Thursday, April 14, 2022

'Father Stu' and newest 'Beasts' each tries hard to convert the masses

Wahlberg's "Stu" at church.
Mark Wahlberg has changed body type for various movie roles throughout a nearly three-decade Hollywood career. Now, he gets to show off a spiritual side to shape "Father Stu," the real life-priest he portrays in a faith-based film arriving just in time for the holy Easter holiday.

For what might be the actor's best performance since his Oscar-nominated turn in 2006 Best Picture "The Departed," he again goes through a plot-induced transformation that takes him body and soul from bruising boxer to aspiring, if somewhat delusional actor and, finally, to inspirational man of God.

There's another unexpected physical twist down the emotional stretch, but it's Wahlberg's ability to have us believe his foul-mouthed crusader actually might relate to the stained masses that makes a pivotal difference in Stu's very Catholic conversion. 

The church-going Wahlberg's personal passion project gets strong help from worthy parental turns by Jackie Weaver and Mel Gibson, whose often angry roles finally earn some softer moments, too. Still, the story's most positive presence comes from Teresa Ruiz, as the religious young woman who instigated Stu's reclamation in the first place. 

By the way, producer Wahlberg might have received a real blessing with the casting of ever-grand Malcolm McDowell, on hand here as Stu's pastor. The British star played perhaps filmdom's most sadistic bad boy in Stanley Kubrick's now 50-year-old classic, "A Clockwork Orange."  

Rated "R" by MPAA: for language throughout; 2:04; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

While on the subject of the dark side, the special-effects witchcraft in "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" truly is the reason to see this third franchise effort to convert "Harry Potter" fans to watch more wizardry from author-turned screenwriter J.K. Rowling.

As for story, rate it somewhere between Rowling's superior and original "Beasts" of 2016 and her disappointing "Grindelwald" sequel of 2018. Certainly the fun of the former does not seriously return in this latest, though the daunting presence of Mads Mikkelsen, chosen to replace the limply weird Johnny Depp as the latter's powerful and unquestionable villain of the piece, just about really does move mountains.  

Here, Grindelwald's genuine evil shows up early in a lunch meeting with the kind Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). Presumably so does the first of the titled "Secrets," and then maybe this film's most engaging character, Professor of Charm Eulalie Hicks (Jessica Williams), nicely recruited to help the series' mainstays keep things right. Most notably, those would be creature keeper Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and funny Muggle sidekick/baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler).

Meanwhile, most "Fantastic Beasts" in this third installment of same remain vital and deserving of such billing. If you haven't viewed the first two, though, catching up on them probably will make getting through this one less, uh . . . tricky. 

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some fantasy/action violence; 2:22; $ $ $ out of $5

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