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Movie listings


Ratings key: ★★★★ excellent; ★★★ good; ★★ fair; ★ poor.

“The Assistant” ★★★ 1⁄


R, 1:25, drama

Besides being the best American film of our new year, writer-director Kitty Green’s drama confounds expectatio­ns and has the strange effect of simultaneo­usly chilling and boiling the viewer’s blood. Conceived before the Harvey Weinstein revelation­s in 2017, and the long-overdue escape valve of the #MeToo movement, it’s a simple, coldly gripping story of one young woman, Jane, played with exquisite restraint and exacting precision by Julia Garner, making her way through a single work day at her place of employment. The air she breathes there, at a boutique Miramax-like company, is hazardous to her health: suffocatin­g, joyless, full of gaseous male ego and quiet, rampant fear. This isn’t “Bombshell,” the Fox News takedown full of righteous, tidy comeuppanc­es. Green’s film has the nerve to stick to life as millions live it, still. — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“Bad Boys For Life” ★★

R, 2:04, action-comedy

A lot goes on in between the natural life cycle of a two-movie phenomenon from another time, and an attempt to tack on a third and get it going again. This film is that attempt. Aside from the bit about Martin Lawrence being able to beat Will Smith in a foot race, the movie has very few unintentio­nal laughs. It boasts a handful of cheap intentiona­l ones, lots and lots of automatic gunfire and bleeding, and a nutty pileup of influences, from late-period “Fast & Furious” to “Mission: Impossible” to “21 Jump Street.” It may be a frantic visual blur, but it’s razor-sharp thematical­ly. Its mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make a jaded 2020 audience glad to see these guys again. The movie’s not the point. The boys are the point. — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune “Big Time Adolescenc­e” ★★

R, 1:31, comedy

When you first see Pete Davidson as Zeke, a druggie wastrel dropout who, from his look to his attitude, is very Pete Davidson, you naturally assume that he’s one of those characters: an outrageous homeboy douche we’re going to be laughing with. Zeke works (barely) at a discount appliance store, sleeps with his ex-girlfriend­s, and sells drugs to high-school kids on the side. He doesn’t have a care in the world, but that’s only because he doesn’t care about anything, least of all himself. He does, however, have a best friend: Mo (Griffin Gluck), the 16-year-old hero of the movie. Mo is a relatively straight and together kid, but he becomes Zeke’s protégé in hanging out and chasing kicks. Zeke drives the kid around, giving him weed, booze, and coarse misogynist­ic advice. To Mo, Zeke is simply the quintessen­ce of cool. And Zeke likes hanging out with Mo because that’s how he can keep feeling cool. “Big Time Adolescenc­e” isn’t bad, but it’s a trifle. It kept making me think of teen movies with central characters who go rogue in major ways that had more bite and surprise to them, like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” or “Edge of Seventeen” or “mid90s.” The wild card here is supposed to be Pete Davidson. Yet how wild a card can he be if he never seems like anything but a pest pretending to be a rock star? — Owen Gleiberman, Variety “Bloodshot” ★★

PG-13, 1:49, action

After a violent hostage extraction in Kenya, special ops soldier Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) retires to the Amalfi Coast for some R&R with a comely blonde, Gina (Talulah Riley), apparently his wife. Before long they’re picked up by a “psycho killer” (Toby Kebbell). Before you can wonder just who the heck this guy is, Ray wakes up in a lab, where a doctor with a robot arm (Guy Pearce) tells him he’s been brought back to life as a technologi­cally enhanced super soldier. This is a supremely silly Diesel vehicle, allowing the earnest action star to deliver lines like “You used me to kill,” with the utmost seriousnes­s. But the writers are also clever enough about the genre’s own tropes to poke some fun at them, mostly while snarky techies fiddle with the simulation­s. — Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service

“Brahms: The Boy II” ★ 1⁄


PG-13, 1:26, horror

Like its predecesso­r, “The Boy II” is a fairly corny and stodgy spook-show, with a few good jolts and one genuinely creepy killer toy. One point in the sequel’s favor: The scares come early and often. In the new film, a family of three is looking for a fresh start after a traumatic home invasion — shown in disturbing detail. The trio moves into the guest house on the estate from “The Boy.” There, the son Jude (Christophe­r Convery) finds Brahms and brings him into the house, demanding that mom Liza (Katie Holmes) and dad Sean (Owain Yeoman) follow the first movie’s “rules” and treat the doll like a person. As always, the doll’s blank face and soulless eyes make even the most routine “What’s the bump?” and “Who moved that furniture?” moments moderately more spine-tingling. Like a lot of horror sequels, “Brahms” gets too hung up on mythology, as Liza’s research into the history of her son’s new friend leads to a lot of dreary and disappoint­ing explanatio­ns of things that don’t really need a raison d’etre — including the big central shocker from “The Boy.” — Noel Murray, Los Angeles Times

“Burden” ★★ 1⁄


R, 1:57, drama

This based-on-fact drama is intent on delivering a passionate message about the power of love to defeat hate — and it does. But there’s another lesson to be learned here, about the power of potent, committed acting to elevate material past where it would otherwise go. Without that second dynamic in place, “Burden” wouldn’t be nearly as effective as it is. Detailing how a committed Ku Klux Klan grand dragon came to abandon racism and then need the help of the African American minister who has been his sworn enemy, “Burden’s” narrative is so unlikely it needs that memorable acting to bring it alive. Fans of transforma­tive acting should see this film for the splendid performanc­es of Garrett Hedlund and Andrea Riseboroug­h. Though other gifted actors (Forest Whitaker, Tom Wilkinson, Crystal Fox) do strong work, it is Hedlund and Riseboroug­h who really make things happen. — Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

“The Call of the Wild” ★★ 1⁄


PG, 1:40, adventure

Based on the classic novella by Jack London, this is what one might call a literary dog movie, even if there is technicall­y no actual dog in it. Buck, the dog, is a CGI creation. And it’s only through the technology that his dangerous and harrowing adventures in the Alaskan wilderness during the Gold Rush could be realistica­lly brought to the big screen, for better or for

worse. Known for his work on the most recent “Planet of the Apes” films, motioncapt­ure performer Terry Notary brings Buck’s movements to life, and it’s a truly skilled performanc­e. But Buck’s digital nature is noticeable right away. It’s initially off-putting, and something you can never quite shake throughout the film. Fortunatel­y Buck plays opposite several solid human actors who can hold up their end of the tale: Omar Sy as Perrault, Harrison

Ford as John Thornton, and Dan Stevens as Hal. There isn’t much nuance or complexity to be found here, but it’s an old-fashioned animal-friendly adventure flick for kids. — Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service “Dolittle” ★ 1⁄


PG, 1:46, family

In what feels like a corporate panic, cowriter and director Stephen Gaghan’s franchise hopeful trades charm for noise, and wit for a climactic dragon colonoscop­y. This film, like its predecesso­rs, owes its inspiratio­n to Hugh Lofting, whose fanciful letters home during World War I formed the genesis of the first Dolittle book published in 1920, about a doctor who can “talk” to animals. In the title role, Robert Downey Jr. favors a blasé, throw-it-away delivery and demeanor that can easily lapse into a form of subtle heckling. The problems begin and end with the script, which turns its title character into an eccentric and wearying blur of tics, tacked onto a character who comports himself like a bullying, egocentric A-lister rather than someone who, you know, actually enjoys the company of animals. The banter enjoys the benefit of genuine comic pros doing the voices of the animals, but the zingers remain low on zing, bordering on total zinglessne­ss. So where’s the … oh, what’s the word … fun? — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“Emma” ★★★

PG, 2:09, drama

This latest depiction of the Jane Austen is a little edgier, driven by a more ambiguous and emotionall­y guarded portrayal of the blithe young matchmaker played by Anya Taylor-Joy. In the new “Emma,” we’re more or less in period and within convention­al lines. This means eye-filling, Regency-era duds and bonnets, and the pleasurabl­e trappings of 1815 England among the smart set. At 21, Emma is marketable in the marriage sense but more interested in matchmakin­g for everyone around her. Newfound friend Harriet Smith (Mia Goth, expertly handling an expanded supporting role with ease) spurns the advances of a local farmer, on Emma’s advice. The movie strains at the outset; the early scenes are dominated by a brisk procession of tidy, somewhat static shots. Then, rather miraculous­ly, it starts getting better and better.

The importance of Emma’s friendship with Harriet has been heightened and deepened here, and it never hurts to have Bill Nighy in your movie. He plays Mr. Woodhouse, whose wealth and standing helps him not a bit with his perpetual dread of drafts. — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“Extra Ordinary” ★★★

R, 1:34, comedy-horror

This film is a kind of tea-cozy “Ghostbuste­rs” that’s consistent­ly funny in a pleasingly off-kilter way. Rose (Maeve Higgins), a wallflower­ish 30-something driving instructor with psychic gifts, clicks with her student Martin (Barry Ward), an eligible widower whose daughter, Sarah

(Emma Coleman), must be saved from a one-hit-wonder rock star (Will Forte) who is trying to sacrifice her, “Exorcist”-style, to regain his mojo. Rose’s extra-sensitivit­y to paranormal phenomena provides a few mild sight gags throughout. But for the most part, the movie relies more on character-based byplay until a low-speed climactic chase, followed by a demonic-visitation finale that finally drags the film into effects-laden “Ghostbuste­rs” terrain proper. — Dennis Harvey, Variety

“Fantasy Island” ★ 1⁄


PG-13, 1:50, drama

Retooling the ’70s/’80s ABC prime-time staple “Fantasy Island” as a sinister gotcha! outing isn’t a bad idea. That’s the wheel.

The spokes are everything else, and most everything else about the new horror movie is not good. The film toggles between the elaborate fantasies of four different sets of characters. Lucy Hale and Portia Doubleday enact a mean-girls revenge scenario; Maggie Q plays a woman yearning for a husband and child but is mired in self-loathing and regret; a pair of literal and figurative bros (Ryan Hansen and Jimmy O. Yang) just want to have fun but must reckon with life-altering decisions; and Austin Stowell plays a guy who lost his soldier father at a young age and has struggled to get right ever since. Gone, of course, is the grandly gesticulat­ing Ricardo Montalban as Mr. Roarke, though his white suit has been re-tailored for a subdued, somewhat indistinct Michael Peña. The mysterious resort owner’s personal assistant and general greeter is now played by a woman, Parisa Fitz-Henley — one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dim mashup. — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“First Cow” ★★★★

PG-13, 2:02, drama

Director Kelly Reichardt is one of America’s truest creative voices. Unlike anybody else making movies today, Reichardt allows an idea and an entire film to reveal itself gradually. The drifters and settlers in the wryly titled “First Cow,” set in the Oregon Territory in the 1820s, have made their way to a strange, wild place, eager to exploit it one way or another. Cookie Figowitz (John Magaro) works as a cook for a rough group of trappers. One day in the woods, Cookie discovers King-Lu (Orion Lee), naked, cowering. He’s no trapper; he’s been chased by a pack of vengeful Russians in retaliatio­n for a murder he committed. Quiet, big-hearted Cookie gives him a blanket and shields him from discovery. They form a partnershi­p. In Reichardt’s films, ranging from “Wendy and Lucy” to “Meek’s Cutoff ” to “Certain Women,” the lives of outsiders are defined by the natural world, economic circumstan­ce and by their own dreams of connection. “First Cow” is one of her very best. — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“Frozen 2” ★★★

PG, 1:43, animation

This sequel pulls Elsa the Snow Queen (voiced by Idina Menzel) and her less magical but nonetheles­s charismati­c younger sister, Anna (Kristen Bell), into a murky web of Shakespear­ean political intrigue, with a large dose of Scandinavi­an pagan mythology; late-‘80s/early-‘90s-style power ballads from songwriter­s Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez; and just enough Olaf (snowman) and Sven (reindeer) to please younger viewers who, for years, after the first “Frozen” conquered the world in 2013, went to bed and then woke up signing “Let It Go.”—

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“The Gentlemen” ★★ 1⁄


R, 1:53, action

Director Guy Ritchie expands his horizons

to England’s upper crust (the “toffs,” if you will). The lords and ladies are a means to an end for the protagonis­t, Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughe­y), an American Rhodes scholar-turned-weed dealer who has worked out a deal with the landed gentry. They have the land he needs for his grow operation; he has the money they need to sustain their titled lifestyles. Now Mickey wants to get out of the game, and he’s trying to sell his organizati­on to the highest bidder. Will it be the fey Jewish billionair­e Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong), or the aggressive young Chinese upstart Dry Eye (Henry Golding)? It’s not just the tale of a simple sale, though. It’s recounted by an opportunis­tic private eye, Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who has turned up on the doorstep of Mickey’s right hand man, Ray (Charlie Hunnam). It can be easy to be swept away by all the beautiful people, classic rock needle drops, wild costumes and regional accents. But kick the tires and you’ll start to realize the story’s a lemon. It’s fairly simple underneath the layers of unreliable narrators and unnecessar­ily extraneous plot twists, which end up having all the intrigue of a potato. — Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service

“Greed” ★★★

R, 1:44, drama

More than three decades after “Wall Street” character Gordon Gekko declared that “greed is good” — in a world that’s been reshaped by 9/11, life-altering financial crises, and a staggering rise in both income disparity and corporate influence — writer-director Michael Winterbott­om’s largely effective satire, bluntly titled “Greed,” tells us that greed is not only bad but potentiall­y fatal. Let’s just say the phrase “Eat the rich” takes on a whole new meaning here. At first, this story about one of the world’s more notoriousl­y awful one-percenters, named Sir Richard McCreadie (Steve Coogan), may feel like the last thing we need to sit through at this particular­ly fractious moment in time. But after an uneasy start, the kaleidosco­pic script, which revolves around an ultralavis­h 60th birthday party McCreadie throws himself coalesces into a thoughtful, pointed, at times deceptivel­y profound look at how the rich get richer and, well, you know what happens to the poor. — Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times

“Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey” ★★★

R, 1:44, action-adventure

The best thing to come out of 2016’s muchderide­d DC antihero team-up “Suicide Squad” was Margot Robbie’s inspired take on Harley Quinn, the self-proclaimed “Joker’s girl” and quirky chaos clown. Now she’s back and better than ever with a brand-new girl gang in the brilliant, breakneck “Birds of Prey,” a circus for the senses, but with performanc­es that give the film its heart and humor. The other birds in the flock: Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), styled as a butt-kicking blaxploita­tion queen, and Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a mysterious yet neurotic assassin out for vengeance. Along with renegade cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and precocious pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), this is Harley’s new girl gang, who band together against the sinister Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). — Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service “Hope Gap” ★★ 1⁄


PG-13, 1:40, drama

The marriage between Grace (Annette Bening, excellent in all her bedraggled desperatio­n) and Edward (Bill Nighy) has ended almost entirely out of the blue after the couple had been together for 29 years. Except the split wasn’t unexpected; it had been telegraphe­d in tiny ways almost every day for decades, until at last, Edward left, enlisting their son, Jamie (Josh O’Connor), to help Grace cope with the separation. It’s a difficult prospect, inspired by the divorce of director William Nicholson’s own parents, and he navigates it as sensitivel­y as possible; his characters’ pain, and also their resilience, serve to let others know they’re not alone. — Peter Debruge, Variety

“The Hunt” ★ 1⁄


R, 1:55, action-thriller

This satiric thriller is a lame and weaselly thing, made strangely more frustratin­g by some excellent performers. The script jabs at liberals, conservati­ves, the Twitterati, cancel culture, climate crisis deniers, every side of every sociologic­al issue. That may sound promisingl­y small-d democratic. But the movie can’t stop congratula­ting itself for its cleverness long enough to take off as a movie. The plot: In a location undisclose­d at the start, a dozen strangers from Mississipp­i, Wyoming, New York and elsewhere wake up to realize they’ve been drugged and dropped into an outdoor game of catch and kill. Betty Gilpin, the breakout star of “Glow,” whose wry comic timing doesn’t stick with any one time zone, does a lot here. Too much, sometimes. But she’s a fearsome action presence as well as a screwball heroine under wraps. She periodical­ly saves “The Hunt” from itself. — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“I Still Believe” ★★ 1⁄


PG, 1:46, drama

Call this film a faith-based tearjerker, and you won’t be far off the mark. Still, that blunt-spoken descriptio­n should be taken as not so much a dismissal of its unabashed sentimenta­lity as an honest appraisal of the film’s potential to deeply affect its target audience. The emotional power is amped up — subtly at first, then gradually more aggressive­ly — with a “Love Story”-style scenario that is all the more potent for being based on real-life events. Specifical­ly, it is the story of popular Christian music artist Jeremy Camp (KJ Apa), and Melissa (Britt Robertson, who meet cute in 1999 while attending California’s Calvary Chapel Bible College. He’s eager to become a singer-songwriter, so he seeks career (and spiritual) guidance from establishe­d Christian music artist Jean-Luc (Nathan Dean), a Calvary Chapel alumnus. The good news: Jean-Luc is impressed by Jeremy and his music, and offers to mentor him. The bad news: Jean-Luc is kinda-sorta involved with Melissa. — Joe Leydon, Variety

“The Invisible Man” ★★★

R, 2:04, psychologi­cal horror

The latest film version of H.G. Wells’ story works largely because a riveting and fearsomely committed Elisabeth Moss mines writer-director Leigh Whannell’s stalker scenario for all sorts of psychologi­cal nuance. Two minutes in, we’re in the grip of a tight, suspensefu­l overture. In bed with her abusive lover (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), the budding architect Cecilia (Moss) hatches a plan for her escape: Poison him and flee. It works, it seems, and news of her tormentor’s suicide follows shortly after. Staying temporaril­y with her policeman friend (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter (Storm Reid), Cecilia wonders if she’s losing her mind. She’s terrified of leaving the house but senses a presence within it. In one shot recalling “Paranormal Activity,” an ordinary kitchen turns sinister with a knife that goes missing and a skillet of bacon suddenly catching fire. This movie has no interest in scientific exposition; it’s more

concerned with an accumulati­ng atmosphere of dread. A job interview with a smarmy architect leads to evidence that her ex-boyfriend is not dead yet, and Cecilia’s fate as a victim of a monstrousl­y clever blackmaile­r appears sealed. Her nemesis deploys his cloak of invisibili­ty for somewhat more frightenin­g purposes than Oberon in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” ever did, let alone Harry Potter and the gang. — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune “Jojo Rabbit” ★★

PG-13, 1:48, comedy

Young Jojo, short for Johannes, is an eager Hitler Youth participan­t who sets off excitedly for a training weekend led by the eccentric one-eyed Captain K (Sam Rockwell) and his assistants (Alfie Allen and Rebel Wilson). Despite his enthusiasm and motivation­al affirmatio­ns supplied by his fantastica­l chats with Der Fuhrer, Jojo learns the hard way about the cruelty of older kids, earning the titular nickname when he’s unable to kill a bunny. In director Taika Waititi’s film, billed as an “antihate satire,” Waititi himself plays Adolf Hitler. But that seems to be both the beginning and the end of the joke. This Hitler is an imaginary friend to Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), and Waititi’s silly, irreverent performanc­e declaws the towering 20th century figure of hate. However, in doing so, he declaws his own satire, too. “Jojo Rabbit” has plenty of bark, but no bite to back it up. It’s not quite a satire because it’s trying hard to be heartwarmi­ng at the same time, all against the backdrop of the waning days of World War II. — Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service

“Jumanji: The Next Level” ★★ 1⁄


PG, 2:03, family

Director Jake Kasdan’s 2017 film “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” took the mysterious board game introduced in Chris Van Allsburg’s splendid picture book and upgraded it into a Nintendo-style console entertainm­ent. Said game then proceeded to suck four teenagers into its virtual safarithem­ed world, recasting them as fantasy avatars played, in nimbly elastic comic performanc­es, by Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan. It was a body-swap comedy at heart, a movie of gratifying­ly analog pleasures beneath the obligatory CGI razzle-dazzle. Kasdan’s sequel is an amiable retread passing itself off as an upgrade. It reunites the original cast and adds some welcome new faces, a couple of fresh conceptual wrinkles, two hair-raising action scenes and some unearned lump-in-the-throat sentimenta­lity. It’s not bad for an hour’s entertainm­ent; too bad it runs for two. — Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

“Just Mercy” ★★ 1⁄


PG-13, 2:16, drama

The movie comes from a 2014 memoir by civil rights activist Bryan Stevenson, a passionate advocate for Death Row inmates. The Harvard-educated Stevenson, played by Michael B. Jordan, takes a case in

Monroevill­e, Alabama: Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), an African-American business owner is sentenced to death for killing an 18-year-old white woman. Soon enough, Stevenson realizes how faulty and selective the evidence against McMillian really was. The activist gradually convinces the prisoner’s family, and then McMillian himself, that he has a shot at redemption. This film is solid, meat-andpotatoe­s docudrama filmmaking, if you don’t mind a first-rate story of systemic injustice undercut by second-rate dialogue. What’s missing is a sense of human complicati­on within an inhuman judicial sphere. While Foxx works wonders, especially in his scenes with Jordan, “Just Mercy” rarely gets under the skin or behind the eyes of McMillian. — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“Knives Out” ★★★ 1⁄


PG-13, 2:10, mystery

Writer-director Rian Johnson’s fizzy Agatha Christie riff succeeds as a throwback with more than mere nostalgia on its mind. The film begins with the corpse of famously reclusive mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christophe­r Plummer), and backs up to the night of his 85th birthday party. The extended family has its left and right flanks, politicall­y, and the knives are out, metaphoric­ally, early and often. The cast, including Toni Collette and Jamie Lee Curtis, could sell “Knives Out” even if it were “Spoons Out,” or “Sporks Out.” Michael Shannon plays Walt, who runs dad’s publishing empire with an ambiguous set of business skills. Don Johnson plays the MAGA-loving conservati­ve married to Linda. These and others make up the Thrombey socio-economic bubble. And the drawling Southern detective on the prowl — who goes by the colorcoded name Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) — is the rock-solid center this confection needs. — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune “Little Women” ★★★★

PG, 2:15, drama

Writer-director Greta Gerwig’s screen version of Louisa May Alcott’s novel begins with a title card featuring Alcott’s own words: “I had lots of troubles, so I write jolly tales.” With an establishe­d and frequently adapted classic, it’s useful to tip your hand and let the audience know what it’s in for straightaw­ay. The new film’s pacing and rhythm reveals Gerwig’s full-gallop approach to the four March sisters (Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen), their mother (Laura Dern) and their intertwini­ng private lives during and after the Civil War. The way Gerwig handles them, the March family’s stories are treated as a disarming comedy of manners under serious, cloudy skies. She doesn’t stop there: By the end of Gerwig’s “Little Women,” Alcott’s story and Jo March’s story dovetail into a third, hybrid tale of one woman’s freedom from want. — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“1917” ★★★ 1⁄


R, 1:58, drama

Designed as two long, unbroken shots, Sam Mendes’ film is astonishin­g — a feat of cinematogr­aphy, production design and performanc­e moving seamlessly as one piece. But the most incredible thing about “1917” is how often you forget about the trick of it all, absorbed in character and story rather than any “gimmick.” Two young lance corporals, Blake (Dean Charles-Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay), are given the order to deliver a message by morning to a battalion of British soldiers who are walking into a trap. Chapman gives one of the most heartbreak­ing performanc­es of the year, while McKay’s physicalit­y, both explosive and intimate, is astounding. — Katie

Walsh, Tribune News Service

“Onward” ★★ 1⁄


PG, 1:42, family-animation

The human-like elves in this tale include tender, shy Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) and his brash older sibling, Barley (Chris Pratt). Their father died before Ian was born. For Ian’s 16th birthday, he is given a magical spell-casting wooden staff able to bring their late father back from the dead for a single day. It works, almost: Dad returns from the waist down only, unable to see or hear but is pretty slick with the dance moves. The rest of the antsy plot finds Ian and Barley on a deadline hunt for a precious “Phoenix stone” to complete the spell. En route there are police to elude and a dragon to vanquish. Without breaking any new ground, the animation holds up its end of the bargain. Pratt in particular finds what laughs there are to be had with Barley, whose life revolves around his beat-up Econoline-type van named Guinevere. — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“Ordinary Love” ★★★

R, 1:31, drama

This intimate drama loves to show healthcons­cious husband and wife Tom (Liam Neeson) and Joan (Lesley Manville) on their evening stroll, a contented retired couple walking the same path alongside a rather un-scenic, busy street. Until five minutes in, when Joan finds a lump in her breast and the pair gradually realize some roads must be walked alone. He belongs in the world of the healthy; she’s increasing­ly more comfortabl­e among the sick. Their lives were already hermetic, especially since they lost their daughter. Yet, they’re plenty of company for themselves, two people whose mouths are always in motion, delighted to mock-bicker over buying Brussels sprouts or going out for a beer. Neeson and Manville have superb chemistry. Seeing two characters who deeply love each other makes it more heartbreak­ing to hear Joan sigh, “We’re all just, really, just on our own.” Their romance is meant to motor our own hearts to be more resilient, but really, if this near-perfect couple can’t talk through their problems, who can? — Amy Nicholson, Variety

“Parasite” ★★★★

R, 2:11, comedy-thriller

The Kim family lives in a tiny apartment in Seoul, where the clever forger daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam) and her mildmanner­ed brother Ki-woo (Choi Wooshik) brandish their cellphones, seeking out some stray neighborho­od Wi-Fi in various corners of the flat. The family gets by folding cardboard pizza boxes for a living. Father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and mother Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) wonder if that’s all there is. In short order all the Kims find employment by deceptive

means in the home of the wealthy Park family. It’s a pleasure watching this con click into place. When the Parks go away on a camping trip, the drunken revels and smashed glassware lead the Kim clan to a discovery that leads to increasing­ly sinister and bloody doings. The screenplay stays clearly, even doggedly on point in its themes of class resentment and economic warfare. The shift into varying suspense thriller guises, and finally into disarming depths of feeling, works like magic, both inevitable and unpredicta­ble. — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“The Photograph” ★★★

PG-13, 1:46, drama

Writer-director Stella Meghie’s film plays an artful, subdued game of flashback hopscotch, back and forth from the present-day romance between Mae (Issa

Rae) and Michael (LaKeith Stanfield) to 1980s scenes about Christina, Mae’s mother. She’s played by Chanté Adams from “Roxanne Roxanne,” and she’s subtly terrific. Meghie takes some chances here. There’s hardly any melodrama, and a lot happens off-screen; Mae and Michael get to know each other, for example, in leisurely, conversati­onal encounters, without the usual montage shortcuts. Mae can be a somewhat frustratin­g protagonis­t, but Rae’s warmth keeps her interestin­g, just as Stanfield’s unpredicta­ble timing keeps his character (romantical­ly impulsive and tough to read) from being a weasel. “The Photograph” treats all its characters with some decency and understand­ing, in a genre where straw villains and cardboard adversarie­s typically run rampant. — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” ★★★★

R, 1:59, drama

This is a film dominated by women’s faces, women’s desire and the space afforded women in a specific place (the Brittany coast) and time (the 18th century). Artist Marianne — a hawk-eyed observer played with fine-tuned calibratio­n by Noémie Merlant — arrives by boat to the remote coastal estate of a noblewoman (Valeria Golino). Marianne has been commission­ed to paint a portrait of the woman’s daughter. It’s an enticement for potential suitors, and already there’s a Milanese nobleman on the hook. We learn in the opening minutes that the daughter, Héloïse, thwarted an earlier attempt to put a version of her on canvas, so Marianne must pretend to be simply a walking companion. Then, from memory and stolen moments of furtive pencil sketching, she’s to create the portrait in private. The painting comes together, and the women grow closer and closer, half in secret, half out in the open. At one point, Marianne, in voiceover, speaks of the “warm and transparen­t hue” the human earlobe requires on a canvas. In sunshine or starlight or candleligh­t, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” captures that same hue. — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“Sonic the Hedgehog” ★★★

PG, 1:39, family

Expectatio­ns have been low for this adaptation of the ’90s video game, but it’s legitimate­ly funny, heartwarmi­ng and entertaini­ng. Ben Schwartz voices Sonic, a lonely alien living in exile on Earth for his own safety, where he longs to connect with the humans around him in the small Montana town of Green Hills. James Marsden co-stars as Tom Wachowski, the cop who takes Sonic under his care, with Tika Sumpter playing his veterinari­an wife, and Adam Pally and Natasha Rothwell in very funny supporting roles. But the big news here is Jim Carrey’s glorious return to his best rubber-faced, fast-talking form as Sonic’s main antagonist, a secretive government mad scientist named Dr. Robotnik. This entire review could be dedicated to Carrey’s delightful, outsized and wildly campy performanc­e, feverishly pitched somewhere between “Ace Ventura” and “The Mask.” — Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” ★★★

PG-13, 2:21, action-adventure

This final film does the job. It wraps up the trio of trilogies begun in 1977 in a confident, soothingly predictabl­e way, doing all that is cinematica­lly possible to avoid poking the bear otherwise known as tradition-minded quadrants of the “Star Wars” fan base. The first three words of the title crawl are: “The dead speak!” Somehow, somewhere, a phantom version of Emperor Palpatine, ruler of the First Galactic Empire, is sending a signal that he’s back in business. The Resistance now must face an adversary known as the Final Order. Daisy Ridley anchors a busy yet simple narrative as Rey, the “last hope of the Jedi,” who remains in psychic deadlock with Supreme Leader and bad boy Kylo Ren. Thanks to Ridley, primarily, director and co-writer J.J. Abrams’ safety-first approach to rounding out this portion of Disney’s crucial income stream retains something like a human pulse. — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“The Way Back” ★★ 1⁄


R, 1:48, drama

As a one-time Torrance, California, highschool basketball phenom who threw it all away and struggled with addiction and grief ever since, Ben Affleck brings some well-chronicled rehab, relapse and recovery challenges of his own to the assignment. For a year, Jack has lived alone; his marriage to Angela (Janina Gavankar) is on ice and haunted by a shared tragedy. Basketball saves him, the hard way. The movie’s about confidence, as much as it’s about alcoholism or second chances, and how one person can regain it for himself while instilling it in others. Affleck does a lot with a tailor-made role, by doing as little as his movie stardom will allow him. — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“Wendy” ★★ 1⁄


PG-13, 1:42, fantasy

A Peter Pan story told from Wendy’s perspectiv­e sounds either too precious to be true or ripe for a skewering. But in the hands of the filmmakers behind “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Wendy” delicately resides in the space between. It is an achingly earnest, feral, transporti­ng and (very) loose reimaginin­g of the classic J.M. Barrie tale about not wanting to grow up. Here, the Darlings are a raggedy American family living in the Deep South and surviving by slinging eggs and coffee in a diner full of characters with weathered faces and hearty laughs. Wendy (Devin France) becomes obsessed with the fantasy of once seeing a boy in the diner run away with a shadowy figure to the nearby train. One day the figure appears again and she and her twin brothers (Gage and Gavin Naquin) make a mad dash for the freedom they presume lies at the other end of the tracks. The shadow figure, of course, is Peter Pan (Yashua Mack), whose island is lush, mythic and full of wonders and perils, both real and. With its repetitive­ness and lack of structure, it’s a little tedious at times. And yet it’s so sincere that it’s hard to pick on “Wendy” for some wheel-spinning. It’s headed somewhere good and worthwhile: This ending could warm the hearts of even the most grown up grown-ups in the audience. — Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press

 ?? COLUMBIA PICTURES ?? Vin Diesel plays a technologi­cally advanced “super-soldier” in “Bloodshot.”
COLUMBIA PICTURES Vin Diesel plays a technologi­cally advanced “super-soldier” in “Bloodshot.”
 ?? ALLYSON RIGGS/A24 ?? Orion Lee, left, and John Magaro forge a friendship and business partnershi­p in “First Cow.”
ALLYSON RIGGS/A24 Orion Lee, left, and John Magaro forge a friendship and business partnershi­p in “First Cow.”
 ?? MICHAEL KUBEISY/LIONSGATE ?? KJ Apa stars as Christian singer Jeremy Camp in “I Still Believe.”
MICHAEL KUBEISY/LIONSGATE KJ Apa stars as Christian singer Jeremy Camp in “I Still Believe.”
 ?? KIMBERLEY FRENCH/TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX ?? A boy in World War II Germany (Roman Griffin Davis) whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi, who also adapted the screenplay and directs) finds a Jewish girl in his attic. Scarlett Johansson plays Jojo’s mother, Rosie.
KIMBERLEY FRENCH/TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX A boy in World War II Germany (Roman Griffin Davis) whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi, who also adapted the screenplay and directs) finds a Jewish girl in his attic. Scarlett Johansson plays Jojo’s mother, Rosie.
 ?? FOX SEARCHLIGH­T PICTURES ?? Devin France, from left, Gavin Naquin, Gage Naquin, Romyri Ross and Yashua Mack in a scene from the film “Wendy.”
FOX SEARCHLIGH­T PICTURES Devin France, from left, Gavin Naquin, Gage Naquin, Romyri Ross and Yashua Mack in a scene from the film “Wendy.”

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