Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
Seventeen years ago, Harrison Ford grumbled four simple words that defined a genre, a demographic, and a country: "Get off my plane." In a pre-9/11 world, there was no shortage of jingoistic glee in a movie like Air Force One, in which a man's man American president doled out justice to a militia of Russian loyalist terrorists who made the silly mistake of attempting to hijack his flight home from Moscow. In 2014, we don't have the luxury of facing a plotline like this with reckless merriment. There's a damp gravity to the premise behind movies like Non-Stop, which in another time would have been nothing more than Taken on a Plane. But rigidly conscious of the connotations that attach to a story about a hijacking of a civilian international flight into John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, Non-Stop doesn't play too fast and loose. It still plays, and has some good fun doing so, but carefully.
From the getgo, we're anchored into the grim narrative of Liam Neeson's U.S. Air Marshall Bill Marks, who settles his demons with a healthy spoonful of whiskey. A dutiful officer even when liquored up, Marks eyeballs every nameless face in London's Heathrow Airport, silently introducing the bevvy of characters who'll come into play later on. After takeoff, Marks finds himself on the unwitting prowl for the anonymous party who's attempting to take down the red-eye through a series of manipulative text messages, well-timed threats, and clandestine killings. Chatty passenger Julianne Moore and flight attendant Michelle Dockery join Marks in his efforts to identify the mysterious criminal before the entire aircraft falls to his or her whims. So less Taken, more Murder, She Wrote.
Our roundup of suspects challenges our (and their) preconceived notions, and quite laughably — most vocal among Neeson's fellow passengers are a white beta-male school teacher (Scoot McNairy), a black computer engineer with an attitude of entitlement (Nate Parker), a softspoken Middle Eastern surgeon whose headwear gets more than a few focal shots (Omar Metwally), a middle-aged white businessman whose latest account landed him more than your house is worth (Frank Deal), an irate black youngster draped in irreverence (Corey Hawkins), and a white, bald, machismo-howling New York cop who secretly accepts his gay brother (Corey Stoll). Just a few talking heads short of Do the Right Thing, Non-Stop manages to goof on each man's (notice that they're all men — Moore, Dockery, and a barely-in-the-movie Lupita Nyong’o are kept shy of the action for most of the film) distaste for and distrust of one another as they each try to sidle up to, or undermine the harried Marks.
Non-Stop plays an interesting game with its characters and its audience, simultaneously painting the ignorance of its characters with a thick coat of comedy while pointing its finger straight out at us with accusations that we, too, thought it was whoever we just learned it wasn't, and for all the wrong reasons. "Shame on you!" Non-Stop chides, adding, "But let's keep going, this is fun!"
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It is fun — that's the miraculous thing. Without any "Get off my plane"s or "Yippee ki yay"s, Non-Stop keeps its action genre silliness in check (okay, there is a moment involving an airborne gun that'll institute some serious laugh-cheers), investing all of its good time in the game of claustrophobic Clue that we can't help but enjoy. It sacrifices some of its charm in a heavy-handed third act, tipping to one side of what was a pretty impressive balancing act up until that point. But its falter is not one that drags down the movie entirely. Fun and excitement are restored, sincerity is maintained, and even a few moments of sensitivity creep their way through. We might not live in a world of President Harrison Fords any longer, but Air Marshall Liam Neesons could actually be a step up.
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Hell on Wheels might be trying too hard. You can't really blame it — as an AMC series, it's got cohorts like Mad Men and Breaking Bad to live up to: two of the greatest character studies on television. Maybe in television history. These programs instated the complicated, tortured antihero. In the wake of shows like The Sopranos and Dexter, AMC eagerly grabbed at the idea of the tremendously marred central figure, delivering Don Draper and Walter White on a silver platter. We love those guys. And all TV heroes nowadays strive to be those guys, including Hell on Wheels' Cullen Bohannen (Anson Mount). But despite Mount's prowess for performance, the whole ordeal still seems a bit forced.
The second season picks up with Cullen involved with a train robbing troupe. At once, he is made out to be the levelheaded good guy in a world of bad, and the hot-tempered, tortured widow. These two ideals are hardly mutually exclusive; unfortunately, Cullen seems to be tailored entirely differently depending on his scene. Sometimes, he's the sort of guy we can look to to see a bright light in this misty post-Civil War era of arbitrary crime and intolerance. At other times, he's a rogue scoundrel. A sheathed, mysterious warrior who'll snap at the drop of a hat. The show can make both aspects of his character work, but it really needs to build the bridge a bit more sturdily.
On the other side of the cast is Colm Meaney as railroad proprietor Doc Durant. Doc is the pinnacle of pragmatism. He doesn't "hate" anyone, but he recognizes that hate is the state of being in his society, so he embraces it. His aversion toward hiring blacks and sympathizing with prostitutes — both seen in the premiere — are simply out of "good business," not any true prejudices.
Speaking of prejudices, Season 2 does seem to be opening the door toward a more thorough exploration of sexism, feminism, and the female identity. Dominique McElligott represents a forward press for women, standing up for a deceased whore who isn't considered deserving of a proper burial. The ever interesting character of the Swede is asked by Lily to give the murdered woman the simple decency of a humane funeral, which he allows (although apparently without much sympathy for her of his own).
The one thing Hell on Wheels does best is building up the character of its central town. All corners of the village are crumbling, from the drunken priest to the sympathetic but hardly innocent pair of the McGinnes brothers. And as Elam (Common) longs for the love of his estranged Eva, we see that one of the show's strongest characters is weakened by his breaking heart.
Still, the show is on shaky ground. As vivid as this town is, none of the individual members command enough attention to drive the show, even Cullen. Perhaps if Hell on Wheels spends a bit more time substantiating its hero rather than vying for conflicting styles, Season 2 might offer an improvement over its predecessor.
[Photo Credit: AMC]
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I have a confession to make. Actually two. OK, three. I have three confessions to make. 1. I haven't watched USA's summer spy drama Burn Notice in about three seasons. 2. I fell asleep while watching the season six premiere last night and had to watch the end of it this morning. 3. I find Jeffrey Donovan unbelievably attractive.
Now that you know all that, you know where I'm approaching this show from. Originally about CIA operative Michael Westen who gets "burned" and isn't allowed to leave Miami for suspicious reasons he hopes to untangle, Burn Notice started out as a fun and flirty show. It was about Michael trying to deal with his kooky mother, sarcastic partner, and crazy ex-girlfriend while readjusting to life outside the CIA and using his Bond-like skills to solve little mysteries every week for people around town. It was cute. It was a bunch of easily digestible episodes with a theme running through them. It was the perfect show for summer, where you could miss an episode or two or doze off in the middle and it didn't really matter.
Tuning in after six season, things have gotten considerably more complicated. Michael's girlfriend Fiona turned herself in after being framed for blowing up the British consolate and Michael was forced to work by some guy named Anson whose chief crime seems to be wearing a rather unfortuate mustache. There's also a bald CIA (FBI?) agent named Jesse who is running around saving Michael's mom (Sharon Gless, who is always holding a cigarette and never taking a drag) and a lady fed who is wearing Kohl's worst pantsuit.
There was no cute little case this week, no fun kvetching between Michael and his silly partner Sam, there was lots of running and standoffs and explosions. I do like explosions, but the rest seemed so upset. It's like when your stoner friend finally gets upset about something and you kind of freak out because you don't like all his nervous energy and he doesn't quite know how to channel it. Oh, and there's the voice over. Originally it was so Michael could explain his nifty spy tactics, now it's just an annoying incursion to move the plot along.
Yes, Burn Notice is still an enjoyable hour, but it's not what it used to be. It's a show that's gotten bogged down in its own mythology at the expense of the lightness that used to be what attracted so many people to it. Good thing Jeffrey Donovan is still so damn hot.
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In Safe, Jason Statham plays Luke Wright, a retired elite agent called back into the game when the Triads, the Russian mob, and a band of corrupt New York City officials pose a threat to national security, and, more importantly, a single Chinese preteen girl. Sounds pretty adrenal, relatively high-octane, more or less fast-paced, generally blood-pumping, basically edge-of-your-seat, and not hardly exciting.
And if Statham's no-nonsense grimace isn't enough to sell you on that cavalcade of synonymous descriptions, then perhaps a larger-than-life firearm shielding the star and the young girl he is honor-bound to protect will.
Safe is directed by Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans) and also stars Catherine Chan, Chris Sarandon, Robert John Burke, and Anson Mount. The film opens Apr. 27. Source: Collider
This season, the treasure trove of quality television that is the AMC network introduced a new series: Hell on Wheels, an interesting look at America after the conclusion of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. It was recently announced that the network has officially renewed Hell on Wheels for a second season.
The series has regaled its viewers with noteworthy performances from its cast. Stars include Anson Mount, who plays a sympathetic former Confederate soldier on a quest to avenge the murder of his wife, Colm Meaney, the Machiavellian chief investor in the rising transcontinental railroad company, and rapper/actor Common, who plays a railroad worker and former slave with a distrusting attitude toward the white population. You can read our interview with Common about his work and experiences on the series by clicking here.
Hell on Wheels is currently on winter hiatus, and will return to AMC on Sunday, Jan. 1 at 10 p.m. ET/PT with the new episode "Derailed."
Hell on Wheels, the completion of AMC's superfecta of earthly horrors (slavery, zombies, the drug trade and advertising), has got a lot going for it. Its superior cast is led by Anson Mount, who tells the story of a post-Civil War era man on a desperate, hopeless quest for revenge against the men who murdered his wife, and Colm Meany, who plays the Machiavellian railroad investor who understands the necessities in villainy.
On par with its terrific acting and intriguing writing is the visual style of Hell on Wheels. The setting is a gripping picture of the era; the characters' vibrance is as dense with literary value as the lines they deliver.
Below, we have four exclusive pictures from Hell on Wheels. Among those depicted are Mount, and rapper/actor Common, who plays Elam, a railroad worker with a grudge against the white population, and Dominique McElligott, who plays Lily Bell.
Hell on Wheels airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.
It seems to me that everyone was going into tonight’s premiere of the new period drama show Hell on Wheels with the mindset that this will be AMC’s first subpar original series. I’m not entirely sure from what exactly this theory derives. The subject matter is hardly grounds for dismissal of the show—yes, a lot of period dramas are being attempted these days, but very few before the 1900s; thus, a lack of originality is not necessarily a factor. Aside from the inclusion of rapper Common as a liberated slave and railroad laborer, the casting should not lend any particular degree of skepticism. So why, exactly, were we all—myself included—setting ourselves up to be underwhelmed? Whatever the answer is, it’s unfair to approach any show—or anything at all—with that attitude. But considering, Hell on Wheels did all right by me. No, it wasn’t anything monumentally gripping—few pilots really are, to be fair. I didn’t find myself drawn to any particular character or storyline (although the pair of Irishmen traveling together did offer some fun comic relief, for which I’m a sucker—and, don't ask me why, I do love Ted Levine in any role, though we won’t be seeing him around the railroad in any future episodes). But, as said, considering the public negativity it was facing, Hell on Wheels delivered a pretty viable premiere episode.
The central story revolves around Cullen Bohannen (Anson Mount), veteran of the Confederate Army in the Civil War who is on a mission to avenge the death of his wife. The first we meet of Bohannen, he is hiding out in a confession booth, ready to ambush and kill one of the men he knows to be responsible for her death. What he believes at this point is that she committed suicide due to the atrocities imparted on her by these men—Union soldiers. The truth: she was murdered, and made to look like a victim of suicide, by the men of whom he is aware and an unnamed senator. While Bohannen paints himself as a godless murderer and former slave owner, we like him straight from the start. We learn that he freed his slaves due to a moral enlightenment (courtesy of his wife) a year before the Civil War, but still fought in his army out of honor. We understand that he has a greater human respect for the black men who work on the railroad than do Levine’s character and any of the other nameless men we meet. He has a thick black beard and speaks in a sullen whisper, but we like him. He’s rhythmic, he’s crafty, he says what he means, he’s tortured by his driving ambition of revenge…Cullen is your typical antihero. And though he’s nothing we haven’t seen much of before, he’s played quite well by Mount, so we find him more likable than not.
We don’t learn too much about any of the other characters. Elam (Common) is the self-appointed “leader” of the black laborers, speaking for their injustices and often taking matters into his own hands. He kills the tyrannical railroad manager played by Levine—much to the chagrin of Cullen, who was hoping that Levine’s character would supply him with the name of the senator who killed his wife—at the end of the episode in his own act of vengeance of the violence imparted upon his friend and coworker. There are also a pair of so-affably-in-love-that-you-know-one-is-about-to-die travelers, who brave hostile American Indian territory and feel the wrath of a violent tribe. The man dies, and the woman is left injured and alone—where exactly they’ll take this story is beyond me, because two revenge pieces in one series is far too many.
And finally, there is the head of the railroad business, Thomas ‘Doc’ Durant (Colm Meaney), who professes vociferously his Gordon Gekko attitude throughout the episode, summing his accepted villainy all up in a reasonably meta speech at the end: his wickedness is necessary for the success of this business. AMC does love its villains, and Doc might be a good one. He’s not blind to his flaws, or even ashamed of them. He understands that his motivations are purely selfish. But, in quite the Machiavellian sense, he also understands that they serve a useful purpose for the progress of the United States. Sure, he might not particularly care about this—or he might, we’ll have to explore him further—but such is the case.
One thing I will say about Hell on Wheels, it is more fun than I thought it would be. It’s faster and more stylistic. Not to lessen its originality—the style is most definitely its own—but it did seem reminiscent of something in the Tarantino vein at times, especially in Cullen’s opening shoot-a-man-in-a-church-confessional scene. The dialogue lies in the healthiest compromise between modern and of-the-times, never incomprehensible and not offensively anachronistic. Like the mood, it is far more fun and rhythmic than I expected the series would be. As are many of the characters—I’m really looking forward to seeing more of those two bizarre Irish fellows.
But the real show will rely on Cullen and Doc, and, (I believe) to a lesser extent, Elam. Cullen’s revenge story will be the narrative that keeps us going. The problem with this is, they need to really make us care about Cullen’s late wife and why her killer must be brought to justice. They have lain the groundwork as amply as a pilot can—not only was she his love, she was the good inside of Cullen. She brought him to free his slaves, and made him the honorable man we have met. That’s reason enough for now, but they’d better do some regular reinforcing. As far as Doc goes, as long as he amps up the evil every so often and keeps his dictums going, I don’t doubt that he’ll maintain interest.
In short, the pilot is a pleasant surprise. I can’t commit to the idea that this will be a can’t-miss. But it does have the potential to be a should-probably-keep-up-with. It is AMC, after all.
Hell on Wheels airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.
AMC built its nearly indestructible reputation with critically-acclaimed, mesmerizing programming, so we're fairly willing to invest some faith in the network's newest series, Hell on Wheels. The post-Civil War-era drama, starring Anson Mount, Common, Dominique McElligott, and Colm Meany, will combine fiction with history to examine the lives of former slaves and soldiers adapting to the new America under the reign of the conglomerate railroad company.
This featurette offers some words from the cast and producers of Hell on Wheels, discussing the history of the period and the stories, characters and themes that will be explored in the series. In addition to interviews the featurette offers clips from Hell on Wheels' inaugural season, which will explore the rise of the transnational railway industry, as well as former Confederate soldier Cullen Bonnehan's (Mount) quest to avenge his wife's death.
Click here to watch a preview for the upcoming series, which will debut Sunday, Nov. 6 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
AMC, you've done us well. You're tackling worlds left and right, all to massive acclaim. The network has done the '60s, the drug circle, the apocalypse and now, Hell on Wheels will cover that interesting, often overlooked time period right after the Civil War. Channel your middle school American History knowledge, because a lot of terms like "transcontinental railroad" will be thrown around. Although that one's a pretty straightforward concept.
Interestingly (and AMCishly) enough, our hero is actually a veteran of the Confederate Army. Anson Mount will play Cullen Bohannen, whose revenge quest is the central plot of the series. Mount will travel Westward on a quest to avenge the death of his wife at the hands of the terrible, evil Union.
Also starring are rapper/actor Common, who will play a newly freed slave working for the corrupt conglomerate running the railroad operation, and Colm Meany as an ambitious businessman attempting to reap financial benefits from the railroad.
Hell on Wheels will premiere Sunday, Nov. 6 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on AMC. Check out the engrossing preview here.
Easy A a teen sex comedy with no actual sex aims rather conspicuously to plumb the best bits of Diablo Cody and Alexander Payne in its upside-down self-consciously campy take on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. In the role of its high-school Hester Prynne is Emma Stone the sly husky heroine of last year’s surprise hit Zombieland. Tested by a film that is far less clever than its director Will Gluck or screenwriter Bert Royal would have us believe (and they desperately want us to believe) she passes with flying colors delivering a performance that should elevate her into the upper echelon of actresses possessing brains and beauty in equal measure.
Stone plays Olive the kind of quick-witted hyper-literate teen that our educational system produces in ever-diminishing numbers. (If it ever produced them to begin with.) More knowing and sophisticated than others her age she is nonetheless not immune to the pressure of peers and the dread of being labeled a loser. Under duress by a prying friend (Aly Michalka) to dish the details of her birthday weekend a rather mundane affair mainly spent jumping on her bed to the tune of Natasha Bedingfield’s pop monstrosity “Pocket Full of Sunshine ” she feels compelled to embellish a bit and concocts an entirely fictional account of losing her virginity (dubbed the “V-Card” by Royal trying too hard) to a boy from a junior college across town.
Word of Olive’s deflowering spreads with startling speed aided by the incessant rumor-mongering of a catty Evangelical eavesdropper (Amanda Bynes). Suddenly branded a tramp on account of a seemingly harmless little lie Olive opts to embrace her newly tarnished reputation and put it to good use. In a viciously stratified social environment where even the most awkward acne-plagued pariah can earn respect and even admiration from members of the upper castes for having gone All the Way Olive anoints herself the Mother Theresa of (fake) sluts bestowing her blessing upon downtrodden gents in need of a reputation boost. And she resolves to look the part too traipsing around in scandalous bustiers and affixing the letter “A” to her chest.
There are limits to Easy A’s Scarlet Letter conceit overly Glee-ful tone forced repartee and pop-culture references (John Hughes is invoked so many times he should get a producer credit). Which is why director Gluck must be grateful to have found Stone who handles the verbal calisthenics of Royal’s script with charm and verve and a certain effortless appeal that keeps us engaged even as the film wallows in contrived irony and heavy-handedness. Keep your eye on her.