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More holiday movies: Jumanji, The Greatest Showman, Downsizing, Molly’s Game

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They don’t look like teens? No, in the game they become the avatars they’ve chosen to be. Part of the fun is that the actors have to plays both entities.   Muscular Dwayne Johnson is really a nerd inside. Kevin Hart is a jock. Karen Gillan is a wallflower and most amusingly, Jack Black is a highschool princess. That leads to a couple of funny sequences as she/he discovers something new, anatomically. It’s all clean, though. This film is family friendly and at times genuinely exciting. The director, Jake Kasdan, has done a lot of TV work and Karen Gillan is known from the Dr. Who series and both Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Everybody knows Dwayne Johnson. (Scotiabank, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 3 ½ out of 5

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN: P. T. Barnum was a visionary who single-handedly created show business as a spectacle and promoted diversity by putting people he called “curiosities” on display. You know, bearded lady, dog boy, the Irish giant, those sorts. Sure, and Donald Trump too is doing tremendous good for the world. You have to believe the hype and get beyond what’s not stated—Really? Tom Thumb was a child, not a dwarf?—to enjoy this original musical. It’s big, colorful and rousing and features Hugh Jackman at centre stage singing and dancing with gusto.

 

He plays Barnum as a man who drew the crowds with his freak show but craved legitimacy. He sought to please his wife’s (Michelle Williams) snooty father and be accepted by the arts elite, like the New York critic who slammed his circus as low entertainment and “a humbug.” He met Queen Victoria and brought over the leading opera star of the time, Jenny Lind, for a North American tour. Oddly, the Swedish Nightingale sings like Celine Dion in this representation. All the songs, by Oscar winners (for La La Land) by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are in a Broadway style. They’re stirring but just try to remember any after the lights come up. Zac Efron plays a financial backer who has a sweet love affair with a trapeze artist played by singer-actor-former model Zendaya. As a holiday film it’s zippy. As a biography, not reliable. (International Village, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 3 out of 5   

MOLLY’S GAME: That’s Molly Bloom, not the James Joyce character, as she has to explain several times, but the Colorado woman whose Olympic skiing dreams were crushed by an injury and found her self-worth elsewhere. She ran high stakes poker games in Hollywood and New York. Movie stars, sports luminaries and business moguls played there. So did Russian mafia types who attracted the FBI and got Bloom arrested (for skimming off some of the profits). It’s an interesting story which she told in a book and Aaron Sorkin wrote and directed into this movie. It’s talky, like his scripts for The West Wing and The Newsroom, and not exceptional in its direction, but engrossing anyway.

 

 Jessica Chastain plays Molly with sass and self-justification. Idris Elba is cool as her lawyer, Kevin Kostner is her dad and Michael Cera is a smarmy poker player, probably representing all the Hollywood a-listers who came to play but aren’t named.  There’s some unecessary repetition and some scenes go on too long. The film could have been more direct with Bloom’s own intention in telling her story: as both a cautionary tale and an encouragement to women about self-empowerment. We get all that but it’s dressed up as slick, mainstream entertainment. It was filmed in Toronto and features Graham Greene as a judge. (5th Avenue, International Village and a couple of suburban theatres, starting Christmas Day) 3 out of 5

PITCH PERFECT 3: The exuberance is there again but the story really strains this time. The young women fans won’t mind too much though. For them, the girl friendship, camaraderie and mutual support among these characters overcome the problems. And the music is as toe-tapping as ever.

 

The Bellas acapella group drifted apart since last film, to jobs that didn’t satisfy. They re-unite, get invited on to a USO show to entertain the troops in Europe and off we are again singing, dancing in energetic choreography, eyeing the young soldiers and tolerating sneers from the competition. That’s as usual. What’s different this time is that they’re in a contest to win the opening spot on a show by DJ Khaled. Eventually their leader Beca (Anna Kendrick) will have to decide whether she’ll take an offer to leave the group and go solo. Also new are the daddy issues that come on for three of the girls, most notably for Fat Amy, again played with hearty humor by Rebel Wilson. Her estranged dad (John Lithgow putting on a broad Australian accent) only wants to connect with her again although that proves to be wrong. The plot goes overboard to reveal that. The simpler girl-solidarity of the earlier films worked  far better and produced more laughs.  (Scotiabank, Marine Gateway and a few suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5

Also Now playing …

FATHER FIGURES: Warner Brothers didn’t bother showing this to the media, not locally, maybe not anywhere. That’s OK, I had lots to do so they may have done me a favor by hiding it.The few impressions I’ve found about it out there on the internet, are extremely negative.  A Hangover wanna-be gone wrong, it seems. Owen Wilson and Ed Helms play brothers who set out to find their father. Their mother had told them he’s dead but she, they learn, slept with many men in her youth. What exactly that tells you, I don’t know. (Playing in 10 theatres around here)

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