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Spring movie preview: It's a new season at theaters, too

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From "Insurgent" to "Furious 7," a look at March and April movie offerings

From Shailene Woodley and Vin Diesel to Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, the stars of March and April movies run the gamut. Sean Penn will play a former special ops agent his very dramatic way — just what you'd expect from a two-time Oscar winner. Fans of fantasy can look forward to "Tris" Prior in "Insurgent," and there are also tales of immortality and intense crime. Here are eight of the biggest films of the season.

The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Release date: Today

Premise: Beatrice "Tris" Prior (Shailene Woodley) continues the fight against a powerful alliance that began in "Divergent" and will go on in two more announced sequels. That should please fans of Veronica Roth's series of novels.

What to expect: If you loved "Divergent," you'll be happy to see Woodley and Theo James (as Four) again. Kate Winslet, Miles Teller and Ansel Elgort return as well. But there's a new director, Robert Schwentke, and he has been announced for the next film. Does that mean this sequel will be better than the original?

The Gunman

Release date: Today

Premise: Former special ops agent Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) scrambles to figure out why top hit men are after him.

What to expect: This thriller will allow Penn to play a troubled hero trying to save himself and the woman he loves. Director Pierre Morel scored a major hit with "Taken," so Penn may be moving in on Liam Neeson's territory in this violent, kinetic thriller. The strong supporting cast includes Idris Elba, Oscar-winner Javier Bardem, Mark Rylance and Ray Winstone.

Get Hard

Release date: March 27

Premise: A wrongly convicted millionaire (Will Ferrell) seeks help to prepare for prison from an unlikely source: a car-wash worker (Kevin Hart) who hasn't been in the big house.

What to expect: This very broad comedy depends on the Ferrell-Hart chemistry. Hart has a tendency to upstage everyone, and Ferrell seems to be trying harder than ever. Hart spoofs stereotypes, and Ferrell suffers extravagantly. Etan Cohen directed and co-wrote this zany concoction. Can they make the idea of prison funny?

Furious 7

Release date: April 3

Premise: One more frantic ride with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. And Walker may be a major draw because he died during production in a car crash unrelated to this film.

What to expect: The much-viewed trailer presents amazing automotive stunts, such as cars parachuting from a plane and an edge-of-cliff stunt for Walker. Fans also can expect gunfire, bikinis, tears and Diesel's tough dialogue. Jason Statham plays the villain targeting the heroic team. The cast features Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Kurt Russell and Lucas Black of "NCIS: New Orleans." This is one movie that will be critic-proof.

The Longest Ride

Release date: April 10

Premise: In another romance from novelist Nicholas Sparks, battling young lovers learn that true affection needs patience. Their teacher is an elderly man injured in a car accident who looks back on his own love story.

What to expect: Scott Eastwood, son of Clint, plays a determined rodeo rider who falls for a sophisticated, big-city woman (Britt Robertson of the upcoming "Tomorrowland"). They squabble over the rodeo's dangers to his health. In a fateful stroke — which Sparks is famous for — they rescue an old man (TV legend Alan Alda) who is very quotable. The "M*A*S*H" star delivers lines like: "Not everybody gets happily ever after." "Love requires sacrifice, but it's worth it." This movie may be critic-proof.

The Moon and the Sun

Release date: April 10

Premise: Pierce Brosnan plays King Louis XIV, who longs for immortality and tries to get it through a sea creature.

What to expect: This fantasy is based on Vonda N. McIntyre's novel, which won the Nebula Award in 1998 as outstanding science-fiction or fantasy novel. (She beat George R.R. Martin, who was nominated for "A Game of Thrones.") The cast includes Oscar-winner William Hurt, Rachel Griffiths, Pablo Schreiber and Benjamin Walker. The movie is a real mystery, but it doesn't sound critic-proof

Child 44

Release date: April 17

Premise: Tom Rob Smith's chilling novel becomes an intense screen thriller. In 1952, a military policeman investigates a string of child murders in the Soviet Union, where murder officially doesn't happen.

What to expect: Tom Hardy plays the policeman, a hopeful sign. And there are more: Novelist Richard Price wrote the screenplay. The strong cast includes Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace, Charles Dance, Jason Clarke and Joel Kinnaman. The wild card is director Daniel Espinosa ("Easy Money," "Safe House").

The Age of Adaline

Release date: April 24

Premise: A woman, born in 1908, gains immortality after a car accident. But she doesn't know how to live, which is a real waste of immortality.

What to expect: Blake Lively takes the glamorous lead role. The people who age in her story include Harrison Ford and Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn. Michiel Huisman of "Game of Thrones" plays a young hunk smitten with Adaline. Lee Toland Krieger ("Celeste & Jesse Forever") directed what looks like a swank soap opera, the kind that used to star Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Will Lively have the star power to make immortality look like a problem?

More movies to look out for

All release dates are for the Baltimore area and subject to change.

"Home": Animated tale about an alien (the cuddly kind) who forms friendships with humans while on the run. Features the voices of Jim Parsons, Rihanna and Steve Martin. (March 27)

"Woman in Gold": Oscar-winner/perfect human being Helen Mirren stars as a woman seeking justice for what happened to her family 60 years ago during World War II. Also stars Ryan Reynolds and Katie Holmes. (April 1)

"Desert Dancer": Iranian-set story about a woman (Freida Pinto) forming an underground dance company during a particularly volatile time in her country. (April 17)

"Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2": Kevin James returns for the further adventures of the titular security guard. This time shenanigans ensue when he's on vacation with his daughter in Las Vegas. (April 17)

"Unfriended": A teenager and her friends are stalked by a mysterious online presence in this horror flick. (April 17)

"Monkey Kingdom": Disney's now-annual Earth Day-timed documentary focuses this year on a young monkey mother in southern Asia. (April 17)

"Little Boy": Emily Watson and Kevin James (yes, again) star in this 1940s-set drama about a boy trying to bring his dad home from World War II. (April 24)

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