Michael Phillips is the Chicago Tribune's film critic, covering everything from “Godzilla” to the latest in Turkish cinema. He ...

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Michael Phillips

Michael Phillips

Chicago Tribune

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'Deadpool' review: Ryan Reynolds is an immortal but unsightly killing machine

'Deadpool' review: Ryan Reynolds is an immortal but unsightly killing machine

February 9, 2016

A fairly funny trashing of its own glib self, "Deadpool" is a movie about an unkillable wisenheimer who never shuts up, even while enduring or inflicting enough putrid brutality to earn an X or a NC-17 rating just a few years ago.

  • Michael Phillips' Oscar film score series plays on

    February 8, 2016

    Every time I write or talk about music written for the movies, I'm reminded how much the right theme, the choicest underscoring or the grandest emotional expression means to other movie lovers. For so many of us, music is the way into our hearts, and with movies it can mean the difference between a satisfying experience and a thrilling one.

  • 'Boy and the World' review: Brazil draws viewers in to animated story

    February 4, 2016

    Like silence, white space is a seriously undervalued tactic in animation. Think about it: Few things capture your eye more immediately than tiny bits of color or movement, swathed in a sea of bright nothingness.

  • 'Arabian Nights: Vol. 1 -- The Restless One' review: Ambitious portrait of Europe in crisis

    February 4, 2016

    The subtitle tells the truth; here is a wonderfully restless movie. To the critic-turned-filmmaker Miguel Gomes, Portugal has become a socially unjust excuse for a "bread and water" existence. His feelings about the state of his nation inform every seemingly clashing element of his three-part, six-hour whirligig titled "Arabian Nights," making its Chicago premiere this week at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

  • Cigarettes on screen leave us breathless

    February 4, 2016

    Like so many of our contemporaries, my brother and I grew up in a sea of harvest gold and avocado green, and the most interesting furniture in our Racine, Wis., house was a hi-fi that took entire old-growth forest to manufacture. Above that sea of green and gold, with Burt Bacharach and the original cast album of "The Music Man" wafting out of tiny little console speakers covered by wee bronze curtains, smoke filled the air. Our folks smoked, like millions back then, and millions today. It went with all the smoking on screen in an average hour of '60s and '70s television. My parents, happily alive today, eventually called it a day on cigarettes, and everyone was better for it.

  • 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' review: Tea and crumpets meet the zombie apocalypse

    February 4, 2016

    It's apples and oranges, but the film version of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" is, in fact, slightly more diverting than the 2012 release "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter." So we're getting there. Fifty years from now, when it's "Richard Nixon vs. the Kraken vs. Sharknado," we'll have this mashup thing down pat.

  • 'Hail, Caesar!' review: Coen brothers take a satiric stroll through the familiar

    February 3, 2016

    With any sort of comedy set in Old Hollywood, the characters' names become weirdly important because, well … they just are. In "Hail, Caesar!" there's a smooth British director by the name of Laurence Laurentz, whose trademark billing is "Laurence Laurentz presents." The studio head, mentioned but not seen, is a Mr. Nick Skank (think Joseph Schenck, a real-life mogul). Dueling Hedda Hopper-brand gossip columnists, who happen to be identical twin sisters, go by Thora Tacker and Thessaly Tacker.

  • Oscar-winning music, and music that Oscar ignored

    February 1, 2016

    The pleasures and rewards of my job are many. This month, which I call "Oscar," not "February," writing about film means I get to inflict my musical taste on an unsuspecting public.

  • Oscar-nominated live-action shorts review: You'll find more diversity here

    January 28, 2016

    What happened to that Oscars diversity problem? Poof. Gone. Judging from the five nominated short films in the live-action category, the motion picture academy's problems of blinkered, whitey-white Oscars selection could be solved if the voters (and nominators before them) simply looked around the world, instead of sticking mainly to mainstream American pictures that make money.

  • Oscar-nominated animated shorts review: See the year's gems in one place

    January 28, 2016

    In "World of Tomorrow," the highlight of this year's Academy Award-nominated short films in the animation category, 17 minutes is more than enough to create a fanciful, contemplative and joyously inventive bit of speculative fiction.

  • 'Son of Saul' review: An Auschwitz prisoner's haunting story

    January 28, 2016

    With any film, or novel, or theatrical treatment depicting any aspect of the Holocaust, the dividing lines are inevitable and fierce. One project's methods and narrative focus may strike some audience members as too much — too punishing, too assaultive in its realism. Others respond to the same project another way, skeptical of how it elides the worst of the horrors and seeks grace notes of redemption where none could, and should, be heard.

  • 'Son of Saul' director, star succeed in their mission

    January 28, 2016

    Opening Friday, "Son of Saul" is the first feature by Hungarian writer-director Laszlo Nemes, and it sets a high bar of expectation for his future work while provoking passionate debate about the film itself.

  • 'The Finest Hours' review: Casey Affleck, Chris Pine star in suspenseful Coast Guard rescue

    January 27, 2016

    It's 2016. We're far enough along on the digital effects timeline to make the call: The waves are looking good! Digitally animated waves are looking better all the time, in fact, even when filmmakers push allegedly realistically scaled waves to heights approaching that enormous wall of water in "Interstellar."

  • Oscars must adapt if they want to survive

    January 24, 2016

    In her decades as an ace Hollywood movie publicist, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs marketed everything from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" to "Porky's" to "Boogie Nights" to "Braveheart" to "The King's Speech."

  • 'Censored Voices' review: Soldiers reflect on Six Day War in provocative documentary

    January 22, 2016

    In a reflective, confident style that recalls the recent (and superb) documentary "The Gatekeepers," about former heads of Israel's Shin Bet intelligence agency and their sobering views on Israeli-Arab strife, the new film "Censored Voices" does not let Israel, its military or the human cost of its Six Day War victory in 1967 off any sort of hook.

  • 'The 5th Wave' review: Chloe Grace Moretz juggles romance, apocalyptic dystopia

    January 22, 2016

    Between "The Hunger Games," the "Divergent" trilogy and the other dystopian apocalyptic teens-in-luv adventures adapted for the movies these last few years, is there room on what's left of the planet for "The 5th Wave"?

  • 'The Lady in the Van' review: Maggie Smith re-creates her stage triumph as a vagabond

    January 21, 2016

    In 1974, by reluctant invitation, a homeless but not vanless woman by the name of Mary Shepherd parked her banged-up vehicle in the driveway of the Camden Town home belonging to playwright, novelist and humorist Alan Bennett. A former concert pianist of shadowy circumstance, Shepherd was well-known as a vagabond in this rapidly gentrifying part of London. With a mixture of timidity, kindness, inertia and privileged guilt, Bennett let her stay on his patio. For 15 years.

  • '45 Years' review: Rampling, Courtenay play couple rocked by the past

    January 21, 2016

    We see so many cinematic portraits of marriages that engage us without quite ringing true, whoever we are, whatever marriages of our own we may have experienced. Either the depictions of a long-coupled couple are happy in a tidy, reassuring way, or wrenchingly sad, in dramatically convenient (and often fraudulent) terms.

  • Oscars aren't the diversity problem — moviemaking is

    January 19, 2016

    Late Monday evening, dealing with the controversy over the 20-out-of-20 whiteness ratio in this year's Oscar-nominated performers, Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs issued a statement of regret and, within that, a statement of intention.

  • What war movies say about us

    January 14, 2016

    Most films exist outside the realm of politics, yet there is no such thing as an apolitical film. Those who claim to have made one are being strategic. They're worried about scaring the customers, and cutting out 50 percent of the public.

  • '13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi' review: Michael Bay slips into war movie cliches

    January 14, 2016

    Everything in director Michael Bay's cinematic vocabulary — the glamorizing slo-mo, the falling bomb point-of-view shots, the low-angle framing of his heroes with blue sky, fireballs or an American flag in the background — suggests not real life, or the way things might have happened, but a Michael Bay movie.

  • 'Mustang' review: 5 teens search for a way out of their Turkish village

    January 14, 2016

    At the beginning of "Mustang," an incisive calling card from first-time feature co-writer and director Deniz Gamze Erguven, school's out for five orphaned teenage sisters living in a northern Turkish village. The youngest, Lale (Gunes Sensoy), is having a hard time saying goodbye to her favorite teacher, who's off to Istanbul on extended holiday. Like Moscow in Chekhov's plays, the Turkish metropolis serves as an elusive symbol of freedom here, just out of reach.

  • 'Horse Money' review: Dreamlike film moves to its own rhythm

    January 7, 2016

    Closer to inhabited photographs than to conventional notions of cinema, the films of Pedro Costa exist in worlds of their own. They're not "realistic," even though the projects he has made with the Cape Verdean immigrant Joao Tavares Borges, who goes by the name Ventura, reflect a highly specific time, place and set of circumstances.

  • Review: 'The Forest' is not a very scary place to be

    January 7, 2016

    "The Forest" is a fairly promising feature debut from director Jason Zada, which isn't the same thing as saying it's a good horror film. It does, however, contain one clever series of images, akin to (but not nearly as frightening as) the woman crawling out of the well and through the TV screen in "The Ring." The scene in question comes late in the picture, so we'll just say it involves a key character re-living a childhood trauma with the supernatural help of an old-timey GAF View-Master.

  • Jason Wingreen was more than the voice of Boba Fett

    January 6, 2016

    Character actors have a way of marking the pages of our lives, like human bookmarks, reminding us what we watched years or decades ago, or what we saw last night — a "Twilight Zone" here, a "Fantasy Island" there, a performer-driven feature film such as "Spotlight" when we're lucky.

  • 'Anomalisa' review: An exceptional tale from Charlie Kaufman

    December 30, 2015

    Sad, beautiful, the wittiest film of the year, "Anomalisa" takes place largely in a hotel room in Cincinnati, where a customer service expert (his well-regarded book: "How May I Help You Help Them?") has traveled from Los Angeles. He's delivering the keynote address at a regional customer service conference. Honestly, could the premise for a feature-length story of middle-aged malaise and inchoate yearning be any drabber?

  • Winter movie preview: Greek weddings, 19th century zombies, guys in capes highlight the season

    December 29, 2015

    I drove by a four-screen neighborhood theater the other day, and the marquee said, simply: STAR WARS. Playing on all four screens. There was a time, before the Force awakened, when other movies existed.

  • Director Kent Jones zeros in on Hitchcock

    December 24, 2015

    Opening Christmas Day at the Music Box, director and co-writer Kent Jones' fond, deft documentary "Hitchcock/Truffaut" revisits the hours in 1962 when French critic-turned-filmmaker Francois Truffaut sat for a series of lengthy, fascinating interviews with Alfred Hitchcock, who was finishing up work on "The Birds." The interviews — fan opposite idol; critic on artist; filmmaker to filmmaker — produced a book four years later. For some of us, whether at the local library or in a bookstore, that first fateful adolescent encounter with "Hitchcock/Truffaut" rang a bell that has never stopped echoing.

  • Chicagoan of the Year in Film: Kartemquin's Betsy Steinberg ready to grow

    December 23, 2015

    From the outside, the offices of Kartemquin Films don't look like the offices to anything. They look like a house emitting a vague but lingering aura of artistic creativity. Founded in 1966, Kartemquin takes up the sprawling entirety of a two-story Roscoe Village residence (for a time turned into three apartments and a dry cleaners) bought by the nonprofit documentary collective's founders in 1971. The place has since been carved up into a pleasantly twisty array of converted offices, and bedrooms and closets serve as editing suites. These days, on one door separating two of the second-story rooms, there's a sign reminding staff members in wintertime: "HEAT = $!"

  • 'The Hateful Eight' review: Quentin Tarantino's Western a widescreen dullard

    December 23, 2015

    "The Hateful Eight" is an ultrawide bore. If you have the option, and you're committed to seeing the thing, you should see Quentin Tarantino's latest in one of its 100 or so limited-release "roadshow" screenings, projected on film, complete with overture (a lovely, eerie one from the great composer Ennio Morricone) and running just over three hours. After that, it'll be the conventional digital projection editions at the multiplexes, running 20 minutes shorter.

  • 'Carol' review: Blanchett, Mara excel in Todd Haynes' exquisite adaptation

    December 21, 2015

    By now, the critical reception for director Todd Haynes' "Carol" has built a fortress of prestige around the film itself, much as the title character played by Cate Blanchett goes through her life protected by just the right clothes and makeup, a lacquered, tightly put-together look ever-so-slightly subverting the image of the quintessential wife and mother of her time and station.

  • For 'Carol,' director Todd Haynes dug deep

    December 17, 2015

    I wish I could show you what director Todd Haynes showed me. It'll never be published; it'd be a legal nightmare to secure the rights of its contents.

  • 'Sisters' review: Fey-Poehler chemistry wasted in weak comedy

    December 17, 2015

    The weirdly dispiriting "Sisters" has enough troubles of its own without being pitted against the Force. As of Dec. 16, the comment last posted on the "Sisters" message board at carried the headline "Star Wars comes out on Friday yayyy" and the one below it predicted that "The Force Awakens" will "turn this thing into a giant flop." Don't space trolls have anything better to do?

  • 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' review: A return to the original, in all the right ways

    December 16, 2015

    So: Where were we?

  • 'Ridiculous 6' review: Not the worst from Adam Sandler

    December 11, 2015

    In April, during the New Mexico location filming of the Adam Sandler Western spoof "The Ridiculous 6," several Native American performers walked off the set, citing demeaning stereotypes deployed in the name of lowbrow comedy. The completed film made its streaming debut Friday as a Netflix Original Movie offering. Two questions straight off: How is it in the offensiveness department? And does it earn any cheap laughs in spite of itself?

  • An appreciation of 'Speak Low,' the right song at the right time

    December 10, 2015

    When the right popular song makes itself at home in the right movie, it becomes more than background music — more than an additional character, even. It's as if the tune were the director, urging the story on to the next chapter, reminding us what's at stake for the lovers on screen.

  • 'Almost There' review: A complex portrait of a complex man

    December 10, 2015

    They went for the pierogis. In 2006, filmmakers Aaron Wickenden and Dan Rybicky took a day trip to Whiting, Ind., not far down the Lake Michigan shore from their home base of Chicago. At Pierogi Fest, they spotted an older gentleman at a folding table, along the parade route, doing pastel portraits of passers-by, mostly children, for a small fee.

  • 'Macbeth' review: Forest neglected for the trees

    December 10, 2015

    The new "Macbeth" starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard opens with a funeral you won't find in the Shakespeare play. Director Justin Kurzel's film version imagines the Macbeths as grieving parents. (The interpretation's supported by a line of Lady Macbeth's.) We see Macbeth placing the scales on his dead son's eyes, as Fassbender's own eyes run cold. Kurzel, the Australian director who made his name on an unnerving true-crime drama called "The Snowtown Murders," shot much of "Macbeth" on the Isle of Skye in winter, off the northwest coast of Scotland. Every wind-swept exterior sequence looks genuinely bone-chilling.

  • 'In the Heart of the Sea' review: Less tech, more humanity needed

    December 10, 2015

    "In the Heart of the Sea" isn't a disaster, so we'll have none of those "Thar she blows!" wisecracks in this review, thank you.

  • 'The Big Short' review: Frustrating look at fiscal meltdown

    December 10, 2015

    If a film can essentially succeed while also remaining essentially frustrating, here's a prime example.

  • 'Joy' review: Miracle Mop drama doesn't clean up well, despite Jennifer Lawrence

    December 7, 2015

    The marketing campaign for the new David O. Russell film "Joy," starring Jennifer Lawrence, has been extremely nervous about bringing down the party with the word "mop." Mops traditionally do not sell at the multiplex. Mops traditionally are what clean up the multiplex.

  • 'The Revenant' review: Leonardo DiCaprio's out for vengeance in Inarritu epic

    December 4, 2015

    The gorgeously brutal first hour of "The Revenant" marks the peak of director Alejandro G. Inarritu's glittering if not quite golden career. For a while his new movie's really something. Then, as Leonardo DiCaprio crawls across miles and miles of mighty pretty scenery filmed in Canada, Montana and Argentina, gradually it turns into not much of anything.

  • 'Apu Trilogy' review: Ray's unforgettable series returns

    November 29, 2015

    Editor's note: TCM will broadcast Satyajit Ray's "Apu" trilogy at 7 p.m. Monday. This review originally ran June 4. 

  • 'In Jackson Heights' review: Gentrification of Queens neighborhood captured in doc

    November 25, 2015

    Teeming with life, the expansive, generous-spirited new Frederick Wiseman documentary "In Jackson Heights" opens Friday for a weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Wiseman's 40th film, it continues his obsession with the institutions, the juices and the peculiarities of American life and the democratic process. It's a very good thing to experience around the Thanksgiving holidays; some of us give thanks to Wiseman with each new project the 85-year-old master brings to fruition.

  • 'Chi-Raq' Review: Spike Lee juggles warring impulses in 'Lysistrata'-inspired satire

    November 23, 2015

    Opening Dec. 4, Spike Lee's "Chi-Raq" is destined to make almost everybody angry — not for what it says about Chicago's homicide statistics, especially among young African-Americans, but for how it says it.

  • How does 'Chi-Raq' portray Chicago?

    November 22, 2015

    Note: This is not a review of Spike Lee's "Chi-Raq."

  • 'Home Alone' a holiday classic? Don't make me laugh

    November 19, 2015

    Pardon me, but "Home Alone" has made enough hundreds of millions of dollars by now and solidified enough of a multigenerational fan base to survive the following review: to hell with it.

  • 'Secret in Their Eyes' review: Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Chiwetel Ejiofor star in remake

    November 19, 2015

    In the languid remake "Secret in Their Eyes," the awkward missing "The" in its title poses a more intriguing mystery than anything on the screen.

  • 'The Night Before' review: Seth Rogen and friends behaving badly

    November 19, 2015

    Last year around the holidays, the world received the dubious gift of the Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy "The Interview," which pretended to kill off the leader of North Korea. The film led to an apparent retaliatory Sony Pictures hack costing the studio $35 million; a lot of controversial correspondence and information going public; and, if anyone remembers it, a pretty disappointing movie.

  • 'Creed' review: Stallone coaches Michael B. Jordan, everybody wins

    November 18, 2015

    Back in 1976, our bicentennial year, the nation yearned for a red, white and blue plate special piled high with corn. Something to believe in. Then, up those Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, backed by the Bill Conti theme, that something arrived.

  • Jesse Eisenberg explains his New Yorker piece skewering film critics

    November 18, 2015

    Confirming the image of film critics as comically touchy, thin-skinned narcissists, the online response to actor/author Jesse Eisenberg’s humor piece for the Shouts & Murmurs section of The New Yorker turned Twitter into a playground of sand-flinging accusations Wednesday.

  • 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2' review: Katniss' saga comes to an end

    November 18, 2015

    Nothing lasts forever, except the "Hunger Games" franchise. Yet here we are. Forever is over. "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2" brings the four-film saga of Katniss Everdeen and her revolutionary war to a dutiful, fairly satisfying if undeniably attenuated conclusion.

  • 'Annie Hall' tops funniest screenplay list. What's your favorite?

    November 12, 2015

    Recently, the voting members of the Writers Guild of America chose Woody Allen's "Annie Hall," one of the rare instances of a top-Oscar-winning feature, as the funniest screenplay in existence, with "Some Like It Hot" and "Groundhog Day" winning second and third funniest, respectively.

  • 'Heart of a Dog' review: Laurie Anderson doc sparkles with her wisdom, wit

    November 12, 2015

    "Heart of a Dog" shouldn't work. At all. But its maker, writer-director Laurie Anderson, has spoken in interviews of the value of having good "tweedar," in order to ward off twee excesses and preciousness in risky undertakings.

  • Laurie Anderson delves into Glen Ellyn childhood in 'Heart of a Dog'

    November 12, 2015

    Growing up in Glen Ellyn, one of eight kids in a Swedish/Irish family overseen by a loving father and what she calls a "formal-slash-frosty" mother, Laurie Anderson skated in the wintertime on the lake near their house. One day, pushing her younger twin brothers (they were either 2 or 3, Anderson says) in a stroller on the ice, the ice cracked. The stroller went into the water, the twins still buckled in.

  • 'Brooklyn' review: Saoirse Ronan glimmers as a reluctant immigrant

    November 12, 2015

    Twenty-one-year-old Saoirse Ronan is about as Irish as they come, but she was born in the Bronx, New York City. That sealed the deal, I suspect, for the magically right casting of Ronan as the reluctant County Wexford immigrant to 1952 America, in the lovely new film "Brooklyn."

  • 'The 33' review: Antonio Banderas leads cast of trapped Chilean miners

    November 12, 2015

    Going into "The 33," we know a few things. We know it'll be tense, and largely subterranean. We know it's a bad-news/good-news story, in that order, about the 2010 mine explosion and cave-in stranding 33 workers for 69 excruciating days in the depths of a gold and copper mine in Chile's Atacama Desert.

  • 'Hateful Eight': Which version should you see?

    November 10, 2015

    Last month filmmaker Quentin Tarantino spoke out against police brutality at a New York City protest, and it’s been a rough news cycle for the “Pulp Fiction” auteur ever since.

  • 'Spotlight' review: Mark Ruffalo and team excavate church abuse story

    November 9, 2015

    Nothing in the superb new film "Spotlight" screams for attention. It's an ordinary film in its technique, and it's relentlessly beige. It avoids fist-pounding, crusading-reporter cliches almost entirely, the ones the movies have loved since the first close-up of the front page rolling off the presses in high-speed replicate. The story is a big one, and the movie about how a handful of Boston Globe investigative reporters got that story is thrillingly good.

  • 10 movies to see this winter

    November 6, 2015

    “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” takes place 30 years after the death of Darth Vader in a galaxy we know well by now. It opens the evening of Thursday, Dec. 17. Already it’s a bigger deal than Christmas. It constitutes, in fact, a war on Christmas, and when Fox News figures this out they’ll send out the storm troopers in force.

  • Is James Bond having an identity crisis?

    November 5, 2015

    James Bond, Sir Ian Fleming's suavely ruthless assassin and persnickety orderer of drinks, came to light in the Cold War. Mission: to channel the lady-killing and killing-killing fantasies of his overwhelmingly male readers, who became his movie fans with "Dr. No" in 1962, and to assert the imperialist righteousness of the United Kingdom in an uncertain world.

  • 'I Smile Back' review: Sarah Silverman gives raw but subtle performance

    November 5, 2015

    Amy Koppelman describes the protagonist of her 2008 novel "I Smile Back" as one woman's preemptive strikes against her loved ones who may, she fears, find out what she's risking every day of her desperate life.

  • 'Spectre' review: James Bond vs. Big Brother

    November 3, 2015

    "Spectre” cost nearly $300 million to make, and I suppose it was worth it. It’s a good Bond movie, which will be good enough for many millions of fans. It’s also the longest Bond movie in existence, clocking in at just under 2 1/2 decadent, carefree, flamboyantly destructive hours.

  • Why we still need to support the NEA

    October 29, 2015

    You name it; directly or indirectly, the National Endowment for the Arts probably funded it. Safe stuff, risky stuff, in-between stuff.

  • 'Taxi' review: Iranian filmmaker disguises himself as a cabbie

    October 29, 2015

    In 2010 the Iranian government arrested "White Balloon" and "Crimson Gold" filmmaker Jafar Panahi on charges of anti-government propaganda (he's an outspoken supporter of Iran's opposition movement) and sentenced him to six years in prison as well as a 20-year moviemaking ban.

  • 'Truth' review: Redford, Blanchett performances marred by clichés and half truths

    October 29, 2015

    Robert Redford does not look or act much like CBS news anchor and "60 Minutes II" star Dan Rather. But that doesn't matter much. What matters, and what's germane to the distressing inchoate quality of "Truth," is that Rather comes off as a saintly cardboard dullard in writer-director James Vanderbilt's new film. Even if you don't know what's missing — a hint, maybe, of the legendary Rather swagger — what's there does not compensate.

  • Chicago Film Fest pick of the day: 'Spotlight'

    October 29, 2015

    Unless something even better comes along before Dec. 31, this may be the American film of the year—thrillingly good, in its patient, savvy way, and a reminder that journalism still matters in the age of click-whoredom and a crumpling media landscape. Director and co-writer (with Josh Singer) Tom McCarthy’s procedural stars Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber and Brian d’Arcy James in the story of the early 21st century Boston Globe investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese’s longtime cover-up of sexual abuse among its clergy.  Not since "All the President's Men" 39 years ago has a newspaper movie so openly embraced a good-news (i.e., bad news covered beautifully) news story. In many ways, "Spotlight" is the better fictional film about a factual bombshell that, yes, sold a lot of papers. "Spotlight" opens Nov. 13, but tonight it closes the 51st Chicago film festival on a very high note indeed.

  • Chicago Film Fest pick of the day: 'Where to Invade Next'

    October 28, 2015

    Michael Moore’s latest report card on American health, well-being and societal prioritizing is one of his most congenial efforts. The title makes it sound like a docu-screed against U.S. geopolitical blundering, but the invasions on view are more like ideological shopping trips, in which Moore travels to Italy, France (to sample the most delectable school lunches in existence), Germany (for a lesson in painful historical remembrance) and Norway (for an oddly optimistic post mortem on the 2011 summer camp massacre and its aftermath).  “Where to Invade Next” was a late addition to this year’s line-up; tonight’s screening was added later still, due to popular as well as populist demand.

  • Chicago Film Fest pick of the day: 'Hitchcock/Truffaut'

    October 26, 2015

    In 1962, in between "The Birds" and "Marnie," Alfred Hitchcock sat down for a series of interviews with his most ardent French fan, the critic and fellow filmmaker Francois Truffaut. For many of us, the book resulting from those talks ("Hitchcock/Truffaut") literally fell apart at the binding due to overuse: death by flipped pages. For obsessives as well as Hitchcock agnostics (whoever they are), director Kent Jones' irresistible love letter pays tribute to a great extended conversation exploring technique, life, art and bargains made and sometimes broken with the audience. Jones interviews David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson and others for a corroborating adoration of the master.

  • Chicago Film Fest pick of the day: 'To Sleep With Anger'

    October 25, 2015

    Charles Burnett’s plaintive LA masterwork "Killer of Sheep" deserves every drop of praise that has fallen its way since its completion in 1977. But Burnett's 1990 film, "To Sleep with Anger," is nearly as evocative – leisurely but sly. An enigmatic country vagabond (Danny Glover, never better) reunites with old friends (Paul Butler and Mary Alice) now living in South Central LA. A potent clash of urban and rural personalities ensues, spiced with the supernatural. Peculiar in tone in the best way, "To Sleep with Anger" will be screened in honor of director Burnett, scheduled to introduce the picture and to receive the festival’s Career Achievement Award.

  • A French 'Childhood' and a Chilean 'Club' dominate Chicago film festival awards

    October 24, 2015

    “A Childhood,” director Philippe Claudel’s account of a young French boy navigating a stormy adolescence, was awarded top prize in the 51st Chicago International Film Festival. Chicago native Andrew Davis, best known for directing “The Fugitive,” headed this year’s international features jury.

  • Chicago Film Fest pick of the day: 'Henry Gamble's Birthday Party'

    October 23, 2015

    The genial son (Cole Doman) of a megachurch pastor (Pat Healy) and his secretive wife (Elizabeth Laidlaw) is turning 17. In his mind, Henry’s also turning over the fact, hidden to some more than others, of his homosexuality. A roving North Shore pack of characters crowds the writer-director Stephen Cone's trim 86-minute narrative, which might've profited from a little more time and breathing room. But the visual fluidity of the filmmaking marks a step forward for Cone, whose earlier work includes "Black Box" and "The Wise Kids." Laidlaw and Doman are particularly strong.

  • Sarah Silverman ventures into dark territory in 'I Smile Back'

    October 22, 2015

    Like a lot of very funny comedians, Sarah Silverman has easy access to the dark side. The 44-year-old Bernie Sanders supporter came through town last week on a press tour for "I Smile Back," which opens Nov. 6, but took its pre-release bow at the Chicago International Film Festival.

  • 'Rock the Kasbah' review: Bill Murray invades Afghanistan, needs more cowbell

    October 22, 2015

    "Safe as milk." That's the phrase used by the yahoo weapons merchant played by Danny McBride, as he describes a transaction involving guns and ammo, conveyed to Pashtun rebel forces in Afghanistan. His unlikely go-between in this desert landscape: Richie Lanz, the visiting LA talent manager portrayed by the great Bill Murray in the not-good "Rock the Kasbah."

  • Chicago Film Fest pick of the day: 'Son of Saul'

    October 22, 2015

    In an Auschwitz crematorium, a Hungarian prisoner (Geza Rohrig) labors with a Sonderkommando unit, aiding the Nazis' extermination of his fellow Jews. This man, Saul, has but one mission in life, one that may be his lifeline (however temporary) to moral sanity in the worst place on Earth. On the brink of a prisoner revolt (based on a real-life 1944 incident), he strategizes ways to give the body of a young boy, referenced by the title, a proper burial. Director Laszlo Nemes’ fierce and very fine debut honors the shattering circumstances of its protagonist by keeping the camera very close to Saul’s perspective, every second. Some find the film’s methods morally specious and even galling; others experience "Son of Saul" as one of the few examples of Holocaust-themed drama that neither avoids nor exploits the horrors of the death camps, and of one prisoner’s way out of hell.

  • 'Room' review: A harrowing mother-son tragedy

    October 22, 2015

    Much of the effectiveness of "Room" — and it's very effective — depends on not knowing every narrative turnabout in advance. We'll be as clear as we can while hinting around at a few things regarding director Lenny Abrahamson's splendidly acted, if ever-so-slightly dodgy, film version of the 2010 Emma Donoghue novel.

  • Chicago Film Fest pick of the day: 'The Assassin'

    October 21, 2015

    Is this the most contemplative martial arts movie ever made? It’s certainly the most rapturous, thanks to master filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien, who won the directing prize at this year’s Cannes festival. In the ninth-century Tang Dynasty, a stealthy killer for hire (Shu Qi) stalks her prey and wrestles with her conscience in silver birch forests and other wonders photographed in remote mainland China. The Tawainese filmmaker’s patient, unblinking camera eye may throw some martial-arts fans used to zooms, frantic editing and wilder technique in general. But this is an enveloping fantasy of another time, another place and stillness interrupted, periodically and violently, by some pretty cool moves.  "In a discussion with my team of young fight choreographers," Hou recently told NPR, "I made a rule never to leave the ground. You don't want to be like Spider-Man swinging around." And yet "The Assassin" floats like a butterfly.

  • Chicago Film Fest pick of the day: '45 Years'

    October 20, 2015

    In his previous feature "Weekend," one of writer-director Andrew Haigh’s characters asks another: "You've been keeping a low profile recently.  Anything to tell?" The filmmaker continues his exploration of secrets and human vulnerabilities with "45 Years," a quiet gem of a drama starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay.  The planning process for a long-married English couple’s anniversary party becomes clouded by the husband’s past life; his attempts to compartmentalize and cover up that part of his past; and the wife’s recognition of some pretty damaging truths. Actresses of her caliber shouldn't have to wait so long for roles this good.

  • 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' trailer is here

    October 19, 2015

    Monday night in the National Football League, the Giants and the Eagles took a halftime break on ESPN so that galaxies far, far away and near, near, nearby could get a look at 130 tempting seconds from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

  • Chicago Film Fest pick of the day: 'My Golden Days'

    October 19, 2015

    Arnaud Desplechin’s fizzy remembrance of romance, politics and friendships past is one of the rare nostalgic reveries that get better and more emotionally unruly as it goes. The protagonist, portrayed here as a middle-age man by Mathieu Almaric, guided the story of an earlier Desplechin film, “My Sex Life or … How I Got Into an Argument. In “My Golden Days” the authorial stand-in is played as a yearning, restless younger man by Quentin Dolmaire; Lou Roy-Lecollinet takes the role of his first love, Esther, young Paul’s first taste of serious complication. In French with English subtitles.

  • Chicago Film Fest pick of the day:  'An Evening with Howard Shore'

    October 18, 2015

    The "Lord of the Rings" composer is well known for many other sonic achievements, among them the swirling Parisian music for director Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," which is receiving a revival screening 2:30 p.m. Sunday as part of CIFF’s 51st line-up. Stick around afterward: Shore, an intergral component of every David Cronenberg project, among other credits, will appear in person for a discussion.

  • Chicago Film Fest pick of the day: 'The Infinite Happiness'

    October 16, 2015

    This year’s film festival offers a “Spotlight Architecture” sidebar, and one of its highlights is this witty valentine to a most unusual housing development in Copenhagen. The so-called “8 House,” a sly urban mountain village of an apartment complex, was designed by Bjarke Ingels as an ode to democratic, egalitarian community, with a kindergarten on one floor and a fascinating collision of tight confines and open vistas. Co-directors Ila Beka and Louise Lemoine make wonderful use of their 85 minutes, turning “The Infinite Happiness” into a cinematic apartment crawl, blessedly free of the customary documentary trappings. In Danish with English subtitles.

  • Chicago Film Fest pick of the day: 'I Smile Back'

    October 16, 2015

    The best comics come equipped with dramatic instincts to die for, and in this Sundance-launched drama, Sarah Silverman tears into a tough, astringent  role with a knack for knowing how to hold back. Laney is a mother of two, and the wife of a loving if increasingly distant husband (Josh Charles). She’s also a multidirectional addict, whose life unravels in director Adam Salky’s debut. "I Smile Back" opens commercially Oct. 30; Silverman will appear Friday at the Chicago International Film Festival screening.

  • 'The Quay Brothers' review: Eerie dreamscapes from master animators

    October 15, 2015

    In the tantalizing new short film "Quay," made by a filmmaker crazy about his subjects, the identical twin brothers Stephen and Timothy Quay — whose disobedient, graying hair suggests they have ignored the same barber for years — putter around their tiny London studio.

  • Chicago Film Fest pick of the day: 'Mia Madre'

    October 15, 2015

    Making a movie about labor relations and workers’ rights, a tightly coiled Italian filmmaker (Margherita Buy) copes with a headache of a visiting American star (John Turturro, delightfully egocentric) and a dying mother (Giulia Lazzarini) in director Nanni Moretti’s partly autobiographical comedy-drama.  It’s a somewhat odd mixture of broad humor and quiet pathos; it’s also a somewhat odd film with which to open the 51st Chicago International Film Festival, in that nobody actually involved with the film itself is scheduled to attend tonight’s Auditorium Theatre festivities. These include various red-carpet appearances, live music and more. The festival begins in earnest and on several  screens tomorrow, over at the home base venue: the AMC River East 21 multiplex.

  • 'Bridge of Spies' review: I'll trade you one Soviet spy for...

    October 15, 2015

    It's brilliant, really. What's the quickest way to establish the humanity of two leading characters in a Cold War drama? Give them both the sniffles.

  • 'Steve Jobs' review: Backstage with a beleaguered genius

    October 15, 2015

    "Steve Jobs," a dazzling shell of a biopic from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle, is a three-act backstage drama about a bullying, insecure, overbearing visionary who learns to be a better father and less of a jerk in the nick of time. His products may be the ones on which you're reading this review right now. In the film's eyes, that fact exonerates him from the other, messier stuff.

  • 'Crimson Peak' review: Haunting but hollow

    October 15, 2015

    You may come out of the 1901-set Gothic chiller "Crimson Peak" humming the production design (by Thomas Sanders), or singing arias about the clothes (Kate Hawley, costume designer), or composing symphonies of praise for the mellow, honeyed menace of the cinematography (Dan Laustsen). If looks made the movie, and they can in the right circumstances, this movie would be made.

  • 10 to see at Chicago film fest

    October 9, 2015

    Here are 10 highlights, among many, in this year's Oct. 15-29 Chicago International Film Festival. All screenings will be at AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois St. Go to for updates and the full schedule.

  • Chicago International Film Festival programmers focus on directors

    October 9, 2015

    The late additions have been added, including two of the best American films of the year: "Spotlight," about the Boston Globe investigation of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, and "Anomalisa," a stop-motion animation wonder co-directed by "Adaptation" and "Being John Malkovich" screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.

  • 'Pan' review: Grim, bizarre prequel

    October 8, 2015

    In "Pan," young Peter learns he can fly in the grimmest possible context, as he plummets to his presumptive death after being kicked, viciously, off a plank hundreds of feet above a rock quarry. In the new film directed by Joe Wright, Neverland lies high above the clouds as usual, but much of its real estate has been turned over to a miserable steampunk mining village in the "Mad Max: Fury Road" vein. Kidnapped slave boys dig for Pixum, also known as pixie dust. The precious glowing stuff provides the youth serum coveted by the pirate Blackbeard, played by Hugh Jackman in Kenneth Branagh's "Wild Wild West" goatee, a pederastic air and Alastair Sim's teeth.

  • French new wave pioneer Agnes Varda in residence at U. of C.

    October 8, 2015

    "I never made money," Agnes Varda told me Thursday morning, on the patio outside the Logan Center for the Arts cafe on the University of Chicago campus. The sun shone brightly, though not as brightly as her chosen colors, from flaming red bobbed hair on top to vibrant purple handbag in her lap. Bold colors, she says, are her "vitamins."

  • Director Chantal Akerman: The most personal of filmmakers

    October 6, 2015

    The comforts and terrors of daily life, and our most private interior landscapes, inform every moment of a film by the Belgian writer-director Chantal Akerman. With the cause yet to be confirmed, news Tuesday of her sudden death in Paris at age 65 came as a jolt as startling as the key moment, involving a newly washed spoon hitting a spotless kitchen floor, in the masterwork that brought her international attention.

  • Michael Moore bringing 'Where to Invade Next' to Chicago film fest

    October 2, 2015

    The latest Michael Moore documentary, "Where to Invade Next," has been confirmed as the Oct. 23 centerpiece screening of the 51st Chicago International Film Festival.

  • 'The Martian' review: Matt Damon tries to MacGyver his way back to Earth

    October 2, 2015

    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.

  • 'Prophet's Prey' review: One man, 90 wives, suspenseful documentary

    October 1, 2015

    For a few months prior to his 2006 arrest (though that's hardly the end of his story), the president and self-annointed "prophet" of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints found himself smack in between Osama bin Laden and James J. "Whitey" Bulger, the "Black Mass" gangster, on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's most-wanted list.

  • Next up for Michael Shannon: Elvis

    October 1, 2015

    In "99 Homes," 41-year-old Michael Shannon gives his latest fiercely accomplished performance as an Orlando real estate broker whose name, Rick Carver, indicates a knife-like ability to slice up the economic opportunities of the moment.

  • '99 Homes' review: Real estate gets devastatingly personal

    October 1, 2015

    Well before 1925, when the Marx Brothers cavorted through a story about the Florida real estate craze in "The Cocoanuts" on Broadway, the Sunshine State real estate explosion became the boom heard around the world. But explosions go both ways, semantically speaking. When a housing market "blows up," it can mean success or failure, money or disaster. Or money made on the backs of other people's disaster.

  • 'The Walk' review: High-wire act falls short of documentary

    September 26, 2015

    If only.

  • 'The Black Panthers' review: A strong reminder of racial strife

    September 24, 2015

    Focusing on seven key years of recent American history, Stanley Nelson's urgent, cogent documentary "The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution" arrives on PBS stations early next year. I suggest not waiting. A limited run begins this Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center downtown, with a healthy roster of guest speakers attached, and at the AMC Loews Crestwood 18.

  • 'The New Girlfriend' review: A widower's secret is revealed

    September 24, 2015

    Ed Wood asked the legendary angora sweater-related question: Glen or Glenda? In "The New Girlfriend," French writer-director Francois Ozon's latest dreamy, attractively composed diversion in which an angora sweater makes an 11th-hour appearance, the question shifts to: David or Virginia?

  • 'The Intern' review: Hathaway, De Niro work it

    September 24, 2015

    Nicely acted by Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro, the artificial sweetener titled "The Intern" has its bright spots but is practically blinded by its own privileged perspective of life among the landed gentry of Brooklyn.

  • 'Stonewall' review: Stereotypes spoil story of gay activism

    September 24, 2015

    Somehow, director Roland Emmerich has made a movie even less historically accurate than "10,000 BC," the one depicting Egyptian-style pyramids being constructed with the help of woolly mammoths.

  • 'Sicario' review: A sleek drug-cartel thriller

    September 24, 2015

    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."

  • 'Goodnight Mommy' review: Twins take a sadistic turn

    September 24, 2015

    Pristinely vicious, the Austrian thriller "Goodnight Mommy" spins a fairy tale about twin boys, played by Lukas and Elias Schwarz, who live in a sleek, scarily minimalist country home with their mother, a television personality (we gather through a few clues) portrayed by Susanne Wuest. Outside this soulless abode, the boys spend their days romping in a bucolic playground, dashing through rows of corn, exploring the woods nearby.

  • Chicago film fest lineup: Proven favorites, local delicacies

    September 21, 2015

    International festival favorites “Carol,” “Son of Saul,” “The Assassin” and “45 Years” share a busy lineup of six world premieres, nine North American premieres and 27 U.S. premieres, plus dozens more, in the forthcoming Chicago International Film Festival.

  • 'Uncle John' review: Ashton excels in quiet Wisconsin tale

    September 17, 2015

    A gentler, cozier "Wisconsin Death Trip," director and co-writer Steven Piet's "Uncle John" (now at Facets) showcases familiar character actor John Ashton — best known, after all these years, as Taggart in the "Beverly Hills Cop" movies — in a rare leading role. The movie's small, but Ashton keeps us watching and listening.

  • 'The Second Mother' review: A winning upstairs/downstairs comedy

    September 17, 2015

    In "The Second Mother," a shrewd and engaging charmer from Brazil now making its Chicago debut at the Music Box, the cushy Morumbi neighborhood of Sao Paolo becomes a well-manicured battleground of the haves and the have-lesses. At the center of the story is Val (Regina Case, delightful), the longtime live-in housekeeper, cook, nanny and unofficial manager of the household, equal parts humility and breathless competence.

  • Movie trailers are often misleading

    September 17, 2015

    "Sicario," the new drug-cartel thriller starring Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin in various states of stoical duress, opens in Chicago Sept. 25. If you want to get a taste of it, do what millions do when they should be doing something more useful: Check out one of the trailers.

  • 'Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials' review: Racing for their lives

    September 17, 2015

    As I write this, it's a lovely, breezy, sunny day, so thoughts turn naturally to the latest dystopian hellhole at the movies, "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials."

  • 'Everest' review: Trouble on the mountain

    September 17, 2015

    It sounds bizarre, considering "Everest" — a fairly good, extremely grueling movie as far as it goes — tracks the true-life fortunes of a battered group of climbers to the highest place on Earth. Yet somehow it doesn't go far enough.

  • 'Black Mass' review: Depp revels in mobster role

    September 16, 2015

    Turns out the thing Johnny Depp's career needed was simple. He needed to play a type of role relatively new to him, even if it's relatively familiar to the rest of us.

  • Telluride Film Fest tantalizes with a curated list of movies

    September 10, 2015

    Very little about the four-day Telluride Film Festival, which concluded Monday, appears to match its own reputation as a key influence on the painfully elongated six-month awards season now upon us.

  • Telluride Film Festival: Johnny Depp in "Black Mass"

    September 7, 2015

    Beyond the Hong Kong thriller it adapted into English and took all the way to the Oscars, Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” drew some pulpy inspiration from the criminal exploits of Boston underworld kingpin James “Whitey” Bulger, no stranger to movie treatment himself.

  • Telluride Film Fest: Oscar hopefuls 'Steve Jobs,' 'Spotlight' screen

    September 6, 2015

    TELLURIDE, Colo. — Most film festivals offer the average moviegoer what Elaine May, in an old Nichols and May routine, referred to as "proximity but no relating." You're vaguely aware of famous filmmakers and performers in your midst, but only vaguely.

  • Telluride Film Festival: Aretha Franklin makes it legal

    September 5, 2015

    At the Friday afternoon press orientation held in the tiny old Sheridan Opera House, Telluride Film Festival directors Julie Huntsinger and Tom Luddy wished everyone a great festival, and reminded the two dozen or so in attendance to make time for a restored classic or two, in addition to the more newsworthy titles already gathering awards-season momentum. (“Spotlight,” Tom McCarthy’s Venice-launched procedural about Boston Globe reporters taking on the Catholic Church’s sex abuse cover-up scandal, screens Saturday morning.)

  • Telluride Film Festival: Enough Oscar speculation, already

    September 4, 2015

    It’ll get noisier, once the screenings Friday afternoon commence at nine different venues, and several thousand visitors try to squeeze into the same 17 restaurants.

  • Don't know actress Elizabeth Laidlaw? You will soon.

    September 3, 2015

    "Something happened to me, and I'm not sure what I'm becoming," admits the megachurch minister's wife, played by Chicago actress Elizabeth Laidlaw. She's opening up to her teenage daughter (Nina Ganet) in a key scene, taking place in a parked car at night, from "Henry Gamble's Birthday Party." A secret's being revealed, one of many in the latest feature made by writer-director Stephen Cone, whose earlier works include "The Wise Kids" and "Black Box." The gifted Laidlaw, 44, has done a fair bit of film work, and a good deal of series television, most recently an episode of "Chicago P.D." and, before that, a recurring role as a crafty alderwoman on the two-season "Boss," starring Kelsey Grammer. She also boasts considerable voiceover work on her resume.

  • This fall at the movies, danger is the watchword

    September 3, 2015

    Why does Matt Damon keep getting stranded in outer space? Is he just hapless? In "Interstellar," Damon beckoned Matthew McConaughey to come check out his icy planet through the wormhole, though his true purpose in sending out an intergalactic Evite eventually became clear.

  • Telluride Film Festival includes Oscar hopefuls

    September 3, 2015

    The 42nd Telluride Film Festival lineup includes many of the fall and holiday season’s highest hopes for success, prestige and next year's Oscars.

  • Dean Jones was a Disney icon and more

    September 2, 2015

    Dean Jones died Tuesday at 84 in Los Angeles, of complications from Parkinson’s disease. For a few key years when American culture was hit by one earthquake after another, the actor was the unlikely symbol of parallel times, the times that weren’t a-changing. Jones became the beleaguered, bewildered, pop-eyed leading man of choice for millions of rabid preteen Walt Disney fans and their parents.

  • 'Queen of Earth' review: Frenemies push each other's buttons

    September 2, 2015

    After the fantastically harsh comedies "The Color Wheel" and "Listen Up Philip," two of my favorite American indies of the new century, writer-director Alex Ross Perry edges into the terrain of the psychological thriller with "Queen of Earth."

  • 'A Walk in the Woods' review: Mild men Redford, Nolte take a hike

    September 1, 2015

    In the wake of "Wild," in which Reese Witherspoon's version of Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and reckoned with her demons, we now have "Mild," better known as "A Walk in the Woods." It stars Robert Redford and Nick Nolte as travel writer Bill Bryson and his buddy, fictionalized by Bryson as "Stephen Katz," having a go at the Appalachian Trail for a little light banter and a casual insight or two regarding life's highways.

  • Wes Craven, Wheaton College's most influential dreamer

    August 31, 2015

    The filmmaker Wes Craven battled brain cancer at the end of his 76 years, and his death Sunday brought forth a flurry of tributes to, among others, his most influential demon child.

  • How a Chicago film group is joining the battle to save film

    August 27, 2015

    Avery: "I don't like digital."

  • 'Learning to Drive' review: Subtle performances from Clarkson, Kingsley

    August 27, 2015

    "Learning to Drive," not to be confused with the Corey Haim/Corey Feldman vehicle "License to Drive," comes from an autobiographical 2002 New Yorker article by essayist Katha Pollitt. In the magazine piece, later published in a Pollitt collection of stories, the longtime nondriving Manhattan resident bounces back from a breakup with a womanizing jerk (I'm taking her point of view) by grabbing the wheel of her own life, through driving lessons. At one point Pollitt imagines using her newfound skills to commit vehicular homicide on her ex.

  • 'Grandma' review: Lily Tomlin shines in story of modern family

    August 27, 2015

    We don't get to choose when or where we fall in love with a performer; sometimes it happens when they're doing Ingmar Bergman, and sometimes it's "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In." Lily Tomlin joined the cast of that cherished relic of a sketch comedy TV show in 1970, and very quickly millions became her comedy slaves, thanks to Ernestine, her purse-lipped telephone operator, and to Edith Ann, the fidgety wonder of a 5-year-old in the oversize rocking chair.

  • Is Donald Trump Charles Foster Kane in disguise?

    August 26, 2015

    "It's him! He's here!" In "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" (1990), a breathless corporate minion announces the arrival of Daniel Clamp, a Manhattan entrepreneur suspiciously similar in name, arrogance and love-to-hatefulness to the man currently leading the polls among 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls.

  • Screwball comedy bounds back into modern movies

    August 20, 2015

    We have a couple of screws loose this month at the movies. First there's the wide release of the new Noah Baumbach/Greta Gerwig collaboration, "Mistress America," an intriguing modern variation on screwball high comedy of an earlier time. It's not high-velocity slapstick screwball; rather, it owes a little bit to Philip Barry ("Holiday") and a little bit to John Hughes, and even Jonathan Demme's "Something Wild," though without the part where Ray Liotta is trying to kill Jeff Daniels.

  • 'Digging for Fire' review: Mystery and marriage

    August 20, 2015

    The best thing to happen to filmmaker Joe Swanberg? His choice of cinematographer. Ben Richardson, who worked with the director on the recent Chicago projects "Drinking Buddies" and "Happy Christmas," teams up with Swanberg again for "Digging for Fire," which was shot on warm, pleasing 35 millimeter film in the canyons and on the beaches of Los Angeles.

  • 'Mistress America' review: An engaging New York story

    August 20, 2015

    It's a 90-year-old song lyric, but Lorenz Hart's description of Manhattan (from the song "Manhattan") as a "wondrous toy" holds newfound allure for the bright young things — 21st century moderns — populating Noah Baumbach's latest chamber-screwball outing, "Mistress America."

  • 'The Look of Silence' review: Brother confronts his family's killers

    August 13, 2015

    More than a companion piece — it's more contemplative and focused than the film preceding it — Joshua Oppenheimer's quietly devastating documentary "The Look of Silence" wouldn't have been possible without the 2012 project that brought Oppenheimer international renown, "The Act of Killing." In that earlier project, various and thriving perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide of 1965-66 spoke to Oppenheimer on camera to talk about what happened. The filmmaker asked them to do more than merely talk. The men reenacted their methods of killing and torture, in effect performing their memories in various genre styles, from westerns to gangster pictures.

  • 'Straight Outta Compton' review: N.W.A's ride to stardom

    August 12, 2015

    "Straight Outta Compton" is a musically propulsive mixed blessing of a biopic, made the way these things often get made: with the real-life protagonists breathing down the movie's neck to make sure nothing too harsh or unflattering gets in the way of the telling.

  • 'Diary of a Teenage Girl' review: Trailblazing coming-of-age tale

    August 11, 2015

    It is 1976, the year of harvest gold and avocado green wallpaper and cowl-neck sweaters as massive and ever-present as the TV coverage of the Patty Hearst abduction. Minnie Goetze, a San Francisco 15-year-old portrayed by the remarkable British actress Bel Powley, sits on a sofa next to the boyfriend of her mother (note-perfect Kristen Wiig), a party girl foremost and a nominal, occasional mother secondarily.

  • 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' review: Actors strike a pose in '60s reboot

    August 11, 2015

    Some movies are hung up on their own moves, and they can be terrific fun if they're directed by someone who knows how and when to move a camera.

  • Jason Segel tackles his fear in 'The End of the Tour'

    August 6, 2015

    "I never look at entertainment stuff online, just out of emotional self-preservation," Jason Segel says. "I stopped a while ago, as an experiment, and I very quickly realized that I felt better. Emotionally, I felt better. When you focus on what's actually happening in your own life, you realize things are largely fine." Tracking the latest political gaffes or, a little closer to home, the latest casting controversies — why waste the time?

  • 'Best of Enemies' review: Buckley, Vidal's superb war of words

    August 6, 2015

    There's an excellent, juicy and sobering new documentary just out from the Oscar-winning makers of "Twenty Feet from Stardom." "Best of Enemies" shifts the paradigm of stardom from unsung female backup singers to two famous men who loathed each other and the America the other one represented, and said as much, across 10 debates produced by ABC News during the Republican and Democratic national presidential conventions of 1968.

  • 'The End of the Tour' review: David Foster Wallace on the road

    August 6, 2015

    A clever, gently provocative movie about talking, listening and competing interests, "The End of the Tour" is a two-character play that managed to hitch a ride as a road movie directed by James Ponsoldt, whose previous films include "The Spectacular Now" and "Smashed."

  • 'The Gift' review: A thriller wrapped in suspense

    August 6, 2015

    A delayed-secret suspense thriller of unusual stealth, "The Gift" comes from actor and screenwriter Joel Edgerton, here making his feature directorial debut. Among this summer's worthwhile movies, this one faces a particular challenge, since its marketing campaign makes it look like a slasher outing.

  • 'Ricki and the Flash' review: Demme, Cody collaboration falls flat

    August 6, 2015

    "Ricki and the Flash" comes from director Jonathan Demme, whose good and great films include "Melvin and Howard," "Swing Shift," "Stop Making Sense," "Something Wild," "Married to the Mob" and, seven years ago, "Rachel Getting Married." (He's made a few others, of course, among them "The Silence of the Lambs," which won him an Oscar.) Diablo Cody, an Oscar winner for "Juno" and a fascinating purveyor of meanness and sincerity intertwined, wrote the script.

  • 'Fantastic Four' review: the Marvel reboot for pretty much no one to enjoy

    August 5, 2015

    From Miles Teller to Kate Mara to Reg E. Cathey, everyone on screen in "Fantastic Four" speaks in a flat, earnest monotone with a determinedly low-keyed air bordering on openly not giving a rip.

  • A tribute to 'Mission: Impossible' composer Lalo Schifrin

    July 30, 2015

    It started with a fuse, and nothing else.

  • 'Stanford Prison Experiment' review: Prison mind games

    July 30, 2015

    "The Stanford Prison Experiment" plays like the most unnerving improvisational theater game imaginable.

  • 'Samba' review: Strong actors, bad script

    July 30, 2015

    In "Jurassic World," a movie about undocumented workers (the dinosaurs) adjusting to life, and theme park employment, in their adopted home, Omar Sy takes a supporting role, backing up the heroics of headliner Chris Pratt. In his too-few scenes Sy gives a serviceable, mechanical blockbuster a rooting interest and a jolt of charisma it wouldn't otherwise have.

  • 'Vacation' review: 'Depressing remake' of Chevy Chase comedy

    July 28, 2015

    There must be some sort of Dr. Seuss contraption shared among Hollywood studios called the Unfunny-izer, hauled out and set to sputtering when it comes time for the latest depressing remake of a comedy.

  • 'Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation' review: Best of the series

    July 28, 2015

    With the new "Mission: Impossible" movie, even if it's the most assured and satisfying of the five so far, it sounds foolish to even mention the things the characters say in between screeching tires, gunfights, knife fights, motorcycle derring-do, and the opening act featuring Tom Cruise dangling for real (real enough to make it look cool, and frightening) on the outside of a plane high over a Belarus airstrip.

  • 'G' rating wasn't always reserved for kids' movies

    July 23, 2015

    As a college sophomore more interested in movies than in college, I caught director Carroll Ballard's "The Black Stallion" in a dumpy theater in downtown Minneapolis, well into my first period of adventurous moviegoing, both foreign and domestic.

  • 'Chimes at Midnight': When Welles did Shakespeare proud

    July 23, 2015

    Around the time of "A Man for All Seasons" (Sir Thomas More, Henry VIII, Paul Scofield's purring elocution lessons) and its domination of the Academy Awards in the spring of 1967, a far more unruly costume drama sneaked into a few U.S. theaters and was generally dismissed as a mess, a folly — the stylistic opposite of the movie winning all the prizes.

  • 'Southpaw' review: Jake Gyllenhaal's boxer fights through shameless cliches

    July 23, 2015

    A flurry of haymakers in the form of boxing movie cliches, "Southpaw" was conceived as a loose remake of "The Champ" — Wallace Beery in 1931, Jon Voight in 1979 — tailored for Marshall Mathers, also known as Eminem. The rage-iest rap star on the planet took the initial meetings with director Antoine Fuqua and screenwriter Kurt Sutter. Eminem eventually bowed out, affording Fuqua ("Training Day," "The Equalizer") and Sutter ("The Shield," "Sons of Anarchy") the leeway to rework the project for Jake Gyllenhaal.

  • 'Unexpected' review: Baby boom

    July 23, 2015

    Passing through security one morning on the way to her Chicago Public Schools classroom, the high school science teacher played by Cobie Smulders in Kris Swanberg's "Unexpected" has a distracted quality in her eyes.

  • 'Irrational Man' review: Woody Allen dives deep into familiar territory

    July 21, 2015

    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.

  • 'Trainwreck' review: Amy Schumer keeps the laughs rolling

    July 14, 2015

    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.

  • 'Ant-Man' review: A little hero and a lot to like

    July 13, 2015

    "Ant-Man" has been skittering around the development corridors of Hollywood so long, the earliest unproduced screenplays about the tiny superhero actually preceded the Disney film "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." That was another age (1989), decades before our present Age of Ultron — an epoch of expensive cheap thrills dictated by the steady, crushing rollout of so many Marvel movies that even the good ones start to seem like ants at an endless picnic.

  • 'Cartel Land' review: A visually sophisticated thriller

    July 10, 2015

    Long before a charismatic Mexican vigilante leader's wife notes that her husband wields the persuasive charm "all the best movie characters have," the documentary "Cartel Land" has delivered the narrative propulsion and satisfaction of a first-rate fiction thriller.

  • Film fest hits can soar to worldwide success ... sometimes

    July 9, 2015

    This summer, in addition to minions and dinosaurs and little voices inside a young girl's head, the multiplexes are full of movies that premiered months, even years ago at one of many different international film festivals. Such films often live two lives, one happier than the other.

  • 'The Tribe' review: An unnerving lesson at boarding school

    July 9, 2015

    A controversial troublemaker at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, "The Tribe" is one of the most shocking tales of organized crime ever to reach the screen. Its depictions of violence, sex and a truly excruciating abortion sequence go too far, according to many. Even the film's gobsmacked admirers acknowledge the exploitative edge to the worst on view, and the escalating brutality of its plotting. Yet this is a feature film debut of real distinction, now in its Chicago premiere at the Music Box.

  • 'Self/less' review: Re-animation will cost ya, pal

    July 9, 2015

    In the ineffectual new fantasy-thriller "Self/less" the fantastical plot device — a body-switching process costing millions and not covered by any known health plan — is called "shedding." You buy yourself a new, longer life in a younger person's body, and your troubles are over. Or ARE THEY?

  • 'The Gallows' review: Same old found-footage horror, with a few twists

    July 9, 2015

    At the end of the last century, "The Blair Witch Project" popularized the notion of idiots in horror movies filming every second of their own imminent demise. A deliberately unpolished subgenre was born: found-footage horror, cheap to make (with some higher-budget exceptions, "Cloverfield" among them), profitable in a flash.

  • Movie website The Dissolve fades out

    July 8, 2015

    Two days shy of its second anniversary, Pitchfork Media’s stylish online film site The Dissolve has shut down, leaving some of the most avid critical voices in Chicago without a platform.

  • 'Amy' review: Winehouse doc a gripping tale, told with force and grace

    July 7, 2015

    The saddest moment in Asif Kapadia's new documentary "Amy," and there are many, occurs relatively late in the 27 years lived by its subject, Amy Winehouse.

  • 'Men in War' review: A lean, spare account

    July 2, 2015

    Featuring Robert Ryan at his finest, as a platoon leader confronted by snipers, land mines, artillery fire and an inner sense of doubt, director Anthony Mann's "Men in War" (1957) is being screened in a 16 millimeter print Wednesday at Doc Films. It's a bold programming choice for the Fourth of July week, a week customarily dominated by rousing, hard-sell patriotism.

  • 'The Third Man' review: Restored classic still causes chills

    July 1, 2015

    Everybody has a different experience with "The Third Man," just as each postwar Vienna denizen who knew Harry Lime had a blinkered impression of the ruthless black-market entrepreneur at the story's hidden center.

  • Party like it's early Technicolor 1930 with the Northwest Chicago Film Society

    July 1, 2015

    In recent years, the valiantly unfashionable programmers of the Northwest Chicago Film Society have schlepped their 35 millimeter projectors from the Bank of America Cinema (now closed) to the Portage Theatre, the Patio Theatre and other temporary hosts including the Music Box and the Gene Siskel Film Center.

  • 'Terminator Genisys' review: Rooting for the apocalypse

    June 30, 2015

    Humanity gets a do-over in "Terminator Genisys," the fifth in the franchise begun in 1984 with "The Terminator." But this screwy revision of the previous "Terminator" movies is so muddled and yakky, you may find yourself rooting for the apocalypse. At one point Arnold Schwarzenegger is thrown through a wall into a Pepsi Max vending machine (if the rise of the machines means the fall of product placement, I'm all for it), and for a second I was pulling for a slugfest between the former bodybuilder and the Pepsi dispenser. Just to see who'd win.

  • 'Magic Mike XXL' review: The complete package

    June 29, 2015

    "Magic Mike XXL" comes up a little short compared with the original, director Steven Soderbergh's blithe and bonny Channing Tatum showcase inspired by Tatum's salad days as a male stripper. This time the jokes are heavier, more on-the-nose, though a surprising percentage of them work anyway.

  • 'They Are We' review: Documentary unites Cubans, Africans

    June 25, 2015

    It takes a while to set up its centerpiece, a joyous transcontinental reunion of Afro-Cubans and Sierra Leone villagers. But the 77-minute running time of "They Are We," making its U.S. theatrical premiere this weekend at Facets with filmmaker Emma Christopher in attendance, is nothing compared to the estimated 170 years that passed before the film's far-flung subjects found each other again.

  • 'Love & Mercy': A worthy musical biopic ignored

    June 25, 2015

    It's in theaters, and only recently in wide release. But up against the monster hits "Jurassic World" and "Inside Out" a modestly scaled winner such as "Love & Mercy" has had a difficult time getting noticed this summer.

  • 'The Overnight' review: Wedded bliss put to the test

    June 25, 2015

    Alex has an inferiority complex. His appendage is on the smaller end of the spectrum, and at a key, comically awkward moment in "The Overnight," this newcomer to LA played by Adam Scott sizes up what his new friend Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) has to offer. In a couple of key, highly amusing shots the actors flourish prosthetic genitalia. The effect is comic yet plausible; Scott and Schwartzman seem weirdly liberated by their fake equipment.

  • 'Infinitely Polar Bear' review: Struggles of a bipolar father

    June 25, 2015

    How much funny goes with the crazy? Facile as it sounds, this is the question guiding the efforts of a considerable number of writer-directors over the years, as they have brought family stories (often autobiographical) involving some form of mental illness to the screen.

  • 'Eden' review: Mesmerizing portrayal of '90s electronica deejay

    June 25, 2015

    Somewhere between "euphoria and melancholia": That's the music favored by the fictional young Parisian deejay in co-writer/director Mia Hansen-Love's "Eden," a fragrantly atmospheric portrait of a time, a place and a restless state of romantic yearning.

  • 'Ted 2' review: More of the same bawdy bear

    June 24, 2015

    "Ted 2" reunites Mark Wahlberg’s insecure wallflower character (it's called acting, folks) with the chubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff and racial, sexual, scatological and '80s-reference insults voiced, with movie-saving acumen, by co-writer and director Seth MacFarlane.

  • James Horner: Composer from the heart

    June 23, 2015

    "My dreams and daydreams were set to his scores," tweeted James Wan, after Monday’s small plane accident involving Oscar-winning composer James Horner, 60 miles north of Santa Barbara, Calif. The "Furious 7" director was not alone. Any one of the millions of moviegoers who ever hummed "My Heart Will Go On," Horner’s omnipresent love theme from "Titanic," knew the feeling.

  • Odd Obsession Video takes retro goods to new home in Bucktown

    June 18, 2015

    Walk inside the new home of Odd Obsession Video, five doors up from its previous Milwaukee Avenue residence in Bucktown, and you're atmospherically clobbered by proof of a pre-Netflix era in film consumption.

  • 'Heaven Knows What' review: Heroin addicts on the edge

    June 18, 2015

    Mainstream audiences can only handle so much honesty in their portraits of addicts on screen. I have no doubt that the latest film from Josh and Benny Safdie, "Heaven Knows What," will not appeal to the majority of casual moviegoers. Likewise, I have no doubts regarding the film's remarkable achievement.

  • 'Dope' review: A teen's no-good, very bad but finally excellent day

    June 18, 2015

    It sounds clueless and blinkered to compare the vibrant new comedy "Dope," set in multicultural Inglewood southwest of LA, to the extremely white 1983 film "Risky Business."

  • Not yet, Sherlock: Screening of 1916 film postponed

    June 17, 2015

    Scheduled for June 19 and charging an ill-advised $75 entry fee, the Chicago premiere of the rediscovered Essanay silent feature "Sherlock Holmes" has been canceled, according to its presenters.

  • 'Inside Out' review: Best Disney-Pixar film since 'Up'

    June 16, 2015

    Director Pete Docter's "Inside Out" springs from a single, terrific idea. What if a person's basic emotions were tiny humanoid sprites sharing a command center, a spacious variation on the one in the starship Enterprise but inside the human brain?

  • New home, season for Northwest Chicago Film Society

    June 11, 2015

    In recent years, the valiantly unfashionable programmers of the Northwest Chicago Film Society have schlepped their 35 millimeter projectors from the Bank of America Cinema (now closed) to the Portage Theatre, the Patio Theatre and other temporary hosts including the Music Box and the Gene Siskel Film Center.

  • 'Results' review: Cobie Smulders & Co. build a better rom-com

    June 11, 2015

    There are moments, midway through a montage sequence where the heroine tries on a succession of new outfits, when the death of the romantic comedy seems like a fine idea.

  • Gene Siskel wasn't the only critic who had problems with 'Ferris Bueller'

    June 11, 2015

    Guess what? Gene Siskel wasn't alone in finding "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off" more than a little off.

  • 'Testament of Youth' review: War account lacks intensity

    June 11, 2015

    In the tasteful, slightly clenched new version of "Testament of Youth," you sense the filmmakers struggling with how much, or how little, to acknowledge the pacifist ideals that guided author Vera Brittain's 1933 memoir of World War I as she pulled the book from her own experience.

  • 'The Farewell Party' review: Compassionate, humorous euthanasia tale

    June 10, 2015

    Full of gracefully wrought and dryly comic turns, "The Farewell Party" goes by the name "A Good Death" in Hebrew, and it's an easy film about difficult matters. One can wish it were a different and deeper experience. But the one it offers is an effective little machine, much like the mercy-killing sedative dispenser built by the Jerusalem retirement home resident played by Ze'ev Revach, winner of the Israeli equivalent of the Oscar.

  • 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' review: Tender, humorous romance

    June 10, 2015

    The big noise from this year's Sundance Film Festival, "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl," is a weaselly liar of a movie. It comes on full of self-deprecating bluster, professing no interest in jerking tears a la "The Fault in Our Stars," as it lays out its tale of a Pittsburgh high school senior's friendship with a fellow classmate diagnosed with cancer.

  • 'Jurassic World' review: Reptile dysfunction

    June 10, 2015

    Bailed out by a few good jolts, "Jurassic World" gets by, barely, as a marauding-dinosaurs narrative designed for a more jaded audience than the one "Jurassic Park" conquered back in 1993.

  • Kim Novak returns to Chicago for a bout of 'Vertigo'

    June 5, 2015

    In 1933 Marilyn Pauline Novak was born in Chicago to a mother and father, Blanche and Joseph Novak, of Czech descent.

  • 'Spy' review: Melissa McCarthy goes the full Bond

    June 4, 2015

    Last year, in the Bill Murray vehicle "St. Vincent," Melissa McCarthy did something she'd never done before in the movies. She did less.

  • 'Love & Mercy' review: Brian Wilson biopic sings

    June 2, 2015

    Everything that goes right with "Love & Mercy" — it's the best musical biopic in decades — begins and ends with the shadows lurking in the Beach Boys' sunniest hit songs about little deuce coupes and summers with no end in sight.

  • 'Entourage' review: Tolerable reunion

    June 2, 2015

    There's no successful formula for the extraction of a stand-alone movie from the mines of a recently departed TV series. If there were, that second "Sex and the City" film and last year's Kickstarter-funded "Veronica Mars" wouldn't have turned out galling and forgettable, respectively.

  • Music Box to celebrate noir icon Robert Ryan

    May 29, 2015

    On screen, there always was something unsettling and unsettled behind Robert Ryan's eyes.

  • 'Aloha' review: Hawaii so-so

    May 28, 2015

    For context's sake, the new Cameron Crowe film "Aloha" is a tick up from the dregs of "Elizabethtown" and a tick down from "We Bought a Zoo." The Media Action Network for Asian-Americans calls it a "whitewashed" version of Hawaii, a state that is roughly 30 percent Caucasian in real life and, as "Aloha" presents it, roughly 97 percent in fake life. Same old Hollywood ethnographic story. And yet the recent Alexander Payne picture "The Descendants," likewise set in Hawaii, made hash of similar objections, simply by being sharp and witty and astute about its chosen characters.

  • 'San Andreas' review: Demolition derby

    May 28, 2015

    The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars. The fault is the star of "San Andreas," a fairly entertaining weapon of mass destruction reminding us that life's blessings come to those who receive preferential billing.

  • 'Dheepan' wins, France dominates Cannes Film Festival awards

    May 24, 2015

    CANNES, France -- The French had a very good night at the 68th Cannes Film Festival. The Palme d’Or went to director Jacques Audiard’s hard-charging drama “Dheepan,” about a trio of Sri Lankan refugees posing as a family and making precarious new lives for themselves in the Paris projects.

  • Cannes 2015: Fassbender and Cotillard in a gamer-friendly 'Macbeth'

    May 23, 2015

    The Variety rave (“scarcely improvable”) of the new “Macbeth,” which screened for London critics earlier this month, hit the ether seconds after the conclusion of Saturday morning’s Cannes festival press screening. Respectful applause greeted the end credits at Cannes, along with a few hearty boos. There you have it: adoration, disdain and the vast battleground in between, all in a single nano-second of a news cycle.

  • Cannes 2015: From 'Da Vinci' to hard-core, no lack of variety

    May 21, 2015

    Trudging up the aisle just now, at the conclusion of the crazy little 3D widescreen hard-core Gaspar Noe film called "Love," my thoughts turned from porno guitar chords to "The Da Vinci Code."

  • Lost 'Sherlock Holmes' film shot in Chicago from 1916 found in France

    May 21, 2015

    Here is the story of how a 1916 silent film made in Chicago starring William Gillette, the most renowned Sherlock Holmes interpreter of his day, came to be lost for nearly a century. And then, miraculously, found.

  • 'I'll See You in My Dreams' review: Terrific acting can't save script

    May 19, 2015

    Our attraction to the movies starts from simple building blocks: a face, a heart-wrenching separation, a pratfall. But here are two simple pleasures I defy anyone to argue against.

  • Cannes 2015: High heels and Emily Blunt, discreetly appalled

    May 19, 2015

    They're calling it Shoegate. According to various reports several women were turned away from the official, dress-up world premiere screening of Todd Haynes' "Carol" Sunday. Reason: They wore flats, not heels.

  • Cannes 2015: Disney/Pixar's 'Inside Out' a return to form

    May 18, 2015

    Here are the headlines from Cannes Monday morning, regarding the new Disney/Pixar animated feature “Inside Out.”

  • Cannes: 'Saul,' 'Carol' stir up the past, and praise

    May 18, 2015

    CANNES, France — There's no quicker way to cheapen the memory of the Holocaust than to use it to discuss next year's Academy Awards.

  • Cannes 2015: Amy Winehouse, Cate Blanchett on dangerous ground

    May 16, 2015

    Vocal powerhouse Amy Winehouse dominated the 2008 Grammys with her album “Back to Black.” Three years later she was dead from alcohol poisoning compounded by drug addiction. The strong, sobering new documentary “Amy” from “Senna” director Asif Kapadia, which premiered Saturday at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, is made up of often terrifying footage culled from mainstream media sources. The media helped make her and, the film argues vividly without ever saying it in words, helped destroy her.

  • 'Sea of Trees' receives a chorus of boos at Cannes

    May 15, 2015

    Here at the Cannes Film Festival, major titles receive two world premiere screenings. First comes the casual-dress press screening. Then, a few hours or a day later, comes the virtually guaranteed friendly confines of the official, formal premiere. At the latter, ovations of several minutes are not uncommon. The press premiere is often a different, looser, meaner story.

  • Harvey Weinstein: Feeling good about the product

    May 15, 2015

    “I read your reviews all the time. You could be much kinder. To me, especially.”

  • Cannes 2015: Salma Hayek, eat your heart out

    May 14, 2015

    In “Tale of Tales,” one of two competition titles premiering on Day 1 of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, the sight of Salma Hayek in queenly Elizabethan garb, devouring a sea serpent’s bloody, boiled heart, suggests an Atkins diet for royals. It isn’t. Nor is it the stuff of grisly camp.

  • 'Pitch Perfect 2' review: Snide and lazy just don't cut it

    May 13, 2015

    Can we please talk about the snottiness of "Pitch Perfect 2"? It's seriously snotty. It's a two-hour lesson in how to act like a frenemy to your alleged friends. And it's not funny enough.

  • 'Mad Max: Fury Road': A symphony of vehicular mayhem

    May 12, 2015

    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."

  • Cannes 2015 preview: Pixar tales to murderous 'Macbeth'

    May 12, 2015

    Jewel thieves lurking along the French Riviera: what a glamorous, movie-friendly cliche.

  • Review: 'Welcome to Me'

    May 7, 2015

    As a comic performer with admirably sneaky dramatic instincts, Kristen Wiig works like a pair of binoculars as peered into from the wrong end. Tiny throwaway mutterings become the activation point of an exchange, even an entire scene, while conventionally emotional big moments are often glancing, unexpected and gone before you know it.

  • Review: 'About Elly'

    May 7, 2015

    Filmed prior to his Oscar-winning drama "A Separation," writer-director Asghar Farhadi's "About Elly" (2009) only recently untangled its foreign-rights distribution issues, and opens Friday at the Music Box. It's been available on DVD overseas for years. But now, at last, it can be seen on a large screen by anyone with an interest in ... well, lots of things, but uncommonly good ensemble storytelling, for starters.

  • A rarity, resurrected: an all-black film from the silent era

    May 7, 2015

    On May 15, a miraculous survivor of another age visits the Logan Center for the Arts on the University of Chicago campus.

  • Review: 'Far From the Madding Crowd'

    May 6, 2015

    Equipped with its own brand of rough-hewn glamour, the new film version of the 1874 love quadrangle "Far From the Madding Crowd" is a long way from the widescreen, 171-minute running time and anachronistic Julie Christie eyeliner of the Thomas Hardy novel's best-known previous adaptation, released in 1968.

  • Woodstock throws Orson Welles a centennial birthday party

    May 6, 2015

    One hundred years ago today, May 6, 1915, George Orson Welles came into the world by way of Kenosha, Wisc. He left behind a lifetime of amazements in the movies, the stage, for radio and television. A friend and former San Diego Union-Tribune colleague, David Elliott, who once worked for the Chicago Daily News, emailed yesterday with a personal tribute in which he described Welles as "our supreme gypsy talent, and our most conspicuous enthusiast for the sheer fun of creation." I like that description.

  • Chicago Critics Film Fest takes over the Music Box

    April 30, 2015

    This weekend the Music Box Theatre, which feels festive even without a festival going on, showcases the third annual Chicago Critics Film Festival. The curators are local critics, chief among them Brian Tallerico of, Erik Childress of eFilmCritic and WGN-AM, and Steve Prokopy of Many guests are flying in with their movies: Bobcat Goldthwait, director of "Call Me Lucky"; Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, director of "Me & Earl & the Dying Girl'; James Ponsoldt, director of "The End of the Tour."

  • Review: 'Hyena'

    April 30, 2015

    An extraordinarily brutal British police corruption thriller, "Hyena" (now at Facets) prowls around the flats, alleys and dirty doings of the west London drug underworld. The movie's Albanian criminals make the vermin in the "Taken" movies look like the male chorus of "State Fair." Then again, in writer-director Gerard Johnson's film, the cops are scarcely less malignant.

  • The readers speak on Adam Sandler, and then some

    April 30, 2015

    Enough of my yakkin', as Rob Reiner says in the opening of "This is Spinal Tap." It's time for yours.

  • Review: 'The Avengers: Age of Ultron'

    April 28, 2015

    When I say "Avengers: Age of Ultron" won't disappoint a majority of its pre-sold, culturally obligated fans around the world -- the world perpetually on the verge of extinction in the Marvel universe -- you know what I mean. You know what the movie promises, and would be foolish, or inept, not to deliver.

  • 'Ridiculous 6' flap again exposes Sandler's mean side

    April 26, 2015

    In the 2007 comedy “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” one man’s quest for decent health insurance leads to a sham romantic coupling of the heterosexual firefighters played by Adam Sandler and Kevin James.

  • Rise of niche blockbusters a joy to behold

    April 24, 2015

    Already killing it in England, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan and beyond, "Avengers: Age of Ultron" opens in the U.S. with evening screenings Thursday and an official Friday bow. Expectations couldn't be larger. Its success is predestined; it will be one of those mass-market blockbusters that stockholders enjoy so much. Some are predicting an opening weekend box-office take of $240 million. The first "Avengers" movie started off with a $207 million opening weekend en route to a $1.5billion total worldwide. Might "Age of Ultron" overtake the reigning money champs, "Avatar" ($2.7 billion) and "Titanic" ($2.1 billion)?

  • Review: 'Welcome to New York'

    April 23, 2015

    Naked, or wearing boxer shorts that make his belly look like an expansive ode to high and low living, Gerard Depardieu resembles King Ubu, the gutter royal of the late 19th Century French stage in "Welcome to New York."

  • Review: 'The Water Diviner'

    April 23, 2015

    Russell Crowe's feature directorial debut, "The Water Diviner," stems from an honest impulse to dramatize ordinary people who honor their dead. Yet the results are narratively dishonest and emotionally a little cheap. A single performance lifts the film above the level of mediocrity; more on that later.

  • Review: 'Little Boy'

    April 23, 2015

    "Little Boy" answers a question most tear-jerkers wouldn't have the nerve to ask: Can the bombing of Hiroshima be manipulated narratively, if briefly, into a position of warming our hearts?

  • Review: 'Adult Beginners'

    April 23, 2015

    With an awful lot of American indies, there appears to be some sort of self-regulation in place preventing any serious highs or lows, any stylistic risks or surprises. Even if the scripts juggle comedy and drama in quick succession, it's as if they're under the influence of mood stabilizers. The quirk's the thing, but too often it's well-acted, neatly scripted quirk in search of some flesh and blood.

  • The art of tear production is a subtle one

    April 23, 2015

    At the movies, we cry for so many different reasons. The other night I cried at the quality of the buttered popcorn at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema: so tasty, so right. The night afterward I cried driving into the parking ramp of the ICON Theatre on Roosevelt: so free.

  • With critic-driven film festivals in spotlight, let's pause to focus on big picture

    April 17, 2015

    Should film critics run their own film festivals? I'm conflicted on this one. The practicalities feel a little gummy, a little sticky, but many say the results are worth it.

  • Review: 'Clouds of Sils Maria'

    April 17, 2015

    Now 60, and always more of a wry classicist than a maverick, the writer-director Olivier Assayas is one of the steadiest and most reliable filmmakers in contemporary cinema. I like his latest, "Clouds of Sils Maria," a great deal; it's beautifully acted and has a few wise (if familiar) things to impart regarding how age and experience must make way for, or at least accommodate, the brashness of youth.

  • Review: 'Revenge of the Mekons'

    April 16, 2015

    An extremely tasty slice of fanboydom, Joe Angio's music documentary "Revenge of the Mekons" presents the amoeba-like wonder of the title band (the Mekons, that is, not revenge) as a creative anomaly in the music business.

  • Review: 'Monkey Kingdom'

    April 16, 2015

    Compile all the sufferings and adversities heaped upon all the vulnerable protagonists in the complete works of Charles Dickens, from "Little Dorrit" to "Oliver Twist," and you'd still fall short of the 81 minutes of hardship endured by Maya, the simian heroine of Disneynature's new nature documentary "Monkey Kingdom."

  • Review: 'True Story'

    April 16, 2015

    "True Story" is a case of a well-crafted film, made by a first-time feature director with an impressive theatrical pedigree, that nonetheless struggles to locate the reasons for telling its story.

  • Review: 'Ex Machina'

    April 15, 2015

    A grandly ridiculous theatrical tradition born in ancient Greece, deus ex machina meant, literally, a god borne by a machine descending from the sky to determine a story's outcome.

  • Review: 'College'

    April 10, 2015

    Buster Keaton is running in all directions at the moment. While the gravely beautiful and peerlessly graceful silent star wouldn't be caught dead shouting hip-hip-hooray, his fans can take care of that on his behalf.

  • Review: 'The Tales of Hoffman'

    April 10, 2015

    Inconceivable without their international success with "The Red Shoes" three years earlier, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's audacious screen version of the Jacques Offenbach operetta "The Tales of Hoffmann" came out in 1951. The following spring Hollywood's company picnic, also known as the Academy Awards, gave "An American in Paris" the best picture Oscar for its more sparing and commercially palatable foray into ballet on screen.

  • CIMMFest marries music and movies

    April 9, 2015

    This Thursday, the seventh Chicago International Movies and Music Festival begins making a racket and throwing images on screens for four days of narrative features, music documentaries and live performances. The action is concentrated in the Wicker Park and Logan Square neighborhoods along a two-mile stretch of Milwaukee Avenue.

  • Review: 'The Longest Ride'

    April 9, 2015

    No less than the "Harry Potter" adaptations or the "Fast and Furious" movies, the novels of Nicholas Sparks form the basis of a consistent film franchise in which the characters' names and crises and letters-read-aloud voice-overs may change, but it's the same wish-fulfillment universe across title after title. The public likes what the public likes, even if the public likes some Sparks adaptations more than others.

  • Review: 'Broken Horses'

    April 9, 2015

    "Broken Horses" raises the question of what is cockamamie, and what is cockamamie and outlandish and ridiculous yet a perfectly swell time for those very reasons.

  • Music Box's Dave Jennings heads west to Sony Pictures

    April 3, 2015

    Dave Jennings, Music Box Theatre general manager since 2009, leaves Chicago next week to become manager of repertory sales for Sony Pictures studio, based in Culver City, Calif.

  • Hou Hsiao-hsien retrospective at Gene Siskel Film Center

    April 2, 2015

    If you sense spring in the air, and a shift in your internal rhythm, it may have nothing to do with the weather or the season. Rather, it may have everything to do with a supple six-film retrospective beginning this weekend at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

  • Writer-director Noah Baumbach on youth, old age and hats

    April 2, 2015

    It's not a movie about hats, but writer-director Noah Baumbach's latest comedy, "While We're Young," occasionally becomes one anyway. The sight of compact, hunchy Ben Stiller and hipster beanpole Adam Driver in the same frame, wearing retro-hip fedoras, says a lot without saying anything.

  • Review: 'The Salt of the Earth'

    April 2, 2015

    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 on certain canvases of catastrophe or human suffering while darting off others, and often I found myself engaging in an internal monologue: Wait! Go back! Other times it was the opposite, when Salgado's imposing, devastating images of famine and genocide victims became nearly too much to bear.

  • Review: 'While We're Young'

    April 2, 2015

    The vantage point of middle age is delightfully cruel, affording a clear view of the generation of hotshots coming up on the rail from behind and the generation of long-distance thoroughbreds five lengths ahead. The opportunities for angst are limitless.

  • Roger Ebert program at University of Illinois halfway funded

    April 1, 2015

    Designed, according to Chaz Ebert, to “realize Roger’s dream for a crossroads of film studies, production and ethics,” a new film and critical studies program to be housed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is halfway to its $5 million fundraising goal.

  • Review: 'Furious 7'

    April 1, 2015

    Under the hood, we're all Vin Diesel, trying to live a meaningful life a quarter-mile at a time. Yet the film series begun in the pre-9/11 era with "The Fast and the Furious" has sustained itself through weak sequels and exuberant ones, and has become not a drag race but the Indy 500 of the movies: a reliable if repetitive ode to fossil fuel. Keep it coming, pal. We'll tell you when we've had enough.

  • Review: 'Woman in Gold'

    March 31, 2015

    In "Woman in Gold," a paint-by-numbers account of a gorgeous Klimt and its tortured history of ownership, there's really no other word for what Helen Mirren is doing in certain reaction shots, out of subtle interpretive desperation: mugging. She's mugging. She is a sublimely talented performer, and this is material with fascinating implications, and I doubt there's a moviegoer in the world who doesn't like Helen Mirren. But even the best actors need a director to tell them to tone it down.

  • A new Sondheim movie tune sends us back into the vault

    March 26, 2015

    A new Stephen Sondheim song is news. Now on DVD and Blu-ray, the film version of the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical "Into the Woods" features among its bonus content a new Sondheim song written for the witch played by Meryl Streep.

  • Review: 'Coal Miner's Day'

    March 26, 2015

    French filmmaker Gael Mocaer spent a year in the northwest Ukrainian mining town of Novovolynsk, in extremely close proximity with the employees of a state-run coal mine as they went about their business. The business is not pretty, or safe. Now at Facets Cinematheque, "The Coal Miner's Day" condenses that year into 78 drolly observed minutes, against a closely watched infrastructural nightmare of rotting wooden beams, burst water pipes and rusted railroad track 1,230 feet beneath the surface.

  • Review: 'Danny Collins'

    March 26, 2015

    On screen, looking like Keith Richards' bright-eyed, bushy-tailed life coach and partner in debauchery, Al Pacino is a man whose aura screams, "I love the '70s!" Meaning: his own. Turning 75 next month, Pacino has a high old time in the slight, moderately charming "Danny Collins," and he bounces off plenty of good and great co-stars, among them Annette Bening (as the New Jersey hotel manager he's hot for) and Bobby Cannavale, calmly effective as the estranged son of the aging rock star of the title.

  • Review: 'Get Hard'

    March 26, 2015

    An awful lot of "Get Hard" depends on gay-panic humor of a weirdly squirmy and dated sort, making you wonder if this new Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart mystery might best be viewed alongside reissues of "Cruising" and "Norman … Is That You?"

  • Review: 'Home'

    March 26, 2015

    The cuddliest alien invasion movie ever, "Home" contains nifty turns of phrase and some actual, verifiable verbal wit, owing in large part to its source material, Adam Rex's 2007 children's book "The True Meaning of Smekday."

  • Portage Park theater may rise again

    March 19, 2015

    Thousands adored it, and not just for the 300 parking spaces in back.

  • Review: 'It Follows'

    March 19, 2015

    A film of slow builds and medium-grade payoffs, "It Follows" imagines a curse represented by a shape-shifting apparition that might be as ordinary-looking as the boy next door. The curse is transmittable only by intercourse, and the infected rid themselves of the deadly phantom by hooking up with someone else.

  • Review: 'Involuntary'

    March 19, 2015

    A 2014 highlight, the unnerving black comedy "Force Majeure" dealt with an avalanche that turns out to be harmless but causes a lot of trouble for one vacationing family anyway. The film introduced many American moviegoers to the Swedish writer-director Ruben Ostlund. A retrospective of Ostlund's rarely seen earlier work continues this weekend at Facets Cinematheque, and it's wonderful to see how the droll confidence of the filmmaker's visions was there earlier on.

  • Review: 'The Hunting Ground'

    March 19, 2015

    From its first moments, the new documentary "The Hunting Ground" instills a sense of dread that is very, very tough to shake.

  • Review: 'The Gunman'

    March 19, 2015

    Speedy brutality is the spoonful of sugar in most action movies, making the narrative medicine go down for as large an international audience as possible. I'm not blowing any surprises by pointing this out. Besides, with "The Gunman," the surprises keep on not coming. You've seen a lot of it before, either in "Taken" (the same director, Pierre Morel, did this one) or out of "Taken."

  • Review: 'Insurgent'

    March 18, 2015

    Chicago has never looked less toddlin' than it does in "Insurgent," the second of four planned movies to be pulled, taffylike, out of the hugely popular Veronica Roth trilogy. At one point our fierce yet humble dystopian world saver, Tris Prior, played by the fierce but humble franchise saver, Shailene Woodley, strolls beneath rusted bridges along the dried-up remains of the Chicago River. I knew that St. Patrick's Day dye wasn't safe!

  • Review: 'Cinderella'

    March 12, 2015

    Refreshingly free of all snark, the satisfying new live-action "Cinderella" from the princess manufacturing company known as Disney has generated a whirl of pre-screening publicity regarding the billowy blue gown with the terrifyingly narrow waist, as worn by the excellent British actress Lily James.

  • Review: 'Run All Night'

    March 12, 2015

    In a convention-bound action movie such as "Run All Night," some nicely rumpled actors can go a long way toward redeeming the cliches, the primary cliche being a flawed protagonist who seeks redemption for his sins.

  • Review: '71'

    March 12, 2015

    First performed in 1923, following an early chapter in that quaint, understated late 1960s-coined cycle of violence known as the Troubles, Sean O'Casey's play "The Shadow of a Gunman" imagined a crowded tenement house that becomes a microcosm of the Irish War of Independence. A key scene in that play depicts British Black and Tan forces conducting a raid, to deadly results.

  • Tour Europe via Siskel center

    March 5, 2015

    The words came from Edward Hopper, the most evocative storyboard artist who never actually worked in film: "When I don't feel in the mood for painting, I go to the movies for a week or more. I go on a regular movie binge." Reams have been written about Hopper's affinity for the urban landscapes of film noir and its precedent, German Expressionism. His paintings, however, are less about immediate threats to body and soul, or nakedly expressed nightmares, than they are about ordinary people lost in thoughts we're hypnotized into imagining.

  • On the South Side, an intoxicating brew of movie and music

    March 5, 2015

    Even in the deep freeze, when every moviegoing instinct tells us to stay inside for some moviestaying, we know in our hearts we're better off heading out with our fellow cinephiles, in this case for a great benchmark of the silent era accompanied live by a musician of considerable reputation.

  • Review: Zero stars for 'Chappie'

    March 5, 2015

    I found lots to admire in writer-director Neill Blomkamp's "District 9" and, despite its heavy-handed universal health care polemics, the Matt Damon space station allegory "Elysium." But his latest science fiction outing, co-written (like "Elysium") with his wife, Terri Tatchell, is a misjudgment from metallic head to titanium toe. After Wednesday's advance screening, the dialogue en route to the parking garage was clear and pointed. Woman 1: "Wasn't that the worst?" Woman 2: "The worst. Could you hit P2, please?"

  • Review: 'Maps to the Stars'

    March 5, 2015

    We have slithered through these hills and canyons many times before: Hollywood, with all its secrets, sometimes played for raunch, sometimes for bitter satire, sometimes for grave studies in human misbehavior.

  • Review: 'The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel'

    March 5, 2015

    Three years ago, on a somewhat different scale, the success of the first "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" was weirdly akin to the success of the first "Avengers" movie. Both relied on ensemble superheroics and charmingly fractious banter among movie stars. This year brings sequels to both films. First up is "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," the one without the explosions.

  • Leonard Nimoy embodied, transcended, embraced iconic character

    February 27, 2015

    Overnight, but more often over a mysterious, unmeasurable unit of time, a signature role can turn into a typecasting albatross, even as it sets the course for an actor's destiny and financial fortunes.

  • Review: 'What We Do in the Shadows'

    February 26, 2015

    Eighty-five minutes of really funny, the New Zealand vampire mockumentary "What We Do in the Shadows" comes from the "Flight of the Conchords" folks and their pals. Let me restate: This is a comedy that works.

  • Review: 'Bluebird'

    February 26, 2015

    Amy Morton is such a fine, strong, honest stage actress, it's no wonder she has branched out successfully to being a series regular on "Chicago P.D." (though her first TV work came way back in 1983) and a fair amount of films, "Up in the Air" among them (she played George Clooney's sister). Shot three winters ago in northern Maine, the brooding independent low-budget drama "Bluebird," now in a week's run at Facets Cinematheque, reasserts Morton's formidable talent.

  • Review: 'Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem'

    February 26, 2015

    The courtroom drama is among the cinema's most irresistible genres, where rigid formula (the expected) meets the blurted-out confession or the pent-up and finally detonated hidden truth (the unexpected). In the week's best new film, a highly compressed, exquisitely acted tale of two people who do not belong together plays out as a courtroom saga that, in story terms, runs longer than many marriages.

  • Review: 'Focus'

    February 26, 2015

    In August 2016, Will Smith and Margot Robbie will lead the ensemble of the DC Comics adaptation "Suicide Squad," a presumptive superantihero franchise in the making. Meantime, consider the new film "Focus" as a sort of Intro-to-Chemistry test for the same actors. Do they pass?

  • Music Box Films back to business after Oscar win

    February 26, 2015

    Would you get on a plane to go to the Oscars if you hoped your film was about to win one?

  • Oscars Analysis: 'Birdman' carries the day

    February 23, 2015

    “Birdman” won big Sunday at the Oscars, in a triumph of highly noticeable, kinetic filmmaking over the light-fingered “invisible” technique of its primary competition, “Boyhood.”

  • Oscar battle: 'Birdman' vs. 'Boyhood'

    February 20, 2015

    As we enter the weekend of the 87th Academy Awards, to be presented Sunday, the film version of "Fifty Shades of Grey" has clobbered its opening-week competition (even the enormous hit "American Sniper," up for six Oscars) and, for the moment, dominates the cinematic conversation in America.

  • August Wilson documentary inspires hope for films of his best works

    February 19, 2015

    By now it's a glaring oversight. We have yet to see a single, theatrically released film adaptation of an August Wilson play.

  • Review: 'The DUFF'

    February 19, 2015

    "The DUFF" stands for "Designated Ugly Fat Friend." From that cruel acronym, we now have a movie designed to appeal to fans of the source material. Kody Keplinger wrote the book when she was 17 and a merry slave to high school clique cliches. But her sense of humor appealed to older readers as well — basically to anyone who hadn't left behind the old teenage insecurities about looks, status, social stratification and feeling like a loser. We've all been there.

  • Review: 'The Last Five Years'

    February 19, 2015

    Already, you can watch "The Last Five Years" on demand, on your couch, in your jammies. Adapter and director Richard LaGravenese's film version of the Jason Robert Brown stage show was made available last week on multiple platforms simultaneously. At home or in what the old folks call "a theater," the results — modest, shrewd, uncompromised — deserve the attention and the 94 minutes of any fan of the musical genre.

  • Review: 'McFarland, USA'

    February 19, 2015

    A less talented and more shameless director might've turned it into cornmeal mush, but Niki Caro ("Whale Rider") has delivered unto the Disney corporation a Kevin Costner sports movie that works. Commercially? We'll see. But as an inspirational true story, fictionalized to the usual degree, it works.

  • Review: 'Hogtown'

    February 19, 2015

    The filmmaking culture in Chicago can be a serious frustration. There is an awful lot of leaving. The lure of the coasts is magnetic, and constant. Chicago wouldn't be Chicago without that fact, which has engendered rivers of envy and self-loathing over the decades, in all the arts. Even good work has a way of falling in a forest so that too few people hear it and seek it out.

  • 'Grand Budapest Hotel' special among Oscar-nominated screenplays

    February 19, 2015

    This year's Academy Award-nominated screenplays in the "adapted" category include a trio of variously effective and affecting whitewash jobs based on real people ("American Sniper," "The Imitation Game," "The Theory of Everything"); a ripping melodrama taken from a short film designed to raise money for a feature-length version in the wings ("Whiplash"); and "Inherent Vice," Paul Thomas Anderson's valiant, idiosyncratic go at the Thomas Pynchon noir.

  • Louis Jourdan, the Continental exemplar of slightly dangerous romance

    February 16, 2015

    The phrase "superficially superficial" sounds too clever by half, but it applies to a certain, rarified breed of screen actor.

  • Review: 'Young Bodies Heal Quickly'

    February 12, 2015

    Genuinely strange, writer-director Andrew T. Betzer's "Young Bodies Heal Quickly" puts a couple of brothers at risk somewhere in rural California early and often, and often within situations that aren't explained or set up in any conventional narrative way. I struggled with parts of the second half, but the film is worth the struggle; Betzer's up to something visually, and he has a ripe career ahead of him. At least I hope he does.

  • Review: 'Manuscripts Don't Burn'

    February 12, 2015

    The end credits of the stealthy Iranian drama "Manuscripts Don't Burn" list Mohammad Rasoulof as writer-director. That's it. There are no actors, no technical or design colleagues cited. This is for safety's sake — safety, right behind creative freedom, being a scarce commodity for an artist within a murderously repressive regime.

  • Review: 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

    February 12, 2015

    Adapted and directed by women of considerably larger talent than novelist E.L. James, the film version of “Fifty Shades of Grey” turns out to be an intriguing tussle — not in the sack, or in the Red Room of Pain, but in its internal war between the dubious erotica of James’ novel (the first of three) and the far craftier trash offered by the movie.

  • Review: 'Kingsman: The Secret Service'

    February 12, 2015

    Silly, sadistic and finally a little galling, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" answers the question: What would Colin Firth have been like if he'd played James Bond?

  • 'Birth of a Nation' anniversary has a heck of a bookend

    February 6, 2015

    In the history of American cinema, D.W. Griffith's 1915 landmark "The Birth of a Nation" is the gift that keeps on generating misgivings.

  • Expanded Music Box elegantly elbowing its way to more audience

    February 5, 2015

    Built in 1929 and looking fabulous for any age, the Music Box Theatre is a moviegoing emporium dripping with atmosphere. I enjoy moviegoing emporiums like that. So few drip with anything anymore.

  • Review: 'Girlhood'

    February 5, 2015

    A vivid coming-of-age drama from France, Celine Sciamma's "Girlhood" (now at the Gene Siskel Film Center) keeps a close eye on its beautiful, vulnerable protagonist, played by Karidja Toure. Living in a Parisian suburb, amid housing projects and all manner of risky behavior, Marieme hasn't the grades for high school and doesn't like her vocational school options. Life at home is abusive, with an alternately sullen and violent older brother. Her younger sisters still have a spark to them, as does Marieme. The film poses a question: Can the spark survive?

  • Review: 'The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water'

    February 5, 2015

    There's a new "SpongeBob" movie out, "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water." It's passable. The trade publication Variety predicts it will be "equally popular among the franchise's key grade-schooler and head-shop-owner demographics," and that sounds right to me.

  • Review: 'Jupiter Ascending'

    February 4, 2015

    In "Jupiter Ascending" Channing Tatum's character is a "splice," an intergalactic bounty hunter with a distaste for shirts. His genetically engineered DNA contains both wolf and human strands. He sports wee pointy ears, a lemon-brown goatee and a terrific pair of jet boots. He's basically Shakespeare's Puck plunked down in a story recalling "The House of Atreus," but in space.

  • Another Swanberg makes her mark in film

    January 29, 2015

    You may note this column does not begin with a Park City, Utah, dateline. While the annual Sundance Film Festival wraps this weekend in Park City, I am here in Chicago, and it's a peculiar thing watching the latest film by a Chicago writer-director here, via Vimeo link, the same week the film's world premiere is celebrated at Sundance.

  • 5 academy contenders span not only globe, but also styles

    January 29, 2015

    As an oddly shaped, highly stimulating gang of five, this year's Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Live Action slate comprises a couple of hours of cinema more worthwhile than 90 percent of what's out there at the moment. Therefore you should see the program being presented over at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences appears to have made some unusually strong decisions this year.

  • One witty animated short rides ahead of the Oscar pack

    January 29, 2015

    I have no idea which of this year's five nominated animated short films will win an Academy Award on Feb. 22. But if I ran the zoo, the prize would go to "Me and My Moulton," 14 minutes of sheer pleasure from writer-director Torill Kove. The "Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Animation" program is part of a presentation opening this week at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema.

  • Review: 'Black Sea'

    January 29, 2015

    "Black Sea" is a submarine movie, so to many moviegoers of a certain age, that's two-and-a-half stars right there. Nothing promises old-school pressure-cooking the way the subgenre of the sub thriller can, and while director Kevin Macdonald's drama springs all sorts of leaks in its second half, there are modest satisfactions along the way.

  • Review: 'Still Life'

    January 29, 2015

    Actors serve at the pleasure and the mercy of the roles they inhabit. Throughout the watery character study "Still Life," the ace English character man Eddie Marsan operates like a minimalist treasure hunter, seeking out little nuggets of truth and humane wit where he can find them.

  • Review: 'Mommy'

    January 29, 2015

    The first half of Montreal-born Xavier Dolan's "Mommy" feels like a modern classic, driven by galvanizing performances from Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement and Antoine Olivier Pilon. The second half succumbs to a less original, more manipulative brand of emotional excess. But see it; see those three performers go to town.

  • Review: 'Black or White'

    January 29, 2015

    Is there anything more dispiriting than a sentence beginning with the phrase "It means well, but …"? Here's a variation on that, and a dispiriting movie to go with it. "Black or White" may not be racist, exactly, but it patronizes its African-American characters up, down and sideways, and audiences of every ethnicity, background, hue and predilection can find something to dislike.

  • 'Dial M for Murder' in 3-D at the Gene Siskel Film Center

    January 23, 2015

    A rotary telephone in comically massive close-up: This is the first object we see in “Dial M for Murder,” Alfred Hitchcock’s sole foray into 3-D stereoscopic image-making. In its general release the movie went out “flat” in all but a few engagements. By May 1954, the 3-D craze was on the wane. Yet here we are, 61 years later, and 3-D films of astoundingly varied quality are back, demanding their pesky up-charges at the multiplex.

  • Review: 'Waiting for August'

    January 22, 2015

    The strongest new film I've seen this month hasn't made hundreds of millions of dollars, nor is it up for a foreign language Academy Award. It does not, in fact, have a U.S. distributor. But you should see it this week at Facets Cinematheque while it's around.

  • Review: 'The Boy Next Door'

    January 22, 2015

    As the song from "Meet Me in St. Louis" put it, in a different story context: How can she ignore the boy next door?

  • Review: 'Cake'

    January 22, 2015

    Why didn't Jennifer Aniston get an Oscar nomination for "Cake"? The short answer to that question: With one of the five best actress slots taken by Julianne Moore for "Still Alice," there was simply no room for another routinely made health-crisis indie, salvaged by a strong, confident, unfussy turn from its female lead.

  • Is 'American Sniper' a litmus test for patriotism?

    January 20, 2015

    “Selma” didn't stand a chance. On the long weekend celebrating the defiantly nonviolent legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., American moviegoers championed a very different and extraordinarily deadly warrior.

  • What Patton Oswalt learned in the dark

    January 15, 2015

    Writer, comedian and actor Patton Oswalt has written a second memoir (the first: "Zombie Spaceship Wasteland"), and it's a tasty, buttery slice of Oswalt's life as he lived it in the 1990s in Los Angeles. At the time he was working toward his first staff writing job ("MADtv") and his first series-regular role (on "The King of Queens") while honing his craft in the hypercompetitive LA stand-up scene (he regularly took the stage at the career-maker of a cabaret known as The Largo).

  • Review: 'Blackhat'

    January 15, 2015

    "Blackhat" is a thickly plotted disappointment, yet it has three or four big sequences proving that director Michael Mann, who gave us "Thief," "Heat," "Collateral" and others, has lost none of his instincts for how to choreograph, photograph and edit screen violence.

  • Review: 'Two Days, One Night'

    January 15, 2015

    When we listen in on one-sided telephone conversations in the movies, often the behavior is not quite human. Rather, it becomes an actor's showcase for histrionic tears or smiling through tears — a good old-fashioned wallow in capital-O Overacting.

  • Review: 'A Most Violent Year'

    January 15, 2015

    Writer-director J.C. Chandor has made three good movies in a row, and they're his first three. He's a heartening exception to the usual percentages.

  • Review: 'Goodbye to Language'

    January 15, 2015

    The National Society of Film Critics recently cited Jean-Luc Godard's "Goodbye to Language," the nuttiest lil' picture ever released in 3-D, as the best film of 2014, nosing out "Boyhood" by a single vote. It was a lovely validation of Godard the eternal, intrepid, intuitive provocateur, and the sputtering double takes the Godard win provoked in some online circles — "as stupid and self-congratulatory a choice NSFC could make," tweeted the terminally addled David Poland of Movie City News — were a show unto themselves.

  • Review: 'American Sniper'

    January 15, 2015

    People will take what they want to take from "American Sniper," director Clint Eastwood's latest film. Already it has turned into an ideological war to be won or lost, rather than a fictionalized biopic to be debated.

  • Review: 'Paddington'

    January 15, 2015

    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.

  • Does a good movie require a good plot?

    January 8, 2015

    I love a good story as much as you do. While the primacy of storytelling in our lives doesn't explain the popularity of "Transformers: Age of Extinction," the allure of straightforward, absorbing narrative in any medium remains as important as ever, especially given how much in our popular culture carves up our empathy, our curiosity and our attention spans into smaller and smaller pieces.

  • Review: 'Inherent Vice'

    January 8, 2015

    It takes a genuine film artist to create an alternate-reality version of a familiar place — real enough to make us feel we've been there, or somewhere near there, unreal enough to push it over the edge of familiarity and even sanity.

  • Review: 'Compass Cabaret 55'

    January 8, 2015

    Someday it'll happen. Someone will make a great, chaotic movie — a documentary or, more likely, a fictionalized narrative feature — about what happened in 1955 when David Shepherd and Paul Sills and Mike Nichols and Elaine May and Shelley Berman and Barbara Harris worked together at the Compass Players, the offshoot of the Playwrights Theatre Club and the crucial, historic forerunner of The Second City and all that is Chicago improvisation.

  • Review: 'Leviathan'

    January 8, 2015

    A grand, brooding Russian crime drama set in a corner of the world you likely haven't seen, "Leviathan" is about an ordinary man taking on a dirty town that Dashiell Hammett or James M. Cain would've been proud to call home.

  • Winter movie preview: 10 films to watch in early 2015

    January 2, 2015

    Originally announced for a summer 2014 release, Andy and Lana Wachowski's science fiction epic "Jupiter Ascending" opens Feb. 6, following a few reshoots and several months of postproduction effects work. So it won't be long before moviegoers learn the answer to the most pressing cinematic question of the moment: Can Channing Tatum pull off the pointy-eared get-up for a full two hours?

  • Review: 'Winter Sleep'

    December 31, 2014

    In one of a hundred perfect little moments in "Winter Sleep," a wealthy landowner, smiling, chuckling, consents to having his hand kissed by a young boy who threw a rock at the man's Land Rover.

  • Review: 'Selma'

    December 30, 2014

    You can scan any director's resume at your peril, because their work is on the screen, and in the right circumstances, as with director Ava DuVernay's fine, full and confident "Selma," the work speaks for itself.

  • Spending Christmas Eve with 'The Interview,' and all its trappings

    December 24, 2014

    I'm here, alone in my house on Christmas Eve.

  • Chicagoan of the Year in Film: Steve James

    December 23, 2014

    Upon its late 1994 release, thanks largely to the agitations of Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel and other Chicago critics, director Steve James' documentary "Hoop Dreams" looked like it might have a shot at a best picture Academy Award nomination. (To date no nonfiction feature has been nominated in that top category.) The film's documentary Oscar chances seemingly were another matter; "Hoop Dreams" was considered a virtual nomination shoo-in.

  • Review: 'Mr. Turner'

    December 22, 2014

    Some films assert their rightness and sureness in the opening shot. Mike Leigh's excellent "Mr. Turner" is one of them, though Leigh and his inspired cinematographer, Dick Pope, are less concerned with conspicuous camera movement than with a charged sort of stillness. It's a beautiful film, and not merely that. When it's over you feel as if you have been somewhere, to another century, peering at the world through a different set of eyes.

  • Review: 'Big Eyes'

    December 22, 2014

    For "Big Eyes," director Tim Burton cast four of the biggest, widest eyes in contemporary movies. Two of them belong to Amy Adams, who plays painter Margaret Keane, creator of countless canvases of huge-orbed waifs mysteriously popular for a time but credited, for years, to her scoundrel of a husband. Walter Keane is played by Christoph Waltz, here working overtime to beguile, in an oily way, often in formidable close-up. I've never thought of Waltz as especially wide-eyed until this movie. And there you have it: When he and Adams share the frame, it's really something.

  • Review: 'Unbroken'

    December 22, 2014

    Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 nonfiction account "Unbroken" introduced millions to Louis Zamperini, the Italian-American who competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and, in World War II, became an Army Air Corps bombardier flying missions over the South Pacific. In 1943 Zamperini was aboard a rickety B-24 aircraft, the "Green Hornet," when it crashed in the water. He and two other survivors, "Phil" Phillips and "Mac" McNamara, survived 33 days on a life raft, contending with Japanese bomber strafings and killer sharks.

  • Review: 'Into the Woods'

    December 22, 2014

    In the generation since "Into the Woods" opened on Broadway, the entertainment world has recycled a forest's worth of enchantress-based, princess-dependent and fairy tale-steeped mythology for mass consumption, from Disney's "Frozen" and "Maleficent" to the smaller screen's "Grimm," "Once Upon a Time" and "Charmed." And let's not forget the theatrical extravaganza "Wicked," whose anthemic, full-bore sensibility and songs (full-bore in both senses) are exactly what you do not find in "Into the Woods."

  • Best and worst movies of 2014

    December 18, 2014

    Out of sheer contrarian perversity, I did everything I could to avoid picking "Boyhood" as the year's best film. It has been lauded so much already; its hype, the increasingly heavy burden of awards-generated expectation, has turned into this gentle masterwork's worst enemy.

  • Review: 'Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb'

    December 18, 2014

    "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb," otherwise known as "Night at the Museum 3," rates as more determinedly heartfelt than the first and not as witty as the second (and best). Also, no Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart in jodhpurs this time around.

  • Review: 'The Babadook'

    December 18, 2014

    Here's one of the strongest feature film debuts in a long time, in any genre. Currently on demand and making its way into a few brave theaters, "The Babadook" comes from Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent, whose short film "Monster," made nearly a decade ago, inspired her full-length treatment of the same story.

  • Review: 'Annie'

    December 18, 2014

    Those interested in the health and well-being of the screen musical are advised to wait a week for "Into the Woods" rather than take a flier on the wobbly, unsatisfying new update of "Annie."

  • Chicago critics pick 'Boyhood'

    December 15, 2014

    In stride with its counterparts in New York, LA, San Francisco, Boston and other cities, the Chicago Film Critics Association named Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” best picture of 2014, the CFCA announced Monday.

  • Review: 'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies'

    December 15, 2014

    There is a moment late in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," after what may be the longest on-screen battle in movie history, when Ian McKellen's Gandalf sits quietly beside Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins and starts fussing with his pipe. No one fusses with a pipe more fussily than a great veteran English character actor, and as McKellen carefully scrapes out the bowl, getting it ready for a nice little smoke, you wonder if director Peter Jackson is going to turn this bit into his next three-film trilogy.

  • Timing is everything for Music Box and 'Ida'

    December 11, 2014

    If you disregard the matter of quality, the success of "Ida" is improbable indeed.

  • Review: 'Exodus: Gods and Kings'

    December 11, 2014

    What do the entrails say about "Exodus: Gods and Kings," director Ridley Scott's ambitious retelling of the Moses story, the exodus from Egypt, the burning bush, the frogs, the boils, the hail, the commandments, the Red Sea crossing and the rest of it?

  • Review: 'The Imitation Game'

    December 11, 2014

    Actors love many things, but playing the smartest person in any given room is loveliest of all. Pleasant or hostile, elegant or socially maladroit, the smartest one in the room enjoys the zingers, the verbal checkmates and all the attention.

  • Review: 'Top Five'

    December 11, 2014

    "I don't feel funny anymore," complains the movie star played by Chris Rock in "Top Five," but don't worry. Unlike Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories," this cinematic confessional, which is also a genial wish-fulfillment fantasy, is actually funny.

  • Julianne Moore finally having her long-delayed moment

    December 4, 2014

    Lots of fine actors win Academy Awards for movies that are not their best. Sometimes it's simply … their time. Decades of respect and accumulated good will, film after film of strong, versatile work whatever the script quality, can lead to the right showcase at the right moment.

  • Review: 'Wild'

    December 4, 2014

    Cheryl Strayed's 2012 memoir "Wild" has become a swift, solidly built movie capturing most of its author's most interesting baggage stuff — the weedy tangle of regrets, the reckless bumper-car behavior borne of grief — while offering a rather different experience of what Strayed called "radical aloneness."

  • Review: 'The Tale of the Princess Kaguya'

    December 4, 2014

    "Heaven must have sent her to me as a blessing," says the awestruck woodcutter who finds a sparrow-size infant nestled in a bamboo sprout in "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya."

  • Review: 'Panic 5 Bravo'

    December 4, 2014

    Shot in 21/2 weeks for roughly half a million dollars, the tin-can thriller "Panic 5 Bravo" is set almost entirely inside a paramedic ambulance under siege, just below the U.S.-Mexican divide south of Pima County, Ariz.

  • Review: 'That Man From Rio'

    November 26, 2014

    Opening for a week at the Siskel Film Center in a fine-looking 50th anniversary digital restoration, the 1964 action lark "That Man From Rio" took its cheeky, chaotic cue from the James Bond franchise, as well as Stanley Donen's "Charade" and Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest." It's also a popcorn picture that looked forward. Steven Spielberg credited director Philippe de Broca's globe-trotting treasure hunt for paving the way for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and the other Indiana Jones movies.

  • Review: 'Happy Valley'

    November 26, 2014

    Amir Bar-Lev's documentaries include "The Tillman Story," about a friendly-fire casualty in Afghanistan, and "My Kid Could Paint That," a portrait of an alleged child prodigy and her family. In both films (both excellent), the truth lurks beneath layers of denials and cover-ups designed to establish a preferred version of events.

  • The long goodbye after the loss of an actor

    November 25, 2014

    When a film actor leaves us before his final work becomes available, it makes for a long, strange goodbye indeed.

  • Mike Nichols, directorial superstar with an eye for the 'real thing'

    November 20, 2014

    After making "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" in 1966 with first-time feature film director Mike Nichols, Richard Burton acknowledged the newcomer's wily practicality in communicating with all sorts of actors. "He'd make me throw away a line where I'd have hit it hard," the plummy-voiced Welshman said, adding: "I didn't think I could learn anything about comedy — I'd done all of Shakespeare's. But from him I learned."

  • Review: 'The Homesman'

    November 20, 2014

    In its setting and in its blunt, unfussy style, director, co-writer and star Tommy Lee Jones' "The Homesman" is a film out of time. It takes place in 1855, the year after the creation of the Nebraska Territory. Like Jones' previous theatrical feature, the excellent "Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," "The Homesman" expands the conventional notion of what Westerns typically address in terms of story, geography and mythology.

  • Review: 'Force Majeure'

    November 20, 2014

    A skiing holiday in the French Alps: What could possibly spoil that? In the terrific black comedy "Force Majeure," the question is answered early in the picture. With an extraordinarily dry and confident way of telling its story, the Swedish entry for this year's foreign language Academy Award becomes a recreational nightmare, driven (and riven) by panicky male behavior under duress.

  • Review: 'Foxcatcher'

    November 20, 2014

    Does extreme privilege point, like an arrow, to a sort of rot within the true-blue American spirit? Putting criminal insanity aside for a moment, the answer's a qualified, sorrowful yes in director Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher," a true-crime drama hailed in many quarters as a modern classic since it debuted six months ago at the Cannes Film Festival.

  • Review: 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1'

    November 19, 2014

    In honor of the title we'll break this part of the sentence with a colon, and then use a portentous dash:

  • Review: 'The Overnighters'

    November 13, 2014

    A remarkable nonfiction essay on golden rules and grand intentions and oil booms that do not pay off for everyone, "The Overnighters" is a rich and troubling documentary highlight of the year.

  • Eddie Redmayne is feeling the love

    November 13, 2014

    At a recent downtown Chicago screening of "The Theory of Everything," several younger women attempted, one by one, to turn the post-screening question-and-answer session into a post-show swoon-and-rave, never mind the questions part. Variations on "I loved you in 'Les Miserables.' No, really. I mean it. I love you" echoed around the auditorium at the AMC 600 North Michigan multiplex. Some in attendance may never have entirely dried their tear-stained cheeks after first hearing Redmayne sing "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" in the 2012 "Les Miz."

  • Rosewater: A tale of torture in Iran

    November 13, 2014

    "Rosewater" is the first film directed by Jon Stewart, best known as host of "The Daily Show." Stewart's own screenplay adapts journalist Maziar Bahari's memoir "Then They Came for Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival."

  • Review: 'Rosewater'

    November 13, 2014

    How many casual American moviegoers would be interested in "Rosewater" if an unknown Jon had written and directed it, instead of Jon Stewart, famous "Daily Show" host and first-time feature filmmaker?

  • Review: 'The Theory of Everything'

    November 13, 2014

    Relationally, you can't entirely trust what you're seeing in "The Theory of Everything," the romanticized portrait of astrophysicist superstar Stephen Hawking and his many years spent with his first wife, Jane Hawking. Yet biopics are funny this way: Even satisfying ones can fudge and elide and gloss over any number of difficulties, while in this instance offering a steadily absorbing and movingly acted depiction of a marriage whose time comes, and then goes.

  • Altman doc reminds a critic of why the movies matter -- and when he noticed

    November 6, 2014

    The 95-minute documentary "Altman" first aired on EPIX cable in August, but it opens for a limited theatrical run next week (Nov. 15, 16 and 20) at the Gene Siskel Film Center. However you see it, despite its necessarily abridged view of director Robert Altman's career and director Ron Mann's uncritical waves of love, it's worth a look. What you see may send you into a bittersweet sort of reverie.

  • Review: 'Laggies'

    November 6, 2014

    In "Laggies," Keira Knightley tries on a generic American dialect. Based on the results, the actress defines that as "nasal, and how!"

  • Review: 'Low Down'

    November 6, 2014

    It'll be a chilly day in hell before John Hawkes gets an Oscar nomination for his work in the cinematic memoir "Low Down," given the focus on Michael Keaton for "Birdman" and Benedict Cumberbatch for "The Imitation Game" and so on.

  • Review: 'Big Hero 6'

    November 6, 2014

    In "Big Hero 6" we have a robot considerably more beguiling than his movie. Yet there's enough visual invention afoot, and enough spirited interplay among the human characters, to keep things bobbing along.

  • Review: 'Interstellar'

    November 4, 2014

    A knockout one minute, a punch-drunk crazy film the next, "Interstellar" is a highly stimulating mess. Emotionally it's also a mess, and that's what makes it worth its 165 minutes — minutes made possible by co-writer and director Christopher Nolan's prior global success with his brooding, increasingly nasty "Batman" films, and with the commercially viable head-trip that was "Inception."

  • When ego drives art

    November 3, 2014

    Not many moviegoers know the play, but the 1948 Moss Hart comedy "Light Up the Sky" concerns the painful birth of a Broadway-bound post-apocalyptic allegory called "The Time Is Now." It may well be a work of genius. It may also be a pretentious stiff that, decades later, in another medium, could've found a place on the midcareer resume of film director Alejandro G. Inarritu.

  • Movies to see between now and New Year's

    October 31, 2014

    Now we're cooking. Finally, the fruits of the international film festival circuit are being delivered all over the place, just in time for awards season, formerly known as "winter."

  • Review: 'Rome, Open City'

    October 30, 2014

    Much of what we know, generically, as "documentary style" narrative filmmaking is unthinkable without Roberto Rossellini's "Rome Open City," now at the Siskel Film Center. Other directors working in Italy and elsewhere in the 1930s and early '40s, notably Luchino Visconti with his "Postman Always Rings Twice" adaptation "Ossessione," brought narrative fiction outside, into the streets. But with Rossellini's first chapter in his war trilogy, concluding with the devastating "Germany Year Zero," the neorealist movement gathered international momentum. And Anna Magnani, Italy Herself, became a star.

  • Finding the horror in David Lynch's cryptic masterpiece

    October 30, 2014

    A year ago, on the Vulture page of New York magazine, film critics David Edelstein and Bilge Ebiri picked their favorite horror films since Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," i.e., since 1980. Their list included such underseen and welcome titles as "The Descent"; an unusually strong franchise-starter (the first "Nightmare on Elm Street"); , a standout George Romero addition to his own favorite genre ("Day of the Dead");, a ripping monster picture from a terrific director (Bong Joon-ho's "The Host"); and others I like nearly as much, plus a few I don't, or films that have become grindingly familiar totems of the popular culture ("The Silence of the Lambs," beautifully acted trash).

  • Review: 'Hiroshima Mon Amour'

    October 30, 2014

    The unnamed actress, a melancholy wren of a woman played by Emmanuelle Riva, has come to the notorious Japanese island, 12 years after the war, to make "a film about peace." This is what she says to her newfound Japanese architect lover, portrayed by Eiji Okada. After all, she says: "What else would we be making in Hiroshima?"

  • Review: 'Horns'

    October 30, 2014

    If "Horns" had the zip of the source novel's first two paragraphs, we'd have a movie instead of a mess. The book, published in 2010, begins by laying out the dilemma author Joe Hill invents for his protagonist. Ignatius "Ig" Perrish has a hangover, and the morning after a night of unspecified "terrible things," he puts his hands to his temples and realizes he has a "pair of knobby pointed protuberances" where none used to be.

  • Review: 'Citizenfour'

    October 30, 2014

    A cool, steady stream of anxiety, Laura Poitras' documentary "Citizenfour" draws from the visual language and buggy paranoia of the best-known 1970s political thrillers: "The Conversation," "The Parallax View," "Three Days of the Condor," "All the President's Men." Each of the cities filmed in "Citizenfour" gets its own quiet yet sinister establishing shot, so that Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong and London each look like twinkly beehives of undisclosed activity.

  • Review: 'Nightcrawler'

    October 29, 2014

    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.

  • 'Why Be Good?' reacquaints moviegoers with a jazz baby to remember

    October 23, 2014

    Now concluded, and consigned to history's dustbin, the 50th Chicago International Film Festival's most achingly nostalgic moment came shortly after 5 p.m. on Sunday.

  • Review: 'Listen Up Philip' ★★★★

    October 23, 2014

    As a filmgoer, do you require an admirable, likable protagonist? If you're in league with a large percentage of the populace, the answer is simple: yes. Life's too short to spend it in abrasive company, with characters who test your sympathy or make you examine your own worst impulses in a revealing light.

  • Review: 'Stonehearst Asylum' ★★

    October 23, 2014

    In the first scene of the gothic bash "Stonehearst Asylum," a doctor played by Brendan Gleeson gasses on about "the classic symptoms of the chronic hysteric." He may as well be talking about the madhouse genre itself, in addition to the fraught young woman on display, Eliza, played by Kate Beckinsale.

  • Review: 'Dear White People' ★★★★

    October 23, 2014

    So many movies come out of the Sundance Film Festival, and others like it, laden with praise but oddly short on narrative invention, visual instincts and a story with something on its mind. Heartiest congratulations to "Dear White People," which is equipped with all three. It's a slyly provocative achievement and a serious calling card for its writer-director, Justin Simien.

  • Review: 'Birdman' ★★★

    October 22, 2014

    "Birdman" proves that a movie — the grabbiest, most kinetic film ever made about putting on a play — can soar on the wings of its own technical prowess, even as the banality of its ideas threatens to drag it back down to earth.

  • 'The President' wins top prize at Chicago film festival

    October 17, 2014

    "The President," a Georgian- and English-language satire from Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, won the top prize Friday night at the 50th Chicago International Film Festival. Actress Kathleen Turner served as jury chair this year.

  • For the present, Chazelle is feeling the music

    October 16, 2014

    Though "Whiplash" isn't a musical, exactly, it's the most rhythmically propulsive experience you'll find at the movies this year.

  • Review: 'Expedition to the End of the World' ★★★ 1/2

    October 16, 2014

    In 2001 a handsome three-masted schooner set sail for Northeast Greenland, carrying an assortment of mostly Danish scientists, scholars, photographers and artists. With so much ice melting so rapidly there, the remote Greenland fjords afforded an opportunity — a chance for outsiders to venture into territory available for exploration a few precarious weeks out of the year.

  • Review: 'Fury' ★★ 1/2

    October 16, 2014

    "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.

  • Review: 'St. Vincent' ★★★

    October 16, 2014

    For all the boozed and abusive amusement provided by the great Bill Murray in the good-enough "St. Vincent," the moment I liked best was Naomi Watts as a pregnant Russian stripper, manhandling a vacuum across the Murray character's ancient carpet. In movies as in life, it's the little things.

  • Review: 'Whiplash' ★★★★

    October 14, 2014

    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.

  • Review: 'I Am Ali' ★★★

    October 9, 2014

    Boyish, sing-songy yet serenely wise, the voice is the thing in the latest Muhammad Ali documentary, "I Am Ali." Director Clare Lewins, who has worked extensively in British television, became aware of audio recordings Ali made in the 1970s — homey, touching conversations with his daughter, Hana, among others, revealing a particularly loose and vulnerable side of a great American boxer at home. Lewins lobbied for a year to gain access to these tapes for her project.

  • Review: 'Pride' ★★★

    October 9, 2014

    Now that folks can get gay-married in Wisconsin and Indiana, it's safe to say a genial, fact-based British heart-warmer such as "Pride" can enter the U.S. marketplace without threatening the stability of the republic.

  • Review: 'The Judge' ★★ 1/2

    October 9, 2014

    Of the 141 minutes in "The Judge," roughly 70 work well, hold the screen and allow a ripe ensemble cast the chance to do its thing, i.e., act. The other 71 are dominated by narrative machinery going ka-THUNKITA-thunkita-thunkita. This is the same sound a clothes dryer makes when a half-dozen John Grisham hardcovers are tossed in with an iron-plated movie star and 30 pounds of rocks.

  • 10 films to see at the Chicago International Film Festival

    October 8, 2014

    While the heads of most Chicago cultural institutions come and go after a decade or two or three, Michael Kutza stays. The co-founder and artistic director of the Chicago International Film Festival has run the nonprofit venture for 50 years. On the phone this week, he laughed about "one of the girls here in the office who said: 'Isn't it great you're 50 years old?' She thought I was 50! She didn't have the math right."

  • 'Miss Julie' opens Chicago International Film Festival

    October 8, 2014

    Nobody will mistake this one for Al Pacino in "Stand Up Guys," or Uma Thurman in "Motherhood," to name two recent, featherweight Chicago International Film Festival opening-night selections.

  • Rosemarie DeWitt unplugged

    October 2, 2014

    Actress Rosemarie DeWitt and her husband, actor Ron Livingston, have a daughter who turns 2 in the spring. "So we're a ways from dealing with all this," DeWitt says in a hotel room during the Toronto International Film Festival.

  • Review: 'Last Days in Vietnam' ★★★ 1/2

    October 2, 2014

    Rory Kennedy's exceptional documentary "Last Days in Vietnam" will be broadcast in April on the long-running PBS series "American Experience." But it holds up on a bigger screen and deserves a large audience earlier than that. Ideally that audience includes younger viewers, for whom many of the specifics of Saigon's 1975 fall will be news. But it'll be of particular interest to older audiences who have a foggy memory of how the unfolding story was packaged at the time. And why the helicopters left so many South Vietnamese allies behind.

  • Review: 'Left Behind' 0 stars

    October 2, 2014

    And away we go! A little traveling music, please, for the Rapture, the special guest star of "Left Behind," starring a sadly becalmed Nicolas Cage as a married airline pilot whose unconsummated lust for a cheap harlot of a flight attendant, played by Nicky Whelan, is enough to bring on God's wrath, the end of days and a cycle of protracted calamity, starting with the film itself.

  • Review: 'Men, Women & Children' ★★

    October 2, 2014

    Jason Reitman's serenely panic-stricken "Men, Women & Children" pushed every single one of my hot buttons as a parent while simultaneously setting off every single one of my warning bells as a critic. Based on Chad Kultgen's debut novel, it depicts modern-day America as the land of scarily unlimited digital opportunity. It is a place where honest personal communication without the filter, the crutch or the dodge of a personal electronic device has become a distant memory.

  • Review: 'Annabelle' ★★ 1/2

    October 2, 2014

    The devil-doll lark "Annabelle" exists to make its host movie, last year's excellent "The Conjuring," look even better by comparison. As prequels go, it's not bad, though a couple of things keeping it from amounting to more are worth discussing, briefly, before we all get back to our lives.

  • Review: 'Gone Girl' ★★★ 1/2

    September 30, 2014

    David Fincher's film version of the Gillian Flynn bestseller "Gone Girl" is a stealthy, snake-like achievement. It's everything the book was and more — more, certainly, in its sinister, brackish atmosphere dominated by mustard-yellow fluorescence, designed to make you squint, recoil and then lean in a little closer.

  • Review: 'The Boxtrolls' ★★

    September 25, 2014

    Fans of "Coraline" and "ParaNorman," the deft, eccentric supernatural fairy tales created by Oregon-based Laika animation house, have every reason to anticipate "The Boxtrolls." Laika's latest feature is based on Alan Snow's 2005 book "Here Be Monsters!" part one of "The Ratbridge Chronicles." For the film's purposes, the mythical hilltop town of Ratbridge has changed its name to Cheesebridge.

  • Review: 'The Equalizer' ★★

    September 25, 2014

    Based loosely on the 1985-1989 television series, on which Edward Woodward never stuck garden shears in an enemy's throat and never, ever stabbed anyone through the neck with a corkscrew, "The Equalizer" smells like a hit. But I wish it had one completely honest scene, where (for example) someone asks the avenging angel-hero: "Who are you?" And he answers: "I'm Denzel Washington. And Denzel Washington can make even this thing watchable."

  • Early cinema champion gets a loving restrospective

    September 25, 2014

    In a thoughtfully lavish act of curation, Northwestern University's Block Cinema is paying tribute to cinema's greatest pack rat and most ardent champion — the man whom poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau once described as "the dragon watching over our treasures."

  • Review: 'Tracks' ★★★ 1/2

    September 25, 2014

    All filmgoers have their blind spots, their sore spots and their limits. You may, for example, read about the new film "Tracks," based on the 1980 travel memoir by Robyn Davidson. If Davidson's story is foreign to you, and you know only that the film's about a free spirit who spent nearly a year crossing 1,700 miles of Australian desert with four camels and a dog, you might think: No thanks, I'll just dig up the May 1978 National Geographic magazine with Davidson on the cover sometime. And then go see something a little less improving. Like "The Equalizer."

  • Will world-ender YA dystopia trend yield to happier days?

    September 18, 2014

    A mere two years have passed since the first "Hunger Games" movie. It feels like 20. In those two years the world has been brought to the edge of extinction so many times, only to be saved by young people in Henley T-shirts, it's as if we're dealing with the apocalypse that cried wolf, over and over.

  • Review: 'This is Where I Leave You' ★★ 1/2

    September 18, 2014

    Going by the new ensemble comedy "This Is Where I Leave You," you'd think Tina Fey was a medium acting talent at best, prone to overstatement and eye-rolling. Performers can't do it alone; they need guidance. But in the movies, very often performers end up doing solo acts in proximity to other solo acts, and the camera's either in the wrong place or the director and the editor hack up simple two-person conversations into frantic, competing moments.

  • Review: 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' ★★

    September 18, 2014

    Films aren't so much born as worried into existence, and with some films the worrying — the concern that the audience won't get it, or get out for it, or make the required time commitment — never stops.

  • Review: 'Tusk' ★★

    September 18, 2014

    Civilians and critics alike, a lot of them, loved "Tusk" in Toronto, where it played the Midnight Madness sidebar of the international film festival earlier this month. And it's fun to have writer-director Kevin Smith, of "Clerks" and "Dogma," whose filmmaking star has fallen while his podcasting prowess has risen, once again at the center of a debate or two.

  • Review: 'The Maze Runner' ★★★

    September 18, 2014

    Forever indebted to H.G. Wells, William Golding and other cranky visionaries, the hardy, cockroach-like "Hunger Games"/"Divergent" genre has a nickname: "dyslit," after the dystopian best-sellers in which young adult protagonists must prove their physical and mental prowess and lead the revolution to save what's left of their crummy old world.

  • Review: 'The Guest' ★★ 1/2

    September 16, 2014

    A pretty crafty genre pastiche until it stalls, director Adam Wingard's "The Guest" introduces its title character after he knocks on the front door of a small-town New Mexico family that recently lost their older son in the Iraq War. Door opens, a man's head is turned away from the camera …

  • Chicago film festival announces full 2014 slate

    September 16, 2014

    Tributes to Liv Ullmann, Isabelle Huppert, Taylor Hackford, Kathleen Turner and Oliver Stone, all scheduled to attend, share the slate with the latest films starring Bill Murray ("St. Vincent"), Reese Witherspoon ("Wild") and Benedict Cumberbatch ("The Imitation Game," which just won the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival) when the 50th edition of the Chicago International Film Festival opens Oct. 9.

  • 'The Imitation Game' wins top prize at Toronto film festival

    September 14, 2014

    Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as World War II-era Cambridge code-breaker Alan Turing, convicted on "gross indecency" charges for his bisexuality, "The Imitation Game" won the Grolsch People's Choice Award Sunday at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.

  • Fall movie season: Time for the good stuff

    September 12, 2014

    Fall is a festive season, if the weather cooperates and the art direction is right. It's festive in other ways, too, unrelated to falling leaves and russet tones.

  • Young filmmaker plays intriguing long game

    September 12, 2014

    At the moment, the face of Chicago filmmaking belongs to Joe Swanberg ("Drinking Buddies," "Happy Christmas"), the best-known and best-connected of the directors who work here when they're not working elsewhere.

  • Looking forward, and back, at the TIFF

    September 11, 2014

    Among North American competition titles, director Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher," opening commercially Nov. 14 (and Nov. 21 in Chicago), has drawn the lion's share of the raves during the Toronto International Film Festival, concluding Sunday. Toronto being a public festival (i.e., the opposite of the more prestigious but equally bloblike Cannes festival), it'll announce its "people's choice" audience-voted winners this weekend.

  • Review: 'Los Angeles Plays Itself' ★★★★

    September 11, 2014

    Thom Andersen's beautiful, mordant 2003 cine-essay, "Los Angeles Plays Itself," screens at the Music Box Theatre for one night next week, Wednesday. It's finally coming to cable and home-viewing formats at the end of the month, 11 long years after its premiere, but the big screen really is the ideal way to soak up Andersen's inspired ruminations about his city as a filming location and as a repository for other filmmakers' daydreams and nightmares.

  • Review: 'The Drop' ★★ 1/2

    September 11, 2014

    Even a terrible actor could win friends and influence moviegoers in the role of Bob, a sweetie-pie Brooklyn bartender who saves an injured pit bull puppy from a garbage can in the opening minutes of "The Drop," expanded by screenwriter Dennis Lehane from his own short story, "Animal Rescue."

  • Review: 'The Skeleton Twins' ★★ 1/2

    September 10, 2014

    Some weeks at the movies are like this. You settle for wonderful actors doing some wonderful acting with scripts that support those efforts even as they limit them.

  • Liv Ullmann finds herself directed back to the Chicago film fest

    September 9, 2014

    Actress, author and director Liv Ullmann, whose luminous face is best known for her 10 Ingmar Bergman films and dozens of other pictures including Jan Troell's "The Emigrants" and "The New Land," will be the opening-night guest of honor at this year's Chicago International Film Festival. The 50th edition of the festival runs Oct. 9-23.

  • Quality may be casualty of film fest war

    September 8, 2014

    It's ungracious, I suppose, to ask. But has the blob known as the Toronto International Film Festival, North America's largest and most popular cinema gathering with attendance inching toward the 500,000 mark, lost its way in 2014 among a forest of expectations and contradictions?

  • Steve Carell and Tina Fey: from Chicago to TIFF

    September 7, 2014

    For reasons only partly related to his virtually unrecognizable presence on screen, Steve Carell appears headed for an Academy Award nomination (actor? supporting actor? tough call) for an eerily subtle portrayal of the unstable and ultimately murderous plutocrat John du Pont.

  • Bill Murray in "St. Vincent" in Toronto

    September 6, 2014

    The rain was coming down pretty hard by the time Bill Murray rolled up in a black SUV for his “St. Vincent” premere at the Princess of Wales Theatre Friday night. Inside the theater Murray donned a paper crown and a sash because Toronto and the festival designated Friday "Bill Murray Day," which as the honoree noted earlier in the day, meant he could park anywhere he wanted, all day, with impunity.

  • 'The Judge' premieres in Toronto. Verdict?

    September 5, 2014

    It’s Bill Murray Day here in Toronto, which means Toronto doesn’t know what it’s talking about. Doesn’t this film festival know that in America every day is Bill Murray day?

  • Toronto 2014: 'Bird People' taking a big risk

    September 4, 2014

    Flying from, and in, all directions an estimated 400,000 people flock to the Toronto International Film Festival to be wowed by the next big thing. So what chance does an eccentric little number such as "Bird People" have against a wall of awards-season hyperbole?

  • Review: 'The Last of Robin Hood' ★★

    September 4, 2014

    "The Last of Robin Hood" is the latest film starring the dashing Kevin Kline. It's also the latest of Kline's period pictures that wastes no time in dashing your expectations.

  • Review: 'Life After Beth' ★★

    September 4, 2014

    Aubrey Plaza is so deadpan she's undeadpan, and not just in her new zombie movie. Playing April, Indiana's snarkiest state employee on "Parks and Recreation," the actress who'd be most likely mistaken for the MTV animated show goddess "Daria" slings so many bizarrely timed and unpredictable line readings at her skillful cohorts, with such straight-faced topspin, sometimes you don't know if you're in the company of an actress's extraordinarily practiced shtick or some kind of genius.

  • Toronto 2014: It's not OUR film festival, it's YOURS

    September 4, 2014

    Acronymically known as TIFF, the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival begins today, and the first morning of this first day (I’m here for five of the 11) offers screenings of untested, unknown films, along with titles seen at Cannes, Sundance, Venice and elsewhere earlier this year.

  • Review: 'The Identical' ★

    September 4, 2014

    There are moments in any bad movie when an actor, conveying a character's anguish or disdain, suddenly appears to be critiquing the movie itself and expressing the actor's internal struggle with the material. Such is the case with Ray Liotta in the not-good new film "The Identical," which only an Elvis impersonator (sorry, "tribute artist") could love.

  • 'Love Is Strange' MPAA rating controversy

    August 28, 2014

    Funded by the studios and lousy with hypocrisy, the Motion Picture Association of America's rating system routinely leads to head-scratchers that defy logic and, in their small way, promulgate our image as a bloodthirsty yet prudish nation — crazy for violence, nervous when it comes to sex, language and gay people.

  • Review: 'Too Late For Tears' ★★★

    August 28, 2014

    The sixth "Noir City" festival opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre, and San Francisco-based Film Noir Foundation founder Eddie Muller's selections this year include a determinedly international array of shadowy crime stories, from Argentina to France and all over this dirty rotten planet.

  • Review: 'Frank' ★★★ 1/2

    August 28, 2014

    An extraordinarily well-sustained one-joke movie, Lenny Abrahamson's "Frank" has no earthly reason to function beyond the 10-minute point. And yet there it is: a functioning, funny, weirdly touching fable of artistic angst and aspiration, a meditation on fame and its terrors and the metaphoric usefulness of masks and huge fake heads.

  • Review: 'Love is Strange' ★★★ 1/2

    August 28, 2014

    Something wonderful happens in the final minutes of "Love Is Strange." A careful, humble examination of a marriage opens up emotionally, thanks in large part to co-writer and director Ira Sachs' use of a gorgeous lullaby, Chopin's Berceuse Op. 57 in D-flat major. From the moment a key supporting character at last allows himself to grieve the loss of a loved one, up through the ensuing 11 or 12 exterior shots, photographed on the streets of New York alive with renewal and young love, a good film transforms into a very good one. Many, I suspect, will be moved to tears by "Love Is Strange," which Sachs earns the hard way: not by amping up the dramatic situations, but by grace notes and quiet spells cast by all the right actors.

  • Chicago International Film Festival announces first 20 films

    August 22, 2014

    The latest projects from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Birdman,” starring Michael Keaton, Naomi Watts, Edward Norton and Zach Galifianakis), documentary master Frederick Wiseman (“National Gallery”) and Olivier Assayas (“Clouds of Sils Maria”) are among the first 20 titles announced for the 50th Chicago International Film Festival.

  • 'Sin City 2' falls short of noir's greatness

    August 21, 2014

    Opening this weekend, "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" has as much to do with classic film noir as the "Jackass" franchise honors the tradition of great screen slapstick. That is: not much.

  • Review: 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For' ★★

    August 21, 2014

    I'm not sure what mood I'd have to be in to truly enjoy "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For." But I'm not in it.

  • Review: 'If I Stay' ★★★

    August 21, 2014

    Artfully assaultive, "If I Stay" is better than average young adult material, cleverly adapted from Gayle Forman's 2009 novel about a teenage cellist experiencing true love, a terrible car crash and magical realism for the first time.

  • Review: 'The One I Love' ★★ 1/2

    August 21, 2014

    "Our happiness used to be so easy," says Sophie in the curious new indie "The One I Love," a tidy head-bender from writer Justin Lader and first-time feature film director Charlie McDowell. Sophie's marriage to Ethan, played by Mark Duplass, has stalled. The lingering effects of an affair have undermined the couple and brought them to the safe haven of a therapist (Ted Danson). He advises a weekend getaway and knows just the place, secluded enough for some privacy, though there may be some other people dropping by.

  • Review: 'The Trip to Italy' ★★★ 1/2

    August 21, 2014

    If Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon were even 7 percent less amusing, "The Trip to Italy" would have no reason to exist, even with its casually gorgeous scenery and shattering close-ups of seafood pasta fresh out of the kitchen.

  • Review: 'Land Ho!' ★★★

    August 21, 2014

    As long as this planet provides the roads, real and metaphoric, and the pals, the road-trip buddy movie may well outlive the movies themselves.

  • Debbie Reynolds announced as SAG's Life Achievement honoree

    August 18, 2014

    Eighty-two and still working, Debbie Reynolds is scheduled to receive the next Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award as part of SAG’s annual awards show, to be broadcast live on TNT and TBS January 25, 2015.

  • Robin Williams' fans point to other memorable performances

    August 14, 2014

    Robin Williams' apparent suicide Monday provoked an outpouring of affection for a prodigious, often ill-used talent. He did such good work for so many years; it wasn't easy watching him struggle against his own material in vehicles beneath his skill set.

  • Review: 'Dinosaur 13' ★★★

    August 14, 2014

    In 1997, with considerable help from McDonald's and the Walt Disney Corp., Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History outbid (among others) the Smithsonian Institution and bought the bones of the 67-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex known as Sue. The dinosaur skeleton, 80 percent complete, made her reassembled big-city debut in 2000.

  • Review: 'The Expendables 3' ★★

    August 14, 2014

    No pensions were harmed in the making of "The Expendables 3," the latest in the continuing saga of Sylvester Stallone's mission to provide a work week or two to as many of his old pals as possible. Also these movies make money, so there's a larger imperative. This one reportedly cost $90 million. It looks more like $30 million. I think audiences respond to the general air of cheapness in this franchise; it's part of the fun, the tinny macho ridiculousness of it.

  • Review: 'The Giver' ★★

    August 13, 2014

    At this point in the dystopian movie cycle, I'm ready for a story about a teenager with zero interest in questioning the system, let alone starting a revolution. A spineless conformist — that's what the genre needs.

  • Lauren Bacall needed just one film to become a star

    August 13, 2014

    The words came from her greatest director, who was also a little bit cuckoo over the 19-year-old he plucked from the fashion spreads of Harper's Bazaar.

  • Robin Williams: Five performances to remember

    August 12, 2014

    It wasn't his first film to do so, but the 1989 drama "Dead Poets Society" reminded millions that Robin Williams was an actor as well as a comic maelstrom as well as a star.

  • 'Hundred-Foot Journey' makes its way via the box office

    August 11, 2014

    In its opening weekend, when a film enjoys a bump in its business Saturday over Friday, something is working. The result may not skyrocket to the billion-dollar "Transformers" realm, where frenetic, around-the-world PG-13-rated slaughter rules the universe. But there are other stories cooking, in the corner of the movie world known as "Transformers-adjacent."

  • Review: 'A Master Builder' ★★★

    August 7, 2014

    The Jonathan Demme film "A Master Builder" will likely appeal more to theater people than to film people, it being Henrik Ibsen and all, as adapted by and starring Wallace Shawn. He plays one of Ibsen's most formidable train wrecks, the tetchy, egomaniacal and largely autobiographical architect Halvard Solness.

  • Review: 'What If' ★★

    August 7, 2014

    "What If" brings up the distinctions among wit, jokes and robotic banter, and this new romantic comedy has a bit of the first and a few of the second, but it's largely a case of the third.

  • Review: 'Calvary' ★★★

    August 7, 2014

    Scene: a confessional, somewhere in Ireland. The camera stays on Father James while an unseen male, the victim of clergy abuse long ago, speaks in seething tones about having "tasted semen" at a terrifyingly young age. Well, says the momentarily stunned priest. "Certainly a startling opening line."

  • Review: 'Into the Storm' ★ 1/2

    August 7, 2014

    Like "The Passion of Joan of Arc," "Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki" and "Dude, Where's My Car?" "Into the Storm" is a movie. And like the wind, this particular movie blows tall, unstable columns of hot air willy-nilly.

  • Brendan Gleeson on playing a priest in 'Calvary'

    August 6, 2014

    When Brendan Gleeson was not quite 7, a Catholic boy growing up in Dublin, he had it all figured out. "One of the teachings was that you reached the age of reason at 7, I think. Something like that. Up till then you were still a child and you couldn't really sin as such, certainly not mortal sin. So I figured if I could commit suicide at 6 and three-quarters, I'd go straight up there, no problem. I remember mulling over how best to do this, to find this shortcut. But then after I came out of my first confession, it was like: clean slate. I came out feeling great, just bounding out, the lightness of having a clean soul. I just floated out of there."

  • At Lollapalooza, music vs. video: Guess who won?

    August 4, 2014

    For various kid-related reasons, this was my fourth Lollapalooza. Therefore it was my fourth reminder that concert-going at the annual, blobby yet extraordinarily slick Grant Park event (even the mud Sunday looked like the work of an army of fastidious art directors) turns into a collision between the acts themselves and the live concert footage designed to enhance the music.

  • Review: 'The Sky's the Limit' ★★★

    July 31, 2014

    For a long time the 1943 RKO musical "The Sky's the Limit" was consigned to the bottom shelf of Fred Astaire movies, down there with "Second Chorus" (though I always liked "I Ain't Hep to That Step But I'll Dig It") and "Let's Dance."

  • An education in early Hitchcock at the Siskel Film Center

    July 31, 2014

    When we're young and we fall in love with an actor or actress on screen, the reasons are pretty clear. We like what we see. We want to be that quick-witted, that brave, that appealing, that thoughtful and kind, that droll under extreme circumstances.

  • Review: 'Half of a Yellow Sun' ★★★

    July 31, 2014

    Better than average historical fiction, "Half of a Yellow Sun" (now in a week's run at the Siskel Film Center) takes its cruelly hopeful title from the flag of Biafra depicting the upper half of a rising sun against bold stripes of red, black and green. Biafra was its own secessionist republic from 1967 to 1970, breaking away from the endlessly fracturing and reforming Nigerian government. Some 30,000 died in the civil war during those years, and against this swirl of political history novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie set her 2006 book, lately adapted and directed for the screen by Biyi Bandele.

  • Review: 'Get on Up' ★★★ 1/2

    July 31, 2014

    Everything about "Get on Up," a provocatively structured and unusually rich musical biopic, is a little better, a little less formula-bound, a little sharper than the average specimen in this genre.

  • Review: 'Guardians of the Galaxy' ★★★

    July 30, 2014

    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.

  • James Brown, 'On Up' in a really loud ski sweater

    July 29, 2014

    The James Brown biopic "Get On Up" opens Thursday evening; I see the film tonight at a press screening. According to those on the coasts who've already caught it, one scene re-creates the extraordinary "I Feel Good" dance number Brown performed, in an extraordinarily unfortunate ski sweater, for the 1965 American-International Frankie Avalon vehicle "Ski Party."

  • Wrestling mythology to an entertaining draw

    July 25, 2014

    Director Brett Ratner's "Hercules" respects your time and your bloodlust. It slices through 97 insanely violent PG-13-rated minutes in a sort of extended digital blurt, pausing just often enough for Dwayne Johnson to reload his guns (not that kind, the other kind), or for John Hurt (as the king of Thrace) to rasp "Unleash the wolves!" because Liam Neeson already said "Release the Kraken!" in the "Clash of the Titans" remake.

  • Review: 'And So It Goes' ★ 1/2

    July 24, 2014

    "And So It Goes" is going for "cute," as in: "Oh, well, you know. It was cute." Michael Douglas stars as the grumpy old real estate agent with the broken heart, with Diane Keaton as the lounge singer next door. The title "And So It Goes" belongs on a list with "That's Life!" "Whatever Works" and "Enough Said," each film's moniker evoking that feeling of here-we-go-again and isn't-love-a-funny-thing.

  • Review: 'Lucy' ★★

    July 24, 2014

    Le schlockmeister Luc Besson has no beef with men and guns, or he wouldn't have made the "Transporter" movies with Jason Statham. Or written "Taken." But in the world according to Besson, older girls ("La Femme Nikita") and young women in wee skirts and stiletto heels, gliding in slow motion toward their latest deserving victims of firearm violence, carrying nicely polished automatic weapons in each perfectly manicured hand — that's the stuff, that's what makes Besson Besson.

  • Swanberg's baby a bright spot in film

    July 24, 2014

    "I don't want to be one of those people who, like, continues to do the same kind of stuff. You know what I mean?" When one of the main characters in Joe Swanberg's "Happy Christmas" says that line, she's speaking for enterprising low-budget artists, filmmakers and strivers everywhere, Swanberg very likely included.

  • Review: 'Magic in the Moonlight' ★★ 1/2

    July 24, 2014

    Among recent Woody Allen films, the crabby but pretty "Magic in the Moonlight" is a well-thumbed playing card from the middle of the deck, not one of his fully good ones ("Midnight in Paris," "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), not one of the whiffs ("Cassandra's Dream," "Scoop," "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"). The new one's set in 1928 in the south of France, where people really do seem on the verge of asking, "Tennis, anyone?" every second. Coldblooded British illusionist Stanley, played with a tight grimace by Colin Firth, has been invited by a fellow magician (Simon McBurney) to debunk a celebrated American mystic working her way through the Cote d'Azur.

  • Review: 'A Most Wanted Man' ★★★

    July 24, 2014

    It's impossible to watch the character anchoring Anton Corbijn's cool, clear-eyed film version of "A Most Wanted Man" without forgetting the fate of the bleary-eyed but fantastically vital actor who plays him.

  • Woody Allen in the rearview mirror

    July 23, 2014

    Before he made movies — "Magic in the Moonlight" is his 44th film as director in 48 years — Woody Allen worked as a gag writer, then a television writer, then a stand-up comic. Here's a Tribune item from the July 31, 1963, Tower Ticker column. In the parlance of the day columnist Herb Lyon spoke of actresses not as emoters, but "she-moters," and referred to female vocalists as "thrushes."

  • James Garner remembered by co-star Mariette Hartley

    July 21, 2014

    James Garner rarely acted outside his comfort zone, but you can say the same of a thousand other familiar actors who never quite inspired the same loyalty and warm feeling. He was his own comfort zone, on the small screen and the large, and as critic Glenn Kenny wrote over the weekend on his blog: “His work in later pictures such as ‘Murphy’s Romance’ provided little object lessons that ‘masculine’ and ‘gentle” need not be mutually exclusive terms.”

  • Controversial death inspires 3 linked tales

    July 18, 2014

    In "Dormant Beauty," a messy, fairly intriguing drama from director Marco Bellocchio, a recent Italian news story becomes fodder for a sprawling examination of life, death and the eternal riddle of Isabelle Huppert's apparent agelessness.

  • Music Box hit 'Snowpiercer' also available in your home

    July 18, 2014

    The Music Box Theatre has a peculiar success story on its hands, one that speaks to the power of one director's dazzling futuristic vision.

  • Elaine Stritch starred in show of her life

    July 17, 2014

    Throughout her career Elaine Stritch was proud to call herself a "broad," because no truer word in English exists to describe her.

  • Review: 'Wish I Was Here' ★★

    July 17, 2014

    "Scrubs" alum Zach Braff made his directorial feature debut a decade ago with "Garden State," and now, as writer, director and star, he has managed a second film about actors and their insecurities. This one, "Wish I Was Here," he co-wrote with his brother, Adam.

  • Review: 'Sex Tape' ★ 1/2

    July 17, 2014

    Like "2001: A Space Odyssey," Jake Kasdan's "Sex Tape" is a grim cautionary fable about the evils of technology, in this case pitting its desperate protagonists against an unseen force people refer to as "the cloud."

  • Review: 'Boyhood' ★★★★

    July 16, 2014

    By the midpoint of writer-director Richard Linklater's gentle marvel "Boyhood," the round-faced young Texas boy played by Ellar Coltrane has become a lanky, plaintive teenager. Already an hour or so of screen time has floated by. Linklater made the film with a core group of actors over a 12-year period, starting with the kids played by Coltrane and Linklater's daughter, Lorelei Linklater, at ages 7 and 9, respectively.

  • Summer box office slump

    July 10, 2014

    This week, the movie industry took a look in the mirror and wondered: What's wrong? Am I not pretty?

  • Big pictures celebrated at 70MM Film Festival

    July 10, 2014

    Wide is back. Friday through July 24, the Music Box Theatre presents 10 panoramic films made between 1958 and 2012, some classics, some not, but all of them wide. The skies will be larger, the stars starrier, the vistas VistaVision-ier, the camels more imposing, the space odysseys more splendidly trippy. The films will be projected, on film, on the larger of the Music Box's two screens, in all their capacious 70 millimeter splendor, reminding audiences of the pleasures of the wide-gauge experience.

  • Review: 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' ★★★

    July 9, 2014

    Three summers ago "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" proved it's possible to reboot a franchise while avoiding that sinking feeling of movie capitalism at its dumbest.

  • 'A Hard Day's Night' revived at Music Box Theatre

    July 2, 2014

    Like the repeat-and-fade outro of its title tune, the one creating the seductive illusion of a song that will never end, "A Hard Day's Night" circulates in the collective memory in perpetuity throughout the universe, at least the universe of people who know it and are crazy about it. Maybe you've never seen the movie starring The Beatles. Maybe you haven't seen it in decades. See it again. It feels like it was made tomorrow.

  • Director Paul Mazursky remembered

    July 2, 2014

    Paul Mazursky, who died Monday in Los Angeles at the age of 84, was one of a key handful of distinctive 1970s filmmakers who revealed a wider world to many of us during our vulnerable moviegoing adolescence. When we're young, our impressionable hearts and minds are at the mercy of writers and directors who either have something to say, and a way to say it, or they don't. Mazursky had his ways. He believed in love, the ridiculous misery of it and the value. The whole human comedy.

  • Review: 'Tammy' ★★ 1/2

    July 1, 2014

    Small favors, but in "Tammy" we have a less grating road-trip comedy than "Identity Thief," the one Melissa McCarthy did with Jason Bateman, and a more deliberately heartwarming vehicle than "The Heat," featuring McCarthy and Sandra Bullock.

  • Review: 'Life Itself' opens in Chicago ★★★ 1/2

    July 1, 2014

    The fine, fond Roger Ebert documentary "Life Itself" is finally in a theater in Chicago, Landmark's Century Centre Cinema, starting opening in limited release Friday. It's also available from July 4 onward on iTunes and various video-on-demand formats. On July 11, the film opens in Highland Park. We all have our preferences, but a traditional movie house really is the best place to embrace director Steve James' internationally beloved subject. Ebert's mellifluous intellect and opinions drove so much curiosity, so much traffic, over so many maniacally prolific decades of writing and broadcast work, to so many big screens.

  • Review: 'Deliver Us From Evil' ★★

    July 1, 2014

    Classed up by its cast, "Deliver Us From Evil" concludes with a deliverance from evil in the form of a rip-roaring exorcism, simply staged in a police interrogation room, though goosed up with the usual barrage of digital effects. Routine in nearly every aspect, the movie cannot be accused of holding out on its audience. The evil's delivered, and then dealt with.

  • Review: 'The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz' ★★ 1/2

    June 26, 2014

    The boy we see in "The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz," now at the Siskel Film Center and available on demand starting this weekend, grew up in Highland Park, his imagination seizing on (and seized by) computers not long after he could walk.

  • Review: 'On Approval' ★★★ 1/2

    June 26, 2014

    It won't appeal to everyone; those who have no taste for whipped cream, or for fancifully antiquated drawing-room-battle-of-the-sexes contraptions, will respond poorly to "On Approval."

  • Review: 'They Came Together' ★★★

    June 26, 2014

    The agreeable romantic-comedy critique "They Came Together" is occasionally very funny, and moderately funny the rest of the time. In mathematical terms that adds up to pretty funny or "funny enough."

  • Review: 'Third Person' ★ 1/2

    June 26, 2014

    Women! They're all desperate, agitated harpies and relentless sources of internal and external conflict in "Third Person," writer-director Paul Haggis' exasperating multistory drama about how hard it is for a nice, quiet, sensitive guy to be left alone to write an exasperating multistory drama.

  • On the cinematic search for that perfect sound

    June 19, 2014

    Movies are made for quests, for glory, fire, love, gold, you name it. None is more obsessive than the search for The Sound — that lovable, occasionally truthful showbiz cliche in which the subject of the story, a composer or a performer, pursues the certain special musical something, leading to an "aha!" moment and instantaneous stardom.

  • Review: 'Cinemanovels' ★★ 1/2

    June 19, 2014

    A film of spare precision if not much mystery, writer-director Terry Miles' comedy-drama "Cinemanovels" (starting Monday at Facets) stars Lauren Lee Smith as the daughter of Canada's most famous fictitious film director, recently deceased. The Quebecois auteur, we learn, left his family for one of his leading ladies. Grace, portrayed by Smith, never got over it.

  • Review: 'A Coffee in Berlin' ★★★

    June 19, 2014

    Reports of the slim but impressive 83-minute German film "A Coffee in Berlin" — titled "Oh Boy" in its popular initial European release — have been inflated by the picture winning scads of awards in its country of origin upon initial release. But we're here to talk about the movie, not the hype or the burden of expectation. This Music Box Films release has a distinct and confident look, as sure of itself visually in its black-and-white evocations of Berlin as its protagonist is unsure of himself and his future.

  • Review: 'Jersey Boys' ★★ 1/2

    June 19, 2014

    "Jersey Boys" the movie is a different, more sedate animal than "Jersey Boys" the Broadway musical. Often this happens when a stage success comes to the screen, even with many of the same performers and artistic team members on board. Changes are made; ardent fans of the original are variously pleased or disappointed. And in this case, those who missed the theatrical edition of the tale of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons — how they found their sound and wrestled with temptations — may wonder what the fuss was about.

  • Review: 'Think Like a Man Too' ★★

    June 19, 2014

    A 105-minute ad for Caesars Palace, the passably engaging sequel "Think Like a Man Too" allows Kevin Hart, the ensemble's hottest potato, to hijack whole sections of the Las Vegas-set hijinks as he lets loose with his little verbal tsunamis of braggadocio. The way this comedy has been edited by Peter S. Elliot, presumably at the urging of director Tim Story, the shots barely hold themselves for two or three seconds before slam-cutting away to a pushy reaction shot. This isn't momentum; it's agitation, and antsy pacing such as this has a way of giving the impression of energy, rather than truly energizing a scene.

  • Review: 'Jews of Egypt' ★★ 1/2

    June 12, 2014

    A female voice recalling a distant, more liberal era puts it this way: "We lived in Egypt without feeling the need to prove we were Egyptians."

  • Review: 'Night Moves' ★★★

    June 12, 2014

    Early in Kelly Reichardt's "Night Moves" there's a scene where Josh and Dena, the furtive young eco-terrorists played by Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning, attend a screening of an earnest environmental documentary introduced by its director. Dena asks her what people should do about the ruinous threats to the Earth and its consumers. Sorry, there's no simple answer, she replies: "I'm not focused on big plans. I'm focused on a lot of small plans." Dena and Josh appear puzzled by this response. They have something larger in the works.

  • Review: 'Obvious Child' ★★★ 1/2

    June 12, 2014

    Not so many administrations ago, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Dirty Dancing" and a handful of other films dared to deal with abortion, off-camera and usually a little off the main plotline, as a medical option chosen by a sympathetic young woman dictated by the machinations of the screenplay, usually with the help of sperm donated by a dislikable supporting character.

  • Review: '22 Jump Street' ★★★

    June 12, 2014

    The peculiar sweetness of "21 Jump Street" has taken a hiatus in "22 Jump Street," a brazen sequel that's both slightly disappointing and a reliable, often riotous "laffer" in the old Variety trade-magazine parlance. No question about it, I laffed, more at the little things — Channing Tatum trying to cut glass with a laser pointer, for example — than the brawls.

  • Review: 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' ★★★ 1/2

    June 12, 2014

    Toothless it's not.

  • Review: 'Black Box' ★★★ 1/2

    May 29, 2014

    Young adulthood is so very, very hard to capture honestly on screen, in all its lurches and false starts and weird little moments of truth. Compress those experiences into the weeks spent rehearsing a college play, and there's an almost absurd degree of self-perpetuating angst involved.

  • Review: 'Ida' ★★★★

    May 22, 2014

    One of the year's gems, photographed in velvety, expressive black-and-white by two different cinematographers working as one, "Ida" accomplishes so much, so surely in its 80 minutes, it's as if the director Pawel Pawlikowski had dared himself: How can I tell this fascinating story efficiently yet without rushing and abridging the narrative?

  • The French New Wave maverick returns to the Cannes Film Festival

    May 21, 2014

    A blink of a camera eye, or a smash-cut in the editing room, can mark the difference between breathlessness and contempt.

  • Ebert film 'Life Itself' premieres at Cannes

    May 19, 2014

    Despite a rare and aggravating 25-minute delay mid-screening, caused by a glitch with the digital projector housed by the Cannes Film Festival's Bunuel auditorium, "Life Itself" enjoyed a warm welcome Monday at the cinematic gathering visited, covered and lionized for decades by the late Roger Ebert.

  • Cannes 'Foxcatcher' bow bodes well for fall release

    May 19, 2014

    Prior to this year’s Cannes Film Festival the director Bennett Miller asserted himself as a major, stealthy talent attuned to minor-key, observant portraits of American success stories with an asterisk, a hidden price tag.

  • At Cannes, revelatory filmmaking trumps star power

    May 18, 2014

    CANNES, France — A comedy black enough to pass for India ink and, unlike so many grotesque comedies of modern manners, a film with just enough moral seriousness to make it stick, director David Cronenberg's “Maps to the Stars” defies such long odds it should be playing roulette in Monte Carlo instead of premiering at the 67th Cannes Film Festival.

  • An un-captivating 'Captive' at Cannes

    May 16, 2014

    "The Sweet Hereafter" isn't the only good film on Canadian writer-director Atom Egoyan's resume. But it has been too long since Egoyan, a Cannes Film Festival favorite, asserted his talent in strong dramatic fashion. 

  • Cannes Film Festival recovers from a rocky opening

    May 15, 2014

    Like a Gallic version of Jennifer Lawrence, tripping up a flight of stairs but laughing it off in style, the 67th Festival de Cannes has made a fine recovery following from the opening-night pratfall taken by the Grace Kelly biopic "Grace of Monaco."

  • Review: 'Chef' ★★ 1/2

    May 15, 2014

    Jon Favreau's "Chef" has one goal: to make you want to eat Cuban sandwiches twice a day for the rest of your life. Meat-eating moviegoers of all palates will have a difficult time controlling their drool, thanks to writer-director-star Favreau's close-ups of a snazzy food truck grill in action, sizzling, sizzling away, the ham looking like heaven, to say nothing of the bread and the pickles.

  • Review: 'Million Dollar Arm' ★★★

    May 15, 2014

    Partly it's the granite chin, and the ever-so-slightly self-congratulatory grin just above it. Partly it's his signature role, the duplicitous hollow man Don Draper on "Mad Men," the role Jon Hamm has been fortunate enough to explore the past few years.

  • Grace Kelly, star of Monaco, much brighter than the film about her

    May 14, 2014

    She’s been gone since 1982, when an apparent stroke led to her fatal car accident on the winding hills above the Mediterranean. But Grace Kelly had, and has, a way of lingering in the memory.

  • Review: 'Godzilla' ★★★ 1/2

    May 14, 2014

    In one fell swoop, and a pretty swell fell swoop it is, the new "Godzilla" makes up for the 1998 Godzilla movie, the one with Matthew Broderick up against the sea beast klutzing around New York like Jack Lemmon in "The Out-of-Towners." The latest "Godzilla," fine and fierce, removes the camp (though it's not humorless) and takes the smartly considered step of not over-exploiting its star.

  • Godzilla, a creature of his time

    May 8, 2014

    Next week the new "Godzilla" opens, and while we must wait to discuss it (other than to say it's really good) it's never too late to pay tribute to the 1954 film that made it possible.

  • Are you feeling superhero movie fatigue?

    May 8, 2014

    As a species, with a movie in front of us or otherwise, we like what we already know. We consume what appears and smells safe, predictable and filling. A knish of a movie — for many that's the ticket, especially in the months of May, June, July and August.

  • Out of a portrait, into history

    May 8, 2014

    "Belle" has a great, relatively unsung historical truth to tell. Its makers have chosen to illustrate that story prettily, rather than dramatize it three-dimensionally. But the cast brings the illustrations to life whenever and however they can.

  • Review: 'Neighbors' ★★★

    May 8, 2014

    One part smart, one part stupid and three parts jokes about body parts, the extremely raunchy "Neighbors" is a strange success story. It's nobody's idea of a well-structured and logically detailed screenplay, even though its premise — new parents battling frat house neighbors — springs from a high-concept idea that could've come from scriptwriting software or a research facility. Which brings us to one of the movie's better early jokes: Sizing up the perpetually shirtless kegmeister played by Zac Efron, Seth Rogen wonders if his adversary was "designed in a laboratory."

  • Bob Hoskins continually transformed and transcended

    May 1, 2014

    "Five-foot-six-cubic" is how Bob Hoskins described his dense, brick-like physique, and in his career as one of Britain's most familiar and reliable screen actors Hoskins was compared to all sorts of non-human entities. A bulldog. A fireplug. A face like "a damaged potato," in the words of critic Pauline Kael.

  • Bob Hoskins continually transformed and transcended

    May 1, 2014

    "Five-foot-six-cubic" is how Bob Hoskins described his dense, brick-like physique, and in his career as one of Britain's most familiar and reliable screen actors Hoskins was compared to all sorts of non-human entities. A bulldog. A fireplug. A face like "a damaged potato," in the words of critic Pauline Kael.

  • John Turturro blends art and mammon

    May 1, 2014

    "Thank you. I try. Sometimes you succeed. Sometimes you don't. You never know."

  • Review: 'Locke' ★★★

    May 1, 2014

    "Locke" is a solo act, and Tom Hardy is its superbly talented soloist. Throughout writer-director Steven Knight's nocturnal drama, the actor, deploying a Welsh accent, keeps his voice in a calm, determined register, suggesting a born manager and innate control freak whose life has spun atypically out of control.

  • Review: 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' ★★

    April 30, 2014

    Already spinning large webs of money overseas, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is a decent superhero franchise product, lent some personality by Andrew Garfield's skyscraper hair and the actor's easy, push-pull rapport with co-star Emma Stone, who plays the eternally disappointed Gwen, freshly graduated from high school, frustratingly in love with Peter Parker.

  • 25 years of summer movie hits

    April 25, 2014

    No other film released 25 years ago, and few made since, captured the crosscurrents of a single neighborhood on a sweltering summer day in late 20th-century America the way Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" did.

  • Music, film fest rocks past 'steady'

    April 24, 2014

    Six years old, the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival returns next week, May 1-4, at a long string of venues clustered mostly along Milwaukee Avenue in the Wicker Park, Logan Square and Bucktown neighborhoods, where you can't throw an empty bottle of Schlitz without clocking a hipster or a hipster's parents.

  • Review: 'Alan Partridge' ★★★

    April 24, 2014

    Steve Coogan is a devilishly clever comic actor, and as proved by "24 Hour Party People" and the recent "Philomena," his range in comparatively straight roles is subtler and wider than his resume suggests.

  • Review: 'Othello' ★★★ 1/2

    April 24, 2014

    Othello, the Moor, contends with a lot in the tragedy bearing his name, beginning with an undermining confidant and ending with a murdered wife, among other casualties. Shakespeare's noble but gullible creation is also an epileptic, and the overall visual attack of the 1952 Orson Welles film of "Othello," back for a week-long run in a fresh digital presentation at the Gene Siskel Film Center, approximates a seizure-like intensity.

  • Review: 'Walking With the Enemy' ★★

    April 24, 2014

    The title "Walking With the Enemy" suggests a peculiar lack of urgency, so it's a disappointingly accurate handle indeed.

  • Block Cinema revisits the Great Depression

    April 17, 2014

    The rawest, most vital Hollywood films of the early 1930s didn't turn a blind eye to the Depression. Rather, they turned the crisis into an opportunity for all kinds of storytelling, guided by socially conscious principles as much as filmmaking wiles.

  • Godard's 3-D feature just one Cannes offering to anticipate

    April 17, 2014

    Thursday in Paris, with two or three additions to the main competition likely still to come, Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux announced the selections for the 67th edition of the world's premier collision of cinematic art, naked commerce and stars on red carpet.

  • Review: 'The Unknown Known' ★★★

    April 17, 2014

    The crucial Rummyism in the life, lexicon and flamboyantly knotty verbiage of former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld isn't the infamous "known knowns/unknown knowns/known unknowns" briar patch.

  • Review: 'The Railway Man' ★★ 1/2

    April 17, 2014

    The concept of manly grief leads into so many dark areas and cultural expectations — questions about how men are expected to bury their trauma long after the traumatizing event. Or else, how men are expected to examine it, reckon with it emotionally, when everything in their DNA and their upbringing tells them to keep it in.

  • Review: 'Hateship Loveship' ★★★

    April 17, 2014

    A lot of performers who come out of comedy, sketch and improvisation would rather die than do next-to-nothing on camera. Kristen Wiig, on the other hand — no problem. She can watch, and listen and be interesting. She's comfortable working on a small canvas with incremental brushstrokes, which makes her an apt match for the isolated, insulated character at the heart of "Hateship Loveship," now in a two-week run at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

  • Review: 'Transcendence' ★★

    April 16, 2014

    After an intriguing start, "Transcendence" — aka "The Computer Wore Johnny Depp's Tennis Shoes" — offers roughly the same level of excitement as listening to hold music during a call to tech support.

  • Director of 'Under the Skin' follows his muses

    April 10, 2014

    It's a recent, blustery Chicago day, and Jonathan Glazer is tucking into a lovely steak at David Burke's Primehouse. In support of his arresting new film "Under the Skin," starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien being on the prowl in Glasgow and rural Scotland, the London-born filmmaker, commercial veteran (check out his Guinness surfer ad sometime) and music-video specialist is talking about watching movies on television growing up, often with his father.

  • REVIEW: 'Under the Skin' ★★★ 1/2

    April 10, 2014

    Minds will be blown to the four winds. And — fair warning — a percentage of American ticket buyers may find themselves exasperated and/or exiting early.

  • REVIEW: 'Cuban Fury' ★★ 1/2

    April 10, 2014

    The zazzed-up editing obscures the actual results, but Nick Frost apparently does much of his own dancing in the new comedy "Cuban Fury." Written by Jon Brown from an idea by Frost, the film is designed to let the valuable, amiable co-star of "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz" and "The World's End" step out on his own in a modest fable of self-improvement, the wrangling of inner demons and "Strictly Ballroom" dance floor triumph. Frost has all it takes to run his own show. Now he just needs a better show.

  • REVIEW: 'Dom Hemingway' ★★ 1/2

    April 10, 2014

    Quiet nobility is all very well, but what actor doesn't relish a good bad boy now and then?

  • REVIEW: 'Oculus' ★★★

    April 10, 2014

    Happily longer on chills than entrails, the crafty new horror film "Oculus" is about a haunted mirror. Three years ago, writer-director Mike Flanagan made the similarly low-budget "Absentia," which dealt with a haunted pedestrian underpass. In this genre, it's good to be specific.

  • REVIEW: 'Rio 2' ★★

    April 10, 2014

    In the commercial animation realm, there are movies that reach for something, or many things. Others are content merely to baby-sit.

  • REVIEW: 'Draft Day' ★★ 1/2

    April 10, 2014

    "Draft Day" feels like a play, and I don't mean a football play. It feels like a play-play at its sporadic best, in the same way J.C. Chandor's 2011 "Margin Call" felt that way.

  • Mickey Rooney: a dynamo for decades

    April 7, 2014

    Mickey Rooney was more cyclone than man, and like most weather-related phenomena, even at his most fearsome he was more easily experienced than described. Words such as "tireless" or "fearless" don't really get at it with Rooney. In a world of triple threats he was a quadruple or, in the spirit of his many, often brief marriages, an octuple. He sang, he danced, he broke hearts, he did pratfalls, he mugged, he mugged some more, he yearned for the girl next door. And he embodied the proud if counter-intuitive showbiz tradition of never leaving the audience wanting more.

  • REVIEW: 'Nymphomaniac: Vol. II' ★★ 1/2

    April 3, 2014

    Now available on demand and in the odd theater, "Nymphomaniac: Vol. II" continues the story of Joe, the restless, compulsive and increasingly masochistic character played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. In the first of Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" films, released a few weeks ago, Joe is discovered beaten and bloodied in an alley near the apartment of Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), a solitary bachelor who offers comfort and hot tea to this forlorn stranger.

  • 'Finding Vivian Maier' and its backers

    April 3, 2014

    Four years ago, producer, comedian and actor Jeff Garlin caught a "Chicago Tonight" segment on collector John Maloof's accidental discovery of street photographer Vivian Maier, who worked as a North Shore nanny and housekeeper for much of her life. Garlin loved the segment. He loved the late Maier's work. And he loved the mysteries informing her life, her early years and her dedication to capturing the citizens of Chicago unawares, on camera, with an unnerving directness.

  • REVIEW: 'Finding Vivian Maier' ★★★ 1/2

    April 3, 2014

    Vivian Maier is a great Chicago story. And what she did for, and with, the faces, neighborhoods and character of mid-20th century Chicago deserves comparison to what Robert Frank accomplished, in a wider format, with "The Americans."

  • REVIEW: 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' ★★★

    April 2, 2014

    "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is a better-than-average Marvel superhero bash, intriguingly plotted and pretty clever in its speculations about 21st-century life for Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, the greatest of the Greatest Generation warriors, as he contends with contemporary American geopolitical ideals run amok.

  • Watching big movies on the small screen

    March 28, 2014

    Whether it's time or technological preference, many of us watch movies in ways we would've considered ridiculous a few years ago. The other day, blowing off the sensible Not Safe for Work guideline, I reviewed "Nymphomaniac: Volume I" at the office by way of an online link. Confronted with the first really gamey encounter in Lars von Trier's sexually explicit film, I did what any Repressive-American would do. I panicked, looked over my shoulder like someone with something to hide and quickly reduced the screen on my laptop to bottom-of-the-screen thumbnail size. Literally, the image was the size of my thumbnail, approximately 0.75 inches by 0.60 inches.

  • Incentives breed film familiarity

    March 27, 2014

    Moviemaking in America often comes down to one state's tax incentives versus another's, and how those tax breaks can shave millions off a producer's bottom line.

  • REVIEW: 'Jodorowsky's Dune' ★★★ 1/2

    March 27, 2014

    If I ever go through a wormhole, let me land on a planet where repertory cinema is alive and well and showcasing all the lost, cruelly abridged and, especially, unmade movies conceived on a grand, misbegotten scale. That'd be quite a three-day weekend. Murnau's "4 Devils," followed by von Stroheim's original cut of "Greed," plus the Welles version of "The Magnificent Ambersons." Plus Welles' never-made "Heart of Darkness," intended to be his Hollywood debut. Plus Clouzot's "L'Enfer," the sexual-jealousy obsession he never finished and subject of its own terrific documentary.

  • REVIEW: 'Sabotage' ★★

    March 27, 2014

    There's a weird, bashful moment in "Sabotage" when Olivia Williams, atypically cast as a tough Atlanta police detective, is drawn like a moth to the flame of Arnold Schwarzenegger's lips. It's a quick bit, cut off with comical abruptness before director and co-writer David Ayer ("Training Day," "End of Watch") gets back to the business of slaughter.

  • REVIEW: 'Noah' ★★ 1/2

    March 27, 2014

    Neither fish nor fowl, neither foul nor inspiring, director and co-writer Darren Aronofsky's strange and often rich new movie "Noah" has enough actual filmmaking to its name to deserve better handling than a plainly nervous Paramount Pictures has given it.

  • REVIEW: 'Cesar Chavez' ★★

    March 27, 2014

    For years, Chicago-born Michael Pena has been the guy behind the guy, doing good, subtle work with the roles he's landed — occasionally in color-blind, ethnically nonspecific casting situations, more often up against other Latino performers also deserving of a less hidebound, more open-minded casting process.

  • Movie musicals deserving of a remake

    March 20, 2014

    Earlier this month Steven Spielberg expressed strong interest in remaking "West Side Story," and my first thought (via Twitter) was a quick gut reaction: Why not "Gypsy" instead?

  • REVIEW: 'Le Week-End' ★★★ 1/2

    March 20, 2014

    Screenwriter Hanif Kureishi burst onto the scene a generation ago with "My Beautiful Laundrette" (1985), and his latest script, "Le Week-End," may be the best he's written since then.

  • REVIEW: 'Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1' ★★★

    March 20, 2014

    For all its credited sex doubles (eight) and digitally attached stunt genitalia, the new Lars von Trier lark "Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1" is a weirdly old-fashioned affair. If it weren't for the explicit sexual encounters, this could be an Ibsen or a Strindberg play, unclothed and unmoored from the late 19th or early 20th century.

  • REVIEW: 'Enemy' ★★★

    March 20, 2014

    Based on "The Double" by novelist Jose Saramago, "Enemy" stars Jake Gyllenhaal in what the old studio publicity departments used to call "a demanding dual role." We're in a city — Toronto, clouded over with haze and a peculiar, sickly light managed by cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc — where a history professor, played by Gyllenhaal, tries to rally his half-empty lecture halls with warnings of the totalitarian state.

  • REVIEW: 'Muppets Most Wanted' ★★

    March 20, 2014

    High spirits and good times are hard to come by in "Muppets Most Wanted," the anxious follow-up to the commercially successful 2011 reboot ("The Muppets") and the seventh Muppet sequel to follow in the animal tracks of "The Muppet Movie" in 1979.

  • REVIEW: 'Divergent' ★★

    March 19, 2014

    In Veronica Roth's young adult trilogy of best-selling futuristic hellholes, being a "divergent" means you avoid easy categorization and defy the crushing dictates of your overseers.

  • REVIEW: 'Veronica Mars' ★★

    March 13, 2014

    Everything about the way the movie version of "Veronica Mars" came to pass is more intriguing than the movie itself.

  • REVIEW: 'The Missing Picture' ★★★★

    March 13, 2014

    As brilliantly as Art Spiegelman examined his parents' experiences of the Holocaust in the graphic novel "Maus," the Cambodian-born filmmaker and author Rithy Panh relives his own survival of the Khmer Rouge regime in "The Missing Picture." It's a fantastic film, and while I loved the movie that won this year's best documentary Oscar, "Twenty Feet From Stardom," that one's a blip on the world radar compared with Panh's searching, contemplative and spellbinding effort.

  • REVIEW: 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' ★★★ 1/2

    March 13, 2014

    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.

  • REVIEW: 'Need for Speed' ★★ 1/2

    March 13, 2014

    In the race between interesting, long-ish screen noses belonging to good young actors, it's simply too close to call between Dominic Cooper and Imogen Poots.

  • EU Film Festival offers rich travelogue

    March 6, 2014

    Judging from its finest recent films, modern-day Romania strangles minute by minute on its own petty bureaucracy, its ingrained, weary sarcasm and resentments and the uneasy societal forces destined to keep its people under the gun, playing into their worst human instincts.

  • Neither phone troubles nor leg troubles stop Elaine Stritch

    March 6, 2014

    I had three rough, technologically challenged cellphone conversations with Elaine Stritch a couple of weeks ago, one right after the other, each broken up by dropped calls and a lot of understandable flustered impatience on Stritch's end of the line. That day (Feb. 17) she was getting her hair done in New York City prior to the evening's event: a 92nd Street Y "evening with" featuring Stritch.

  • Review: 'Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me' ★★★ 1/2

    March 6, 2014

    "Everybody's got a sack of rocks," Elaine Stritch says, quoting her late husband, John Bay. Some people don't let you know it. Some people do. The 89-year-old Broadway, TV, movie and cabaret star never lets you forget it. Swinging her particular rock sack with as much panache as her body will allow, Stritch makes her life a perpetual 11 o'clock number, celebrating strength through adversity, self-inflicted or otherwise.

  • Gravitas, 'Gravity' dominate

    March 3, 2014

    Confounding the Oscar pundits who predicted levity over gravity, not to mention levity over “Gravity,” “12 Years a Slave” won the Academy Award on Sunday for best film of 2013.

  • Who will win on Oscar night?

    February 28, 2014

    They might be screwy. You never know with predictions. Meteorologists, a lot of them pretty smart, predicted a “tough” winter a few months back. Instead we got a season better described as “Roland Emmerich disaster movie material.”

  • Michael Phillips on 2013 screenplays up for Oscars

    February 28, 2014

    Oscar-nominated or not, a screenplay remains a halfway thing until it goes before the cameras. Similarly, a movie is only a movie until the post-screening discussion, whether that discussion takes place in your head, alone, or with strangers in a room. At that point a movie becomes a Socratic debate. Unless it's "The Lego Movie," which everybody seems to like a lot.

  • REVIEW: 'Museum Hours' ★★★★

    February 27, 2014

    Last November, Jem Cohen's Vienna-set film "Museum Hours" made its modest premiere in Chicago. Some were restless with it. Others fell under its spell. Count me among those happy to see it return for an encore one-week theatrical run beginning Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center. The following is a distillation of the Nov. 15 Tribune review.

  • Up in the air, thrills are plane to see

    February 27, 2014

    Opening Friday, the new thriller "Non-Stop" is an entertaining time killer you wouldn't mind seeing on a long flight, as long as that flight weren't bedeviled by the sort of dramatic complications the movies have found irresistible for nearly a century.

  • REVIEW: 'Kids for Cash' ★★★ 1/2

    February 27, 2014

    Once someone comes up with a snazzy, alliterative handle for a corruption story, that's it — careers can be ended in a flash. "Kids for Cash," an impressive, often enraging feature-length debut from director Robert May, deals carefully and well with the so-called kids for cash scandal.

  • REVIEW: 'Non-Stop' ★★★

    February 27, 2014

    All's right with the world on this late day in February. Liam Neeson, also known as Mr. Capable or Uncle Avuncular, is back headlining another entertainingly preposterous thriller, this one called "Non-Stop," directed by his "Unknown" collaborator, director Jaume Collet-Serra.

  • REVIEW: 'In Secret' ★★ 1/2

    February 20, 2014

    We keep coming back to "Therese Raquin" for the same reason Emile Zola's 1867 novel of adultery and murder, which ascribed its anti-heroine's amorality to her "hot" African blood, stirred the imaginations of Theodore Dreiser ("An American Tragedy"), James M. Cain ("The Postman Always Rings Twice") and a thousand other creative voyeurs with access to a printing press. Sex sells. It hooks us as partakers in someone else's fantasy of desire and comeuppance. We want to know what happens once the guards are lowered and the clothes come off and transgressions feed other transgressions.

  • REVIEW: 'The Wind Rises' ★★★ 1/2

    February 20, 2014

    Here's a beautiful apparent contradiction: a gentle, supple picture about the man who designed the Zero fighter plane.

  • REVIEW: 'About Last Night' ★★ 1/2

    February 13, 2014

    "About Last Night," which is about hookups and relationships and the photogenic allure of the revitalized downtown Los Angeles, comes with a strange pedigree. First in its line was David Mamet's mean, sad, funny 1974 comedy "Sexual Perversity in Chicago," 100 percent Chicago all the way. Mamet saw no hope for his four characters, romantically speaking, and his view of men and women went far beyond Mars and Venus. House plants and rubber bands had a better shot at relating.

  • Regina Hall and Michael Ealy talk 'About Last Night'

    February 13, 2014

    "About Last Night" opens this weekend, just in time for Valentine's Day. Three of the four principal actors in this LA-set adaptation of David Mamet's play "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" (borrowing also from the 1986 film "About Last Night …") worked together on the ensemble comedy hit "Think Like a Man." Two of those three, Regina Hall and Michael Ealy, came through Chicago recently on a promotional tour, and in separate interviews, back to back in a capacious suite at the Trump International Hotel affording a truly yowza view of the Wrigley Building clock and surrounding buildings,the actors talked about topics ranging from getting dragged to "The Exorcist" at the age of 4 (Hall) to the subtly racist idea that two African-American comedies are basically the same (Ealy, discussing the dreamy, idealized "Think Like a Man" and the edgier "About Last Night").

  • REVIEW: 'Endless Love' ★ 1/2

    February 13, 2014

    Alongside the reboots of "RoboCop" and "About Last Night," this week's bizarre "I Love the '80s" multiplex tribute continues with the remake of "Endless Love," a movie just begging to go up in the flames of camp. If only somebody had brought a match.

  • Tale of miracles needs at least one of its own

    February 13, 2014

    In the movies, particularly in the case of best-sellers adapted for the screen, time travel and its next-door neighbor, reincarnation, seem like a good idea at the time. But very often something goes gooey. Even with Colin Farrell's soulful eyes, the tastefully cockamamie and increasingly gloppy new film "Winter's Tale," pulled from Mark Helprin's 1983 novel, refuses to take off in any of its eras.

  • REVIEW: 'Tim's Vermeer' ★★★

    February 13, 2014

    Here's the theory. Well before the advent of photography, in paintings of paradoxically photorealistic light and detail such as "Girl With a Pearl Earring" and "The Music Lesson," 17th-century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer may have used a camera obscura and a couple of mirrors.

  • REVIEW: 'RoboCop' ★★★

    February 11, 2014

    Intriguingly ambiguous in its rooting interests, the "RoboCop" remake doesn't really believe its own poster. The tagline "Crime has a new enemy" suggests little more than point and shoot — the same old cyborg song and dance. While nobody'd be dumb enough to reboot the original 1987 kill-'em-up franchise by holding back on the scenes of slaughter in favor of sly political satire about arm-twisting Fox News jingoism or American business ethics, Brazilian-born director Jose Padilha manages to do all that and still deliver the product.

  • REVIEW: '7 Boxes' ★★★ 1/2

    February 6, 2014

    Run Victor run! A swift and clever thriller from Paraguay, "7 Boxes" joins a list of diversions from all over the world — the German "Run Lola Run"; the Philippine "Slingshot"; and such Hollywood entertainments as "Premium Rush" — built for speed, organized chaos and headlong velocity.

  • REVIEW: 'The Monuments Men' ★★

    February 4, 2014

    A genial disappointment about the preciousness of art amid the destructive horrors of war, "The Monuments Men" is scored to a military march by composer Alexandre Desplat. You hear what he was going for: jaunty heroics. The throwback sound of it suggests the director, co-writer and star George Clooney sat down with Desplat, gave him a smile and said: "Gimme some of that Elmer Bernstein 'Great Escape' magic, Al."

  • REVIEW: 'The Lego Movie' ★★★★

    February 4, 2014

    Finally! A comedy that works. An animated film with a look — a kinetic aesthetic honoring its product line's bright, bricklike origins — that isn't like every other clinically rounded and bland digital 3-D effort. A movie that works for the Lego-indebted parent as well as the Lego-crazed offspring. A movie that, in its brilliantly crammed first half especially, will work even if you don't give a rip about Legos.

  • For Hoffman, acting didn't come easy, but it did come true

    February 3, 2014

    Philip Seymour Hoffman didn't really steal scenes. He tugged them, slyly, like a man doing a slow-motion rug trick, to his own corner of the action. He did it time after time, across 50-odd feature films and with a consistent presence on the New York stage. (He worked all over the place; he directed "The Long Red Road" at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in 2010.)

  • 'Cabin in the Sky' revival at Facets

    January 30, 2014

    This Sunday at noon, Facets Cinematheque and Chicago Opera Theater will host a Facets screening of the 1943 MGM musical "Cabin in the Sky," which marked the feature directorial debut of a master, Vincente Minnelli.

  • REVIEW: 'At Middleton' ★★★

    January 30, 2014

    "At Middleton" is formulaic and contrived. It's also worth seeing because it breathes a little, and because Vera Farmiga and Andy Garcia know what they're doing as they guide this appealingly simple brief encounter of a romance.

  • REVIEW: 'Labor Day' ★★

    January 30, 2014

    The thesis of "Labor Day," taken from Joyce Maynard's novel, was summed up well by The Washington Post headline affixed to the Post's book review: "Sometimes it's okay to pick up a scary drifter."

  • REVIEW: 'That Awkward Moment' ★★

    January 30, 2014

    More grating than peppy, the Manhattan-set romantic comedy "That Awkward Moment" proceeds as a series of awkward moments in search of a premise and a protagonist a little less stupid.

  • REVIEW: 'On the Bowery' ★★★★

    January 23, 2014

    This week the Gene Siskel Film Center begins a 14-part retrospective of street-level, purely American poetic-realist cinema spanning five different decades and too many different sensibilities to fit into any one box.

  • Ebert documentary, 'Life Itself,' gets thumbs up ★★★ 1/2

    January 23, 2014

    The documentary "Life Itself," directed by Steve James of "Hoop Dreams" and "The Interrupters" and based on the late Roger Ebert's 2011 memoir, could have settled for well-meaning hagiography or a feature-length pitch for sainthood. Many of Ebert's far-flung fans and admirers, along with the thousands of Chicagoans who called him friend even if they didn't know him, may have preferred it that way.

  • REVIEW: 'Gimme Shelter' ★ 1/2

    January 23, 2014

    It's hard not to be affected by a story about a pregnant, homeless teenager such as the one at the heart of "Gimme Shelter," which stars "High School Musical's" Vanessa Hudgens. But some movies, full of good intentions and cliches undermining those intentions, make it very hard indeed.

  • REVIEW: 'The Invisible Woman' ★★★

    January 23, 2014

    Charles Dickens wrote often about people required by circumstance to skitter through double lives, none with more dastardly, compartmentalized determination than the secretive choirmaster at the center of his final, unfinished work, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood."

  • REVIEW: 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' ★★

    January 16, 2014

    The best moment in "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" allows the director and crucial supporting player Kenneth Branagh to set cars and guns aside for a brief, unblinking glare in a two-person scene at a dinner table. Branagh plays a heroin-addicted Russian terrorist in this routine franchise reboot, and when he's at dinner in Moscow with Ryan's fiancee, played by Keira Knightley, he's being duped into believing he's making meaningful progress in the sniveling-seduction department.

  • REVIEW: 'Ride Along' ★★

    January 16, 2014

    Early, bloggy reviews of "Ride Along" have rolled in this week with phrases such as "perfectly acceptable" and "been-there-done-that," suggesting the likely range of opinion. It'll probably be a hit: Audiences are getting precisely what they're promised.

  • REVIEW: 'The Nut Job' ★

    January 16, 2014

    Mighty oaks from little acorns grow, and all that, but "The Nut Job" didn't work out that way. This 3-D animation job, a co-production of South Korea's Redrover Co. and the Canadian outfit ToonBox Entertainment, generates such little interest in the fates of its urban park critters, you may find yourself pondering mixed-use development schemes to rid the film of its key setting altogether.

  • Berenice Bejo talks about 'The Past' and how she got there

    January 9, 2014

    CANNES, France - For her work in "The Past," as a divorcing Paris mother caught in a web of deceptions, Berenice Bejo won the best actress award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. The movie opens in Chicago Friday; Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi's previous feature was "A Separation," and this one's nearly as good.

  • REVIEW: 'August: Osage County' ★★

    January 9, 2014

    Over and over, the negative reviews of "August: Osage County" have pulled variations on a sad theme, with various New York- and LA-based critics wrestling with the film without having seen, or read, the Tracy Letts play that came before it. Paraphrased, the theme goes like this: "Well, at least now I don't have to see the play. The movie doesn't work for me. Why would I ever take time to see the original?"

  • REVIEW: 'The Past' ★★★ 1/2

    January 9, 2014

    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.

  • Winter 2014 in Movies: A few films to anticipate this winter

    January 3, 2014

    How crowded was December at the movies? Crowded enough to push George Clooney and "The Monuments Men" into an early 2014 release. And that's good! That's good. Because a little quality to go with our winter movie diversions would be good.

  • Review: 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' ★★

    December 24, 2013

    So. Turns out the only thing the prototypical American milquetoast Walter Mitty needed to get happy was a little stubble and a lavish travel budget.

  • Review: 'Wolf of Wall Street' ★★

    December 23, 2013

    In the waning years of the last century at Stratton Oakmont, the Wall Street brokerage house run like a coked-up 24-hour bacchanal by Jordan Belfort, the customer wasn't king. The customer was merely a means to an end. Belfort and his minions ruled, and they couldn't spend, snort or swallow the riches reaped fast enough.

  • In Jonze's hands, future in 'Her' feels a lot like now

    December 21, 2013

    Opening on Christmas day, along with "Grudge Match" and a few other films with which it has nothing in common, writer-director Spike Jonze's "Her" is the most beguiling and imaginative picture of 2013, the one I'd miss the most if it hadn't been made.

  • 'Frozen': Defying meteorology ★★★

    November 26, 2013

    Big, bright, often beautiful and essentially an action movie, as are most animated features these days, "Frozen" comes from Walt Disney Animation Studios. While Disney credits the 1845 Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Snow Queen" as primary inspiration, the movie owes a lot more to the Broadway blockbuster "Wicked."

  • Inequality and its toll roil changing China in 'Touch of Sin' ★★★ 1/2

    November 21, 2013

    A brutally eloquent panorama of modern China, "A Touch of Sin" amalgamates four stories of violent revenge, inspired by factual events, to create a treatise on socioeconomic injustice and where it can lead.

  • Review: 'Fosse' by Sam Wasson

    November 3, 2013

    "Bob Fosse was the best thing ever to come out of burlesque, and he would pay for it forever," Sam Wasson writes in his punchy, vital new biography, "Fosse."

  • 'Gravity,' a breathtaking space adventure ★★★ 1/2

    October 4, 2013

    "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.

  • Smoke, mirrors and 'Salinger' ★ 1/2

    September 19, 2013

    The less J.D. Salinger had to say for himself, across so many decades of near-seclusion, the more his rabid fans went on about what the author of "The Catcher in the Rye" meant to them, and why Holden Caulfield struck such a mighty chord with generations of post-World War II adolescents, whatever their age. (I read it when I was 15 and was never quite the same.) Was the author's love life, in and apart from his marriages, a series of seductions involving dangerously young women? Was his entire post-combat life a traumatic stress disorder in action? Is there a trove of unpublished material that has been awaiting the light, per Salinger's legal instructions, since his 2010 death?

  • 'The World's End' is a reunion, with an open bar ★★★ 1/2

    August 22, 2013

    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" (zombie invasion plus rom-com) and "Hot Fuzz" ("Bad Boys"-brand action movie plopped down in Miss Marple land).

  • Jim Carrey's mea culpa a good first step for 'Kick-Ass 2' ★ 1/2

    August 15, 2013

    "Kick-Ass 2," the sequel to the 2010 adaptation of Scottish comic book author Mark Millar's "Kick-Ass," comes in right on the bubble: It's no better, no worse and essentially no different from the jocular, clodhopping brutality of the first one. Here in writer-director Jeff Wadlow's crimson bauble, Chloe Grace Moretz and Aaron Taylor-Johnson reprise their roles as Hit Girl and Kick-Ass, respectively — the homegrown, limb-lopping superheroes and high school classmates (he's older, but she's tougher) who spill more blood than a klutzy production assistant on a Tarantino shoot.

  • 'We're the Millers' stripped of humor ★ 1/2

    August 7, 2013

    When Jason Sudeikis and Ed Helms appear in the same movie there's a significant threat of clean-cut sameness. Mediocre material makes them like two halves of the same comic actor: Ed Jason Helms-Sudeikis.

  • 'Wolverine' is mutant who plays to balconies ★★★

    July 25, 2013

    Every time Hugh Jackman's up there on screen, dining out on the rage stew that is the Wolverine, I think back to his Tony Award-winning performance as entertainer Peter Allen in "The Boy From Oz." It was a terrible musical but a wonderful Broadway turn, flamboyant exuberance personified. Each strand of this performer's DNA is about giving the audience a great time. He's a strutter, and in "The Wolverine," Jackman's sixth and most dominant appearance as the Marvel Comics character, the immortal mutton-chopped loner looks as if he has been spending all his time up in the Canadian wilderness with a personal trainer, waiting for his close-up.

  • 'This is Martin Bonner' gambles on path to better life in Reno ★★★1/2

    July 19, 2013

    Now in a week's run at Facets, "This Is Martin Bonner" explores what it means to be a good person at a crossroads, and whom you might find there. In outline form, especially given its premiere last year at the Sundance Film Festival, writer-director Chad Hartigan's second feature courts comparisons to all sorts of Sundance titles trading in a similar vein of low-key naturalism. This is one of the very good ones.

  • 'Bling Ring' a bright, breezy film with a message ★★★

    June 20, 2013

    "I think Los Angeles is so the center of American culture right now," writer-director Sofia Coppola says in the production notes for her swift, clever bauble "The Bling Ring," because "of all these reality TV shows."

  • 'Much Ado About Nothing' gracefully drags Shakespeare into modern times ★★★ 1/2

    June 20, 2013

    Finally! A romantic comedy that works. And not just because of Shakespeare.

  • 'World War Z': Fast zombies, global chaos and a semi-entertaining mess ★★ 1/2

    June 19, 2013

    It begins the way global epidemics have begun once or twice before in the movies: with a nice American family around the kitchen table, television droning in the background, delivering news reports of a mutating virus. OK, pass the oj! Let's get on with the rest of our undead-plagued lives, shall we?

  • 'Somm': Swirl, sniff and imbibe a mid-level documentary ★★ 1/2

    June 14, 2013

    Filmmaker Jason Wise has worked as an underwater photographer as well as a bartender, so quite naturally Wise's first feature-length documentary involves massive quantities of liquid. In "Somm," a slick, easygoing feature debut, we follow four male friends and colleagues, wine obsessives all, as they prepare for the exam that qualifies a lucky few (201 worldwide to date) for the distinction, title and prestige of becoming a master sommelier.

  • 'This is the End' is rude, crude -- and funny ★★★ 1/2

    June 13, 2013

    The "Hangover" movies, even the third one no one defends, barely qualify as comedies in the traditional sense. They're more like grimy action pictures with a joke or two tossed in to avoid the charge of false labeling. Their ugliness of spirit compounds a disinterest in verbal jokes and a reliance on brutality (which isn't the same as artfully violent slapstick), and nobody involved seems to care about making the talk snappy or keeping a scene moving forward. Whatever. They're hits. The public hath spoken, even as the public groweth weary.

  • 'Man of Steel' follows the grim path first trod by the Dark Knight ★★ 1/2

    June 13, 2013

    Thanks, "Man of Steel." Because of the scene where Superman battles two of his adversaries from the planet Krypton in downtown Smallville, wrecking most of an IHOP and a Sears store, I now associate pancakes and appliances with pain and suffering.

  • African themes power Facets fest

    June 13, 2013

    Perilous journeys home and away: Each edition of the African Diaspora International Film Festival, presented annually by Facets Cinematheque, offers a continent's worth in both directions.

  • 'Fill the Void': Israel's Haredi sect explored from within ★★★

    June 13, 2013

    An elegant miniature, Rama Burshtein's "Fill the Void" labors under a narrative inevitability, but it's artful work nonetheless.

  • The water was fine when Esther Williams was in it

    June 7, 2013

    How do you explain Esther Williams to younger moviegoers with no working knowledge of her stardom?

  • Search for laughs falls short in 'The Internship' ★★

    June 6, 2013

    You might say "The Internship" is in the bag for Google, the fearsomely powerful search engine and commerce behemoth. But that doesn't quite convey the extent of the coziness. This film carries Google's water. It is, in fact, Google's little minion movie.

  • Brit Marling points 'The East' in right direction ★★★

    June 6, 2013

    Deep cover: That's where an actress can reveal two faces, one real, the other designed to burrow into the confidence of her adversary.

  • 'Tiger Eyes': Son steers Judy Blume tale on an apt, gentle course ★★★

    June 6, 2013

    A gentle, honest and shrewdly realized film such as "Tiger Eyes," based on the 1981 Judy Blume novel, shouldn't have to fight for a moviegoer's attention or an exhibitor's screens (it opens at a single Chicago-area theater this weekend). But it's worth seeking out.

  • Cannes once again a fascinating, provocative 'research' project

    May 31, 2013

    Every year the Cannes Film Festival pulls into its orbit a rangy group of Chicago journalists, critics, student filmmakers and programmers. The festival was different this year, though. Conspicuously and sadly, it lacked the benevolent presence of its most ardent American chronicler, the late Roger Ebert.

  • Pitchfork announces new film website

    May 30, 2013

    This July, Pitchfork Media plans to launch an expansive Chicago-based movie website called The Dissolve (, staffed largely by veterans of The Onion’s AV Club.

  • Misdirection expert back to 'After Earth' ★★ 1/2

    May 30, 2013

    Director and screenwriter M. Night Shyamalan has gone from being Mr. Twist, thanks to "The Sixth Sense," to the most doggedly straightforward storyteller on the planet, judging from the modestly entertaining "After Earth." It's essentially a two-hander showcasing the Smiths, Will and Jaden.

  • Richard Linklater, screen lovers reunite again in 'Before Midnight' ★★★

    May 30, 2013

    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.

  • Predictions reach high pitch for Cannes awards

    May 27, 2013

    Unlike the Grammys  or the Oscars, the Cannes Film Festival awards keep things simple and the numbers low. At the 66th closing ceremony tonight, main competition jury president Steven Spielberg and his illustrious colleagues (Nicole Kidman, Christoph Waltz, director Ang Lee and five others from around the world) will reveal their selections in a handful of categories—seven, if past festivals are any guide, with the option for a special award if Spielberg and company see fit.

  • Black and white and 'Blue' catch the attention

    May 24, 2013

    CANNES, France -- Paradox! This is how it goes here: Just as the weather deigns to become a thing of sun-splashed French Riviera wonder, the 66th Cannes Film Festival responds with an 8:30 a.m. world premiere of "Nebraska," director Alexander Payne's first film since "The Descendants." It's a tight-lipped, melancholic black-and-white road movie starring Bruce Dern as an alcoholic Billings, Mont., man convinced he's won a million dollars in a mail-order sweepstakes giveaway.

  • 'Post Tenebras Lux': A dark, uneasy, even harsh form of dream ★★★ 1/2

    May 24, 2013

    Carlos Reygadas' head-spinning follow-up to "Silent Light" (2007) opens as that film did, with a gorgeous image of the natural world. This one depicts a young girl running in a rain-soaked open field, among dogs, horses, burros, the clank of the cowbells accompanying her squeals of delight.

  • A Petra Pan travels boroughs and beyond in 'Frances Ha' ★★★ 1/2

    May 23, 2013

    Often when you're young, and sometimes even when you're older than young, adulthood is something ventured into partway, like a wading pool. The deep end your friends are already inhabiting looks a long way away.

  • 'Epic' can't see the forest for the plot ★★

    May 23, 2013

    The hopeful title of "Epic" suggests big things in a way that a more accurate title, such as "How to Train Your Hummingbird," would not. The animated result isn't bad. It's an adequate baby sitter. But where's the allure in telling the truth? Twentieth Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios present "Adequate"?

  • 'Seduced and Abandoned' with Alec Baldwin at Cannes

    May 22, 2013

    Last year at the Cannes Film Festival, Alec Baldwin and director James Toback ran around for 11 days making a movie about two guys (themselves; it’s a documentary) scrambling to line up financing for a different movie, a sex-soaked tale of a right-wing government operative trysting with a left-wing journalist in a hotel room in Iraq.

  • Michael Douglas impresses at Cannes with HBO Liberace pic 'Behind the Candelabra'

    May 21, 2013

    Michael Douglas’s faaaaabulous portrayal of Liberace won’t be eligible for an Oscar, since the droll Steven Soderbergh-directed biopic “Behind the Candelabra” debuts Sunday on HBO before playing theatrically (and talk about theatrically!) overseas.

  • Coen brothers' loser is winning over Cannes

    May 20, 2013

    CANNES, France — Whatever its commercial fortunes when it opens in the U.S. this December, "Inside Llewyn Davis" already has won the acclaim sought so ardently by the fictional folk singer of its title, the latest charismatic loser in a long, stumbling conga line of Coen brothers protagonists.

  • Cannes: Winnetka's Katie Chang gets big break in 'Bling Ring'

    May 17, 2013

    “I mean, I come from Winnetka,” says New Trier Township High School graduating senior Katie Chang, in Cannes this week accompanying her big break, Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring.”

  • Cannes Film Festival: Nothing succeeds like excess -- and a white badge

    May 16, 2013

    CANNES, France — The class envy raging through F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” helps to explain why teenage readers, usually assigned the book in school, fall under its spell. So sad about that doomed love, the kids sigh. Money can’t buy you the best things in life. But those mad Prohibition-era parties sure seemed like the berries.

  • 'Stories We Tell': Director's look at family's secrets, lies and love ★★★★

    May 16, 2013

    Everywhere in the culture, there's another monologuist or filmmaker placing herself at the center of a question, or a series of questions: What's up with my family? How did I get here? How can one charismatic family member hold so many secrets?

  • Black Rock': When camping trips collide, bad stuff ensues ★★ 1/2

    May 16, 2013

    "Black Rock" pits three women, camping on a remote island off the coast of Maine, against a trio of U.S. Army veterans back from messed-up tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is where we find ourselves with the legacy of America's Iraq invasion: Apparently enough years have passed, coinciding with the proper quota of well-meaning screen portrayals of psychologically and/or physically damaged military personnel, so that a movie just out for a jolt or two can go the "crazed Vietnam vet" route with impunity. But with a more recent war.

  • As a hit man, 'Iceman' a model of productivity ★★★

    May 16, 2013

    For bracing proof that a) Michael Shannon can portray the coldest of killers, while b) complicating and enlivening a potentially monochromatic slab of nastiness, check out Shannon as Richard Kuklinski in director and co-writer Ariel Vromen's "The Iceman." In our mobbed-up popular culture, Kuklinski was destined for feature film treatment. He was a real-life New Jersey whack expert with an estimated 100 victims. He lived behind the facade of a stable marriage and a Normal, Happy Family, but his resume included enough grisly doings for an entire season of "The Sopranos."

  • Cannes Film Festival: Steven Spielberg heads jury

    May 15, 2013

    “We’re always sitting in personal private judgment of the films we see,” Steven Spielberg said Wednesday, in Wednesday’s Cannes Film Festival press conference introducing this year’s nine-person jury headed by Spielberg.

  • What reception will 'Great Gatsby' get on Cannes' opening night?

    May 15, 2013

    I mean, look, said Baz Luhrmann, the cinematically manic auteur behind the new edition of “The Great Gatsby.” Who cares if his movie about obscene wealth and romantic illusions got mixed reviews in the U.S.? F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel received the same in its day.

  • 'Star Trek Into Darkness' boldly goes where we've gone before, but it's fun voyage ★★★ 1/2

    May 14, 2013

    It's lame and sort of geeky to compare franchise apples to oranges. Oh, well. "Star Trek Into Darkness" does everything "Iron Man 3" tries to do, in the realm of global terrorism imagery reprocessed for popcorn kicks, but with a little more style, a dash more brio and invention.

  • Cannes Film Festival preview: New work from perennial favorites

    May 10, 2013

    When the 66th Cannes Film Festival opens Wednesday, it'll do so with a big bash of a movie, not in competition, already up and running in the U.S.: Baz Luhrmann's “The Great Gatsby,” based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

  • 'Something in the Air' a coming of age in a time of chaos ★★★

    May 9, 2013

    Gliding through turbulent revolutionary times with an air of inquisitive detachment, and with a sheaf of his latest drawings under his arm, young Gilles, played by newcomer Clement Metayer in "Something in the Air," is the latest screen portrait of an artist as a young man. It's a good one too, rich and assured, even if writer-director Olivier Assayas is more successful at creating atmosphere than at making his romanticized younger self a three-dimensional being.

  • 'Great Gatsby': Leonardo DiCaprio can't save flat 'Great American novel' depiction ★★

    May 8, 2013

    Even if it's true, let's forget the "great American novel" business regarding "The Great Gatsby" for a minute. What makes F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, published in the spring of 1925 but set three years earlier, such a haunted portrait of a time, a place and a Lost Generation dream?

  • Ray Harryhausen: Movie stop-motion master crafted magic

    May 7, 2013

    If Ray Harryhausen had designed only one sequence in his cinematic career, any one of his real lulus — let's start with the skeleton army battle in “Jason and the Argonauts” from 1963 — he'd still be the master of stop-motion animation special effects.

  • 'Iron Man 3': High anxiety for Tony Stark ★★ 1/2

    May 6, 2013

    A little too much and a little not enough, director and co-writer Shane Black's "Iron Man 3" nonetheless has everything Disney and Marvel need to keep the "Avengers" superhero constellation shining and regenerating well into the 23rd century. It's what you call a pre-hit: As of this writing (Tuesday, 8:57 a.m. CST) the movie already has zoomed past the $200 million mark in worldwide box office.

  • 'Vera Stark' looks back at lost stars

    May 2, 2013

    The idea for "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark," now in performances through June 2 at the Goodman Theatre, came to playwright Lynn Nottage the way so many of us discover so many slivers of old Hollywood. How? By happening upon a lesser-known title on the Turner Classic Movies cable network.

  • 'Sun Don't Shine': Confident drama withstands heat ★★★ 1/2

    May 2, 2013

    In the crafty Florida-set "Sun Don't Shine" the sun shines plenty, but this is no day-tripping excursion to the beach, or Disney World.

  • 'Graceland': Small-budget Filipino film displays big talent ★★★ 1/2

    May 2, 2013

    At the intersection of movie pulp and human truth, the right picture can park itself in your consciousness. Tense and anguished, the kidnapping thriller "Graceland" is one of those pictures — a real find, playing for keeps what bigger-budget payback items such as "Taken" play for conventional revenge.

  • 'At Any Price': Seeds of woe down on the farm ★★ 1/2

    May 2, 2013

    "At Any Price," a roughly mixed but interestingly plotted offshoot of "Death of a Salesman" and other hardy father/son perennials, is the fourth feature from writer-director Ramin Bahrani, whose career has been remarkable for his consistency of theme as well as his eagerness to nudge himself toward greater ambition.

  • Dennis Quaid: 'At Any Price' star puts experiences to use

    April 26, 2013

    There was a time, in the late 1980s, when each new film starring Dennis Quaid was The One. The one destined to make him not just an actor, not just an actor with guts and a wily, toothy joker's grin, but a huge box-office-reliable star. In the summer of 1987, The One was the adventure fantasy “Innerspace,” which turned out to be a medium hit. Two summers later it was the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic “Great Balls of Fire!” in which Quaid whooped it up to yahoo Himalayan heights. Again, not a disaster. But not The One.

  • 'Blancanieves': Grimm tale, rendered silently, beautifully ★★★ 1/2

    April 25, 2013

    From Spain, here's a miracle of fairy tale repurposing: a version of the Brothers Grimm's "Snow White," set in Spanish bullfighting country in the late 1920s.

  • 'Arthur Newman': In the leads, personality to spare; in the plot, a void ★★

    April 25, 2013

    A wee movie of comparable interest, "Arthur Newman" is a road-tripping seriocomedy featuring Colin Firth as a depressive identity thief and former pro golfer, opposite Emily Blunt in the role of a suicidal kleptomaniac. Together they find love, while embarking on escapades involving breaking into people's homes and trying on different clothes and personalities.

  • Bodybuilders build their body count in 'Pain & Gain' ★ 1/2

    April 25, 2013

    In America you're either a "doer" or a "don't-er." So says the hostile motivational speaker played by Ken Jeong, one of several supporting sleazebags tipping around the edges of director Michael Bay's "Pain & Gain."

  • 'Big Wedding' parts far greater than its whole ★★

    April 25, 2013

    The diversions in the ensemble comedy "The Big Wedding" (that title flat enough for you?) are strictly actor-related, which is usually the case at the movies. For example, the way Diane Keaton selects an asparagus spear at a country club buffet while delivering some dutiful expositional something or other. Or the rumpled panache with which Robert De Niro, playing the Keaton character's ex-husband, adapts to a different sort of role than he's used to playing: that of the unreliable horndog trying to get by on charm.

  • 'Girl Rising': Documentary's message obvious and important ★★ 1/2

    April 18, 2013

    From Sierra Leone, from Peru, from Nepal and elsewhere, the nine lives at the heart of "Girl Rising" are impossible to ignore. This consciousness-raising documentary from filmmaker Richard E. Robbins risks making the harsh conditions these girls have conquered a little too poetically photogenic. The movie's color palette is so gorgeous, you may find yourself spacing out on the beauty rather than focusing on the stories.

  • 'Unmade in China': Making a movie turns into a comedy of errors ★★★ 1/2

    April 18, 2013

    Movies about the difficulty of making movies shouldn't work at all, really. The potential for navel-gazing is immense. The narcissistic insularity of the topic is potentially galling. Yet the best of these films, especially in the documentary realm, turn their subjects' travails into the stuff of universal Job-like pain, suffering and human comedy.

  • Tom Cruise, 'Oblivion' going nowhere, glacially ★★

    April 18, 2013

    Something's wrong. Tom Cruise, or, rather, Jack Harper, his character in the placid new science-fiction adventure "Oblivion," can't shake his dreams of a woman giving him the big eyes on the observation deck of the Empire State Building.

  • Terrence Malick's 'To the Wonder' lost in a beautifully shot fog ★★★

    April 18, 2013

    In the spirit of a Terrence Malick screenplay, certain rhetorical questions to be spoken in hushed voice-over present themselves regarding Malick's latest, "To the Wonder."

  • Talking heads add power to dark 'No Place on Earth' ★★ 1/2

    April 18, 2013

    The story told by Janet Tobias' documentary "No Place on Earth" is enough to transcend the film's limitations. With human drama like this, it sounds almost absurd to get hung up on artistic choices and filmmaking technique. Almost.

  • Baseball films to add to your viewing lineup

    April 15, 2013

    "After all them years, all that double talk — the white man's finally moving in," says one Negro League barnstormer to another, after a teammate gets a call from the Brooklyn Dodgers about a historic opportunity.

  • More blood, less wit when the 'Evil Dead' return ★★

    April 8, 2013

    In the Book of the Dead, the barbed-wire-wrapped volume causing the fuss in "Evil Dead," one lavishly illustrated page states that after the forest demon "feasts on five souls, the sky will bleed again." Translated into franchise terms: If this grim, outlandish remake of the 1983 Sam Raimi film makes $50 million or more, which it will, the multiplex screens will weep once more with crimson tears. Sequel!

  • Farewell to a generous colleague and friend

    April 4, 2013

    Roger Ebert died Thursday, April 4, 2013. A lousy day. I rue it. But I will always remember Roger’s kindness and his eloquence. I’m not alone there.

  • A 'Place Beyond the Pines' where two actors shine ★★★ 1/2

    April 4, 2013

    In director Derek Cianfrance's previous feature, "Blue Valentine," pretension found itself in a stern deadlock with dramatic honesty. Thanks to the performance of Michelle Williams, opposite the flashier, more contrived flourishes of Ryan Gosling, the results were worth seeing.

  • 'Shining' students dissect object of their obsession in 'Room 237' ★★★

    April 4, 2013

    We are nothing without our obsessions, and Rodney Ascher's "This American Life"-ish documentary "Room 237" intertwines the obsessive, often risible theories of five very big fans of Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining."

  • 'The Host': Alien neighbors drop in, and time seems to stop ★

    March 28, 2013

    "The Host" is for people who couldn't handle the whirlwind pace of events in the "Twilight" trilogy and who prefer a love triangle unafraid to redefine, for a new generation, the word "lollygag."

  • 'Gimme the Loot' a New York tale of love, larceny ★★★ 1/2

    March 28, 2013

    In Adam Leon's "Gimme the Loot," a loose, beguiling bit of larceny, a pair of teenage graffiti artistes from the Bronx — Malcolm, played by Ty Hickson, and Sofia, played by Tashiana Washington — spend an eventful summer weekend in side-winding pursuit of their dream.

  • 'The Sapphires' a tuneful trip to Vietnam ★★ 1/2

    March 28, 2013

    Some diversions invite comparison more readily than others. Take "The Sapphires," the most chipper film ever set in Vietnam.

  • Goro Miyazaki follows in his father's path in 'Poppy Hill' ★★★★

    March 28, 2013

    Is any animated feature produced by the Japanese treasure known as Studio Ghibli, responsible for "Spirited Away," "Ponyo" and others, capable of capturing a mass American audience's attention? Good question, especially in a box-office cycle dominated by "The Croods." So let's get it out of the way. The answer is, maybe not. There. Now we can talk about "From Up on Poppy Hill," one of the shimmering highlights of the year.

  • 'G.I. Joe's' mission: Frantic action ★★

    March 27, 2013

    Right in the middle of "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," which is one sort of action movie, there's another, better one that lasts five or six very good minutes.

  • Awkward 'Road' trips with Kristen Stewart

    March 21, 2013

    "I was 16, 17, maybe, when I spoke with Walter for the first time," Kristen Stewart is saying about director Walter Salles, whose film version of the Jack Kerouac novel "On the Road" premiered as one of the competition titles (unawarded, as it turned out) at last year's Cannes Film Festival.

  • 'Admission' wait-listed on the way to greatness ★★ 1/2

    March 21, 2013

    A fraught romantic comedy, shot through with anxiety about getting your child into an Ivy League school or else, "Admission" stars Tina Fey as a Princeton University admissions officer with a secret. Her genial foil is Paul Rudd, who runs a rural New Hampshire high school that's a progressive Eden of alternative educational grooviness. How these two nice, attractive, funny people find each other is up to the machinery of the source material, a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, adapted with mixed success for the screen by Karen Croner and directed with a calming glow by Paul Weitz, whose attention to relational detail was evident in "About a Boy," "In Good Company" and, more recently, "Being Flynn".

  • 'The Croods': Project's evolution unkind to animated cave dwellers ★★

    March 21, 2013

    It's "Ice Age" with humans and less ice. "The Croods" began life nearly a decade ago as "Crood Awakening," a collaboration of DreamWorks Animation and Aardman Studios, with a script co-written by John Cleese. Then Aardman, creators of the great Wallace & Gromit and the very good "Chicken Run," fell out of the development.

  • 'Spring Breakers': Trouble where the bad girls are ★★★

    March 21, 2013

    No animals were harmed in 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.

  • Kerouac opus 'On the Road' hits just enough beats ★★★

    March 21, 2013

    An eternal fountain of adolescence, Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" went through many permutations between its point of origin, 1948, and its point of notorious, divisive publication, 1957. The best description of it came from Kerouac himself, in a journal entry written after his first cross-country road trip in 1948. The book he had in mind, he said, was about "two guys hitchhiking to California in search of something they don't really find, and losing themselves on the road, and coming all the way back hopeful of something else." There's a simple beauty to that. The question is: How do you film an extended yearning?

  • 'Beyond the Hills': Possessed, inspired by history ★★★ 1/2

    March 14, 2013

    Of all the movies culminating in a rite of exorcism, Romanian writer-director Cristian Mungiu's remarkable "Beyond the Hills" stands alone.

  • Presto! The fun disappears from 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' ★ 1/2

    March 14, 2013

    Steve Carell. Steve Buscemi. Jim Carrey. Alan Arkin. James Gandolfini. Olivia Wilde.

  • Topsy-turvy romance 'Upside Down' turns out to be a bit flat ★★

    March 14, 2013

    All you need is love, according to "Upside Down," to save your planet from the dystopian doldrums. Nice sentiment: Fritz Lang's "Metropolis," among others, got there first.

  • Gael Garcia Bernal's ad man has global reach

    March 7, 2013

    In "No," 34-year-old Guadalajara-born actor and filmmaker Gael Garcia Bernal plays a cocky Santiago, Chile, advertising man who has thrived under the economic policies of the nation's U.S.-backed ruler, Augusto Pinochet. Asked to concoct a TV advertising campaign to bring down Pinochet in the 1988 plebiscite, he's intrigued — not necessarily because he's a stealth radical (though his father, we're told, was sent into political exile to Mexico) but because the "no" vote is deemed by many to be an impossible product to sell to a wary populace.

  • 'Oz the Great and Powerful' explains the man in the Emerald City ★★ 1/2

    March 7, 2013

    In show business, like all business, very often you spend money to make money. Director Sam Raimi's "Oz the Great and Powerful" is Disney's latest attempt to spend $200 million to make a billion worldwide, on the order of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland." Shot in 3-D on soundstages in Pontiac, Mich., the movie carries a heavy load of expectation-based freight and stockholder-oriented imperatives, enough to make it pretty hard on Raimi and company to achieve anything truly wondrous. With some industrial products you must settle for agreeable.

  • 'No' is riveting historical fiction ★★★★

    March 7, 2013

    "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 when watching a movie that is, by definition, the latter.

  • Riveting 'Emperor' gets some dry revisions ★★

    March 7, 2013

    "I don't need a history lesson, Your Excellency," the true-blue American general tells Emperor Hirohito's ex-prime minister when he lectures his inquisitor about the bloody imperialist actions of Great Britain and America, along with Japan, in the new film "Emperor."

  • Don't Stop Believin': YouTube to stage, with a Journey score ★★ 1/2

    March 7, 2013

    What happened to Arnel Pineda will only increase the fearsome number of YouTube videos showcasing the efforts of aspiring rock vocalists worldwide.

  • Cinema downtime is perfect for EU Film Festival

    February 28, 2013

    Every March, seven months before the Chicago International Film Festival in the fall, the Siskel Film Center's European Union Film Festival canvasses the best available new work from the EU nations, in all their loosely tied yet gloriously disparate personalities.

  • 'Like Someone in Love' a Tokyo story of love and lies ★★★ 1/2

    February 28, 2013

    In "Certified Copy," from Iranian writer-director Abbas Kiarostami, a relationship blossoms and then fades under the Tuscan sun, though the story keeps changing its rules of engagement. The couple at the center, we presume, are strangers getting to know each other, but halfway through the exquisite riddle of a picture they "become" (or pretend to become) husband and wife.

  • 'Stoker': Shadow of an homage, infused with violence ★★ 1/2

    February 28, 2013

    A young woman's reddish-brown hair, in close-up, dissolves into an overhead shot of wild reeds, eased this way and that by the wind. "Stoker" would be nothing without such flourishes. The film swims in them, and cares little for conventional narrative tension.

  • Roots of some giant problems in 'Jack the Giant Slayer' ★★

    February 28, 2013

    Most modern fantasy adventures are distinguished, if that's the right word, by shot after shot of actors gaping at amazements — beanstalks busting out of the ground, for example, or flaming trees being flung as weapons at the king's castle — along with actors running away yelling "Look out!" or "Aaaggghhhhh!!!" while being pursued, say, by a digitally animated giant with two heads. The movies have been into such trickery across the medium's entire life span, back to Georges Melies. It's simply a matter of the method.

  • 'Phantom' goes underwater, but not deep ★★

    February 28, 2013

    On March 8, 1968, about 1,800 miles northwest of Oahu in the Pacific Ocean, the diesel-powered Soviet submarine K-129 exceeded its crush depth and imploded, for mysterious reasons a screenwriter would find intriguing on which to speculate. All 98 of its crew members died. The sub sank with three ballistic nuclear missiles as well as two nuclear torpedoes.

  • Oscars 2013 analysis: 'Argo,' Ang Lee big winners

    February 25, 2013

    Blowing past the distant Civil War history of “Lincoln” and the more controversial recent history of “Zero Dark Thirty,” director and star Ben Affleck’s rousing, reassuringly apolitical thriller “Argo” won Sunday’s Academy Award for best picture.

  • Overlooked screenplays this Oscar season

    February 23, 2013

    In 1945 Raymond Chandler wrote a screed against Hollywood, and Hollywood screenwriting, for the Atlantic Monthly. "An industry with such vast resources and such magic techniques should not become dull so soon," said the man who later characterized his adopted residence to the south, La Jolla, Calif., as "nothing but a climate." In the Atlantic he vented: "An art which is capable of making all but the very best plays look trivial and contrived, all but the very best novels verbose and imitative, should not so quickly become wearisome to those who attempt to practice it with something else in mind than the cash drawer."

  • 'Gatekeepers' director takes on the fog of war

    February 22, 2013

    "My kids know that when we go to Shabbat dinner with my parents, there will be a fight. Always. All the time, a fight."

  • Someday prints will come, in pink

    February 21, 2013

    "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" was pink. But we'll get to that in a minute.

  • Low-key director returns with a supernatural tale in 'Bless Me, Ultima' ★★ 1/2

    February 21, 2013

    When Carl Franklin made "One False Move" and "Devil in a Blue Dress" in the 1990s, it was like a sotto voce announcement of a genuine talent — a low-key director interested in crime fiction but also in character, and race, and the real world. Neither film was a big commercial success, so while Franklin has worked steadily in film and television since then, one suspects it has not been a pick-and-choose career.

  • 'Snitch,' starring Dwayne Johnson, is capably noirish ★★★

    February 21, 2013

    Large, in charge and nobody's little Margie: Dwayne Johnson takes on the drug kingpins in "Snitch." Place your bets!

  • 'Gatekeepers': The inside men of Shin Bet ★★★★

    February 21, 2013

    Outside the realm of extremists, of which there is no shortage in the bloody Israeli/Palestinian morass, few would suggest an easy solution to anything in the Middle East. Remarkably, however, given the six different personalities and viewpoints captured in "The Gatekeepers," filmmaker Dror Moreh has come up with a needle-sharp, profoundly humane political documentary folding the separate testimonies of former heads of Shin Bet, Israel's secret service operation, into a brilliantly sustained argument for a different, smarter, humane way forward.

  • Oscars and American history: True, or true enough?

    February 15, 2013

    A modest proposal: Movies exploring some aspect of American history, such as “Argo,” “Lincoln” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” should leave off the “based on a true story” or “inspired by true events” language and stick to what “Lincoln” screenwriter Tony Kushner advocates: a clear, simple and proud declaration of “historical fiction.”

  • Music Box festival celebrates 70mm projection

    February 14, 2013

    It's how a lot of us got hooked on movies in the first place. When I was 8 or 9 I saw "2001: A Space Odyssey" in 70 mm in Milwaukee with my mother. My memory's fuzzy on the particulars but I recall asking so many questions about the obelisk on the drive back to Racine, she had to pull over and compose herself for a minute and, as the tears streamed down her cheeks, she said quietly: "Michael, I just ... have no idea." It didn't matter. I'd never seen anything like it, and the Star Child never looked bigger, or scarier, or better.

  • Tony Kushner's Chicago visit a virtual event for most

    February 13, 2013

    This Friday at 4 p.m. at the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, screenwriter and playwright Tony Kushner will pay a visit to one of his favorite Chicago haunts.

  • 'Day's' end: McClane tale tapped out in final 'Die Hard' ★ 1/2

    February 13, 2013

    "A Good Day to Die Hard" isn't just the weakest of the "Die Hard" pictures; it's a lousy action movie on its own terms, even without comparing it to the adored 1988 franchise launch starring Bruce Willis as John McClane, the New York cop who's a carnage magnet for all the terrorists and a supercool symbol of American might, right and muttered wisecrack.

  • 'Beautiful Creatures': Supernatural love in a small town, again ★★

    February 13, 2013

    When classy, pedigreed British actors go hog-wild under the flowering dogwood trees of a Southern Gothic setting, often the results are good. Just as often they're so bad they're good. And sometimes, as is the case with Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson in "Beautiful Creatures," they're simply doing the best they can under the circumstances.

  • Sparks and surprises in 'Safe Haven' ★★

    February 13, 2013

    The new Nicholas Sparks movie, "Safe Haven," takes place in Southport, in the novelist's adopted home state of North Carolina. Southport is near the mouth of the Cape Fear River. So you know a murderous stalker will eventually arrive, in honor of Robert Mitchum in "Cape Fear."

  • Revolution on the screen, on the ground in 'I Am Cuba'

    February 7, 2013

    From 1964, a time when the world seemed ready to accommodate 33 revolutions per minute, the film "I Am Cuba" boasts some single-take shots so boggling, the following phrases showed up in my notebook: "How did they do that? A three-story-high tracking shot above a revolutionary martyr's funeral parade?!?" And: "Camera travels down the outside of the building, then noses in on Western scum drinking Bacardi by the pool, and then into the water!"

  • 'Stolen Seas': No 'yo ho' for these pirates ★★ 1/2

    February 7, 2013

    It was just business, one slice from a multibillion dollar piracy industry. In 2008, Somali pirates hijacked a Danish cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden and demanded a ransom of $7 million for the return of the ship and its crew. The ship's owner countered with an offer of a few hundred thousand. Thus began a tense negotiation spanning weeks, then months, with the pirates' morally conflicted negotiator in the middle.

  • Drive-in theater awaits digital assist

    February 7, 2013

    In the summer of 2011 I got to know one of the greatest little drive-ins in the world, 160 miles southwest of Chicago: the Galva Autovue. Nothing elaborate. Just two outdoor screens planted where a cornfield used to be, surrounded by cornfields. But on a warm and starry night, with a couple of hundred patrons in their cars and dozens of kids running back and forth to the concession hut, "Captain America: The First Avenger" never looked better.

  • 'Identity Thief' steals fun away from Bateman, McCarthy ★ 1/2

    February 7, 2013

    Debilitatingly witless, "Identity Thief" strands Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman on the shoulder of its own road-trip premise, an artificial construct reminiscent of "Due Date." Remember "Due Date," that sour thing with Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis? Neither do Downey and Galifianakis.

  • 'John Dies at the End' fails the cult test ★ 1/2

    February 7, 2013

    "John Dies at the End" dies closer to the beginning, before writer-director Don Coscarelli's adaptation of the book of the same name has reached minute 20.

  • Steven Soderbergh's 'Side Effects' hinges on medicine and murder ★★★

    February 7, 2013

    A sly one, "Side Effects" is a movie in which the main character's pharmacological state of mind is never entirely certain.

  • 'A Man Vanishes': Director ahead of his time ★★★ 1/2

    January 31, 2013

    "I want to capture this new reality," says the filmmaker behind the camera, Shohei Imamura, in his cunning 1967 riddle "A Man Vanishes." Imamura, who devoted his creative life to both fiction features and documentaries (he died in 2006), is the subject of a six-film retrospective titled "Imamura Investigates," playing through Feb. 11 at the Siskel Film Center. Five of the six look, behave and perform certain ways, according to commonly accepted strictures of non-fiction. But "A Man Vanishes" confounds expectations.

  • Walter Hill, New Orleans: together again

    January 31, 2013

    In the 1970s and early '80s, a Walter Hill movie had a very good chance of being very good. And very different from the previous Walter Hill movie.

  • 'Stand Up Guys' a criminal waste of Walken, Pacino, Arkin ★

    January 31, 2013

    A writer must eat, which is why most playwrights eventually try their hands at screenwriting. "Stand Up Guys," starring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin, comes from the stage-trained Noah Haidle, whose story premise sounds like a sure (if derivative) thing for a trio of well-worn, well-liked mugs.

  • 'Warm Bodies': Zombie love runs hot and cold ★★ 1/2

    January 31, 2013

    The tween-minded zombie romance "Warm Bodies" pulls a comic-romantic twist on a genre better known for its entrails. It is narrated by the undead fellow known as R, played by Nicholas Hoult, soon to be slaying giants in "Jack the Giant Slayer."

  • 'Bullet to the Head': Fine director drives action vehicle ★★ 1/2

    January 31, 2013

    We've been here before. The Sylvester Stallone vehicle "Bullet to the Head" concludes with an ax fight featuring Stallone against his sneering, murderous adversary, played by Jason Momoa, going at it like maniacs in the bowels of an abandoned power plant, the sort of cavernous industrial space featured in a hundred different movies starring Jean-Claude Van Damme or Jason Statham. Or Vin Diesel. I believe it was also used by Scarlett Johansson in "The Avengers."

  • All along, a force was with Alec Guinness

    January 25, 2013

    For millions of young "Star Wars" fans, and some not so young, Alec Guinness is the man who played Obi-Wan Kenobi. And that is that. For all they know Guinness only did this in his life: expound on the glories of The Force and get Mark Hamill up to speed with a light saber.

  • 'Consuming Spirits': SAIC professor crafts an epic labor of love ★★★★

    January 24, 2013

    There's a billboard depicted in Chris Sullivan's animated wonder "Consuming Spirits" advertising beer that promises "the taste that haunts the lips." The same goes for the film. You've likely never tasted anything quite like it.

  • 1926's silent 'The Flying Ace' displayed a hidden America, and Americans

    January 24, 2013

    With its "entire cast composed of colored artists," the 1926 silent film "The Flying Ace" was photographed in the sunny scrub and swampland of Jacksonville, Fla., produced by the Norman Film Manufacturing Company. The outfit delivered "race films" to African-American audiences starved for images of themselves on the big screen.

  • 'Quartet': Dustin Hoffman's directing debut has sterling cast, so-so script ★★ 1/2

    January 24, 2013

    Murder most foul is one thing. Murder most fair is another. The veteran hambones starring in "Quartet" get away with murder most fair, through eye-bugging delight in a double-entendre in close-up (Billy Connolly); charmingly distracted line readings (Pauline Collins); underplaying so dry it becomes a form of overstatement (Tom Courtenay); and an air of unconquerable hauteur, leavened by tinges of regret (Maggie Smith).

  • Wright walks in, and walks out with 'Broken City'

    January 18, 2013

    Mark Wahlberg stars in "Broken City," opening today, but Jeffrey Wright commits larceny and quietly steals the movie.

  • 'In Bed with Ulysses:' A masterpiece's twisty roots ★★★

    January 18, 2013

    "My husband wants me to go with other men so he'll have something to write about," the former Nora Barnacle said of her partner in life, James Joyce.

  • The purr of power in 'Broken City' ★★ 1/2

    January 17, 2013

    In "Broken City," a Manhattan-set drama likely to appeal to those who enjoyed the more elegantly plotted machinations of "Arbitrage," the scenes between Russell Crowe as a powerful New York City mayor and Jeffrey Wright as the equally powerful police commissioner offer a special kind of satisfaction.

  • 'Luv': Talented cast almost overcomes obvious plot ★★ 1/2

    January 17, 2013

    Often it's the least narratively crucial moments in a movie that steal the movie right out from under the movie's nose. (Let's assume movies have noses, if only this once.)

  • Movie gangsters so bad they're good

    January 10, 2013

    One hundred and one years ago, D.W. Griffith gave us "The Musketeers of Pig Alley," often credited as the first gangster film, and once sound came in, nothing hooked movie audiences during the early 1930s more reliably than Edward G. Robinson or James Cagney doing harm to their rivals and, for a while, eluding the law while enjoying the spoils of their own private wars.

  • 'Max and the Junkmen': A police procedural that moves at Paris' pace

    January 10, 2013

    "No ordinary policeman": This is how director Claude Sautet's intriguing 1971 drama "Max and the Junkmen" describes the Max of the title, a Paris officer of the law whose black fedora matches his black tie and black suit, which all match his tensely fatalistic outlook.

  • Oscar nominations: 'Lincoln' leads Academy Award contenders with 12

    January 10, 2013

    With a conspicuous diss of Kathryn Bigelow, the un-nominated director of “Zero Dark Thirty,” the Academy Awards nominations were announced Thursday morning.

  • 'Gangster Squad' a fusillade of bullets and cliches ★★

    January 10, 2013

    A triumph of production design but a pretty dull kill-'em-up otherwise, the post-World War II-set "Gangster Squad" comes from the director of "Zombieland," Ruben Fleischer. It's clear Fleischer, who also made "30 Minutes or Less," hadn't worked through his "Zombieland" jones by the time he got to his latest film. I liked "Zombieland," which made a strong case for its brand of viscera and wisecracks. But "Gangster Squad" is a different sort of picture, or should be.

  • Michael Haneke goes in close for the anguish of 'Amour'

    January 4, 2013

    Michael Haneke's devastating "Amour" opens Friday in Chicago. And since its Cannes Film Festival premiere in May, this tale of a long-married man and woman in their 80s, tested by illness and the limits of their own compassion, has moved audiences in a direct, emotional way unknown and, indeed, unintended by the director's previous, icy provocations.

  • 'Zero Dark Thirty' a first draft of history ★★★★

    January 3, 2013

    To consider what director Kathryn Bigelow has accomplished in "Zero Dark Thirty," imagine the events depicted by the story if they'd been given the "Argo" treatment.

  • No heartstrings left unplucked with 'Any Day Now' ★★

    January 3, 2013

    A determined weepie, "Any Day Now" lives for such scenes as an adoptive parent being pulled away, screaming, from the child with Down syndrome whom he has come to know and love. The movie has heart and soul and a load of justifiable outrage. Here's what it doesn't have: nuance, dramatic specificity, an evocative sense of time (late 1970s-early '80s) or place (Los Angeles).

  • Restored movie house fits big picture for Mark Fishman

    December 27, 2012

    Famously, the old Logan Theatre at 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave. used to smell like pee. Urban legends abound of the stink detectable all over the Logan Square neighborhood.

  • 'The Big Picture': Camera-shy photographer a man with a secret ★★★

    December 27, 2012

    Hiding inside the identity of someone else — someone recently disappeared, or murdered, for example — is a theme running through all sorts of crime fiction (Patricia Highsmith's Ripley mysteries) as well as cinematic variations on that theme (Michelangelo Antonioni's "The Passenger"). In the French thriller "The Big Picture" now at the Music Box, Romain Duris plays Paul, a successful but bitter attorney whose boss (Catherine Deneuve) is ready to hand the firm over to his control. Once upon a time Paul dreamed a dream of becoming a photographer.

  • 'Parental Guidance': Even Bette Midler and Billy Crystal can't correct so-so script ★★

    December 27, 2012

    Billy Crystal and Bette Midler do all they can (which is a lot) to entertain us in "Parental Guidance," but the movie keeps getting in the way. It's a routinely made comedy dominated by its screenplay's observations on how insane the typical insecure, overbearing helicopter parent has become these days.

  • 'Not Fade Away' like a Rolling Stone ★★★

    December 27, 2012

    "That pianola sure brings back memories," says Orson Welles, entranced by Marlene Dietrich's bordello background music in "Touch of Evil." A few moments of this scene pop up on somebody's television in "Not Fade Away," the wry feature film debut by writer-director David Chase, creator of "The Sopranos."

  • 'Promised Land': Fracking tale barely touches surface ★★

    December 27, 2012

    For a fellow who's just been promoted to vice president of land management by his multibillion-dollar natural gas company, the character played by Matt Damon in "Promised Land" is awfully wussy. He turns into a puddle whenever he's bested by the opposition: a likable environmental activist portrayed by John Krasinski. What's up? Mr. Corporate Slicko has never been trained in countering the other side's arguments?

  • 'Fitzgerald Family Christmas': Not the McMullens, but close ★★

    December 27, 2012

    After making itself available in November through various on-demand viewing options, Edward Burns' latest little picture, "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas," has found a theatrical venue for a Chicago run now under way at the Wilmette Theatre.

  • Judd Apatow misses chance to go deeper with 'This Is 40' ★★ 1/2

    December 20, 2012

    More like "This Is Whiny," "This Is 40" has its share of clever, zingy material, proving that writer-director Judd Apatow has lost none of his ability to land a punch line with the right, unexpected turn of phrase. "My boobs are just ... gone," bemoans Debbie, played by Leslie Mann, comparing hers with the newer models belonging to her boutique employee, played by Megan Fox. Then comes the second line, building smartly on the setup: "They didn't even say goodbye."

  • 'The Impossible': Mother's angle softens tale's too-narrow focus ★★★

    December 20, 2012

    Everything that was false about the tsunami sequence in the recent Clint Eastwood film "Hereafter" — the bland overview perspectives, the lack of human immediacy — is corrected, terrifyingly, by the first half-hour of director J.A. Bayona's nerve-shredding docudrama "The Impossible."

  • Bill Murray scoffs at doubt as FDR in 'Hyde Park on Hudson'

    December 13, 2012

    For Bill Murray, playing Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the new film “Hyde Park on Hudson” meant risking some serious derision. Now 62, Murray carries with him a huge recognition factor thanks to a host of comedies: "Stripes," "Caddyshack," "Groundhog Day," "Ghostbusters." More recently he has brought a weary, witty gravitas to more bittersweet material, a la "Rushmore," "Lost in Translation" and others.

  • Murray is the anchor, but plot adrift in 'Hyde Park on Hudson' ★★

    December 13, 2012

    The music’s the best thing about the peculiar, demurely prurient “Hyde Park on Hudson,” starring Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Laura Linney as his spinster fifth cousin, Daisy Suckley. Setting the scene, and the mood, for this anecdotal account of FDR’s pre-war sexual escapades one weekend in 1939, composer Jeremy Sams soaks the movie in a sly and charming recurring theme, a habanera rather like a buttoned-down variation on the famous aria from Bizet’s “Carmen.”

  • Digitally pumped-up 'Hobbit' is a so-so trip ★★ 1/2

    December 13, 2012

    "The Hobbit," the first of three movies to be yanked out of J.R.R. Tolkien's single novel, comes from Mister Middle-earth: Peter Jackson, who thrilled Tolkien fans worldwide with his lavish screen version of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

  • To the screen, and back again

    December 7, 2012

    I'm 51 and Bilbo-free. Somehow "The Hobbit" has eluded me my entire reading life. What was I reading in junior high when I first noticed everyone else was reading it? "Big A: The Story of Lew Alcindor," maybe. Or William K. Everson's book on Laurel & Hardy. I had no special resistance to hobbits or to subterranean fantasy or to J.R.R. Tolkien. But we read what we read, and now here "The Hobbit" sits on my desk, next in line for takeoff. A big chunk of my non-screen work existence is spent reading material related, somehow, to films I'm covering. It's one of the great perks of the job. You read a lot, and then you put it away, so that the screen adaptations have a fighting chance to establish their own ground rules.

  • Gerard Butler's bad streak continues in 'Playing for Keeps' ★ 1/2

    December 6, 2012

    Some movies are 100 percent polyester, yet the right actors can make the material breathe a little so that the audience wears the experience comfortably for a couple of hours. Opening this month, the Barbra Streisand/Seth Rogen vehicle "The Guilt Trip" belongs to that poly-genre.

  • 'Starlet': Actress brings a solid pedigree to a solid indie ★★★

    December 6, 2012

    In the Van Nuys, Calif.-set "Starlet," a success at this year's South by Southwest film festival, the young actress Dree Hemingway brings a sure comic touch (without shtick) to a satisfying picture. Now 25, she's the daughter of Mariel Hemingway and the great-granddaughter of Ernest. She comes from photogenic stock.

  • Ken Burns, daughter team up for justice in 'Central Park Five' ★★★ 1/2

    December 6, 2012

    "The Central Park Five" is an unusually good documentary about an outlandish miscarriage of justice.

  • 'Wuthering Heights' sticks close to windy moors ★★ 1/2

    November 29, 2012

    Writer-director Andrea Arnold made "Red Road" and "Fish Tank," two frank and exceptional portraits of emotionally isolated young women hurtling, dangerously, into their futures. These character studies, set in Scotland and England, respectively, prepared Arnold well for taking on "Wuthering Heights," especially the way she has chosen to take it on: as a stark reconsideration of the Emily Bronte novel.

  • Brad Pitt's 'Killing Them Softly' deals with the financial difficulties of contract killers ★★★

    November 29, 2012

    In an ugly economy, murder becomes the last beautiful act. That's the state of the nation in "Killing Them Softly," a harsh and stimulating black comedy set in the recent past, starring Brad Pitt as a hit man hired to eliminate, in his own inimitable style, some underworld thieves in post-Katrina New Orleans.

  • Joe Wright's version of Tolstoy classic 'Anna Karenina' a hit-or-miss proposition ★★ 1/2

    November 15, 2012

    Like most alleged love-it-or-hate-it propositions, the new film version of "Anna Karenina" is neither. Rather, it's a half-success — a baldly conceptual response to the Leo Tolstoy novel, with a heavy theatrical framework placed around the narrative of girl meets boy, followed by girl meets train.

  • 'Silver Linings Playbook': Humanity in high-maintenance characters ★★★ 1/2

    November 15, 2012

    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.

  • 'Lincoln': A political animal of a different kind ★★★★

    November 9, 2012

    "Lincoln" is a grave and surprisingly subtle magic trick, conjuring the past and an almost ridiculously impressive figure in ways that transcend art direction and the right stovepipe hat. Director Steven Spielberg's latest combines the most commonly shared notions we have of our 16th U.S. president — the folksy deliberation, the spindly gait, the all-seeing eye on the prize of history remade — with the behavior, idiosyncrasies and contradictions of an actual human being. It blends cinematic Americana with something grubbier and more interesting than Americana, and it does not look, act or behave like the usual perception of a Spielberg epic. It is smaller and quieter than that.

  • Denis Lavant is a shape-shifting wonder in 'Holy Motors' ★★★ 1/2

    November 8, 2012

    "Holy Motors," an exuberant jape as well as a beautiful ode to the movies, to play-acting and to Paris, comes from the French writer-director Leos Carax, re-teaming here with actor Denis Lavant. Lavant got robbed at the Cannes Film Festival this year, losing the best actor award to Mads Mikkelsen ("The Hunt"). Now you can find out why I think this is so.

  • 'Le Grand Amour': Cinematic inspiration from a Tati associate ★★ 1/2

    November 1, 2012

    The more lasting achievements of French director and star Pierre Etaix arrive this month, as part of the Siskel Film Center's Nov. 4-21 retrospective titled "Pierre Etaix: The Lost Laugh." But the 1969 Etaix film "Le Grand Amour," playing this week along with the Oscar-winning short film "Happy Anniversary" (1962), provides a taste, at least, of this largely unknown talent's particular comic stylings. Stay tuned for "Yoyo," a clear inspiration for "The Artist" in its love for silent-film pastiche, one of the Etaix features included in this series of restored features and shorts.

  • 'Wreck-It Ralph': Fun runs out of quarters ★★ 1/2

    November 1, 2012

    "Wreck-It Ralph," the exhaustingly dazzling new Walt Disney Animation Studios feature, qualifies as the most manic baby sitter in town, clever and detailed in its kaleidoscopic depiction of the private lives, seething resentments and yearning dreams of video game characters both "Donkey Kong" retro and "Call of Duty" modern.

  • Denzel Washington, Robert Zemeckis in a top 'Flight' ★★★★

    November 1, 2012

    "Flight" is exciting — terrific, really — because in addition to the sophisticated storytelling techniques by which it keeps us hooked, it doesn't drag audience sympathies around by the nose, telling us what to think or how to judge the reckless, charismatic protagonist played by Denzel Washington.

  • 'Brooklyn Castle' documentary has all the right moves

    November 1, 2012

    Checkmate. "Brooklyn Castle," a marvelous documentary by Katie Dellamaggiore, turns a sympathetic camera eye on one of the richest subjects imaginable: the nationally recognized chess team of Intermediate School 318 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a multiethnic wonder of individual talents and specific, personal stories.

  • 'Fun Size' is not much fun at all -- Zero stars

    October 25, 2012

    "Fun Size," a terrifying Halloween prank starring Victoria Justice of the Nickelodeon brat-com "Victorious," concerns a Cleveland high school senior who misplaces her preteen brother on trick-or-treat night. One too many jokey references to child molestation ensue. You should know this going in.

  • 'Cloud Atlas'? Shrug ★★ 1/2

    October 25, 2012

    A big-budget film's marketing mission is simple: Eliminate the idea of an unsuspecting audience. Did people know what they were getting when they got "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"? Yes. They got what they were shown in the 30-second ads, over and over and over.

  • 'The Sessions' tells tale of the virgin's diary ★★★ 1/2

    October 25, 2012

    In 1990 the writer Mark O'Brien contributed an article for the literary magazine The Sun called "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate." A survivor of childhood polio, the substantially disabled O'Brien spent much of his sleeping and waking hours confined to an iron lung. Interviewing other disabled people for an earlier assignment, he realized his own sexual life — so dormant for so long — needn't stay that way forever. "Being disabled myself, but also being a virgin, I envied these people ferociously," he wrote in the 1990 piece.

  • Viola Davis plots a career, not just for herself

    October 19, 2012

    Viola Davis has won two Tony Awards for her Juilliard-trained stage work in the August Wilson plays "King Hedley II" and "Fences." She has been Oscar-nominated twice, first for a supporting role in "Doubt," more recently for a much larger role, in "The Help." Playing the African-American domestic, Aibileen, in that hit brought her much acclaim and no little amount of grief, Davis told me the other day by phone. She's coming to Chicago Monday to pick up a career achievement award from the Chicago International Film Festival.

  • 'The Killing's' troubled cop as a troubled taxi driver in 'Easy Money' ★★★

    October 18, 2012

    Someday, someone's going to make a film called "Easy Money" or its equivalent and its characters will encounter zero trouble en route to massive wealth and endless sunshine on a beach somewhere.

  • 'Smashed': Drama's watered down in this lesson about the drinking life ★★ 1/2

    October 18, 2012

    The director's statement issued with “Smashed” reads, in part: "Being drunk can be really fun. It's just all the other things that come with being drunk that can be a downer (wrecking cars, lives, etc.) ... so many films that deal with substance abuse follow a familiar 'scared straight' path, depicting characters so damaged that they're not relatable, leaving the audience with nothing to do but gawk at their otherness.

  • 'Alex Cross': Nothing original in this origin story ★★

    October 18, 2012

    Not that we needed it, and pardon the trace elements of contempt regarding the familiarity of this particular narrative hook, but: Yet another serial killer movie hits theaters this week.

  • Ben Affleck's mission accomplished in 'Argo' ★★★ 1/2

    October 11, 2012

    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."

  • McDonagh sets violently funny 'Seven Psychopaths' in epic desert ★★★

    October 11, 2012

    Brutal and often very funny, "Seven Psychopaths" is writer-director Martin McDonagh's answer to "Barton Fink," a crimson yarn that, like that Coen brothers film, imagines what happens in a worst-case-scenario when a Hollywood scribe comes down with writer's block.

  • A determined teacher enters the Octagon in 'Here Comes the Boom' ★★ 1/2

    October 11, 2012

    Wait a sec. How did the Kevin James mixed martial arts movie end up a more convincing portrait of the plight of the American public school teacher than "Won't Back Down," a film that's actually about that subject?

  • 'Seven Psychopaths' is mayhem with a moral core, writer hopes

    October 5, 2012

    Opening next Friday, "Seven Psychopaths" has a title promising a certain amount of spilled blood and bad behavior, and the writer-director Martin McDonagh delivers on the promise. McDonagh notes, however, that his film contains "more dialogue in the midst of a shoot-out than the average movie featuring psychopaths with guns."

  • Director Daniels serves up a heap of Southern-fried scandal in 'Paperboy' ★★

    October 4, 2012

    Talk about your beasts of the Southern wild! In director Lee Daniels' jacked-up bayou melodrama "The Paperboy," taken from the comparatively sane 1995 potboiler by Pete Dexter, a screen full of charismatic actors do their damnedest not to turn into a screen full of overactors in the service of a lurid Florida Gothic. But let's be clear here. To say "The Paperboy" doesn't work is one thing; to say it's dull is a lie. This movie is berserk, which is more interesting than "eh."

  • Not 'Taken' with this sequel ★

    October 4, 2012

    "Taken 2" is so much lousier than need be, and its action sequences look as if they were put together by someone who doesn't know what he's doing. That's a problem. And not even the charismatically weather-beaten face and basso profundo action-star delivery of Liam Neeson can compensate.

  • Tim Burton's 'Frankenweenie': It's alive! Or is it? ★★ 1/2

    October 4, 2012

    Before things took off with "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" and "Beetlejuice," Tim Burton made a live-action black-and-white film, in 1984, called "Frankenweenie." You can find it on YouTube. It's really good.

  • 'Won't Back Down' gets a D+ for a public school polemic ★ 1/2

    September 27, 2012

    Bored and visibly sneering as she fiddles with her cellphone while sitting at her desk, the grade school teacher barely takes notice of the sweet young girl challenged by learning disabilities. The student stands nervously before the blackboard, struggling to read a sentence aloud. The other students mock her, cruelly. The teacher tacitly encourages the mockery. She is union-protected mediocrity incarnate, and she may as well be shown tying the student to a railroad track, Snidely Whiplash-style.

  • Put a stake in 'Hotel Transylvania' ★

    September 27, 2012

    Dominated by Adam Sandler's D-minus Bela Lugosi impression, the 3-D animated feature "Hotel Transylvania" illustrates the difference between engaging a young movie audience and agitating it, with snark and noise and everything but the funny.

  • 'Detropia' finds beauty in the ruins ★★★ 1/2

    September 20, 2012

    Cross "Detroit" with "dystopia" and you get "Detropia." But the oddly beautiful documentary made by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady is subtler and richer than its blunt title suggests.

  • Al Pacino and his 'Stand Up Guys' among the stars slotted for CIFF

    September 20, 2012

    With its founder Michael Kutza nearing his half-century mark as leader, the Chicago International Film Festival announced its 48th edition slate Thursday. Heavily concentrated, as it has been in recent years, at the downtown AMC River East 21 multiplex, the juried festival (main competition jury president to be named later) runs Oct. 11-25 and opens with the world premiere of "Stand Up Guys," an autumnal mob comedy featuring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin and Julianna Margulies.

  • 'Trouble With the Curve' about a scout who resists being benched ★★★

    September 20, 2012

    Wholly predictable yet serenely enjoyable, "Trouble With the Curve" opens with Gus, the aging Atlanta Braves baseball scout played by Clint Eastwood, standing at the toilet, wondering how long it'll take this time.

  • 'Hello I Must Be Going' finds post-divorce solace close to home ★★ 1/2

    September 20, 2012

    As a teenager the New Zealand-born Melanie Lynskey came to international attention opposite an equally young and skillful Kate Winslet in the Peter Jackson true-crime drama "Heavenly Creatures."

  • Like a big-screen game, focus of 'Dredd 3D' is body count ★ 1/2

    September 20, 2012

    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" a movie is sort of a lie. It's a premise, and there are levels to reach, and always there's another grimy hallway to stalk, and then you turn right or left, and then kill some more.

  • Cinematographers, and officers, on patrol in 'End of Watch' ★★ 1/2

    September 20, 2012

    Writer-director David Ayer has described his new film "End of Watch" as akin to "watching YouTube — where something in your mind tells you this is real. This film is like YouTube meets 'Training Day' in a lot of ways." (Ayer wrote "Training Day," which won Denzel Washington an Oscar for his role as a dirty LAPD detective.) So: What does that YouTube comparison mean, exactly?

  • 'Arbitrage': Sympathy for the devil ★★★

    September 13, 2012

    It's an unseemly request by a movie, to ask us to root for the lying, scrambling but extremely well-coiffed hedge fund billionaire weasel played by Richard Gere in the new film "Arbitrage." But there it is. The movie does ask, and to varying degrees, we comply.

  • Toronto Film Festival Day 2 recap: The Master's domain!

    September 8, 2012

    Here's a Day 2 recap from the Toronto International Film Festival. Everybody sees a different slate of movies each day here. Friday went this way: After the gamer-oriented slaughter of “Dredd 3D,” the fanciful and tricksy theatrics of director Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina” with Keira Knightley and Jude Law and the Wachowskis’ adaptation of “Cloud Atlas,” which takes place in six different time periods, the mind reeled and the cinematic appetite cried out for something straight and easy.

  • 'The Words' bound by a purloined book ★★ 1/2

    September 6, 2012

    "The Words" is a peculiar, old-school beast to encounter in the movie year 2012, lacking utterly in computer-generated effects, not to mention Avengers and masked superheroes in general. It's more or less a grown-up picture, and not bad at that, though its muted and patient style (mitigating a multilayered and not wholly satisfying narrative) has both its merits and its drawbacks. Still, as I say: not bad.

  • 'Samsara' a study in contrasts ★★★

    September 6, 2012

    Gorgeous and a tiny bit bubble-headed, full of ancient ruins and marvelous faces and time-lapse landscapes of crazed LA freeways in action, "Samsara" takes its title from a Sanskrit word that translates, roughly, to "the ever-turning wheel of life."

  • A melancholy day: 'Oslo, August 31' ★★★★

    August 31, 2012

    Simple, honest and very possibly great, "Oslo, August 31" spans a day, an evening and an early morning in the life of a recovering drug addict. Right there most of you reading this review will think: No, thanks. Life's difficult enough. But some films, the best films, transcend the obviously grueling and the emotionally exploitative in their pursuit of a steady, humane cinematic gaze and an experience that lingers. This is one of those films, now in its commercial Chicago debut at the Siskel Film Center.

  • This comic's life, sans sleep, in 'Sleepwalk With Me' ★★★

    August 31, 2012

    One night in a La Quinta motel room, comedian and storyteller Mike Birbiglia jumped through a second-story window while acting out one of his dreams, ending up in the hospital with a leg full of broken glass. Well, it's a living. Since then he has turned his adventures in sleep disorders into fodder for his stand-up act, an Off-Broadway solo show, an excerpt on "This American Life," a live comedy album, the title story in his best-selling comic memoir and now, a trim and effective feature film, which Birbiglia co-directed with co-writer Seth Barrish. The only thing left for "Sleepwalk With Me" is to be turned into a Broadway musical, which would require a title change to "Sleepwalk with Me!"

  • Dirty talk with a sweet undercurrent in 'For a Good Time, Call...' ★ ★½

    August 30, 2012

    It's "Bells Are Ringing," only with a significant percentage of dialogue that cannot be quoted here unless we agree on dollar-per-minute terms in advance.

  • 'Lawless' offers up a tall drink of violence ★★ 1/2

    August 28, 2012

    Bootlegging dramas come with a built-in sympathy clause in their contracts with the audience. C'mon! they plead. All these folks want is to get the government off their backs, follow their American dream and provide liquor to the masses. And by the way, wasn't Prohibition a joke?

  • Chicago International Film Festival's first slate announced

    August 23, 2012

    Broadly speaking, a film festival's programmers can handle news of a new lineup one of two ways: all at once, or nearly; or the drib-drab approach.

  • 'Hermano': Venezuelan drama deserves wider release ★★★

    August 23, 2012

    The Venezuelan melodrama "Hermano," an absorbing tale of soccer, family ties and life in the Caracas barrios, was picked up for U.S. release by Chicago's Music Box Films. Locally the film opens this week in Barrington, Cicero, the Regal City North 14 and Ford City on the South Side. And nowhere else. This is too bad: It's a good movie, teeming with incident, and it deserves an audience.

  • 'Cosmopolis': Harbinger of economic doom lands with a bit of a thud ★★ 1/2

    August 23, 2012

    Sleek and forbidding, David Cronenberg's adaptation of the Don DeLillo novel "Cosmopolis" presents the most whopping paradox in the cinema year 2012.

  • 'Red Hook Summer': Spike Lee summers in Brooklyn, again ★★ 1/2

    August 23, 2012

    Spike Lee's movies generally attempt too much, try too many things, canvass a larger array of characters and situations than even a loosely structured story line can easily accommodate. And that's one of the gratifying traits in his work.

  • 'Hit & Run': Retro plot takes wrong turn ★ 1/2

    August 21, 2012

    In adolescence many of us were cinematically weaned on (or permanently stunted by; I'll let the courts decide) the likes of "Dirty Mary Crazy Larry" and "Gone in Sixty Seconds," rough-edged and disreputable time-killers whose co-stars were whatever the lead characters were driving.

  • 'ParaNorman' is another boy with ghost trouble ★★★

    August 16, 2012

    Here's the historical designation of the new animated film "ParaNorman": It's the third feature made in the painstaking stop-motion process — consciously unrealistic, herky-jerky and rough-hewn, in the George Pal "Puppetoons" or Tim Burton "Corpse Bride" vein — as well as in stereoscopic 3-D. The first two to do so were the very fine"Coraline" and the noisy, bustling"The Pirates! Band of Misfits."

  • '2 Days in New York' is a bit too much for Delpy's next chapter ★★ 1/2

    August 16, 2012

    Julie Delpy can do just about anything as an actress, and as a writer and director, she likes "everything" too — stories roomy enough for a torrent of feelings and mood swings, and ensemble casts up to the challenge.

  • 'Odd Life of Timothy Green' a tale of a little green sprout ★★ 1/2

    August 14, 2012

    "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" is odd indeed. It comes from writer-director Peter Hedges of "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" and other pictures, and in pleasing ways as well as some dubious ones, Hedges ranges all over the place in his expansion of a story credited to Ahmet Zappa, Frank's son.

  • 'The Campaign': No winners in this race ★ 1/2

    August 9, 2012

    Talk about your undecided voters. The new Will Ferrell/Zach Galifianakis vehicle "The Campaign" can't make up its mind about dumb vs. smart; crass vs. crass with a conscience; or cheap caricature vs. satire stoked by a sincere call to action.

  • 'Celeste and Jesse Forever': What comes after? ★★★

    August 9, 2012

    Like the recent "Take This Waltz,"directed and written by Sarah Polley, the new American indie "Celeste and Jesse Forever" begins and ends with an unspoken question: Is this mismatched couple meant to stay together?

  • 'Searching for Sugar Man': Portrait of a musician who got a second chance

    August 9, 2012

    The subsets of filmgoers likely to fall for the wonderful"Searching for Sugar Man"include the following: People who like music. People who watch movies.

  • 'Hope Springs': Can this marriage be saved? ★★★

    August 7, 2012

    Their kids up and grown, Kay and Arnold Soames, of Omaha, have been married 31 years. Kay, a retail shop worker played by Meryl Streep, has begun to count the hours within those years. Their rut, not uncomfortable but not letting in much light, grows a little deeper each day. Arnold, a stoical, irritable tax accountant played by Tommy Lee Jones, hasn't touched her in too long.

  • An improbably happy ending for Rodriguez

    August 1, 2012

    A lovely film about a Detroit singer-songwriter robbed of musical fame but rewarded with a second chance decades later, at age 70, "Searching for Sugar Man" tells a story of serendipity and just deserts. If it were fiction, it'd be improbable fiction. But it's fact, and the documentary (opening Aug. 10 in Chicago) made by a first-time Swedish filmmaker is introducing an international audience to a man called Sixto Rodriguez.

  • 'The Watch': These guardians out of time, tune ★★

    July 26, 2012

    Timing is everything in comedy. When a neighborhood-watch volunteer was charged with shooting and killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martinearlier this year — in real life, that is — 20th Century Fox changed the title of its forthcoming comedy from "Neighborhood Watch" to"The Watch"so as to disassociate.

  • 'Dark Knight Rises': A 'Knight' to fray the nerves -- 2 1/2 stars

    July 17, 2012

    Eight years after the camp frippery of “Batman & Robin” (1997), in which Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy played dress-up while George Clooney let his nipply bat-suit do most of the acting, director and co-writer Christopher Nolan brought to the screen the origin story of Bruce Wayne and his tortured, emotionally isolated crime-fighting alter ego. Stately and just serious enough, “Batman Begins” was trumped by Nolan’s own 2008 sequel, “The Dark Knight,” which channeled a planet’s worth of post-9/11 panic and pitted Christian Bale’s masked vigilante against Heath Ledger’s unforgettable merry psycho.

  • 'Neil Young Journeys': Traveling on, looking back ★★★

    July 12, 2012

    Sixty-six years old and following a musical route of his own design, Neil Young has survived a brain aneurysm, decades of stardom amid radically shifting public taste and who knows how many renditions of "Heart of Gold." In close-up, singing onstage, the northern Ontario native resembles a gnarly oak tree blessed with the ability to play guitar and harmonica and to sing of love and war. Which covers just about everything.

  • Onetime flop now an Andy Griffith classic

    July 6, 2012

    Absolute power corrupts absolutely. But when the right actor finds the path straight into a corrupt soul on fire, a strange kind of joy erupts on screen — a sense of true discovery and excitement.

  • Manipulative music, plot devices keep 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' from greatness ★★

    July 5, 2012

    Already "Beasts of the Southern Wild"is the most divisive film of 2012, which is a testament to its co-writer and director, Benh Zeitlin, making his feature film debut with a picture that killed at Sundance, won the Camera d'Or (best first film) at Cannes and has been critically anointed by some while declared shiny but overbearing by others.

  • 'Savages': The good, the bad, the boring ★★

    July 5, 2012

    Taken from Don Winslow's novel, the Oliver Stone fulminator"Savages" proves that marijuana cultivation, sales and distribution are the right way to live large and menage a trois it through endless summer days and nights with your bromantic best pal and your special lady friend. Life is beautiful, and Laguna Beach, Calif., is full of beautiful people nearly as beautiful as you.

  • 'Katy Perry: Part of Me': If you see only one 3-D concert film this summer ... ★★½

    July 3, 2012

    Paramount Pictures does not lie: The chipper, no-warts-and-all tour chronicle "Katy Perry: Part of Me" is indeed the 3-D movie music event of the summer. The only one, I believe. Unless Christopher Nolan's"The Dark Knight Rises" turns out to be in 3-D, featuring duets sung by men in peculiar facial accessories.

  • Woody Allen's European travels take ensemble 'To Rome With Love' ✭✭

    June 28, 2012

    If it's a zinger capped by the phrase "leper colony," if there's a hotel room being broken into by house detectives, if it's Penelope Cruz spilling out of an outfit borrowed from Mira Sorvino in "Mighty Aphrodite," then it's time for the new Woody Allen film.

  • 'Magic Mike': It's a living for Steven Soderbergh's troupe of male strippers ✭✭✭ 1/2

    June 28, 2012

    It's crazy to oversell "Magic Mike,"or fluff it up into something its makers never intended. It is not a major motion picture. It is not searing melodrama, though in story outline terms — the least interesting terms by which to engage with director Steven Soderbergh's loose, funky and blithely engaging workplace comedy — it resembles "Showgirls" with showboys, though without the hysteria or the punitive humiliation.

  • Surprise! A family reunion in 'People Like Us' ✭✭

    June 28, 2012

    Crisco-slick, director and co-writer Alex Kurtzman's"People Like Us"brings up the vague-sounding but crucial question of approach, and how a filmmaker's attack on a story lives or dies with a thousand separate choices.

  • 'Safety Not Guaranteed': Departing cynicism for a trip taken on faith ✭✭✭

    June 14, 2012

    Sardonic like its heroine but, at heart, a sweetie, the fetching new comedy "Safety Not Guaranteed"came through the Sundance Film Festival where it won the screenwriting award. The film's based on a classified ad that ran in Backwoods Home magazine in the 1990s and then, years later, thanks to the internets, acquired a second, viral life for itself. "WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. ... You'll get paid after we get back."

  • Sandler as daddy dearest in 'That's My Boy' -- Zero stars

    June 14, 2012

    Even with 87.5 years to go, the 21st century may never see a stupider comedy than"That's My Boy."But let's be positive, and express it as a wish for the film-going masses: May this century never see a stupider comedy.

  • 'The Art of Rap': Ice-T and his friends give hip-hop some of its due ✭✭ 1/2

    June 14, 2012

    Why doesn't rap garner the respect afforded jazz and the blues? Not without its share of self-interest, the question recurs throughout "Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap," executive-produced, directed by and featuring Ice-T, who shares the screen with a strong percentage of the major rap and hip-hop artists of the last three decades.

  • 'Rock of Ages': Broadway's tribute to '80s bands loses something on screen, and in the starring role ✭✭

    June 13, 2012

    Onstage the ABBA love letter "Mamma Mia!"made the jukebox-musical trick look easy and enjoyable. On screen, less enjoyment, more strain — but people love their ABBA, their Meryl Streep and their Greek islands. And the movie did the trick for those who never miss a Pierce Brosnan musical.

  • 'Peace, Love & Misunderstanding': A '60s setting for a predictable tale ✭✭

    June 7, 2012

    The casting of Jane Fonda as a tie-dyed hippie, smoking her weed and firing up the kiln while listening to her vinyl up in Woodstock, N.Y., lends the bland "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding" an air of nostalgic authenticity. Or gimmickry. Or something in between.

  • 'Prometheus': Ridley Scott returns to space and finds something familiar ✭✭✭

    June 7, 2012

    Nearly all the bits and pieces in director Ridley Scott's"Prometheus" come from other movies — either one of Scott's or someone else's. More and more, though, I appreciate Scott's fundamental squareness as a filmmaker. "Prometheus" may be the"Gladiator" director's first picture shot digitally and in 3-D, but there's an old-school assurance in the pacing and the design.

  • 'Snow White' at it again, with fewer laughs, more gore ✭✭✭

    May 31, 2012

    Better and more darkly imaginative than its headache of a coming-attractions trailer suggests, "Snow White and the Huntsman"follows another Snow White re-do,"Mirror Mirror," into theaters by two months and two days. That's not much time for audiences to get re-interested in another twist on a classic fairy tale. But they should.

  • 'Moonrise Kingdom': Wes Anderson meticulously crafts a world of yearning ✭✭✭ 1/2

    May 31, 2012

    Nothing in a Wes Anderson movie is quite like life. He creates odd, gorgeous miniature universes on screen, setting his characters in italics, so that they become characters playing themselves in a pageant inspired by their own lives.

  • Navigating Cannes screenings a tricky task

    May 25, 2012

    CANNES, France — Here’s why the world’s greatest film festival, the one on the Cote d’Azur, means something, and to some filmmakers means everything — even if a lot of the surrounding movies are lame.

  • Bill Murray talks about a director he likes, Wes Anderson of 'Moonrise Kingdom'

    May 16, 2012

    CANNES, France -- Here's Bill Murray, a rumpled riot in mismatched summer wear, talking about his ongoing screen collaboration with writer-director Wes Anderson, the filmmaker (who still shoots on actual, tactile-friendly film, Super 16 millimeter in this case) who gave us "Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums,""Fantastic Mr. Fox"and other fastidiously framed and eccentrically observed studies in young people, their addled elders and their elaborate coping mechanisms:

  • Cannes Film Festival preview: Time to get off the beach

    May 14, 2012

    Brigitte Bardot in a bikini on a French Riviera beach in the early 1950s. Quick — name a single photograph in existence that reminds you less of "The Tree of Life," last year's top prize winner at the Cannes Film Festival.

  • The gang's all here in 'The Avengers' ✭✭✭

    April 30, 2012

    The culmination of everything ever written, produced or imagined in the known universe, or something like that,"The Avengers"bunches together Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, the leather-clad assassin Black Widow, the lethal archer Hawkeye and the superheroes’ one-eyed wrangler, Nick Fury, for 143 minutes of stylish mayhem in the service of defeating Thor’s malevolent brother, the god Loki, who hails from the interstellar world known as Asgard (access through wormhole only), and who yearns to conquer Earth with an all-powerful blue energy cube called the Tesseract.

  • 'Sunrise' a rich, gorgeous silent-era masterpiece ✭✭✭✭

    April 27, 2012

    Rich, strange and gorgeous, F.W. Murnau's "Sunrise" (1927) shows what an artist of the late silent era could accomplish cinematically, backed by an open checkbook and fueled by the highest aspirations even in the simplest of morality tales.

  • 'The Raven': Once upon a drama, dreary ✭✭

    April 26, 2012

    Quoth the raven: "Eh."

  • With 'The Pirates! Band of Misfits,' the treasure's in the details

    April 26, 2012

    Maniacally inventive and tightly packed, if not overpacked, "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" comes from the Aardman animation folks behind Wallace & Gromit, "Chicken Run" and, more recently, "Arthur Christmas." Their latest may be easier to admire than to love; it's more tone-funny and incidental-muttered-aside funny than, for example, your average DreamWorks smash, where every other comic beat ends with a cartoon animal getting bashed in the nethers and then quoting some inappropriate gangster movie.

  • 'Five-Year Engagement': Engaging rom-com worth an 'I do' ✭✭✭ 1/2

    April 26, 2012

    A lot of terrible romantic comedies come along in a given year, and after five or six you begin to question your belief in anything — romance, comedy, movies, even terribleness itself. Before you know it you're trying to break the fever and hit bottom, deliberately, with repeated viewings of films co-starring either Katherine Heigl or Gerard Butler or, worse, their near-lethal joint effort, the Yugo of rom-coms: "The Ugly Truth."

  • Stand-up doc 'Bully' is more than a sum of its parts ✭✭✭

    April 12, 2012

    There are a hundred reasons "Bully"is a good film instead of a great one, but Lee Hirsch's blood-boiling documentary will very likely end up doing more than its share of good in this world.

  • Nyuks outnumber laughs in 'Three Stooges' ✭✭

    April 12, 2012

    Both sincerely affectionate and a tad eerie, the Farrelly brothers'"The Three Stooges"wonders what it'd be like to arm the most violent comedians of the 20th century with their familiar implements of comic torture against a modern-day setting, where sadistic slapstick has become as common as an unfunny "Hangover" sequel.

  • 'Jiro Dreams of Sushi' not just another food flick ✭✭✭ 1/2

    April 5, 2012

    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 10-seat Tokyo restaurant, look like the most wondrous mouthfuls of fish on rice on the planet.

  • 'Titanic 3D' a tale that never lets go ✭✭✭ 1/2

    April 3, 2012

    The ship so nice they sank it twice, the RMS Titanic has resurfaced from the icy depths of the Atlantic only to be subjected to a second dunking, this time with a 3-D up-charge, under the stewardship of Capt. James Cameron, master and commander.

  • 'The Deep Blue Sea': Hushed, deft adaptation resonates ✭✭✭ 1/2

    March 30, 2012

    The Liverpool-bred writer-director Terence Davies is best known for deeply felt, meticulously controlled reveries "The Long Day Closes" and "Distant Voices, Still Lives" and the gorgeous personal essay "Of Time and the City." Now 66, he sees the past — his own and his country's — as a war between oxygen-depriving conformity and what another Terence called "the whole of life," in all its terror and wonder.

  • Gamers will get a kick from maniacal 'Raid: Redemption' ✭✭ 1/2

    March 22, 2012

    Gamers will be slain, over and over, by the insanely violent multilevel bash "The Raid: Redemption," in which a skeezy 15-story tenement complex serves as the setting for a series of stabbings, slicings and a showcase for the Indonesian martial art known as Pencak Silat.

  • 'Kid With a Bike': Tale of troubled child told with deft directorial touch ✭✭✭ 1/2

    March 22, 2012

    Emotionally full to bursting, "The Kid With a Bike"comes from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgian brothers and masters of poetic realism whose movies, as they unfold, have the knack of fooling an audience that the artistry must've been easy to achieve. But think about it. How many so-called slices of life have ended up lifeless — death by earnestness — on screen?

  • Bells are ringing, effectively, in films of today and of yore

    March 21, 2012

    It's not much of a movie, but in the Duplass brothers' "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" a misdialed phone number — Mis-tapped? Mis-punched? Who dials anymore, anyway? — gets the bonged-out dreamer played by Jason Segel thinking he was contacted for a reason. He's already obsessed with the M. Night Shyamalan film "Signs." Surely this must be a sign as well.

  • 'The Hunger Games' adaptation hits the target ✭✭✭

    March 20, 2012

    The hypocrisy at the heart of "The Hunger Games" is irresistible. Novelist Suzanne Collins, whose trilogy has been decreed "awesome" by, among others, my 5th grade son, indicts violence and organized brutality as tools of mass-audience manipulation. Yet "The Hunger Games" wouldn't have gotten very far without its steady supply of threatened or actual gladiatorial teen-on-teen bloodshed: death by arrow, javelin, genetically engineered wasp, plus knives. And land mines. And fearsome dogs, conjured by the dogs of the totalitarian state.

  • 'Footnote' mines scholarly intrigue ✭✭✭ 1/2

    March 15, 2012

    A terrific deadpan chronicle of father and son Talmudic scholars beset by an escalating bureaucratic screw-up, Joseph Cedar's" Footnote" sets the tone for the battles to come in its opening sequence.

  • 'The Lorax' gets the look right, but Dr. Seuss book's heart gets short shrift ✭✭

    March 1, 2012

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

  • 'Crazy Horse': Legendary documentarian lays bare a cabaret's appeal ✭✭✭

    February 24, 2012

    Coming after the great "Boxing Gym" (2010), which revealed a universe of sweaty truth inside an Austin, Texas, punching-bag emporium, documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman's"Crazy Horse" settles for a bit less. The subject is smaller and, weirdly, more modest: the Paris cabaret known as the Crazy Horse, providing locals and visitors with naked and semi-clothed women since 1951 in a celebration (according to its web site) of "beauty, raw talent and personality of the sensual dancers in an unimitable, sophisticated and glamourous way." I think they mean "inimitable," but you get the idea.

  • 'Chico & Rita' animated by the spirit of Cuban jazz stars ✭✭✭✭

    February 23, 2012

    "Rango"probably has the animated feature Academy Award in the bag, but the film that deserves it? A wonderful Spanish-British co-production called "Chico & Rita," making its Chicago debut for a week's run at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

  • Recruiting tool wrestles with its gamelike focus in 'Act of Valor' ✭✭

    February 23, 2012

    Made with or without U.S. Department of Defense cooperation, fictional films about the American military favor narratives in which (mostly) men buck authority, risk their necks in bouts of jealous infighting and go the lone-wolf route in pursuit of the enemy.

  • 'This Means War': Witherspoon in the middle of spy vs. spy vs. sense ✭

    February 16, 2012

    In "This Means War,"the CIA operatives played by Chris Pine and Tom Hardy fall for the same woman, a consumer products tester played by Reese Witherspoon. At first the boys agree to let the best agent win, seduction-wise, while Witherspoon's Lauren puzzles through her feelings regarding her suitors, whom she believes to be a cruise ship captain and a travel agent, respectively.

  • Police story charts a slide downhill for a rogue cop in 'Rampart' ✭✭✭ 1/2

    February 16, 2012

    "Rampart" patrols some familiar streets, but this jarringly intimate study of a dirty Los Angeles cop sliding, crazily, down the drain has a distinctive new-cliche smell, pungent and alive. The story, which is more about observation than propulsion, suits what interests the filmmakers most: the scary charisma and dazzling hubris of Officer Dave Brown, played with wholehearted ferocity by Woody Harrelson.

  • 'The Vow': Foggy on everything but the feelings -- ✭✭ 1/2

    February 9, 2012

    Two new products — and that's what they are — at the movies this week present packages of nearly identical quality (eh), transcended by their respective top-billed stars who happen also to be excellent, crud-elevating actors. This is an excellent skill to hone if you're both an actor and a star, because a significant portion of most careers is spent elevating crud.

  • 'Journey 2' gets wasted in paradise -- ✭ 1/2

    February 9, 2012

    In its own sweetly bombastic way, the 2008 remake of "Journey to the Center of the Earth" did the job, the job being a 21st-century 3-D bash starring Brendan Fraser — an actor who gives his all to the green screen, every time — and loosely based on the 19th-century Jules Verne adventure, a natural for the movies. Its script proceeded from the idea that Verne, science fiction visionary, was in reality writing about real places and genuine fantastic phenomena only disguised as fiction.

  • 'Safe House' a bumpy ride, with Denzel in the driver's seat -- ✭✭ 1/2

    February 9, 2012

    Early on in the derivative but fairly absorbing blur titled "Safe House,"set in Cape Town, South Africa, Denzel Washington's Tobin Frost, a spy in from the cold, is brought to a Central Intelligence Agency safe house so that he can be asked a few questions about the super-secret intel he has in his possession. Wordlessly, Washington sits in a chair, as a supporting player (Robert Patrick) prepares for the waterboarding, and in one five-second progression Washington smiles, drops his head, lifts it back up — and his face has morphed into that of a man who has killed and will be killing again very soon.

  • Madonna's 'W.E.' all dressed up, going nowhere -- ✭ 1/2

    February 9, 2012

    They split in 2008, but apparently Madonna stayed married to director Guy Ritchie just long enough to absorb his most grating cinematic instincts — shooting in every style, in an addled, shuffle-mode, falsely glamorizing way until all is chaos. And, astonishingly, boredom.

  • Oscar nominations a blast from the past

    January 24, 2012

    John Osborne wrote the key post-World War II British drama "Look Back in Anger," later filmed in 1959. By contrast there’s very little anger in all the look-backs among this year’s Academy Award nominations. Oscar's unofficial slogan in early 2012 is more like "Look Back with Bittersweet Nostalgia at the Industry’s Salad Days."

  • 'Shame' offers plenty of action, not much lovin' -- 2 1/2 stars

    December 1, 2011

    Near the beginning of filmmaker Steve McQueen's granite-toned second feature, "Shame," we witness an urban predator in action. Brandon, a Manhattanite played by Michael Fassbender, eyes a stranger seated across from him on the subway. He stares. She notices. He smiles. She responds. Before the next stop he engineers a moment of physical proximity. It's over before anything has a chance to develop, yet this is the latest metaphoric notch in this sex addict's belt — a belt that, throughout "Shame," always seems to be sliding to the floor near one bed or another.

  • 'Moneyball': The Un-'Natural'

    September 22, 2011

    Director Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball” is the perfect sports movie for these cash-strapped times of efficiency maximization. It's also the best sports movie in a long time, period, as well as honestly inspirational — even though nobody knocks one into the lights, causing showers of sparks to blend in the night sky with the fireworks.

  • 'I Don't Know How She Does It': No how, no way like real life

    September 15, 2011

    Thwarted by the same awkward timing that zonked "Confessions of a Shopaholic" two years ago, just when shopaholics began to seem extra-heinous, the film version of "I Don't Know How She Does It" doesn't know how to do what I think it's trying to do.

  • Rich tapestry shot through with 'Mysteries'

    September 15, 2011

    A formal marvel carved from, and around, a narrative whopper, Raul Ruiz's adaptation of the mid-19th century Portuguese novel "Mysteries of Lisbon" arrives in U.S. theaters as a two-part, four-hour version edited down from a six-hour version produced for European television.

  • Shoot 'em up, blow 'em up

    September 9, 2011

    What history dictates, Hollywood redirects.

  • Mediators try to make streets a little less mean

    August 12, 2011

    In its charting of a Chicago epidemic and belief in the power of street-level human empathy, the superb documentary "The Interrupters" comes to us at a time when the notion of conflict resolution has been sidelined utterly on the national political level.This is why every member of the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, the White House and the tea party, let alone anybody simply interested in meeting some complicated and remarkable Chicagoans, should see the film. It chronicles genuine conflict resolution that appears to get results — politically savvy, consensus-building results — one difficult day at a time.

  • Middle Men

    August 5, 2010

    2 stars

  • Review: 2 1/2 stars for 'Iron Man 2'

    May 5, 2010

    "A passable knock-off": That's how the man in the Iron Man mask, the obscenely rich but heartsick industrialist played by Robert Downey Jr., characterizes the electro-weaponry wielded by his Slavic adversary ( Mickey Rourke) in "Iron Man 2."

  • Tribune Archive: 2005 interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman

    October 16, 2005

    This column was first published in Oct. 16, 2005

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