Dann Gire's movie guide: 'Insurgent' hits theaters Friday

  • Theo James, left, Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller star in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent," which opens in theaters Friday.

    Theo James, left, Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller star in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent," which opens in theaters Friday.

Updated 3/18/2015 11:03 AM

Coming Friday: "Insurgent," the anxiously-awaited second movie based on the "Divergent" books by Barrington author Veronica Roth, opens Friday. Check back for Dann Gire's review. Also on the critic's examination table: Sean Penn's new action movie "The Gunman," the harrowing horror tale "It Follows" and a zombie apocalypse comedy "The Walking Deceased."

Movie guide


Four stars: superior. Three stars: good. Two stars: average. One star: poor. D (drug use), L (language), N (nudity), S (sexual situations, references), V (violence). Ratings by Dann Gire, Daily Herald Film Critic, unless otherwise noted.

"Birdman" -- Winner of best picture and best director Oscars, this original, moving and fascinating movie features a stellar performance by Michael Keaton as a former superhero movie star, now a Broadway actor/director attempting a major comeback to redeem his artistic soul. With Emma Stone, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. (R) L, S, V. 119 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ★

"The Imitation Game" -- Chicago writer Graham Moore won an Oscar for this wonderfully wrought fact-based drama about brilliant British mathematician Alan Turing (cool chameleon Benedict Cumberbatch) and his mission to break the Nazi Enigma code and win World War II. Keira Knightley and Mark Strong star. (PG-13) S. 114 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ★

"Kingsman: The Secret Service" -- Matthew Vaughn directs a seriously violent but goofy parody of 007 movies with dapper Colin Firth as a spiffy agent bringing a promising street kid (newcomer Taron Egerton) in to fight a megalomaniac techie (Samuel L. Jackson) bent on destroying civilization. (R) L, N, V. 115 minutes. ★ ★ ★

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"Merchants of Doubt" -- Robert Kenner's eye-opening doc exposes a PR campaign to undermine scientific evidence of health risks and global warming to protect business interests of corporations. Smart, well-researched and horrifying. At the Century Centre and River East 21 in Chicago. (PG-13) L. 97 minutes. ★ ★ ★

"Paddington" -- A delightful, witty family comedy about a lovable bear (voiced by Ben Wishaw) who moves in with a human family in London. Nicole Kidman plays a 21st-century version of Cruella de Vil. Starring Hugh Bonneville. (PG) 95 minutes. ★ ★ ★

"Selma" -- Ava DuVernay's portrait of the civil rights movement avoids mythmaking and steers toward focused realism and continued relevance. As Martin Luther King Jr., David Oyelowo leads Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Tim Roth. Oscar winner for best song, "Glory." Reviewed by Jake Coyle, Associated Press. (PG-13) L, S, V. 127 minutes. ★ ★ ★

"She's Beautiful When She's Angry" -- Mary Dore's long overdue and solid doc traces the evolution of the American women's liberation movement from the 1950s through today. Expertly constructed. Mandatory viewing for American audiences. At the Music Box, Chicago. (NR) L, S. 87 minutes. ★ ★ ★


"The Theory of Everything" -- Superb performances by best actor Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne and nominee Felicity Jones highlight this conflict-challenged drama based on the romance (and marriage) between British physicist Stephen Hawking and fellow Cambridge University student Jane Wilde. (PG-13) S. 123 minutes. ★ ★ ★

"Whiplash" -- J.K. Simmons won an Oscar for his performance as the obsessed, self-centered conductor of a conservatory jazz band. Miles Teller plays the student drummer pushed to the edge by the manipulative teacher. Excellent work all around. (R) L. 106 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ★

"Wild" -- Oscar nominee Reese Witherspoon stars as a troubled woman who hikes 1,300 miles on a journey of self-discovery to find peace and redemption from a life of loss and emptiness following the death of her mother. Based on the true story of Cheryl Strayed. A time-shifting drama directed with aplomb by Jean-Marc Vallee. (R) D, L, N, S. 115 minutes. ★ ★ ★

"American Sniper" -- Clint Eastwood's technically well-crafted bio-drama about SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) starts out strong, then launches into context-challenged conflicts while his worried wife (Sienna Miller) waits at home. Winner of the Sound Editing Oscar. (R) L, V. 134 minutes. ★ ★

"Cinderella" -- Shakespearean actor/director Kenneth Branagh directs a visually sumptuous but dramatically inert, albeit updated, live-action fairy tale about a young woman (Lily James) and her evil stepmother (Cate Blanchett). Reviewed by Ann Hornaday, Washington Post. (PG) 112 minutes. ★ ★

"Focus" -- A smooth con artist (Will Smith) takes a sexy novice (Margot Robbie) under his wing in one of those "nothing is what it seems" con tales that quickly ups the realism ante to ridiculous and fakey extremes. (R) L, S, V. 105 minutes. ★ ★

"McFarland, USA" -- A white cross country coach (Kevin Costner) inspires Hispanic high school runners to go all the way to the California state meet. A workable formula sports underdog drama. (PG) 128 minutes. ★ ★

"Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" -- Vapid, superficial kiddie nip in which Larry (Ben Stiller) travels to London's British Museum to stop a curse that's going to cease the magic transformation of his New York exhibit friends. With the late Robin Williams, Rebel Wilson and Owen Wilson. (PG) 90 minutes. ★ ★

"Run All Night" -- Standard-issue Liam Neeson thriller about a former hit man who protects his son (Joel Kinnaman) from a ruthless mob boss (Ed Harris) and a hired assassin (Common). Never boring, but never as smart or inventive as it needs to be. (R) D, L, S. ★ ★

"The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" -- Pleasant but underpowered sequel to a sentimental tale of aging Brits finding a new lease on life in India. Americans Richard Gere and David Strathairn join Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and the other cast members still residing at the hotel, managed by Dev Patel's capitalistic young co-owner. (PG) 122 minutes. ★ ★

"The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie: Sponge Out of Water" -- The absorbent hero must restore order at the Krusty Krab, unable to crank out its beloved Krabby Patties. This 3-D animated comedy sequel lacks the infectious absurdity of the TV series and the previous 2004 movie. Reviewed by Jen Chaney, Washington Post. (PG) 93 minutes. ★ ★

"Still Alice" -- Best actress Oscar winner Julianne Moore stars as a college professor stricken with Alzheimer's disease. With Kristen Stewart, Alec Baldwin and Kate Bosworth. Reviewed by Stephanie Merry, Washington Post. (PG-13) L, S. 99 minutes. ★ ★

"Taken 3" -- Liam Neeson returns with his particular set of skills to avenge his ex-wife's murder and clear his name. Needless to say, he leaves a lot of bodies in his wake. Reviewed by Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post. (PG-13) L, V. 109 minutes. ★ ★

"Chappie" -- A police robot, programmed to think for itself, becomes a target for political forces that demand its strict obedience to orders. Neill Blomkamp's dumb, hyperviolent sci-fi thriller features an underused Dev Patel and painful performances by Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver. Reviewed by Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post. (R) L, N, V. 114 minutes. ★

"The DUFF" -- A hopelessly retrograde comedy drag about a high school senior (Mae Whitman) who reinvents herself so she'll stop being a DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend). Reviewed by Ann Hornaday, Washington Post. (PG-13) L, S. 101 minutes. Zero stars

"Fifty Shades of Grey" -- E.L. James' best-seller comes to the big screen with Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as kinky lovers into bondage and S&M. (R) L, N, S. 110 minutes. ★

"Home Sweet Hell" -- A bloody black comedy about a control freak suburbanite (Katherine Heigl) who cuts her loose ends after her weak furniture salesman hubby (Patrick Wilson) has an affair with a blackmailing con artist (Jordana Brewster). (R) D, L, N, S, V. 97 minutes. ★

"Jupiter Ascending" -- Chicago's Wachowski siblings construct an outer space princess fantasy devoid of charm, thrills and internal common sense. A Chicago cleaning woman (Mila Kunis) discovers she is intergalactic royalty and a target for three odd siblings vying for their mother's throne. With Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne and Sean Bean. (PG-13) N, V. 125 minutes. ★

"The Lazarus Effect" -- In a modern-day take on the "Frankenstein" story, researchers Zoe and Frank (Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass) discover how to bring the dead back to life. But when Frank -- get it? -- needs to use the drug on Zoe, bad things happen. Reviewed by Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post. (PG-13) S, V. 83 minutes. ★

"Project Almanac" -- High school buds find a device that enables them to time-travel. Enough with the "found footage" movies, please. Reviewed by Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press. (PG-13) L, S. 120 minutes. ★

"Unfinished Business" -- Ken Scott's comedy about U.S. businessmen (led by former Buffalo Grove resident Vince Vaughn) whose important trip to Europe goes horribly wrong. Also stars Tom Wilkinson, Dave Franco and Sienna Miller. (R) D, L, N, S. 90 minutes. ★

"A La Maia" -- An attractive actress hires herself out as a lure to test the fidelity of taken men, only to fall for one herself! In Spanish with subtitles. (PG-13) L, N, S. 106 minutes.

"Bad Asses 2" -- Danny Glover and Danny Trejo play middle-aged vigilantes out to avenge the murder of a young boxer. (R) L, N, S, V. 90 minutes.

"Badlapur" -- A boy seeks revenge against the people who murdered his love. In Hindi. (NR) 135 minutes.

"Champs" -- Bert Marcus directs a doc looking at the fame, fortune and hangers-on that accompany a title belt in boxing. With Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Mark Wahlberg and others. (NR) 85 minutes.

"Cymbeline" -- Shakespeare's play becomes the source for this drama about the battle between corrupt cops and dope-dealing bikers. With Ethan Hawke, Anton Yelchin and Dakota Johnson. (R) V. 85 minutes.

"Out of the Dark" -- Julia Stiles, Scott Speedman and Stephen Rea star in a ghost story about a family confronting a terrible secret. (R) V. 92 minutes. Not screened for critics.

"Two Men in Town" -- Forest Whitaker plays a penitent released convict who runs across Harvey Keitel's unforgiving, ruthless sheriff determined to put him away. With Brenda Blethyn and Ellen Burstyn. (R) L. 120 minutes.

"NH10" -- A suspense drama about a woman who barely escapes assault by a group of men, only to see it happening to another woman later. Can she help? (Hint: yes, she can!) In Hindi. (NR) 115 minutes.

"What We Do in the Shadows" -- A comedy in which a documentary film crew chronicles the trials and tribulations of four vampire roommates. A spoof on MTV's "Real World." (NR) 86 minutes.

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