The Commuter

Lord do I love style-is-substance king Jaume Collet-Serra, who once again works with his go-to leading man Liam Neeson on The Commuter. Collet-Serra makes stupid movies that never seem that stupid – an incredible feat. Here, he has Neeson as a commuter (just like the title!) who is caught in the middle of a deadly game on a speeding train. It’s pretty ludicrous, but Collet-Serra and Neeson play it all very straight, and that’s what makes it work. There are so many camera tricks on display here that at times it feels like The Commuter is less a movie and more a magic show. Before the opening credits have even ended, Collet-Serra has staged an amusing, captivating montage that takes us through several months in Neeson’s life to introduce us to him and his family. As long as Collet-Serra is making movies like this, I will happily watch them.

Special Features To Note:

We only get two special features here. The first is “End of the Line”, a super-quick behind-the-scenes featurette about the writing of the script, and the basics of the story. Boiler-plate, although at one point one of the writers has the nerve to compare the story to something Hitchcock would make – that takes guts! Then there’s “Off the Rails”, which is all about Jaume Collet-Serra’s stylistic direction. This is brief, but it’s worth watching just because Collet-Serra is such a fascinating filmmaker. This featurette also stresses that, overall, The Commuter is a simple story that just happens to feature a very complicated (perhaps overly complicated) construction.

Special Features Include:

  • “End of the Line” Featurette
  • “Off the Rails” Featurette

 

Winchester

Winchester has way too many jump scares, but as an exercise in production design and gothic melodrama, it’s a winner. Helen Mirren is Sarah Winchester, an heiress to a fortune built on blood. What’s a lonely rich widow to do but continually have her giant house under construction to stave off ghosts? This is all pretty preposterous, but Mirren is such a pro that she makes it work. Also helping matters: Jason Clarke, as a tormented doctor sent to see if Sarah Winchester might be crazy and making this whole ghost business up.

A smarter script could’ve turned Winchester into a meditation on gun control – the ghosts are apparently the spirits of those murdered by Winchester weapons. But the Winchester script is never wise or clever enough to make this work. I was never once interested in the story Winchester is telling, but I did find myself entranced by the look of the film – from the cinematography to the set design, Winchester is a feast for the eyes. Also, there’s a scene in this film where Mirren tells a horde of ghosts, “Go to your rooms!” as if she’s grounding them. And best of all: the ghosts listen, stalking off and slamming doors like a group of grumpy kids.

Special Features To Note:

There’s only one special feature here, “Driven by the Spirits: The Making of Winchester”, but it ends up being a  pretty in-depth look at the making of the film. The primary focus of this featurette isn’t really on the story, though – it’s on the sets and costume design, which should probably tell you everything you need to know about Winchester.  We learn that the filmmakers tried very hard to recreate the actual house from scratch on sound stages. There’s also a lot of focus on Helen Mirren, which makes sense – she’s so damn good she elevates this material, and it was a boon to get her for this film. 

Special Features Include:

  • “Driven by the Spirits: The Making of Winchester” Featurette

 

Hostiles

Hostiles is unrelentingly bleak and grim, so much so that when I first saw it, I mentally checked-out. It felt like misery for the sake of misery, and I just wasn’t in the mood. Revisiting the film, however, I was more receptive to the revisionist Western that director Scott Cooper was trying to craft. I still don’t think Hostiles is 100% successful, but it’s a film with a lot on its mind, and it deserves to be experienced (if you can stomach all the violence). Christian Bale is, as usual, very good, playing an army captain forced to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi, fantastic here) back to tribal land. Rosamund Pike steals most of the movie as a traumatized widow who joins the party. What follows is a meditative anti-Western that conjures up memories of The Assassination of Jesse James. It’s ultimately a brutal film about brutal people traversing a brutal landscape, but there’s poetry in here too.

Special Features To Note:

“A Journey to the Soul: The Making of Hostiles” is a three part documentary all about the making of the film. It’s a bit dry, and a bit too self-serious at times. Still, there’s a lot of insight here, and it’s clear that this was a project very important to director Scott Cooper. Cooper says he always wanted to make a Western, but that he also wanted it to have it have relevance to what’s happening in America today. He goes on to call the film a journey into a heart of darkness, adding: “It’s a film about understanding the ways and lives of others.” The cast also talk about their parts, and Christian Bale goes into his process a little bit. He reveals that when it comes time for him to pick a role, he tends to go with a gut-feeling rather than anything else. It’s a small but pivotal insight into one of the best actors working today. 

Special Features Include:

  • “A Journey to the Soul: The Making of Hostiles” 3-Part Documentary
    • “Provenance” Featurette
    • “Removing the Binds” Featurette
    • “Don’t Look Back” Featurette

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