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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Free Fire: Arms deal goes completely wrong. Brie Larson stars.
Born in China: A panda and her growing cub face the dangers of the wild.
Grow House: Efforts are made to start growing marijuana. It’s soon clear smoking it is much easier.
The Lost City of Z: True-life drama on British explorer Col. Percival Fawcett, who disappeared while searching for a mysterious city in the Amazon.
Phoenix Forgotten: Young woman looks into her brother’s disappearance in the Arizona desert.
The Promise: A love triangle unfolds against the brutality of the Armenian genocide. Oscar Isaac stars.
Unforgettable: Woman must deal with the meddling waves of her lover’s ex-wife. Rosario Dawson stars.
Beauty and the Beast (☆☆): Emma Watson stars in this love story that is a tale as old as time. This tale again features Belle falling in love with a handsome prince (Dan Stevens) who has been cursed to live his life as a beast. Complicating the romance is the pompous Gaston (Luke Evans) and his loyal sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad). The problem with turning the Oscar-winning 1991 animated version of the story into a live-action production starts with the script, which by Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (“Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure”). Their story is so rushed that there’s no time for the romance to bloom, die and then be brought back to life. Rated PG (peril). 129 minutes.
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. But a better way to describe the film 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.
The Boss Baby (☆ 1/2 ): Suit-wearing baby must work with his older brother to stop an evil plot by a CEO. “The Boss Baby” is like a diaper. It starts out fresh but it sure doesn’t take long for it to become a stinker. The idea of a baby (voiced by Alec Baldwin) who is more worried about the formula for a good stock market buy than the formula he drinks has potential. A genius baby hiding his abilities is the set-up for a lot of potential plot points. But Michael McCullers’ script, based on the book by Marla Frazee, takes the least interesting option. Even in the flexible world of animation, the idea behind “Boss Baby” is too convoluted and confusing to be interesting. Rated PG (rude humor). 97 minutes.
The Case for Christ: Journalist looks to disprove his wife’s newfound Christian faith. Not reviewed.
CHiPs (1/2): Jon Baker and Frank Poncherello take to the mean streets of Los Angeles as part of the California Highway Patrol. When you take a script that banks entirely on juvenile humor, mix it with the worst casting since John Wayne played Genghis Khan and top it off with the work of a director who is equally inept at staging humor and action, then all that can be said is sometimes “CHiPS” happens. Rated R (graphic nudity, crude humor, violence, drug use). 101 minutes.
The Fate of the Furious (☆☆☆): Drivers face one more challenge to save the world. The latest installment of “The Fast and the Furious” franchise is anything but typical. The movies have grown from a simple tale of street racers into a battle royale with more carnage than a weekend at a Transformers bonding retreat. The characters have more foreign locations on their passports than James Bond. And the villains never do anything simple. Rated PG-13 (action scenes, adult situations, language). 140 minutes.
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. 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.
Going in Style (☆☆1/2): Three senior citizens decide to rob a bank. Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin are three of the most accomplished actors working in films these days. Any of them can take a so-so script and give it enough energy to lift it to a higher level. It took all three of them to do that for “Going In Style,” a remake of the 1979 film. Under the direction of former “Scrubs” star Zach Braff, the new take on the senior citizen bank heist tale is little more than a glorified sitcom story saved only slightly by the first-rate casting. Rated PG-13 (drug content, language, suggestive material). 97 minutes.
Ghost in the Shell (☆☆ 1/2 ): Cyborg policewoman fights computer hacker. The live-action “The Ghost in the Shell,” based on the manga series by Masamune Shirow, is a blend of extreme visual highs and writing lows. If you were to only watch the film for the art direction, it’s one of the most effective visually since the future world of “Blade Runner” was created in 1982. Rated PG-13 (sci-fi violence). 106 minutes.
Gifted (☆☆☆): Mckenna Grace stars as a child math prodigy and Chris Evans is her uncle who is trying to help give her a normal life. The adults are good. But all the credit for making this movie work goes to Mckenna, who is just as convincing as a bratty child defying authority as she is a typical youngster showing love for her one-eyed cat. Even when she’s being defiant, there’s something sweet and innocent about the performance that makes it easy to root for her. Mckenna is a gifted actor. Rated PG-13 (adult situations, language). 101 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. The film would make a perfect video game. Rated R (violence, language, brief nudity). 122 minutes.
Kong: Skull Island (☆☆ 1/2 ): A group of scientists and soldiers travels to a mysterious island where they find a giant ape. The growing evidence that there are few good original ideas in Hollywood continues with “Kong: Skull Island.” The latest hairy tale lacks both the special effects awe that made the 1933 version so groundbreaking and the raw action that made Peter Jackson’s 2005 offering so exciting. “Kong: Skull Island” is like being served a dish of vanilla ice cream after eating fancy sundaes. There’s nothing that wrong with vanilla ice cream, but there’s little about it that’s exciting. Rated PG-13 (language, action). 118 minutes.
The LEGO Batman Movie (☆☆☆): Caped crimefighter saves the city one brick at a time. The Lego people are back at work and have bricked together “The Lego Batman Movie.” Rated PG (rude humor, action). 105 minutes.
Life (☆☆☆):: Space crew faces a deadly threat from Mars. “Life” is entertaining enough to show that even in a weightless world there can be a heavy gravity to the story. Although familiar in concept, “Life” has strong performances, a willingness to take chances, a beautifully designed set and plenty of tension. The fate of the crew and mission is a series of smart direction changes that continues to the very end. Rated R (crude humor, graphic nudity, language, violence, drug use). 101 minutes.
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.
Manje Bistre: Punjabi wedding offers elements of romance and comedy. Not reviewed.
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.
Power Rangers (☆☆:: Five young people gain powers that they will need to save Earth. The latest incarnation in the ever-morphing “Power Rangers” franchise hits the big screen like a prize fighter who wins the first two and last two rounds of a 10-round fight. It’s the beating in the middle that causes all the pain. Rated PG-13 (sci-fi violence, language). 124 minutes.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (☆☆☆ 1/2 ): 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 back story. PG-13 (peril. violence). 133 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 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.
Smurfs: The Lost Village (☆☆): Mystery map sends the Smurfs on a trek through the Forbidden Forest. Anyone 6 or younger will find “Smurfs: The Lost Village” a fun romp through the forest accented by the mild kind of danger that only Gargamel can provide. There’s nothing wrong with aiming a film at the very young demographic but it does increase the odds the production will fall on its Smurf with those who accompany the youngsters. Rated PG (mild action, rude humor). 81 minutes.
The Zookeeper’s Wife (☆☆☆):: Couple who run a zoo in Warsaw in the early ’40s help save Jews from the Nazis. The film is based on Diane Ackerman’s book, “The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story” that recounts the true story of Antonina and Jan Zabinski, owners of the Warsaw Zoo in 1939. After the occupation by the Germans, the couple manage to turn their zoo into a way station for Jews escaping the country. Rated PG-13 (violence, nudity, smoking). 126 minutes.
OPENING NEXT WEEK
The Circle: New employee discovers truth behind a powerful tech company. Tom Hanks and Emma Watson star.
How to Be a Latin Lover: Kept man has to fend for himself after his older lover dumps him. Eugenio Derbez stars.