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      • Paddington poster image

        Paddington

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Never judge by appearances. The poster image for "Paddington," already a hit in Britain, depicts the valiant little bear in the red hat and blue jacket careening down a flooded staircase in a bathtub, and the image (from the first of creator Michael Bond's 26 "Paddington" books) is rendered in such a way as to make the film look pushy and twee and eminently skippable. And yet the film isn't any of those things. It's witty and charming, with a considerable if sneaky emotion... (read more)

      • Annie poster image

        Annie

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It brings no pleasure to report this, especially when the distributing studio, Sony, is dealing with a monstrous hacking scandal and a hard-knock year. Let's put it charitably. The risks taken by co-writer and director Will Gluck ("Easy A," "Friends With Benefits," both quite good) begin with pulling "Annie" out of the 1930s and plopping it down in contemporary Manhattan. Living in foster care up in Harlem, the girl formerly known as "orphan" (each time... (read more)

      • Nightcrawler poster image

        Nightcrawler

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Jake Gyllenhaal lost 30 pounds for his new movie, "Nightcrawler," and the result is simple and eerie, much like the film itself. He appears to be wearing a Jake Gyllenhaal mask, all cheekbones, sallow complexion and unblinking laser-beam eyes. His character is Lou Bloom, a freelance LA crime scene videographer. Is this man human, exactly? Lou's small talk leans heavy on the self-help axioms and self-directed pep rallies; it's as if he were an alien learning to pass for earthling by ... (read more)

      • Fury poster image

        Fury

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Fury" is a mixture of sharp realism and squishy cliches that combat movies don't really need anymore. It stars Brad Pitt as a 2nd Armored Division sergeant known as Wardaddy, commander of a battle-scarred Sherman tank whose nickname, painted on its gun barrel, gives writer-director David Ayer's film its title. Coming off his LAPD drive-around chronicle "End of Watch," Ayer once again gravitates toward hard men in deadly, roving circumstances. "Fury" compresses a... (read more)

      • Guardians of the Galaxy poster image

        Guardians of the Galaxy

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Like the '70s cassette mix tape so dear to its hero, "Guardians of the Galaxy" scavenges all sorts of "greatest hits" precedents, from "Iron Man" on down, to come up with its own summertime fling. It's looser, scruffier and more overtly comic than the average Marvel action fantasy. And despite the usual load of violence, not all of it properly handled, the film owes its relative buoyancy above all to Chris Pratt as the wisecracking space rogue at the helm. There ... (read more)

      • The Girl on the Train poster image

        The Girl on the Train

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Let's be Blunt. Emily Blunt is an excellent and wily actress. In "The Girl on the Train" she's persuasive enough, both in angsty, raging extremis and in wary voyeur mode, to play a sort of shell game with her own messed-up movie. Look over here! I've figured out how to make this plot device behave like a real person! The words you'd use to describe director Tate Taylor's film version of the best-selling Paula Hawkins novel are the same words one of the patronizing male characters mi... (read more)

      • The Grand Budapest Hotel poster image

        The Grand Budapest Hotel

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Ever since the moment in "Bottle Rocket" (1996) when Luke Wilson's character paused during a robbery of his own boyhood home to straighten a toy soldier on a bedroom shelf, writer-director Wes Anderson announced his intentions as an artist of serenely extreme exactitude. This is a filmmaker, working in varying degrees of visual stylization, who operates within precise notions of how the universe of his imagining will proceed in terms of story and how his characters will operate with... (read more)

      • The Wind Rises poster image

        The Wind Rises

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Here's a beautiful apparent contradiction: a gentle, supple picture about the man who designed the Zero fighter plane. "The Wind Rises" is being marketed as the "farewell masterpiece" of Japanese writer-director Hayao Miyazaki, who brought the world "Spirited Away," "Howl's Moving Castle" and "Ponyo," as well as oversaw and contributed to "From Up on Poppy Hill" most recently. There's a fascinating push/pull in Miyazaki's latest. The... (read more)

      • The Past poster image

        The Past

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In an earlier Asghar Farhadi film, "About Elly," a divorcing character says: "A bitter end is much better than a bitterness without ending." Neither option provides much ease. In the right hands, however, both yield infinite dramatic riches. Writer-director Farhadi's new film is "The Past." It has the unenviable position of following the deserved global rapture that greeted his previous work, "A Separation," two years ago. What can a filmmaker do after ... (read more)

      • Gravity poster image

        Gravity

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        ``Gravity defies itself. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play astronauts - a newbie scientist and a veteran cowboy - who dodge space debris and the usual narrative expectations while coping with a highly compressed series of crises 372 miles above the Earth's surface. It's a nerve-wracking visual experience of unusual and paradoxical delicacy. And if your stomach can take it, it's truly something to see. Director and co-writer Alfonso Cuaron, who wrote the script with his son, Jonas, has de... (read more)

      • Enough Said poster image

        Enough Said

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Content Agency Film Clips James Gandolfini died in June at age 51, and it's still a terrible loss, all these breathless 24-hour news cycles later. His final picture, a crime drama called "Animal Rescue," opens next year. Meantime, consider writer-director Nicole Holofcener's "Enough Said" to be a fond farewell. The bearlike actor with one of the most instantly identifiable voices in popular culture co-stars opposite top-billed Julia L... (read more)

      • The World's End poster image

        The World's End

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Zippy, kinetic and brashly funny, "The World's End" comes to the U.S. from its native England hard on the heels of "This Is the End," an American comedy about ordinary mortals (comedians, actually, so maybe not so ordinary) manning up to deal with apocalyptic plot developments. "World's End," a collaboration among director Edgar Wright, co-writer and star Simon Pegg and co-star Nick Frost, joins the trio's earlier genre scrambles "Shaun of the Dead" (zo... (read more)

      • The Smurfs 2 poster image

        The Smurfs 2

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        Get yourself into a Smurfy frame of mind, hum a few notes of "The Smurf Song" and try to remember your cartoon-watching primary school years. Cross your fingers that actors Neil Patrick Harris, Hank Azaria, Jayma Mays and Brendan Gleeson will find something funny to do. Never mind. Filled with Smurf wholesomeness, Smurf puns and posi-Smurf messages about never giving up "on family," "The Smurfs 2" still isn't worth Smurfberries. Gargamel the Smurf-hater is now a ... (read more)

      • Fruitvale Station poster image

        Fruitvale Station

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Fruitvale Station" is hugely effective meat-and-potatoes moviemaking, and one hell of a feature film debut for writer-director Ryan Coogler. Lean (84 minutes), swift and full of life, Coogler's picture recounts a random and needless death, that of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, played by Michael B. Jordan, a familiar face from "The Wire," "Friday Night Lights" and the films "Chronicle" and "Red Tails." At 2:15 a.m. Jan. 1, 2009, the unarmed victim ... (read more)

      • No poster image

        No

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Media Services Film Clips "No" is a terrific film, and word got out very quickly at last year's Cannes Film Festival, where the Chilean docudrama deservedly made a lot of noise even though it played outside the main competition categories. No less than "Argo," "Lincoln" and "Zero Dark Thirty," director Pablo Larrain's achievement feeds the debate regarding truth and fiction and how much of the former a viewer needs... (read more)

      • Mama poster image

        Mama

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        "Mama" breaks a lot of horror movie rules, right off the proverbial bat. It gives us a long back-story opening, and brings up much more back story as the tale progresses. It overexplains. It reveals its supernatural menace, not just in glimpses, but full on, and early on. There's never any idea that this might be all in somebody's head. But "Mama" is a reminder that the best chills don't involve chainsaws, blood and guts. Horror is a product of empathy -- in this case, fea... (read more)

      • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close poster image

        Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" transforms the carnage and unruly grief of Sept. 11, 2001, known to its preteen Upper West Side Manhattan protagonist as "The Worst Day," into an occasion for interborough healing and emotional encounters of the cheapest kind. If actors this good cannot overcome their material, then we can only say: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock ... Max von Sydow, Zoe Caldwell, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, John Goodman ... thanks for your honest efforts in t... (read more)

      • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 poster image

        Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It has taken Harry Potter eight full-length films to really have it out with Lord Voldemort, the reptilian prince of darkness with the undeniable leadership qualities and a clear, can-do game plan. With an ordinary franchise, the audience -- even an audience pre-devoted to J.K. Rowling's books -- would've grown itchy long ago, renouncing its allegiance and moving on. But this is no ordinary franchise. As the 21st century has lurched, in the Muggle world, from terrorism to pervasive, political... (read more)

      • Bridesmaids poster image

        Bridesmaids

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        There's a reason "Bridesmaids" isn't called "The Bridesmaid." Kristen Wiig, the star and co-writer (along with Annie Mumolo) of director Paul Feig's comedy, has a self-effacing streak running right alongside her deadly deadpan streak. Even when she's playing the lead, she's not really playing the lead. Reedy and extremely pretty, Wiig has a dry, backhanded way of nailing laughs. In the posters and ads for "Bridesmaids," all Wiig's female co-stars strike bigger po... (read more)

      • Water for Elephants poster image

        Water for Elephants

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Like "The Notebook," but with an elephant, the unexpectedly good film version of "Water for Elephants" elevates pure corn to a completely satisfying realm of romantic melodrama. This adaptation of the Sara Gruen best seller, set in a storybook edition of Depression-era 1931, stars Robert Pattinson of the "Twilight" franchise as Jacob, the earnest son of Polish immigrants, "a veterinary student from the wrong side of the tracks" as 20th Century Fox's pub... (read more)

      • Rio poster image

        Rio

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Midway through one in a manic string of chase sequences in the animated "Rio," the uptight macaw voiced by Jesse Eisenberg says, "I would love to go five minutes without almost getting killed." This is the movie's strategy: near-perpetual peril, dialogue that's ... almost funny and an extremely bright color palette, plus the musical supervision of the great Sergio Mendes, whose LPs I still have in the house somewhere, my tastes' not having changed much since 1966. Re-heari... (read more)

      • Meek's Cutoff poster image

        Meek's Cutoff

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Hop poster image

        Hop

        Robert Abele, Chicago Tribune

        When it comes to notable secular Easter movies, there's Fred Astaire at the parade with Judy Garland and little else. But with the seasonal ubiquity of candy, eggs and bunnies, it's hardly a shock that an animation company would wring some type of festive, sentimental kids flick out of so commercially tinged and cute animal-friendly a holiday. The animation/live-action ``Hop - from the producing-writing team behind last year's ``Despicable Me,'' and director Tim Hill, of ``Alvin and the Chipm... (read more)

      • Super poster image

        Super

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Media Services Film Clips Best known as Dwight, the perpetually failing schemer on "The Office," Rainn Wilson is blessed with a swell face for a cut-rate, homemade superhero mask. Those glaring eyes really pop through. And the actor's way of italicizing his comic reactions to the latest perceived or genuine slight has a way of filling out even an ill-fitting crime fighter's uniform. In writer-director James Gunn's "Super," Wilson play... (read more)

      • Rango poster image

        Rango

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        As a family demographic product, "Rango" has a million selling points, among them an unusually strong voice cast headed by Johnny Depp in tremulous-aesthete mode, a popular live-action director making his feature animation debut, and a twist on a genre temporarily back in vogue, thanks to "True Grit." It is, for what it is, a work of considerable care and craft. And it's completely soulless. I may be in the minority. But seeing this sour riff on everything from "Cat B... (read more)

      • Black Swan poster image

        Black Swan

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Tangled poster image

        Tangled

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Megamind poster image

        Megamind

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Earlier this year "Despicable Me" proved it: A story about a hapless villain, humanized, is good for a few laughs and a half-billion worldwide. That figure would very likely be A-OK with the makers of the new DreamWorks animated feature "Megamind," also about a hapless villain, humanized. This villain's blue. Moderately funny though immoderately derivative, the film is no "How to Train Your Dragon" or "Kung Fu Panda," DreamWorks' recent high points, and... (read more)

      • The Social Network poster image

        The Social Network

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Across far too many stretches of our moviegoing lives, we see movie after movie without seeing one that really moves. At once stealthy and breathlessly paced, "The Social Network" scoots at a fabulous clip, depicting how its version of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made his billions, and, according to various allegations and two key depositions, whom Zuckerberg aced out of those billions, while following his digital yellow brick road. Is director David Fincher's film the stuff of... (read more)

      • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World poster image

        Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Inception poster image

        Inception

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Detestable Moi 3D Numerique poster image

        Detestable Moi 3D Numerique

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Grown Ups poster image

        Grown Ups

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Grown Ups" is a sure thing -- a film you feel as if you've seen before, and probably saw somewhere a second time, so why not another? Actors, particularly stage actors in long-running plays, strive for "the illusion of the first time." High-concept comedies like "Grown Ups" strive for the illusion of the third. It's a tiny bit better than "Couples Retreat," so that's good. The ensemble is funnier than the material (the script was co-written by Sandler,... (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)

      • 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)

      • Black Dynamite poster image

        Black Dynamite

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • More Than a Game poster image

        More Than a Game

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

        It's always risky to mix sports metaphors, but it's hard to resist the notion that the basketball-themed "More Than a Game" is a knockout of a sports documentary. Destined to be known as "the LeBron James movie," it is all that, and a good deal more. James, of course, was drafted in 2003 by the Cleveland Cavaliers right out of high school. Given that this film is coming out around the same time as his autobiography, "Shooting Stars," it may sound like part of a c... (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)

      • Inglourious Basterds poster image

        Inglourious Basterds

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • Land of the Lost poster image

        Land of the Lost

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Like him or not (I like him), Will Ferrell remains at the mercy of his material. Is it sheer luck that "Blades of Glory" was so much funnier than "Semi-Pro"? No. Luck had nothing to do with it. "Blades of Glory" had jokes, pacing, dryly assured direction and the right comic attitude. "Semi-Pro" felt lazy and off-kilter and sour. Ferrell may well shoulder the blame for "Land of the Lost," even if he doesn't deserve it. He did, however, willingl... (read more)

      • Up in Disney Digital 3D poster image

        Up in Disney Digital 3D

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        You know the most heartening thing about the new Disney-Pixar film "Up"? It may be wonderful, but it isn't perfect. It feels nervy and adventurous and a little messy, the result of formidable creators and genuine wits working on an enormous budget, enormously well-spent. As different as it is from its Pixar predecessors "Ratatouille" and "WALL-E," and as different as those two masterworks were from each other, "Up" shares with those films a few storytel... (read more)

      • Goodbye Solo poster image

        Goodbye Solo

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It's a fleeting shot of a convenience mart, and it could be in any town in America. The name carries a whiff of poetic grandiosity: "Great American Food Store." Who runs this place? An immigrant from which country? This one? A hundred others? We never find out. The storefront is onscreen a few seconds, simply one more stop in another night in the life of a Senegalese taxi driver, Solo, who lives and works in Winston-Salem, N.C. "Goodbye Solo" is the third feature - eloquen... (read more)

      • Monsters vs. Aliens poster image

        Monsters vs. Aliens

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • Fanboys poster image

        Fanboys

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Much as Robert Zemeckis toyed with Beatlemania in "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" a generation ago, the wobbly new comedy "Fanboys," set in 1998, salutes Yoda worship and the fine line between ardor and breaking and entering. It follows a quintet of "Star Wars" fanatics on a journey from their small town in Ohio to their Holy Grail, their Oz: George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch in California. The plan, hatched when the characters were in fifth grade, involves busting into the... (read more)

      • The Tale of Despereaux poster image

        The Tale of Despereaux

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The chipper cynicism of the "Shrek" movies ($2.2 billion in grosses worldwide) is a popular commodity indeed because so many cultures share the same fairy tale tropes and enjoy seeing them shot at with a pea shooter. The success of those films makes it doubly hard for a more earnest, emotional number such as "The Tale of Despereaux" to gain traction with a mass audience, particularly a mass audience of preteens for whom DreamWorks and Nickelodeon-fed sarcasm is the default... (read more)

      • Passengers poster image

        Passengers

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        Imagine being trapped on a spaceship with only your lover and a robot bartender for nearly a century; there isn't a spaceship big enough or a bar that well-stocked to make that sound appealing. This is the issue at the center of the ostensibly "romantic" sci-fi drama "Passengers," directed by Morten Tyldum from a script by Jon Spaihts. While romance is the intended effect, the film's real premise, concealed by the glossy trailers, is imbued with some seriously creepy under... (read more)

      • Rachel Getting Married poster image

        Rachel Getting Married

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A triumph of ambience, "Rachel Getting Married" is the first narrative feature since the 1980s from director Jonathan Demme that feels like a party - bittersweet, but a party nonetheless. It's not a remake of a Hollywood standard such as "The Truth About Charlie," Demme's riff on "Charade," or "The Manchurian Candidate," and although Demme's Oscar-winning work on "The Silence of the Lambs" did wonders for his industry cachet, I'll never love t... (read more)

      • Mamma Mia! poster image

        Mamma Mia!

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • Hellboy II: The Golden Army poster image

        Hellboy II: The Golden Army

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        I can barely keep up with the mythology put forth by the "Hellboy" series, but I enjoyed the first film, and I enjoyed the new one. The best scene in "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," writer-director Guillermo Del Toro's sequel to his comic book adaptation "Hellboy," involves tooth fairies. These are not the sort of tooth fairies you want 'round your pillow at night. These tooth fairies eat teeth, and conjured by an underworld prince hell-bent on taking over the pla... (read more)

      • Drillbit Taylor poster image

        Drillbit Taylor

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        We can't go back to the dear old movie bullies of yesteryear. It's too late. The world is now officially more dangerous and violent teens aren't much of a punch line. The new Owen Wilson vehicle "Drillbit Taylor" knows this. The film's eerily unfunny antagonist skulks around in a hooded sweatshirt, looking like one of the Columbine perps - as much as it's possible to do so and still exist inside some sort of comedy, albeit a queasy and increasingly grim one. "Drillbit Taylor&qu... (read more)

      • Persepolis poster image

        Persepolis

        Tasha Robinson, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Eastern Promises poster image

        Eastern Promises

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        An unusually strong crime thriller, "Eastern Promises" comes from director David Cronenberg, a meticulous old-school craftsman of a type that is becoming increasingly rare. It's difficult to describe his technique, which is vivid but not flashy. Similarly this tale, about the sinister workings of the Russian mob in modern-day London, is gripping and often spectacularly violent - more about the bathhouse murder sequence later - but never salaciously so. The Canadian director has enjo... (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)

      • 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)

      • Offside poster image

        Offside

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Jafar Panahi of Iran is one of his country's great filmmakers, and "Offside" is his best movie to date. But you'd never know it from the way he's treated in his homeland. Though "Offside" won the Silver Bear at the last Berlin Film Festival, it not only has yet to be distributed in Iran, but during the latter stages of its shoot, the Iranian Army had orders to arrest Panahi and company if they were caught filming. (He dodged them.) What was the controversial subject of Pa... (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)

      • Smokin' Aces poster image

        Smokin' Aces

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The title of the greasy Quentin Tarantino knockoff "Smokin' Aces" refers to Vegas magician Buddy "Aces" Israel, a mobbed-up sleazeball played by Jeremy Piven in perhaps the greatest stretch of his career. I kid. He's played guys like this before. Quite a few. Everybody wants Buddy dead. Writer-director Joe Carnahan ("Narc") stumbles around like an exposition maniac trying to explain why everybody wants him dead, but let's just say everybody wants him dead, except... (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)

      • Night at the Museum poster image

        Night at the Museum

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Open Season poster image

        Open Season

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher may seem like an odd-sounding comedy team, but in some weird way, they click as voice actors and cartoon buddies in "Open Season," the first feature from Sony Pictures Animation. It's a movie that kids will probably like, but that may rightly exasperate hard-core hunters and "Field and Stream" subscribers. "Season" starts out as a back-to-nature comedy about a big, fuzzy hipster of a domesticated grizzly bear, Boog (Lawrence), w... (read more)

      • A Scanner Darkly poster image

        A Scanner Darkly

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Nacho Libre poster image

        Nacho Libre

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In the Coen brothers' "Barton Fink," a Broadway playwright grapples with his premier screenwriting assignment, "The Burly Man." The studio head tells Fink he should dream up a relationship for his protagonist, either with an orphan or with a dame. "Nacho Libre" is "The Burly Man" with Jack Black in the Wallace Beery role. The film is easy to take and easy to forget, even with Black running around Oaxaca in turquoise wrestling tights. He plays Ignacio, t... (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)

      • V for Vendetta poster image

        V for Vendetta

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        If the h-for-hype "V for Vendetta" connects with a wide American audience, then something truly has shifted in the homeland-insecurity pop landscape of the early 21st century. It means we're ready for a cultured, sophisticated, man-about-town terrorist who espouses the belief that "blowing up a building can change the world." Finally, a film to unite movie-mad members of al-Qaida with your neighbor's kid, the one with the crush on Natalie Portman. Various film enthusiasts,... (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)

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • Kung Fu Hustle poster image

        Kung Fu Hustle

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

        "Kung Fu Hustle" swaggers into theaters this Friday, delivering a full-on-the-mouth, sloppy-wet kiss to Hong Kong martial arts movies. Named Best Picture by the Hong Kong Film Critics Association, Stephen Chow's action-comedy suggests influences as diverse as early Gordon Liu movies, the Mortal Kombat video games and Looney Tunes cartoons. "Kung Fu Hustle" also represents, in part, an Asian movement to recapture international audiences. Blockbusters such as Quentin Taranti... (read more)

      • Sin City poster image

        Sin City

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • The Aristocrats poster image

        The Aristocrats

        Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune

        Leave it to the "The Aristocrats" - a filthy comedic collage in documentary form, with 100 excrement-minded comedians riffing on the same legendary joke - to restore your faith in mankind. No, fellow man is not inherently good. He's not innately kind or thoughtful. And he's certainly not just. But there's nothing like sitting in a dark theater, roaring with a crowd at gags about bestiality, incest, scatology, abortion and rape, to set your heart aflutter. See, everyone is sick in th... (read more)

      • The Aviator poster image

        The Aviator

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Howard Hughes - visionary airplane tycoon, unbuttoned movie mogul, insatiable woman chaser and mad recluse of Las Vegas - is one of the great, wild figures of American history, a fascinating denizen of both America's shining public and dark private realms. A massively wealthy and powerful nabob who seemed trapped in a teenage boy's fantasy world, Hughes and his story are subjects too vast and tumultuous to capture in any one movie - even a great one. So to say that director Martin Scorsese's ... (read more)

      • The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou poster image

        The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Collateral poster image

        Collateral

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Michael Mann's "Collateral," an expertly made thriller about an L.A. night ride with an immaculate hit man (Tom Cruise) and a smart, funky cab driver (Jamie Foxx), is really two movies: a taut, terrific, realistic crime drama and, by the end, an over-the top, high-tech extravaganza that tries to out-Woo John Woo and turn Cruise into another Terminator. That's a pity. Both parts are very entertaining, but I liked the first better, and I only wish Mann had gone all the way with the gr... (read more)

      • Zatoichi poster image

        Zatoichi

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        A masterpiece of wry violence and stylized mayhem, "The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi" turns loose one of Japan's most brilliant film auteurs, Takeshi Kitano, on one of its most enduring pop legends: the movie myth of Zatoichi, the fat, blind, 19th-century masseur and swordsman who slashed his way through dozens of wildly popular films in the 1960s and '70s. Kitano wrote and directed this reprise, and he also plays Zatoichi (or Ichi, the blind masseur), the part immortalized by chunky, ... (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)

      • Kill Bill: Vol. 2 poster image

        Kill Bill: Vol. 2

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Mean Girls poster image

        Mean Girls

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Shaun of the Dead poster image

        Shaun of the Dead

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Bad Education poster image

        Bad Education

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

        Spain's cinematic toreador Pedro Almodovar returns with "Bad Education," a deeply personal, sharply realized film that shrouds itself in film noir sensibilities and the recent Catholic Church sex abuse scandals. While Almodovar remains as fresh and as potent as ever, visually and structurally, there's a distance in "Bad Education" that both beckons and repels. The movie examines fractured realities, but in trying to separate fact from fiction, Almodovar loses the dramatic ... (read more)

      • Dawn of the Dead poster image

        Dawn of the Dead

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind poster image

        Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • Tupac: Resurrection poster image

        Tupac: Resurrection

        Kevin M. Williams, Chicago Tribune

        Tupac Amaru Shakur was a rapper with a beautiful, doe-eyed face, immense talent and a booming, authoritative voice the likes of which hasn't been heard since Public Enemy's Chuck D. was in full roar. Tupac Amaru Shakur, a dazzling success story, was also a mass of contradictions who died young and violently, in a hail of bullets. "Tupac: Resurrection" is a biopic that relies upon archival footage (some old, some new) to make some sense out of a life that doesn't make any sense when ... (read more)

      • Pieces of April poster image

        Pieces of April

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        "Pieces of April," which marks the directorial debut of that often excellent writer Peter Hedges ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape?"), is a funny movie about a very sad subject: an impending death in a family splintered for years and now trying to come together. In American films, the most honestly earned tears sometimes seep through a screen of cutting humor; this hipness shows the filmmakers and actors know the score and aren't suckers for sentiment. Patricia Clarkson gives ... (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)

      • Lost in Translation poster image

        Lost in Translation

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • 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)

      • Frailty poster image

        Frailty

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

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