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      • The Phantom of the Opera poster image

        The Phantom of the Opera

        Sid Smith, Chicago Tribune

        Depending on your predilection, the movie version of "The Phantom of the Opera" is about as good - or as bad - as its phenomenally successful stage original. Andrew Lloyd Webber's kitschy theatrical spectacle is now a kitschy theatrical movie, a mix of melodrama, horror, romance, mystery and melody heaped together into a cinematic smorgasbord, one heavy in starch. Surprisingly, to director Joel Schumacher's credit, this version doesn't suffer from its screen translation, and that's ... (read more)

      • Fade to Black poster image

        Fade to Black

        Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune

        Jay-Z's storied 2003 farewell concert at Madison Square Garden was supposed to mark the end of the beloved rapper's short but prolific career, one that included the formation of Roc-A-Fella Records, a rivalry with Nas, Beyonce rumors and a "60 Minutes" profile. It was to be, metaphorically, Jay-Z's funeral - what critic Kelefa Sanneh called "a memorial service disguised as a block party." Patterning a trajectory in the shadow of slain hip-hop legends Tupac Shakur and Notor... (read more)

      • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow poster image

        Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

        Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune

        When "The Lord of the Rings" conquered the Oscars, director Peter Jackson seemed to thank the nation of New Zealand, the site of the trilogy's breathtaking backdrop, more than the actors. If "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" wins awards, who will pioneering creator Kerry Conran thank? The municipality of Steve Jobs? Because, except for the real live actors, everything in "Sky Captain" was created on that wonder of wonders, the computer. Enterprising repor... (read more)

      • A Dirty Shame poster image

        A Dirty Shame

        Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune

        Though rated NC-17 for its sexual content, "A Dirty Shame" contains very little actual sex. After a four-year hiatus, the always-out-there writer/director John Waters is back with this awfully bawdy, never sexy, rarely funny, actually boring, one-note sex comedy. Inspired by a little-known and quite suspicious "fact" - that a sliver of head-injury sufferers find themselves with a heightened and uncontrollable libido post-concussion - the film tells of a sex-addict revolt i... (read more)

      • I Heart Huckabees poster image

        I Heart Huckabees

        Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune

        David O. Russell's new film is a comedy "that's all about what it's all about." It's filled with characters who, desperate to feel deep, want answers to life's big questions. And watching it, you, also desperate to feel deep, will want answers to big questions like, "What's this all about?" This is the great victory of "I (heart) Huckabees." Whether happy coincidence or calculated outcome, Russell puts the viewer in the same shoes as leading man Albert Markovski ... (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)

      • 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)

      • The Manchurian Candidate poster image

        The Manchurian Candidate

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        "The Manchurian Candidate," Jonathan Demme's remake of the classic 1960s Cold War thriller about a brainwashed political assassin and a rigged presidential convention, is a chilling, smart melodrama that seems on the mark at times yet foggy at others. I liked it, but I was also a bit disappointed. "Candidate" is brilliant in many ways, with sharp direction by Demme, a remarkable cast headed by Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep (in the old Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury... (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)

      • Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle poster image

        Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

        Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune

        "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" will not win an Oscar. Directed by Danny Leiner ("Dude, Where's My Car?"), this stoner buddy movie is filled with raunchy, gross-out humor. It's immature, clunky and probably the best bit of groundbreaking social commentary we've seen in years. Yes, you read me right - years. Quite simply, the movie is about an Asian-American guy named Harold Lee (John Cho) and an Indian-American guy named Kumar Patel (Kal Penn). Harold and Kumar are bes... (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)

      • 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)

      • Something's Gotta Give poster image

        Something's Gotta Give

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        XXXXX Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson play lovers in Nancy Meyers' smart new romantic comedy "Something's Gotta Give," and they disprove the rusty old saw that in movies only the young (or the heavily made-up middle-aged) can be sexy. "Something's Gotta Give" doesn't always sizzle, but its stars do. When they shuck clothes and pitch woo, they make convincing magic. Playing a pair of lovers supposedly past their prime - lecherous hip-hop record company owner Harry Sanborn a... (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)

      • 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)

      • 2 Fast 2 Furious poster image

        2 Fast 2 Furious

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • About Schmidt poster image

        About Schmidt

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Jack Nicholson breaks your heart in "About Schmidt," a surprising achievement from an actor who became a legend in 1970s American cinema by regularly breaking another part of the male anatomy. But Nicholson here forgoes his youthful acting mainstays the wily joke and wild tantrum to craft something full of comedy and despair: a portrait of an old man who is face to face with mortality and the emptiness of a life near its end. We are a long way from the roguish Randle McMurphys and... (read more)

      • Maid in Manhattan poster image

        Maid in Manhattan

        Caro, Chicago Tribune

        "Maid in Manhattan" follows the lead of certain fast-food chains that combine familiar ingredients under a new name and make sure they taste exactly as anyone would expect them to. That's not necessarily a bad thing if you've got a hankering for those flavors, but no one's going to confuse the meal for fine dining. The filmmaker and studio here are banking on the idea that people are in the mood for yet another Cinderella story, albeit one without wicked stepsisters. Jennifer Lopez ... (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)

      • Bloody Sunday poster image

        Bloody Sunday

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        "Bloody Sunday" opens at a moment when two trains of history are barreling toward one another on the same track, and you're alternately shown the views from either direction. All you can do is brace yourself. In hindsight, there was an inevitability to the horrific events of Jan. 30, 1972, in the Northern Ireland town of Derry, and Paul Greengrass' reenactment of that day makes you feel the tragedy's impact as fully as any film could. At the beginning, a Protestant Parliament member... (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)

      • Austin Powers in Goldmember poster image

        Austin Powers in Goldmember

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Mike Myers, star and co-writer of "Austin Powers in Goldmember," can create such paroxysms of sheer tastelessness and obnoxiousness that you wonder if he'll survive his own movies. But he does. "Goldmember" is the third of his "Austin Powers" series, that string of cheerfully offensive James Bond spoofs about the dentally challenged, fatuously flirtatious, "shagadelic" transplanted 1960s British superspy Powers, and it's just as much of a happy mess as ... (read more)

      • A Beautiful Mind poster image

        A Beautiful Mind

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        In "A Beautiful Mind," Russell Crowe plays a schizophrenic Nobel Prize-winning mathematician and, though the role might seem a real stretch for an actor who just won an Oscar for his Charlton Heston turn as Maximus in "Gladiator," he and the movie ace the test. Crowe is eerily, touchingly convincing as John Forbes Nash, a real-life mathematics genius who made a revolutionary breakthrough in game theory (which explains economic relationships) as a Princeton student but lat... (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)

      • The Royal Tenenbaums poster image

        The Royal Tenenbaums

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        Director Wes Anderson and actor Owen Wilson have co-written three films, each more ambitious than the last and all inhabiting a world that spins on a different, more delightfully wobbly axis than our own. The filmmakers' trademark characters have ambitions that may be absurdly overblown yet take their setbacks with great equanimity (at least in the long run). The would-be heroes of "Bottle Rocket" (1996) see themselves as mastermind criminals without ever becoming more than harmless... (read more)

      • Zoolander poster image

        Zoolander

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Princess Diaries poster image

        The Princess Diaries

        Loren King, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Hedwig and the Angry Inch poster image

        Hedwig and the Angry Inch

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Fast and the Furious poster image

        The Fast and the Furious

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Moulin Rouge poster image

        Moulin Rouge

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • 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)

      • Jurassic Park poster image

        Jurassic Park

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        Forget blowing the images up to Imax size and converting the lunging velociraptors and T. rexes into 3-D. The best reason to revive "Jurassic Park" for its 20th anniversary is Jeff Goldblum. Yes, children, there was a time when Goldblum was sci-fi's "ultimate explainer," as producer Dean Devlin labeled him in "Independence Day." Goldblum's bug-eyes said "scientist-smart," and his mannered, considered and hesitating line readings reinforce that. His very... (read more)

      • The Thing poster image

        The Thing

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The slippery, effective new version of "The Thing" serves as a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter film, explaining what went down, down in Antarctica, after the intergalactic thing thawed and began eviscerating humans plus a husky or two. Those disinclined toward Carpenter's version, as I am, may be surprised at how the new release nearly matches the gore levels the fright reached in an earlier, nondigital era of practical special effects. Yet this latest "Thing" doesn't f... (read more)

      • The Last Waltz poster image

        The Last Waltz

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Godzilla poster image

        Godzilla

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Eye of the Dolphin poster image

        Eye of the Dolphin

        Maureen M. Hart, Chicago Tribune

        As "Eye of the Dolphin" makes some jarringly contrived plot twists, a viewer can imagine writer/director/executive producer Michael Sellers listing his assets - teen star Carly Schroeder ("Gracie"), a Bahamian town and three dolphins - and pondering how to combine them for one movie. That's how it feels, at least, as we watch Schroeder, as alienated 14-year-old Alyssa, make the journey from a SoCal high school from which she's been suspended to an island town where the fat... (read more)

      • Kinky Boots poster image

        Kinky Boots

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a red-booted, show-stopping drag queen named Lola in the new British film "Kinky Boots," and it's a sensational performance. Ejiofor, the Nigerian-British actor who made a big hit in Stephen Frears' "Dirty Pretty Things," plays Lola - a 6-foot floozie chantoozie - as a big, warm, seductive homme/femme fatale. When he blasts out his stage routines, singing "I Want To Be Evil," "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" or (a perfect choice... (read more)

      • Sea Monsters 3D: A Prehistoric Adventure poster image

        Sea Monsters 3D: A Prehistoric Adventure

        Michael Esposito, Chicago Tribune

        National Geographic's "Sea Monsters 3D: A Prehistoric Adventure" dives into the toothy Cretaceous era's undersea world where the Great Plains were part of the seabed in an inland sea, a North American Mediterranean, 80 million years ago. The stories, narrated by Liev Schreiber, are based on fossil records. For example, the star of the film is a female dolichorhynchops or "doli" (pronounced "dolly"), a dolphin-sized marine reptile that fed mainly on fish and squid... (read more)

      • Volver poster image

        Volver

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The pleasures of the new Pedro Almodovar film "Volver," and they are many, have less to do with deep wells of feeling than they do with mastery of craft and a magnificent sort of artifice. It's odd, since writer-director Almodovar's characters are nothing but feelings, whether repressed or exploded. But the director establishes a very sly degree of stylization here. The way he and his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine, light, frame and fabulize their stars, it... (read more)

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