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/
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The Hateful Eight: Strangers in a snow-covered remote location battle for survival. Directed by Quentin Tarantino.
The 33 (☆☆ 1/2 ): Efforts are made to save trapped miners. Because the world watched each miner being pulled to safety, the movie is missing the threat of death. No matter what director Patricia Riggen tries to do to build tension, it comes up short because we all know the ending. The best Riggen can do is bank on the performances of her main players to keep the audience engaged. Rated PG-13 (disaster sequence, language). 120 minutes.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip: A misunderstanding leaves the Chipmunks worried about their future. This film has not been reviewed.
The Big Short (☆☆☆): A group of men predict the collapse of the economy because of bad loans. Christian Bale stars. Director Adam McKay, best known for less mind-testing films like “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” and “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” looks to put the financial collapse caused by the housing bubble that happened less than a decade ago into an understandable form. It’s a valiant effort. But too often the movie gets bogged down in conversations about sub-prime lending, collateralized debt obligation and other subjects that are the things of Alan Greenspan’s dreams. Rated R (sexual content, language, nudity). 123 minutes.
Concussion (☆☆ 1/2 ): A doctor begins to look at head injuries in the NFL. Will Smith stars. Peter Landesman fumbles by structuring this story around Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), the Pittsburgh pathologist who uncovers the truth about how the early death of former NFL players is connected to a lifetime of blows to the head. Rated PG-13 (thematic elements, language). 123 minutes.
Creed (☆☆ 1/2 ): Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) agrees to train the son of Apollo Creed. “Creed” is a reboot of the franchise and follows a very similar structure to the original movie. To that end, the movie repeatedly falls short. Rated PG-13 (violence, language, some sexuality). 133 minutes.
Daddy’s Home (☆ 1/2 ): Stepfather (Will Ferrell) battles with biological father (Mark Wahlberg) for the attention of two children. Will Ferrell again resorts to his over-the-top style. But there is no counterbalance from Mark Wahlberg, who looks bored with the project. The result is a film that has a good heart but no strong humor. Rated PG (thematic elements). 96 minutes.
The Danish Girl (☆☆☆): Noted artist begins to reveal that he has always felt trapped in the wrong body. Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” was a rare opportunity for an actor. Seldom does a part create such massive physical and emotional demands. Such roles don’t come along every day. But for Redmayne, they have come along in back-to-back years. His work in “The Danish Girl” is in its own way equally as challenging physically and emotionally for the British actor. And, he responds with the same high-level performance that won him an Oscar for “Theory.” Rated R (themes, graphic nudity). 120 minutes.
The Good Dinosaur (☆☆): In a world where dinosaurs have progressed more than humans, a young dinosaur must learn how to face his fears. It is weighed down by a flawed concept, unappealing characters and a soundtrack that lacks anything close to a memorable tune. The only aspect worthy of high praise is the background work, which is so stunning it keeps the movie from heading for a tar pit. Even Mother Nature can’t make a landscape this amazing. Rated PG ((peril, action, thematic elements). 100 minutes.
Goosebumps (☆☆☆): A kid teams up with the niece of young adult horror author. Jack Black stars. An older audience may feel nostalgic for the books or get a smile out of the cornucopia of creatures that come to life. But the movie is aimed at the same youth market that embraces the books. Rated PG-13 (scary images, language). 113 minutes.
Hotel Transylvania 2 (☆☆☆): Dracula tries to help his grandson find his inner monster. It’s as rare as vampires on a beach to have a movie sequel be better than the original. But vampires might start looking for some sunglasses because the spookiest thing about “Hotel Transylvania 2” is how much funnier, colorful and original it is this second time around. Rated PG (scary elements, rude humor). 87 minutes.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (☆☆ 1/2 ): Katniss Everdeen faces one last showdown with President Snow. Jennifer Lawrence stars. Splitting the final book in the popular series into two feature film parts created a bloated feeling to the story. Instead of the heart-pounding tempo that made the first two movies so entertaining, the slow grind of the finale is less compelling. It made financial sense – not artistic sense. Rated PG-13 (violence, action scenes). 136 minutes.
In the Heart of the Sea (☆☆☆ 1/2 ): A real-life battle with a huge whale serves as the inspiration for “Moby Dick.” Ron Howard not only recounts the telling of the whale of a tale to Herman Melville by one of the last survivors of the ill-fated mission, but he also focuses on the brutality of the whaling industry and the men who went through the ordeal. Rated PG-13 (intense action scenes). 121 minutes.
The Intern (☆☆ 1/2 ): Young executive (Anne Hathaway) gets a mature intern (Robert De Niro). It can be cloying at times. Rated PG-13 (suggestive comments, language). 121 minutes. (Lindsey Bahr, AP)
Joy (☆☆☆): Jennifer Lawrence plays a woman who launches a business dynasty. “Joy” reunites actors Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro with director/writer David O. Russell, the team that made the marvelous “Silver Linings Playbook.” Their latest collaboration looks like the same beautifully crafted tale of quirky characters engaged in interesting activities. But there is no joy at the end of “Joy” as the talent of the mighty Russell runs out. Rated PG-13 (language). 123 minutes.
Krampus: A young boy’s rejection of the Christmas holiday unleashes an evil force. Not reviewed.
The Last Witch Hunter (☆): The White Queen seeks revenge on her killer. The lame plot has acting’s answer to drywall, Vin Diesel, playing the immortal witch hunter Kaulder. Because of a truce forged years ago with the witches, it doesn’t seem like he’s had a lot to do except seduce flight attendants over the past few centuries. Rated PG-13 (scary images, language). 105 minutes.
Love the Coopers: Four generations of Coopers come together for their annual Christmas Eve celebration. Not reviewed.
The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (☆☆): Gladers now face a new set of challenges. Rated PG-13 (mild violence). 137 minutes. (Walter Addiego, San Francisco Chronicle)
The Night Before (☆☆☆): Three friends go in search of the perfect Christmas party. Seth Rogen stars. This holiday film about three best buddies looking for one last major Christmas Eve bash manages to be crass, rude and foul-mouthed while also being very sweet. It all comes together to make “The Night Before” a fun hybrid of a raunchy buddy comedy and a sweet holiday movie. Rated R (language, nudity, drug use). 101 minutes.
The Peanuts Movie (☆☆☆ 1/2 ): Charlie Brown and the gang are back for more adventures including Snoopy’s heroic flying. The animated film from the company that produced “Rio” and “Ice Age” is a loving tribute to the characters first introduced through the creative talents of Charles Schulz. It has a colorfulness and energy that will introduce a new generation of fans to this gang, while adhering to the deep emotions with which Schulz infused his work. Rated G. 92 minutes.
Point Break (☆☆ 1/2 ): An FBI agent infiltrates a gang of extreme sports criminals. Luke Bracey stars. If you are an extreme sports junkie, “Point Break” is cocaine. If you are a fan of good writing, it’s a placebo. Rated PG-13 ( (peril, action, thematic elements, drug material). 113 minutes.
Sisters (☆☆): Sisters throw one last party before selling the family home. Tina Fey stars. The film just doesn’t cohere as a consistent piece. Rated R (crude sexual content, language, drug use). 118 minutes. (Katie Walsh, Tribune).
Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens (☆☆☆☆): Han Solo and General Leia are pulled into a new battle between light and dark forces. The strengths George Lucas brought to his films were the examination of family, the importance of friendship, the fight between good and evil, and the necessity of finding your own place in the galaxy. Abrams took those elements and presented them through a structure that combined characters from the 1977 offering with an entertaining and engaging group of new players. The same beautiful chemistry that actors like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher brought to the middle trilogy has not lost a single bit of purpose or power in the latest film. Rated PG-13 (peril, action scenes). 136 minutes.
NEXT WEEK’S OPENINGS
The Revenant: Man left for dead survives and goes on a quest for revenge. Leonardo DiCaprio.