News of the World

Universal Pictures
It’s hard to believe that in Tom Hanks’s illustrious 40-year career, he has never done a Western—until now. It’s not surprising, though, that it was director Paul Greengrass who was the one to convince America’s Dad to climb onto a horse and handle a six-shooter in the new movie News of the World, adapted by Greengrass and Luke Davies from the novel by Paulette Jiles.

In this new movie, coming out on Christmas Day, Hanks plays post-Civil War captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd who makes a measly living traveling from town to town in the rapidly expanding Western territories, reading news to the locals. When he comes across an orphan girl who had been kidnapped by an Indian tribe as an infant, he feels a responsibility to deliver her to the only family she has left, despite the inherent dangers of the journey.

A cross between Dances with Wolves and The Mandalorian, News of the World is a surprisingly action-packed yet deeply personal movie that lands squarely in Hanks’ wheelhouse. Reuniting with Greengrass, who previously directed him in Captain Phillips, Hanks does what he does best, giving the audience a grounded emotional center around which all matter of hell can swirl. And Greengrass does what he does best, crafting a frills-free action movie that is taut and well-paced. I have to say, seeing Tom Hanks in a shoot-out gave me much more joy than it probably should have.

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One Night in Miami

Election years always inspire artistic expression, notably in movies. This year, an election year unlike any other, we’ve already seen several documentaries and narrative films like The Trial of the Chicago 7 that have a political bent. One more film that is coming out after the election but still has extreme resonance in 2020 is One Night in Miami, the directorial debut by Oscar-winning actress Regina King.

One Night in Miami tells of an imagined gathering of four of the most significant icons of twentieth-century black culture, against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement. Set in Miami on the night of February 25, 1964, the film features political activist Malcolm X, football star Jim Brown, singer Sam Cooke and boxer Cassius Clay as friends who get together to celebrate Clay’s monumental victory earlier in the evening. While the gathering is fictional, the date is not, as it is the actual date when a young Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston to capture the heavyweight boxing championship. Clay, who would soon rename himself Muhammad Ali when he famously converts to Islam, is mentored by Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X, who, on this night, is in Miami to provide Clay spiritual guidance and support on his big night. Malcolm and Cassius are joined by Brown and Cooke, and the four embark on an evening of revelry, celebration, reflection and conflict as the events of the evening and the state of the world influence their individual paths and their mutual interests.

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There are a lot of ways that a film can feel uniquely American. It can be the tone, the setting, the soul of a movie, one that resonates with rebellion, freedom, arrogance, indulgence, despair, or independence. Recently, we have seen films like Hidden Figures, 12 Years a Slave, Hell or High Water and The Wolf of Wall Street all explore different depths of American possibilities and their often-corresponding tragedies. There have been films like Wild and Into the Wild that have examined the American need for self-reflection and escape, and films like Thelma & Louise that explore all of the above. So many films have, ingrained in them, a spirit of what makes this country all of the good and bad things it is and can be. Nomadland, from writer/director Chloé Zhao, is a film that revels in that essential American spirit, in all its strength, courage, desperation, fortitude and loneliness and it is by far one of the best films of the year.

It is somewhat ironic that a movie that feels so American is made by a Chinese filmmaker, but Zhao has managed to uniquely tap into a piece of the fabric of our country, perhaps more honestly because she wasn’t born here. Nomadland is the writer/director’s third film, following Songs My Brothers Taught Me in 2015 and the critically-acclaimed The Rider in 2017. Both of those films were modern and minimalist takes on the American Western genre, set in and telling the stories of people from the open plains, cowboys, ranchers and farmers. Zhao’s lens, both literal and emotional, stays focused on the open country of the American West in Nomadland, a film not about cowboys or ranchers, but about a different breed of people who live off the land, those who choose to journey rather than stay put, those who make their home on the open road and in the wide, open spaces that once defined this bountiful country.

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