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Open-Air Screenings

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Unless otherwise noted, all screenings are free and will be shown by video projection as part of the Chicago Park District's "Movies in the Parks" series. Films marked with an asterisk (*) are highly recommended.

The African Queen

John Huston's odyssey theme reprised as comedy (1951), as Humphrey Bogart cavorts like a monkey and Katharine Hepburn exploits a latent strain of Eleanor Roosevelt. It's 1915, and Hepburn gradually persuades drunken captain Bogart to attack the German navy with his broken-down tub. The direction is often questionable, but the screenplay (by James Agee, John Collier, Huston, and Peter Viertel from C.S. Forester's novel) is a model of tight construction. With Robert Morley and Theodore Bikel. 105 min. (DD) Presented by Northwestern University's Block Cinema program. Northwestern Univ. Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Dr., Evanston, Wednesday, July 21, 9:00, 847-491-4000

* Barbershop 2: Back in Business

Barbershop painted an affectionate portrait of a black community centered on a 40-year-old barbershop in South Shore; this sequel ups the ante, asking whether urban renewal means anything now other than turning neighborhoods into giant malls. Ice Cube returns as Calvin, the crabby but decent proprietor of the shop his late father established in 1958; spared in the '68 riots, it may yet fall to Nappy Cuts, an opulent spa being erected across the street. A slimy developer (Harry J. Lennix) with plans for a cineplex has talked most of the businesses on the block into selling out, but Calvin doesn't want to disband his collection of barber-comedians, among them Cedric the Entertainer, Leonard Earl Howze, and Eve. Kevin Rodney Sullivan directed. PG-13, 118 min. (JJ) Midway Plaisance, 59th and Woodlawn, Wednesday, July 21, 7:00, 312-742-7529

* The Birds

Alfred Hitchcock's most abstract film (1963), and perhaps his subtlest, still yielding new meanings and inflections after a dozen or more viewings. As emblems of sexual tension, divine retribution, meaningless chaos, metaphysical inversion, and aching human guilt, his attacking birds acquire a metaphorical complexity and slipperiness worthy of Melville. Tippi Hedren's lead performance is still open to controversy, but her evident stage fright is put to sublimely Hitchcockian uses. With Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette, and Jessica Tandy (and does anyone besides me believe that Mrs. Brenner was having an affair with Dan Fawcett?). 120 min. (DK) A 35-millimeter print will be shown as part of the Chicago Outdoor Film Festival. Also on the program: a Mickey Mouse cartoon. Grant Park, Lake Shore Drive and Monroe, Tuesday, July 20, 8:53, 312-744-3370

Cheaper by the Dozen

Be forewarned: this 2003 comedy bears only the faintest resemblance to the classic book and film of the same name. The prolific Baker family leave their small-town home for "the big city" (ostensibly Evanston), where dad (Steve Martin) has a new job as a football coach. High jinks ensue when mom (Bonnie Hunt) goes on a book promotion tour and dad can't handle the brood. Though undeniably safe for the whole family, it's a sloppily written film that wears its demographic calculations on its sleeve: there's silly slapstick for the little kids, a brace of teen idols (Hilary Duff and Tom Welling) for the tweeners, and Steve Martin for boomer parents, who should steel themselves for lots of scrunch-faced sentimental mugging. Directed by Shawn Levy. PG, 99 min. (HSa) Hollywood Park, 3312 W. Thorndale, Monday, July 19, 8:30, 773-478-3482

The Fighting Temptations

Cuba Gooding Jr., who's long since proved himself incapable of choosing quality projects, plays a prating, insincere New York ad exec who loses his job, then learns that his aunt has died and, hoping for an inheritance, returns to the small Georgia town he and his mother fled years earlier. The aunt's will promises him most of her estate if he'll take over the church choir, whip it into shape, and lead it to victory in a regional contest. This shopworn premise allows for a series of improbable plot developments, resulting in a story that's about as genuine as Gooding's character (2003). Jonathan Lynn (The Whole Nine Yards) directed; with Beyonce Knowles, Mike Epps, and LaTanya Richardson. PG-13, 120 min. (JK) Amundsen Park, 6200 W. Bloomingdale, Friday, July 16, 8:00, 312-746-5003; Douglas Park, 1401 S. Sacramento, Friday, July 16, 8:00, 312-747-7670; and Trumbull Park, 2400 E. 105th St., Thursday, July 22, 8:15, 312-747-6759

Good Boy!

Isn't it cats that are supposed to be from another planet? In this tween-targeted fantasy (2003) by first-time director John Robert Hoffman, the dogs are the aliens--they come from Sirius intent on world conquest. When a canine emissary named Hubble (voiced by Matthew Broderick) arrives to check on the progress of the invasion, he finds the troops have bonded with humans. His mission gets complicated when he starts enjoying life as the pet of a boy (Liam Aiken) neglected by his self-absorbed parents (Molly Shannon and Kevin Nealon). The special effects aren't too polished but the script is larded with cutesy life lessons to warm the hearts of dog lovers, and Cheech Marin, Carl Reiner, Delta Burke, and Brittany Murphy give entertaining vocal performances as curs and bitches of various breeds. PG, 87 min. (TS) Horner Park, 2741 W. Montrose, Friday, July 16, 8:30, 773-478-3499

* My Fair Lady

Lerner and Loewe's musical masterwork, reimagined for film by director George Cukor. Cukor doesn't try to hide the stage origins of his material; rather, he celebrates the falseness of his sets, placing his characters in a perfectly designed artificial world. Every frame of this 1964 film bespeaks Cukor's grace and commitment--it's an adaptation that becomes completely personal through the force of its mise-en-scene. Rex Harrison deserved his Oscar for his performance as Henry Higgins, and Audrey Hepburn (though her singing voice is dubbed) is an enchanting presence and a clever actress. The ending has been criticized, but I find Cukor's stroke of anticlimax impeccable. With Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid Hyde-White, and Gladys Cooper. 170 min. (DK) Oz Park, 2021 N. Burling, Saturday, July 17, 8:30, 312-742-7898

Seabiscuit

Gary Ross, the scenarist for Dave and writer-director of Pleasantville, tries to fashion another inspirational patriotic myth out of Laura Hillenbrand's best seller about a famous racehorse of the mid-1930s and three broken men who find salvation through their association with the quirky equine. Maybe the magic will work for those who loved the book, but I found this 2003 film stultifyingly self-important and, despite the regularity with which it cuts to the chase, weirdly static. Jeff Bridges (a former auto tycoon), Chris Cooper (an ex-cowboy), and Tobey Maguire (a driven, lonely jockey) know how to hold the right poses, and I enjoyed William H. Macy as a hokey radio announcer who accompanies his spiels with sound effects. But Randy Newman's lugubrious score proves that he's become as much a movie hack as Philip Glass, and the narrow narrative focus thwarts the sprawl and scale required for a proper period epic. With Elizabeth Banks and Gary Stevens. PG-13, 140 min. (JR) Clark Park, 3400 N. Rockwell, Saturday, July 17, 8:30, 312-742-7594

* Shrek

Characters from the classics make cameo appearances in this computer-generated survey of fairy-tale history (2001)--a movie whose story may be even more innovative than the superreal solidity of the animated characters. Only after an ogre rescues a princess does suspense become an issue; while magic--or its undoing--is often what prevents fairy tales from resulting in interspecies love, this romantic fantasy complicates the roles of beauty and beast, making it hard to guess what form a sensitive resolution will take. Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson directed. PG, 89 min. (LA) Union Park, 1501 W. Randolph, Tuesday, July 20, 8:00, 312-746-5494

* Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

A paean to the unspoiled American west, this stunning 2002 animated feature by Dreamworks producer Jeffrey Katzenberg (Shrek) follows the trials of a wild mustang while showcasing a novel marriage of hand-drawn and computer-generated images. The script advances the story only through spare voice-over narration (by Matt Damon), and the horses communicate only through their snorting, whinnying, and facial expressions, but the animators have re-created equine movement and behavior with uncanny verisimilitude. Directors Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook are probably responsible for the peculiarly feminine love triangle involving the title stallion, a mare, and her Lakota keeper, and ultimately the film plays as an antiwestern, with horses and Indians allied against the villainy of cavalry, cowboys, and railroad builders. G, 82 min. (TS) Portage Park, 4100 N. Long, Thursday, July 22, 8:30, 773-685-7235

Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over

Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino return as married secret agents whose son (Daryl Sabara) and daughter (Alexa Vega) have become junior spies. Series regulars Alan Cumming and Tony Shalhoub are back as well, joined on this 2003 outing by Salma Hayek, George Clooney, and Elijah Wood. Sylvester Stallone costars as the evil Toymaker, who imprisons Vega inside his surrealistic 3-D video game (viewers are instructed when to don glasses). Working as writer, producer, director, production designer, cinematographer, editor, and composer, Robert Rodriguez has a sure sense of scale and pacing as well as an artisan's relaxed control of the material. PG, 85 min. (JR) Touhy Park, 7348 N. Paulina, Friday, July 16, 8:30, 773-262-6737

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