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      • A Most Wanted Man poster image

        A Most Wanted Man

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It's impossible to watch the character anchoring Anton Corbijn's cool, clear-eyed film version of "A Most Wanted Man" without forgetting the fate of the bleary-eyed but fantastically vital actor who plays him. Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a drug overdose in February after completing work on what became his final starring role in the movies. As Gunther Bachmann, the patient, alert German intelligence expert created by novelist John le Carre, Hoffman smokes constantly. The character... (read more)

      • Lucy poster image

        Lucy

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Magic in the Moonlight poster image

        Magic in the Moonlight

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Boyhood poster image

        Boyhood

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • I Origins poster image

        I Origins

        Betsy Sharkey, Chicago Tribune

        In Mike Cahill movies, bad things happen to good people, and other good people are guilt-ridden as a result. But the human connections and the spare sci-fi logic that characterized "Another Earth," Cahill's ethereal romantic dramatic debut, are muddied in "I Origins." It is, in fact, logic that weighs this film down. While "Another Earth" floated the idea of a parallel universe and a second chance at life and love within its tragedy, "I Origins" uses it... (read more)

      • Mood Indigo poster image

        Mood Indigo

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Sex Tape poster image

        Sex Tape

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Like "2001: A Space Odyssey," Jake Kasdan's "Sex Tape" is a grim cautionary fable about the evils of technology, in this case pitting its desperate protagonists against an unseen force people refer to as "the cloud." Unlike "2001," it's also a stupid, strenuous sex farce starring Cameron Diaz, Diaz's dorsal-view body double and Jason Segel as an LA couple (she's a mommy blogger, he's in radio) with two kids, an increasingly groggy romantic life and a pr... (read more)

      • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes poster image

        Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Life Itself poster image

        Life Itself

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The fine, fond Roger Ebert documentary "Life Itself" is finally in a theater in Chicago, Landmark's Century Centre Cinema, starting opening in limited release Friday. It's also available from July 4 onward on iTunes and various video-on-demand formats. On July 11, the film opens in Highland Park. We all have our preferences, but a traditional movie house really is the best place to embrace director Steve James' internationally beloved subject. Ebert's mellifluous intellect and opini... (read more)

      • Can a Song Save Your Life? poster image

        Can a Song Save Your Life?

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Earth to Echo poster image

        Earth to Echo

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Tammy poster image

        Tammy

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Small favors, but in "Tammy" we have a less grating road-trip comedy than "Identity Thief," the one Melissa McCarthy did with Jason Bateman, and a more deliberately heartwarming vehicle than "The Heat," featuring McCarthy and Sandra Bullock. In McCarthy, we have a performer we can trust to deliver laughs even when they barely exist on the page. The "Mike & Molly" star and Oscar nominee (for "Bridesmaids") produced and co-wrote her latest with ... (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)

      • The Rover poster image

        The Rover

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

        Don't take Eric's car. Don't take Eric's car. Don't take Eric's ... You get the idea. Masterfully brought to life by Guy Pearce in a performance of pure controlled ferocity, Eric and his implacable, obsessive, stop-at-nothing quest to recover his stolen vehicle is the centerpiece of David Michod's tense and remorseless "The Rover," a film shot in 100-degree-plus heat that chills the blood as well as the soul. Michod's name may not be familiar, but his debut film, "Animal Kingdo... (read more)

      • Think Like a Man Too poster image

        Think Like a Man Too

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A 105-minute ad for Caesars Palace, the passably engaging sequel "Think Like a Man Too" allows Kevin Hart, the ensemble's hottest potato, to hijack whole sections of the Las Vegas-set hijinks as he lets loose with his little verbal tsunamis of braggadocio. The way this comedy has been edited by Peter S. Elliot, presumably at the urging of director Tim Story, the shots barely hold themselves for two or three seconds before slam-cutting away to a pushy reaction shot. This isn't moment... (read more)

      • Third Person poster image

        Third Person

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Women! They're all desperate, agitated harpies and relentless sources of internal and external conflict in "Third Person," writer-director Paul Haggis' exasperating multistory drama about how hard it is for a nice, quiet, sensitive guy to be left alone to write an exasperating multistory drama. Liam Neeson stars as that guy. He's a famous prize-winning author, holed up in a swank Paris hotel room, trying to wrestle his latest novel into shape many drafts after its inception. He has ... (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)

      • Ivory Tower poster image

        Ivory Tower

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

        Is college, specifically the elite four-year residential model, overrated? Is it worth its ever-increasing cost? Has it been oversold as the key to a child's brighter future? The stimulating documentary "Ivory Tower" asks all these tough questions and, most provocatively of all, declines to give definitive answers. As directed by Andrew Rossi, "Ivory Tower" wants to educate and stir the pot, to get us to understand the extent of the dilemma, which is considerable. This fil... (read more)

      • Oh Boy poster image

        Oh Boy

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips Reports of the slim but impressive 83-minute German film "A Coffee in Berlin" -- titled "Oh Boy" in its popular initial European release -- have been inflated by the picture winning scads of awards in its country of origin upon initial release. But we're here to talk about the movie, not the hype or the burden of expectation. This Music Box Films release has a distinct and confident look, as sure of itself vi... (read more)

      • The Fault in Our Stars poster image

        The Fault in Our Stars

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • A Million Ways to Die in the West poster image

        A Million Ways to Die in the West

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "A Million Ways to Die in the West" is a grim vanity project for, by and about its creator, "Family Guy" guru Seth MacFarlane, determined here to prove himself capable of carrying his own movie in a romantic-comic leading role. He hits his marks; he's just not funny or interesting. Don Knotts made "The Shakiest Gun in the West"; MacFarlane is the smuggest. Plenty of comedies aren't funny, but this one is more than that. It's wholeheartedly narcissistic in its por... (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)

      • Blended poster image

        Blended

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        McClatchy Newspapers These days, Adam Sandler is a bottle of beer that's lost all its bubbles -- cheap, mass-produced domestic beer. So let's focus on what works in his latest, "Blended," because he sure doesn't. Drew Barrymore, in her third pairing with Sandler, still brings energy and conviction to her performance as Lauren, a mother of two thrown together on an African vacation with this lump she met on the blind date from hell -- a blind date at Hooters. Wendi McClendon-Covey, p... (read more)

      • Cold in July poster image

        Cold in July

        Betsy Sharkey, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips Only in Texas could the neo-noir of "Cold in July" be so believable. I say that as a fan of both the state and the style. This striking new entry in pulp fiction stars Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard and Don Johnson in a tangled tale of crime and punishment that mines the Lone Star lore of guns and killing. Written and directed by Jim Mickle and based on Joe R. Lansdale's novel, "Cold's" threatening mood puts it... (read more)

      • X-Men: Days of Future Past poster image

        X-Men: Days of Future Past

        Christopher Borrelli, Chicago Tribune

        About midway into the latest X-Men flick, Bryan Singer's generous, delightfully convoluted "X-Men: Days of Future Past," there is a prison break so exuberant and uncharacteristic of superhero movies that you sit up a bit in your seat. You feel the audience around you snapping to. Not because Singer's return to the 14-year-old film franchise feels undernourished (it doesn't). Or what comes before seems perfunctory (it's not). But because the sequence -- Wolverine, the Pentagon and &q... (read more)

      • Chinese Puzzle poster image

        Chinese Puzzle

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        McClatchy Newspapers There was a time when we felt safe assuming the course of our lives would be predictable: courtship in our teens and 20s, align ourselves with a career, marriage and kids by our 30s and "settle down" by 40. But maybe that's changing, evolving right before our eyes. That's the larger subtext of "Chinese Puzzle," the new French film, third in a series (we can't really call it a "trilogy") featuring those randy, open-minded Europeans of "L'... (read more)

      • Million Dollar Arm poster image

        Million Dollar Arm

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Partly it's the granite chin, and the ever-so-slightly self-congratulatory grin just above it. Partly it's his signature role, the duplicitous hollow man Don Draper on "Mad Men," the role Jon Hamm has been fortunate enough to explore the past few years. Whatever the factors, Hamm may always have to guard against a certain self-regard on camera, a mild-to-moderate case of peacock-itis. The actor, like many a well-known star before him, has the blessing and the sometime curse of the r... (read more)

      • The Immigrant poster image

        The Immigrant

        Betsy Sharkey, Chicago Tribune

        "The Immigrant," starring Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner, is one of those prickly period pieces about hard times that gets under your skin and leaves you unsettled long after. Though its story is far more about survival than love, there is a sense of seduction in director James Gray's new film, a wolf in sheep's clothing quality. Not unlike Bruno Weiss, the dandy who trolls Ellis Island for pretty girls in bad straits, played so well by Phoenix. Cotillard's Ewa ... (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)

      • Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return poster image

        Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        "Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return" is a harmless but almost charmless adaptation of a book by L. Frank Baum's grandson. It's a derivative hash of grandpa's story, set in the present day, given forgettable new tunes by pop songsmiths such as Bryan Adams sung by the likes of Lea Michele, Martin Short, Hugh Dancy and the operatic Megan Hilty of TV's "Smash." And it's in 3-D, of course. This work, animated at Prana in India, has decent production design -- a dark, abandoned Eme... (read more)

      • Moms' Night Out poster image

        Moms' Night Out

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        Faith-based films have become commonplace this year. But faith-based comedies? Comedies that work? That's still a very short historical list -- the George Burns blockbuster "Oh God" and Andy Griffith's "Angel in my Pocket" are the only two that come to mind. "Moms' Night Out" doesn't join their ranks. A PG-rated romp that never romps, it lacks the jokes, sight gags, pacing and performances that laughs are made of. A funny movie doesn't have to leave you with a &q... (read more)

      • Ida poster image

        Ida

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Amazing Spider-Man 2 poster image

        The Amazing Spider-Man 2

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • For No Good Reason poster image

        For No Good Reason

        Gary Goldstein, Chicago Tribune

        The inventively shot and constructed documentary "For No Good Reason" is an absorbing look at the unique, surreal work of British cartoonist Ralph Steadman. Yet the film, directed by Charlie Paul and narrated by -- and also co-starring -- Steadman's friend and admirer Johnny Depp, proves more successful at examining a lifetime's worth of an artist's output than at revealing much about the artist himself. Fortunately, Steadman's blotchy ink drawings are captivating; bold, weird, sati... (read more)

      • Locke poster image

        Locke

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Locke" is a solo act, and Tom Hardy is its superbly talented soloist. Throughout writer-director Steven Knight's nocturnal drama, the actor, deploying a Welsh accent, keeps his voice in a calm, determined register, suggesting a born manager and innate control freak whose life has spun atypically out of control. This man knows the best way to talk someone off a ledge does not involve matching or exceeding their emotions. Hardy, Mr. Intensity always, tamps down the character's inner ... (read more)

      • The Railway Man poster image

        The Railway Man

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The concept of manly grief leads into so many dark areas and cultural expectations -- questions about how men are expected to bury their trauma long after the traumatizing event. Or else, how men are expected to examine it, reckon with it emotionally, when everything in their DNA and their upbringing tells them to keep it in. In "The Railway Man," which has many problems but also has Colin Firth, the story belongs to Eric Lomax. Lomax's memoir gave this half-good, half-fraudulent fi... (read more)

      • Draft Day poster image

        Draft Day

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • Bad Words poster image

        Bad Words

        Betsy Sharkey, Chicago Tribune

        Betsy Sharkey Sarcastic, sanctimonious, salacious, sly, slight and surprisingly sweet, the black comedy of "Bad Words," starring and directed by Jason Bateman, is high-minded, foul-mouthed good nonsense. I had wondered where Bateman's angry itch would take him next. The script, by Andrew Dodge, is his first to be produced after many years in the studio trenches, and it's a good match of man and material. As an actor -- whether a victim trying to even the score with Melissa McCarthy ... (read more)

      • Finding Vivian Maier poster image

        Finding Vivian Maier

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Vivian Maier is a great Chicago story. And what she did for, and with, the faces, neighborhoods and character of mid-20th century Chicago deserves comparison to what Robert Frank accomplished, in a wider format, with "The Americans." "Finding Vivian Maier" captures the bittersweet life, stealth photographic career and tantalizing riddle embodied by Maier (1926-2009), who was of French and Austrian ancestry. For much of her life Maier lived and worked as a nanny in Chicago'... (read more)

      • Noah poster image

        Noah

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Michael Phillips Neither fish nor fowl, neither foul nor inspiring, director and co-writer Darren Aronofsky's strange and often rich new movie "Noah" has enough actual filmmaking to its name to deserve better handling than a plainly nervous Paramount Pictures has given it. Aronofsky's a determined sort of fever dreamer, whose work so far includes "Black Swan" and "The Wrestler" in the popular success category, along with his earlier "Pi" and "Requi... (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)

      • Enemy poster image

        Enemy

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Based on "The Double" by novelist Jose Saramago, "Enemy" stars Jake Gyllenhaal in what the old studio publicity departments used to call "a demanding dual role." We're in a city -- Toronto, clouded over with haze and a peculiar, sickly light managed by cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc -- where a history professor, played by Gyllenhaal, tries to rally his half-empty lecture halls with warnings of the totalitarian state. Is this man, Adam, the same man (also played b... (read more)

      • The Cold Lands poster image

        The Cold Lands

        Boyd van Hoeij, Chicago Tribune

        Variety After the sudden death of his mother, a taciturn boy heads for the hills in "The Cold Lands," the sophomore feature of director Tom Gilroy ("Spring Forward"). The kid survives on his own in the woods of upstate New York before befriending a grungy drifter who happily scrapes by off the grid. The early going sets out the anti-establishment ideas of neo-hippie mom Nicole (Lili Taylor), who instructs her son, Atticus (Silas Yelich), to toss out the cupcakes brought by... (read more)

      • 300: Rise of an Empire poster image

        300: Rise of an Empire

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Even with a change in directors and a half-enlightened, half-salacious emphasis on the voracious Persian conqueror played by Eva Green, "300: Rise of an Empire" hews closely to the look, vibe and the casualty count of its sleekly schlocky 2007 predecessor, helmed by Zack Snyder. Likewise taken from a Frank Miller graphic novel, the sequel chronicles mighty Grecian battles regarding who's going to get to use the workout equipment first. This is the genre of abs and pecs and arrows in... (read more)

      • Mr. Peabody & Sherman poster image

        Mr. Peabody & Sherman

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Michael Phillips We bring to the movies whatever childhoods we had, and whatever television we watched to keep real life at bay, one half-hour at a time. The frantic, occasionally funny new animated feature "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" is a 3-D big-screen version of a defiantly 2-D (if that) and utterly fantastic early 1960s artifact, endlessly replayed on television throughout the '70s and beyond. If you want this movie reviewed by somebody with less love for the original, try a differe... (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 Wind Rises poster image

        The Wind Rises

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Here's a beautiful apparent contradiction: a gentle, supple picture about the man who designed the Zero fighter plane. "The Wind Rises" is being marketed as the "farewell masterpiece" of Japanese writer-director Hayao Miyazaki, who brought the world "Spirited Away," "Howl's Moving Castle" and "Ponyo," as well as oversaw and contributed to "From Up on Poppy Hill" most recently. There's a fascinating push/pull in Miyazaki's latest. The... (read more)

      • Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me poster image

        Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips "Everybody's got a sack of rocks," Elaine Stritch says, quoting her late husband, John Bay. Some people don't let you know it. Some people do. The 89-year-old Broadway, TV, movie and cabaret star never lets you forget it. Swinging her particular rock sack with as much panache as her body will allow, Stritch makes her life a perpetual 11 o'clock number, celebrating strength through adversity, self-inflicted or otherwise... (read more)

      • About Last Night poster image

        About Last Night

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        About Last Night," which is about hookups and relationships and the photogenic allure of the revitalized downtown Los Angeles, comes with a strange pedigree. First in its line was David Mamet's mean, sad, funny 1974 comedy "Sexual Perversity in Chicago," 100 percent Chicago all the way. Mamet saw no hope for his four characters, romantically speaking, and his view of men and women went far beyond Mars and Venus. House plants and rubber bands had a better shot at relating. In 19... (read more)

      • The LEGO Movie poster image

        The LEGO Movie

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Monuments Men poster image

        The Monuments Men

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A genial disappointment about the preciousness of art amid the destructive horrors of war, "The Monuments Men" is scored to a military march by composer Alexandre Desplat. You hear what he was going for: jaunty heroics. The throwback sound of it suggests the director, co-writer and star George Clooney sat down with Desplat, gave him a smile and said: "Gimme some of that Elmer Bernstein 'Great Escape' magic, Al." It almost works. The whole film, with its unfashionable techn... (read more)

      • Labor Day poster image

        Labor Day

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The thesis of "Labor Day," taken from Joyce Maynard's novel, was summed up well by The Washington Post headline affixed to the Post's book review: "Sometimes it's okay to pick up a scary drifter." In the fictitious town of Holton Mills, N.H., 13-year-old Henry has become the emotional caretaker for his depressed, agoraphobic single mother, Adele. Numerous miscarriages have eroded her sense of stability; monthly trips to the local supermarket are all she can handle. On one ... (read more)

      • Visitors poster image

        Visitors

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

        It's playing in theaters and charging admission, but "Visitors" is not what it seems. It's an art piece masquerading as a movie, and whether you think that's a good thing will determine your reaction to what's on the screen. "Visitors" is also the latest collaboration between director Godfrey Reggio and composer Philip Glass, who've previously combined to produce celebrated trance-inducing documentaries such as "Koyaanisqatsi" and "Powaqqatsi." This tim... (read more)

      • Ride Along poster image

        Ride Along

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Early, bloggy reviews of "Ride Along" have rolled in this week with phrases such as "perfectly acceptable" and "been-there-done-that," suggesting the likely range of opinion. It'll probably be a hit: Audiences are getting precisely what they're promised. This is the ol' odd-couple cops routine, rigged up to support the pairing of Ice Cube, in the role of a snarling Atlanta police detective on the trail of a mysterious arms dealer, and Kevin Hart, as the detective... (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)

      • Saving Mr. Banks poster image

        Saving Mr. Banks

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        No feathers, animated or otherwise, will be ruffled by "Saving Mr. Banks," director John Lee Hancock's genial fictionalized account of how Walt Disney seduced "Mary Poppins" author P.L. Travers into allowing, for 5 percent of the gross, the supernatural caregiver to become a shiny Disney version of herself. Mainly the film is a testament to Emma Thompson. She's swell as Travers, the Australian-born resident of London who travels to Los Angeles in 1961 for a couple of conte... (read more)

      • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug poster image

        The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire poster image

        The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Nebraska poster image

        Nebraska

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 12 Years a Slave poster image

        12 Years a Slave

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        At this point, "12 Years a Slave" has only its own publicity to conquer. Moviegoers reeling from "Gravity" may well approach director Steve McQueen's patient, clear-eyed and altogether extraordinary adaptation of the 1853 slave narrative with a combination of preconditioned shock and awe (given the subject matter) and misleading expectations of classy, eight-cylinder Hollywood melodrama. But this is different. It is smaller in size and larger, deeper, more complicated in i... (read more)

      • Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 poster image

        Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Closed Circuit poster image

        Closed Circuit

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Closed Circuit," starring Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall as a pair of sleek English defense attorneys who make those Old Bailey wigs look positively haute, opens with security-camera screens, first four, then eight, then 12, then 15, dispassionately recording street activity and anonymous passers-by in London's Borough Market neighborhood. A truck appears on one of the screens. The music signals trouble. A bomb explodes. More than 100 people die. The rest of this confidently mounted ex... (read more)

      • Planes poster image

        Planes

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The pitch meeting. Disney executive on one side of the table, "Planes" director Klay Hall and screenwriter Jeffrey M. Howard on the other. The executive: So ... it's "Cars." Hall: Yes ... Howard: That's right ... The executive: But with planes. Pause. Howard: Yes. Right. "Cars," with planes. And some cars. And a truck or two. The executive: Fine. Great. I have a 10 o'clock, but fine. Thanks. Lorraine can validate your parking on the way out. Scene 2 The follow-up... (read more)

      • Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters poster image

        Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        Any thoughts that a second "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" film would drag author Rick Riordan's "Greek Godchildren" franchise out of the shadow of Harry Potter are dashed the moment Percy and his "half-blood" friends pile into a supernatural taxi in "Sea of Monsters." The cab may be driven by the three haggling, wisecracking Graeae of Greek myth -- blind women with one eye among them -- but it's a pure Potter picture moment. And with every magical cr... (read more)

      • The Conjuring poster image

        The Conjuring

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Haunted house movies only work if the people in the house are worth scaring. Sounds stupid, but it's true, although let's be honest: Real estate is inherently frightening. You put all that money in and only Satan knows if it'll turn out to be a decent investment, or if you'll be able to afford what it takes to repair any undisclosed matters of basement seepage. The quirks and creaks of an old house are always good for gallows humor or a cold shot of dread. As I write this the fridge in our ne... (read more)

      • Turbo poster image

        Turbo

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Pacific Rim poster image

        Pacific Rim

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Purge poster image

        The Purge

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        James DeMonaco's "The Purge" is a bloody-minded, heavy-handed satire of life within these violent United States. It's a horror film with the occasional visceral thrill -- the fear of being hunted, the excitement of righteous violence against nameless intruders. But mostly, it's just a clumsy lecture about who we're becoming: haves versus have-nots, with the haves armed to the teeth. In the not-too-distant future, "the New Founding Fathers" have decreed America has one nigh... (read more)

      • Epic poster image

        Epic

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The hopeful title of "Epic" suggests big things in a way that a more accurate title, such as "How to Train Your Hummingbird," would not. The animated result isn't bad. It's an adequate baby sitter. But where's the allure in telling the truth? Twentieth Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios present "Adequate"? A few days after seeing "Epic," which is loosely based on a few concepts in William Joyce's book "The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs," it's... (read more)

      • Iron Man 3 poster image

        Iron Man 3

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A little too much and a little not enough, director and co-writer Shane Black's "Iron Man 3" nonetheless has everything Disney and Marvel need to keep the "Avengers" superhero constellation shining and regenerating well into the 23rd century. It's what you call a pre-hit: As of this writing (Tuesday, 8:57 a.m. CST) the movie already has zoomed past the $200 million mark in worldwide box office. Eighty percent of the globe has already gotten a look at it. North America's es... (read more)

      • The Croods poster image

        The Croods

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey poster image

        The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Rise of the Guardians poster image

        Rise of the Guardians

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Frankenweenie poster image

        Frankenweenie

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Before things took off with "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" and "Beetlejuice," Tim Burton made a live-action black-and-white film, in 1984, called "Frankenweenie." You can find it on YouTube. It's really good. Just about everything we now know as Burtonesque -- passionate devotion to '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s Hollywood, English and Japanese horror; the "Leave it to Beaver"-but-sinister vision of American domestic life; the black humor, always in the corner of... (read more)

      • The Master poster image

        The Master

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        I need to get the lighting right," mutters the man with the camera in "The Master," one of the few truly vital and unruly American films in recent years. The man is Freddie Quell, a World War II Navy veteran suffering from what has been diagnosed as a nervous condition. He's a long way, adjustment-wise, from the disenchanted returning vet author James Jones wrote about in "Some Came Running," played by Frank Sinatra in the movie. Freddie's far gone: An alcoholic, a br... (read more)

      • Ice Age: Continental Drift poster image

        Ice Age: Continental Drift

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Moonrise Kingdom poster image

        Moonrise Kingdom

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Media Services Film Clips Nothing in a Wes Anderson movie is quite like life. He creates odd, gorgeous miniature universes on screen, setting his characters in italics, so that they become characters playing themselves in a pageant inspired by their own lives. The storybook quality to his films is either coy or entrancing, depending on your receptiveness to Anderson's comic spark and his sharply angled, presentational arrangements of actors against some ... (read more)

      • Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted poster image

        Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

        Colin Covert, Chicago Tribune

        "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" is one of the fanciest, most carefully assembled cartoons ever put on the screen. The jokes come so fast that they're nearly subliminal. Plot points whiz by, and when things threaten to blur, there's a crazy musical number or a tightly worked out physical comedy routine involving a hippo or a penguin. Then it's back on the bullet train. Your brain goes breathless and giddy struggling to keep up. Like the last "Madagascar" installment, t... (read more)

      • The Pirates! Band of Misfits poster image

        The Pirates! Band of Misfits

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Dr. Seuss' the Lorax poster image

        Dr. Seuss' the Lorax

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • War Horse poster image

        War Horse

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        On stage in London and New York, "War Horse" has found a wide and emotionally drained audience. How could it be otherwise? The horrors of World War I plus the horrors of war as endured by a horse, capped by a ruthlessly effective happy ending: I don't mean to be glib, but that is an awful lot to cry about. Befitting its origins as a children's novel by Michael Morpurgo, the National Theatre of Great Britain stage edition of "War Horse" transcends its own choppy vignette st... (read more)

      • The Adventures of Tintin poster image

        The Adventures of Tintin

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked poster image

        Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        A Sarah Palin joke? A Charlie Sheen wisecrack? Is this a Chipmunks movie or a Letterman monologue? As current as a Lady Gaga cover, if not quite as relevant, Alvin and the Chipmunks "Munk Up" for their third digitally animated turn on the big screen -- "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked," a "Cast Away" takeoff that parks the three chipmunks, their three Chipette counterparts and their human family on a deserted island. Most adults would sooner gouge their ears... (read more)

      • Arthur Christmas poster image

        Arthur Christmas

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Happy Feet Two poster image

        Happy Feet Two

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        I admired much of the original "Happy Feet" (2006), but five years later, I'm still considering suing its makers for emotional distreess. Certainly the most sadistic aspects of its storyline make it a film one doesn't easily revisit, either for me or my son. "Here's my review," the Young Him, not quite 5, whispered during the "Shock Corridor" climax of the first film, after Mumble the Emperor Penguin had been captured and confined. "Movie, please be over.&qu... (read more)

      • Puss in Boots poster image

        Puss in Boots

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Dolphin Tale poster image

        Dolphin Tale

        Michaelk Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        I'll be honest, in the spirit of the honestly shameless heartwarmer "Dolphin Tale." I saw it in a somewhat distracted, agitated state. Forty-five seconds into the opening credits, I'm watching ocean-dwelling dolphins nosing around all sorts of potential dangers (a rusty fishing tackle box, a fateful metal crab trap), and the film's in 3-D so the dangers loom with exceptional emphasis, and the picture's premise depends on putting the eventually tailless protagonist -- a real-life dol... (read more)

      • Conan the Barbarian poster image

        Conan the Barbarian

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        One hundred and 12 minutes of "Aaaaarrrrrrrrggggghhhh!" -- the new 3-D edition of "Conan the Barbarian" was shot in Bulgaria, so really it's "Conan the Bulgarian Barbarian." And he's a vulgarian, natch, so "Conan the Bulgarian Vulgarian Barbarian" is another option. Born in the depths of the Depression, the tough-guy-with-the-sword created by Robert E. Howard is best known from the 1982 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now the role has been conquere... (read more)

      • Crazy, Stupid, Love. poster image

        Crazy, Stupid, Love.

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

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

        Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Winnie the Pooh poster image

        Winnie the Pooh

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        "Winnie the Pooh," Disney's latest film revival of A.A. Milne's "willy, nilly, silly old bear," is longer on charm than it is on laughs. Or length. But it's a treat for children making their first trek to the multiplex and for parents and grandparents with fond memories of the Hundred Acre Wood. This "Pooh" is a musical homage to the 1960s Pooh short films, adding new songs (by "Book of Mormon" composer Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez) and a lov... (read more)

      • Zookeeper poster image

        Zookeeper

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        We want the same thing from our comedians that we expect of great ballplayers -- that they "leave it all on the field." And Kevin James does that. From his various team-ups with Adam Sandler to "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," James hurls himself at the physical shtick and never lets on that he knows he's not making art. In "Zookeeper," James and his stunt-doubles take a pounding -- pratfalls, bicycle spills, porcupine pokes. It's a kid-friendly romantic comedy, a " ... (read more)

      • Kung Fu Panda 2 poster image

        Kung Fu Panda 2

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It takes somewhat longer for the awesomeness to turn all that awesome. And you can't really replicate that element of surprise that the first movie had going for it: a fan boy panda that gets to team up with his martial arts heroes. But "Kung Fu Panda 2" delivers more heart than laughs, and is, if anything, more visually dazzling than the 2008 original film. Cuddly, plush Po (voiced by Jack Black) is now a reasonably accomplished and competent Dragon Warrior, a sixth member of the F... (read more)

      • Bridesmaids poster image

        Bridesmaids

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        There's a reason "Bridesmaids" isn't called "The Bridesmaid." Kristen Wiig, the star and co-writer (along with Annie Mumolo) of director Paul Feig's comedy, has a self-effacing streak running right alongside her deadly deadpan streak. Even when she's playing the lead, she's not really playing the lead. Reedy and extremely pretty, Wiig has a dry, backhanded way of nailing laughs. In the posters and ads for "Bridesmaids," all Wiig's female co-stars strike bigger po... (read more)

      • Rio poster image

        Rio

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Midway through one in a manic string of chase sequences in the animated "Rio," the uptight macaw voiced by Jesse Eisenberg says, "I would love to go five minutes without almost getting killed." This is the movie's strategy: near-perpetual peril, dialogue that's ... almost funny and an extremely bright color palette, plus the musical supervision of the great Sergio Mendes, whose LPs I still have in the house somewhere, my tastes' not having changed much since 1966. Re-heari... (read more)

      • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules poster image

        Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Released a year ago, the first "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" movie captured remarkably little of the sly charm of the Jeff Kinney books that line my son's bookshelf. The film did, however, capture enough of the fan base to warrant a sequel. And here we are. And it's a little better. With "Wimpy Kid I," I couldn't get past the blech factor of snot, mold and gross-out gags laid out, flatly, in a stilted live-action feature spiced with a few transitional animated sequences. Maybe I'... (read more)

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