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      • Easy A poster image

        Easy A

        Sheri Linden, Chicago Tribune

        The story of a smart, funny girl who becomes a self-styled Hester Prynne, "Easy A" is neither as smart nor as funny as it wants to be. With the verbal-cleverness dial set at 11, the teen comedy wears its glib cultural references -- pop and 19th century literary -- in boldface embroidery. Much of what passes for fresh in this "Scarlet Letter" update doesn't bear closer inspection, yet the movie is not without its pleasures, chief among them the potentially star-making lead ... (read more)

      • Going the Distance poster image

        Going the Distance

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Warning: This is not a reliable review of "Going the Distance." When it comes to contemporary American romantic comedy, my brain, heart and standards have been seriously compromised by "The Ugly Truth," "The Bounty Hunter," "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" and "The Back-up Plan" and many others. Too many others. The calculated sexual raunch (mostly verbal) in "Going the Distance" impinges on its hard-edged, soft-center charm, and th... (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)

      • Kick-Ass poster image

        Kick-Ass

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In a new introduction to the eight-part comic book series "Kick-Ass," which was created in tandem with the film version, Image Comics co-founder Rob Liefeld describes the chief strength of Mark Millar's superhero lark as extolling "hyper-real super-violence," "so far over the top it has to be seen to be believed ... it makes you cringe and wince and ultimately leaves you with your slack-jawed mouth scraping the bottom of the floor." A tasty image, especially if y... (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)

      • Diary of a Wimpy Kid poster image

        Diary of a Wimpy Kid

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Snot, I think, is funnier when it's animated. So is excessively moldy cheese. Also: If some kid's getting smacked around, it's likely to be less painful if you don't hear the punch or the slap; slapstick in general takes on a different, more clinical and humorless air when handled realistically, which is why "Home Alone" remains a low point in the history of hugely successful "family" comedies. So here we are with "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," "Hotel for Dogs"... (read more)

      • Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel poster image

        Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" is a kids comedy that screams "Direct to DVD." It doesn't help that it screams that in high, squeaky, three-part harmony. Whatever slim charms there were in the nostalgic, musically cute and slapstick-friendly first film of chipmunk mania are squished right out of "The Squeakquel" like so much rodent roadkill. The cast is cut rate, and the script needed a serious visit from a serious gag writer. Apparently, Fox blew the b... (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)

      • Pirate Radio poster image

        Pirate Radio

        Betsy Sharkey, Chicago Tribune

        The new rock-saturated "Pirate Radio" proves life really is better when it's set to a '60s soundtrack. From the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, Hendrix, the Who, the Troggs, the Turtles, the Beach Boys, the Yardbirds, the Seekers, the list goes on ... nearly 60 cuts in what may be the coolest music video masquerading as a movie ever. Filmmaker Richard Curtis, the hopeless romantic behind "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill" and "Love Actually," has ... (read more)

      • Black Dynamite poster image

        Black Dynamite

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Fueled by a suspicious, insidious brand of malt liquor called Anaconda, the blaxploitation spoof "Black Dynamite" knows its genre's weak spots, sore spots and aesthetically challenged delights, from the cruddy overlit early-'70s-era interiors to the "Shaft"-ed theme song contributed by composer (and editor) Adrian Younge. Director and co-writer Scott Sanders' comedy reveals an eye for visual detail. I'm still puzzled as to why it's not funnier. When you describe certain sc... (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)

      • Drag Me to Hell poster image

        Drag Me to Hell

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Director Sam Raimi gets back to his disreputable roots with "Drag Me to Hell," a title never to be confused with "Spider-Man 4" (which Raimi is preparing; let's hope it's closer in quality to "Spider-Man 2" than "Spider-Man 3"). This hellaciously effective B-movie comes with a handy moral tucked inside its scares, laughs and Raimi's specialty, the scare/laugh hybrid. Moral: Be nice to people. More specifically: Do not foreclose on the old Gypsy woman, o... (read more)

      • Paul Blart: Mall Cop poster image

        Paul Blart: Mall Cop

        Glenn Whipp, Chicago Tribune

        "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" is as sticky and gooey as a Cinnabon cinnamon roll, a snack the movie's title character has no doubt sampled once or twice over the years during his shifts. A high-concept smash-up of "Die Hard" and "Kung-Fu Panda," "Blart" gives sitcom star Kevin James a showcase for broad-comedy pratfalls, providing him 87 minutes to plop, flop and crash into things. The targeted tween audience will lap up James' antics, but for the rest of us, ... (read more)

      • Milk poster image

        Milk

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The story of Harvey Milk is a tragedy, but not since Jeff Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" has Sean Penn played such a serenely happy individual. It does an actor good to play a joyous character. In "Milk," Penn is superb as the martyred San Francisco city supervisor, America's first widely acknowledged openly gay elected official. He was killed by Milk's former colleague, Dan White, minutes after White's fatal shooting of Mayor George Moscone in 1978. The key to ... (read more)

      • Pineapple Express poster image

        Pineapple Express

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In its gleefully befogged first hour, "Pineapple Express" seems to be onto something new: It's a marijuana comedy that keeps shuffling genres, like a stoned blackjack dealer. James Franco is blissfully funny as Saul, the supplier who finds himself running for his barely cognizant life with steady customer Dale, played by Seth Rogen. Dale's a 25-year-old dating a high school senior. (He proudly sports a high school girl's wristwatch.) They're running because Dale witnessed a drug-rel... (read more)

      • Mamma Mia! poster image

        Mamma Mia!

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It's funny what you buy completely onstage and resist completely, or nearly, on-screen. Case in point: "Mamma Mia!" -the ABBA-fueled stage phenomenon that has now become "Mamma Mia! The Movie." Of course I never miss a Meryl Streep musical. On-screen she sang in "Silkwood," "Ironweed," "Postcards From the Edge" and plenty in "A Prairie Home Companion." Onstage Streep put her pipes to work on Brecht and Weill's "Happy End";... (read more)

      • Forgetting Sarah Marshall poster image

        Forgetting Sarah Marshall

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Early in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," protagonist Peter Bretter, played by Jason Segel, steps out of the shower as his girlfriend, played by Kristen Bell, arrives back at their apartment. Peter thinks it's carnival time. Sarah, however, has come to call it quits and Peter realizes, in all his mistimed nudity - (BEGIN ITALICS) all (BEGIN ITALICS) his mistimed nudity - that he's getting dumped. They've grown apart, Sarah says: "It's like you're standing on the dock, and I'm in th... (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)

      • There Will Be Blood poster image

        There Will Be Blood

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        As surely as our country's multiple personalities owe a great deal to both religious fervor and the oil industry, "There Will Be Blood" reminds us that the greatest screen performances don't settle for capturing one trait, a dominant emotion or an easy way in. The very best of them are symphonies of paradox, forcing us to reckon with the ramifications. This is what Daniel Day-Lewis achieves in director Paul Thomas Anderson's majestic crackpot of a film. It runs 158 minutes on a broo... (read more)

      • The Bucket List poster image

        The Bucket List

        Sid Smith, Chicago Tribune

        Rob Reiner proved bewitching and insightful on pre-adolescence ("Stand By Me"), on-the-road youth ("The Sure Thing") and adult love and lust ("When Harry Met Sally"). But he stumbles badly in tackling geriatric blues in "The Bucket List," a manipulative look at dying with dignity and a lame yarn about as realistic as the fantasy in "The Princess Bride." The pitch itself is hopelessly hokey. Two seniors (Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman), diff... (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)

      • Alvin and the Chipmunks poster image

        Alvin and the Chipmunks

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        How to explain the appeal of Alvin and the Chipmunks?the old ones, the ones who hit it big in 1958 with "Witch Doctor" and, more indelibly, "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)"? Very simple: Helium voices. People think helium voices are funny. (Creator Ross Bagdasarian, who died in 1972, did all the voices, including Dave, the short-tempered father figure.) Also, Dave screaming out "Alvin!!!!" on cue?that was funny too, or at least "funny enough.&qu... (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)

      • 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)

      • Stardust poster image

        Stardust

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Stardust" has its moments, most of them plot-unrelated. The highlight is a patter routine wherein Robert De Niro, as a cross-dressing pirate, haggles over the price of some fenced goods with a disreputable fellow played by Ricky Gervais. The way these two negotiate back and forth it's like Faerie Kingdom vaudeville, a distant cousin to the Billy Crystal and Carol Kane routines in "The Princess Bride." Most of "Stardust," alas, has no time for such detours. The ... (read more)

      • Hairspray poster image

        Hairspray

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        As mile-high-wig musicals go, the film version of "Hairspray" is less polished but more fun than "Dreamgirls." Both are drag revues at heart, one funny, the other serious. I prefer the funny one. Whether or not "Hairspray" finds a large international audience depends on the audience's interest in seeing an international star enlarged. You have probably heard that this latest stage-to-screen musical transfer, based on the 1988 John Waters film, stars John Travolta... (read more)

      • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix poster image

        Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Hot Fuzz poster image

        Hot Fuzz

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In its climactic village assault, the English comedy "Hot Fuzz" risks becoming the excessive, slow-mo-slaughter affair it's satirizing. But the best of it is a riot - a "Bad Boys II" fireball hurled with exquisite accuracy at a quaint English town peopled by Agatha Christie archetypes. On the strength of "Shaun of the Dead," his droll zombie bash, the spot-on "Don't Scream" trailer in "Grindhouse" and now this, director Edgar Wright is one of ... (read more)

      • Tears of the Black Tiger poster image

        Tears of the Black Tiger

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Popular movies - our own as well as those from other lands - often have an unashamed kitschy vulgarity that can be irresistibly entertaining. "Tears of the Black Tiger," from Thailand, is an attempt to re-create that kind of raunchy entertainment. It's a Thai melodrama, about an impossible love between a rich girl and a poor boy turned bandit, that's written and shot as if it were an overdone, overblown Thai melodrama from the '50s or '60s. Everything is proudly, wildly over the top... (read more)

      • Night at the Museum poster image

        Night at the Museum

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        You know Ben Stiller isn't coming off well in "Night at the Museum" when his character, a third-shift security guard at New York's Museum of Natural History, is beset by Attila the Hun and his marauding hordes and you find yourself rooting for the hordes. Stranded in this charmless fantasy, Stiller is reduced to his old halting, squirming tricks. Hot (well, cold) off his "Pink Panther" remake, director Shawn Levy squanders a rich premise. Working from Milan Trenc's book, a... (read more)

      • Happy Feet poster image

        Happy Feet

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Flushed Away poster image

        Flushed Away

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Flushed Away" is enough to make any hopped-up multitasking preteen long for a nice glass of milk and a copy of "Good Dog, Carl." After the fourth electrocution gag, the 10th smack in the face and the 12th assault on a wee rodent crotch, we could all use something quiet. This chaotic animated feature proves two things. One: Singing slugs can save a picture, or nearly. Every time the slug chorus overreacts to the hero or breaks into a number, "Flushed Away" sudden... (read more)

      • Flags of Our Fathers poster image

        Flags of Our Fathers

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "We like things nice and simple. Good and evil, heroes and villains," says an Iwo Jima survivor played by Harve Presnell, one of many voices heard in the new Clint Eastwood movie "Flags of Our Fathers." Eastwood's 27th feature behind the camera, the film is an honorable effort to complicate that simplicity while delivering a mass-audience Greatest Generation tale, to the best of a mature craftsman's abilities. It's hard not to be moved by many of the scenes, both in battle... (read more)

      • The Prestige poster image

        The Prestige

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "The Prestige" is a prestige job all the way, from the eerie rightness of its opening shot - that of dozens of top hats scattered incongruously in the woods - to the felicity of a cast headlined by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as dueling illusionists in turn-of-the-century London. I'm still trying to figure out why I didn't like it more. Jackman plays Robert Angier, an American magician with panache coming out of his ears. Bale is Alfred Borden, a working-class Londoner lacking i... (read more)

      • Everyone's Hero poster image

        Everyone's Hero

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        "Everyone's Hero," a cartoon feature about a 10-year-old boy and his picaresque adventures with a talking baseball and Babe Ruth's talking bat, is probably the last movie to carry a credit for the late Christopher Reeve - as well as the last credit for Reeve's late wife, Dana. The much-admired actor and activist, who died October 10, 2004, of heart failure, is listed here as the director. Reeve was originally the director, preparing and storyboarding the film before his death; after... (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)

      • The Descent poster image

        The Descent

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        In "The Descent," a low-budget horror movie full of tough ladies and creepy thrills, six adventurous girlfriends from the United Kingdom, on a cave-exploring expedition in the American Appalachian Mountains, get lost in the caverns and run into a race of flesh-eating mutant cave-dwellers; these "crawlers" look like monster cousins of Gollum from "Lord of the Rings." You either go for a movie like this or you don't. But though I didn't like it much, I've got to ad... (read more)

      • Monster House poster image

        Monster House

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Monster House" is more fun and a bit stranger than it looks from the trailer, and from the way its handlers make it sound. The film resembles "a fun house in an amusement park," according to co-executive producer Robert Zemeckis, deploying an old cliche made monetarily new by Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequel. The studio materials describe "Monster House" as a "comedy thrill-ride." Is that different from a thriller comedy-ride? The s... (read more)

      • The Devil Wears Prada poster image

        The Devil Wears Prada

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Every third movie or so, Meryl Streep does something swell - and effortless, which isn't one of her defining qualities - to renew her membership in the Great Actress pantheon. "The Devil Wears Prada," a surprisingly sharp adaptation of the Lauren Weisberger bestseller, features Streep as Miranda Priestly, monstrously self-centered editor of the Vogue-like Runway magazine. It's an occasion for Streep to play against a stereotype, and win. It's a rout, in fact. Lowering both her voice... (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)

      • Curious George poster image

        Curious George

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        You can say several things in favor of ?Curious George,? a mild off-season cinematic bid for the young and the restless. The movie, a G-rated, 86-minute affair, isn?t glib or assaultive in the ?Shrek? vein, though Joe Stillman, a ?Shrek? alum, is one among many uncredited screenwriters on this project. Jack Johnson?s songs slide in one ear and out the other. Filmed primarily in traditional two-dimensional animation, though without much wit or distinction, director Matthew O?Callaghan?s featur... (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)

      • Four Brothers poster image

        Four Brothers

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A standard-issue slaughterfest from the front end of the blaxploitation cycle, "Trouble Man" (1972) wasn't much of a movie; yet with Marvin Gaye singing his fantastic theme song, the one about the "three things that's for sure: taxes, death and trouble," who cared about the movie? Post-blax filmmakers have spent years trying to capture, in feature-length form, that one song's seductive fantasy of homicidal cool, be the filmmakers white (Quentin Tarantino heads the list) or... (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)

      • The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants poster image

        The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

        Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune

        Yes, it's true: I liked a movie about magic pants. The pants in question - used jeans, actually - complement the four leading ladies of "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," Ken Kwapis' charming adaptation of Ann Brashares' hugely popular teen novel of the same name. Between most Hollywood actresses, the ability to share denim is not exactly supernatural. (Abracadabra, Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie will now swap size 0s!) But real women have curves, and Kwapis cast a few of the... (read more)

      • The Holy Girl poster image

        The Holy Girl

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Lucrecia Martel's "The Holy Girl," an Argentinean film that won many critics' hearts at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, takes us into the bodies, souls and minds of a post-pubescent school girl and the repressed doctor who briefly lusts after her. What the film finds is neither particularly sensational nor prurient but instead painfully, awkwardly true, a subtle portrait of how sexuality can be perverted by society and how mistaken piety can destroy. "Holy Girl" may sound l... (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)

      • 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)

      • Connie and Carla poster image

        Connie and Carla

        Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune

        Nia Vardalos obviously has a thing for fish out of water. Her enormous breakout hit, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," thrust its WASPy leading man into the everyday chaos of a very traditional, very boisterous Greek family. And now the writer's second film - the pressure's on, Nia - finds two Chicago women making their way in the world of Los Angeles drag queens. The pleasurable but uneven "Connie and Carla" stars Vardalos (Connie) and Toni Collette (Carla) as lifelong friends ... (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)

      • 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)

      • Bad Boys II poster image

        Bad Boys II

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        "Bad Boys II" is the kind of movie that gives sequels a bad name, even though, strangely enough, it's better than the 1995 hit that spawned it. This movie reunites the detective team of Martin Lawrence and Will Smith for another wild pyrotechnic ride, and it plays like the buddy-cop action comedy to end them all. By the time the credits roll on this nonstop, stylishly bloody crash-a-thon, part of its audience may wish just that that "B.B. II" would stop the genre, at leas... (read more)

      • 2 Fast 2 Furious poster image

        2 Fast 2 Furious

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        There was something endearing about how dumb "The Fast and the Furious" was. It wasn't dumb in a cynical, manufactured way. It was dumb in an old-fashioned, exploitation-film, no-brain-cells-necessary kind of way. It didn't pretend to be anything more than it was: a big, silly movie about street racing that delivered its thrills with gusto even as it delivered its dialogue with marbles in its mouth. The empty-headedness of the sequel, "2 Fast 2 Furious," isn't as easy to a... (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)

      • Snow Dogs poster image

        Snow Dogs

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

        In Jack London's classic short story "To Build a Fire," the writer's frostbitten protagonist pits his grit against the Yukon wilderness, desperate to light the spark that will save his life and enable him to make it home. Had the Disney movie "Snow Dogs" been waiting for him in civilization, he might not have bothered. Cuba Gooding Jr. slums it here, getting his name above the title in exchange for getting dragged through the snow, sprayed by a skunk, chased by a bear and ... (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)

      • Training Day poster image

        Training Day

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Denzel Washington may have long since ridden toward the top of the movie-hero heap, playing everything from historical martyrs Steve Biko and Malcolm X to inspirational football coach Herman Boone ("Meet the Titans") but there's still a side of him that likes to play it evil. That bad side of Washington gets a real workout in "Training Day," a murderously fast, down-and-dirty cop movie about a hard-case veteran (Washington) and his naïve rookie partner (Ethan Hawke) patrol... (read more)

      • Hedwig and the Angry Inch poster image

        Hedwig and the Angry Inch

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        Most modern-day drag queens don't rock. They're more likely to be seen grooving to disco or lip-synching to ABBA or just generally camping it up. But the title character of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" isn't your typical drag queen. Having survived a botched sex-change operation (which left the "one-inch mound of flesh" that explains the rest of the title), married and been abandoned by an American G.I., moved from East Berlin to a Kansas trailer park and formed a rock band... (read more)

      • Shaolin Soccer poster image

        Shaolin Soccer

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        "Shaolin Soccer" is a silly sports comedy that I quite enjoyed. This rip-roaring, special effects-packed farce from Hong Kong is about a "Cinderella" kung fu soccer team led by martial arts enthusiast "Mighty Iron Leg" Sing (played by director and co-writer Stephen Chow) and his coach, broken-down former superstar "Golden Leg" Fung (Ng Man Tat). The movie overflows with action, slapstick and cliches, but the cliches never impede the action, and the slap... (read more)

      • The Fast and the Furious poster image

        The Fast and the Furious

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        Just when you've become resigned to a summer of action films that are big, loud, stupid and boring, along comes an action film that is big, loud, stupid and reasonably entertaining. "The Fast and the Furious" is appealing in the same way someone who looks in the mirror and says, "I'm a lug, and I like myself" might be preferable to someone who looks in the mirror and says, "I'm a lug, and I hate myself." That is, this movie is unapologetic about its nature: It's ... (read more)

      • Moulin Rouge poster image

        Moulin Rouge

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Grandiose and whimsical, packed with oddball delights and bursts of passion, Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge" is a rare picture that gets you intoxicated on the possibilities of movies. Luhrmann is a filmmaker of near-demonic energy and invention. He transforms the film's chestnut of a story a sensitive and penniless writer (Ewan McGregor) battles for the body and soul of a dazzling courtesan-entertainer (Nicole Kidman) into something mad and wonderful. "Moulin Rouge" is a ... (read more)

      • Shrek poster image

        Shrek

        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)

      • Memento poster image

        Memento

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        Memento is a thriller for people who are sick of thrillers, a puzzle movie in which the puzzle is actually worth the time and effort to solve. Suspense movies of late have been anything but suspenseful. The lead character faces some mystery, travels down right and wrong paths, gets double-crossed in an out-of-nowhere "surprise" and winds up in a chase in which the villain ultimately buys the farm. Young British writer-director Christopher Nolan (Following) turns the formula on its... (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 Last Waltz poster image

        The Last Waltz

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Martin Scorsese's 1978 film of The Band's all-star farewell concert, "The Last Waltz," is the greatest rock concert movie ever made and maybe the best rock movie, period. Now being re-released with restored picture and sound, for the original concert's 25th anniversary, "The Last Waltz" is a movie that exactly fits the words of Bob Dylan, who helps close the show with "Forever Young." This movie and the event it records with such rapture and passion is forever... (read more)

      • Neil Young: Heart of Gold poster image

        Neil Young: Heart of Gold

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        ?Neil Young: Heart of Gold? is pretty-near pure gold, an amalgam of songwriter/musician Young and director/music fanatic Jonathan Demme. Both men have now reached their 60s and could coast profitably into hackdom if they liked. With remakes such as ?The Truth About Charlie? (based on ?Charade?) and ?The Manchurian Candidate,? in fact, Demme has been risking irrelevance for some time. ?Heart of Gold? makes him matter again. The movie records for elegant posterity a two-night August 2005 Nashv... (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)

      • Stranger by the Lake poster image

        Stranger by the Lake

        Betsy Sharkey, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips Despite the sunshine, gentle breezes and placid waters, something wicked this way comes in "Stranger by the Lake," French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie's tantalizingly erotic fable of love, passion and death. Though Guiraudie's work often circles around the complexities of sexual urges among gay men, he's never gotten as close to reality as he does in this film. At the same time, the writer-director casts a wide metaphoric... (read more)

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