

        Variety Mere minutes into "American Honey," her scrappy, sprawling astonishment of a fourth feature, Andrea Arnold hits the audience with a song choice almost too perfect to work. As a girl's gaze meets a boy's across the packed aisles of a Midwestern Wal-Mart, the euphoric EDM throb of Calvin Harris and Rihanna's 2011 smash "We Found Love" hijacks the busy soundscape, setting a love story emphatically in motion by the time he hops up to dance on the checkout counter. &quo... (read more)

      • Deepwater Horizon poster image

        Deepwater Horizon

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Certain ingredients help a disaster movie qualify as "fun." These include, but are not limited to, asteroids; Carla Gugino, Dwayne Johnson and Alexandra Daddario outrunning an earthquake-created tsunami; global warming, or icing, on a Roland Emmerich "Day After Tomorrow" scale; and, from the genre's '70s heyday, the "all-star cast" inclusion of Red Buttons, Helen Reddy or a theme song sung by the fabulous Maureen McGovern. "Deepwater Horizon" contains n... (read more)

      • Masterminds poster image

        Masterminds

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        There's a certain subset of the population that may find Zach Galifianakis in a ridiculous hairdo the height of comedy. If you are in that segment, welcome, join us. You'll find much merriment in the lightweight and very silly comedy "Masterminds," which is astonishingly based on the true story of one of the largest cash robberies in the United States. Also, Galifianakis sports a variety of insane wigs and 'dos, from a long blonde number, to a kinky black perm, to his own Prince Val... (read more)

      • Queen of Katwe poster image

        Queen of Katwe

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Tronc Newspapers Critic A lot of Disney's fact-based sports movies stir the blood or, at the very least, satisfy our need for rousing underdog stories. Often the stories can be shaped so that a white protagonist runs the show, even if it's not really their show. "Million Dollar Arm" was like that; so was "McFarland, USA," both of which I liked -- despite the key characters, the competitors, being marginalized in their own narratives so that Jon Hamm and Kevin Costner could... (read more)

      • Storks poster image

        Storks

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        Tronc Newspapers Critic Welcome to the very strange, and strangely moving, world of "Storks." Writer-director Nicholas Stoller, known for his more adult comedies, such as "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Neighbors," delves into the family-friendly animated genre in a little movie about where babies come from. Or where they used to come from. In this world, the old wives tale of storks delivering bouncing bundles of joy is real history, though the birds have been ... (read more)

      • Blair Witch poster image

        Blair Witch

        Rick Bentley, Chicago Tribune

        The Fresno Bee It wasn't a smart script or great acting that made "The Blair Witch Project" a box office sensation in 1999. It was the creative way the movie was put together and promoted that created buzz around the quirky independent film. Even before "The Blair Witch Project" opened, there was a website and a cable special that related the story of a group of young people who went missing in some Maryland woods. The only thing left was shaky footage that gave an insight... (read more)

      • Snowden poster image

        Snowden

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Tronc Newspapers Critic When it comes to poking the bear, and to depicting American history as the cyclical wising-up of its idealists, Oliver Stone remains the man with the plan, and the bullet points. "Snowden" is co-writer and director Stone's latest. It's fairly absorbing though, increasingly, a bit of an eye-roller, and it's designed, photographed and edited to make you itchy with paranoia. Its goal is simple: It agitates for a society and a government a little less hellbent on... (read more)

      • Sully poster image

        Sully

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        The sight of a passenger plane along the skyline of New York is an image that has been seared in the global collective consciousness. It's a memory that "Sully," Clint Eastwood's new film, acknowledges, but also attempts to redefine. What if a plane skimming skyscrapers could conjure an image not just of unimaginable terror, but one of incredible heroism and skill? That's what "Sully" might accomplish, in committing to film the heartwarming story of "The Miracle on th... (read more)

      • The Light Between Oceans poster image

        The Light Between Oceans

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        With "Blue Valentine" and "The Place Beyond the Pines," filmmaker Derek Cianfrance has proved that he has a knack for both intimate romantic fables and sweeping family epics that span decades. In his adaptation of M.L. Stedman's 2012 debut novel "The Light Between Oceans," Cianfrance makes a film that is both epic and intimate, a love story intertwined with tragedy. In stars Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender, he finds performers who manage to deftly inhabit ... (read more)

      • A Tale of Love and Darkness poster image

        A Tale of Love and Darkness

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

        Los Angeles Times Actors gravitate toward passion projects, films they care deeply, even obsessively about, but the result is seldom as convincing as "A Tale of Love and Darkness," a film of beautiful melancholy written, directed by and starring Natalie Portman. A Hebrew-language film based on the celebrated memoir by Israeli novelist Amos Oz, "Love and Darkness" persuasively intertwines the personal tale of a young boy's bond with his emotionally fragile mother, strongly ... (read more)

      • Don't Breathe poster image

        Don't Breathe

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Before it became "Don't Breathe," the new home-invasion thriller with a difference had the working title "A Man in the Dark." This would be like calling "Wait Until Dark" "The Lady of Greenwich Village" -- accurate, but dull. It's the second feature directed by Uruguayan writer-director Fede Alvarez, who became a bankable genre specialist with a single movie: his slick, profitable 2013 remake of "Evil Dead." "Don't Breathe" is far le... (read more)

      • Southside With You poster image

        Southside With You

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        For roughly half of its Obama-trim 84 minutes, "Southside with You" gets by on pleasantly fraudulent biopic charm, more like the movies than life. The conversation sounds more like writing than talking, and the heightened, slightly stilted formality of the exchanges comes across sometimes in dramatically effective and convincing ways, other times in ways that aren't as deliberate. Then something happens -- the right thing. Chronicling the first date of Barack Obama and Michelle Robi... (read more)

      • The Hollars poster image

        The Hollars

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        Crises of masculinity abound in John Krasinski's second directorial effort "The Hollars." He also stars in the film, a story of a man coming to grips with his past, present and future family. Krasinski's debut was "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men," and "The Hollars" might as well be titled "Mundane Interactions with Mediocre Men (and the Women Behind Them)," as the Hollar men struggle to accept their fates in life. Krasinski works with a script by Jim... (read more)

      • Hell or High Water poster image

        Hell or High Water

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        One of the great pleasures in modern movies is watching Jeff Bridges peer a long, long way over a pair of reading glasses, chew on a private thought for a second or two and then roll the next line of dialogue out of his mouth, like an Atomic Fireball. He's a paradox: a joyously authentic hambone. And he's one of many successful elements of the sentimental, violent, irresistible new crime thriller "Hell or High Water." If you like, call it a Western. It's a Western old-fashioned enou... (read more)

      • Kubo and the Two Strings poster image

        Kubo and the Two Strings

        Colin Covert, Chicago Tribune

        Within this heyday of computer-animated movies, the greatest special effect is creating emotionally resonant characters. The adventure fantasy "Kubo and the Two Strings" is seamless stop-motion storytelling, from Laika, the independent animation studio that gave us the darkly entertaining "Coraline," "ParaNorman" and "The Boxtrolls." Yet wizardly art direction isn't the film's most striking quality. It's the endearing, playful, touching, cantankerous an... (read more)

      • Suicide Squad poster image

        Suicide Squad

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Three "if"s, a "when" and a "but" regarding the new DC Comics movie "Suicide Squad" starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto and Viola Davis: IF you were to make a better film than the one writer-director David Ayer has made, you'd still hire Smith. He takes top billing as Deadshot, the world's most lethal hit man who is going through some custody issues with his adorable daughter. Older now, his screen presence informed by a relaxed authority, th... (read more)

      • Jason Bourne poster image

        Jason Bourne

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Jason Bourne is back, after nine long years in cold franchise storage. That time gap explains why the new film "Jason Bourne" puts quotes around its conflicted super-assassin's full fake name. We know it, according to the ads. We know his name. But just in case. The ideal audience for this movie: amnesiac graduates of the deadly U.S. intelligence experiment known as Operation Treadstone, the dark secret at the center of the series based extraordinarily loosely on the Bourne novels b... (read more)

      • Ice Age: Collision Course poster image

        Ice Age: Collision Course

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        Fourteen years after the first "Ice Age" animated film was a hit, the fifth installment in the franchise, "Ice Age: Collision Course," rolls into theaters. Is it inevitable? Yes, 2012's "Ice Age: Continental Drift," was the highest grossing animated film that year. Is it necessary? Absolutely not. "Collision Course" is simply a perfunctory, watered-down entry in the series that feels like it should have been released on home video. In this world of anci... (read more)

      • Ghostbusters poster image

        Ghostbusters

        Jake Coyle, Chicago Tribune

        Associated Press The easy, electric chemistry of the four leads in Paul Feig's "Ghostbusters" acts like a firewall against the supernatural and the adolescent, alike, in this spirited reboot of the 1984 original. Ghouls and anonymous Internet commenters -- who have flocked to their thumbs-down buttons ahead of the film's release -- share plenty of characteristics. Each is likely to drool and quickly disappear when you turn on the lights. Feig's "Ghostbusters" ain't afraid ... (read more)

      • The Secret Life of Pets poster image

        The Secret Life of Pets

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        A movie about what pets do during the day is a winning premise. Of course we want to know what those adorable creatures with whom we share our lives are up to, and so "The Secret Life of Pets" is here to explore those possibilities. Turns out their days are much more dramatic and crazier than ours, with all sorts of underworld pet societies and warring animal factions. There's apparently a lot to keep secret in the lives of these pets. "The Secret Life of Pets" comes from ... (read more)

      • Hunt for the Wilderpeople poster image

        Hunt for the Wilderpeople

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

        Los Angeles Times Every once in a while, a small, unheralded film comes along, so smart and funny, such a pleasure to experience, you can't believe your luck. "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" is such a film. The wacky story of the way-unlikely alliance between an overweight reprobate of a teenager and a surly, wilderness loving loner, "Wilderpeople" was written and directed by New Zealand's Taika Waititi, whose last credit was the admired vampire mockumentary "What We Do i... (read more)

      • Finding Dory poster image

        Finding Dory

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Childhood and, in fact, the very act of being human involves a certain level of loneliness. The great news is, you can make money off it. For close to 80 years, if you go by Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" making history in 1937, all sorts and achievement levels of feature animation have preyed upon the fears, insecurities and isolating circumstances of growing up. The best Pixar features, like those pre- and post-digital from Pixar's parent company, Disney, have exploite... (read more)

      • The Music of Strangers poster image

        The Music of Strangers

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

        With a documentary called "The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble," there's no doubting that wonderful sounds will be in store. But that's not all that's on offer. For, as directed by Morgan Neville, "Strangers" turns out to be as concerned with emotion as with performance, spending much of its time investigating how so much joyous music was able to come out of exploration, disturbance, even pain. At the center of everything is 60-year-old cellist Ma, ... (read more)

      • Alice Through the Looking Glass poster image

        Alice Through the Looking Glass

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        When Tim Burton's 2010 live-action version of "Alice in Wonderland" raked in a billion dollars there was no question that Disney would pounce on the opportunity for a sequel. Helpfully, Lewis Carroll did write a second book about Alice and her adventures in Wonderland, "Through the Looking-Glass," but it proves to be only a suggestion for the film, which arrives this weekend, to a very diminished return. It feels reverse-engineered to fit a release date, with a story that,... (read more)

      • Love & Friendship poster image

        Love & Friendship

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Whit Stillman's "Love & Friendship" is compact, modestly budgeted, sublimely acted and almost completely terrific. It'll likely disorient the average Jane Austen fanatic, which is nice, too. The writer-director of "Metropolitan," "Barcelona," "The Last Days of Disco" and "Damsels in Distress" has adapted Jane Austen's early novella "Lady Susan," retitling it after an even more obscure story from Austen's teenage years. The results re... (read more)

      • The Angry Birds Movie poster image

        The Angry Birds Movie

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        If you've ever played the mobile video game Angry Birds, you might have found yourself wondering -- why am I sling-shotting cartoon birds at grinning green pigs? Why are these birds so angry? What have the pigs done to deserve this destruction? "Angry Birds," the movie, is here to fill in that backstory, to answer the questions that may or may not have been asked, and provide motivation for the avian rage. The film, directed by Clay Kittis and Fergal Reilly, from a screenplay by &qu... (read more)

      • Sing Street poster image

        Sing Street

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Set in 1985 Dublin, "Sing Street" is a seriously endearing picture from John Carney, the writer-director of "Once," about which I am crazy. For his latest, I'm two-thirds crazy. That's percentage enough. Working on a broader canvas, creating a different sort of artist's fantasy of fulfillment than the plaintive "Once" offered, "Sing Street" accommodates elements of gritty realism and liberating escapism, one feeding the other. One minute you're watching... (read more)

      • Green Room poster image

        Green Room

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        In writer-director Jeremy Saulnier's "Blue Ruin," which put him on the map in 2013, the tension is controlled, measured; it follows an intentional plan of violence in a story of long overdue revenge. In his follow-up, "Green Room," Saulnier takes the opposite approach, in a horror story of the chaos and random chance of violence set in the world of hardcore punk shows. While "Blue Ruin" was openly emotional, burrowing into deep interfamilial rifts, "Green Ro... (read more)

      • The Huntsman: Winter's War poster image

        The Huntsman: Winter's War

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        How do you solve a problem like Kristen (Stewart)? If you're the filmmakers of "The Huntsman: Winter's War," you write Snow White entirely out of the sequel to "Snow White and the Huntsman." The film's clearly a valuable property, so it's no wonder that Universal would return to that well with a sequel, this time directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, the visual effects supervisor on the first film. But the script acrobatics result in a bizarre prequel/sequel mash up where Sno... (read more)

      • 10 Cloverfield Lane poster image

        10 Cloverfield Lane

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "10 Cloverfield Lane" is only nominally a sequel to "Cloverfield," the scruffy li'l 2008 monster movie in which New York idiots ran around filming themselves while their city became the plaything of an intergalactic tourist. The new picture is that earlier film's neighbor down the street. And the neighbor lives in an underground bunker, where most of the story is set. Are there monsters? Well. They're alluded to in the title and in the trailer, when John Goodman and Mary E... (read more)

      • Eddie the Eagle poster image

        Eddie the Eagle

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        A cheery tale of unlikely sporting triumph, "Eddie the Eagle," directed by Dexter Fletcher, offers up a retro feel-good yarn about the power of determination. While it's often cookie-cutter sports movie conventional, you'd have to be stone-hearted to remain un-charmed by the story of real-life British ski jumper Michael "Eddie" Edwards, played by rising star Taron Egerton. As a kid, enthusiastic young Eddie declares he's going to be an Olympian, despite his corrective leg ... (read more)

      • Deadpool poster image

        Deadpool

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A fairly funny trashing of its own glib self, "Deadpool" is a movie about an unkillable wisenheimer who never shuts up, even while enduring or inflicting enough putrid brutality to earn an X or a NC-17 rating just a few years ago. The masked antihero is played by Ryan Reynolds, clearly having the screen time of his life, to date. He sounds strikingly like his fellow Canadian Jim Carrey when he goes into manic-wisecrack mode, riffing on everything from the "Taken" movies to... (read more)

      • Kung Fu Panda 3 poster image

        Kung Fu Panda 3

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        A third installment in a franchise isn't always great. But sometimes, it can be a comforting guarantee of a good time at the movies, as is the case with "Kung Fu Panda 3." The first two installments have been met with rapturous reception and box office success, and this one will no doubt follow in their footsteps -- with good reason. The engaging and heartfelt story, coupled with eye-popping animation, makes "Kung Fu Panda 3" a total knockout. In a prologue, we're introduc... (read more)

      • 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi poster image

        13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Everything in director Michael Bay's cinematic vocabulary -- the glamorizing slo-mo, the falling bomb point-of-view shots, the low-angle framing of his heroes with blue sky, fireballs or an American flag in the background -- suggests not real life, or the way things might have happened, but a Michael Bay movie. It's true of the "Transformers" movies and it's true of "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi." Bay's latest is a mixed-up blend of truth and distortion. Parts... (read more)

      • Creed poster image

        Creed

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Back in 1976, our bicentennial year, the nation yearned for a red, white and blue plate special piled high with corn. Something to believe in. Then, up those Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, backed by the Bill Conti theme, that something arrived. Nobody went to the first "Rocky" for the finesse of the filmmaking. They went for the underdog-rooting, for Rocky and Adrian, for the unexpected sweetness, for the redemption angle, for the reconstituted boxing movie cliches that tasted no... (read more)

      • The Good Dinosaur poster image

        The Good Dinosaur

        Rick Bentley, Chicago Tribune

        Production was halted early in the process of making "The Good Dinosaur" because it had some dinosaur-sized problems. Peter Sohn was brought in as the new director and he started the process over two years ago. The second attempt ends up so flat it would have been smart to scrap it and try a third time. It is weighed down by a flawed concept, unappealing characters and a soundtrack that lacks anything close to a memorable tune. The only aspect worthy of high praise is the background... (read more)

      • The Peanuts Movie poster image

        The Peanuts Movie

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        Beloved, neurotic cartoon kid Charlie Brown hits the biggest screen possible (and in 3-D) in the warm "The Peanuts Movie," directed by animation vet Steve Martino. The film pays its utmost respect to artist Charles Schulz, who carefully created a world inhabited only by children, where their dilemmas are treated with high-stakes drama. It meets children on their own terms, but never dumbs it down, exploring the complex emotions of children. "The Peanuts Movie" cobbles toge... (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)

      • 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)

      • Into the Woods poster image

        Into the Woods

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In the generation since "Into the Woods" opened on Broadway, the entertainment world has recycled a forest's worth of enchantress-based, princess-dependent and fairy tale-steeped mythology for mass consumption, from Disney's "Frozen" and "Maleficent" to the smaller screen's "Grimm," "Once Upon a Time" and "Charmed." And let's not forget the theatrical extravaganza "Wicked," whose anthemic, full-bore sensibility and songs (f... (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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • 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 Girl on the Train poster image

        The Girl on the Train

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Let's be Blunt. Emily Blunt is an excellent and wily actress. In "The Girl on the Train" she's persuasive enough, both in angsty, raging extremis and in wary voyeur mode, to play a sort of shell game with her own messed-up movie. Look over here! I've figured out how to make this plot device behave like a real person! The words you'd use to describe director Tate Taylor's film version of the best-selling Paula Hawkins novel are the same words one of the patronizing male characters mi... (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)

      • Only Lovers Left Alive poster image

        Only Lovers Left Alive

        Sheri Linden, Chicago Tribune

        With the YA swoon of "Twilight" safely in the rearview mirror, movie vampires get their mojo back in the sensuous dreamscape of "Only Lovers Left Alive," one of the strongest films yet from Jim Jarmusch. A filmmaker with a deep affection for outsiders, Jarmusch sets his ode to the urbane undead -- and margin-dwelling artists -- in two ultra-poetic cities: Detroit, a vision of trampled grandeur on the cusp of rebirth, and worldly Tangier, its alleyways alive with the murmur... (read more)

      • All Is Bright poster image

        All Is Bright

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        If there is any reason, besides an annual craving for cinematic Christmas cheer, to see "Almost Christmas," that reason is Mo'Nique. Heck, the Mo'Nique bloopers at the end of the film are worth the price of admission. So thank you, writer/director David E. Talbert for finally giving Mo'Nique a decent role after her Oscar-winning turn in 2009's "Precious" -- we needed her back on the big screen. Talbert does right by essentially turning the cameras on and letting Mo'Nique d... (read more)

      • The World's End poster image

        The World's End

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Zippy, kinetic and brashly funny, "The World's End" comes to the U.S. from its native England hard on the heels of "This Is the End," an American comedy about ordinary mortals (comedians, actually, so maybe not so ordinary) manning up to deal with apocalyptic plot developments. "World's End," a collaboration among director Edgar Wright, co-writer and star Simon Pegg and co-star Nick Frost, joins the trio's earlier genre scrambles "Shaun of the Dead" (zo... (read more)

      • Oz the Great and Powerful poster image

        Oz the Great and Powerful

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In show business, like all business, very often you spend money to make money. Director Sam Raimi's "Oz: The Great and Powerful" is Disney's latest attempt to spend $200 million to make a billion worldwide, on the order of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland." Shot in 3-D on soundstages in Pontiac, Mich., the movie carries a heavy load of expectation-based freight and stockholder-oriented imperatives, enough to make it pretty hard on Raimi and company to achieve anything tru... (read more)

      • Dredd poster image

        Dredd

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The time-killing carnage in "Dredd 3D" can be assessed all sorts of ways. One depends on how much M-rated gaming you do as a matter of course. If the answer is some, or a lot, you'll likely find "Dredd 3D" up your viscera-strewn alley, because the film isn't merely influenced by a genre of first-person, shoot/stab/eviscerate/these/anonymous/enemies scenarios. It re-creates them, slavishly, as did the recent "The Raid: Redemption," so that calling "Dredd 3D&q... (read more)

      • Pariah poster image

        Pariah

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Remember the name Adepero Oduye. In fact, commit the spelling to memory. The luminous actress who plays the high school junior (nearly half the performer's real age) at the center of the exceptional, new, coming-of-age drama "Pariah" has one of those faces that lights up the screen while lighting the way for a filmmaker's story. Already playing in New York and LA, writer-director Dee Rees' film is one of those Sundance Film Festival success stories that travels well; it started as a... (read more)

      • The Skin I Live In poster image

        The Skin I Live In

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Part of the payoff of the new Pedro Almodovar movie, "The Skin I Live In," comes in seeing Antonio Banderas reunite, after two decades, with the director whose flamboyant black comedies launched Banderas into stardom. The last film they made together was "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" In "The Skin I Live In," despite its psychosexual figure eights and risky medical procedures, Banderas keeps a tight seal on his usual ebullience, anchoring with a meticulously straight ... (read more)

      • Black Swan poster image

        Black Swan

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader poster image

        The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The ``faith group, as director Michael Apted has referred to the Christian moviegoing base that helped turn ``The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe into a worldwide success, may have felt snubbed by the frenetic second film in the series, ``Prince Caspian. The first made $745 million; the second, a pleasant-sounding but unprofitable $420 million, owing to the hundreds of millions involved in production and marketing. The new ``Narnia chronicle, ``The Voyage of the Daw... (read more)

      • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World poster image

        Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It's easy to make a movie in a style approximating that of a comic book or graphic novel. "Sin City" did it. "Road to Perdition" did it. "Watchmen" and "Kick-Ass" did it. As did "Ghost World." Except for that last one, the others fell short as movies because they mistook visual replication for authenticity. They were storyboards based on storyboards, not films. "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" is different, and not just because it's fun... (read more)

      • Detestable Moi 3D Numerique poster image

        Detestable Moi 3D Numerique

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        An agreeable jumble, the animated feature "Despicable Me" sells its 3-D in ways you wouldn't call sophisticated or witty. But you certainly notice it. Front car in a roller coaster, up, up, up, then down, down, down -- aaaaahhhhAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!!!!! Like that. And now and then, I like it like that, no matter how dubious this second coming of 3-D is starting to smell. Compared with the restrained sophistication of Pixar's approach to the technology, and in sharp contrast to such murky,... (read more)

      • Frozen poster image

        Frozen

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Big, bright, often beautiful and essentially an action movie, as are most animated features these days, "Frozen" comes from Walt Disney Animation Studios. While Disney credits the 1845 Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Snow Queen" as primary inspiration, the movie owes a lot more to the Broadway blockbuster "Wicked." Example: In "Frozen," when its misunderstood young sorceress (voiced by Idina Menzel, who won a Tony for originating the green one i... (read more)

      • Avatar: An IMAX Experience poster image

        Avatar: An IMAX Experience

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Blue is the new green, if the billion-or-more box-office predictions come true for James Cameron's first feature since "Titanic" 12 years ago. So. How is it? Does it look like a billion? It does, yes. But folks, I haven't experienced such a clear dividing line within a blockbuster in years. The first 90 minutes of "Avatar" are pretty terrific -- a full-immersion technological wonder with wonders to spare. The other 72 minutes, less and less terrific. Cameron's story, which... (read more)

      • Fantastic Mr. Fox poster image

        Fantastic Mr. Fox

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        So many careful and clever visual felicities dot the landscape of Wes Anderson's animated feature "Fantastic Mr. Fox," from the catastrophically inclined watercolors painted by Mrs. Fox to the autumn breezes ruffling various species of animals' fur just so, I'm flummoxed as to why the movie left me feeling up in the air, as opposed to over the moon. Partly, I think, it's a matter of how Anderson's sense of humor rubs up against that of the book's author, Roald Dahl. It's also a mat... (read more)

      • Ponyo poster image

        Ponyo

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

        You'll be planning to see "Ponyo" twice before you've finished seeing it once. Five minutes into this magical film you'll be making lists of the individuals of every age you can expose to the very special mixture of fantasy and folklore, adventure and affection, that make up the enchanted vision of Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki. The great genius of contemporary animation, the only foreign director to win the Oscar for best animated feature (for "Spirited Away," which al... (read more)

      • (500) Days of Summer poster image

        (500) Days of Summer

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        For a lot of casual filmgoers in their teens and 20s - the ones yet to encounter a Charlie Kaufman script such as "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" or who haven't seen the bittersweet 1967 "Two for the Road," written by Frederic Raphael, or have yet to dive into a Milan Kundera novel - the structural mind games played by the romantic comedy "(500) Days of Summer" may throw them, happily, for a loop. I hope so. The structure's mainly what this pleasant summe... (read more)

      • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: The IMAX 2D Experience poster image

        Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: The IMAX 2D Experience

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A small vial of "liquid luck" (lovely concept, one of many in J.K. Rowling's universe) plays a supporting role in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," No. 6 in the franchise. (The two-film edition of " Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" will be released in 2010 and 2011, respectively.) But luck, really, has little to do with the way these films turn out. After getting my head caught in the blender that is "Transformers 2," I found it especially ... (read more)

      • Under the Sea poster image

        Under the Sea

        Michael Esposito, Chicago Tribune

        Jim Carrey narrates "Under the Sea 3D," a new installment in the underwater 3-D filmmaking that IMAX pretty much owns these days. Nothing compares to the images in these films, and director Howard Hall, whose previous offerings include the IMAX hits "Deep Sea 3D" and "Into the Deep 3D," knows his way around the underwater camera - all 1,300 pounds of it - and personally tallied 358 hours of the dive team's 2,073 hours under the sea (accomplished in 1,668 total di... (read more)

      • The Tale of Despereaux poster image

        The Tale of Despereaux

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The chipper cynicism of the "Shrek" movies ($2.2 billion in grosses worldwide) is a popular commodity indeed because so many cultures share the same fairy tale tropes and enjoy seeing them shot at with a pea shooter. The success of those films makes it doubly hard for a more earnest, emotional number such as "The Tale of Despereaux" to gain traction with a mass audience, particularly a mass audience of preteens for whom DreamWorks and Nickelodeon-fed sarcasm is the default... (read more)

      • Passengers poster image

        Passengers

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        Imagine being trapped on a spaceship with only your lover and a robot bartender for nearly a century; there isn't a spaceship big enough or a bar that well-stocked to make that sound appealing. This is the issue at the center of the ostensibly "romantic" sci-fi drama "Passengers," directed by Morten Tyldum from a script by Jon Spaihts. While romance is the intended effect, the film's real premise, concealed by the glossy trailers, is imbued with some seriously creepy under... (read more)

      • The Dark Knight: The IMAX Experience poster image

        The Dark Knight: The IMAX Experience

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Sensational, grandly sinister and not for the kids, "The Dark Knight" elevates pulp to a very high level. Heath Ledger's Joker takes it higher still, and the 28-year-old actor's death earlier this year of an accidental overdose lends the film an air of a funeral and a rollicking, out-of-control wake mixed together. In "The Dark Knight," Ledger makes all other comic-book screen villains look like Baby Huey. Like Shakespeare's Iago or Richard III, like Anthony Hopkins' Hanni... (read more)

      • Drillbit Taylor poster image

        Drillbit Taylor

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        We can't go back to the dear old movie bullies of yesteryear. It's too late. The world is now officially more dangerous and violent teens aren't much of a punch line. The new Owen Wilson vehicle "Drillbit Taylor" knows this. The film's eerily unfunny antagonist skulks around in a hooded sweatshirt, looking like one of the Columbine perps - as much as it's possible to do so and still exist inside some sort of comedy, albeit a queasy and increasingly grim one. "Drillbit Taylor&qu... (read more)

      • No Country for Old Men poster image

        No Country for Old Men

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        As pure craftsmanship, "No Country for Old Men" is as good as we've ever gotten from Joel and Ethan Coen. Only "Fargo" is more satisfying (it's also a comedy, which this one isn't), certainly among the brothers' pictures driven by the evil that men do and all that can go wrong under the precepts of Murphy's law. It took me two viewings of the film, set in the early 1980s along the West Texas/Mexico border, to appreciate it fully for what it is, a viciously effective exerc... (read more)

      • American Gangster poster image

        American Gangster

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Amid this fall's array of small, topical dramas, many of which have carried a medicinal aftertaste, "American Gangster" comes as something of a relief. It's a big, juicy 1970s period piece, one foot in real life, the other in the movies, the preferred stance of many Hollywood crime sagas. The film gathers steam slowly but surely. Near the end, after spending most of their screen time on parallel tracks, Denzel Washington, as Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas, mixes it up with Russell Cro... (read more)

      • Eastern Promises poster image

        Eastern Promises

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        An unusually strong crime thriller, "Eastern Promises" comes from director David Cronenberg, a meticulous old-school craftsman of a type that is becoming increasingly rare. It's difficult to describe his technique, which is vivid but not flashy. Similarly this tale, about the sinister workings of the Russian mob in modern-day London, is gripping and often spectacularly violent - more about the bathhouse murder sequence later - but never salaciously so. The Canadian director has enjo... (read more)

      • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix poster image

        Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        He's back, and he's hacked off. The most striking aspect of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is its contrast between the hormonally and supernaturally tormented teenager at its center and the modestly well-made and easygoing picture unfolding all around him. No. 5 in the omnipresent global franchise, "Order of the Phoenix" lies at a no-nonsense halfway point between the best of the Potter films ("Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban") and the most ... (read more)

      • Happy Feet poster image

        Happy Feet

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A dancing-penguin epic with more mood swings than "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Terms of Endearment" put together, "Happy Feet" also claims the distinction of being the grimmest film with the word "happy" in its title since "Happy Birthday, Wanda June." This is merely a fact, not a dismissal. Far from it: A lot of director George Miller's film is gorgeous and exciting. Its craftsmanship and ambition put it a continent ahead of nearly every othe... (read more)

      • Stranger Than Fiction poster image

        Stranger Than Fiction

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        When screenwriter Zach Helm was a young man - younger, anyway; he's now 31 - he gravitated to the impishly articulate works of Tom Stoppard, as so many young writers do. In particular, he fell for the early Stoppard play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," in which a couple of minor characters from Shakespeare's "Hamlet" mull their roles in someone else's tragedy, which unfolds at the whim of an unseen but all-powerful writer. With "Stranger Than Fiction," H... (read more)

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