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What's in theaters for Christmas: 'Downsizing,' 'The Greatest Showman,' 'Pitch Perfect 3'

By Steve Persall
In this image released by Paramount Pictures, Hong Chau, left, and Matt Damon appear in a scene from "Downsizing." (Paramount Pictures via AP) NYET603

DOWNSIZING

Alexander Payne has a great idea with Downsizing (R) and doesn’t quite know what to do with it. Tight finances lead Paul and Audrey Safranek (Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig) to join a trend of shrunken families moving to shrunken communities where a little money goes a long, long way.

Payne’s first 30 minutes are clever satire making fun use of oversized props and perspective shifts. We’re having fun learning about this wacky process from lab discovery to public awe then Neil Patrick Harris shilling an absurdly literal downsized community to prospects.

Interesting ideas for allegory are broached: bias against short people, the cult of whatever’s new, money corrupting at any size. They’re ditched — along with Wiig’s character — for Paul’s molly temptation by his Eurotrash neighbors (Christoph Waltz, Udo Kier), a grating subplot.

Eventually Paul’s quest for meaning leads to the poor side of tiny town and a no-nonsense Vietnamese refugee (Golden Globe nominee Hong Chau) who teaches him Payne’s idea of life’s meaning. It’s a shame that the director/co-writer’s philosophy is less fascinating than his set designs. C+

Greatest Showman

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN

Hugh Jackman is a Golden Globes frontrunner as circus impresario P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman (PG-13), an original musical from the composers of La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen. Michelle Williams surprises with her song-and-dance chops. Zac Efron and Zendaya co-star in a Globes nominee for best musical/comedy motion picture.

Click here to read a review.

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE

Board games are so 1995. The sequel to that year’s Robin Williams action comedy Jumanji upgrades to video games with Dwayne Johnson hitting reset. Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan are slapstick avatars for teenagers trapped in the game.

Click here to read a review.

SHAPE OF WATER

Guillermo del Toro’s sci-fi romance spins horror elements and cinephile spirit into an erotic Beauty and the Beast. A mute custodian (Sally Hawkins) at a top secret government lab falls in love with a captive merman (Doug Jones) during the Cold War. Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins are helping the creature escape; Michael Shannon wants to kill him.

Click here to read a review.

DARKEST HOUR

Golden Globe nominee Gary Oldman stars as British prime minister Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour (PG-13). Or, as it’s known at my house: What happened on the other side of the English Channel while Dunkirk was going on. Directed with a stiff upper lip by Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice).

Click here to read a review.

PITCH PERFECT 3

After their a capella world championship, the Bellas led by Anna Kendrick scattered to grown-up lives, but not for long. Pitch Perfect 3 (PG-13) reunites them for another singing competition on a USO tour. Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld and Tampa’s Brittany Snow re-enlisted; Ruby Rose is a new recruit.

Click here to read a review.

FATHER FIGURES

Fraternal twins (Owen Wilson, Ed Helms) seek their biological dad in Father Figures (R). Mom (Glenn Close) got around a lot and doesn’t know who he is. The choices include Oscar winners Christopher Walken and J.K. Simmons, NFL great Terry Bradshaw and Ving Rhames. A better choice may be to find another movie. Father Figures wasn’t screened for critics.

MOLLY’S GAME

Golden Globe nominee Jessica Chastain stars as Molly Bloom, whose high stakes poker games drew celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck until the FBI got interested. Idris Elba co-stars as her defense attorney. Molly’s Game (R) is directed and written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network), who writes like he’s paid by the word.

Click here to read a review.

ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD

How smoothly does Kevin Spacey transform into Christopher Plummer in All the Money in the World (R)? Spacey was erased from Ridley Scott’s completed film after allegations of sexual assault and replaced by Plummer, an unprecedented move. Plummer is now billionaire J. Paul Getty in a kidnap drama starring Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg.

Click here to read a review.

In theaters: Our Top 5

Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:

1 The Shape of Water: Nominated for seven Golden Globes including best drama.

2 The Greatest Showman: An original musical about P.T. Barnum starring Hugh Jackman.

3 Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Best episode in the franchise since The Empire Strikes Back.

4 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: One of 2017’s best films.

5 Lady Bird: Saoirse Ronan shines in Greta Gerwig’s directing debut.

UPCOMING RELEASES

(Dates subject to change)

Jan. 5: Insidious: The Last Key; I, Tonya

Jan. 12: The Post; Phantom Thread; The Commuter; Proud Mary; Paddington 2

Jan. 19: Call Me By Your Name; Hostiles; 12 Strong

Jan. 26: White Boy Rick; Maze Runner: The Death Cure