Woody Allen strode into his ambitious period by finally acknowledging his own attractiveness to women--by reversing the humor of sexual embarrassment that defined the early comedies and substituting the pain of romantic longing. Though this 1977 film is snobbish about social fads, its own attitudes often seem narrowly fashionable: the characters yearn for commitment but spend most of their energy on what once was known as "self-actualization." Visually and structurally it's a mess, but many of the situations are genuinely clever, and there are plenty of memorable gags. The perpetual problem is that Allen isn't nearly the thinker he thinks he is. With Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, and Shelley Duvall. PG, 94 min. (DK) Screening in 35-millimeter as part of the Chicago Outdoor Film Festival. Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper will introduce the screening. Tue 7/19, 8:54 PM, Grant Park, Lake Shore Drive and Monroe, 312-744-3315.
Part of what makes this wartime Hollywood drama (1942) about love and political commitment so fondly remembered is its evocation of a time when the sentiment of this country about certain things appeared to be unified. (It's been suggested that communism is the political involvement that Bogart's grizzled casino owner, Rick, may be in retreat from at the beginning.) This hastily patched-together picture--which started out as a B film and wound up winning three Oscars--displays a cozy, studio-bound claustrophobia that Howard Hawks improved upon in his superior spin-off To Have and Have Not. Then again, we get Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Paul Henreid, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Marcel Dalio, and S.Z. Sakall, and Dooley Wilson performing "As Time Goes By." The script (by Howard Koch and Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein) adapts an unproduced play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, and the underestimated Michael Curtiz directs the proceedings with verve. PG, 102 min. (JR) Sat 7/16, 8:30 PM, Oz Park, 2021 N. Burling, 312-742-7898.
Ken Carter, a high school basketball coach in working-class Richmond, California, made national headlines in January 1999 when he benched his entire team (then undefeated) in midseason because some players' grades were too poor. This dramatization of his story consistently takes the high road, stressing education over sports and responsibility over despair, and Samuel L. Jackson is good as the straightforward, maddeningly stubborn coach, who gets more static from the parents than the players. But screenwriters Mark Schwahn and John Gatins continually compromise the story's real-world bite by recycling scenes and situations from other coach-team weepies (Hoosiers et al) and teacher-student inspirationals (Stand and Deliver et al). This is supposed to be about setting high standards, yet it's full of fudged ultimatums; in the end I couldn't be sure whether its morality was complex or just confused. Thomas Carter (Save the Last Dance) directed. PG-13, 137 min. (JJ) Thu 7/21, 8:30 PM, Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park, 312-746-5100.
RRebel Without a Cause
Nicholas Ray's moving 1955 tale of teenage romanticism thwarted by an adult world of televisions and atomic bombs established James Dean as America's first underage icon. Dean's alienation is perfectly expressed through Ray's vertiginous mise-en-scene: the suburban LA setting becomes a land of decaying Formica and gothic split-levels. An unmissable film, made with a delirious compassion. With Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Corey Allen, Edward Platt, and Dennis Hopper. 111 min. (DK) Wed 7/20, 9 PM, Northwestern Univ. Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Dr., Evanston, 847-491-4000.
RThe School of Rock
Broadly speaking, this is Richard Linklater's French Cancan--that is to say, a humanist's joyful exploration of the musical in which the actors' personalities resonate as much as the characters they play. Or maybe it's what Jean Renoir might have come up with if he'd remade Don't Knock the Rock and cast fifth-graders as the musicians. Though this seems like a personal film, Linklater was hired to direct a cannily commercial script by Mike White, about a rock 'n' roll loser (Jack Black) who, fired from his job and his band, impersonates his wimpy substitute-teacher roommate (White) to land a teaching position at an upscale elementary school. This infantile character hasn't got a thought in his head except for rock music, but somehow he becomes a model teacher, and through stealth and sheer perseverance he turns his class into an inspired gang of rockers. The kids, all real musicians performing, are wonderful, and so is Black; Joan Cusack is charming and funny as the principal. PG-13, 108 min. (JR) Wed 7/20, 8:30 PM, River Park, 5100 N. Francisco, 312-742-7516.
The Secret Garden
Margaret O'Brien and Dean Stockwell are two unhappy Victorian children who find sanctuary in tending a run-down garden. Fred Wilcox (Forbidden Planet) directed this 1949 MGM fable, adapted from the children's book; it costars Herbert Marshall, Gladys Cooper, and Elsa Lanchester. Thu 7/21, 8 PM, Chicago Women's Park and Gardens, 1827 S. Indiana, 312-745-0040.
In the 60s Disney decided to increase the market value of its animated features by having celebrities supply the characters' voices; these days the stars are cast before the project begins, and their personae often drive the characterization. This dazzling CGI feature by DreamWorks Animation appropriates the vivid undersea psychedelia of Finding Nemo, though in contrast to that movie, the father-son parable here is just an excuse to burlesque The Godfather for the 100th time. Will Smith stars as a jive-ass fish who befriends the weak-willed son (Jack Black) of a fearsome shark family, but the real attractions are Robert De Niro as the don and Martin Scorsese as a jittery puffer fish (with bushy eyebrows, no less). Vicky Jenson (Shrek), Bibo Bergeron, and Rob Letterman directed; with Renee Zellweger and Angelina Jolie. PG, 90 min. (JJ) Fri 7/15, 8:30 PM, Horner Park, 2741 W. Montrose, 773-478-3499; also Mon 7/18, 8:30 PM, Hollywood Park, 3312 W. Thorndale, 773-478-3482.
At the end of the digitally animated Shrek the lovely Princess Fiona (given voice by Cameron Diaz) flipped the formula of Beauty and the Beast by electing to become a stocky green ogre just like her gruff but tender beau (Mike Myers); this time around she faces the delicate task of bringing him home to mom and dad (Julie Andrews and John Cleese). Like the first movie this is unassailable family entertainment, with a gentle fairy tale for kids and a raft of mildly satirical pop-culture references for parents. Antonio Banderas is very funny as the Zorro-esque Puss in Boots, and there are two priceless set pieces: a parody of COPS and a giddy survey of the kingdom, which is a medieval version of Rodeo Drive. PG, 105 min. (JJ) Thu 7/21, 8:30 PM, Paschen Park, 1932 W. Lunt, 773-262-5871, and Frank J. Wilson Park, 4630 N. Milwaukee, 773-685-6454.
Many critics are calling this an improvement over the first movie, and they're probably right. But both are fairly routine minor variations on superhero tropes that have been around for over half a century, and as such I find them blending together into one ultimately forgettable (if agreeable) four-hour romp. As Dr. Octopus, Alfred Molina makes a more baroque supervillain than Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin, but the other stars--Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons--seem happy to be giving us more of the same. Sam Raimi's direction, on the other hand, is even more fluent and well paced, integrating the hero's spectacular acrobatics with the grueling horrors of being a working-class teen. PG-13, 127 min. (JR) Wed 7/20, 8:30 PM, Schreiber Playground Park, 1552 W. Schreiber, 773-262-6741.
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
The Nickelodeon cartoon series about an oceanic sponge and his starfish sidekick washes onto the big screen with a tide of weak one-liners, exaggerated reactions, and vaguely nauseating gags, including a live-action David Hasselhoff launching the heroes into the air with his pecs. In other words, your six-year-old will love it. SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg wrote and directed. PG, 90 min. (JJ) Thu 7/21, 8:30 PM, Unity Playlot Park, 2636 N. Kimball.