John Paul Getty was a Scrooge. He figured out not only how to dredge oil from the Arabian desert but also how to haul it across the oceans in a tanker. Thus, he was not just the richest man in the world but the richest man in the history of the world. 

Director Ridley Scott has portrayed this cheapskate darkly in "All the Money in the World," based on John Pearson's book of the same title. Not only that but Scott pulled off re-shooting the film and still meeting his due date. When sexual assault allegations were made against actor Kevin Spacey, Scott re-shot the scenes of Getty with Christopher Plummer performing the role and doing a magnificent job of it.

Given that Plummer's grandson, Charlie, was already playing John Paul Getty III, the replacement Plummer makes good sense in the look-alike department. "All the Money in the World" concentrates on the kidnapping of this grandson, known as Paolo, a teenager whisked off the streets of Rome by masked men who demand $17 million in ransom. Getty refuses to pay. He does not count on the bulldog tactics of Abigail Getty, wife and then ex-wife of the second John Paul, lost to drugs and alcohol, and played well by Andrew Buchan. As Gail, Michelle Williams assumes a gravely voice with a tony accent and is utterly believable as the woman who puts her child above all the money in the world.

They are supported by Mark Wahlberg as Getty's negotiator. He asks Getty how much money it would take to make him feel secure. "More," says the miser.

Dariusz Wolski's cinematography enforces the dark story, and Daniel Pemberton's music uses scooter toots as percussion behind symphonic sounds.

"All the Money in the World" moves swiftly and ironically to tell a story of benighted values meeting headfirst against maternal loyalty.

 

As for messes, "Pitch Perfect 3" is one, a mess o'fun. From start to finish, emphasis on "mess" more than "fun," however. And, yet, when looking for 93 minutes of brainlessness with a side order of the silly, the skinny, and the singing, you can't go wrong. 

The members of the Bellas, a women's a cappella singing group, have aged out of many things after winning the national championship. Some are out of work, some quit, some have no hope. So when they are offered the chance at a reunion, they jump at it, only to discover that they were asked to be the audience for a new, younger group. As consolation, they accept the opportunity to sing for the USO with other groups with the greater possibility of being the opening act for DJ Khaled, played lazily by himself.

The women, most of whom are skinny as shivs, meet one of the other groups at a hangar in Spain. While touring, they engage in more than that, including a meeting between a daughter, Fat Amy, played as usual over the muffin top by Rebel Wilson, and her conman father, played oddly but with an Aussie accent by John Lithgow (perhaps he had a mortgage payment due?). By contrast, Aubrey's dad is a no-show, causing Anna Camp's smile to frown. Hailee Steinfeld plays the innocent Emily. Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins are back as documentarians, commenting like a chorus. 

Director Trish Sie offers some quickie edits of packing and touring and some interesting overhead shots; otherwise, she phones it in. Writers Kay Cannon, who worked on the first two Pitches in the franchise, and Mike White ("School of Rock") balance pathos with vulgarity and screeching. But, throughout, the script, these women refer to each other as "guys" or as "girls" when the abundant cleavage shown would deny those labels for these grown women.

 

Like its predecessors, from "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" to "Chicago," "The Greatest Showman" makes a strong case for the movie musical. This one is about grandness grown spectacular, a circus that offers big-tent ideas with down-home family concepts, set to tunes written by Benj Pasek and Austin Paul of "Evan Hanson" fame.

Phineas Taylor Barnum started out as a poor tailor's son, toting rolls of broadcloth, and rose to being the ringmaster of a show of sparkles on satin. He married a rich woman, despite her father's protests, and he fathered two daughters. To support them, he opened a museum of curiosities, patched together with tape and imagination. His girls suggested that the display needed to be livelier, so Barnum exploited his interest in the oddballs of life -- the dwarf, the bearded woman, the ancient woman, the tall man. They became family just as his attention was drawn away from his own family to a Swedish nightingale named Jenny Lind. When he came to his senses, it was to see the whole thing go up in smoke.

Hugh Jackman is the perfect Barnum, bent as a boy, swaggering as an impresario. He plays well off Zac Efron as Philip Caryle, his moneyman. Barnum's wife Charity is played by Michelle Williams, a great contrast to her acting as Gail Getty in "All the Money in the World." The enormous cast includes the brilliant Keala Settle as Lettie Lutz, the bearded lady, and Rebecca Ferguson as Jenny Lind, dressed in ivory white swaths of multi-foliate satin,  designed by costumer Ellen Mirojnick. Seamus McGarvey's cinematography excels from white light to snow light.

Michael Gracy's direction of Jenny Bicks' and Bill Condon's script is spectacular, warm, and grand. "The Greatest Showman" proves that Gracy understands both film and musical as genres of show business. 

 

For regular people, talk about going small means getting rid of extraneous possessions they've accumulated. But for those in director Alexander Payne's film "Downsizing," it literally involves shrinking themselves to miniature size, five inches tall, thanks to a technological breakthrough by Scandinavian scientists. Idealistic volunteers thereby help relieve the demands an increasing population makes on the environment. 

Enter Paul (Matt Damon) whose debts mount as he works at a mind-numbing call center and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) who agree to the procedure, which is explained as Paul is miniaturized. Joining his old friend Dave (Jason Sudeikis) in Leisureland, a planned community, Paul discovers a new life. 

More than in previous Hollywood productions, co-writer/director Payne proposes his science fiction concept seriously though there are amusing moments. To be sure, "Downsizing" satirizes several aspects of society, in addition to an ecological plea to minimize our impact. Payne includes subplots involving an illegal Vietnamese dissident working as a cleaning woman (Hong Chau); an unpleasantly self-indulgent neighbor exploiting the tiny world (Christoph Waltz); the lure of romance; the threat of global warming as well as money pressures and, in Paul's words, "doing something that matters." In fact, this new world isn't much different from ours, only smaller.  

The first half of this two hour film is the more intriguing and playful with Payne's social satire taking aim at topical issues. However, once in Leisureland, the episodic plot digresses, losing its focus or perhaps its confidence in the downsizing concept. Some of the humor lands, while aspects of succeeding plot points are a tad condescending and strained. Part of the problem is that co-writers Payne and Jim Taylor include enough material for another film, so much that they can only superficially address additional topics. 

Technically, the miniaturization is well executed, with some nice forced perspective shots. And it's fun watching the five inch Paul interact with full-size objects: signing his name on a document, examining a rose, being moved off the operation bed with a spatula. Over all, "Downsizing" doesn't hit a high mark, as Payne's "Nebraska" and "Sideways" did for me, but it does provide a pleasant diversion. Check local listings.

 

Writer/director Guillermo del Toro proved his inventive, impressive imagination with "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Cronos." Dodging unnecessary distractions, he taps right into primal fears and desires, embodying them in grand, elegant creatures as he again does in "The Shape of Water." The magical story begins in 1962 Baltimore in a U.S. government lab harboring an amphibian creature studied and tortured. 

As the malevolent federal agent, Army Colonel Robert Strickland asserts, "The Soviets want this asset," thereby introducing Cold War metaphors and racial prejudice. The mute Elisa, who cleans the lab, intervenes when her interaction with the fairy tale beast develops into love and understanding to the strains of Benny Goodman and the joy of eggs. Along with her colleague Zelda and friend Giles, Elisa endeavors to free her soulmate.

For interviews at the Telluride Film Festival U.S. premiere, co-writer del Toro explained that he always enjoyed monster movies until the creature transformed into a handsome prince, as in "Beauty and the Beast." By contrast, del Toro presents a tale of the fantastic that transcends species identification, arguing implicitly for understanding and gentleness against whatever prejudices we harbor. The beast as beast is the beauty.

To sell this love story, Del Toro advised Sally Hawkins, who marvelously embodies Elisa, to borrow the famous Stan Laurel's gaze and the exquisite physical control of silent film geniuses Keaton, Chaplin, and Lloyd. She shines in an inspired performance as does Doug Jones as the beast from the Amazon. As the villain Strickland, Michael Shannon is unyielding and frightening, though more nuance could have added complexity. Octavia Spencer is wonderful as friend Zelda and Richard Jenkins offers a humane presence as Giles.

Nigel Churcher's art direction and Paul Austerberry's production design add to the impact. Del Toro directed them to use aquamarine, green and blue tones alternating with amber ambience. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen shoots with a frequently moving camera adding energy. Above all, del Toro convincingly pulls us into his world with water defining every scene, the most powerful element that like love, "takes the shape of the recipient," hence the title. Love has no single defined shape or restrictive dimension. "The Shape of Water" won the prestigious Venice Film Festival Golden Lion for Best Film and Best Soundtrack. Check local listings.

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