Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

01/03/2018

All the Money in the World
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — By turns suspenseful, darkly comic and stridently moral, “All the Money in the World” (Sony), a slightly fictionalized account of a famous kidnapping, makes a strong case that immense wealth not only can’t buy happiness, it also imposes depths of misery that few ever know.

As scripted by David Scarpa from John Pearson’s 1995 book “Painfully Rich,” it’s an outstanding example of multilayered, mature filmmaking from director Ridley Scott.

Occasionally some leaden dialogue, meant to underline a point, slows down the proceedings. But overall, Scott lays out the story so carefully, he doesn’t miss a nuance in all the ways that riches can cloud judgments and warp the soul.

The film is based on the 1973 abduction, in Rome, of John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer). The victim was the feckless 16-year-old grandson of J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), an oil tycoon who was, at that time, the world’s only billionaire. The teen muses in a voiceover, “It’s like we’re from another planet where the force of gravity is so strong, it bends the light.”

Unlike Howard Hughes, Getty wasn’t a recluse. But his notion of interpersonal relations went far beyond mere eccentricity.

He ensconced himself in baronial splendour outside London, imagined himself the reincarnation of the Roman emperor Hadrian, and was so miserly that he had a phone booth installed for the use of his houseguests. He also collected ancient art, reasoning that artworks, unlike people, contain a kind of creative soul that might give him comfort — or at the least, wouldn’t annoy him about his wealth.

“Everything has a price,” he grumbles. “The great struggle in life is coming to grips with what that price is.”

In another moment of clarity, he concedes that wealth of his scope always “ruins the children.”

So when his grandson is kidnapped and a demand of $17 million follows, the old man refuses to even consider it on the excuse that, by co-operating, he would subject his 14 other grandchildren to a similar risk.

This puts him into immediate conflict with his former daughter-in-law, Gail (Michelle Williams), the lone moral force of the story. Gail had refused alimony when she and Getty’s alcoholic son, John Paul Getty II (Andrew Buchan), divorced. In exchange, she asked for full custody of their son.

Gail has since gotten by without the old man’s money. She’s immune to the blandishments of riches. But now she has to deal with the kidnappers — who occasionally get in touch via non-traceable pay-phone calls — with the help of ex-CIA agent Fletcher Chace (Mark Wahlberg).

The captors, including John Paul’s “minder,” Cinquanta (Romain Duris), are confused to find that they’re dealing with a dysfunctional family. Their expectations of reasonable, “moral” decisions from Getty are confounded at every turn.

They eventually sell the boy to another, more violent, group who finally get the world’s attention months later when, in another famous moment, they slice off a portion of his right ear and mail it to a newspaper.

Most of the plot is taken up with Gail and Fletcher devising strategies to out-negotiate both the old man and the kidnappers without descending into panic. The result is a complex exploration of large questions about human behaviour that never veers into pedantry and that many grown viewers will find compelling.

The film contains mature themes, fleeting gore and frequent rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — More than a few parents have, no doubt, had occasion to be alarmed at how easily — and how often — kids become absorbed by gadgetry these days.

Perhaps they can take comfort in the fact that such preoccupation is nothing compared to what transpires in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” (Columbia).

This amusing comic adventure finds a quartet of teens magically transported into an old video game where they inhabit the avatars they chose before the start of play.

Most of the laughs come from the contrast between the characters’ real-life personas and the bodies and personalities they take on within their new environment. Thus nervous nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff) becomes muscle-bound he-man archaeologist Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson).

Football star “Fridge” (Ser’Darius Blain) dwindles into diminutive zoologist Franklin “Moose” Finbar (Kevin Hart). Self-absorbed cheerleader-type Bethany (Madison Iseman) mutates, to her horror, into dumpy cartographer Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black). And good-hearted but shy Martha (Morgan Turner) blossoms into fierce babe Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), a specialist in “dance fighting.”

As the group faces and overcomes a series of challenges in their quest to win the game — the only means of re-emerging from it — they learn familiar Hollywood lessons about the value of teamwork and the courage required to pursue cherished dreams.

The various transformations the cast undergoes recall, at times, those of Dorothy’s companions along the Yellow Brick Road. At other points, the personal conversions and belated camaraderie experienced by the adolescent denizens of John Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club” seem to be summoned up from way back when (1985, to be precise).

All this might be fine for the initial ensemble’s peers in the audience. Especially since, in crafting a film that is more a variant on than a sequel to 1995’s “Jumanji” — though it’s based, like its predecessor, on Chris Van Allsburg’s 1981 children’s book — director Jake Kasdan keeps his picture’s conflicts almost completely bloodless.

In the end, however, some off-colour gags and a considerable amount of vulgarity in the dialogue render this strictly grownup fare. Much is made, for instance, of Bethany’s fascination with a certain addition to her inventory of body parts while her flirtatious romance with Alex (Nick Jonas), a longtime captive in the game the newcomers run across, plays on the gay subtext of her male avatar falling for the lad.

Similarly, set-pieces showcasing Ruby’s fighting skills, while theoretically empowering, are in reality merely exploitative.

Still, for mature viewers there is fun to be had from this trek through the jungle. But its undergrowth is too thick for the tread of kids.

The film contains gunplay and other combat violence, some of it harsh but with minimal gore, at least one use of profanity and a couple of milder oaths, sexual and anatomical humour, a single rough term as well as a few crude and numerous crass words. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

Pitch Perfect 3
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — The third time’s not a charm for “Pitch Perfect 3” (Universal), a discordant and exceedingly unfunny musical comedy.

Although this second sequel in the five-year-old film franchise, directed by Trish Sie (“Step It Up All In”), reunites the cast of both previous movies, and features the expected toe-tapping tunes and lowbrow humour, it lacks originality and runs out of steam well before the end credits roll.

Picking up where 2015’s “Pitch Perfect 2” left off, the Bellas, the award-winning a capella singing group, have graduated from fictional Barden University and entered the adult world.

Job prospects, however, are slim. Beca (Anna Kendrick) longs for her big break as a music producer. Chloe (Brittany Snow) can’t get into veterinary school. Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) impersonates her namesake, the late Amy Winehouse, in her usual tasteless fashion.

Stacie (Alexis Knapp) is a personal trainer who is easily distracted by her male clients — resulting in an out-of-wedlock pregnancy (fortunately, she keeps the baby).

What these ladies really want to do is sing again as a team. So when Aubrey (Anna Camp) suggests they reunite and join an overseas USO tour, the Bellas are back.

“Pitch Perfect 3” turns into a road movie, a silly romp through military bases in Spain, France, Italy and Greece, each location offering an opportunity to showcase the bad behaviour of these chanteuses, particularly Fat Amy.

“Yeah, well, we don’t do anything with dignity, OK?” she responds to an offended colleague. Indeed, they do not.

The USO tour is also a competition. Hip-hop artist DJ Khaled (playing himself) seeks a new opening act, and the Bellas are one of four groups in contention. Former judges Gail (Elizabeth Banks) and John (John Michael Higgins) show up to shoot a documentary about the quest.

A ridiculous subplot involving Fat Amy’s long-lost father, Fergus (John Lithgow), who seeks to embezzle her previously undisclosed inheritance, offers the chance for spy antics and pyrotechnics — a feeble attempt to inject vitality into a franchise running on empty.

The film contains an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, vulgar humour, sexual banter and a couple of crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

Father Figures
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — About the funniest joke in the threadbare comedy “Father Figures” (Warner Bros.) concerns the fact that, in childhood, its two main characters — now-grown and estranged fraternal twins Kyle (Owen Wilson) and Peter (Ed Helms) Reynolds — had a pet cat named chair Meow.

That historical pun aside, though, there’s precious little that’s revolutionary about the film that surrounds this duo.

Reluctantly reunited by the second wedding of their supposedly widowed mother, Helen (Glenn Close), bored-with-his-life proctologist Peter and carefree beach bum Kyle are in for a surprise. The man Helen long ago told them was their deceased father was, it seems, just a friend of hers.

So their real dad may, in fact, still be alive — though Helen’s promiscuous past makes it impossible for her to identify for sure which of many candidates he might be. This discovery launches the siblings on a road trip during which they visit a series of contenders, the first being famed football star Terry Bradshaw, playing himself.

As Terry and the lads toss the old pigskin around on a Florida beach, director Lawrence Sher’s formulaic feature debut quickly sinks into a stupor from which only an energetic turn from Katt Williams as a hitchhiker can it briefly emerge.

Predictable developments include, most obviously, the gradual repair of the breach between the temperamentally diverse brothers. But subplots concerning Kyle’s money troubles and divorced Peter’s efforts to get back on track romantically are equally easy to anticipate.

Kyle’s interest in serving as Peter’s “wingman” by facilitating a casual encounter is symptomatic of the fact that the movie’s distasteful premise is matched by a worm’s-eye view of human sexuality throughout. The resolving plot twist can, however, be seen as vaguely pro-life.

The film contains pervasive sexual and some scatological humour, an incest theme, a premarital bedroom scene, about a dozen uses of profanity, a couple of milder oaths and constant rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

Downsizing
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — An odd combination of elements makes up the offbeat drama “Downsizing.” But the residue that remains with viewers is ultimately a positive one.

On the dramatic level, what begins as a curious sci-fi fantasy about a futuristic technology people can use to shrink themselves (and thereby greatly reduce the toll they take on the environment) becomes a deeply humane, faith-tinged story once it veers off in an unexpected direction.

Early scenes are only marginally engaging as we follow the typical suburban life of Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), an in-house physical therapist at the Nebraska headquarters of Omaha Steaks.

Strapped for cash and anxious to improve their lifestyle, Paul and wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to “go small.” They do so on the assurance that their relatively meager life savings will be multiplied in value many times in their new, miniature environment — a luxurious community for the diminutive known as Leisureland.

The film tarries to show the details of the medical procedure, then ambushes Paul with unexpected news. Waking up from the irreversible operation, he discovers that a panicked, selfish Audrey has decided, at the last possible moment, to stay big.

A messy divorce ensues in which Audrey manages to fleece Paul. As a result, Paul is reduced to working as a phone salesman and living in a modest apartment instead of the ostentatious McMansion he and Audrey had chosen in Leisureland.

Attending a wild party thrown by his upstairs neighbour, cynical yet strangely likable Serbian businessman Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz), Paul uncharacteristically decides to experiment with an unknown drug and wakes up on Dusan’s floor the next morning much the worse for wear.

Paul seems to have hit rock bottom, at least temporarily. Yet his life is about to be transformed by his interaction with Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau in a powerful performance), one of the maids who arrive to clean up the post-party mess.

A Vietnamese refugee who gained brief notoriety as the only survivor of a group escaping from her homeland — where, as an outspoken dissident-turned-political-prisoner, she had been forcibly downsized by her captors — Ngoc, who lost part of her leg to amputation after being rescued, introduces Paul to a lifestyle and set of priorities entirely at odds with his own.

Accompanying her to the outlying slum where she lives, Paul witnesses the daily round of charitable giving in which Ngoc engages, distributing the food cast off by her various wealthy employers. In case he’s in any doubt as to the inspiration for her generosity, she then announces that their next stop will be the evangelical chapel where she enthusiastically worships.

Paul feels compelled to help Ngoc because his attempt to use his professional skills to fix her faulty prosthesis, soon after their first meeting, went badly awry, leaving her immobilized. And Ngoc, it turns out, is as feisty and even dictatorial as she is selfless.

Director and co-writer Alexander Payne’s conversion story, penned with Jim Taylor, goes on to juxtapose contemporary urban values against the more traditional and substantial ones espoused by Ngoc, and forces Paul to make a fundamental choice between them. He also has to decide whether a sexual encounter with Ngoc is to be an isolated incident or the inappropriate prelude to something more lasting.

Dusan’s eccentric charisma — he’s at once both sardonic and somehow warmhearted — and the spice that enlivens Ngoc’s personality keep the picture’s tone from sliding into sentimentality. So, despite its aesthetic and moral rough spots, overall, “Downsizing” turns out to have considerable appeal for a mature audience.

The film contains full nudity in a medical context, off-screen premarital sexual activity, acceptability of divorce, drug use, a few uses of profanity as well as frequent rough and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Copyright (c) 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops