Movie guide: Escape the winter doldrums with a movie

  • Oscar nominees Cate Blanchett (Actress), left, and Rooney Mara (Supporting Actress) star in "Carol."

    Oscar nominees Cate Blanchett (Actress), left, and Rooney Mara (Supporting Actress) star in "Carol."

 
Posted1/27/2016 11:04 AM

Looking for a good scare? A hearty laugh? An intense drama? Daily Herald film critic Dann Gire recaps movies in theaters now.

Four stars: superior. Three stars: good. Two stars: average. One star: poor. D (drug use), L (language), N (nudity), S (sexual situations, references), V (violence). Ratings by Dann Gire, Daily Herald Film Critic, unless otherwise noted.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Picks

"Anomalisa" -- Nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Charlie Kaufman writes and co-directs a technically well-crafted, surrealistic animated drama (using puffy stop-motion models) about the need for human connection. A self-centered customer relations expert (voiced by David Thewlis) has a one-nighter with a frumpy woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) at a convention where reality slips become common. Tom Noonan voices all the other characters in a dour and enigmatic exploration of human foibles. (R) L, N, S. 90 minutes. ★ ★

"The Big Short" -- Five Oscar nods, including Picture, Actor in a Supporting Role (Christian Bale) and Director. Former Second City performer Adam McKay's bold and innovative, anger-fueled comedy dissects the corpse of the 2008 mortgage market meltdown to see what almost killed the American economy. A wondrous work of cinematic journalism using the fiction of drama to nail the truth. Steve Carell stars. (R) L, N, S. 130 minutes. ★ ★ ★

"Brooklyn" -- Three Oscar nominations, including Picture and Actress. Sincere, unabashedly tender coming-of-age tale that never gives in to sentimentality or theatrics. An Irish woman (Saoirse Ronan) leaves home for a job in Brooklyn. Reviewed by Ann Hornaday, Washington Post. (PG-13) L, S. 111 minutes. ★ ★ ★

"Carol" -- Six Oscar nominations, including Actress, Supporting Actress, Cinematography and Score. Superb performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara highlight Todd Haynes' meticulously detailed, leisurely paced romance between women of different social classes in 1952. (R) L, N, S. 118 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ½

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"Concussion" -- Will Smith, robbed of an Oscar nomination, transforms himself into a Nigerian doctor, now in America, who takes on the NFL after he discovers that traumatic head injuries are being covered up. A weak, formulaic, sports underdog drama, but a strong take on how American ideals are respected more by outsiders than our own institutions. With Albert Brooks and Alec Baldwin. (PG-13) L. ★ ★ ★

"Creed" -- Retired boxer Rocky Balboa (Oscar nominee Sylvester Stallone) mentors the talented but inexperienced son (Michael B. Jordan) of his late rival Apollo Creed in a touching, affectionate and undeniably thrilling continuation of the almost 40-year-old saga. Reviewed by Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post. (PG-13) L, S, V. 133 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ½

"The Danish Girl" -- Four Oscar nominations, including Actor, Supporting Actress, Production Design. Eddie Redmayne's superb performance as transgender artist Einar Wegener (Lili Elbe) highlights Tom Hooper's otherwise tepid biopic set in 1926 Copenhagen. With a stellar performance by Alicia Vikander as his exceptionally supportive wife. (R) N, S. 120 minutes. ★ ★ ★

"The Good Dinosaur" -- Pixar's 3-D animated comic drama isn't exactly in the "Inside Out" track, but its gorgeous, hyper-realistic landscapes are eye-boggling and the story is sentimental if not shopworn. A lovable dino named Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) teams with a canine-like boy (Jack Bright) to find his family and home after a devastating flood. (PG) 100 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ½

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The Hateful Eight" -- Three Oscar nominations, including Supporting Actress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Score. Quentin Tarantino's latest is a gory, horrific black comedy/Western/murder mystery. Eight bad people gather in a snow-encased, isolated haberdashery in post-Civil War Wyoming where they chew up and spit out juicy dialogue before the shootin', stabbin' and poisonin' start. With Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell and Bruce Dern. (R) L, N, V. 183 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ½

"The Martian" -- Director Ridley Scott was snubbed by Oscar, but his science-fiction space survival thriller blasts off with seven nods, including Picture, Actor (Matt Damon) and visual effects. An astronaut (Damon), presumed dead and left behind on Mars, is still alive. How can he survive on 31 days worth of food and oxygen when it will take four years to rescue him? With Jessica Chastain and Jeff Daniels. (PG-13) L, N. 134 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ★

"The Peanuts Movie" -- Charles Schulz's adored characters empower this 3-D, computer-generated animated comedy that recycles many scenarios from the original comic strip and 1960s TV shows, movie and musical. Diversity-wise, the movie doesn't bother to keep up with the times. (G) 85 minutes. ★ ★ ★

"The Revenant" -- Twelve Oscar nominations, including Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Cinematography and Editing. Poetically visualized, but harsh and brutal tale of revenge, loosely based on a true story. An 1820s explorer (Leonardo DiCaprio), left for dead after a horrific bear attack, pursues the man (Tom Hardy) who murdered his son. A bleak, magnificently rendered work from "Birdman" director Alejandro G. Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. (R) L, N, S, V. 156 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ★

"Room" -- Four Oscar nominations, including Picture, Actress and Director. An optimistic testimonial to the resilience of the human spirit, the necessity of hope and a young mother's courage pumps this stirring drama with purpose. Brie Larson is brilliant as a kidnap victim living for her young son, imprisoned in a small room. (R) L. 113 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ★

"Sisters" -- Siblings (Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) learn that their parents' house is up for sale, so they put on a final party in the home where they grew up. With Maya Rudolph and James Brolin. Reviewed by Ann Hornaday, Washington Post. (R) D, L, S. 118 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ★

"Spotlight" -- Six Oscar nominations, including Picture, Director and Supporting Actor (Mark Ruffalo) and Supporting Actress (Rachel McAdams). True story of how Boston Globe reporters uncovered the Catholic Church's systemic harboring of pedophile priests. An electric and lively investigative reporter procedural that's now the gold standard for journalism dramas. Michael Keaton stars. (R) L. 127 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ★

"Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens" -- Five Oscar nominations, including Score, Visual Effects and Editing. The Star Wars-iest movie since "Return of the Jedi." Nostalgic sets and plot devices mix with cutting-edge visual effects as two Rebel fighters (John Boyega and Daisy Ridley) search for the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). With Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. (PG-13) V. 136 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ½

"Trumbo" -- Bryan Cranston's sharp, Oscar-nominated performance highlights this biopic about Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, blacklisted during the 1940s and '50s for being a communist. Shaky and simple in spots, but still politically relevant. With John Goodman, Diane Lane and Helen Mirren. (R) L. 124 minutes. ★ ★ ★

Passables

"Daddy's Home" -- Occasional surprises lift this silly formula comedy about two dads -- a macho biological father (Mark Wahlberg) and a sensitive, highly emo stepfather (Will Ferrell) -- battling for the affections of their kids. Bolstered by hilarious character actor Thomas Haden Church. (PG-13) L. 96 minutes. ★ ★

"45 Years" -- Charlotte Rampling's nuanced Oscar-nominated performance is the dramatic foundation for "45 Years," an English art-house examination of a well-off lonely married couple whose relationship is tested by shocking news. Opens at the Century Centre in Chicago and the Highland Park Renaissance Place. (R) L, S. 93 minutes. ★ ★ ½

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2" -- Jennifer Lawrence's stellar performance as Katniss keeps this long, meandering last chapter afloat as she vows to assassinate the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and make rebel leader Coin (Julianne Moore) the new boss of Panem. (PG-13) V. 135 minutes. ★ ★ ½

"Joy" -- Not much of it in David O. Russell's squelched, fact-based comic drama, except for Jennifer Lawrence's Oscar-nominated lead performance as a struggling wife/mother/daughter who invents the Miracle Mop and becomes a sensation on the QVC shopping network. With Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and Diane Ladd. (PG-13) L. 120 minutes. ★ ★ ½

"The Lady in the Van" -- Maggie Smith reprises her stage role in Nicholas Hytner's adaptation of Alan Bennett's 1999 black comedy based on "a mostly true story" about Mary Shepherd (Smith), an aging homeless woman who parks her broken-down van in a London playwright's driveway for 15 years. Smith pumps this lady with as much humanity and quiet humor as the material allows. Opens at the River East 21 and ArcLight in Chicago plus the Evanston Century 18. (PG-13) for "an unsettling image." 103 minutes. ★ ★ ½

"Ride Along 2" -- Ice Cube and Kevin Hart reprise their characters from the original 2014 box office hit. Fancier trim than the original, but it's really just the same old ride. Reviewed by Sandy Cohen, Associated Press. (PG-13) D, L, S, V. 102 minutes. ★ ★

"13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" -- Michael Bay's frenetically fast and furious account of the 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya. "The Office" star John Krasinski leads a cast playing the six CIA contractors who stood their American ground. An action-packed war film highly influenced by horror movies and first-person shooter video games. (R) L, V. 144 minutes. ★ ★ ½

Pits

"Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip" -- No Oscar nominations. The Chipmunks try to stop Dave (Jason Lee) from proposing to his new girlfriend (Kimberly Williams-Paisley). Contaminated fast-food comedy for kids. (G) 86 minutes. One-half star.

"The 5th Wave" -- Inadvertently comical sci-fi invasion thriller about a high school cheerleader (Chloe Grace Moretz) struggling to save her little brother from "The Others," aliens plotting to take over the Earth in five easy waves. With Liev Schreiber, Alex Roe and Nick Robinson. (PG-13) L, V. 112 minutes. ½

"The Forest" -- An American woman (Natalie Dormer) searches for her missing twin sister (Natalie Dormer) in a Japanese forest known as "the suicide forest." She finds out it's also "the horror clichés/cheap scares forest." (PG-13) V. 95 minutes. ½

"Norm of the North" -- Superficial, dumbed-down kid's animated comedy about a polar bear (Rob Schneider) who fights development of the Arctic with help from three lemmings who pass gas in tandem and urinate everywhere except the bathroom. Voices by Bill Nighy, Heather Graham and Colm Meaney. (PG) 86 minutes.

Unpreviewed

"Airlift" -- A war thriller based on the world's biggest civil evacuation of Indians based in Kuwait during the Iraq-Kuwait war. In Hindi with subtitles. (NR) 125 minutes.

"Bajirao Mastani" -- A tale of romance between an Indian general and his second wife. In Hindi. (NR) 150 minutes.

"The Boy" -- A horror movie not screened for critics. Does Chucky finally have a playmate? A nanny is hired to care for a life-size doll owned by the parents of a boy killed 20 years earlier. She should have packed a Barbie Taser. (PG-13) V. 97 minutes.

"Caged No More" -- Loretta Divine and Kevin Sorbo star in Lisa Arnold's drama about human trafficking. (PG-13) V. 90 minutes.

"Dirty Grandpa" -- Critics were booted from a press screening this week. Could it be that bad? Robert De Niro stars as the title character, who goes with his hunky grandson (Zac Efron) on a cross-country trip. (R) D, L, N, S. 102 minutes.

"Kya Kool Hain Hum 3" -- A man in the international adult film industry persuades his actors to pretend to be his perfectly normal family so he can impress his girlfriend's conservative father. Can the writers of "La Cage aux Folles" sue? In Hindi with subtitles. (NR) 124 minutes.

"Mojave" -- A violent, unstable artist (Garrett Hedlund) encounters a homicidal drifter (Oscar Isaac) in the desert. Things deteriorate from there. (R) L, V. 93 minutes.

"Monkey Up" -- Young siblings befriend a talking monkey struggling to be taken seriously as an actor. Seriously. (PG) 83 minutes.

"Terminus" -- A man suffers a devastating car accident, leading to the discovery of an extra-terrestrial organism that may contain the secret of life. With Bren Foster and Jai Koutrae. (R) L, V. 94 minutes.

"Wazir" -- A wheelchair-bound chess grandmaster and aggrieving ATS officer join forces to fight a huge conspiracy. Based on the murder of a badminton player named Syed Modi. In Hindi with subtitles. (NR) 102 minutes.

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