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/
Chi-Raq: Group of women organize against the on-going violence in Chicago’s Southside. Nick Cannon stars.
Krampus: A young boy’s rejection of the Christmas holiday unleashes an evil force.
Judge Singh LLB: Politician uses his influence to frame a middle class boy in a murder.
The Letters: Mother Teresa’s feelings of loneliness are revealed through letters she wrote to her spiritual adviser. Juliet Stevenson stars.
Mukhtiar Chadha: Romantic comedy starring Diljit Dosanjh.
A Royal Night Out: Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret celebrate V.E. Day.
A Second Chance: Couple deal with issues after eight years of marriage.
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.
Ant-Man: (☆☆1/2): Ex-con is pushed into slipping on super suit to become tiny hero. Paul Rudd stars. Rudd has neither the cutting wit nor the cut physique others bring to such roles. He is a milquetoast romantic comedy escapee who ends up being the biggest thing wrong with “Ant-Man.” When Rudd slips on the suit, the movie settles into a thrill ride through a massive miniature world. Rated PG-13 (sci-fi action violence). 115 minutes.
Brooklyn (☆☆☆1/2): An Irish woman comes to America to start a new life but becomes torn between two men.John Crowley creates a hauntingly beautiful tale of love on two continents in his period film “Brooklyn.” Crowley allows the story to unfold through the beautiful landscapes of the Irish countryside and Brooklyn in the early 1950s, presenting each with details that bring them to life. Such lavish backgrounds demand players who will not get lost in the shadows. Rated PG-13 (sexuality, language). 100 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.
Crimson Peak (☆1/2): A young woman is swept away to a house atop a mountain of blood-red clay. The film is less about scares and more of a watered down version of “Downton Abbey” meets “Game of Thrones.” The majority of the movie feels like the usual period piece about a pair of siblings who will go to any extreme to save their family home. Ghosts occasionally show up to point out clues. Rated R (bloody violence). 119 minutes.
Everest (☆☆☆1/2): The recounting of the tragic 1996 effort to climb the world’s tallest mountain reaches new heights in visual splendor. Rated PG-13 (intense peril, disturbing images). 121 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.
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.
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 Martian: (☆☆☆1/2): In one of the most comforting science fiction films in years, Matt Damon plays an astronaut who must find a way to survive on Mars after being left behind. Ridley Scott’s zesty direction turns this into a highly enjoyable team-building exercise, with Damon playing the team of one. Rated PG-13 (strong language, injury images, brief nudity). 141 minutes. (Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune)
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)
Minions (☆☆1/2): Animated story of the yellow characters that is charted from the start of time. The pill-shaped, yellow characters introduced in the “Despicable Me” movie as the subordinates to the villainous Gru have now taken center stage. The charm and humor they brought in tiny doses in the previous films now comes in a massive blast that wears thin quickly. Rated PG (rude humor, action). 91 minutes.
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.
Pan (☆☆1/2): A look at how Peter Pan came to be the hero of Neverland. Hugh Jackman stars. Pan is back with this big-screen adaptation written by Jason Fuchs (”Ice Age: Continental Drift”) and director Joe Wright (”Anna Karenina”). Except for a spirited performance by Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard, their efforts won’t send you flying to theaters to see it or out of the theaters if you do. Rated PG-13 (language, violence). 111 minutes.
The Peanuts Movie (☆☆☆1/2): Charlie Brown and the gang are back for more adventures including Snoopy’s heroic flying efforts. 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.
Secret in Their Eyes (☆☆☆1/2): Detective continues a quest to find the person who killed the daughter of his partner. Julia Roberts stars. The film is based on “El secreto de sus ojos,” the film from Argentina that picked up the Oscar for best foreign film in 2010. Director/writer Billy Ray uses only the bare bones of the original movie to craft his tale of motherly love, heartbreak and obsession. It’s rare that an adaptation of a much heralded film equals the original. Rated PG-13 (action scenes, language). 111 minutes.
Spectre (☆1/2): James Bond goes in search of a mysterious agency. Daniel Craig stars. The latest in the long-running 007 series proves that even James Bond can have a bad day. The film’s convoluted script, watered-down villain and forgettable Bond girl makes “Spectre” the worst of the Craig Bond films. And it has so many flaws that it falls into the bottom third of all Bond movies. PG-13 (action, language). 150 minutes.
Spotlight (☆☆☆☆): Reporting team with the Boston Globe uncovers a conspiracy in the Catholic Church dealing with priests who molest children. Not since the Oscar-winning “All the President’s Men” in 1976 has a movie offered such a compelling, intriguing and important look at the world of journalism. This examination of the Boston Globe’s investigative team – known as Spotlight – uncovering the massive cover-up is one of the best pictures of the year. Rated R (sexual content, language). 109 minutes.
Trumbo: Top Hollywood writer jailed and blacklisted because of his political beliefs. Bryan Cranston stars. This film has not been reviewed.
Victor Frankenstein (☆☆1/2): The tale of the doctor’s quest to create life is told from Igor’s point of view. Daniel Radcliffe stars. Dr. Frankenstein’s efforts to create life out of mismatched pieces ended in disaster. Efforts by director Paul McGuigan to create the movie “Victor Frankenstein” out of mismatched pieces results in a similar catastrophe. Rated PG-13 ((macabre images, violence)
The Visit (zero stars): Trip to grandmother’s house isn’t all that welcoming. M. Night Shyamalan has put together another poorly written offering that also has the visual inspiration of a blank piece of paper. Shyamalan has put so little effort into making this film, he resorts to the “found footage” gimmick that went out of favor years ago. Rated PG-13 (brief nudity, language, disturbing images). 94 minutes.
NEXT WEEK’S OPENINGS
In the Heart of the Sea: A real-life battle with a huge whale serves as the inspiration for Moby Dick.
Legend: Story of twin gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray. Tom Hardy stars.
Theeb: Boy’s adventure to live up to the name bestowed on him by his father. This month’s presentation by Fresno Filmworks.