THE COMMUTER [PG-13] C+
Once upon a time, we thought Liam Neeson would command the screen and gain glory in Oscar-bait productions, especially after this nominated turn in “Schindler’s List.” Instead he has become the go-to guy for flashy action vehicles (see the “Taken” trilogy) and more mature thrills (“The Grey” and “Batman Begins”). His latest collaboration with Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra (following “Unknown,” “Non-Stop,” and “Run All Night”) extends their fevered genre run, but it seems like Neeson might finally be slowing down a bit. Facing off against an impossible conspiracy, his character isn’t as invincible as we’ve come to expect, but then again neither is the narrative (which back in the day, would have been pitched as “Die Hard on a Train”). With so much “fake” drama in the news, maybe discerning audiences are interested in more than mindless escapism at the multiplex. I know I am.
PADDINGTON 2 [PG] B
There’s genuine affection in Paul King’s second blending of live-action and animation, which focuses on the ongoing tale of Paddington (voiced by Ben Whislaw), a Peruvian immigrant bear living in London with his adopted family (headed up by Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins) and proving to be a solid and quite capable contributor to his community. Working odd jobs to pay for a surprise gift for his Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton), who is on the verge of celebrating her 100thbirthday, Paddington encounters resistance in the form of a scheming rogue (Hugh Grant), but the bear and his extended family keep hope alive and inspire young audiences to do the same. The talented cast never condescends to the material, which guarantees that every moment and emotion matters.
THE POST [PG-13] B-
Steven Spielberg kicks “The Post” off with a warfare sequence in Vietnam that, while not nearly as harrowing as anything in “Saving Private Ryan,” captures the deadly frenzy of combat in the jungle and sets up an expectation for a hellish journey into the bureaucratic minefield that was the Nixon administration. Instead, once the film lands squarely in the US, it becomes a soundly square and talky affair about the efforts of Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female newspaper publisher and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) to turn the Washington Post into a winning media player. The film lacks the investigative edge and bite that “Spotlight” gave us in every frame, replacing that drive with rah-rah speechifying and heavy-handed parallels to our current political moment. Streep and Hanks soldier on, as only they can, convincing us that this fight matters, but “The Post” feels like old news.
PROUD MARY [R] C
I wanted to like “Proud Mary” more than I did, and now I’m trying to figure out why it failed to win me over. Was it because the movie was promoted as a possible action-oriented affair – a Blaxploitation version of “Atomic Blonde” – that never hit those adrenalized heights? Or was it because Taraji P. Henson was stranded in an ill-defined role that couldn’t make up its mind whether she was supposed to be a badass, a lover, or a maternal type? I would have been proud to get behind her and the movie, if the story had given me reason to see her as a person and not a barely-sketched collection of traits and labels. Credit Henson for making this affair as engaging as it is.