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+
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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