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      Movie Reviews

      • Avengers: Age of Ultron poster image

        Avengers: Age of Ultron

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Action, relentless and assaultive. Wisecracks, numerous, pretty sharp and evenly parceled out among Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Chris Evans (Captain America, though his are fewer, and squarer), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) and so on. Entertaining as much of "Avengers 2" is, especially when it's just hanging out with the gang in between scuffles (the "Guardians of the Galaxy" lesson, learned), this ... (read more)

      • Hyena poster image

        Hyena

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        An extraordinarily brutal British police corruption thriller, "Hyena" (now at Facets) prowls around the flats, alleys and dirty doings of the west London drug underworld. The movie's Albanian criminals make the vermin in the "Taken" movies look like the male chorus of "State Fair." Then again, in writer-director Gerard Johnson's film, the cops are scarcely less malignant. In this world the nobility, such as it is, belongs to stringy-haired, coked-up detective Mic... (read more)

      • Adult Beginners poster image

        Adult Beginners

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Ex Machina poster image

        Ex Machina

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Little Boy poster image

        Little Boy

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Water Diviner poster image

        The Water Diviner

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Reach poster image

        The Reach

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        "The Most Dangerous Game" is one of the more enduring thriller formulas. About a big-game hunter who longs to take a shot at human beings, "the most dangerous" of all game "animals," it's been adapted every few years since Richard Connell's short story first appeared, back in 1924. The hunter's unarmed prey must outwit and turn the tables on the rich psychopath. You mess with that can't-miss formula at your own peril, something novelist Robb White knew when he &q... (read more)

      • Child 44 poster image

        Child 44

        Peter Debruge, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Desert Dancer poster image

        Desert Dancer

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Monkey Kingdom poster image

        Monkey Kingdom

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Cybernatural poster image

        Cybernatural

        Rick Bentley, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Clouds of Sils Maria poster image

        Clouds of Sils Maria

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Longest Ride poster image

        The Longest Ride

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • While We're Young poster image

        While We're Young

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Woman in Gold poster image

        Woman in Gold

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Furious 7 poster image

        Furious 7

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Danny Collins poster image

        Danny Collins

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Get Hard poster image

        Get Hard

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Serena poster image

        Serena

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A period piece that offered most of those involved a chance to try something new on the screen, "Serena" just lies there, a blood-stained bore that never offers a reason for its existence. Bradley Cooper plays a Depression-era timber baron racing to clear-cut the mountains before the feds turn the land into the Smoky Mountains National Park. He's not subtle about his rapaciousness. His loyal aide, Buchanan (David Dencik), may forgive; his mysterious, superstitious hunting guide (Rhy... (read more)

      • White God poster image

        White God

        Guy Lodge, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter poster image

        Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

        Betsy Sharkey, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Divergent Series: Insurgent poster image

        The Divergent Series: Insurgent

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Run All Night poster image

        Run All Night

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Seymour: An Introduction poster image

        Seymour: An Introduction

        Justin Chang, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Chappie poster image

        Chappie

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Merchants of Doubt poster image

        Merchants of Doubt

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel poster image

        The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Unfinished Business poster image

        Unfinished Business

        Justin Chang, Chicago Tribune

        Variety A comedy with its heart in the right place and everything else bizarrely out of joint, "Unfinished Business" finds director Ken Scott following 2013's "Delivery Man" with another dubious attempt to sell audiences on Vince Vaughn's sensitive side. Playing a down-on-his-luck family man who takes an ill-advised business trip to Berlin with two unfunny sidekicks in tow (Tom Wilkinson and Dave Franco), Vaughn is admittedly the least of the movie's worries: Awkwardly wra... (read more)

      • '71 poster image

        '71

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Focus poster image

        Focus

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Hunting Ground poster image

        The Hunting Ground

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Lazarus Effect poster image

        The Lazarus Effect

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        "The Lazarus Effect" is what happens when hip, smart actors commit themselves -- body and soul -- to a horror movie. Mark Duplass, a mainstay of indie cinema's microbudget "mumblecore" movement, and recent convert Olivia Wilde ably play a scientist couple whose work has led to a serum that brings the dead back to life. And with director David Gelb ("Jiro Dreams of Sushi") in charge, you can be sure this isn't some brain-munching zombie apocalypse. What the scient... (read more)

      • Hot Tub Time Machine 2 poster image

        Hot Tub Time Machine 2

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

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

      • McFarland, USA poster image

        McFarland, USA

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Duff poster image

        The Duff

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Fifty Shades of Grey poster image

        Fifty Shades of Grey

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Kingsman: The Secret Service poster image

        Kingsman: The Secret Service

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Old Fashioned poster image

        Old Fashioned

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Last Five Years poster image

        The Last Five Years

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Jupiter Ascending poster image

        Jupiter Ascending

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Seventh Son poster image

        Seventh Son

        Peter Debruge, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water poster image

        The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Black or White poster image

        Black or White

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Project Almanac poster image

        Project Almanac

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Cake poster image

        Cake

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Mommy poster image

        Mommy

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Mortdecai poster image

        Mortdecai

        Guy Lodge, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Boy Next Door poster image

        The Boy Next Door

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • American Sniper poster image

        American Sniper

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

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

        Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Blackhat poster image

        Blackhat

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Paddington poster image

        Paddington

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Still Alice poster image

        Still Alice

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Wedding Ringer poster image

        The Wedding Ringer

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Inherent Vice poster image

        Inherent Vice

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • A Most Violent Year poster image

        A Most Violent Year

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Big Eyes poster image

        Big Eyes

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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 Imitation Game poster image

        The Imitation Game

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Unbroken poster image

        Unbroken

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Annie poster image

        Annie

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Mr. Turner poster image

        Mr. Turner

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

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

        Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Exodus: Gods and Kings poster image

        Exodus: Gods and Kings

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

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

        She's Beautiful When She's Angry

        Sheri Linden, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Horrible Bosses 2 poster image

        Horrible Bosses 2

        Justin Chang, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Penguins of Madagascar poster image

        Penguins of Madagascar

        Geoff Berkshire, Chicago Tribune

        Variety Charming in small doses, the "Penguins of Madagascar" prove altogether less irresistible in their feature-length starring debut. The latest example of DreamWorks Animation's franchise mania is a frantic, peppy, in-your-face slice of irreverent toon action, but the result is far more snoozy than Looney (as in Tunes). DreamWorks practically patented the idea of conceiving and marketing animated pics like live-action comedies intended to appeal equally to adults and kids, and w... (read more)

      • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 poster image

        The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Dumb and Dumber To poster image

        Dumb and Dumber To

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Foxcatcher poster image

        Foxcatcher

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Big Hero 6 poster image

        Big Hero 6

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Interstellar poster image

        Interstellar

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Theory of Everything poster image

        The Theory of Everything

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • The Book of Life poster image

        The Book of Life

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        "The Book of Life" is a Mexican-accented kids' cartoon so colorful and unconventionally dazzling it almost reinvents the art form. Endlessly inventive, warm and traditional, it serves up Mexican culture in a riot of colors and mariachi-flavored music. The tale is told by a museum tour guide in an effort to impress a raucous bunch of American school kids. Mary Beth (Christina Applegate) recounts a love story built around Dia de los Muertos, Mexico's Day of the Dead. And the moment th... (read more)

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

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

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Judge poster image

        The Judge

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Whiplash poster image

        Whiplash

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Whatever the ripping melodrama "Whiplash" says about artistic torment, or the price of ambition, or mentor/student relationships from hell or thereabouts, it's too busy providing serious excitement -- both as an actors showcase and a confirmation of writer-director Damien Chazelle's cinematic chops -- to get hung up on conventional uplift. I've seen the film twice, and part of what makes it such a kick is Chazelle's conflicted feelings about his young protagonist and alter ego, a fi... (read more)

      • The Boxtrolls poster image

        The Boxtrolls

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Dolphin Tale 2 poster image

        Dolphin Tale 2

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Guardians of the Galaxy poster image

        Guardians of the Galaxy

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • Earth to Echo poster image

        Earth to Echo

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Transformers: Age of Extinction poster image

        Transformers: Age of Extinction

        Christopher Borrelli, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • How to Train Your Dragon 2 poster image

        How to Train Your Dragon 2

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Toothless it's not. In a world of sequels, reboots and franchise industry economics dictating that creativity is encouraged but not required, the DreamWorks Animation offering "How to Train Your Dragon 2" looks, feels and flows like a real movie. It's better than the last few Pixar features, among other things, and from where I sit that includes "Toy Story 3." In an emotionally resonant key, it's as satisfying as the initial 2010 "Dragon," based very loosely on t... (read more)

      • Maleficent poster image

        Maleficent

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Chef poster image

        Chef

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Neighbors poster image

        Neighbors

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        One part smart, one part stupid and three parts jokes about body parts, the extremely raunchy "Neighbors" is a strange success story. It's nobody's idea of a well-structured and logically detailed screenplay, even though its premise -- new parents battling frat house neighbors -- springs from a high-concept idea that could've come from scriptwriting software or a research facility. Which brings us to one of the movie's better early jokes: Sizing up the perpetually shirtless kegmeist... (read more)

      • Ida poster image

        Ida

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Rio 2 poster image

        Rio 2

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • 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 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)

      • Gimme Shelter poster image

        Gimme Shelter

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It's hard not to be affected by a story about a pregnant, homeless teenager such as the one at the heart of "Gimme Shelter," which stars "High School Musical's" Vanessa Hudgens. But some movies, full of good intentions and cliches undermining those intentions, make it very hard indeed. In the case of this one, writer-director Ron Krauss deals a mixture of truth; characters based on actual people, composites and creative fabrications. In other words, it's no more or less fa... (read more)

      • The Nut Job poster image

        The Nut Job

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Wolf of Wall Street poster image

        The Wolf of Wall Street

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In the waning years of the last century at Stratton Oakmont, the Wall Street brokerage house run like a coked-up 24-hour bacchanal by Jordan Belfort, the customer wasn't king. The customer was merely a means to an end. Belfort and his minions ruled, and they couldn't spend, snort or swallow the riches reaped fast enough. Belfort's various illegalities and near-death experiences were lovingly self-chronicled in his memoirs. Now director Martin Scorsese has made a three-hour picture about the m... (read more)

      • Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues poster image

        Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Maybe if I liked the first "Anchorman" a little less, I'd like "Anchorman 2" a little more. Still, I laughed. Louder and crasser than the 2004 original, though God knows the first one had its share of jokes ending with phrases like "massive erection" or "smelly pirate hooker," director and co-writer Adam McKay's sequel nonetheless offers a fair number of idiotic rewards. Some wander in from far-left field: Ron Burgundy bottle-feeding a shark, for exampl... (read more)

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