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      • Elf poster image


        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

        Writer David Sedaris launched his career in 1992 with "The SantaLand Diaries," a scorching, hilarious account of his brief career as a Macy's Christmas elf. Given the reaction to that story, which is still in regular holiday-season rotation on public radio and has been sold in book form, it's astonishing that Hollywood didn't move faster on this fertile elfin ground. While "Elf" doesn't have Sedaris (his sister Amy has a small part, however), it does have "Saturday Ni... (read more)

      • Love Actually poster image

        Love Actually

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        The ensemble romantic comedy "Love Actually" opens with one of its least familiar actors, Bill Nighy, as a wonderfully crooked-faced pop singer recording a lame, Christmas-themed remake of the Troggs' "Love Is All Around." The running joke, which provides the movie's most reliable laughs, is that this old-timer is so candid and good-natured about the record's crassness that the British public sends it zooming up the charts. Alas, "Love Actually" has more in comm... (read more)

      • Lost in Translation poster image

        Lost in Translation

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        In her brief career, Sofia Coppola has established herself as a remarkably intuitive director. While most directors use structure, plot and dialogue as their storytelling building blocks, Coppola seems to work through her material by feel. Both of her movies, her 2000 adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides' "The Virgin Suicides" and now "Lost in Translation," zero in on emotions and moods, making them uncannily vivid. She was able to capture the tricky tragedy-turned-misty-memory... (read more)

      • Whale Rider poster image

        Whale Rider

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        "Whale Rider" is a far different film from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and "Bend It Like Beckham," but it proves a similar point: The more culturally specific a story is, the more universal it may turn out to be. Like "Wedding" and "Beckham," the superior "Whale Rider" depicts a headstrong young female character bumping up against the tradition in which she was raised. The heroine here is 12-year-old Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), a Maor... (read more)

      • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets poster image

        Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        Entering the world of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" is like returning to a wondrous summer camp after a year's break. You see old friends, meet some new ones, and you're reminded of the magical appeal of a place far away from home. Only after becoming acclimated do you notice what bugs you. Last year's first entry in the Potter movie series, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," may not have exceeded J.K. Rowling's book, but it gave a good taste of what made... (read more)

      • The Santa Clause 2 poster image

        The Santa Clause 2

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        If marketing weren't such a concern, this sequel to "The Santa Clause" would be called "The Mrs. Clause." That's because the dilemma facing Tim Allen's divorced suburban dad turned Jolly Ol' St. Nick is that he must find a new wife within 28 days or relinquish his big red suit and beard. "The Mrs. Clause" wouldn't work as a title because it would imply that the movie is centered around a female - a taboo when marketing to boys (girls, on the other hand, will see ... (read more)

      • Punch-Drunk Love poster image

        Punch-Drunk Love

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        "Punch-Drunk Love" is an Adam Sandler movie with class, and if that sounds like an oxymoron, so be it. The movie is a happy nightmare of silly-smart movie comedy that defies category - and challenges expectations involving Sandler and his pictures. Written and directed by one of the brainiest of the younger American auteurs, Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights"), this offbeat romantic farce puts Sandler - the delight of college students and the bane of some of their elder... (read more)

      • Spirited Away poster image

        Spirited Away

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        The pictures are worth a thousand words in "Spirited Away," Disney Studios' delightful English-language version of the Japanese feature cartoon that holds that country's all-time box office record. In this case, popularity is not an index of expensive hype. Writer-director Hayao Miyazaki's spellbinding tale of a little girl named Chihiro who's lost in an alternative world of tricky ghosts and bizarre monsters is both universally engaging and deeply personal. It's a movie full of bew... (read more)

      • Signs poster image


        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs" is a science-fiction movie with a minimum of special effects and a maximum of quiet, slow-building tension. It's not a "space opera" so much as a piece of space chamber music. Exceptionally well-crafted and often stunning visually, it's an unusual vehicle for star Mel Gibson. This is an angst-ridden drama that keeps the invading aliens way in the background, set in landscapes that remind you of Andrew Wyeth paintings: impeccable, vast, shivery ... (read more)

      • Lilo & Stitch poster image

        Lilo & Stitch

        Loren King, Chicago Tribune

        At least give Walt Disney's animation department credit for wanting to try something new. Last summer Disney took a risk on a dark, Jules Verne-style adventure with "Atlantis: The Lost Empire." This summer, again departing from the cute and spunky talking animals that have long been its stock-in-trade, Disney's "Lilo & Stitch" features a diabolical creature with pointy ears and teeth who speaks a Pokémon-style garbled gibberish. To make matters even more unlike Disney, the... (read more)

      • The Royal Tenenbaums poster image

        The Royal Tenenbaums

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        Director Wes Anderson and actor Owen Wilson have co-written three films, each more ambitious than the last and all inhabiting a world that spins on a different, more delightfully wobbly axis than our own. The filmmakers' trademark characters have ambitions that may be absurdly overblown yet take their setbacks with great equanimity (at least in the long run). The would-be heroes of "Bottle Rocket" (1996) see themselves as mastermind criminals without ever becoming more than harmless... (read more)

      • Ghost World poster image

        Ghost World

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Enid and Rebecca, the two best friends of "Ghost World," are a couple of acid-tongued outsiders in a gray modern world of strip malls, chain stores and dehydrated culture. They're too smart for their own good and definitely too cheeky to slide through life like their chirpier, smilier high-school classmates. Based on the characters in David Clowes' underground comic book, and brought to life by actresses Thora Birch (Enid) and Scarlett Johansson (Rebecca), they're a couple of teen-a... (read more)

      • The Golden Bowl poster image

        The Golden Bowl

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        The title prop of "The Golden Bowl" is an exquisite crystal bowl with gold ornamentation and a flaw: The crystal has a crack, though you must look closely to notice it. The bowl appears three times in the Ivory-Merchant adaptation of Henry James' novel, set in the first decade of 20th century in England and Italy, and each time that vital piece of information is repeated: There's a crack, but not everyone can see it. OK, everyone who has ever taken an English lit course, let's have ... (read more)

      • Shrek poster image


        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        With "Shrek," DreamWorks stakes its claim to Disney's cutting-edge animation crown while blowing a raspberry in Mickey Mouse's face. This computer-animated film, which mostly chronicles the title ogre's adventures in rescuing a princess, aims to be not just a kids flick but a sassy mock fairy tale that appeals to all ages and sensibilities. Leaving few of its swamp stones unturned, "Shrek" is alternately sweet and mean, sophisticated and vulgar, witty and base, dazzling an... (read more)

      • Save the Last Dance poster image

        Save the Last Dance

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        "Respect" has become the all-purpose demand. Athletes don't ask for record-breaking contracts for the money; they want the respect that the millions represent. When a troubled teen in Save the Last Dance plans to attack some rival gangbangers, he's not seeking revenge for a previous shooting; he just needs to preserve his sense that he's being respected. True respect, however, goes a long way in the moviemaking game. The reason many teen films stink is that their creators haven't ... (read more)

      • Godzilla poster image


        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        What would the 1954 Japanese monster classic "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" be without Raymond Burr? As it turns out, it would be a much better movie, something you can confirm for yourself at the Music Box by catching the original version of "Godzilla," director Ishiro (or Inishiro) Honda's epochal tale of a post-nuclear sea monster's assault on Tokyo. Godzilla, of course, is the oft-copied, never-duplicated, gigantic scaly monster who, mutated into super-monstrosity by... (read more)

      • Jurassic Park poster image

        Jurassic Park

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        Forget blowing the images up to Imax size and converting the lunging velociraptors and T. rexes into 3-D. The best reason to revive "Jurassic Park" for its 20th anniversary is Jeff Goldblum. Yes, children, there was a time when Goldblum was sci-fi's "ultimate explainer," as producer Dean Devlin labeled him in "Independence Day." Goldblum's bug-eyes said "scientist-smart," and his mannered, considered and hesitating line readings reinforce that. His very... (read more)

      • The Passenger poster image

        The Passenger

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        There have been many years and changes in the landscape of film since 1975, but Michelangelo Antonioni's "The Passenger" still packs an enigmatic wallop. It's also a movie with no easy passage to its dark heart. Re-released in its original form, the slightly longer European cut known as "Professione: Reporter," this moody Jack Nicholson political thriller remains a great, bizarre film, full of beauty, mystery and riddles with no answers. Starring Nicholson as the ultimate ... (read more)

      • Happy Christmas poster image

        Happy Christmas

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        ?Joyeux Noel? (?Merry Christmas?), one of this year?s foreign-language Oscar nominees, is based on an incident that took place on Christmas 1914 in the trenches near the German-French border. Reshaped by French writer-director Christian Carion, it becomes a poignant story, partly true, partly invented, about fraternization between enemies in wartime, in this case among soldiers of three armies - the French and British allies and Germans - whose wintry trenches are within walking distance of ... (read more)

      • Sea Monsters 3D: A Prehistoric Adventure poster image

        Sea Monsters 3D: A Prehistoric Adventure

        Michael Esposito, Chicago Tribune

        National Geographic's "Sea Monsters 3D: A Prehistoric Adventure" dives into the toothy Cretaceous era's undersea world where the Great Plains were part of the seabed in an inland sea, a North American Mediterranean, 80 million years ago. The stories, narrated by Liev Schreiber, are based on fossil records. For example, the star of the film is a female dolichorhynchops or "doli" (pronounced "dolly"), a dolphin-sized marine reptile that fed mainly on fish and squid... (read more)

      • The Nun poster image

        The Nun

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        Step aside, "Halloween." Forget it, "Paranormal Activity." Nice try, "Scream." "The Conjuring" franchise (or the "Conjuring Cinematic Universe," the "CCU") has steadily become the most dependable horror film franchise of late, conquering the box office with good old-fashioned and flawlessly executed spooks and scares, with a few interesting ideas to boot. Spinning off James Wan's 2013 "The Conjuring," about real-life marrie... (read more)

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