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      • 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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • Toy Story 3: The IMAX Experience poster image

        Toy Story 3: The IMAX Experience

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        If "Toy Story 3" had sprung, Slinky Dog-like, from any creative think tank besides Pixar Animation Studios, it might be considered a classic. As is, it's a good sequel to the 1999 "Toy Story 2" and the 1995 original. After a rather shrill and conventional first half, more in the DreamWorks style, it recaptures the old comic spark with a splendid ode to "The Great Escape" as cowboy Woody, spaceman Buzz Lightyear, cowgirl Jessie, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head and the re... (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)

      • Whip It poster image

        Whip It

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The whip is a slingshot-type maneuver in roller derby, where you're flung by a teammate straight into traffic and, with luck, past it. Raquel Welch got whipped a time or two in the 1972 vehicle "Kansas City Bomber," but in that film roller derby wasn't about athletic prowess or female empowerment; it was just an excuse for shoving Welch into one ogled, manhandled situation after another. "Whip It" is different. It's not designed primarily for the heterosexual male gaze (t... (read more)

      • No Impact Man poster image

        No Impact Man

        Betsy Sharkey, Chicago Tribune

        Wading right into the muck of our most basic consumption addictions with an armload of facts and a terrific sense of irony, "No Impact Man" follows activist writer Colin Beavan through a year as he tries to answer the question nagging his guilty liberal soul: "What if I tried not to hurt the environment? Is it possible? Is it comfortable?" Although the title would suggest this is one man's journey, as Beavan's wife, Business Week journalist Michelle Conlin points out as sh... (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)

      • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: The IMAX 2D Experience poster image

        Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: The IMAX 2D Experience

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A small vial of "liquid luck" (lovely concept, one of many in J.K. Rowling's universe) plays a supporting role in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," No. 6 in the franchise. (The two-film edition of " Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" will be released in 2010 and 2011, respectively.) But luck, really, has little to do with the way these films turn out. After getting my head caught in the blender that is "Transformers 2," I found it especially ... (read more)

      • Soul Power poster image

        Soul Power

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Pure pleasure. I've heard the arguments against this out-of-the-vault concert film, capturing the frantic planning and glorious execution (financed by Liberian investors) of the three-day music festival "Zaire '74." Not enough political or ethnographic context; too plain Jane in the presentation; not nearly enough about the festival's relationship to its sister act, the '74 Muhammad Ali/George Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle," the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary &qu... (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)

      • Summer Hours poster image

        Summer Hours

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The French film "Summer Hours" hangs its hat on a Chekhovian question: what to do with the family estate, an artist's cottage and its well-used, well-loved 19th century furnishings situated by a pond an hour's drive from Paris? Each grown sibling at the heart of writer-director Olivier Assayas' beautiful, bittersweet family story has a reason either to maintain the place and its symbolic import or to leave it all behind. Yet virtually every frame of this film, photographed with impr... (read more)

      • Under the Sea poster image

        Under the Sea

        Michael Esposito, Chicago Tribune

        Jim Carrey narrates "Under the Sea 3D," a new installment in the underwater 3-D filmmaking that IMAX pretty much owns these days. Nothing compares to the images in these films, and director Howard Hall, whose previous offerings include the IMAX hits "Deep Sea 3D" and "Into the Deep 3D," knows his way around the underwater camera - all 1,300 pounds of it - and personally tallied 358 hours of the dive team's 2,073 hours under the sea (accomplished in 1,668 total di... (read more)

      • Inkheart poster image

        Inkheart

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Inkheart" was a busy, crowded, hugely successful book to start with. Instead of stripping it for parts, the film version retains nearly all of author Cornelia Funke's story complications. It's a mixed bag and a serious load for a movie to carry without audibly grunting. Still, there are compensations: a fine ensemble, some gorgeous Italian Riviera locales, intermittent flashes of magic amid a more manufactured air of whimsy. The idea of fictional characters coming to life and inter... (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)

      • Waltz With Bashir poster image

        Waltz With Bashir

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        An extraordinary achievement, Ari Folman's "Waltz With Bashir" is a detective story as well as an moral inquiry into the specific horrors of one war, and one man's buried memories of that war. It is personal filmmaking of the highest order, recognized with an Academy Award nomination for best foreign film. Israeli writer-director Folman sets himself a near-impossible task: How to make an animated documentary focused largely about yourself without falling into a morass of self-indulg... (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)

      • The Strangers poster image

        The Strangers

        Jessica Reaves, Chicago Tribune

        "Inspired by true events" may be the best thing to happen to horror movies since the invention of the chain saw. By robbing audiences of their scary movie mantra ("it's just a movie, it's just a movie"), a coy claim of realism can elevate middling suspense to abject terror. ("If it happened once, what's to keep it from happening to me?") The strategy isn't without risk. Take "The Strangers," the debut feature from writer-director Bryan Bertino. If, lik... (read more)

      • 21 poster image

        21

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Columbia Pictures is billing "21" as an action/adventure film. That's cheeky, considering the lead characters are college-age blackjack card counters who do not carry weapons, or deal with terrorists, or leave the casino for very long, unless they're back on campus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that hotbed of action/adventurism. In real life the MIT gang of card-counting wizards who raked in millions was spearheaded by a kid named Jeff Ma. Can you guess what's differ... (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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • Ocean's Thirteen poster image

        Ocean's Thirteen

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        When director Steven Soderbergh says the "Ocean's" films are harder to pull off than his smaller, less starry projects, he's not kidding. The proof is "Ocean's Thirteen," a movie that is kidding, or trying to - it does what it can without the benefit of verifiable jokes, outside of an Oprah gag that comes with a nice payoff in the end credits - but offers criminally little in the way of moviegoing pleasure. "You don't do the same gag twice," scolds Don Cheadle's ... (read more)

      • Surf's Up poster image

        Surf's Up

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Surf's Up" has only one point of overlap with "Happy Feet": the penguins. Whereas last year's Oscar-winning animated feature clobbered audiences with sound, tap, fury and 70 tons of pathos, "Surf's Up" is just a slip of a thing, derivative but mellow, about a teenage surfer from the penguin burg of Shiverpool, Antarctica, who ventures to the tropics to compete with the big kahunas of the flightless aviary endless-summer set. The life lessons learned here will be... (read more)

      • Zodiac poster image

        Zodiac

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In 1978, in one of many letters to the San Francisco Chronicle, the man known as Zodiac wrote: "I am waiting for a good movie about me." A generation later, David Fincher has made it. "Zodiac" is not the serial killer tale audiences expect in this torture-friendly, cold-cased era. To be sure, Fincher has been down this road before. In 1995, the director, trained in special effects and videos and the third "Alien" movie, broke through with "Se7en," the ... (read more)

      • Dreamgirls poster image

        Dreamgirls

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Dreamgirls" is performed, shot, edited and packaged like a coming-attractions trailer for itself. Ordinarily that would be enough to sink a film straight off, unless you're a fan of "Moulin Rouge." But this one's a good time. Four years ago, the film version of "Chicago" operated on a similar rhythm and restlessness, and that worked surprisingly well against the odds, too. Bill Condon, a writer of distinction ("Gods and Monsters," "Kinsey"), ... (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)

      • Charlotte's Web poster image

        Charlotte's Web

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The E.B. White wonder known as "Charlotte's Web" is told in such simple, beautiful language that any film version is bound to come up a little runty by comparison. Yet if you don't expect the moon or any directorial distinction, the new adaptation of the 1952 classic works on its own terms while respecting the original. I liked it. I didn't love it the way I love the book, but the book ... well, that is some book. The last "Charlotte's Web" on film was the animated 1973 Ha... (read more)

      • For Your Consideration poster image

        For Your Consideration

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Having demolished, sweetly, everything from heavy metal ("This Is Spinal Tap," directed by Rob Reiner) to small-town theatrics ("Waiting for Guffman"), dog shows ("Best in Show") and folkies ("A Mighty Wind"), Christopher Guest and his associates submit themselves to Oscar lust in the ensemble comedy "For Your Consideration." True to form, Guest's newest doesn't pull out the long knives. On the gentleness scale, this one's way over here, as op... (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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • Awesome; I F... Shot That! poster image

        Awesome; I F... Shot That!

        Jessica Reaves, Chicago Tribune

        Bitter about missing out on Beastie Boys concert tickets? Still spend a lot of time muttering the lyrics to "Hey, Ladies," much to the chagrin of your friends? Well, if what-cha, what-cha, what-cha want is all Beasties, all the time, your movie moment has arrived. "Awesome; I ... Shot That!" (the ellipses stand in for an expletive), which could have stood on its own as a straight-up concert movie, comes with a novel twist: The band handed out 50 video cameras (digital and ... (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)

      • The Pink Panther poster image

        The Pink Panther

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Inspector Jacques Clouseau, that ineffable French purveyor of defective detection created by star Peter Sellers and moviemaker Blake Edwards in their classic ?Pink Panther? series, may be in movie theaters this weekend, at the center of a spiffy-looking, expensively made ?The Pink Panther,? starring and co-written by Steve Martin. But the accident-prone sleuth - who, in Peter Sellers? hands, walked into glass doors, stumbled over whirling globes and let killers and thieves frolic under his no... (read more)

      • Wordplay poster image

        Wordplay

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Every year at a Marriott in Stamford, Conn., the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament attracts a startling variety of wonks beholden to the New York Times puzzle, to the thrill of banging their heads against the outer limits of their knowledge - and to words, ordinary and extraordinary. "Wordplay," Patrick Creadon's enjoyable documentary, focuses in its second half on last year's annual gathering. Largely, however - and we shouldn't be ashamed to admit this, especially at such a rab... (read more)

      • Little Miss Sunshine poster image

        Little Miss Sunshine

        Jessica Reaves, Chicago Tribune

        "Little Miss Sunshine," the stellar feature debut from directors (and spouses) Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, takes a well-worn idea (stick a family in a vehicle - here a malfunctioning VW bus - for a few thousand miles and watch the sparks fly) and makes it new again. New, not to mention funny, thoughtful and deeply, viscerally satisfying. "LMS," it should be noted, prompted a standing ovation at last winter's Sundance Festival - a relatively rare occurrence. A sardon... (read more)

      • The New World poster image

        The New World

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Capt. John Smith - the real one, not the one with Colin Farrell?s eyebrows - devoted much of his writing life chronicling his early-17th-century dealings with what he and other English colonists called ?the salvages,? meaning savages, meaning the Native Americans living in and around what would later be known as Jamestown, Va. In one account, Smith recalled witnessing the effect of ?dreaming visions? and ?phantasies? as experienced by a ?proper, civill salvage? stricken by an image of dead c... (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)

      • Pride & Prejudice poster image

        Pride & Prejudice

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Austen, Shmausten. Do we really need another ?Pride & Prejudice,? one more dance of misperception performed by Fitzwilliam Darcy, whom the world knows always as Darcy and never as Fitzwilliam, and Lizzie Bennet, whom Jane Austen once called ?as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print?? Each new adaptation of Austen?s three-volume novel, titled ?First Impressions? in its original manuscript draft, carries with it this stern question of need. And while it may be a decade old, the prist... (read more)

      • Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit poster image

        Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Most of us come from common clay. Wallace & Gromit do not. The jolly inventor with the sausage-shaped smile and his patient, silent yet wondrously expressive dog are the stuff of uncommon clay, the synthetic material known as Plasticine, of which two of modern cinema's loveliest comic creations are molded. "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" is the first feature-length showcase for these indelible characters, and it's a good one. For 40 minutes or so it's really good, i... (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)

      • Grizzly Man poster image

        Grizzly Man

        Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune

        "Grizzly Man," a documentary about the unsettling life and gruesome death of self-professed bear activist Timothy Treadwell, is the product of two prolific filmmakers: luminary director Werner Herzog and Treadwell, an amateur shooter who, with a donated Minolta video camera and a flair for the dramatic, filmed the last five summers of his 13-summer expedition in Alaskan bear country. In his measured narration and thick German accent, Herzog relays from the start the quick facts of T... (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 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)

      • Steamboy poster image

        Steamboy

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

        Though Katsuhiro Otomo's animated Victorian-era adventure "Steamboy" stars British characters, it's a Japanese film through and through. Otomo, who directed 1988's "Akira," considered to be anime's "Citizen Kane," returns to familiar genre motifs of city-leveling monstrosities and man's unworthiness to wield such destructive power. In this dubbed-into-English 106-minute version, Anna Paquin voices Ray Steam, a young Manchester boy from a distinguished gene pool o... (read more)

      • Robots poster image

        Robots

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

        The best movies capture their time in history, taking us to another world and making us see ourselves from a fresh angle. The wildly inventive, sweetly subversive "Robots" fits squarely into this category. Blue Sky Studio's high-concept animated comedy folds in an unlikely combination of themes - corporate monopolies, plastic surgery and genocide - and still manages to be funny. "Ice Age" directors Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha, along with their team of animators and de... (read more)

      • The Merchant of Venice poster image

        The Merchant of Venice

        Sid Smith, Chicago Tribune

        William Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" is often labeled one of his problem plays, a comedy with a dark, serious side and thoughtful layers of sociological analysis. For modern audiences, despite its beautiful poetry, compelling characters and perceptive take on revenge, "Merchant" also poses a problem of another sort. The tale and undoing of the Jewish villain Shylock strike the modern viewer as anti-Semitic, and indeed the story involves outright anti-Semitic lang... (read more)

      • Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy poster image

        Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        In "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," writer-star Will Ferrell and co-writer-director Adam McKay make fun of three subjects ripe for the comic slaughter: TV newscasting, male chauvinism and '70s fashions and hairstyles. And they pick them off with a sure-shot glee lacking in their main character: Emmy-winning San Diego news anchor and local Casanova Ron Burgundy. Ron, one of Ferrell's more amusing movie creations, is a charismatic but fairly empty-headed news guy, who, in abou... (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)

      • 13 Going on 30 poster image

        13 Going on 30

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        "13 Going on 30" plays like it was made by people who are 30 going on 13. The movie is as flighty and mixed up as the adolescent girl at its center. The premise is basically "Big" meets time travel. In 1987, 13-year-old suburbanite Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen) wishes in tearful frustration that she could be "30 and flirty and thriving." One sprinkle of "wishing dust" later, she awakens to find herself 30 years old in Jennifer Garner's body in 2004. Not... (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)

      • The Passion of the Christ poster image

        The Passion of the Christ

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        "The Passion of the Christ," Mel Gibson's serious, often brutally powerful film on the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus, is a passionate but gruesomely physical picture. But it's a subject that needs more spirituality and transcendence, at least to move us in the way Gibson so obviously wants. Gibson tries to do several things at once: create a compelling drama of the familiar tale, make an exciting movie, follow the Gospels and, through it all, pay witness to his faith. Inevitab... (read more)

      • Monster poster image

        Monster

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        We often celebrate actors for putting themselves inside the skins and souls of others. But in "Monster," a true-crime drama about Florida serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Charlize Theron performs one of the most shocking physical/emotional transformations in recent years. She becomes the monster of the title so fully and convincingly that she truly seems to disappear into the role. In what has already been justly hailed as an Oscar-caliber performance, Theron, the tall bombshell of &q... (read more)

      • Biker Boyz poster image

        Biker Boyz

        Kevin M. Williams, Chicago Tribune

        "Swill" is a perfect word for "Biker Boyz," cinematic idiocy served up by the troughful. Billed as a "contemporary Western on wheels with desperados who live every day on the edge," this movie lives up to its billing. But not all Westerns are good. Some of them are simplistic amalgamations of cheese in which characters speak in cliches and you know exactly how every shootout is going to end. The biggest mystery in "Biker Boyz" is how they got Laurence F... (read more)

      • Solaris poster image

        Solaris

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Steven Soderbergh's "Solaris," an exploration of outer space and inner anguish, reminds us that science fiction can embrace adult ideas and human drama as well as technology and futuristic action. Based on the novel by Polish author Stanislaw Lem and the great 1972 film adaptation by Russia's Andrei Tarkovsky it's a movie that veers 180 degrees away from "Star Wars," deliberately downplaying typical sci-fi hardware, effects and adventure in favor of emotion and psycholog... (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)

      • Insomnia poster image

        Insomnia

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        Christopher Nolan's previous movie, "Memento," was a thriller for film obsessives to love. His new "Insomnia" is one for general moviegoers to like. The new movie is smart and well-crafted, and it boasts complex characters, effective star turns and evocative photography of a small Alaskan town in summertime, when the sun never sets. It's a solid Hollywood thriller. But given that movie geeks paved the way for Nolan's mainstream break, we should be forgiven for hoping for m... (read more)

      • Spider-Man poster image

        Spider-Man

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        A big-screen, well-appointed "Spider-Man" is a hard concept to screw up, and director Sam Raimi ultimately doesn't. The movie does what it has to do: puts this most populist of comic-book superheroes at the center of a colorful, computer-enhanced popcorn entertainment. It's got appealing performers as the leads Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson as well as a formidable villain in the Green Goblin/Norman Osborn, played with a heaping scoo... (read more)

      • The Time Machine poster image

        The Time Machine

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Imagine a time-traveling H.G. Wells transported to a modern multiplex, plopped in a seat and forced to watch the new $80 million movie version of his own 1895 science-fiction classic "The Time Machine." Would author Wells gape in wonderment? Applaud the lavishness? Or decry the waste? Would the British novelist-historian a big movie fan who once called the cinema "the greatest of all art forms" just relax and ogle the effects? Or would he wonder whether his "Time Ma... (read more)

      • Queen of the Damned poster image

        Queen of the Damned

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

        Director Neil Jordan's "Interview With the Vampire" told the story of a tragic monster from the monster's point of view. Its sequel, "Queen of the Damned," tinkers with the idea of eternity, turning it into a rock 'n' roll playground. Based on Anne Rice's "The Vampire Chronicles," "Queen of the Damned" condenses part of the second volume and all of the third of Rice's blood opera. Stuart Townsend steps in as Vampire Lestat (formerly played by Tom Cruise... (read more)

      • Ali poster image

        Ali

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        Muhammad Ali's life suggests a Shakespearean epic. In the beginning he rises to become the world's heavyweight boxing champion, an intimidating, motor-mouthed Nation of Islam follower who sacrifices his livelihood by refusing to fight in Vietnam. In the middle acts, Ali returns to boxing, regains his crown (twice) and solidifies his status as the world's most famous figure. Then comes the tragic fall: Ali fights well past his prime and is pummeled so badly that his brain is permanently damage... (read more)

      • Ichi the Killer poster image

        Ichi the Killer

        John Petrakis, Chicago Tribune

        "Ichi the Killer" is the latest bloodbath by Japanese cult director Takashi Miike ("Audition"), and to call it superior to Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" is to pay a backhanded compliment. Neither film is very good, but at least "Ichi" tackles its gory subject matter with a modicum of integrity, as in "This is it, it's bizarre, but deal with it," instead of Tarantino's work, which patches together bits and pieces from other genres. "Ichi... (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)

      • The Princess Diaries poster image

        The Princess Diaries

        Loren King, Chicago Tribune

        It's noteworthy that the family-friendly Disney film "The Princess Diaries" manages to wring some originality out of its fairy-tale plot. This freshness compensates for the expected hackneyed qualities in this Cinderella tale about an ordinary teen-age girl who becomes royalty thanks to the not-so-gentle persuasion of none other than the original Eliza Doolittle herself, Julie Andrews, whose winning performance in "The Princess Diaries" kicks the class quotient up several ... (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)

      • Ghost World poster image

        Ghost World

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • Godzilla poster image

        Godzilla

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Girls Rock! poster image

        Girls Rock!

        Sid Smith, Chicago Tribune

        Talk about irresistible subject matter: Adolescent and pre-adolescent girls go to camp to be in a rock band. There they meet, interact, form impromptu bands and rehearse and compose for a week, culminating in a raucous, riotous, all-girl rock-out of a concert. In the meantime, topics of self-esteem, self-image and the rules of sisterly engagement enter the discussion - camp as fun and enlightenment, guitars and drums replacing outdoor sports. That's the crux of the story explored in the docum... (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)

      • Sketches of Frank Gehry poster image

        Sketches of Frank Gehry

        Jessica Reaves, Chicago Tribune

        When famed architect Frank Gehry asked Sydney Pollack to make a documentary about him, Pollack initially demurred. "I don't know anything about making documentaries," Pollack recalls telling Gehry. "And I don't know anything about architecture." Gehry's response? "That's why you're perfect for it." Gehry's theory - the less technical the approach, the more human the end result - is proven time and again in this diverting portrait of America's most famous living a... (read more)

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