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      • 50 First Dates poster image

        50 First Dates

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        As a rule, the more convoluted a comedy's setup, the bigger the laughs should be. An audience shouldn't be made to work too hard for a meager payoff. So watching the Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore vehicle "50 First Dates" is a flabbergasting experience. Here's a romantic comedy that mixes the premises of "Memento" and "Groundhog Day" yet spends most of its energy convincing you to take its absurd story seriously. That story is this: Hawaii-based sea-animal caretake... (read more)

      • Elf poster image


        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Kill Bill: Vol. 1 poster image

        Kill Bill: Vol. 1

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Cabin Fever poster image

        Cabin Fever

        Ellen Fox, Chicago Tribune

        As long as young people continue to make dumb choices, they will keep getting killed in horror movies. The question is: How do you kill them off in inventive, or at least engrossing, ways? Some films in the genre have found success by coming up with either new sources of evil (the cursed videotape in "The Ring"), or new ways of framing the action (the fake-doc "The Blair Witch Project"). But most still look over their shoulders for inspiration, either through self-referenc... (read more)

      • House of 1000 Corpses poster image

        House of 1000 Corpses

        Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets poster image

        Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Spirited Away poster image

        Spirited Away

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Scooby-Doo poster image


        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

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

      • The Importance of Being Earnest poster image

        The Importance of Being Earnest

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Jason X poster image

        Jason X

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

        When there's no place for horror franchises left to go, they go to outer space. Clive Barker's "Hellraiser" series ended up in the big black during its fourth installment, while the tongue-in-cheek "Leprechaun" movies did the same, just before "Leprechaun 5: Leprechaun in the Hood." So, going where a host of deflated horror series have gone before, "Jason X," the 10th installment of the "Friday the 13th" franchise, transports its hockey mask-c... (read more)

      • Panic Room poster image

        Panic Room

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        You'd think by this point someone would be making suspense films with Alfred Hitchcock's panache, but the void stubbornly has remained unfilled. That's why you might feel an extra jolt of excitement as David Fincher's thriller "Panic Room" unfolds. As he has shown in "Fight Club," "The Game" and "Seven," Fincher has a dazzling command of visual storytelling. At times, as in "Fight Club," he free-associates with images the way Robin Williams do... (read more)

      • Ichi the Killer poster image

        Ichi the Killer

        John Petrakis, Chicago Tribune

        "Ichi the Killer" is the latest bloodbath by Japanese cult director Takashi Miike ("Audition"), and to call it superior to Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" is to pay a backhanded compliment. Neither film is very good, but at least "Ichi" tackles its gory subject matter with a modicum of integrity, as in "This is it, it's bizarre, but deal with it," instead of Tarantino's work, which patches together bits and pieces from other genres. "Ichi... (read more)

      • Monsters, Inc. poster image

        Monsters, Inc.

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Tortilla Soup poster image

        Tortilla Soup

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

        One might not necessarily assume that the multifaceted story of a Taiwanese family could be easily transplanted into a Mexican-American household. Yet Ang Lee's 1995 Taiwanese family drama "Eat Drink Man Woman" has made a surprisingly graceful transition to the Los Angeles setting of Maria Ripoll's "Tortilla Soup," a remake that reimagines the "Eat Drink" patriarch widower chef and his three daughters as Mexican-Americans dealing with issues of assimilation as we... (read more)

      • Hedwig and the Angry Inch poster image

        Hedwig and the Angry Inch

        Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Jeepers Creepers poster image

        Jeepers Creepers

        Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

        You might think that even the most dim-witted horror movie would have an internal logic. Monsters and serial killers behave in accordance with their bloody legends, and even their hapless prey have some idea of how to stop these murderous rampages. Yet "Jeepers Creepers" presents no logic and few likable characters. Instead, writer and director Victor Salva ("Powder") offers up a nameless, creepy, flesh-eating monster and little explanation of its motives, history or weakn... (read more)

      • Moulin Rouge poster image

        Moulin Rouge

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Pulse poster image


        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Jurassic Park poster image

        Jurassic Park

        Roger Moore, Chicago Tribune

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

      • A Nightmare on Elm Street poster image

        A Nightmare on Elm Street

        Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

        "You gotta stop that kinda dreamin,'" said the naive mother in the original 1984 "Nightmare on Elm Street," and of course the advice was not heeded, and Freddy Krueger (billed as "Fred Krueger") and his metallic claw-fingers wiped out teenager after teenager, and a franchise was born. Director Wes Craven's film never did get the critical respect of, say, John Carpenter's first " Halloween," but its creepiest scenes -- the body-bag appearance at the high... (read more)

      • Ghostbusters poster image


        Jake Coyle, Chicago Tribune

        Associated Press The easy, electric chemistry of the four leads in Paul Feig's "Ghostbusters" acts like a firewall against the supernatural and the adolescent, alike, in this spirited reboot of the 1984 original. Ghouls and anonymous Internet commenters -- who have flocked to their thumbs-down buttons ahead of the film's release -- share plenty of characteristics. Each is likely to drool and quickly disappear when you turn on the lights. Feig's "Ghostbusters" ain't afraid ... (read more)

      • The Last Waltz poster image

        The Last Waltz

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Godzilla poster image


        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Kinky Boots poster image

        Kinky Boots

        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Ponyo poster image


        Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Sea Monsters 3D: A Prehistoric Adventure poster image

        Sea Monsters 3D: A Prehistoric Adventure

        Michael Esposito, Chicago Tribune

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

      • Water poster image


        Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

        Deepa Mehta's "Water," the third film in her elemental "Fire"-"Earth"-Water" trilogy, is a gentle yet powerful drama of social protest, an impassioned portrayal of the fruits of prejudice, set in 1938 India, at a time when Gandhi's crusade against British rule flourished. Winds of change were sweeping the country, yet many of its women still remained slaves to harsh ancient marital customs, the Hindu laws that forbade widows to remarry (except to a husband's... (read more)

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