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      • Pariah poster image

        Pariah

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Hugo poster image

        Hugo

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Rich and stimulating even when it wanders, director Martin Scorsese's first 3-D effort, "Hugo," takes place mostly within the confines of a railway station modeled on Montparnasse. The story, developed by screenwriter John Logan from Brian Selznick's graphic novel "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," ranges beyond the station. But every locale in Scorsese's vision of 1931 Paris looks and feels like another planet. The filmmaker embraces storybook artifice as wholeheartedly as h... (read more)

      • Melancholia poster image

        Melancholia

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In a May 2011 interview during the Cannes Film Festival, a few days after he'd been declared persona non grata for making some criminally misjudged wisecracks about Jews, and the nascent Hitler lurking inside all of us, filmmaker Lars von Trier told me he considered his latest project, "Melancholia" -- in which an elaborate wedding party serves as prelude to the extinction of the planet -- to be "too beautiful," as well as "too easy." He may be an exasperating do... (read more)

      • Thor poster image

        Thor

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        At this point in the Marvel Comics-derived superhero cycle, audiences can be forgiven for feeling a tad worn out, both for reasons of quality and quantity. My rear end's thor just thinking about how many more we have coming. Yet sometimes a product exceeds expectations. I like "Thor," for example. This is remarkable, considering the lameness of the first 25 minutes of director Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of the Marvel character introduced in 1962. A stolid visual stylist at best, B... (read more)

      • Meek's Cutoff poster image

        Meek's Cutoff

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Media Services Film Clips At one point in "Meek's Cutoff," set in 1845, the frontier settler played by the excellent, plain-spoken Michelle Williams fires two warning shots after an alarming encounter with a Native American. Hurriedly she loads the rifle with gunpowder and ammunition, while director Kelly Reichardt observes the action from a patient, fixed middle-distance vantage point. It takes a good while -- precisely as long as it would in ... (read more)

      • Kaboom poster image

        Kaboom

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Media Services Film Clips Gifted, idiosyncratic writer-director Gregg Araki has revealed the profoundly alienating impact of AIDS in "The Living End" and, in "Mysterious Skin," how pedophilia can devastate and scar its victims. Even in those serious and powerful films, he never lost his dark, antic sense of humor or his highly original way with a story. In his latest, "Kaboom," he is having a blast -- in more than one sense ... (read more)

      • Black Swan poster image

        Black Swan

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Tangled poster image

        Tangled

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Bright and engaging, and blessed with two superb non-verbal non-human sidekicks, "Tangled" certainly is more like it. For much of the last decade, the Disney corporation has struggled to regain its animation mojo, while one-time rival, and current business partner, Pixar -- and, at its more sporadic best, DreamWorks -- dominated the market. While no masterwork, "Tangled" reworks the Brothers Grimm tale of Rapunzel clearly and well. It's rollicking without being pushy. Afte... (read more)

      • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 poster image

        Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        We have reached the semifinals. Staffed with half the best character actors in Great Britain, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" brings the seventh J.K. Rowling tale to market, reminding both fervent Hogwarts maniacs and the Potter-ambivalent of this series' priorities, its increasingly somber tone, as well as its dedication to one of the rarest of all franchise qualities: actual quality. At this point in Harry's anguished saga, the saga doesn't care much about the needs... (read more)

      • Machete poster image

        Machete

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        I'm talkin' 'bout Machete! He's the federale who's a sex machine to all the chicks, and no friend of the racist white folk out to mess with all the murderous, blade-flashing attitude for which he stands. The character, played by the authentic tough guy and character actor Danny Trejo, was introduced in a fake trailer, part of the 2007 Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double bill known as "Grindhouse." Now Rodriguez and Trejo have delivered the movie to go with the trailer. It's ou... (read more)

      • Eat Pray Love poster image

        Eat Pray Love

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It is easy to watch "Eat Pray Love," the pretty, languid film adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling journal of self-discovery. Sun-drenched close-ups of asparagus drizzled just so on a plate next to very good-looking bread in Rome: aaaaah. A Balinese beach, with Julia Roberts gazing out upon it: oooooh. Javier Bardem at the end of the protagonist's yearlong journey, waiting: tasty. Director and co-adapter Ryan Murphy's film will likely do the trick for a good percentage of ... (read more)

      • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World poster image

        Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Inception poster image

        Inception

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Sometimes the first adjective spoken in a movie speaks volumes. The first one you hear in the new thriller "Inception" is "delirious," describing the psychological state of a man, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who has washed up (or awakened) on a beach and is brought into the home of a wealthy man he has known in other circumstances, somewhere in time. "Delirious" describes the movie as well, which assuredly offers audiences sights heretofore unseen. Despite riffs... (read more)

      • Detestable Moi 3D Numerique poster image

        Detestable Moi 3D Numerique

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • How to Train Your Dragon: An IMAX 3D Experience poster image

        How to Train Your Dragon: An IMAX 3D Experience

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The swoops and dives of the exuberant 3-D DreamWorks Animation feature "How to Train Your Dragon," in which the teenage hero breaks all the Viking rules and befriends the winged enemy, should prove as addicting to its target audience as similar scenes have in a little something called "Avatar." Freely adapted from the books by Cressida Cowell, "How to Train Your Dragon" exists to support its flying sequences, just as last year's animated DreamWorks offering, &quo... (read more)

      • The Ghost Writer poster image

        The Ghost Writer

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Plot isn't everything, unless you're "Shutter Island." On the other hand, T.S. Eliot was right: Narrative does "satisfy one habit of the reader, to keep his mind diverted and quiet while the poem (or the film) does its work upon him: much as the imaginary burglar is always provided with a bit of nice meat for the house-dog." The wittily sinister new film from Roman Polanski asserts Eliot's point. Narratively we know "The Ghost Writer's" score. But director and co... (read more)

      • Frozen poster image

        Frozen

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Book of Eli poster image

        The Book of Eli

        , Chicago Tribune

        I used to think the apocalypse was so ``tomorrow.'' Lately at the movies, though, what with ``Zombieland'' and ``2012'' and ``The Road'' and ``Daybreakers,'' the end of the world seems so yesterday. Another day, another sky full of ash. Another ribbon of highway littered with charred vehicles and human remains. While we're on the subject: Why doesn't the apocalypse ever figure into a film like ``Leap Year'' or ``Did You Hear About the Morgans?'' Where it could really do some narrative good? T... (read more)

      • Avatar: An IMAX Experience poster image

        Avatar: An IMAX Experience

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Princess and the Frog poster image

        The Princess and the Frog

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        How can a good-looking animated feature with a Randy Newman song as kicky as "When We're Human" end up being just sort of ... all right? Such is "The Princess and the Frog," Disney's first hand-drawn (non-digital) effort since "Home on the Range" five years ago. It'll look especially pleasing to older audiences who've missed this warmer visual aesthetic of 2-D animation -- and their kids won't have their souls crushed by it or anything. But the movie slam-jams it... (read more)

      • Fantastic Mr. Fox poster image

        Fantastic Mr. Fox

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Coco avant Chanel poster image

        Coco avant Chanel

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

        For someone who was as celebrated internationally as France's Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, the woman who changed the shape of 20th century fashion, not much is known for sure about her formative years. "Chanel lied all the time. She used to say, 'I invented my life because I didn't like my life,'" Anne Fontaine has said. Though Chanel's reticence may sound like a barrier to filmmakers, it stimulated co-writer and director Fontaine and star Audrey Tautou, who collaborated to tu... (read more)

      • Antichrist poster image

        Antichrist

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Lars von Trier's "Antichrist" has among its cast of characters a deer, seen briefly picking at its own dangling innards, foreshadowing some rough human behavior to come. Also there is a fox who speaks at one point. "Chaos reigns," it says to the character played by Willem Dafoe. I'm inclined to agree with a colleague who told me he could swing with "Antichrist" when it was simply unstable but couldn't go with it when it turned insane. It's a useful distinction. ... (read more)

      • Bright Star poster image

        Bright Star

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Certain images in Jane Campion's "Bright Star" are beautiful, as opposed to merely attractive, and only a major talent could've produced them. My favorite is a sun-drenched shot of Abbie Cornish's Fanny Brawne, her head and heart newly opened to the intoxication of love and poetry, lying on her bed, with a perfectly timed breeze fluttering her curtains just so. Cornish enters this early 19th century dream world of Brawne's relationship with the poet John Keats (played by Ben Whishaw... (read more)

      • Inglourious Basterds poster image

        Inglourious Basterds

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A queasy historical do-over, Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" has been described as a grindhouse version of "Valkyrie"; a rhapsody dedicated to the cinema's powers of persuasion; and a showcase for a 52-year-old Austrian-born character actor named Christoph Waltz, who waltzes off with the performance honors as a suavely vicious Nazi colonel known as "the Jew hunter." All true. Tarantino's seventh full-length film recasts the iconography and mythic cruel... (read more)

      • District 9 poster image

        District 9

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Some movies pack such a terrific central idea, even their flaws can't stop the train. "District 9" is one of them. In its first hour it barrels along with the velocity and assurance of a new classic; as it settles for being a good, splattery addition to the venerable aliens-come-calling genre, you feel a slight letdown. But that first half? Nice. Pulp moviemakers constantly challenge themselves to find the right sort of realism to lend to a far-out premise. In the case of "Dist... (read more)

      • Ponyo poster image

        Ponyo

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Fast & Furious poster image

        Fast & Furious

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        If you're in the mood for a lot of vroom, vroom, thump, thump, "Fast & Furious," the fourth edition of that metal-twisting series, should leave you satiated for a very long time. "The Fast and the Furious" pit crew, or most of it, is back, led by Vin Diesel's Dom - all ripped muscles and fast cars and evil deeds. He's as enigmatic as ever, and still with girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), the only one who's ever been able to push past Dom's "auto" erotic zone... (read more)

      • Monsters vs. Aliens poster image

        Monsters vs. Aliens

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The new DreamWorks animated 3-D feature "Monsters vs. Aliens" is blessed with a high-concept title - possibly the highest ever; my son's been hocking me about this movie since before he was born - and Seth Rogen's serenely dense line readings in the role of a genetically altered tomato gone wrong. But a bizarre percentage of the project went wrong somewhere, along with the tomato. Pilfering everything from "Mothra" to "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" to "Men in... (read more)

      • Sin nombre poster image

        Sin nombre

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Crushingly realistic one minute and melodramatically hokey the next - the strategy worked for "Slumdog Millionaire," why not for "Sin Nombre"? This debut feature comes from writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga, an Oakland native who developed his project at the Sundance Institute. The film went on to considerable acclaim at this year's Sundance Film Festival, as did last year's "Frozen River." I wonder if there's something in the Sundance development process that ... (read more)

      • Coraline poster image

        Coraline

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Coraline" may not be for all tastes and it's certainly not for all kids, given its macabre premise. But writer-director Henry Selick's animated feature advances the stop-motion animation genre through that most heartening of attributes: quality. It pulls audiences into a meticulously detailed universe, familiar in many respects, whacked and menacing in many others. Unlike other recent films shot in 3-D ("Bolt" comes to mind), this one takes rich advantage of the process, ... (read more)

      • Slumdog Millionaire poster image

        Slumdog Millionaire

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Slumdog Millionaire" is a ruthlessly effective paean to destiny, leaving nothing to chance. It also has a good shot at winning this year's Academy Award for best picture, if the pundits, Allah, Shiva and Fox Searchlight Pictures have anything to say about it. Each life-or-death cliffhanger and meticulous splash of color, every arrow plucked from director Danny Boyle's sari-wrapped quiver takes aim at the same objective: to leave you exhausted but wowed. The end-credits sequence, a ... (read more)

      • Gomorrah poster image

        Gomorrah

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        So many moments in the fine Italian crime drama "Gomorrah" recall scenarios from a hundred different American-made mob movies. The man told by business partners to crawl inside a car trunk for his safety. The underling telling his overlord he's fed up, and wants out. The crazed young hotheads, cranked on their own adrenaline and nerve, running around with pistols pretending to be gangsters they've seen on the big screen - in this case, Al Pacino's Tony Montana, in the "Scarface... (read more)

      • Let the Right One In poster image

        Let the Right One In

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        I'm so sick of Swedish vampire movies, aren't you? Honestly, I've had it with those bloodsucking Svenskar. If you can stomach just one more, however, "Let the Right One In" is the Swedish vampire movie to see. The film is terrific. The upcoming screen version of "Twilight" (opening Nov. 21) may be the set of fangs everyone's waiting for, at least among certain demographics, but I can't imagine anyone older than 15, who cherishes vampire lore or not, failing to fall for thi... (read more)

      • WALL-E poster image

        WALL-E

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It's the surest thing in the infinitely malleable world of animation: Get the eyes right, and you're halfway home. One look at the binocular-eyed trash compactor starring in the marvelous new Disney/Pixar feature "WALL-E," and you're halfway home. One look at EVE, the sleek, egg-shaped robot from space who introduces WALL-E to a world wider than his own, and those cool blue oval eyes - which digitally transform into upside-down crescents when amused-and you're all the way home. Thes... (read more)

      • Sex and the City poster image

        Sex and the City

        Jessica Reaves, Chicago Tribune

        At the New York City premiere of "Sex and the City," cast member Willie Garson (Stanford Blatch) called the highly anticipated movie "critic-proof." If the crowds at early screenings are any predictor of box office performance, he's right. Happily, he doesn't have to be. Witty, effervescent and unexpectedly thoughtful, the big-screen iteration of the HBO series stands up beautifully (and somewhat miraculously) to the twin pressures of popular expectation and critical asses... (read more)

      • Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! poster image

        Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Someday, if we're all good little boys and girls, the world will hand us a Dr. Seuss film half as wonderful as one of the books. Meantime we have the competent, clinical computer animation and relative inoffensiveness of "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!" to pass the time. Graced with some rich voice talent led by a sweetly restrained Jim Carrey, the film is far less grating than the big-budget versions of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (big hit) and "The Cat in the H... (read more)

      • Wild Ocean poster image

        Wild Ocean

        Michael Esposito, Chicago Tribune

        When "Wild Ocean" leaves the surface of the Earth for aerial shots of South Africa's Wild Coast and the nearby waters, IMAX is in its element. Sharp plunging cliffs or tumbled rock shorelines with waves breaking over them are incredible. Looking down on huge shoals of sardines migrating along the coast with telltale shadows of sharks, dolphins or other predators menacing their flanks gives the impression of the vast areas that have seen little encroachment by man. The giant screen's... (read more)

      • The Duchess of Langeais poster image

        The Duchess of Langeais

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Jacques Rivette's "The Duchess of Langeais" is a period picture, but it is odder, more idiosyncratic and - strange, considering the suffocating social strictures of its setting - freer than most period pictures you can name. Its rhythm is deliberate as well as daringly languid, as anyone who has seen a Rivette film will recognize. The director guides the viewer through a sly consideration of near-sociopathic not-quite-lovers, one of whom finds refuge in religion, the other in romant... (read more)

      • 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days poster image

        4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Great acting comes in all shapes, sizes and temperatures, and sometimes a murmur of the heart speaks as loudly as the grand theatrical gesture. For a demonstration in the opposite of what Daniel Day-Lewis is up to, gloriously, in "There Will Be Blood," just savor the cool, subtle assurance of the greatest performance not recognized by this year's Academy Awards. The portrayal belongs to Anamaria Marinca, whose Sphinx-like countenance masks an emotional nightmare in "4 Months, 3... (read more)

      • Persepolis poster image

        Persepolis

        Tasha Robinson, Chicago Tribune

        In her internationally best-selling graphic-novel autobiographies, "Persepolis" and "Persepolis 2," Paris-based artist Marjane Satrapi isn't kind to herself. As a young child in Tehran in the late '70s and early '80s under the Shah, she's an arrogant girl whose loudly proclaimed political convictions far outstrip her understanding of current events. Following the Islamic revolution and the rise of a fundamentalist state, she's a rebellious and abrasive teenager, quick to f... (read more)

      • The Great Debaters poster image

        The Great Debaters

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Good story, well told. Interesting concept. I wonder if people will go for it. Director Denzel Washington's "The Great Debaters" is pure Hollywood, not without its share of storytelling cliches and golden-toned inspirational teaching moments, but you know what? The results really are inspirational. It is an underdog story produced by Oprah Winfrey, among others, about the real-life Wiley College, a small Methodist African-American institution located in northeast Texas. Under coach ... (read more)

      • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street poster image

        Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It's not the volume of the blood that distinguishes "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" from every other film this year. The shocker is the context. Movie audiences aren't used to seeing throats slit while the leading character sings a song - Stephen Sondheim's stealthy, quietly obsessive counter-melody to "Johanna" - and then, in methodical succession, dumps the corpses down a makeshift slide into a cellar where the bodies collected are ground, slowly, into m... (read more)

      • I'm Not There poster image

        I'm Not There

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story," the director Todd Haynes commandeered a collection of Barbie dolls and Carpenters hits (Haynes reportedly got clearance for neither) to depict imagined scenes from the late vocalist's life. That 1987 film is a creepy little wonder. Haynes clearly loves the music and the Carpenter ethos, so you know you're in the presence of an obsessive character trying to work out his obsession in an arresting way. The "Superstar" narrator posite... (read more)

      • No Country for Old Men poster image

        No Country for Old Men

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Bee Movie poster image

        Bee Movie

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Like a lot of people, Jerry Seinfeld has acknowledged "Rocky and His Friends" and "The Bullwinkle Show" as key early comic influences, as well as proof that you can target animation for kids as well as adults if you keep the jokes coming fast enough. The kids get the moose/squirrel friendship; the adults get the references to "Crime and Punishment." Or they don't. But they can appreciate that something funny's going on when Boris Badenov mutters "Raskolnikov... (read more)

      • 30 Days of Night poster image

        30 Days of Night

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In between meals the vampires in "30 Days of Night" converse in a language scrambling together a little Dutch, a little Hebrew and a little Arabic, so that a subtitle reading "We should've come here ages ago" accompanies dialogue that sounds like "Ak-mak poop-dek humuna-humuna-humuna-ptooooey." The film is based on a 2002 graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, set in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost burg in the U.S., where a diminishing handful of surv... (read more)

      • Michael Clayton poster image

        Michael Clayton

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Michael Clayton" makes old-style Hollywood craftsmanship look easy. It's one of the most satisfying films of the year, recalling a classy breed of studio film more common in the 1970s and the early `80s. Such films often made money, but they weren't blockbusters and didn't try to be. Generally they were too low-key to bust any blocks. So is "Michael Clayton," but I suspect it will wear well, and well past Oscar season. It comes from screenwriter Tony Gilroy, whose knack ... (read more)

      • The Darjeeling Limited poster image

        The Darjeeling Limited

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Three boys head off to see their mother, though only one of them knows where they're going, and why. "We're just trying to experience something," says the one played by Owen Wilson, his head bandaged owing to a recent motorcycle accident. They are privileged Anglos abroad, carrying an improbably fabulous collection of designer luggage with them aboard a train chugging across India. They have reunited, uneasily, a year after their father's death and their mother's disappearance. Spir... (read more)

      • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford poster image

        The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" will drive a lot of people to distraction, if they're even attracted to it in the first place. A meditation on celebrity, 19th century frontier fan boys and the myths America feeds to its young, this superbly realized adaptation of Ron Hansen's novel runs about 160 minutes, and while there aren't many individual acts of violence, they are painful and, more importantly, carry a moral consequence. The film does not concern i... (read more)

      • The Jane Austen Book Club poster image

        The Jane Austen Book Club

        Tasha Robinson, Chicago Tribune

        Karen Joy Fowler's best seller "The Jane Austen Book Club" makes the point that people see themselves in their favorite literature - "Each of us has a private Austen," the book begins. But Robin Swicord's lively film adaptation expands on that theme, making it into a running joke and a smart observation. Viewers don't need any particular knowledge of Austen to follow along; when the film's characters compare notes on her work, they're talking first and foremost about thems... (read more)

      • Once poster image

        Once

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The Irish musical romance "Once" is so beguiling I didn't realize until after a second viewing how infernally corny writer-director John Carney's film might've turned out in lesser hands. It's a very small piece, working in a deceptively casual storytelling style. But it's my favorite music film since "Stop Making Sense," and it's more emotionally satisfying than any of the Broadway-to-Hollywood adaptations made in the last 20 years. The potentially infernally corny plot: ... (read more)

      • Grindhouse poster image

        Grindhouse

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Fanboy vengeance is theirs! Like so many stray body parts, the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez double bill "Grindhouse" gathers up two 85-minute features, "Planet Terror" by Rodriguez and Tarantino's more talkatively sadistic (and far better) "Death Proof"; a quartet of coming-attraction trailers for fake `70s-schlockazoid pictures of various genres, one of which is a riot; and 1,001 memories of the genuine grindhouse trash that malnourished many a grateful yo... (read more)

      • Children of Men poster image

        Children of Men

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Dsytopian nightmares are so yesterday. They're a dime a dozen in the movies; earlier this year, for example, "V for Vendetta" came up with exactly 10 cents' worth of cinematic interest in exchange for your $9.50. The latest hellish forecast for our planet, however, makes up for the sluggishness of "Vendetta" in spades. It is "Children of Men," based on a P.D. James novel, and as directed - dazzlingly - by Alfonso Cuaron, it is that rare futuristic thriller: grim ... (read more)

      • The Departed poster image

        The Departed

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        After the dolled-up theatrics of his last few features, from "Casino" (1995) up through "The Aviator" (2004), it's a kick to find director Martin Scorsese back in prime form, at least in the terrific first half of "The Departed." The second half of this Boston-set thriller, based on the sleek, more sparingly brutal 2002 Hong Kong export "Infernal Affairs," can't quite match it, despite a few bursts of startling violence handled as only a first-rate dire... (read more)

      • Beerfest poster image

        Beerfest

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Beerfest" is one sloppy comedy, but the lads of the comedy troupe Broken Lizard don't know when to say when in their pursuit of the idiotic laugh, and persistence certainly counts for something. The result is the opposite of a microbrew. It's more of a HALF OFF ALL PITCHERS! special. In honor of their late grandfather, played by Donald "Cash the Check" Sutherland, brothers Todd and Jan Wolfhouse travel to Germany to scatter the old man's ashes at Oktoberfest. There, they ... (read more)

      • A Scanner Darkly poster image

        A Scanner Darkly

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Philip K. Dick was a dark literary visionary, sometimes disguised as a prolific pulp science fiction writer, whose explosively imaginative tales could usher his readers into realms of dread, alternative lives and utter madness. So do some of the many movies of his stories (notably 1982's "Blade Runner"), though few of them are the pure stuff. Richard Linklater's film of "A Scanner Darkly" comes close, though. It's one of the most faithful movie adaptations of any Dick sto... (read more)

      • Akeelah and the Bee poster image

        Akeelah and the Bee

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Akeelah and the Bee" is predictable, corny and formulaic. Maybe we'll see it listed in some future edition of Webster's under the word "precornulaic." Yet this latest triumph of the spelling-bee spirit, like last year's earnest, flawed film version of "Bee Season," features a film-saving performance where it counts most: from the kid playing the kid with big brain and even bigger heart. Keke Palmer portrays Akeelah, fictional spelling ace of Los Angeles' Crensha... (read more)

      • Slither poster image

        Slither

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It's not Ernst Lubitsch, but the space-slug/mutant-zombie fiesta called "Slither" has an actual sense of humor to go with its voluminous alien ook. Director and screenwriter James Gunn wrote the "Dawn of the Dead" remake and, less fortunately but more profitably, the two "Scooby-Doo" pictures. This one is a blood relative of "Dawn of the Dead," which in this case is a fine thing. It's deer hunting season in Wheelsy, S.C. Little do its townsfolk realize... (read more)

      • Deep Sea IMAX 3D poster image

        Deep Sea IMAX 3D

        Michael Esposito, Chicago Tribune

        Director Howard Hall (?Into the Deep,? ?Island of the Sharks?) and the underwater IMAX film team do their usual splendid job of making the sea and its often-hungry denizens look beautiful in ?Deep Sea 3D.? While the film spans the oceans, much of it takes place in near-shore areas such as coral reefs and kelp forests - areas teeming with life from minuscule plankton to a hefty (though still youthful) right whale, not to mention rays, eels, a multitude of crustaceans, anemones, seastars, barra... (read more)

      • Brokeback Mountain poster image

        Brokeback Mountain

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The Western genre?s big skies and limitless visual capacity for loneliness have enveloped nearly a century?s worth of stories, all kinds, about flinty survivors learning that a man?s gotta do what a man?s gotta do. ?Brokeback Mountain,? a good and eloquent Wyoming-set love story with a great performance at its heart, is part of that classical filmmaking tradition. It is also prime Oscar bait. Already the film has won the best picture prize from the New York and Los Angeles film critics and sn... (read more)

      • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe poster image

        The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In 1949 C.S. Lewis completed ?The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,? a fantasy set in World War II-era England and a parallel, mystical universe found just past the overcoats and straight on till the lion king. The book, a tremendous success, ended with these 10 words: ?? it was only the beginning of the adventures of Narnia.? Certainly the employees of Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media, funders of the $180 million film version, hope it works out that way. Lewis, the Oxford don and friend... (read more)

      • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire poster image

        Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Unlike Peter Pan, that other magical airborne boy of British literature and film, J.K. Rowling?s Harry Potter just keeps growing up. So do the Potter movies, in size, in ambition and in visual splendor - and with increasingly stunning results. ?Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? is the latest film adventure for the bespectacled student sorcerer of Rowling?s amazingly well-imagined Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And it may be the best-filmed Potter of them all - though last year... (read more)

      • Walk the Line poster image

        Walk the Line

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        You won?t go out humming the filmmaking, but ?Walk the Line? showcases two of this year?s most vivid screen performances. Joaquin Phoenix plays Johnny Cash, the man in black with the voice that sounded like 10-to-life. Reese Witherspoon plays his wife, June Carter, the good Christian woman - Cash once described her as ?a prayer warrior like none I?ve known? - who saw her man through a pharmaceutical ring of fire and a lifelong streak of self-destruction. Based on Cash?s two autobiographies, ... (read more)

      • Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man poster image

        Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        As tools of seduction go, Leonard Cohen's voice - a rumble, as U2's Bono says in "Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man," that seems "to come from the subway" - ranks with the Marlene Dietrich growl and Johnny Hartman's lion purr. "I was born like this, I had no choice/I was born with the gift of a golden voice," goes one of the Montreal native's lyrics from "Tower of Song." Cohen's reputation as a melancholy rake, albeit a rake with pitch problems, owes a lot to... (read more)

      • Hustle & Flow poster image

        Hustle & Flow

        Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune

        By now, the story behind "Hustle & Flow" is more famous than its plot. Scouting locations for another shoestring movie, Memphis director Craig Brewer, husband of a onetime erotic dancer, met his muse in a street hustler pimping girls out of his car. Brewer turned the hustler into a new script about a black Memphis pimp, which he then shopped around Hollywood, trying to convince studio execs to ignore the color of his skin. (He's white.) No one bit, so John Singleton, he of the semin... (read more)

      • Batman Begins poster image

        Batman Begins

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        In "Batman Begins," which reignites the bat-saga, Christian Bale is the new face of the bat-guy and his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, following Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney in recent movies and Adam West in the '60s TV show. Bale's is a grimmer, tauter, more serious face, swallowed up in the shadows of a darker, tauter, more serious movie. He's a wounded man hell-bent on revenge against the evil world that slaughtered his parents and scarred him. The movie series fizzled ... (read more)

      • Kingdom of Heaven poster image

        Kingdom of Heaven

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven" sets fire to the Earth, dares the heavens and almost wins. Based on a lesser-known episode of the Crusades, Scott's new film traces the rise of a fictionalized French knight, Balian (Orlando Bloom), during an uneasy peace between the European rulers of Jerusalem and the Saracen general Saladin - a lull that ends violently at the film's climax. The movie treads through a minefield of cultural-political controversies (including the current schisms be... (read more)

      • Sin City poster image

        Sin City

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Film noir never dies. It just keeps coming back, drenched in black, guns blazing. At least that's the case with "Sin City," an amazingly successful attempt by Robert Rodriguez to translate Frank Miller's hard-boiled, brutally violent crime comic to the big screen. The movie, shot in a monochrome by turns gorgeously lurid and horrifically bleak and set in a prototypical city of night, is acted by an all-star, mugs-and-sluts gallery that includes Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Rosario Daws... (read more)

      • Oldboy poster image

        Oldboy

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Chan-wook Park's "Oldboy" is a high-voltage Korean saga about an elaborate cat-and-mouse game between a sadistic criminal of seemingly limitless resources and his dangerous prey: a businessman whose life has been brutally stolen from him. Set in modern Seoul, in a noir wilderness full of rain-slick streets, neon restaurants, corrupt gangsters and byzantine hotels, it's a movie of such jaw-dropping violence, wild improbability and dazzling style, it overpowers all resistance. "O... (read more)

      • Constantine poster image

        Constantine

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Keanu Reeves is caught between heaven and hell in "Constantine," his latest epic fantasy/science-fiction thriller. But though the story is potentially fascinating and the visuals sometimes spellbinding, the movie itself is stranded in the purgatory of the second-rate. A "Matrix" it isn't - though it's obviously intended to remind us at times of Reeves' wildly nightmarish and imaginative 1999 hit. But here the source is different. Reeves plays doomed Los Angeles exorcist/sl... (read more)

      • The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou poster image

        The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," in which Bill Murray plays a shaggy-dog American version of oceanographer-filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau, is a comedy that seems to have most everything going for it but the ability to make us laugh. Despite its cast and director, it's an amazingly unfunny movie, drowned in its own conceits, half-strangled by the tongue so obtrusively in its cheek. Anderson, the writer-director of "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbau... (read more)

      • Sideways poster image

        Sideways

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Alexander Payne's "Sideways" - a boisterous, brilliant, heartwarming comedy about two aging college buddies and their last bachelor fling through California wine country - strikes me as just about perfect. Payne's movie, the highlight of his already strong filmography ("Citizen Ruth," "Election" and "About Schmidt"), really deserves that questionable accolade, "instant classic." Starring Paul Giamatti ("American Splendor") and Thomas... (read more)

      • Howl's Moving Castle poster image

        Howl's Moving Castle

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Hayao Miyazaki's "Howl's Moving Castle" is a great animated feature - and one made, obviously, as much for older audiences as very young ones. But this wondrous movie probably shouldn't be put in age brackets at all. It's perfect for anyone with a youthful heart and a rich imagination. Though highly reminiscent of the whimsical Japanese genius' last two films, 1997's "Princess Mononoke" and 2001's "Spirited Away," it's even more densely virtuosic. This new film t... (read more)

      • Around the World in 80 Days poster image

        Around the World in 80 Days

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        The world seems a smaller place since the three-hour "Around the World in Eighty Days" took home the 1956 best picture Oscar. That movie looks pretty shaggy now, but back then it wowed crowds with its international locations, celebrity cameos and producer Michael Todd's new Todd-AO widescreen, multispeaker format. Spanning the globe on film no longer feels like such a big deal, celebrity cameos are routine, and so is the new "Around the World in 80 Days." This comedy is bi... (read more)

      • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban poster image

        Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        Just as J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" represents a step in maturity beyond the series' first two books, director Alfonso Cuaron's film version improves upon its predecessors. This third "Harry Potter" movie shakes the candy coating off of the franchise without violating its spirit. Chris Columbus, who directed the first two, is skilled at assembling the elements and moving a story along, but he doesn't leave behind ideas that haunt or images tha... (read more)

      • The Notebook poster image

        The Notebook

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        "The Notebook," the movie version of Nicholas Sparks' 1996 best seller, may be corny, but it's also absorbing, sweet and powerfully acted. It's a film about falling in love and looking back on it, and it avoids many of the genre's syrupy dangers. This picture, beautifully shaped and shot, filled with fine actors doing moving work, is based on Sparks' debut novel, a "Bridges of Madison County" sort of piece that unfolds in both the past and the present. In the past, two you... (read more)

      • Kill Bill: Vol. 2 poster image

        Kill Bill: Vol. 2

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        "Kill Bill, Vol. 2" is the sound of a filmmaker in love with his own voice. For sure that voice is lively and distinct, which is what made "Kill Bill, Vol. 1" so watchable even as you suspected that it was more of a bravura exercise than an emotionally engaged piece of storytelling. But after spending an additional two-plus hours with "Vol. 2," you may be seeking a cure for cinematic verbal diarrhea. "Vol. 2" was supposed to provide the payoffs that &qu... (read more)

      • Mean Girls poster image

        Mean Girls

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

        The biting teen comedy "Mean Girls" heralds the silver-screen big bang of two promising careers: actress Lindsay Lohan and comedy writer/actor Tina Fey. In one movie, Lohan ("Freaky Friday") goes from a Disney-sculpted actress to her own star, transported by "Saturday Night Live" head writer Fey's nervy comic script. Lohan stars as 15-year-old Cady Heron, whose childhood in Africa with her zoologist parents leaves her ill-equipped for the jungle politics of high ... (read more)

      • Shaun of the Dead poster image

        Shaun of the Dead

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

        Following the success of "28 Days Later," this year's remake of "Dawn of the Dead" and the recently released "Resident Evil: Apocalypse," you would think the zombie genre has ambled its course. Think again. With "Shaun of the Dead," British filmmakers Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have rolled out a gleefully gory, pitch-perfect parody of George Romero's zombie films. But this isn't a movie about other movies. "Shaun of the Dead" stands on its ow... (read more)

      • Hellboy poster image

        Hellboy

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        Ron Perlman is no one's idea of a superhero, which is what makes "Hellboy" interesting. The hulking, chiseled, 53-year old actor is most famous for starring in TV's long-gone "Beauty and the Beast" series, but he's wearing a different kind of makeup in this would-be franchise based on Mike Mignola's popular, dry-witted Dark Horse Comics books. Hellboy is a big red dude with an oversized right hand of stone and two disks sticking out of his forehead like embedded goggles, t... (read more)

      • Dawn of the Dead poster image

        Dawn of the Dead

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        "Dawn of the Dead" is a big-bucks remake of George Romero's grisly 1978 horror classic about a zombie army besieging an all-American shopping mall. But despite a big budget, lots of technical flair and a good cast headed by Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames, it's mostly a bloody mess. Romero's movie was both scary and satiric, but this reprise, directed by British TV-ad wiz Zack Snyder, is neither. It's a blood-spattered zombie of a picture, almost as violent, soulless and drenched with ... (read more)

      • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind poster image

        Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        Charlie Kaufman writes heady movies about the heart. His resume - "Being John Malkovich," "Human Nature," "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," "Adaptation" and now "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" - offers a trick bag of off-kilter views into the disgruntled male soul. "Eternal Sunshine" features another one of Kaufman's muttering, self-critical protagonists, Joel Barish. Unreformed extrovert Jim Carrey has the role, though he m... (read more)

      • Saw poster image

        Saw

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

        Director James Wan's "Saw" is a nasty, nasty piece of business. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. Even for those with ironclad stomachs and eccentric movie tastes, Wan's tense, grisly cinematic morsel won't go down easy. But once it hits bottom, "Saw" is oddly satisfying, though the gag reflex never entirely goes away. Cary Elwes ("The Princess Bride") and Leigh Whannell (who is also the screenwriter) star as Dr. Lawrence Gordon and Adam, respectively, ... (read more)

      • Napoleon Dynamite poster image

        Napoleon Dynamite

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        "Napoleon Dynamite" may have been the surprise comedy hit of the last Sundance Film Festival - and its 24-year-old director/co-writer, Jared Hess, may be a helmer with a future - but that doesn't mean it will make you laugh out loud. It didn't tickle me much, anyway, though it did hand me a few smiles, and it may work for others. Hess, his co-writer wife Jerusha Hess and some buddies from Brigham Young University have imagined a screw-loose parody of the small Idaho city where Hess ... (read more)

      • Elf poster image

        Elf

        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)

      • Shattered Glass poster image

        Shattered Glass

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        Disgraced New Republic reporter Stephen Glass is the latest in a recent line of marginal figures (Larry Flynt, Ed Wood, Bob Crane) to have movies made about them. Except "Shattered Glass" isn't really about Glass. He's at the movie's center, no doubt, but writer-director Billy Ray has shaped the material, based on Buzz Bissinger's Vanity Fair article, as a taut "All the President's Men"-style investigation into his misdeeds: Glass fictionalized huge chunks of stories, then... (read more)

      • Kill Bill: Vol. 1 poster image

        Kill Bill: Vol. 1

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        There's no question that Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill, Vol. 1" is a virtuoso piece of filmmaking. What's questionable is whether it's more than that. He's been much imitated since his one-two punch of "Reservoir Dogs" (1992) and "Pulp Fiction" (1994), yet as you watch "Kill Bill, Vol. 1" (the story's second half, "Vol. 2," comes out in February), you realize that no one combines tension and release, violence and humor, dialogue and action an... (read more)

      • Hollywood Homicide poster image

        Hollywood Homicide

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Harrison Ford has that weathered, comfortable look that longtime movie stars get in their later years, when they no longer have to knock us dead with looks, youthful energy and charisma. That comfort level serves him well in Ron Shelton's "Hollywood Homicide," an unsurprising but pretty entertaining Los Angeles cop thriller with Ford playing maverick LAPD cop Joe Gavilan, a grouchy old pro who sells real estate on the side and works in amiable friction with a younger, less streetwis... (read more)

      • House of 1000 Corpses poster image

        House of 1000 Corpses

        Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune

        The title does not do this movie justice. Imagine a house filled with 1,000 corpses. Unsettling, to be sure. But "House of 1000 Corpses," the film debut of writer-director Rob Zombie (yes, the guy from White Zombie), is worse. Worse than anything your fertile mind can come up with, I hope. Controversial from the start, with Zombie having a tough time finding any studio willing to take on this monstrosity, and the MPAA willing to rate it R rather than the NC-17 it deserves, "Cor... (read more)

      • Kitchen Stories poster image

        Kitchen Stories

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        The wintry Norwegian landscapes of Bent Hamer's "Kitchen Stories" ("Salmer fra Kjokkenet") melt away to disclose a witty, wistful comic heart and a gentle satire of post-war farm life and meddling efficiency experts. This pixilated movie, set in the farming area of Landstad, is about two taciturn and repressed old bachelors who meet and befriend each other under curious circumstances in the early 1950s. That may sound a bit fey, but the actors are so good and Hamer's story... (read more)

      • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers poster image

        The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" takes us back to J.R.R. Tolkien's land of myth and fury, and the return quest is even more staggering and marvelous than last year's maiden voyage. Concentrating on the middle book of the Middle Earth saga, Peter Jackson and company once again dazzle and delight us, fulfilling practically every expectation either a longtime Tolkien fan or a movie-going neophyte could want. Here is a movie, like "The Fellowship of the Ring," that's pa... (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)

      • 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)

      • Stuart Little 2 poster image

        Stuart Little 2

        Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune

        In the three years since E.B. White's cheery, sweater-clad mouse first made his wobbly transition to the big screen, the forces behind "Stuart Little" have discovered how to give their computer-generated rodent a palpable soul. Perhaps it's because director Rob Minkoff was stung by the charge that the original cinematic Little had no more heart than a frog in a beer commercial. Maybe it's just that Bruce Joel Rubin ("Ghost") wrote a much wittier and more intelligent screen... (read more)

      • Jason X poster image

        Jason X

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

        When there's no place for horror franchises left to go, they go to outer space. Clive Barker's "Hellraiser" series ended up in the big black during its fourth installment, while the tongue-in-cheek "Leprechaun" movies did the same, just before "Leprechaun 5: Leprechaun in the Hood." So, going where a host of deflated horror series have gone before, "Jason X," the 10th installment of the "Friday the 13th" franchise, transports its hockey mask-c... (read more)

      • Frailty poster image

        Frailty

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Most horror movies depend on our susceptibility to cliched scare setups and prefab gore. But most of "Frailty" is so good done in a low-key, realistic mood of genuine creepiness and dread that it doesn't need formula shocks. Then, unfortunately, the last third of the movie leads to a surprise ending that reverses the meaning of most of what we've seen. Up to then, Bill Paxton's directorial debut film about a family of small-town Southern serial killers is impressive. Paxton also... (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)

      • Zoolander poster image

        Zoolander

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        Few non-formula comedies have become word-of-mouth hits in recent years, but Ben Stiller has starred in three of them: "Flirting with Disaster," "There's Something About Mary" and "Meet the Parents." His appeal in all three stems from his coming across as a generally smart guy who can't help acting dumb at inopportune moments. We see ourselves in his self-inflicted pain. In "Zoolander," which Stiller directed and co-wrote, he's playing a dumb guy who ac... (read more)

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