In Paul Greengrass’ Western, Tom Hanks Sends the ‘News of the World’ and an Orphaned Girl on Their Way

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News of the World (CREDIT: Bruce W. Talamon/Universal Pictures)

Starring: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Michael Covino, Mare Winningham, Elizabeth Marvel, Thomas Francis Murphy, Bill Camp

Director: Paul Greengrass

Running Time: 118 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for A Particularly Tense Shootout and a Few Other Occasional Bursts of Western Meanness

Release Date: December 25, 2020

The title of Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks’ latest collaboration might lead you to believe that America’s Dad is finally getting his Frank Sinatra on. And while he does indeed start spreading those titular news, the focus is much more squarely on his journey with a young girl in a sort of gentler spin on The Searchers. Both elements of the story are about the importance and difficulty of communication. Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kidd, a widowed Civil War veteran who traverses the Texas frontier to tell tales of recent events of notes to whomever is willing to listen to them. During his journeys, he encounters 10-year-old Johanna (Helena Zengel), who’s been raised by the Kiowa tribe ever since they killed her German immigrant parents. She fancies herself a Kiowa now, so when the family she’s been living with is also killed, she becomes an orphan twice over. She then winds up in the captain’s care as he attempts to deliver her to her aunt and uncle, which is not a plan she’s exactly a fan of.

News of the World demonstrates the value of an unexpected title. There are only a handful of scenes of Captain Kidd delivering those news, so I don’t think I would have considered them very deeply if the title hadn’t primed me to. In a setting with rudimentary mass communication, these stories are orphans that find themselves in as precarious a position as Johanna. There is no guarantee that the ears they fall on will even accept them. They benefit immensely from a patient medium like Captain Kidd. Both the news of the world and Johanna require love and support in getting from where they are to where they need to be going. I wasn’t expecting the philosophy of Marshall McLuhan to be so starkly clear in the latest Greengrass film, but in this case, the medium absolutely is the message.

News of the World is Recommended If You Like: A kind and gentle (but not that gentle) approach to Westerns, Clutch supporting turns from Bill Camp and Elizabeth Marvel

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Wagons

This Is a Movie Review: Noah Baumbach and Adam Sandler’s Sensibilities Align Perfectly in ‘The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)’

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CREDIT: Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2017.

Starring: Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson, Grace van Patten, Judd Hirsch

Director: Noah Baumbach

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: Unrated, But It Would Probably Be (a Soft) R for Intrafamily Yelling and Artistic Nudity

Release Date: October 13, 2017 (Limited Theatrically and Streaming on Netflix)

It’s tempting to say that The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is Noah Baumbach’s version of an Adam Sandler comedy. That’s a good starting point, though it isn’t exactly right. It is most accurate to say that Baumbach happened to write a character that just happened to perfectly align with Sandler’s sensibilities. The same can also be said to a certain degree for Dustin Hoffman and Ben Stiller, two of the other Meyerowitzes with distinct styles, but it is Sandler’s shtick that leaves the most telling impression. This film could hardly be mistaken for a Happy Madison production, but it is a sort of cinematic half-sibling.

Hoffman is Harold Meyerowitz, a sculptor and retired art professor whose lack of greater commercial success is constantly referenced and bemoaned. His adult children Danny (Sandler), Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), and Matthew (Stiller) are all sorts of messed up. Danny and Jean are still recovering from all the time they didn’t have with their dad while growing up after he divorced their mother, while their half-sibling Matthew is still recovering from all the time that he did spend with Dad.

Each Meyerowtiz actor is aces in pulling off their own unique form of neuroticism, but this is primarily Sandler’s forte. It plays into his pet interests of fraught but tender father-son relationships and lovable man-children. Danny is probably talented enough to have been a professional musician, but instead he is terminally unemployed, though he occasionally crafts goofy piano-based tunes with his teenage daughter Eliza (Grace van Patten). But this is not really a matter of arrested development, as Danny tracks as a genuine adult, just one who never had to accept professional responsibility, especially because he could still manage to be a great father while retaining a childlike disposition. And I haven’t even mentioned all the moments of that patented Sandler yelling put to good use. In fact, the film opens with Danny and Eliza attempting to find a parking spot in Manhattan, a premiere situation for Sandler frustration if ever there was one.

The main narrative thrust involves the Meyerowitz siblings dealing with Harold’s extended critical hospital stay. Considering all the tension in these relationships, this could be a recipe for disaster. And while a few scuffles do break out, Danny, Jean, and Matthew instead mostly bond over their shared screwed-up natures and resolve to embrace forgiveness and gratitude. Plus, they also all get to gather around and watch Eliza’s work as a film student at Bard College, which consists of the surreal sexcapades of “Pagina Man.” It features a fair bit more nudity than you might think an 18-year-old would be comfortable sharing with her family, but despite any discomfort, they all agree she has talent. And since she comes from a family that is so naturally entertaining, how could she not?

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is Recommended If You Like: Noah Baumbach’s New York, Big Daddy, Goofy student films

Grade: 4 out of 5 Ex-Wives