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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When The Real Housewives of Miami debuted early last year, I was skeptical. It was the seventh iteration of a franchise showing its strain. It wasn't originally planned as a Real Housewives and was being retrofitted for Bravo. And it came after the disastrously boring Real Housewives of D.C. a chapter marked more for the White House party-crasher scandal than anything exciting on the tube. After watching it, my fears were confirmed. While there were definitely some interesting characters, the action was a slog. When Bravo renewed the show, I rolled my eyes. Why would they want to pour even more money into a dud?
Well, as usual, Bravo proved me wrong. The show's second season has come roaring back to life with just as much drama, pathos, and bats***tery as any of the other vaunted editions of the show that have existed for much longer. (It still might not be better than my beloved Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but it's getting close.) Did you even see the fight between Adriana and Joanna at Lisa's lingerie party in last night's episode? That there is even a sentence like that to type is a testament to the show's success in reshaping its destiny. What is curious is that this comes right on the heels of a revamp of the Real Housewives of New York which wasn't nearly as successful.
Here are a few reasons why I think rejiggering Miami worked, whereas futzing with New York was a bit of a wash.
Add, Don't Subract: Other than Cristy and Larsa, who both moved away, all the girls from the original Miami cast are back again. This gives the people that we already know and love ways to interact with new people and different ways to interact with each other. This seems like the best way to revive a show. New York fired a bunch of long-standing housewives (including Jill Zarin, Alex McCord, and Kelly Bensimon) and hired new ones which, yes, gave the three remaining Housewives new people to interact with, but it put too much of the burden on the new girls to bring the excitement and not enough on our old standbys. Also, Miami, the largest cast of any of the shows, proves that having more women can cause more controversy.
Hire an Entourage: When New York cast Aviva, Carole, and Heather, they pretty much just got the ladies. Well, Aviva did bring along her nymphomaniac retiree father George and he was one of the highlights of the season. Miami has really capitalized on the secondary characters this year. Not only did lingerie model and Dancing With the Stars alum Joanna Krupa join the show, she brought her sad, crazy sister Marta (who slept with Girls Gone Wild impresario Joe Francis), and her hot tempered boyfriend Romaine along with her. Lea Black stepped up and got her drag queen friend Elaine Lancaster to stir up plenty of trouble. Karent brings along her Telenovela actor boyfriend Rudolpho. Let's not forget the continued existence of Marysol on the show is probably because she comes with her lovable mother Elsa. These shows aren't just casting individuals, but the partners, friends, loved ones, and other hangers on that come with them. Remembering that has helped Miami launch into crazytown.
Go Legit, Stay Trashy: Joanna Krupa is by far the big "get" of season two. Thanks to her other reality show stint, she had a bit of notoriety coming into the season, something that seems to be a qualification for new Housewives. New York looked for high profile people, but forgot that we're not watching someone's résumé on TV every week. We need all the personality that goes along with it. That is why Krupa is the full package. Yes, we know her name, but the action surrounding her relationship and her family has been a treasure trove of dysfunction for Housewives fans to pick apart. And let's not forget her temper, her penchant for being a mean drunk, and those glorious boobs that she so often puts on display. She might be a big name, but she's right down there in the muck with everyone else.
Follow the Crazy: The best New York recasting was Aviva, because, well, she was obviously crazy. She tried to hold it in like it was some big secret, but by the end of the season all her phobias were out, all her indignations cataloged, and her absolute kookery was totally on display. It's a good idea to always follow the crazy. Whoever found these new ladies for Miami has a better nose for nuts than the Planter's logo, because all of them have a serious case of psychosis. Not only do we have Joanna and her messed up family, but let's not forget about Ana, a woman who is separated from her husband for years but won't divorce him even though they're each dating other people. That's bonkers. And we can't even get into Karent, a woman who is so insane that she has a parasitic "T" living on the end of her name and won't do anything about it. Any reality show is made on its casting, and when it comes to Real Housewives, the closer they are to needing a straightjacket, the better.
[Photo Credit: Bravo]
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Over the next few months, we’ll see new series soar, old series sour, and so much Jersey Shore madness, we’ll want to shower. Let’s face it: The Fall TV season is intimidating. With dozens of new and returning shows hitting our small screens, we know we have some big choices to make. So, to help you determine what to watch, we’re digging deep into the most notable series premiering this season. Where did each show leave off? Where is it headed? And who should you watch it with? Today, we're checking out the return of 30 Rock. But can it pick up the pieces?
Series: 30 Rock
Premiere Date: Thursday, Oct. 4 at 8 PM ET
Number of Seasons: Entering its seventh — and final — season.
Cast: The thinking woman's superhero Tina Fey leads a large, wildly talented, and eclectic ensemble that includes Words with Friends aficionado Alec Baldwin, song-and-dance woman Jane Krakowski, everyman Scott Adsit, human Muppet Jack McBrayer, human sad trombone John Lutz, slacker extraordinaire Judah Friedlander, token hottie Katrina Bowden, and the man who got you pregnant while you were reading this, Tracy Morgan.
Synopsis: Liz Lemon (Fey) is the overworked, underappreciated head writer of a late night sketch comedy show called TGS on NBC (owned by the illustrious KableTown). She's surrounded by her merry (well, sometimes) band of misfits that includes her business tycoon boss Jack Donaghy (Baldwin), the self-absorbed cast members of the show, Tracy and Jenna (Morgan and Krakowski), and fellow loony coworkers like loyal page Kenneth (McBrayer) and intellectual hired goons Grizz and Dot Com (Grizz Chapman and Kevin Brown). Liz is trying to juggle her crazy work life in addition to her equally crazy love life, which has included dating the likes of a beeper salesman who appeared on To Catch a Predator, a handsome doctor with a hook for a hand, Wesley Snipes (not that Wesley Snipes), and a ficus plant that resembled Bon Jovi.
Where We Left Off Last Season: Liz seemed to be on the baby track with her adorable, sane, IKEA-hating, hot dog-selling live-in boyfriend Criss (James Marsden, at long last getting the girl); Jack and Avery (Elizabeth Banks) became happily divorced; Jenna was blissfully engaged to Paul (Will Forte); Kenneth and Hazel (Kristen Schaal) all made us wildly uncomfortable with their first kiss; finally, Tracy chose Tyler Perry as his new role model in life.
What Might Happen This Season: From the looks of that spectacular photo above, Jenna goes through with marrying Paul (who will presumably have the same dress as his bride). Whether or not Liz marries Criss is still up for debate, though pictures released from the set of 30 Rock this summer implied that they — or, at least, she — goes through with adopting a baby. Elsewhere, Jack might finally convince Nancy (Julianne Moore) to move out of Bah-stin and live with him in New York, where he's the CEO of KableTown, while Angie (Sherri Shepherd) and Tracy continue their television dominance. And Dr. Spaceman will, naturally, become the Surgeon General.
You'll Like It If: You like quick-witted comedy that's as smart as it is silly.
You Won't Like It If:You're a dummy, dummy.
Emmy Love: Thus far, 30 Rock has received 57 Primetime Emmy nominations and have gone home with 14. From 2007 to 2009 it won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, the same three years Alec Baldwin won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. Tina Fey earned Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 2008 and Elaine Stritch won the 2007 Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her performance as Jack's unrelentingly judgmental mother Colleen.
Ratings: While 30 Rock has always been an awards show and critical darling, the series never went far beyond its cult status to become a major ratings player. In its first year, it averaged only 5.8 million viewers, while Season 6 had its lower viewership yet with 4.5 million. (It came in at a dismal #130 for the 2011-2012 season). 30 Rock had its biggest ratings year back in Season 3, averaging 7.5 million viewers. Still, despite low ratings, the popularity of Fey, the show's fervent fan base, and the fact that it's available on Watch Instantly on Netflix, kept the show alive.
Key Soundbites: "I want to go to there!", "Blergh!", "HAM!", "What the what?", "Lizzing!"
Key Facial Expression:
Wine/Food Pairing:Whatever wine Angie throws in your face during an episode of Queen of Jordan, paired with Night Cheese.
What to wear while watching it: A tux… it's on after six — what are you, a farmer?
What to yell at the TV: "Good God, Lemon!"
The Tao of Lemon: "I believe all anyone really wants in this life… is to sit in peace and eat a sandwich."
Inspired Halloween costume: If you're single, go as Liz Lemon as Princess Leia on jury duty. If you're in a couple, go as James Franco and his body pillow Kamiko.
Who to Watch it With: Your equally nerdy, comedy-loving friends.
Who Not to Watch It With: Someone who doesn't know how to shotgun a pizza if the moment calls for it and/or a Canadian.
If You Like This, You'll Love: DVD marathoning Arrested Development, The Larry Sanders Show, Parks and Recreation, and Community
[Photo credit: NBC]
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There is something particularly unnerving about demon possession. It's the idea of something you can't see or control creeping into your body and taking up residence eventually obliterating all you once were and turning you into nothing more than a sack of meat to be manipulated. Then there's also the shrouded ritual around exorcisms: the Latin chants the flesh-sizzling crucifixes and the burning Holy Water. As it turns out exorcism isn't just the domain of Catholics.
The myths and legends of the Jews aren't nearly as well known but their creepy dybbuk goes toe-to-toe with anything other world religions come up with. There are various interpretations of what a dybbuk is or where it comes from — is it a ghost a demon a soul of a sinner? — but in any case it's looking for a body to hang out in for a while. Especially according to the solemn Hasidic Jews in The Possession an innocent young person and even better a young girl.
The central idea in The Possession is that a fancy-looking wooden box bought at a garage sale was specifically created to house a dybbuk that was tormenting its previous owner. Unfortunately it caught the eye of young Emily (Natasha Calis) a sensitive artistic girl who persuades her freshly divorced dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen and Grey's Anatomy) to buy it for her. Never mind the odd carvings on it — that would be Hebrew — or how it's created without seams so it would be difficult to open or why it's an object of fascination for a young girl; Clyde is trying really hard to please his disaffected daughters and do the typical freshly divorced parent dance of trying to please them no matter the cost.
Soon enough the creepy voices calling to Emily from the box convince her to open it up; inside are even creepier personal objects that are just harbingers of what's to come for her her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) her mom Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and even Stephanie's annoying new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show). Clyde and Stephanie squabble over things like pizza for dinner and try to convince each other and themselves that Emily's increasingly odd behavior is that of a troubled adolescent. It's not of course and eventually Clyde enlists the help of the son of a Hasidic rabbi a young man named Tzadok played by the former Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu to help them perform an exorcism on Emily.
The Possession is not going to join the ranks of The Exorcist in the horror pantheon but it does do a remarkable job of making its characters intelligent and even occasionally droll and it offers up plenty of chills despite a PG-13 rating. Perhaps it's because of that rating that The Possession is so effective; the filmmakers are forced to make the benign scary. Giant moths and flying Torahs take the place of little Reagan violently masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Gagging and binging on food is also an indicator of Emily's possession — an interesting twist given the anxieties of becoming a woman a girl Emily's age would face. There is something inside her controlling her and she knows it and she is fighting it. The most impressive part of Calis's performance is how she communicates Emily's torment with a few simple tears rolling down her face as the dybbuk's control grows. The camerawork adds to the anxiety; one particularly scary scene uses ordinary glass kitchenware to great effect.
The Possession is a short 92 minutes and it does dawdle in places. It seems as though some of the scenes were juggled around to make the PG-13 cut; the moth infestation scene would have made more sense later in the movie. Some of the problems are solved too quickly or simply and yet it also takes a while for Clyde's character to get with it. Stephanie is a fairly bland character; she makes jewelry and yells at Clyde for not being present in their marriage a lot and then there's a thing with a restraining order that's pretty silly. Emily is occasionally dressed up like your typical horror movie spooky girl with shadowed eyes an over-powdered face and dark clothes; it's much more disturbing when she just looks like an ordinary though ill young girl. The scenes in the heavily Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn look oddly fake and while it's hard to think of who else could have played Tzadok an observant Hasidic Jew who is also an outsider willing to take risks the others will not Matisyahu is not a very good actor. Still the filmmakers should be commended for authenticity insofar as Matisyahu has studied and lived as a Hasidic Jew.
It would be cool if Lionsgate and Ghost House Pictures were to release the R-rated version of the movie on DVD. What the filmmakers have done within the confines of a PG-13 rating is creepy enough to make me curious to see the more adult version. The Possession is no horror superstar and its name is all too forgettable in a summer full of long-gestating horror movies quickly pushed out the door. It's entertaining enough and could even find a broader audience on DVD. Jeffrey Dean Morgan can read the Old Testament to me any time.