The rating system: A, excellent; B, good; C, so-so; D, poor; F, terrible. Unless noted otherwise, reviews are by Bee critic Rick Bentley.
Chappie: A robot with artificial intelligence becomes a new life form.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Efforts to open a new hotel are thwarted and interfere with wedding plans. Maggie Smith stars.
Unfinished Business: Routine business trip goes comically bad. Vince Vaughn stars.
A La Mala: An actress trying to help a friend falls in love. This film has not been reviewed.
American Sniper (A-): Navy SEAL finds he can’t leave the war behind when he returns home. Directed by Clint Eastwood. What pushes Bradley Cooper to such heights is the role based on the true story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who became the deadliest sniper in American history. Rated R (war violence, language). 134 minutes.
Big Hero Six (A-): In the Oscar winner, a young genius uses a robot to solve a mystery in this animated tale. Never has East met West in such a visually stunning way as in the animated feature film “Big Hero 6.” From the blending of the architecture of Tokyo and San Francisco (to create San Fransokyo) to the collision of traditional animation with anime, the film is “manga-nificent.” Rated PG (violence). 108 minutes
The DUFF (B): High school senior is crushed to learn she is the Designated Ugly Fat Friend. Mae Whitman stars. The film is a pleasantly predictable cross between “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Clueless.” Rated PG-13 (crude and sexual material). 101 minutes. (David Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle)
Fifty Shades of Grey (F): Young woman (Dakota Johnson) turns over control to a mysterious man (Jamie Dornan). No one said the masochism part of the story in “Fifty Shades of Grey” had to do with what the audience would be put through. There has never been a film so painful to watch, both because of how poorly it’s written, acted and shot and for its disgustingly vulgar treatment of women. The movie would be painfully laughable if it wasn’t so horribly offensive. Rated R (strong sexual content, unusual behavior, graphic nudity, language). 110 minutes.
Focus (B): High stakes con man (Will Smith) breaks a major rule when he falls in love. It would have made for a tighter tale of sneaky larceny had the story been one long scam. In this case, two cons don’t equal one major flim flam. The good thing is that it’s not quite so noticeable because Smith and Margot Robbie bring so much to the film. Rated R (violence, language, sexual content). 105 minutes.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (B-): Forces come together to claim the riches that had been guarded by Smaug. Peter Jackson's “Hobbit” trilogy — noteworthy for the way Jackson has transformed the book into a visual feast and delivers the tent-pole moments — ends with uninspired battles and muddled characters. Personal moments are overshadowed by endless battles with characters poorly defined. Rated PG-13 (fantasy violence). 144 minutes.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (B): Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) struggles to find her place in the revolution that is brewing. In a film that cranks up the action even more than the first two movies, Lawrence’s work grows even stronger as she commands attention with each word, phrase and breath. Rated PG-13 (violence, disturbing images). 125 minutes.
Hot Tub Time Machine 2: Friends travel through time to save a buddy in trouble. Craig Robinson stars. This movie has not been reviewed.
The Imitation Game (B): Group of Brits rush to defeat German code machine during World War II. Benedict Cumberbatch stars. At the core, this is a story about how one man can be both a hero and an outcast. It is depicted through the mesmerizing performance of Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the genius who helped bring World War II to an end two years early.
Jupiter Ascending (F): Mila Kunis plays a woman who discovers she was born to save the cosmos. Andy and Lana Wachowski have written and directed a space opera that wanders between painfully boring and hopelessly confusing. The siblings try to hide amateurish acting behind big set pieces and distract from the unintelligible plot with big explosions. None of it works. Even in space it’s easy to smell a stinker. Rated PG-13 (violence, partial nudity). 125 minutes.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (B-): A young man is recruited to be part of an elite spy force. Colin Firth stars. Matthew Vaughn, writer and director of “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” has created a spy thriller that falls somewhere between James Bond and Austin Powers. The source material, Mark Millar’s snarky comic book “Secret Service,” calls for a degree of fun and frivolity with the story. It’s when Vaughn overindulges that the film struggles. Rated R (violence, nudity, language) 100 minutes.
The Lazarus Effect (D+): Efforts to bring back the dead lead to an evil result. Mark Duplass stars. First-time feature director David Gelb tries to create lively scares out of the bringing-back-the-dead film genre with “The Lazarus Effect.” The best he gets are a few nervous twitches. Rated PG-13 (violence, sexual references). 83 minutes.
McFarland, USA (B+): Coach (Kevin Costner) builds a winning cross-country team of farmworkers. The real strength comes from the film’s deep look at the beauty of diverse cultures and the importance of family and following a dream. Then “McFarland, USA” becomes a story of the determination, devotion and desire of seven young men to rise above the back-breaking lives of field hands and the man who helps them accomplish what always seemed like a pipe dream. Rated PG (mild action). 129 minutes.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (D+): This time the weird antics in the museum take place outside the United States. Ben Stiller stars.
Paddington: Young bear makes his way to England to find a new home. It’s as sweet as orange marmalade. Rated PG (mild action, rude humor). 94 minutes. (Roger Moore, Tribune)
Penguins of Madagascar (A): Secrets of the world’s best spy team are revealed. From their first appearance in “Madagascar,” Skipper, Kowalski, Private and Rico have been committing grand-theft scene stealing. It’s a winner. Rated PG (mild action, rude humor). 85 minutes.
Project Almanac (C-): Time machine results in a group of teens changing the world. The first hour of the film is so relentlessly paced, it feels like it’s on fast-forward. Rated PG-13 (language, sexual content). 106 minutes. (Lindsay Bahr, AP).
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (B+): SpongeBob and the gang go on a quest to find a stolen formula. Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel faced the challenge of writing a script for “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” that was funny enough to captivate youngsters and their parents (or grandparents). They succeeded by using fun sight gags, corny puns and uninhibited joy. Rated PG (mild action). 100 minutes.
Spare Parts: George Lopez and Marisa Tomei star in the drama about four undocumented Mexican-American students who enter the National Underwater Robotics Competition.
Still Alice (B): Julianne Moore must deal with a medical condition that is affecting her mind. Rated PG-13 (language, mature material). 99 minutes. (Carla Meyer, McClatchy)
Taken 3: Ex-government operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is accused of a ruthless murder. This film has not been reviewed.
Unbroken: Olympic athlete must face the ordeal of being held in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II. Suspense and pathos evade director Angelina Jolie as she turns an admittedly unwieldy biography into a dull, perfunctory and truncated film.
The Wedding Ringer (C+): Socially awkward groom turns to a professional best man. Kevin Hart stars. A
bromantic comedy that feels like a romantic comedy. Rated R (language). 101 minutes. (Roger Moore,
NEXT WEEK’S OPENINGS
Cinderella: A young woman gets help from her Fairy Godmother to attend a royal ball. Lily James stars.
Run All Night: Former hit man (Liam Neeson) must go to extreme measures to protect his son.
Two Days, One Night: Woman races against time to save her job. Marion Cotillard stars. This month’s presnetation by Fresno Filmworks.