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Penguins-of-Madagascar-Official-Trailer-2“PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR” My rating: B (Opening wide on Nov. 27)

92 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Some of the best moments in the three “Madagascar” films were delivered not by the stars — a lion and his zoo buddies — but by four peripheral figures.
We’re talking about the penguins, a bunch of madcap Marxists (of the Groucho variety) who have somehow gotten it into their fuzzy little heads that they are an elite military unit. Despite their overall incompetence, at a crucial moment these diminutive black-and-white commandos always come up with an outlandish plan to save the day.
The penguins have enjoyed their own animated TV series, and in DreamWorks’ “Penguins of Madagascar” they seize the big screen. If you’ve managed to overlook them so far, well, they’re kinda great.
Part of it is their distinct personalities, even though they look pretty much alike. The leader Skipper (voiced by Tom McGrath, who created the characters) is a distillation of every movie drill sergeant ever.  He spits out rapid-fire orders (Skipper’s mouth moves much faster than his brain) but has a soft spot for his “men.”
Kowalksi (Chris Miller) is the idea man, expected to come up with an appropriate plan for any contingency. Rico (Conrad Vernon) has a voracious appetite: He’ll gulp down just about anything, only to regurgitate those items days later when they are needed.
Finally there’s Private (Christopher Knights), the new kid, still finding his way and fawned over by the others.
TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article4124867.html

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Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as Stephen and Jane Hawking

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as Stephen and Jane Hawking

“THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING” My rating: B (Opens wide on Nov. 26)

123 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Even if you’re familiar with the life and work of Stephen Hawking, there’s something humbling about seeing it depicted in a film.

One of the world’s greatest minds trapped in a body that refuses to cooperate.  A woman who cares for his every physical and emotional need and bears his children…at least until she cannot any more.

Time. Space. Infinity.

The first thing that should be said about “The Theory of Everything” is that it isn’t actually about Hawking’s cosmological theories of black holes and other scientific conundrums — though they are of  course mentioned in passing.  It is based on Jane Hawking’s memoir (most recently updated in 2013) and is more a relationship film than anything else.

Fine. We’d rather watch a people story than an illustrated physics lecture. And “Theory” provides the platform for two terrific performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, who must be considered on the short list for this year’s Oscar nominations.

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force-majeure-cannes-21“FORCE MAJEURE”  My rating: B (Opens Nov. 21 at the Tivoli)

118 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Most of us would like to believe that if faced with a life-threatening crisis we would behave decently, nobly…even heroically.

Uh, probably not.  Most of us would be like Tomas, the husband and father whose act of cowardice becomes the topic of Ruben Ostlund’s terse, psychologically ravaging “Force Majeure.”

The Swedish Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) has brought his wife Ebba (Lisa Kongsli) and two young children to posh ski resort in the French Alps.  They appear to be an utterly unremarkable young family.

But while eating lunch at an outdoor cafe, they witness a controlled avalanche set off by explosive detonations.  The churning wall of white speeds down a mountainside, hits the bottom of a valley, then begins rapidly climbing toward the terrace on which the diners are sitting.

“Doesn’t look controlled to me,” Ebba says.

Result: chaos.  People scream, run, freak out.  Ebba grabs her two children and hunkers down behind a table.  Tomas cuts and runs, returning to his loved ones only when it becomes clear that the snow never came close to the restaurant, that a cloud of white fog only made it appear that everyone was about to be buried alive.

 

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Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons

Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons

“WHIPLASH”  My rating: B+ (Now showing at the Cinemark Palace, Glenwood Arts)

106 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) conducts the elite studio jazz band at New York City’s most prestigious conservatory of music.  He’s a musician and educator, though you might be forgiven for mistaking him for a Marine drill instructor…or perhaps a serial killer.

Fletcher enters the rehearsal room with the swagger of a gunslinger flinging open swinging saloon doors. His students don’t make eye contact.  They gaze at the floor or at their charts.  Nobody wants to draw the alpha wolf’s reptilian stare.

But that won’t save them. Fletcher is routinely profane, insulting, and capable of reducing a young musician to sobs. He seems to take great pleasure in finding a victim at every rehearsal.

“Either  you’re out of tune and deliberately sabotaging my band, or you don’t know you’re out of tune — and that’s worse.”

He’s smug, cruel and probably sexist, given his treatment of a woman player in a freshman ensemble: “You’re in first chair. Let’s see if it’s just because you’re cute.”

He punishes those who disappoint him not with pushups but with rehearsals that go on into the wee hours: “We will stay here as long as it takes for one of you faggots to play in time.”

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Kim Bodnia, Gael Garcia Bernal

Kim Bodnia, Gael Garcia Bernal

“ROSEWATER”  My rating: B (Opens wide on Nov. 14)

103 minutes  | No MPAA rating

Ideologues usually occupy an irony-free zone.
How ironic, then, that “Rosewater,” the true tale of a Western journalist caught in the Kafkaesque world of Iranian justice, was made by one of America’s funniest men — “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart.
In 2009 Newsweek sent London-based Maziar Bahari  to his native Iran to cover that country’s presidential election. The stories he filed provided a sympathetic look at young activists opposing the repressive religious regime. Then he upped the ante by daring to suggest that the election was rigged in favor of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Soon thereafter Bahari was pulled from his bed by police, charged with espionage and forced to endure four months of interrogation that ranged from the rigorous to the ridiculous.
A key piece of the prosecution’s evidence was an interview Bahari gave to an American television show. Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” to be precise. The “interview” was a typical example of that program’s satiric skewering — only the Iranian authorities failed to recognize it as comedy.
At least part of Stewart’s motivation in taking a summer off from his TV career and making his feature writing/directing debut was his regret that “The Daily Show” contributed to Bahari’s ordeal.
But this subject matter also dovetails nicely with Stewart’s longstanding disdain for absolutism and dogmatism, both of which are in plentiful supply in Iran. At “Rosewater’s” core is the conflict between rigid authority and nose-tweaking resistance.
TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article3880306.html

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Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels

Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels

“DUMB AND DUMBER TO”  My rating: D+ (Opens wide on Nov. 14)

110 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Dumb comedy?  Smart comedy?
It doesn’t matter what label you stick on it…as long as a movie makes you laugh its IQ is irrelevant.
1994‘s “Dumb and Dumber” made me laugh. Still does.
Now the Farrelly Brothers (Bobby and Peter) have given us a sequel with Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels reprising their roles as chip-toothed Lloyd Christmas and disheveled dog groomer Harry Dunne.
I hardly laughed at all.
Oh, there are moments that are so appallingly crude that it wrings a shocked guffaw out of you.
We’re talking fart jokes. Masturbation jokes. Menstruation jokes. Sex-with-old-ladies jokes. Catheter jokes.
But the yuks are relatively few and very far between.
TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article3880189.html

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Matthew McConaughey (center) and colleagues explore a water planet

Matthew McConaughey (center) and colleagues explore a water planet

“INTERSTELLAR”  My rating: B- (Now playing wide)

169 minutes | Audience rating: PG-13

Did I miss something?

Because while I don’t regret having spent three hours watching Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” I can’t quite shake the feeling that there’s less here than meets the eye.

That maybe the Emperor has no clothes.

The film has an epic scope, great visuals, good performances and a payload of scientific/metaphysical ideas percolating throughout.

And unlike many of Nolan’s efforts (among them the most recent incarnation of Batman, “The Prestige” and “Inception”), it has a backbone of genuine emotion.

But why, when the lights came up, was my reaction more “meh” than “wow”?

The film begins in a not-too-distant future. Earth is rapidly dying.  Corn is about the only crop not devastated by blight and massive dust storms.

Former astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConauhey) works a farm in what might be eastern Colorado. A widower, Coop lives with his father-in-law (John Lithgow) and his two kids.  He’s got a special relationship with Murph (Mackenzie Foy), a fiercely intelligent girl who reports ghostly goings-on in her room, with books being pulled from the selves by invisible hands.

Jessica Chastain...back home on a ravage Earth

Jessica Chastain…back home on a ravaged Earth

This activity and other clues lead Coop and Murph to a secret base in the mountains where what’s left of NASA (as far as the public knows  the program has been shut down) is working on a project to save humanity.

Coop’s old mentor Professor Brand (Michael Caine…always the voice of reason in Nolan movies) explains that a decade earlier a human crew was sent into space, through a wormhole near Saturn, and into another galaxy to look for Earth-like planets to which humanity might migrate.

That earlier mission is presumed lost. Now a second is being mounted.  Coop’s arrival is serendipitous — he was NASA’s best pilot — and he is recruited to head the new effort.

But that means saying goodbye to Murph, who is angry and devastated by what she sees as a betrayal by her beloved father.

This takes up “Interstellar’s” first hour. The rest of the film alternates between the mission in space and the lives of Coop’s family back on Earth.

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