Movie Reviews

Movie Reviews

Read the latest film reviews, the most recent releases at the top.

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

5:09 PM EST, December 15, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies'

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.

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

11:32 AM EST, December 18, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb'

"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: 'Wild'

1:58 PM EST, December 4, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Wild'

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: 'Annie'

10:45 AM EST, December 18, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Annie'

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."

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

11:03 AM EST, November 19, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1'

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

Review: 'The Theory of Everything'

November 13, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'The Theory of Everything'

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.

Review: 'Dumb and Dumber To'

1:05 PM EST, November 13, 2014

Review: 'Dumb and Dumber To'

Twenty years after they permanently lowered the bar on broad and dumb character comedies, Lloyd and Harry are back, "Dumb and Dumber" than ever in "Dumb and Dumber To."

Review: 'Rosewater'

12:41 PM EST, November 13, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Rosewater'

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?

  'Beyond the Lights' is showcase for Gugu Mbatha-Raw

11:30 PM EST, November 13, 2014

'Beyond the Lights' is showcase for Gugu Mbatha-Raw

From the writer-director of the beloved "Love & Basketball," Gina Prince-Bythewood, "Beyond the Lights" seems like it will follow the tried-and-true celebrity-and-commoner formula seen in "The Bodyguard" and "Notting Hill."

Review: 'Birdman' ★★★

11:59 AM EDT, October 22, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Birdman' ★★★

"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.

Review: 'Big Hero 6'

November 6, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Big Hero 6'

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: 'Whiplash' ★★★★

3:19 PM EDT, October 14, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Whiplash' ★★★★

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: 'Laggies'

11:29 AM EST, November 6, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Laggies'

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

Review: 'Interstellar'

1:13 PM EST, November 4, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Interstellar'

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."

Review: 'Nightcrawler'

4:38 PM EDT, October 29, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Nightcrawler'

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.

Review: 'Before I Go To Sleep'

October 30, 2014

Review: 'Before I Go To Sleep'

"Before I Go To Sleep" is a risky title for a genre exercise intended to keep viewers bolt upright in their seats, handing mirthful critics a ready-made punch line at the first sign of lethargy. The good news is that Rowan Joffe's adaptation of S.J. Watson's 2011 publishing phenom is far from a snooze; the bad news is that it's the film's escalating ludicrousness that holds our attention.

 'Zero Theorem' adds up to almost nothing

8:40 PM EDT, September 18, 2014

'Zero Theorem' adds up to almost nothing

In the showy sci-fi fantasy "The Zero Theorem," a man spends his life waiting for an elusive phone call that will explain the meaning of life and, as a result, learns he has led a meaningless life. That kind of elliptical thinking permeates way too much of this latest carnival ride from idiosyncratic filmmaker Terry Gilliam, who directed based on a ponderous if undeniably ambitious script by Pat Rushin.

Review: 'Horns'

11:39 AM EDT, October 30, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Horns'

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: 'St. Vincent' ★★★

October 16, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'St. Vincent' ★★★

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: 'Dear White People' ★★★★

11:48 AM EDT, October 23, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Dear White People' ★★★★

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: 'John Wick' ★★ 1/2

12:56 PM EDT, October 23, 2014

Review: 'John Wick' ★★ 1/2

Review: 'Fury' ★★ 1/2

9:51 AM EDT, October 16, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Fury' ★★ 1/2

"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: 'The Trip to Italy' ★★&#9733 1/2

1:02 PM EDT, August 21, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'The Trip to Italy' ★★★ 1/2

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: 'Men, Women & Children' ★★

10:56 AM EDT, October 2, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Men, Women & Children' ★★

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: 'The Judge' ★★ 1/2

10:49 AM EDT, October 9, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'The Judge' ★★ 1/2

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.

Review: 'Pride' ★★★

10:55 AM EDT, October 9, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Pride' ★★★

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 Guest' ★★ 1/2

4:41 PM EDT, September 16, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'The Guest' ★★ 1/2

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 …

Review: 'Dracula Untold' ★★

9:30 PM EDT, September 30, 2014

Review: 'Dracula Untold' ★★

September 30, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Gone Girl' ★★★ 1/2

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: 'Annabelle' ★★ 1/2

10:52 AM EDT, October 2, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Annabelle' ★★ 1/2

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: 'Left Behind' 0 stars

11:23 AM EDT, October 2, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Left Behind' 0 stars

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: 'Hector and the Search for Happiness' ★★

2:09 PM EDT, September 25, 2014

Review: 'Hector and the Search for Happiness' ★★

In "Hector and the Search for Happiness," a bedtime story for the eternal man-child, Simon Pegg plays a psychiatrist who lives in a world of WASP male privilege yet remains dissatisfied with his existence.

Review: 'The Boxtrolls' ★★

1:32 PM EDT, September 25, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'The Boxtrolls' ★★

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' ★★

1:10 PM EDT, September 25, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'The Equalizer' ★★

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."

Review: 'The Skeleton Twins' ★★ 1/2

4:39 PM EDT, September 10, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'The Skeleton Twins' ★★ 1/2

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.

'Field of Lost Shoes' is a sentimental look at Civil War battle

4:19 PM EDT, September 24, 2014

‘Field of Lost Shoes’ ✭✭

'Field of Lost Shoes' is a sentimental look at Civil War battle

They marched into battle — teenagers and younger — in parade order, and charged the enemy like the schoolboys they were. And when the smoke had cleared, there were shoes — sucked off their feet in the mud, torn from bodies yanked by cannonballs, Minie balls and bayonets.

Review: 'The Maze Runner' ★★★

10:35 AM EDT, September 18, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'The Maze Runner' ★★★

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 Notebook' ★★

11:39 AM EDT, September 18, 2014

Review: 'The Notebook' ★★

Based on the international bestseller by Agota Kristof, "The Notebook" represented Hungary in the Academy Awards' foreign-language film competition but failed to garner a nomination.

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

11:21 AM EDT, September 18, 2014

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

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: 'Tusk' ★★

10:49 AM EDT, September 18, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Tusk' ★★

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: 'My Old Lady' ★★

12:36 PM EDT, September 18, 2014

Review: 'My Old Lady' ★★

You can't complain about the cast in "My Old Lady" — Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas going at one another in high style — and the setting of Paris at its most atmospheric is charm itself. The film in question, however, doesn't live up to the expectations its elements create.

Review: 'Life After Beth' ★★

11:38 AM EDT, September 4, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Life After Beth' ★★

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.

Review: 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' ★★

10:55 AM EDT, September 18, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' ★★

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: 'The Last of Robin Hood' ★★

11:42 AM EDT, September 4, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'The Last of Robin Hood' ★★

"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: 'Alive Inside' ★★&#9733

11:09 AM EDT, August 7, 2014

Review: 'Alive Inside' ★★★

Think of them as Lazarus moments.

Review: 'The Identical' ★

September 4, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'The Identical' ★

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.

Review: 'Land Ho!' ★★&#9733

10:44 AM EDT, August 21, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Land Ho!' ★★★

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.

Review: 'Calvary' ★★&#9733

10:40 AM EDT, August 7, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Calvary' ★★★

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: 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For' ★&#9733

1:15 PM EDT, August 21, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For' ★★

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' ★★&#9733

1:15 PM EDT, August 21, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'If I Stay' ★★★

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 Giver' ★★

5:31 PM EDT, August 13, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'The Giver' ★★

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.

Review: 'What If' ★&#9733

11:02 AM EDT, August 7, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'What If' ★★

"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: 'Let's Be Cops' &#9733 1/2

August 12, 2014

Review: 'Let's Be Cops' ★ 1/2

The laughs are loud, lewd and low in "Let's Be Cops," a spoof of cop "buddy pictures" that is pretty much the definition of an August comedy.

Review: 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' ★&#9733

10:39 AM EDT, August 7, 2014

Review: 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' ★★

The "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" franchise earns a Michael Bay-produced 3-D reboot that spares no expense in special effects and spares no decibels in the volume that is the soundtrack to all their new mayhem.

Review: 'Magic in the Moonlight' ★&#9733 1/2

July 24, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Magic in the Moonlight' ★★ 1/2

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: 'I Origins' ★&#9733

11:18 AM EDT, July 24, 2014

Review: 'I Origins' ★★

In Mike Cahill movies, bad things happen to good people, and other good people are guilt-ridden as a result. But the human connections and the spare sci-fi logic that characterized "Another Earth," Cahill's ethereal romantic dramatic debut, are muddied in "I Origins."

Review: 'Into the Storm' &#9733 1/2

August 7, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Into the Storm' ★ 1/2

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.

Review: 'Get on Up' ★★&#9733 1/2

10:46 AM EDT, July 31, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Get on Up' ★★★ 1/2

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: 'Boyhood' ★★★&#9733

July 16, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Boyhood' ★★★★

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.

Review: 'Guardians of the Galaxy' ★★&#9733

11:30 AM EDT, July 30, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Guardians of the Galaxy' ★★★

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.

Review: 'A Most Wanted Man' ★★&#9733

July 24, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'A Most Wanted Man' ★★★

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.

Review: 'Lucy' ★&#9733

12:30 PM EDT, July 24, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Lucy' ★★

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.

Review: 'And So It Goes' &#9733 1/2

1:01 PM EDT, July 24, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'And So It Goes' ★ 1/2

"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: 'Sex Tape' &#9733 1/2

12:58 PM EDT, July 17, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Sex Tape' ★ 1/2

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: 'Wish I Was Here' ★&#9733

1:50 PM EDT, July 17, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Wish I Was Here' ★★

"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: 'Tammy' ★&#9733 1/2

1:49 PM EDT, July 1, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Tammy' ★★ 1/2

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: 'Earth to Echo' ★&#9733 1/2

11:28 AM EDT, July 1, 2014

Review: 'Earth to Echo' ★★ 1/2

"Earth to Echo" is an engagingly unassuming "E.T." knockoff, a kids movie that serves up a similar alien-with-kids story in a "Blair Witch"/ "Paranormal" shaky-cam package.

Review: 'Deliver Us From Evil' ★&#9733

11:27 AM EDT, July 1, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Deliver Us From Evil' ★★

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: 'Begin Again' ★&#9733 1/2

12:40 PM EDT, July 1, 2014

Review: 'Begin Again' ★★ 1/2

"Begin Again" is an insistent puppy of a movie, just about willing you to like it. And while it has appeal — you'd have to be a troll to resist it completely — you may end up wanting to enjoy it more than its qualities will allow.

Review: 'Obvious Child' ★★&#9733 1/2

1:39 PM EDT, June 12, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Obvious Child' ★★★ 1/2

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: 'Jersey Boys' ★&#9733 1/2

10:46 AM EDT, June 19, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Jersey Boys' ★★ 1/2

"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' ★&#9733

9:57 AM EDT, June 19, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Think Like a Man Too' ★★

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: 'The Rover' ★★&#9733 1/2

11:32 AM EDT, June 19, 2014

Review: 'The Rover' ★★★ 1/2

Don't take Eric's car. Don't take Eric's car. Don't take Eric's ... You get the idea.

11:57 AM EDT, May 29, 2014

Review: 'Cold in July' ★★★

Only in Texas could the neo-noir of "Cold in July" be so believable.

Review: '22 Jump Street' ★★&#9733

12:15 PM EDT, June 12, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: '22 Jump Street' ★★★

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: 'Palo Alto' ★&#9733 1/2

10:31 AM EDT, May 15, 2014

Review: 'Palo Alto' ★★ 1/2

Written and directed by Gia Coppola, "Palo Alto" is adapted from a collection of short stories by James Franco and conjures a delicate, very specific sense of middle-class adolescence, the indeterminate, nascent feelings of the teenage years. Small moments can feel epic in scale, such as when a boy almost sending a girl a text message is an emotional turning point.

Review: 'The Fault in Our Stars' ★&#9733

June 5, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'The Fault in Our Stars' ★★

In the discreetly assaultive film version of "The Fault in Our Stars" there's a scene, faithful to the one in the best-selling John Green book, where Hazel and Augustus visit the Amsterdam home of a novelist whose cancer-related novel holds great personal meaning for two teenage Indianapolis cancer patients in love.

Review: 'Edge of Tomorrow' ★&#9733&#9733

June 5, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Edge of Tomorrow' ★★★

Insanely derivative, frenetically enjoyable, "Edge of Tomorrow" takes gaming to a new level of big-screen indulgence, sending Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt through the same alien-invasion scenario over and over until they learn how to win, put down the consoles and get off the couch for a little lunch and some fresh air, maybe.

Review: 'Words and Pictures' ★&#9733 1/2

1:51 PM EDT, June 5, 2014

Review: 'Words and Pictures' ★★ 1/2

"Words and Pictures," starring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, is a romantic comedy masquerading as a war between literature and art.

Review: 'Maleficent' ★&#9733 1/2

4:08 PM EDT, May 29, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Maleficent' ★★ 1/2

The formula works. It worked with "Wicked" on stage and it worked with "Frozen" on film — tilting the storytelling prism so that a new angle on a well-known fairy tale appears in the light. The strategy depends on humanizing characters formerly known as evil, so that another tale of conflicted impulses emerges from the story we know, driven by female antagonist/protagonist hybrids who aren't bad, just misunderstood.

Review: 'A Million Ways to Die in the West' 1/2 star

4:20 PM EDT, May 29, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'A Million Ways to Die in the West' 1/2 star

"A Million Ways to Die in the West" is a grim vanity project for, by and about its creator, "Family Guy" guru Seth MacFarlane, determined here to prove himself capable of carrying his own movie in a romantic-comic leading role. He hits his marks; he's just not funny or interesting. Don Knotts made "The Shakiest Gun in the West"; MacFarlane is the smuggest.

Review: 'Ida' ★&#9733★&#9733

12:18 PM EDT, May 22, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Ida' ★★★★

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?

Review: 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' ★★&#9733

1:16 PM EDT, May 22, 2014

Christopher Borrelli: Review: 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' ★★★

About midway into the latest X-Men flick, Bryan Singer’s generous, delightfully convoluted “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” there is a prison break so exuberant and uncharacteristic of superhero movies that you sit up a bit in your seat. You feel the audience around you snapping to. Not because Singer’s return to the 14-year-old film franchise feels undernourished (it doesn’t). Or what comes before seems perfunctory (it’s not). But because the sequence — Wolverine, the Pentagon and “Sanford & Son” — is so eccentric you’re reminded that a little charm has been in the contract between audiences and superheroes all along:

Review: 'Chef' ★&#9733 1/2

10:45 AM EDT, May 15, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Chef' ★★ 1/2

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: 'The Immigrant'  ★&#9733&#9733

12:34 PM EDT, May 22, 2014

Review: 'The Immigrant' ★★★

"The Immigrant," starring Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner, is one of those prickly period pieces about hard times that gets under your skin and leaves you unsettled long after.

Review: 'Godzilla' ★★&#9733 1/2

11:28 AM EDT, May 14, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Godzilla' ★★★ 1/2

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.

Review: 'Million Dollar Arm' ★★&#9733

10:44 AM EDT, May 15, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Million Dollar Arm' ★★★

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.

Review: 'Only Lovers Left Alive' ★★&#9733 1/2

11:23 AM EDT, April 17, 2014

Review: 'Only Lovers Left Alive' ★★★ 1/2

With the YA swoon of "Twilight" safely in the rearview mirror, movie vampires get their mojo back in the sensuous dreamscape of "Only Lovers Left Alive," one of the strongest films yet from Jim Jarmusch.

REVIEW: 'Dom Hemingway' ★&#9733 1/2

1:13 PM EDT, April 10, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Dom Hemingway' ★★ 1/2

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

Review: 'Locke' ★★&#9733

11:08 AM EDT, May 1, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Locke' ★★★

"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: 'Neighbors' ★★&#9733

1:05 PM EDT, May 8, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Neighbors' ★★★

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."

Review: 'Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return' &#9733 1/2

12:35 PM EDT, May 8, 2014

Review: 'Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return' ★ 1/2

"Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return" is a harmless but almost charmless adaptation of a book by L. Frank Baum's grandson. It's a derivative hash of grandpa's story, set in the present day, given forgettable new tunes by pop songsmiths such as Bryan Adams sung by the likes of Lea Michele, Martin Short, Hugh Dancy and the operatic Megan Hilty of TV's "Smash."

Review: 'The Other Woman' ★&#9733 1/2

11:44 AM EDT, April 24, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'The Other Woman' ★★ 1/2

Hollywood years are like dog years, which means 17 years is a long time. Seventeen years ago Cameron Diaz played the chipper second banana, the other woman, in the Julia Roberts vehicle "My Best Friend's Wedding." While that movie really belonged to Rupert Everett, the sunny goodwill flying out of every single one of Diaz's pores cast a nice warm glow over the Chicago-filmed diversion.

REVIEW: 'Joe' ★★★ 1/2

3:20 PM EDT, April 10, 2014

REVIEW: 'Joe' ★★★ 1/2

”Joe” is the movie that will make you remember how good Nicolas Cage once was and can be again.

Review: 'The Railway Man' ★&#9733 1/2

11:14 AM EDT, April 17, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'The Railway Man' ★★ 1/2

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.

11:30 PM EDT, April 1, 2014

Film Review: 'The Quiet Ones'

Having hit the international jackpot with "The Woman in Black," the revived Hammer Films label follows up with a title that lacks that haunted-house pic's familiarity of source material, highly accessible premise and equivalently marketable star. Instead, "The Quiet Ones" presents rising actor Sam Claflin as an average guy participating in an ethically dubious scientific experiment into psychic disturbance. The 1970s setting offers a retro feel that should strike appealing chords for fans of old-school horror, but there's little here that's exactly new or fresh, indicating a challenge for Lionsgate to make the film's voice heard above the din. The pic opens April 25 Stateside.

Review: 'Walking With the Enemy' ★&#9733

11:43 AM EDT, April 24, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Walking With the Enemy' ★★

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

Review: 'Transcendence' ★&#9733

5:23 PM EDT, April 16, 2014

Michael Phillips: Review: 'Transcendence' ★★

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.

REVIEW: 'Le Week-End' ★★&#9733 1/2

1:15 PM EDT, March 20, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Le Week-End' ★★★ 1/2

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: 'The Lunchbox' ★★&#9733 1/2

4:52 PM EST, March 6, 2014

REVIEW: 'The Lunchbox' ★★★ 1/2

To the small but choice list of films that gracefully mix a passion for food with other potent emotions — think "Babette's Feast," "Eat Drink Man Woman," "Big Night," even "Ratatouille" — you can add one more: "The Lunchbox."

REVIEW: 'Under the Skin' ★★&#9733 1/2

4:18 PM EDT, April 10, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Under the Skin' ★★★ 1/2

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: 'Oculus' ★★&#9733

12:41 PM EDT, April 10, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Oculus' ★★★

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.

7:55 PM EDT, March 27, 2014

Review: 'The Raid 2' is a martial arts genre kick in the gut

There is a scene midway through Gareth Evans' action-crime thriller "The Raid 2" that exemplifies the excruciating and exhilarating experience of this gripping paean to the ballet, brutality and blood that courses through martial arts films. The players are not the key ones, but the action is exquisite as two attractive 20-ish Indonesian assassins, a brother-sister team, identify their target in a subway car.

REVIEW: 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' ★★&#9733

2:58 PM EDT, April 2, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' ★★★

"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.

REVIEW: 'Noah' ★&#9733 1/2

10:57 AM EDT, March 27, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Noah' ★★ 1/2

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: 'Sabotage' ★&#9733

11:09 AM EDT, March 27, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Sabotage' ★★

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: 'Cesar Chavez' ★&#9733

10:19 AM EDT, March 27, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Cesar Chavez' ★★

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.

REVIEW: 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' ★★&#9733 1/2

12:59 PM EDT, March 13, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' ★★★ 1/2

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: 'Muppets Most Wanted' ★&#9733

11:22 AM EDT, March 20, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Muppets Most Wanted' ★★

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.

6:57 PM EDT, March 13, 2014

Dark humor, sarcasm and biting comedy punctuate 'Bad Words'

Sarcastic, sanctimonious, salacious, sly, slight and surprisingly sweet, the black comedy of "Bad Words," starring and directed by Jason Bateman, is high-minded, foul-mouthed good nonsense.

REVIEW: 'Tim's Vermeer' ★★&#9733

10:38 AM EST, February 13, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Tim's Vermeer' ★★★

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: 'Need for Speed' ★&#9733 1/2

12:58 PM EDT, March 13, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Need for Speed' ★★ 1/2

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.

REVIEW: 'Veronica Mars' ★&#9733

1:02 PM EDT, March 13, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Veronica Mars' ★★

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

REVIEW: '300: Rise of an Empire' ★&#9733 1/2

11:12 AM EST, March 6, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: '300: Rise of an Empire' ★★ 1/2

Even with a change in directors and a half-enlightened, half-salacious emphasis on the voracious Persian conqueror played by Eva Green, "300: Rise of an Empire" hews closely to the look, vibe and the casualty count of its sleekly schlocky 2007 predecessor, helmed by Zack Snyder.

REVIEW: 'The Great Beauty' ★★&#9733 1/2

10:35 AM EST, January 2, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'The Great Beauty' ★★★ 1/2

The coolest actor on the planet? At the moment my favorite — cool, warm, whatever temperature — is Toni Servillo, the Italian maestro of character actors. He has a way of conveying a lifetime of insight, irony, natural authority and blithe amusement behind every line reading.

REVIEW: 'Mr. Peabody & Sherman' ★&#9733

11:10 AM EST, March 6, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Mr. Peabody & Sherman' ★★

We bring to the movies whatever childhoods we had, and whatever television we watched to keep real life at bay, one half-hour at a time.

REVIEW: 'Non-Stop' ★★&#9733

12:12 PM EST, February 27, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Non-Stop' ★★★

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: 'Son of God' ★&#9733 1/2

12:35 PM EST, February 27, 2014

REVIEW: 'Son of God' ★★ 1/2

Blame Mel Gibson for it if you like, but no Jesus movie these days is worth its salt without an utterly unflinching treatment of his torture and Crucifixion. And "Son of God" has stretches when the agony we watch this poor man endure is avert-your-eyes awful. If history ever produced a more excruciating form of punishment, it probably included lions at dinner time.

REVIEW: 'The Wind Rises' ★★&#9733 1/2

10:01 AM EST, February 20, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'The Wind Rises' ★★★ 1/2

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

REVIEW: 'Stalingrad' ★&#9733 1/2

12:28 PM EST, February 27, 2014

REVIEW: 'Stalingrad' ★★ 1/2

"Stalingrad" is a huge, old-fashioned combat spectacle, a war story told on a vast scale and shown on vast Imax movie screens, in 3-D.

Review: 'Odd Thomas' gets the hero right, but not the tone

2:00 PM EST, February 27, 2014

Review: 'Odd Thomas' gets the hero right, but not the tone

It's not easy for a fantasy franchise to nimbly establish an elaborate back story, but "Odd Thomas" pulls it off with breezy matter-of-factness in its opening scenes. The titular character, who goes by "Odd" (Anton Yelchin), is an average guy who can't help being a hero. "I may see dead people," he explains, "But by God, I do something about it."

REVIEW: '3 Days to Kill' ★&#9733 1/2

10:09 AM EST, February 20, 2014

REVIEW: '3 Days to Kill' ★★ 1/2

Kevin Costner and director McG are plunged into the madcap mayhem of Monsieur Luc Besson in "3 Days to Kill," a seriocomic thriller about mortality, murder for hire and fatherhood.

REVIEW: 'The Past' ★★&#9733 1/2

10:22 AM EST, January 9, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'The Past' ★★★ 1/2

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.

REVIEW: 'In Secret' ★&#9733 1/2

10:07 AM EST, February 20, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'In Secret' ★★ 1/2

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: 'RoboCop' ★★&#9733

1:11 PM EST, February 11, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'RoboCop' ★★★

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: 'Endless Love' &#9733 1/2

10:38 AM EST, February 13, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Endless Love' ★ 1/2

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.

REVIEW: 'About Last Night' ★&#9733 1/2

12:36 PM EST, February 13, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'About Last Night' ★★ 1/2

"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.

REVIEW: 'Winter's Tale' &#9733 1/2

10:38 AM EST, February 13, 2014

Michael Phillips: Tale of miracles needs at least one of its own

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: 'The Lego Movie' ★★★&#9733

5:09 PM EST, February 4, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'The Lego Movie' ★★★★

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.

REVIEW: 'The Monuments Men' ★&#9733

5:18 PM EST, February 4, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'The Monuments Men' ★★

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: 'Gloria'  ★★&#9733 1/2

10:21 AM EST, February 6, 2014

REVIEW: 'Gloria' ★★★ 1/2

There is a naturalistic charm to the truth-telling going on in "Gloria," Chilean director Sebastian Lelio's near-perfect film about the very imperfect world of a divorced woman of a certain age.

REVIEW: 'Gimme Shelter' &#9733 1/2

12:19 PM EST, January 23, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Gimme Shelter' ★ 1/2

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' ★★&#9733

10:45 AM EST, January 23, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'The Invisible Woman' ★★★

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: 'The Nut Job' &#9733

11:48 AM EST, January 16, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'The Nut Job' ★

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.

REVIEW: 'Ride Along' ★&#9733

11:51 AM EST, January 16, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Ride Along' ★★

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: 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' ★&#9733

11:52 AM EST, January 16, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' ★★

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: 'August: Osage County' ★&#9733

10:26 AM EST, January 9, 2014

Michael Phillips: REVIEW: 'August: Osage County' ★★

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?"

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