The rating system: ☆☆☆☆, excellent; ☆☆☆, good; ☆☆, so-so; ☆, poor; zero stars, terrible. Unless noted otherwise, reviews are by Bee critic Rick Bentley. Check movie times: http://calendar.fresnobee.com/
Badrinath Ki Dulhania: Couple have very different views on gender roles.
The Ottoman Lieutenant:: Woman makes a dangerous journey to deliver medical supplies in the shadow of war.
I Am Not Your Negro: Film based on James Baldwin’s unfinished book that looks at Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. This month’s presentation of Fresno Filmworks.
Kong: Skull Island:: Group of scientists, soldiers travel to a mysterious island where they find a giant ape.
A United Kingdom:: A marriage threatens the future of an African prince.
Before I Fall (☆☆☆): A teenager relives the final day of her life. The easy way to talk about “Before I Fall” is to say it’s a teen angst version of “Groundhog Day.” That simple shorthand comes from the fact that the central figure of Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) lives the final day of her life repeatedly. Playing out a single day with multiple variations creates both some funny and serious moments the same way “Groundhog Day” did. But a better way to describe “Before I Fall” is that it is a representation of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Rated PG-13 (language, mature themes). 99 minutes.
Doctor Strange (☆☆☆☆): Egotistical surgeon finds new mystical powers. Benedict Cumberbatch brings a seriousness to the role that helps bridge the skepticism gap created with any feature film based on a comic book. His reverent approach to playing the role makes it easy to accept the character, both as a self-centered man of medicine and as a manipulator of magic. Rated PG-13 (comic book violence). 130 minutes.
A Dog’s Purpose (☆ 1/2): Dog brings joy to numerous families through his multiple existences. The purpose of a dog, according to “A Dog’s Purpose,” is to be a tool for manipulating emotional responses through repeated cloying death scenes. What starts out as a celebration of canines ends up being one of the saddest and most contrived movies in decades. Rated PG (thematic elements). 100 minutes.
Fifty Shades Darker: Unique relationship between a man and woman continues. Not reviewed.
Fist Fight (no stars): Two teachers are scheduled to settle a dispute after school. What the script for this loser of a comedy turns out to be is just a lazy approach by novice writers Van Robichaux and Evan Susser. This tale of two teachers scheduled for a fight in a school parking lot after school banks heavily on schoolyard humor to make up for any original writing. Filling the production with profanity, jokes about masturbation and an endless barrage of male genitalia images and comments is the uninspired way of trying to generate laughs. Rated R (nudity, language, sexual content, drug use). 91 minutes.
Get Out (☆☆☆): A weekend to meet the parents leaves a couple in a dangerous situation. Give first-rate comedian Jordan Peele extremely high marks for being able to enter into the world of making horror films via jump-out-of-your-chair scares and not gross-you-out slasher scenes. He has made in “Get Out” a production that’s creepy, spooky and at times a little bit kooky. Rated R (bloody images, violence, language). 93 minutes.
The Great Wall (☆☆1/2): Mystery behind the building of the Great Wall of China is revealed. Matt Damon stars. “The Great Wall” is such a film of convenience that it’s best you conveniently skip seeing it. This is less of a “Great Wall” and more of a “So-So Wall.” Rated PG-13 (violence, language). 104 minutes.
Hacksaw Ridge (☆☆☆1/2): Man who refuses to carry a gun into one of the bloodiest battles of World War II becomes a hero. Andrew Garfield stars. Playing a pacifist in such a deadly war zone is a tricky proposition. Garfield shows just the right amount of commitment to make the hardline stand feel real while allowing his emotions to occasionally bubble to the surface. Playing the role with too little commitment would have turned the character into a World War II version of Gomer Pyle.Rated R (violence, language) 139 minutes.
Hidden Figures (☆☆☆☆) Three black woman prove to be valuable additions to America’s race for space. The film continues the hot Hollywood trend of basing feature films on real stories. It’s a tale of incredible courage and determination that has such a powerful message about the pure absurdity of racism that this movie should be mandatory viewing for every man, woman and child. Rated PG (thematic elements, language). 127 minutes.
John Wick: Chapter 2 (☆☆☆): Wick is forced to come out of retirement. Keanu Reeves stars. “John Wick: Chapter 2” would make a perfect video game. The sequel to the 2014 action film starring Reeves has a plot that can be written on a fortune cookie: Former killer forced out of retirement becomes a target. There are a few mentions of Wick’s pain over losing the love of his life, his car and dog. None of that is important. Director Chad Stahelski, whose first directing job was “John Wick,” has opted to once again forgo plot and character development to leave more room for murder and mayhem. Rated R (violence, language, brief nudity). 122 minutes.
La La Land (☆☆☆) Actress and jazz musician find music in their lives. Emma Stone stars. The first three quarters of the film constitute a light romantic musical movie that’s slightly off the mark. As soon as Stone sings the showstopper “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” that’s when the movie becomes a brilliant mix of musical performance and visual storytelling. Stone delivers the tune – that summarizes the themes of the film brilliantly – with a power and passion that is nowhere to be found in the earlier numbers. Rated PG-13 (language). 128 minutes.
The Lego Batman Movie (☆☆☆): Caped crime fighter saves the city one brick at a time. The Lego people are back at work and have bricked together “The Lego Batman Movie.” That’s not a shock since Batman (voiced with gravely distinction by Will Arnett) was a scene stealer in the 2014 production. But stealing scenes and being in every frame are different. While “The Lego Batman Movie” is fun, visually stunning and a memory trip for Batman fans, it is less awesome because it doesn’t have the same sweet core. Rated PG (rude humor, action). 105 minutes.
Lion: After being separated from his family for 25 years, a young man searches for his home. Not reviewed.
Logan (☆☆☆1/2):: An aging Wolverine is pushed into another battle. “Logan” is a reminder there’s a serious reason comic books have such a big following. Comics aren’t just a place for flashy drawings of characters with bulging muscles. They often feature stories with multiple emotional ebbs and flows. The writers give the superheroes depth and purpose. Rated R (violence, language). 130 minutes.
Moana (☆☆ 1/2 ) Future island queen goes on a quest across the ocean to save her people. The problem is the story is nowhere near as interesting as the animation. It’s slow-paced and the multiple attempts to explain the Polynesian tales that serve as the fabric of the story never make the plot clear. Rated PG (peril). 103 minutes.
Monster Trucks: High schooler builds a monster truck as a way of getting out of his hometown. Not reviewed.
Moonlight (☆☆☆☆): Young black man searches for his place in the world. The movie, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, is a slow journey through the pain-filled life of a young man charted from his troubled childhood to his uncertain adulthood. The way Jenkins has structured his work isn't to give us a fully formed adult but to give the audience a ringside seat to see the outside influences that shaped this young man. Rated R (sexuality, violence, language, drug use). 110 minutes.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter: Alice (Milla Jovovich) must return to where her nightmare began. Not reviewed.
Rock Dog (☆☆☆): Dog leaves home to fulfill dream of becoming a musician. “Rock Dog,” an animated tale of a Tibetan Mastiff, Bodi, (Luke Wilson) who wants to be a rock star, hits all the right notes. But the timing of “Rock Dog” is off just enough that this whimsical tale of determination, a love of music and courage won’t get the attention it deserves. PG (action scenes). 80 minutes.
The Shack (☆☆1/2):: Man gets a mysterious note inviting him to a meeting at a place that caused his faith to be shaken. There’s nothing subtle about “The Shack.” This is a faith-based movie that uses a heavy hand to pound viewers with its religious messages. That’s a shame because when the film isn’t preaching, the story of how someone deals with great loss is touching and moving. Rated PG-13 (thematic material). 132 minutes.
Sing (☆☆☆): Musical competition held to save a theater. "Sing, " a toe-tapping film that's "Zootopia" meets "American Idol, " is charming and entertaining as long as the music is playing. The quieter bits between the songs come across as being slightly out of rhythm. The good thing is that there are barely any moments when a gorilla, porcupine, pig or camel isn't belting out a tune. Rated PG (rude humor, peril). 108 minutes.
Sleepless: Undercover police officer is caught between mob and corrupt cops. Not reviewed.
Split: Man with multiple personalities kidnaps three young women. Not reviewed.
Table 19:: Group of strangers must share a table at a wedding reception. Not reviewed.
xXx: The Return of Xander Cage: A government agent comes out of retirement. Not reviewed.
OPENING NEXT WEEK
Beauty and the Beast: Emma Watson stars in this love story that is a tale as old as time.
In Search of Israeli Cuisine:: Portrait of the Israeli people told through food. This month’s presentation in the Fresno Jewish Film Series.