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Action and Oscar Contenders in Theaters This Week

Hope Madden Hope Madden Action and Oscar Contenders in Theaters This WeekPhoto via IMDB.
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Sure, Oscar contender The Post finally hits CBUS screens this weekend. Not in the mood for a thoughtful, well-crafted cinematic experience? You are in luck! Liam Neeson’s newest thriller bursts its way through Columbus as well. What villainy can his particular set of skills undermine this time?

The Post

It is Oscar season, people, and we have a big story to tell. Assemble the heavy hitters!

Spielberg – check.

Tom Hanks – check.

Where do you go from there when you’re making the Big Important Film? The one with potential blockbuster legs?

Correct: Meryl Streep.

It is official: The Post has it all, beginning with the almost-too-relevant story of a newspaper casting off its personal associations to hold the government accountable by sharing actual news with citizens of the United States and the world.

“If we live in a world where the government tells us what we can and cannot print,” says Ben Bradlee by way of Tom Hanks, “the Washington Post has already ceased to exist.”

The year is 1971. The New York Times has just published parts of the Pentagon Papers, a decades-long study that proves the government lied for years about what was happening in Vietnam. The Washington Post wants desperately to be seen as one of the big news outlets, so they’re working to publish similar content of their own when Nixon decides it’s in his purview to suppress the freedom of the press.

A timely reminder of the struggle to maintain an informed public, Spielberg’s latest is also a testament to Post publisher Kay Graham (Streep). The film offers an insightful image of her difficult road and her courageous actions.

Like Spotlight, also co-written by Post co-scribe Josh Singer (writing here with Liz Hannah), this story encapsulates a watershed moment in journalism. No, not the struggle for a free press. The introduction of profit into the mix. Part of the film’s tension comes from the fact that the Pentagon Papers became available at the same time that the Post was being made public, which introduces yet another powerful contributor toward determining what is and is not deemed appropriate news: money.

It’s a lot to tackle, but naturally, Spielberg has it all well in hand, and he doesn’t limit his spectacular casting to Streep and Hanks. Look for great ensemble performances from Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Sarah Paulson, Bruce Greenwood and about 30 others.

Spielberg’s passion and polish come together here as an expertly crafted rallying cry. He’s preaching to the choir, but he preaches so well.
Grade: A-

The Commuter

In 2014, Jaume Collet-Serra directed Non-Stop, a Liam Neeson thriller that saw the down-on-his-luck Irishman with a particular set of skills trapped on a speeding vehicle with a killer, a mystery, and an outside force looking to pin some wrongdoing on him.

In 2018, Jaume Collet-Serra directed The Commuter. Same movie. Train this time.

This go-round, happily married devoted father Michael MacCauley (Neeson) gets chatted up by the lovely and mysterious Joanna (Vera Farmiga) as he heads home on his nightly commute. She poses a question: would you do one little thing—something you are uniquely qualified to do—if it landed you $100k and you had no idea of the consequences?

Well, it’s not a game and next thing you know he’s dragging his lanky frame up and down the train cars trying to find a mysterious person with a mysterious bag before his family is nabbed or someone else gets killed.

How many times do we have to see this movie? We get it, Neeson is not a man to be messed with. He’s savvy, noble and he can take a punch.

Farmiga’s always a welcome sight, and Sam Neill and Patrick Wilson contribute as they can. But mainly it’s just you, Neeson and a host of stereotypes trying to test your mystery-solving skills but not your patience.

At its best, The Commuter is a B-movie popcorn-munching ode to the forgotten middle class good guy. At its worst, a boldly predictable waste of talent littered with plot holes and weak CGI.

It’s a Liam Neeson movie. What do you want?

Grade: C-

Jane

Of all the feels stirred by Brett Morgen’s new documentary Jane, perhaps the most lasting is the wonderful rediscovery of an iconic personality we thought we knew.

And if you didn’t know Jane Goodall at all, this is an unforgettable introduction.

Goodall was a young secretary to famed archeologist Dr. Louis Leakey in 1962 when the doc dispatched her to Tanzania for a groundbreaking study of free-living chimpanzees.

Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck) was blessed with over 100 hours of 16mm footage, and he lets it breathe in a manner that is remarkably organic. These archives, swimming in a loving score from Philip Glass, put us right next to Goodall as she blazes her scientific trail.

The sense of discovery quickly becomes twofold. Goodall was experiencing things unknown to science, and we become the quiet student of her environment, as she was to the chimps of the Gombe Reserve.

Morgen also includes current memories from Goodall, now in her eighties, and her insightful commentary, interspersed as it is with striking film of her younger self embarking on a historic journey, adds a touching, heartfelt layer.

Jane’s is a remarkable story of curiosity, commitment and the passion to learn. And Jane, easily one of the best docs of 2017, is a beautiful piece of storytelling.
Grade: A-

Also opening in Columbus:
The Ballad of Lefty Brown (R)
Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (PG-13)
Ex Files 3 (NR)
Kaleidoscope (NR)
Paddington 2 (PG)
Proud Mary (R)

Reviews with help from George Wolf.

Read more from Hope at MADDWOLF, and listen to her weekly film podcast THE SCREENING ROOM.

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