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Pugilistic pandas, gunslinging gals

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Reviews

KUNG FU PANDA 3. The third installment of this successful animated saga of anthropomorphic animals rolls in with more backstory for its panda hero, Po, otherwise known as the Dragon Master. Knowledge of the first two movies isn't really necessary to enjoy this rollicking 95 minutes, but I had seen both heading in. The role of Po, a freewheeling panda with aspirations as great as his love for dumplings and pork buns, strikes me as the perfect fit for the voice of Jack Black, whose down moments seem mostly due to being miscast (King Kong) or maybe ideally cast, given his pitch-perfect ability to play annoying jerks (High Fidelity).

He returns here in tandem with the Furious Five, whose voices include Angelina Jolie and Seth Rogen, so again there's much to like. Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) has announced his retirement, a move that flummoxes the not-quite-up-to-the-task Po, his appointed successor. And there's more at work: Enter monstrous baddie Kai (J.K. Simmons), who has been stealing the chi, the energy that flows through all things (I think I heard about something like that in another movie franchise ...) off in the spirit realm, and now seeks to do it among the mortals. Lest all this sound too murky, there's the much simpler arrival of Po's biological father, Li (Bryan Cranston). While Kai moves ahead with his nefarious plans, Po and Li journey to a distant village filled with hundreds and hundreds of pandas off in the mountains, so if you're a fan of this endearing, bamboo-eating species of the urisade family, there's that, and it's a whole lot of fun.

I'd hardly be the first person to point out how successful this particular franchise has been at generating grosses in a worldwide market in which China is an increasingly important component. But I've always liked this batch of movies, with its cranes, tigers and rabbits, for its focus on the hero's journey, the narrative structure that has shaped myths and stories for millennia and which was popularized into modern understanding by Joseph Campbell. It has run through the plots of modern cinema in everything from Star Wars to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to Dirty Dancing (trust me on that last one — it's a classic example). Departure and journey, crossing thresholds and the hero facing challenges and tests of his or her character are all strong themes in the Panda movies, especially this one, and they are better movies for it.

Kung Fu Panda 3 also adds a more relatable 21st-century wrinkle to that mix. Li, who abandoned Po when he was younger, must come to terms with that and be honest with his son, once they get past all the happiness of the reunion and head for the hills, where, of course, Po must prove himself. There's obviously much for kids to enjoy, and for grown-ups there are the beautiful, detailed, hand-drawn-looking flashback sequences. The families at my showing looked happy indeed, although having seen all those dumplings and buns up on screen, I departed with the grim knowledge that the nearest dim sum is a few counties away. PG. 95m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

JANE GOT A GUN What's up on screen is really all that counts, but throughout the history of movies, troubled productions have nagged at things. The resulting movies range from Oscar winners to duds banished to playing on regional airlines. The original director of Jane Got a Gun famously failed to show up for the first day of shooting, and things went along from there. I counted a total of 19 producer credits and five writers in the movie's closing titles, also not great signs. But let's focus on what's on screen — I can see what attracted Natalie Portman to the material, whatever it may have originally been. She's the titular Jane, a homesteader in the 1870s New Mexico territory whose husband arrives home seriously wounded from a gunfight. The backstory comes in periodic flashbacks throughout the movie, filling in the story of Jane and her two young daughters. Joel Edgertron, one of the vanful of folks who wrote the movie, is an ex-beau to whom she turns for help when a murderous gang devises to close in on her. Portman is, of course, great, but with all the flashbacks one gets the feeling that the more interesting story is not the one we're actually seeing. While it isn't terrible, it's easy to imagine there was once a better movie in there somewhere. If you do see it, try to spot the transformed Ewan McGregor; I think the guy's gone undercover. R. 98m.

David Jervis

For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards's Goat Tavern & Tea Room 630-5000.

Previews

BOY & THE WORLD. Oscar-nominated, animated tale of a boy in search of his father. PG. 120m. RICHARDS' GOAT.

THE CHOICE. Nicholas Sparks fires up the romance generator for another one, this time with a young couple at the seaside. PG13. 111m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

HAIL, CAESAR! The Coen brothers helm a comedy about a 1950s movie studio fixer hunting down a missing star. Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney and Scarlett Johansson. PG13. 106m. BROADWAY.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife who can mow down hordes of the undead. PG13. 100m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THEEB. A Bedouin boy follows his brother on a desert crossing with a British soldier during World War I in this Oscar-nominated Arabic language film. NR. 100m. RICHARDS' GOAT.

Continuing

13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI. Drama based on the 2012 terrorist attack starring John Krasinski. R13. 144m. BROADWAY

THE BOY. A woman takes a nannying gig for an English couple's life-size doll. Who knew it would turn creepy? PG13. 97m. BROADWAY.

DIRTY GRANDPA. If watching movie legend Robert DeNiro sling homophobic slurs at recovering Mousketeer Zac Efron in an unfunny buddy movie sounds like good times, fine. Do what you want. R. 102m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE FIFTH WAVE. An alien invasion with disasters, disease and body snatching. Chill — attractive teens are handling it. Starring Chlöe Grace Moretz as a young woman looking for her abducted brother. PG13. 112m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE FINEST HOURS. Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger and Casey Affleck in a true-story drama about Coasties attempting to rescue oil tankers in a New England winter storm in 1952. Bring a hot beverage. PG13. 117m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE REVENANT. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a frontier survivor Hell-bent on revenge in a gorgeous, punishing Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu film that offers little beyond beauty and suffering. R. 156m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. The writing and visuals are a bit too faithful to the original, but they work in this nostalgic return. Leads John Boyega and Daisy Ridley are as compelling as more familiar faces. PG13. 135m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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David Jervis

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