The Golden Globes and the Critics Choice Awards are now in the rear-view, as two big award-hopeful films see release this weekend. One is Steven Spielberg's star-studded story about the Pentagon Papers and the other features an Oscar-winning actor's last film role (so he tells us) before retirement. And oh yeah, there is some mindless fare you can find at the box office as well, if award movies aren't really your thing.
Here are reviews of the new films seeing release this Friday, January 12th, 2018:
Timely and important, Steven Spielberg's latest work of art is "The Post", a film that tells the controversial story of the leaked "Pentagon Papers," a damning report about a government conspiracy that stretched over the course of four different Presidencies. It was scandal that acted as a precursor to Watergate, and told from this perspective (by screenwriting team Liz Hannah and Josh Singer), it shows the absolute and vital importance of a free press in a democratic society.
With Spielberg at the helm and Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep leading the way, this was a hard project to screw up...there is talent and experience dripping from every frame of this film. Great, accredited actors fill out even the smallest of roles, from Bob Oedenkirk to Tracy Letts to Sarah Paulson, from Bradley Whitford to Jesse Plemons to David Cross, from Alison Brie and Bruce Greenwood to the rising-phenomenon that is Carrie Coon. It's a story set in newsroom offices and back alleys, where important men (and women) talk about important things. In fact, it's a marvel that a film about a leaked document is able to muster as much drama and tension as "The Post" does.
Streep is at center, playing Kay Graham, whose family ran the Washington Post through this tumultuous time in American history. Hanks plays Ben Bradlee, the old-school news-man and journalist who played a pivotal role in challenging the federal government despite facing threats both personal and political. These two key figures fought to release a story they felt the public ought to know, and one that those in power tried their damnedest to cover up.
"The Post" is clearly one of the best films of the year, featuring one of the best ensembles. It is a straight-forward affair though, and may not possess the personality or style to land it any awards (although it will appear in every conversation to be had). Still, it's required viewing for any American, as its messages are more important now than ever. This is a slice of history that feels disturbingly modern.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History. Run Time: 1 hour 56 minutes.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Bob Oedenkirk, Carrie Coon, David Cross, Tracy Letts, Sarah Paulson, Bruce Greenwood, Alison Brie, Jesse Plemons.
Directed by Steven Spielberg ("Bridge of Spies," "Lincoln," "War Horse," "Munich," "Schindler's List," "Jurassic Park," "Saving Private Ryan.").
Paul Thomas Anderson is one hell of a director, to the point that many of his fans will follow him blindly no matter the subject or the consequences (where does that sound familiar?). Not a huge fan of his recent films ("Inherent Vice" and "The Master" both left this critic feeling cold), "Phantom Thread", is his best work in a decade, since "We Will Be Blood" (which also starred Daniel Day-Lewis).
Day-Lewis - in his supposed final film role after announcing that he will retire - plays an eccentric and very particular dressmaker who enters into a very strange relationship with a young worker, Alma (Vicky Kreips). His cruelly astute sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) advises him against the unwanted distraction, but the attraction is too strong to deny...even if the "attraction" isn't what you might think it is.
This is deft filmmaking by Anderson, a movie where every shot has a lyrical quality to it. It draws you in with its melancholy, with a score by Jonny Greenwood that is both haunting and mesmerizing. Kreips is absolutely stunning and holds her own against the force of nature that is Daniel Day-Lewis, but where the story leads may be a bit much for the casual movie-goer. That being said, "Phantom Thread" is one of the better films of the year, and a fitting book-end to the career of Day-Lewis, if this is indeed his final performance.
Genre: Drama, Romance. Run Time: 2 hours 10 minutes.
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Kreips, Leslie Manville.
Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson ("Inherent Vice," "The Master," "There Will Be Blood," "Punch-Drunk Love," "Magnolia," "Boogie Nights").
To balance out all of the good that this week has to offer, we are given a heavy dose of the bad, in the form of the throw-away action flick, "The Commuter". To call it a complete and utter train-wreck would be a bit on-the-nose.
Liam Neeson plays an insurance salesman and ex-cop who loses everything, just before being offered a strange proposal by a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) on a commuter train in New York. He is told that he has to find a person on the train that "doesn't fit," before they reach an upcoming stop. If he does so, he will get a large sum of money that might help him out of his dire straits, but of course, there is much more going on here...or we would like to think there is, anyways.
What we're left with is one of the most implausible and uninteresting action movies of 2018. Yes, we're only two weeks in, but this is the brand of bad that might just hold up and last all the way to many year-end "worst" lists. Neeson is collecting a paycheck here, and the audience is trapped in this train far longer than any of us want to be. The action sequences ping-pong between poorly-plotted and flat-out impossible, and the dialogue is terrible at best. It's no surprise this movie was dumped into the frigid wasteland known as a January release date...if given the option to jump on "The Commuter," you're better off taking the bus.
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama. Run Time: 1 hour 44 minutes.
Starring: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Sam Neill.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra ("The Shallows," "Run All Night," "Non-Stop," "House of Wax").
"Paddington Bear 2"
This film was not reviewed and opens in wide-release this weekend.
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy. Run Time: 1 hour 43 minutes.
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville.
Directed by Paul King ("Paddington," "Bunny and the Bull").
All of these movies open Friday, January 12th, 2018. Check here for show times.
Reviews next week include: "Den of Thieves,"Small Town Crime."