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      • Dr. Seuss' The Grinch poster image

        Dr. Seuss' The Grinch

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        We all feel a little grinchy sometimes. When holiday cheer becomes particularly oppressive, when we feel lonely in a crowd, when we would rather rain on someone's parade than admit defeat, Dr. Seuss gave us a way to describe that feeling with his classic holiday children's book "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." The universality of the emotion is why the tale endures, and why we're now on our third film adaptation of the story. Benedict Cumberbatch steps into the role as the Grinch i... (read more)

      • Beautiful Boy poster image

        Beautiful Boy

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The words cannot be easy to hear as an addict, or as the parent of an addict. "Relapse is a part of recovery," a clinic worker says to a distraught David Sheff, played by Steve Carell in the new film "Beautiful Boy." David's bright, unraveling son, Nic, played by Timothee Chalamet, has begun to face his addictions head-on. But on the road to success -- in real life, Nic Sheff, now 36, has been sober for eight years -- failures lurk around every corner, along with chemical ... (read more)

      • Bohemian Rhapsody poster image

        Bohemian Rhapsody

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        At the center of the long-gestating Queen biopic "Bohemian Rhapsody" is the kind of performance that's less acting than it is the channeling of a spirit from another realm. Rami Malek takes to the role of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury with a studious intensity, making manifest the dueling relationship between the twin poles of Mercury's personality: his confidence and his insecurity. It's the centrifuge around which the rather uneven film whirls, and Malek keeps it going with his s... (read more)

      • Nobody's Fool poster image

        Nobody's Fool

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The Tyler Perry Studios logo signifies many things: a successful business model for production and distribution; a tremendous amount of work, for a wide, deep, underserved African-American talent pool; and, like clockwork, every few months, another Perry film offering a few laughs, a little sex, a lesson or two in healing and the power of family. Judging from "Nobody's Fool," it's time for this talented, driven, versatile force to concentrate on craft, along with his prodigious outp... (read more)

      • What They Had poster image

        What They Had

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Amid the clank and calculation of the usual Hollywood machinery, a movie more attuned to the human heart of things such as "What They Had" deserves an audience. If it's good, that is. And it is. Small but sure, this low-keyed actors' feast marks the feature directorial debut of writer-director Elizabeth Chomko, who grew up in Chicago and the western suburb of Hinsdale, among other stops in a relocation-heavy childhood. "What They Had" comes from Chomko's experiences and me... (read more)

      • The Hate U Give poster image

        The Hate U Give

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        It's seriously satisfying to watch a screen version of a young-adult best-seller that knows what it's doing, and gets so much right. Just as Angie Thomas' debut novel "The Hate U Give" was good enough to transcend the conventional YA parameters, director George Tillman Jr.'s fully packed film version has the stuff to pull in all sorts of audiences. You never know how these things are going to translate, or sell, or if the timing's right. I hope it is. The movie works from a screenpl... (read more)

      • The Old Man & the Gun poster image

        The Old Man & the Gun

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In 2003, David Grann's lovably bizarre true-crime account "The Old Man and the Gun" appeared in The New Yorker, telling the unlikely story of Forrest Tucker, a natty serial bank robber with multiple prison escape attempts on his resume. Tucker ended up dying behind bars the year after the story brought him national renown. Such a man was made for the movies, destined specifically to attract the attention of a star of a certain age. Now 82, Robert Redford says "The Old Man and t... (read more)

      • Bad Times at the El Royale poster image

        Bad Times at the El Royale

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Some filmmakers make movies about the world; others make movies about other movies, or the puzzle being assembled before our eyes. Drew Goddard belongs to the second category, and he's pretty good at it. I'm still trying to figure out why I don't respond more fully to his work. In his writing-directing feature debut, "The Cabin in the Woods" (2012), "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" alum Goddard dismantled and recombined a crazy number of horror-movie tropes, and his bamboozle we... (read more)

      • First Man poster image

        First Man

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        There's enough going on in director Damien Chazelle's tense, distinctive Neil Armstrong biopic, "First Man," to leave the climactic, inspired Apollo 11 moon landing sequence aside for a few paragraphs. So hang in there, please, and we'll get to the flag. "First Man" comes from the James R. Hansen biography of the same name, exploring the far reaches of uncharted territory. The lunar mission, yes, of course. But really Chazelle's film, written by Josh Singer ("Spotligh... (read more)

      • Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween poster image

        Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        The 2015 adaptation of R.L. Stine's popular "Goosebumps" book series was way better than it had any right to be. Starring Jack Black as a freewheeling version of the author, the film was a kid-friendly Halloween spookfest that examined the way we use horror as a coping mechanism in everyday life. It was smart and silly and scary, anchored by the inimitable Black. But the follow-up, "Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween," is a serious disappointment, starting with how Black is b... (read more)

      • Night School poster image

        Night School

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Am I asking too much of "Night School"? It's no big thing, this new movie starring Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish, and nobody's expecting a formula-, game- or life-changer. You just don't want to leave feeling shortchanged. Is that so wrong? Director Malcolm D. Lee's commodity squeaks by, barely, with solid comic assistance from the delightful Romany Malco (serenely panicked, every second) and Mary Lynn Rajskub ("blessed," she keeps saying, even though her character's dome... (read more)

      • Fahrenheit 11/9 poster image

        Fahrenheit 11/9

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        Michael Moore wants to save us from ourselves. It's been his mission for a long time, a noble one, and it's obvious he is sincere. But as a filmmaker, Moore needs to save himself from his worst indulgences, which undercuts his good work. His new film, "Fahrenheit 11/9," showcases both the best and the worst of his filmmaking instincts. "Fahrenheit 9/11" was about former President George W. Bush, and "Fahrenheit 11/9" is about President Donald Trump and the way th... (read more)

      • Love, Gilda poster image

        Love, Gilda

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Gilda Radner, the funniest woman on television in the 1970s, got hired by Lorne Michaels for what was originally called "NBC's Saturday Night" before anybody else -- before John Belushi, before Chevy Chase, before Dan Aykroyd, before Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, Garrett Morris. Those who watched the show in 1975 or a year or two later, when it was getting huge and starting to change the culture, had their favorites. But the Detroit-born Radner was the one everybody cherished. She br... (read more)

      • A Simple Favor poster image

        A Simple Favor

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        Comedy director Paul Feig tries a thriller on for size with the juicy "A Simple Favor," a suburban Connecticut murder mystery that's "Gone Girl" meets "The Stepford Wives." Based on the novel by Darcey Bell, written by Jessica Sharzer, the consciously campy "A Simple Favor" is as bright and bracing as an ice cold gin martini with a lemon twist, and just as satisfying. Anna Kendrick stars as Stephanie, a mommy vlogger raising her son, Miles (Joshua Satin... (read more)

      • Dog Days poster image

        Dog Days

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        "Dog Days," an omnibus comedy about the unique ability of dogs to connect us to others and ourselves, is the kind of mildly amusing, pandering film that shows up in movie theaters at random times throughout the year when nothing else notable is playing and people are willing to watch just about anything. Yet it still achieves some moments of genuine sweetness. It's a film about dogs, after all, our collective best friend. Director Ken Marino works from a script by Elissa Matsueda an... (read more)

      • Eighth Grade poster image

        Eighth Grade

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Tender, socially reticent, selectively assertive, Kayla is a middle-school student a few days away from graduation and the rest of her life. "Everything will work out," she tells her scant audience of YouTube channel followers in the video post opening Bo Burnham's new film "Eighth Grade," if "you're just being yourself." She's hoping for the best with that one. This kid knows it's not going to be so easy. But wishing (and then posting) might just make it so. Kay... (read more)

      • Mission: Impossible -- Fallout poster image

        Mission: Impossible -- Fallout

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The terrorists' manifesto in the spiffy new "Mission: Impossible -- Fallout" hinges its action plan for global slaughter on the phrase "the greater the suffering, the greater the peace." So cruel. And yet so applicable to the ways of the action franchise! In his sixth round as Impossible Mission Force agent Ethan Hunt, certified movie star Tom Cruise, 56 but fully in Dorian Gray mode, has never suffered more grievous bodily harm. Nor has he risked his neck more flagrantly ... (read more)

      • Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again poster image

        Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Welcome back to the magical island of Kalokairi, a sun-strewn rocky outcropping in the azure Aegean Sea, a land where white people can only express themselves with the music of Sweden's most enduring musical group, ABBA. The sequel/prequel hybrid "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" arrives a decade after the bonkers filmed adaptation of the stage musical "Mamma Mia!" Vehicles for ABBA's songs, the films perfectly reflect the music: guileless, emotionally raw and unabashedly chee... (read more)

      • Sorry to Bother You poster image

        Sorry to Bother You

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Sorry to Bother You" is about a telemarketer who becomes a superstar, for a price. It's a science fiction allegory, though the science fiction angle emerges late in the game. It's a provocative, serious, ridiculous, screwy concoction about whiteface, cultural code-switching, African-American identities and twisted new forms of wage slavery, beyond previously known ethical limits. Premiering earlier this year at Sundance, the film comes from rapper and musician Boots Riley of the fu... (read more)

      • Won't You Be My Neighbor? poster image

        Won't You Be My Neighbor?

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" is a depressingly good documentary about a singularly empathetic television personality. Fred Rogers (1928-2003) knew what he was up against in a culture, and an economy, built on marketable aggression. Against long odds he prevailed. Now he belongs to another time. Can his spirit of gentle reassurance possibly be revived, in any form? I wish I were more optimistic. The "bombardment" Rogers once described as commercial children's programming, de... (read more)

      • Incredibles 2 poster image

        Incredibles 2

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        When writer-director Brad Bird made "The Incredibles" (2004), the superhero movie genre looked nothing like the overcrowded youth hostel it does today. The "X-Men" movies, the fledgling "Spider-Man" franchise and that was about it. This was pre-"Iron Man." This preceded the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Comics afflictions, if you can remember such a time. Bird's movie, about a family of "Supers" banned by the government from thei... (read more)

      • First Reformed poster image

        First Reformed

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "A life without despair is a life without hope," says the man at the center of Paul Schrader's "First Reformed." That paradox embraces the world as it is, and suggests a better world for the making. The movie it belongs to is an act of spiritual inquiry, a coolly assured example of cinematic scholarship in subtly deployed motion and one of the strongest pictures of 2018. It's also one of those third-act miracles all too rare in American filmmaking. Now 71, writer-director ... (read more)

      • Book Club poster image

        Book Club

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        Fonda. Bergen. Keaton . Steenburgen. "Book Club." Sure, "Avengers: Infinity War" came out a few weeks ago, but now this is the greatest crossover event in history. Four of the most iconic actresses of the 20th century come together for a film in which their book club reads "50 Shades of Grey"? Where can I line up? This movie is either in your wheelhouse or it's not, but for those looking forward to "Book Club," it delivers. For what it is -- a breezy bi... (read more)

      • The Rider poster image

        The Rider

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Subtle, elemental and powerfully beautiful, writer-director Chloe Zhao's "The Rider" is the Western of the new century, and the most enveloping film experience I've had this year. Even a hack director could make something of the southwestern South Dakota landscapes near Wounded Knee, lined by the Badlands, and foregrounded by the people who live, work, ride and risk their lives there. But with this, the second feature written and directed by Beijing-born and American-educated Zhao, ... (read more)

      • Ready Player One poster image

        Ready Player One

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Of all the frenzied races in Steven Spielberg's "Ready Player One," the closest one pits the director's mastery against the material's banality. By a whisker, Spielberg wins it. If you're a fan of the 2011 Ernest Cline best-seller, you wouldn't use "banality," but you'd have to concede "familiarity" as an acceptable substitute. We're back in the realm of Young Adult dystopia, in this case (as revised by screenwriter Zak Penn, working with co-adapter Cline) the mi... (read more)

      • Sherlock Gnomes poster image

        Sherlock Gnomes

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        There's a current boom of family-friendly film fare inspired by beloved British literary characters, which makes this moment ripe for the animated "Sherlock Gnomes," the sequel to 2011's "Gnomeo and Juliet." In terms of ranking these adaptations, "Sherlock Gnomes" is quite a bit more pleasant than "Peter Rabbit," but doesn't touch the wonder of "Paddington 2." It's a fairly serviceable animated feature, with a few inspired elements, and more t... (read more)

      • A Wrinkle in Time poster image

        A Wrinkle in Time

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "You're given the form," one of the celestial mentors says in Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time." "But you have to write the sonnet yourself." This is how L'Engle described a free-will sort of life, in the novel she began in 1959. She endured 26 publishing rejections, got it into print in 1962 and saw it zoom around the world in 35 different languages. In its long shelf life, "A Wrinkle in Time" has taught millions of children and adults about the ... (read more)

      • The 15:17 to Paris poster image

        The 15:17 to Paris

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        An oddly misguided act of generosity, director Clint Eastwood's "The 15:17 to Paris" may be the first film from Eastwood that lacks a storytelling compass and a baseline sense of direction. The docudrama follows a screenplay by first-timer Dorothy Blyskal, taken in turn from the nonfiction account (written with Jeffrey E. Stern) by the three young Americans, friends since childhood, who thwarted a 2015 terrorist attack on an Amsterdam train bound for Paris. Their story, and Eastwood... (read more)

      • Paddington 2 poster image

        Paddington 2

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Here's hoping the forthcoming film version of "Peter Rabbit" is less awful than its trailers suggest. Reformulating Beatrix Potter as a brutish "Home Alone"/"Straw Dogs" melee, full of grim electrocutions, really does seem like a mistake. Meantime, fortunately, there's "Paddington 2." The sequel to the 2014 picture turns out to be every bit as deft, witty and, yes, moving as the first one. It's a little over-packed, narratively. But the further adventur... (read more)

      • Ferdinand poster image

        Ferdinand

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        The beloved children's book "The Story of Ferdinand" by Munro Leaf, with illustrations by Robert Lawson, was published in 1936. But the simple, pacifist story about a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight has resonated across generations. It's a natural progression that this favorite character would find a home on the big screen in an animated feature, "Ferdinand," but perhaps the filmmakers behind the raucous "Ice Age" movies aren't exactly the right te... (read more)

      • The Florida Project poster image

        The Florida Project

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In different hands, the people knocking around the mauve-slathered kitsch universe of "The Florida Project," a highlight of the fall season, might've made for a pretty awful and manipulative dramatic experience. At-risk children running wild and having too much fun to know why they're hurting inside; a poverty-line motel named the Magic Castle, a cruelly short distance from Orlando's Walt Disney World, run by a kindly, big-hearted manager; a pace of perpetual motion set by the 6-yea... (read more)

      • Blade Runner 2049 poster image

        Blade Runner 2049

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In 1982, when replicants hadn't yet become a Hollywood business model, "Blade Runner" failed to do what Warner Brothers hoped it would: make a pile of money. It succeeded, however, in acquiring the reputation of a modern science fiction classic. Director Ridley Scott's 2019-set story (based on Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?") entered our popular culture sideways, influencing two generations of filmmakers with its menacing dystopian perspective. Now ... (read more)

      • The LEGO NINJAGO Movie poster image

        The LEGO NINJAGO Movie

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        If you're of a certain age and childless, it's entirely possible you haven't the foggiest idea what a "Ninjago" -- of the latest Lego movie -- might be. Apparently it is both a show and a toy, but that's as far as I got into the Wikipedia article. With the wild success of both "The Lego Movie" and "The Lego Batman Movie," released just earlier this year, it stands to reason that Warner Bros. would strike while the iron is hot and churn out more Lego-themed movies... (read more)

      • Columbus poster image

        Columbus

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        With its calm, careful attention to architectural detail and a fascination with the spaces between and around its characters, "Columbus" is a lovely feature debut from the writer-director who goes by the name Kogonada, starring John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson in two of the year's subtlest and truest performances. The film's title refers to the Indiana city (population just under 47,000, and the birthplace of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence) boasting a considerable array of buildings... (read more)

      • The Big Sick poster image

        The Big Sick

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "The Big Sick" arrives just in time to make the summer a little funnier and more honest, and a little less loud and stupid. The movie treats the people on screen generously, and it's a romantic comedy with surprising depth of feeling, glancing on all sorts of things: race, religion, tolerance, understanding, the competitive peculiarity of stand-up comedy and its various practitioners. Primarily "The Big Sick" is a showcase for actor, writer and comedian Kumail Nanjiani (&q... (read more)

      • Logan poster image

        Logan

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The rabid Wolverine fans among you should be warned: You won't be able to trust the following few paragraphs on "Logan." Most of the early reviews have been ecstatic, and those fully invested in this corner of the Marvel universe tend to respond very, very strongly to director and co-writer James Mangold's picture. It's at once the most solemn, sentimental and relentlessly violent of the nine films featuring Hugh Jackman, either in the lead or in a cameo, as the furry mutant with th... (read more)

      • The LEGO Batman Movie poster image

        The LEGO Batman Movie

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        At its sporadic best, the crazy velocity and wisenheimer appeal of "The Lego Batman Movie" reminds you of what made "The Lego Movie" such a nice surprise three years ago. It was my favorite comedy of 2014, even without that insidiously satiric theme song "Everything is Awesome!" Director Chris McKay's spinoff, however, is more about expectations fulfilled than new surprises, nicely sprung. Basically a conventional superhero action movie with a constant stream of ... (read more)

      • I Am Not Your Negro poster image

        I Am Not Your Negro

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Thirty pages of notes and an invisible pile of regrets were all the writer James Baldwin had in his hands when he abandoned work on a book, initiated in 1979, he called "Remember This House." Baldwin knew his subjects well. He was taking on three historical melodies in the key of civil rights activism, all victims of assassination: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., whom Baldwin called friends. "He took on his shoulders the weight of the crimes, and the lies an... (read more)

      • A Dog's Purpose poster image

        A Dog's Purpose

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky said there are two kinds of scenes in screenplays: "the Pet the Dog scene and the Kick the Dog scene." Canine love letter "A Dog's Purpose" manages to work in both. You might be surprised that this sappy, family-friendly tribute to man's best friend kills its main character within mere moments. A stray puppy is snapped up by an evil, net-wielding dog catcher, and soon he's off to that nice farm in the sky, before his rebirth. This serves as the... (read more)

      • Hidden Figures poster image

        Hidden Figures

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Hidden Figures" is a fairly entertaining gloss of a docudrama elevated by its cast. It takes place mostly in 1961 and early 1962, three years into the life of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA. At this point "computers" were people, by and large, not machines. With Russia's successful launch of Sputnik, America had to play catch-up in the space race. Based on Margot Lee Shetterly's nonfiction account of the same name, "Hidden Fig... (read more)

      • La La Land poster image

        La La Land

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        How to write about "La La Land," the year's most seriously pleasurable entertainment, without making it sound like nostalgic goo? Let's give it a go. A five, six, seven, eight! This is a wonderful, imperfect but, as recently noted in this sentence's first adjective, wonderful new musical full of actual human feeling (something unlocatable in "Moulin Rouge," for example). The 31-year-old writer-director, Damien Chazelle, has made a throwback/shoutout to musicals of various ... (read more)

      • Loving poster image

        Loving

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        History is made at night. On July 14, 1958, not long after midnight, Richard and Mildred Loving awoke in their bed to the sound of a Caroline County, Va. sheriff and two deputies breaking into their home. Sweethearts since their high school years, the bricklayer and his wife were arrested for breaking the state "racial integrity" laws (hardly unique at the time) prohibiting interracial marriage. Years later, these two (played by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) found themselves at the ... (read more)

      • Moonlight poster image

        Moonlight

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The extraordinary new film "Moonlight" exerts a tidal pull on your heartstrings, but honestly: It's better than that. The reason it's distinctive has less to do with raw emotion, or a relentless assault on your tear ducts, and more to do with the film medium's secret weapons: restraint, quiet honesty, fluid imagery and an observant, uncompromised way of imagining one outsider's world so that it becomes our own. Since its festival premieres in Telluride and Toronto, "Moonlight&q... (read more)

      • Trolls poster image

        Trolls

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        It can be difficult to be around lots of happy people when you're feeling gray. That's the conundrum of Branch (Justin Timberlake), a misanthropic and maudlin troll who just doesn't fit in with his dancing, singing brethren in the animated feature "Trolls." It's easy to see where he's coming from. His foil, Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick), bursts with a weaponized sense of joy, forcing her subjects into an oppressive regime of colorful, glittery glee, replete with complex choreograph... (read more)

      • Kubo and the Two Strings poster image

        Kubo and the Two Strings

        Colin Covert, Chicago Tribune

        Within this heyday of computer-animated movies, the greatest special effect is creating emotionally resonant characters. The adventure fantasy "Kubo and the Two Strings" is seamless stop-motion storytelling, from Laika, the independent animation studio that gave us the darkly entertaining "Coraline," "ParaNorman" and "The Boxtrolls." Yet wizardly art direction isn't the film's most striking quality. It's the endearing, playful, touching, cantankerous an... (read more)

      • Bad Moms poster image

        Bad Moms

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        As surely as most mothers can't win, "Bad Moms" can't lose. Certainly it can't lose with moms who've endured, through gritted teeth, one too many R-rated guy comedies where the women on screen are either sidelined or humiliated or leaning down a lot, for the gratification of the male gaze. This movie represents a vacation from mean-spirited sexism like "The Hangover." Or does it? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. The "Hangover" writing team of Jon Lucas and Scott ... (read more)

      • The Angry Birds Movie poster image

        The Angry Birds Movie

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        If you've ever played the mobile video game Angry Birds, you might have found yourself wondering -- why am I sling-shotting cartoon birds at grinning green pigs? Why are these birds so angry? What have the pigs done to deserve this destruction? "Angry Birds," the movie, is here to fill in that backstory, to answer the questions that may or may not have been asked, and provide motivation for the avian rage. The film, directed by Clay Kittis and Fergal Reilly, from a screenplay by &qu... (read more)

      • Green Room poster image

        Green Room

        Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune

        In writer-director Jeremy Saulnier's "Blue Ruin," which put him on the map in 2013, the tension is controlled, measured; it follows an intentional plan of violence in a story of long overdue revenge. In his follow-up, "Green Room," Saulnier takes the opposite approach, in a horror story of the chaos and random chance of violence set in the world of hardcore punk shows. While "Blue Ruin" was openly emotional, burrowing into deep interfamilial rifts, "Green Ro... (read more)

      • The Invitation poster image

        The Invitation

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Even if you haven't attended a vaguely menacing dinner party ruled by subtext and the cold creeps lately, whether in the Hollywood hills or somewhere less photogenic, the crafty LA thriller "The Invitation" casts quite a spell. This is "Girlfight" director Karyn Kusama's fourth feature, and it's an elegant slow burner operating on (and requiring) a certain amount of patience. That patience is rewarded, and then capped by one of the nicest final shots since Hitchcock's &quo... (read more)

      • Sicario poster image

        Sicario

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        For a gripping documentary about the U.S./Mexico border, the drug trade and a hornet's nest of sociopolitical nightmares, watch Matthew Heineman's "Cartel Land." For a commercial thriller on related themes, "Sicario" will do. The first hour of this latest film from French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve is sleek, terrific pulp. The second half of "Sicario" (in Mexico, slang for "hitman") settles for more conventional bloodshed and storytelling. Such ... (read more)

      • The Martian poster image

        The Martian

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A highly enjoyable, zestily acted team-building exercise, with Matt Damon playing the team of one, director Ridley Scott's "The Martian" throws a series of life-or-death scenarios at its resourceful botanist-astronaut, stranded on Mars but making the most of it. It's one of the most comforting science fiction films in years. "I'm not gonna die here," Damon's character, Mark Watney, declares early on to the camera. Left for dead by his crew amid a monstrous windstorm, in wh... (read more)

      • Rosenwald poster image

        Rosenwald

        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

        Los Angeles Times "Rosenwald" used to be a name to conjure with, but no more, and that is a shame this vivid, engaging documentary attempts to do something about. In the early years of the 20th century, Julius Rosenwald was a philanthropist on a colossal scale, giving away what has been estimated as close to a billion dollars in today's money. But as revealed by writer-director Aviva Kempner, it's not just the amount of money he donated that makes Rosenwald special, it's the specifi... (read more)

      • Irrational Man poster image

        Irrational Man

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Forty-five features into his half-century of moviemaking, the rote obsessions distinguishing Woody Allen's furtive protagonists -- luck, fate, chance, getting away with murder -- have extended more and more to Allen's own approach to screenwriting. A mixture of the obvious and the indecisive, "Irrational Man" stars Joaquin Phoenix as philosophy professor Abe Lucas, new arrival to fictional Braylin College in Newport, R.I. He's notorious for being a drunk, a womanizer, a provocateur.... (read more)

      • Trainwreck poster image

        Trainwreck

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        If you've seen "Spy" with Melissa McCarthy, you're already aware that the movie nails its first big laugh -- the sneezing-assassin joke -- within moments of the opening credits. Even if you know it's coming, the timing is just right. And right away you think: There. Thank you. These people know what they're doing. How often does that thought run through your mind in a mainstream commercial comedy? Not often enough. It didn't happen with "Ted 2," which may be a moderate box... (read more)

      • Mad Max: Fury Road poster image

        Mad Max: Fury Road

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        You remember "Happy Feet." This is George Miller's "Happy Wheels." The creator of the original "Mad Max" trilogy has whipped up a gargantuan grunge symphony of vehicular mayhem that makes "Furious 7" look like "Curious George." The full title of Miller's remake of "Mad Max" is "Mad Max: Fury Road." It stars Tom Hardy, who says very little, in the old Mel Gibson role of the post-apocalyptic road warrior. Here the character's... (read more)

      • The Salt of the Earth poster image

        The Salt of the Earth

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Watching "The Salt of the Earth," the compelling new documentary about photographer Sebastiao Salgado, it becomes clear early on just how odd it is to experience Salgado's work on someone else's timetable. With an exhibition or a book of photographs, you set your own clock, spending as much time or as little inside a particular image as you like. With film, that's not the case. Co-directors Wim Wenders (a huge Salgado fan) and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado (the photographer's son) linger ... (read more)

      • 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)

      • Whiplash poster image

        Whiplash

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Whatever the ripping melodrama "Whiplash" says about artistic torment, or the price of ambition, or mentor/student relationships from hell or thereabouts, it's too busy providing serious excitement -- both as an actors showcase and a confirmation of writer-director Damien Chazelle's cinematic chops -- to get hung up on conventional uplift. I've seen the film twice, and part of what makes it such a kick is Chazelle's conflicted feelings about his young protagonist and alter ego, a fi... (read more)

      • The Immigrant poster image

        The Immigrant

        Betsy Sharkey, Chicago Tribune

        "The Immigrant," starring Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner, is one of those prickly period pieces about hard times that gets under your skin and leaves you unsettled long after. Though its story is far more about survival than love, there is a sense of seduction in director James Gray's new film, a wolf in sheep's clothing quality. Not unlike Bruno Weiss, the dandy who trolls Ellis Island for pretty girls in bad straits, played so well by Phoenix. Cotillard's Ewa ... (read more)

      • Only Lovers Left Alive poster image

        Only Lovers Left Alive

        Sheri Linden, Chicago Tribune

        With the YA swoon of "Twilight" safely in the rearview mirror, movie vampires get their mojo back in the sensuous dreamscape of "Only Lovers Left Alive," one of the strongest films yet from Jim Jarmusch. A filmmaker with a deep affection for outsiders, Jarmusch sets his ode to the urbane undead -- and margin-dwelling artists -- in two ultra-poetic cities: Detroit, a vision of trampled grandeur on the cusp of rebirth, and worldly Tangier, its alleyways alive with the murmur... (read more)

      • Her poster image

        Her

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        A delicate, droll masterwork, writer-director Spike Jonze's "Her" sticks its neck out, all the way out, asserting that what the world needs now and evermore is love, sweet love. Preferably between humans, but you can't have everything all the time. It tells a love story about a forlorn writer, whose firm --BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com -- provides busy, digitally preoccupied customers with personalized correspondence crafted by professionals like Theodore Twombly, played by refres... (read more)

      • Inside Llewyn Davis poster image

        Inside Llewyn Davis

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Inside Llewyn Davis" takes place in winter 1961, just before Bob Dylan makes the scene. The scene is the Greenwich Village folk music universe, a few finite blocks of an island that, in the hands of cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, looks and feels like a beautiful, long-ago smudge in motion. Crashing here and there, on couches uptown and downtown, Llewyn has a guitar, a voice and some talent. Thanks to Oscar Isaac's extraordinarily subtle and shrewd performance, the surly protagoni... (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)

      • Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 poster image

        Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Thanks to the likes of "Ice Age," most animated features rely on a general wash of sarcasm-based meanness atop sequences of hammering, photo-realistically rendered peril. Throw in a rote message of friendship and a reminder of the importance of family before the up-tempo closing credits, and the people will come. Same old thing but louder? Count me in. So when a modest, quick-witted charmer such as "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2" comes along, attention must be paid. ... (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)

      • Before Midnight poster image

        Before Midnight

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Media Services Film Clips When Celine, played by Julie Delpy, first met Ethan Hawke's Jesse in "Before Sunrise" back in 1995, on a Budapest-to-Vienna train just made for postcollegiate flirtation, one round of small talk led to another, until the talk got a little bigger and phased into bleary-eyed, besotted exchanges about literature and life's fleeting romantic glories. A lot of the talk was showboating, particularly with Hawke's aspiring nov... (read more)

      • Spring Breakers poster image

        Spring Breakers

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        No animals were harmed during the making of "Spring Breakers." But plenty of impressionable young and older minds will assuredly experience feelings of disorientation watching writer-director Harmony Korine's candy-colored clown of a movie, which starts out like a salacious, rump-centric and blithely bare-breasted hip-hop video and ends up in the realm of scary and inspired trash. That's not meant negatively. Korine is a resolute sleaze monger, whose nightmarish daydreams include &q... (read more)

      • Silver Linings Playbook poster image

        Silver Linings Playbook

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Media Services Film Clips Hollywood movies, and even off-Hollywood independent films, have long encouraged us to empathize with unstable or psychologically troubled characters only if they're "kooky" for a little while, as a prelude to more palatable, normalized levels of craziness. You know. The charming kind. Happy ending, followed by a fade to a sunny shade of black. This helps to explain why Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" nev... (read more)

      • Argo poster image

        Argo

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The propulsive hostage thriller "Argo," the third feature directed by Ben Affleck, just plain works. It's heartening to encounter a film, based on fact but happy to include all sorts of exciting fictions to amp up the suspense, whose entertainment intentions are clear. The execution is clean, sharp and rock-solid. It's as apolitical as a political crisis story set in Iran can get. But "the first rule in any deception operation is to understand who your audience is." So wro... (read more)

      • Dredd poster image

        Dredd

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The time-killing carnage in "Dredd 3D" can be assessed all sorts of ways. One depends on how much M-rated gaming you do as a matter of course. If the answer is some, or a lot, you'll likely find "Dredd 3D" up your viscera-strewn alley, because the film isn't merely influenced by a genre of first-person, shoot/stab/eviscerate/these/anonymous/enemies scenarios. It re-creates them, slavishly, as did the recent "The Raid: Redemption," so that calling "Dredd 3D&q... (read more)

      • Sparkle poster image

        Sparkle

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Warmly remembered corn, featuring some fantastic performers including Lonette McKee and Mary Alice, the first ``Sparkle (1976) starred Irene Cara as a mousy but learning-to-roar 15-year-old - one third of a late '50s sister act led by the hard-living smolderer played by McKee, whose character grappled with drug abuse, contended with an abusive boyfriend and battled relentless cliches in a heartbreak-and-triumph fairy tale whipped up by screenwriter Joel Schumacher. This was before the Broadwa... (read more)

      • 21 Jump Street poster image

        21 Jump Street

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Most of the big laughs in "21 Jump Street" arrive in the first half, but take a moment to consider that phrase "big laughs." What was the last stupid Hollywood comedy -- good-stupid, not stupid-stupid -- to offer actual, audible, verifiable big laughs? Heartily raunchy and rather sweet, "21 Jump Street" comes from the 1987-1991 Fox TV show, in which Johnny Depp and his incredible swirly hair led an ensemble of younglings playing barely legal police officers posin... (read more)

      • Jiro Dreams of Sushi poster image

        Jiro Dreams of Sushi

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        By Tribune Newspapers Critics, Tribune Media Services Film Clips There's so much drooly food porn on TV these days, it takes an exceptional subject to arrest our senses and hold our attention. Now 86, Jiro Ono -- the world's premier sushi chef -- is that subject. And the lovely little documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" honors Ono while making his culinary creations of horse mackerel, squid, egg, halibut, fatty tuna, "medium" tuna, lean tuna and gizzard shad, served in his ... (read more)

      • The Secret World of Arrietty poster image

        The Secret World of Arrietty

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Compared to so much American animation, which seems hellbent on putting a global audience of addled kids in a paradoxical manic stupor, the work of Japan's Studio Ghibli sets its own pace, establishes its own, meticulously observed realms of the fantastic and respects a moviegoer's senses -- any moviegoer's, of any age. "The Secret World of Arrietty" is the latest import from the collective responsible for "Princess Mononoke," "Spirited Away," "Howl's Moving... (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)

      • Melancholia poster image

        Melancholia

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        In a May 2011 interview during the Cannes Film Festival, a few days after he'd been declared persona non grata for making some criminally misjudged wisecracks about Jews, and the nascent Hitler lurking inside all of us, filmmaker Lars von Trier told me he considered his latest project, "Melancholia" -- in which an elaborate wedding party serves as prelude to the extinction of the planet -- to be "too beautiful," as well as "too easy." He may be an exasperating do... (read more)

      • Drive poster image

        Drive

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "Drive" begins extremely well and ends in a muddle of ultraviolence, hypocrisy and stylistic preening, which won't be any sort of deterrent for those who like its looks. Director Nicolas Winding Refn's avenging-angel thriller premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival, where Refn won the directing prize, and every supersaturated image is designed for hushed adoration. If the movie were a movie star, it'd be looking just past you to see if someone cooler had recently come in. Ryan... (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)

      • Blue Valentine poster image

        Blue Valentine

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Set in Scranton, Pa., and Brooklyn, N.Y., "Blue Valentine" depicts a working-class marriage hanging by threads of resentment, contempt and love, a very tricky braid to unravel. At its best, the drama captures little bits and pieces of a relationship, the telltale signs and clues to its undoing. In the end, it sympathizes more with the wronged, childlike husband than with the numbly exasperated wife. At least, that's the way it's written; as performed, thankfully, it's more intriguin... (read more)

      • True Grit poster image

        True Grit

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        The new "True Grit" restores all the grit removed in the first version (the 1969 Henry Hathaway film starring John Wayne) of the 1968 Charles Portis novel. All of Portis' sardonic wit has been retained this time, and then some. The "then some" derives from this project's writers, directors and editors, all of whom are Joel and Ethan Coen, who edit under a pseudonym and who have been making Westerns (of variously disguised sorts), film noir riffs and revenge tragicomedies t... (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)

      • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 poster image

        Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        We have reached the semifinals. Staffed with half the best character actors in Great Britain, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" brings the seventh J.K. Rowling tale to market, reminding both fervent Hogwarts maniacs and the Potter-ambivalent of this series' priorities, its increasingly somber tone, as well as its dedication to one of the rarest of all franchise qualities: actual quality. At this point in Harry's anguished saga, the saga doesn't care much about the needs... (read more)

      • Secretariat poster image

        Secretariat

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        There is no suspense in "Secretariat." This is the one thing Disney's new picture has in common with "The Passion of the Christ" and "Titanic." We know the outcome. Studios rarely back movies about horses that place or show. The animal that loved to preen for the cameras made all the magazine covers in 1973 after running away with the Triple Crown, though in the '73 Kentucky Derby, Secretariat was back by nine lengths before finishing like a champ. With the facts... (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)

      • MacGruber poster image

        MacGruber

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

        The yearlong '80s flashback that is 2010 continues with ``MacGruber, a comedy that summons up memories of mullets, ``MacGyver and Mike Myers. A blood-spattered, hit-or-miss, ``out there character comedy of the ``Wayne's World/``Austin Powers school, it manages to be nostalgic and profane in equal measures, a movie that's retro and yet retrofitted to suit the new cutting edge in screen farce. Will Forte's thin ``Saturday Night Live sketch is taken to places network TV hasn't yet been in a game... (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)

      • Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs poster image

        Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Fairly inventive and exceedingly manic, "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" comes from the 1978 picture book by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett. To say the title helped sell the kids story is an understatement, certainly the only understatement involved with the movie version. Still, there's a semblance of a comic personality at work. Plenty of middle-ground (or worse) animated features feel like timid corporate entities. This one, which is certainly fresher than "Ice Age 3,"... (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)

      • (500) Days of Summer poster image

        (500) Days of Summer

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        For a lot of casual filmgoers in their teens and 20s - the ones yet to encounter a Charlie Kaufman script such as "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" or who haven't seen the bittersweet 1967 "Two for the Road," written by Frederic Raphael, or have yet to dive into a Milan Kundera novel - the structural mind games played by the romantic comedy "(500) Days of Summer" may throw them, happily, for a loop. I hope so. The structure's mainly what this pleasant summe... (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)

      • Watchmen poster image

        Watchmen

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        Talk all you want about the dense novelistic embroidery of the graphic novel "Watchmen," its obsessive detail and clever subversion of superhero mythology and masked avenger cliches. But really, the appeal of the film version, such as it is, relates almost entirely to eye-for-an-eye, severed-limb-for-a-limb vengeance, two hours and 41 minutes of it, with just enough solemnity to make anyone who thought "The Dark Knight" was a little gassy think twice about which superhero ... (read more)

      • Milk poster image

        Milk

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

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

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