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/
Hidden Figures Three black woman prove to be valuable additions to America’s race for space.
A Monster Calls A monster asks a young boy to tell the truth.
New movies Selene battles the Lycan clan and the Vampire faction.
The Accountant (☆) Ben Affleck plays a math savant who gets involved with a criminal element. Rated R (language, violence). 128 minutes.
Assassin’s Creed Search for meaning in memories of ancestors leads to special skills. Based on the popular video game. Not reviewed.
Almost Christmas (☆☆ 1/2 ): Estranged family must reunite for the holidays. Danny Glover stars. It’s truly only Mo’Nique who owns both the biggest laughs and truly heartfelt moments. Rated PG-13 (suggestive material, drug content, language). 112 minutes. (Katie Walsh, Tribune)
Bad Santa 2 (☆☆☆ 1/2 ) The team gets back together to rob a charity. The script by Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross will make you uncomfortable and embarrassed at your laughter. It's OK. Think of it as just being pulled into the impressive acting abilities that are getting better and better for Billy Bob Thornton. Rated (language, sexual situations, drug use). 92 minutes.
Bleed for This (☆☆ 1/2 ): Boxer Vinny Pazlenza battles back after a car crash. Miles Teller stars. “Bleed for This,” the latest in a recent swarm of movies based on true stories, not only has to overcome the need to build drama despite the audience knowing the ending but also has to do that while working with a very familiar sports movie trope. This is another drama that looks for sweet ratings from the boxing movie genre that has already gone into extra rounds. Rated R (language, sexuality, nudity).
Collateral Beauty (☆☆☆) Man seeks answers from the universe after a great tragedy. Nestled among all the holiday releases based on video games and big sci-fi adventures is the sweet “Collateral Beauty.” Although it continuously slips into being overly sentimental, it’s hard not to be pulled in by the film’s tale of love, loss and the time it takes to deal with both. Rated PG-13 (language, thematic elements). 94 minutes.
Dangal Father trains his daughters to be world-class wrestlers. Not reviewed.
Doctor Strange (☆☆☆☆) Egotistical surgeon finds new mystical powers. Benedict Cumberbatch stars. 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. It takes a confident actor to be able to slip into a superhero costume and make it look serious. Cumberbatch embraces the look as if he were starring in “Hamlet.” Rated PG-13 (comic book violence). 130 minutes.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (☆☆☆☆) Eddie Redmayne stars in this story based on the Hogwarts textbook. If you are looking for a fantastic movie and don’t know where to find one, look no further than “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” This new offering from the creative mind of J.K. Rowling is as fun and entertaining as it is visually stunning. Rated PG-13 (fantasy action and violence). 132 minutes.
Fences (☆☆☆☆) Father deals with race relations in the ’50s while trying to raise his family. Denzel Washington stars. August Wilson’s 1983 play “Fences” earned the author a Pulitzer Prize for drama and a Tony Award for best play. In other words, this is a superbly written story about a Pittsburgh family dealing with financial and social struggles in the late 1950s. With that kind of literary pedigree, the only thing Washington had to do as the director and star of the big-screen adaptation was to make sure he didn’t get in the way of Wilson’s heart-gripping words. Washington’s film looks like a stage production with one of the best ensemble cast of the past decade. Rated PG-13 (thematic elements, language). 133 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 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.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Tom Cruise reprises his role as the problem solver. This time, it’s Reacher accused of murder. Not reviewed.
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. The song and Stone’s performance – both of Oscar-winning quality – are the catalyst that changes “La La Land” from being a light attempt to salute old Hollywood into a modern take on various forms of passion. Rated PG-13 (language). 128 minutes.
Lion After being separated from his family for 25 years, a young man searches for his home. Not reviewed.
Manchester by the Sea A teenage boy moves in with his uncle after his father dies. Casey Affleck stars.
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.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (☆☆) Young boy discovers a refuge for children with special abilities. The first half of the film is fun because of director Tim Burton’s whimsical style of making movies. Rated PG-13 (intense scenes of fantasy). 127 minutes. (Katie Walsh, TNS)
Office Christmas Party What happens at an office Christmas party doesn’t often stay at the party.
Passengers (☆☆) Two space travelers face 90 years alone in space. From a technical standpoint, the massive space adventure starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt is stunning. This is a film for which a four-story set 1,000 meters long and covered in 8 miles of LED lights was built. But while Lawrence and Pratt are always enjoyable to watch, the fact they have so little to do on this impressive set makes this a close encounter of the often boring kind. Rated PG-13 (sexuality, nudity, peril). 116 minutes.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (☆☆☆ 1/2 ) A ragtag team goes on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star. Felicity Jones stars. A task as big as building a Death Star fell to director Gareth Edwards to create the first of what is intended to be a series of standalone tales based on events in the “Star Wars” universe. His contribution is “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” a fast-paced adventure that takes place just before events of “Star Wars: A New Hope.” If you ever wondered how Princess Leia got the plans to the Death Star and loaded them into R2-D2, this film fills in the backstory. PG-13 (peril. violence). 133 minutes.
The Secret Life of Pets (☆☆): The way your pet acts when you are away is very different than when you are home. Rated PG (rude humor, action). 95 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.
Storks (☆☆☆☆): After years of being out of the baby-delivery business, one stork must make a very important delivery. The film manages to deliver on many levels, from broad comedy to a sweet family story. There’s a lot going on in this tale of a world where storks have been made to deliver packages from a superstore. But directors Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland layer the elements in such a way that one just makes the other stronger. Rated PG (mild violence). 92 minutes.
Trolls (☆☆ 1/2 ) Two trolls go on an adventure into new lands. The juvenile humor and dazzling use of color in “Trolls” makes it fancifully designed to entertain the young. There are a few elements – from the trippy psychedelic look to retro selection of music – that may lure adults, but those are not plentiful enough to give the film a broad, all-ages appeal. Rated PG (rude humor). 85 minutes.
Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween: Madea spends the holiday battling killers and ghosts. Not reviewed.
Why Him? (no stars) Father is upset his daughter wants to marry an outlandish billionaire. The name of the new film starring Bryan Cranston and James Franco is “Why Him?” A better question is “Why Us?” What horrific thing did members of the moviegoing public do to deserve such an unimaginative, excruciatingly vile and worthless comedy? Rated R (nudity, language, sexual material). 111 minutes.
OPENING NEXT WEEK
Being 17: Two young men are forced to live in the same house and face their differences. This month’s presentation of Fresno Filmworks.
Blind Hero: The Love of Otto Weidt: Blind German goes to extremes to save his Jewish employees. This month’s presentation in the Fresno Jewish Film Series.
Patriots Day: Events of the Boston Marathon bombings are followed.
Silence: Two young members of the clergy make a dangerous journey to Japan to find their mentor. Adam Driver stars.