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      • Dr. Seuss' the Lorax poster image

        Dr. Seuss' the Lorax

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The new animated feature "The Lorax," known in its entirety as "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" to keep it straight from "John Grisham's The Lorax," does a few smaller things right but the bigger things not quite. I've come to fear these movies. I love Seuss so much, even his second-shelf works. Who doesn't feel protective of authors and illustrators they love? And not just because we were young when we made their acquaintance. As with "Horton Hears a Who!" four ... (read more)

      • The Iron Lady poster image

        The Iron Lady

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Some movies arrive pre-stamped with a consensus opinion. With "The Iron Lady," the consensus so far is this: Meryl Streep excels as Margaret Thatcher. And the movie itself does not work. Well, you know, she is good. After all the lousy, technically slovenly work this hack has given us, it's about time. But I find the film itself more intriguing and, odd as it sounds, given its subject, delicate than its advance notice. Yes, it's a strangely de-politicized portrait of Britain's first... (read more)

      • Pariah poster image

        Pariah

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Hugo poster image

        Hugo

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • Detestable Moi 3D Numerique poster image

        Detestable Moi 3D Numerique

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

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

        How to Train Your Dragon: An IMAX 3D Experience

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • The Blind Side poster image

        The Blind Side

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "The Blind Side" fumbles a remarkable true story of an African-American product of the West Memphis projects who ended up at a Christian school and in the care of a wealthy white family, and then went on to professional football glory. The kid is Michael Oher, who now plays offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. He is not the main character, though. The star is Sandra Bullock, whose character, Leigh Anne Tuohy, is conceived as a steel magnolia with a will of iron and the righteo... (read more)

      • The House of the Devil poster image

        The House of the Devil

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Those of us who spent many hours in the '70s and '80s watching satanic cultists at work and play in junk like "Race With the Devil" (1975) will experience director Ti West's fourth feature in a different way from those who weren't around then, or were confining their filmgoing to more noble matters. "The House of the Devil" works either way. It is a fine little old-school thriller, set in the 1980s and devoted, fondly, to the visual syntax and Farrah-inspired hair of the e... (read more)

      • Paranormal Activity poster image

        Paranormal Activity

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        Some movies are more of a shared experience than others, and that's certainly the case with "Paranormal Activity," a micro-budget horror flick about things that go bump in the you-know-what in a nice new home. It's opening in select college towns, midnight-only showings, in a handful of theaters. The combination of the late hour and the horror-jazzed audience could make this minimalist chill-fest the new "Blair Witch Project," or so Paramount hopes. At the right moments, ... (read more)

      • A Serious Man poster image

        A Serious Man

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "A Serious Man" is a tart, brilliantly acted fable of life's little cosmic difficulties, a Coen brothers comedy with a darker philosophical outlook than "No Country for Old Men" but with a script rich in verbal wit. This time it's God - or chance, or fate with a grudge against the Minneapolis suburbs - wielding the stun gun. The most we can do, the film implies, is stick to our principles and hope for the best. Physics professor Larry Gopnik, played by the excellent Micha... (read more)

      • Jennifer's Body poster image

        Jennifer's Body

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        From her earlier days and nights as a blogger and a pole dancer, screenwriter Diablo Cody knows a lot about the power of eyeballs, the predominance of the male gaze and the raging narcissism that feeds so many personalities, good and evil. Cody's Oscar-winning script for "Juno" revealed a highly stylized comic sensibility, as well as an arch-fiend of cleverness behind each turn of phrase. Her second script to reach the screen is "Jennifer's Body," which, like its privilege... (read more)

      • District 9 poster image

        District 9

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Ponyo poster image

        Ponyo

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Julie & Julia poster image

        Julie & Julia

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Julie & Julia," which could also be called "Butter & Butterer," may not be great cinema, but people going to a movie like this for great cinema are sniffing around the wrong kitchen. You go to a movie like this for the sauces and stews, and for the considerable pleasure of seeing (and listening to) Meryl Streep's drolly exuberant performance as Julia Child, the towering culinary icon with the distinctively plummy vocal intonations evoking a flute, an oboe and Ed Wynn afte... (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)

      • 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)

      • Big Man Japan poster image

        Big Man Japan

        Michael Ordona, Chicago Tribune

        You've probably never seen anything like "Big Man Japan" ("Dai-Nipponjin," literally "Great Japanese"). It's a mockumentary following an ordinary schmo who goes to work as a skyscraper-size Japanese superhero, the kind who takes on mammoth insects in '50s monster movies. The brainchild of renowned Japanese comedy figure Hitoshi Matsumoto, the film presents the hero in his normal, human size as a profoundly lonely figure, as Dai-Nipponjin is severely underapprecia... (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)

      • Coraline poster image

        Coraline

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • City of Ember poster image

        City of Ember

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        There's a lot working against "City of Ember" in terms of its commercial prospects. Among the question marks: an indistinct title, taken from a popular-but-not-epoch-shattering series of books; an apocalyptic vision of the future that resists the usual swells of triumphalism; and dialogue that is markedly free of jaded wisecracks and references to "Jerry Maguire," or "Cops." Also, it's good. So it has quality working against it too. It's a little fuzzy in terms ... (read more)

      • Bottle Shock poster image

        Bottle Shock

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Wine may be sunlight held together by water, as Galileo said, but "Bottle Shock" is held together only by Alan Rickman. It's interesting, given how the actor has built so many exquisite characterizations on the foundation of a certain look, that of a man who has consumed one too many sour grapes. Rickman plays Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant living in Paris. In 1976, Spurrier traveled to Napa, Calif., to see, and taste, what he might bring back with him to Paris and a wine... (read more)

      • The Dark Knight: The IMAX Experience poster image

        The Dark Knight: The IMAX Experience

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Sensational, grandly sinister and not for the kids, "The Dark Knight" elevates pulp to a very high level. Heath Ledger's Joker takes it higher still, and the 28-year-old actor's death earlier this year of an accidental overdose lends the film an air of a funeral and a rollicking, out-of-control wake mixed together. In "The Dark Knight," Ledger makes all other comic-book screen villains look like Baby Huey. Like Shakespeare's Iago or Richard III, like Anthony Hopkins' Hanni... (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)

      • 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 Mist poster image

        The Mist

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Good and creepy, "The Mist" comes from a Stephen King novella and is more the shape, size and quality of the recent "1408," likewise taken from a King story, than anything in the persistently fashionable charnel house inhabited by the "Saw" and "Hostel" franchises. People get torn apart and beset by monsters in "The Mist" but not enough, I'm guessing, for the "Saw" folk, who prefer grinding realism to the supernatural. On the other h... (read more)

      • Arctic Tale poster image

        Arctic Tale

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "An Inconvenient Truth" for the juice-box set, "Arctic Tale" has my 6-year-old son very interested in the concept of helping polar bears and walrus pups and other wildlife live better, longer, icier lives. So how bad can it be? The film has turned him into a good little eco-fellow. It might be temporary, but I hope not. He's turning off lights around the house when they're not needed. He's saving up for a hybrid car. He thought the film was "not bad - better than I th... (read more)

      • Superbad poster image

        Superbad

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A new titan has joined the pantheon of adenoidal screen legends, up where Julius Kelp and Lina Lamont and Ratso Rizzo dwell. His name is Fogell, age 17 or thereabouts. He also goes by the one-named alias "McLovin," according to a fake ID that pegs McLovin as a 25-year-old Hawaiian organ donor. Fogell's theoretical access to store-bought liquor may hold the key to paradise for him and Seth and Evan, his fellow college-bound high school seniors played by Jonah Hill and Michael Cera. A... (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)

      • Ratatouille poster image

        Ratatouille

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The ads for the ravishing new Disney/Pixar feature "Ratatouille" spell out the titular dish phonetically (as rat-a-too-ee), a tactic not necessary in last summer's marketing and promotion of "Cars." This provides a clue as to why writer-director Brad Bird's story, about a sweet aesthete of a rat who dreams of becoming a chef, may not be in for "Cars"-type action at the box office. Well, there's no justice in the world. "Ratatouille" may be rated G, but ... (read more)

      • Paprika poster image

        Paprika

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Movies, it's often said, are the art form that most closely suggests the dream state - and "Paprika" is pretty joyously dreamy and disorienting for much of its length. Director/co-writer Satoshi Kon is a virtuoso of Japanese anime; 2003's "Tokyo Godfathers" was his stunning sci-fi remake of the 1948 John Ford western "Three Godfathers." Original author Yasutaka Tsutsui is one of his country's major science-fiction writers. Their joint creation is a movie about a ... (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)

      • Bobby poster image

        Bobby

        Jessica Reaves, Chicago Tribune

        On the evening of June 4, 1968, many Angelenos were more interested in Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale's attempt at a no-hitter than in the state's presidential primary or Sen. Robert Kennedy's speech before the campaign faithful. Just after midnight, the focus shifted from the ballpark to the Ambassador Hotel. "Bobby," directed by Emilio Estevez, is a kaleidoscopic, scattered, unexpectedly compelling chronicle of what happened that night. Estevez unravels the evening through the eyes ... (read more)

      • Casino Royale poster image

        Casino Royale

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        For a long time now, the James Bond franchise has been operating with a license to overkill. That license has been revoked by "Casino Royale." It doesn't even feel like a Bond film as we have come to expect them, in their numbing, increasingly gadget-dependent gigantism. No death rays from space this time. No invisible car. For once, most of the laws of physics are given due respect. A renewed sense of engagement informs director Martin Campbell's tough, absorbing adaptation of the ... (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)

      • 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)

      • Slither poster image

        Slither

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Deep Sea IMAX 3D poster image

        Deep Sea IMAX 3D

        Michael Esposito, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • Breakfast on Pluto poster image

        Breakfast on Pluto

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Each film is its own universe, if not always its own reward. Neil Jordan?s 1997 film version of the Patrick McCabe novel ?The Butcher Boy? was both unique and terrific - as painful a story of childhood adversity as you can imagine, or nearly, yet a cinematically exuberant vision of a very young Irishman?s life and times. ?Breakfast on Pluto? finds Jordan again adapting a McCabe novel, a tale of another Irish misfit, Patrick. The jolly-desperate tone recalls ?The Butcher Boy,? plus a bit of Vo... (read more)

      • North Country poster image

        North Country

        Jessica Reaves, Chicago Tribune

        Some movies delight us by surpassing negligible expectations. Others torture us by falling well short of high hopes. ?North Country,? sad to say, belongs in the latter category. It?s a potentially great movie - with talent and plot points to spare - that settles for being just OK. Its failings certainly can?t be linked to a lack of effort; the film wears its earnest heart on its sleeve for 123 melancholy minutes. Director Niki Caro (?Whale Rider?) takes on the landmark 1988 Jenson vs. Eveleth... (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)

      • The Devil's Rejects poster image

        The Devil's Rejects

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

        In the first third of rocker/director Rob Zombie's "The Devil's Rejects," one of his serial killer antiheroes proclaims, "I am the devil, and I am here to do the devil's work." His claim seems dubious. If Satan were involved in "Rejects," wouldn't it have more style and better production values? At the very least, the Great Beast would have hired a more disciplined film editor. Evil isn't this boring. Zombie's unevenly acted, badly directed sequel to the lacklust... (read more)

      • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room poster image

        Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Even if the financial pages bore you - even if you've never watched Lou Dobbs or Neil Cavuto and never will - "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" should hold you spellbound. Alex Gibney's documentary on the collapse of the high-flying Houston energy company is a powerhouse. It's a nonfiction movie that pulls a mother lode of high drama and dark comedy out of one of the decade's most fascinating news stories. At its best, it's a thriller that makes John Grisham's paranoiac concoct... (read more)

      • Be Cool poster image

        Be Cool

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Be forewarned: "Be Cool" ain't. Even if you enjoyed the mean, funny 1995 John Travolta crime comedy "Get Shorty" - and many of us did - this forced sequel isn't likely to help you repeat the experience. Though based on yet another funny-tough Elmore Leonard novel and blessed with a smartly packaged Danny DeVito Jersey Films production, "Be Cool" is a bright, colorful misfire. It features another all-star mob of actors, topped by John Travolta as ice-slick Miami d... (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)

      • Million Dollar Baby poster image

        Million Dollar Baby

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        At 74, Clint Eastwood still has some tricks up his sleeve, including, when he wants it, a knockout punch of shattering force. "Million Dollar Baby" - in which Eastwood admirably returns as director, producer and lead actor after shucking star duties in last year's instant classic "Mystic River" - is a tough, pungent boxing drama with a delayed-action wallop. The movie is one of Eastwood's best, but it fools you. Starting out as if it were another "Rocky"-style bo... (read more)

      • Sideways poster image

        Sideways

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Howl's Moving Castle poster image

        Howl's Moving Castle

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • Fahrenheit 9/11 poster image

        Fahrenheit 9/11

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Among the movies everyone should see this year - whatever your film taste or your political bent - Michael Moore's incendiary documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" heads the list. "Fahrenheit" may provoke, delight or divide its audience. But no one will react indifferently to this shocking, sad and funny look at the Bush administration's handling of terrorism and the Iraqi war. It's another howitzer blast of heartland humor and journalistic chutzpah from director-writer Moore - hi... (read more)

      • Shrek 2 poster image

        Shrek 2

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        "Shrek 2" is "Meet the Parents" for computer-animated ogres, and once again the cat gets the biggest laughs. The frisky feline of the moment is a swashbuckling Puss in Boots, voiced by Antonio Banderas in a sendup of his Zorro character. For reasons to be explained later, Puss is hired to vanquish everyone's favorite big ugly green dude, Shrek (again voiced by Mike Myers), but soon he's hanging out with the good guys, causing a jealous Donkey (Eddie Murphy, again better he... (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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • Elf poster image

        Elf

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Love Actually poster image

        Love Actually

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Kill Bill: Vol. 1 poster image

        Kill Bill: Vol. 1

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Mystic River poster image

        Mystic River

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Clint Eastwood's powerful new movie, "Mystic River," his best since "Unforgiven," takes us on a voyage almost to the end of the night. It's a shattering journey into darkness, taken by three Boston boys pulled at age 11 into one awful act of transgression, climaxing 25 years later, when an even more terrible crime reunites them. Based on the 2001 crime novel by Dennis Lehane, "Mystic River" is classic Eastwood, classic noir. If there is still some doubt about whe... (read more)

      • Finding Nemo poster image

        Finding Nemo

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        It's the details that stand out whenever a classic film is converted to 3-D. With "Finding Nemo 3D," the shimmering sea surface, scratches on the lens of a diver's goggles, and smudge marks Nemo the clown fish makes when he mashes his face up against the glass wall of the aquarium that imprisons him all pop off the screen in the reissue of Pixar's undisputed masterpiece. The fish seem to float in between the surface of the screen and the deep blue underwater backgrounds of the South... (read more)

      • The Italian Job poster image

        The Italian Job

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Heist movies tend to be about irresponsible, illegal thrills or "left-handed forms of human endeavor," as John Huston described them in "The Asphalt Jungle" and "The Italian Job" is one robbery thriller that starts off with a spectacular rush. Director F. Gary Gray and company (including actors Mark Wahlberg and Ed Norton) give us an incredibly elaborate burglary in a sumptuous Venetian palazzo and a nerve-jangling, chaotic motorboat chase through the Venetian ... (read more)

      • House of 1000 Corpses poster image

        House of 1000 Corpses

        Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony poster image

        Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Lee Hirsch's "Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony" is a great documentary that makes your heart leap with joy. A musical and political record of more than a half-century of South African history, it's the story of a relatively peaceful revolution wrought against all the weapons of the state by suffering, mass protest and music. And it's told with such sadness and exaltation, such mastery of image and sound, that watching it makes you feel renewed and hopeful. In a world often... (read more)

      • The Hours poster image

        The Hours

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Hours" is a novel ready-made for book-group discussions, preferably in conjunction with its main reference point, Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway." Cunningham's novel cleverly plays off "Mrs. Dalloway," a novel that we English majors are presumed to have read (though many of us didn't quite "get it" at the time), while following three parallel narrative strands: a woman nicknamed Mrs. Dalloway, who experi... (read more)

      • The Pianist poster image

        The Pianist

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        "The Pianist" is the film Roman Polanski may have been born to make. It's a great movie on a powerful, essential subject the Holocaust years in Poland directed with such artistry and skill that, as we watch, the barriers of the screen seem to melt away. Our vision is renewed, our emotions reawakened. Telling the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a young, Polish-Jewish classical pianist who lived through the WWII Nazi invasion in Warsaw, Polanski makes us feel what it must have been lik... (read more)

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

        The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets poster image

        Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Punch-Drunk Love poster image

        Punch-Drunk Love

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Spirited Away poster image

        Spirited Away

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Scooby-Doo poster image

        Scooby-Doo

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

        As smoke rolls out of the sunroof of the Mystery Mobile and the words "primo stuff" are uttered by a major character, finally, we're led to think, someone is coming clean about Scooby-Doo's psychedelic roots. It would explain a lot, from Shaggy's reefer-smoking demeanor to the talking dog. Of course, no explanations are offered, only flirted with, as the next shot reveals an in-van barbecue of vegetarian burgers shared by a boy and his dog. Usually, calling movies "cartoonish&q... (read more)

      • Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron poster image

        Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

        Loren King, Chicago Tribune

        DreamWorks borrows a page from Walt Disney's book on epic animated adventures with its new widescreen production, "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron." The studio that playfully skewed Disney in "Shrek" flatters the competition with this imitation of Disney style and sincerity. "Spirit" trots confidently in the hoof-steps of old-fashioned family films such as "Black Beauty" and "The Black Stallion," while giving obvious nods to "Dumbo"... (read more)

      • The Importance of Being Earnest poster image

        The Importance of Being Earnest

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

        It remains one of the tragedies of the English language that Oscar Wilde didn't leave us with more plays. Shortly after the 1895 London premiere of Wilde's stage masterwork, "The Importance of Being Earnest," the 40-year-old wordsmith found himself in prison for being unfashionably homosexual in Victorian England. He was dead five years later, a broken writer suffering ill health after two years in poor prison conditions. "Earnest" represented Wilde at the height of his li... (read more)

      • Monsters, Inc. poster image

        Monsters, Inc.

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        The main characters of "Monsters, Inc." are fantasy beasts who frighten children and capture their screams to use as fuel in the monsters' homeland. And they're the good guys. Given that Shrek was an ogre who disliked cuddly fairytale characters, we've obviously entered a new era for animated heroes, at least of the computer-generated kind. The "Toy Story" movies' Woody and Buzz Lightyear, after all, just wanted to make kids happy. Nevertheless, James P. Sullivan (a.k.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)

      • Pulse poster image

        Pulse

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        ?Pulse? is a modern Japanese ghost film from director Kiyoshi Kurosawa - a classy horror movie that avoids the predictable mayhem and gory cliches of most American supernatural shockers to summon up something subtler and more unsettling. It?s suffused instead with an eerie, queasy feel: the modernistic, technology-soaked dread that marks such contemporary Japanese pictures as ?Ringu? or ?Ju-On? (?The Grudge?), but also something beyond them as well. This is a ghost story in which, gradually, ... (read more)

      • The Pledge poster image

        The Pledge

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        (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)

      • Marie Antoinette poster image

        Marie Antoinette

        Jessica Reaves, Chicago Tribune

        Marie Antoinette has, in popular history, been accused of frivolity, irreverence and disdain for historical precedent. Sofia Coppola's indulgent, frothy biopic will be charged with precisely these same offenses. What more could a filmmaker ask for? Coppola's third movie, reportedly in the works for many years, has finally landed in the U.S. after a rocky premiere at Cannes, where the French media reaction was, shall we say, mixed. Wags there accused the young filmmaker of taking certain liber... (read more)

      • Something New poster image

        Something New

        Jessica Reaves, Chicago Tribune

        Even the best romantic comedies have a well-deserved reputation for being the cinematic equivalent of Chinese food: enormously enjoyable at the time of consumption but too quickly digested to provide any lasting sense of fulfillment. Happily for those of us who enjoy the genre but wouldn?t mind more substance on the empty-calorie march toward bliss, ?Something New,? the beguiling feature film debut from Sanaa Hamri, carries a little bit more weight than the average rom-com. More fiber, if yo... (read more)

      • The Nun poster image

        The Nun

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

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

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