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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Teen Mom prototype and celebrity sibling Jamie Lynn Spears announced on her Instagram account on Saturday night that she's getting engaged. Good for her! The only problem is that the guy who she's getting hitched to is also named Jamie. Yes, his name is Jamie Watson. And the guy walking her down the aisle (i.e. her father) is also named Jamie Spears. And her mother Lynn Spears will be there too. Can't the people in this family find other names? It probably reminds your mom of that old Laugh-In joke "If Lady Bird Johnson married Larry Bird, she'd be Lady Bird Bird!"
RELATED: Jamie Lynn Spears Sings About 'Scared' Sister Britney
It's not that bad for Jamie Lynn, 21, (gosh, these Spears sisters waste no time getting to the altar) and her husband-to-be Jamie, 30, though. At least one has that extra Lynn to haul around so everyone can tell them apart. Congrats to the happy couple, who live in Nashville (where Jamie Lynn is still trying to be a country star) and Lousiana so they can be close to Britney and Jamie Lynn's daughter's school. Rumor has it that her bridesmaids will be Ali Lohan, Hailey Duff, Ashlee Simpson. Calm down, we're just foolin'.
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Fun Size may be the only production from kid-centric studio Nickelodeon to also feature underage drinking (complete with red solo cups) and boob groping. The murky demographic for the movie ends up hurting the well-intentioned Halloween flick — it's not quite suitable for the young ones nor is it funny or wild enough for the Gossip Girl crowd which director Josh Schwartz (creator of the show) knows well. Instead we get a floundering trick or treat adventure that reduces the colorful twisted holiday to a meandering situational comedy.
Nick TV grad Victoria Justice (Victorious) stars as Wren a high school "geek" who finds herself unable to bag the guy of her dreams (who adores her) but finds a glimmer of hope in the big cool kids' Halloween party. Ready for a night out with her best friend April (Jane Levy) Wren thinks life is finally going her way until her Mom (Chelsea Handler) sticks her with her troublemaking little brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll) for the night. If chaperoning Albert wasn't already the worst thing in the world Wren finds herself in an even bigger dilemma when her brother wanders off into his own night of mischievous debauchery.
The "one crazy night" formula fits perfectly with Halloween but Fun Size struggles to find interesting material for its eclectic ensemble. Unlike many of the young actresses who have previously collaborated with Schwartz Justice seems unable to crack his voice and comedic style. She's too hip to too aware to play someone struggling with high school. The material doesn't serve her or Levy either; off-color jokes and a bizarre sense of entitlement turn them into two people you don't want to see succeed. Luckily for the audience during their sweeping search for Albert Wren and April cross paths with two true nerd-looking boys: Roosevelt (Thomas Mann) and Peng (Osric Chau) who along with feeling like real teenagers actually land a joke or two.
Interwoven into this speedy adventure — Fun Size clocks in at a little over 75 minutes giving little time to flesh out our teenage heroes — is Albert's encounter with a convenience store clerk named Fuzzy. The adults of Fun Size see the ten-year-old Albert as a parter-in-crime rather than a lost little boy. Fuzzy recruits him for a raid on his ex-girlfriend's house; after running away he meets a lady who brings him to a nightclub. At one point a sleazebag kidnaps Albert and locks him in his bedroom. If Fun Size were madcap it may all make sense. Instead things just happen — and it's not hilarious scary or even deranged.
Nick's '90s sitcom Pete & Pete created an amazing sense of weirdness and heart in its exploits of two teenage brothers. Anyone could watch and enjoy it. Fun Size has a beautiful look (the colors of Halloween are mesmerizing) and Schwartz as always has impeccable soundtrack tastes but when it comes to telling a story that feels both relatable and wonderfully weird — what Pete & Pete did so well — the movie falls flat. It's stereotype humor (the movie packs many a fat and gay joke) doesn't cut it — when paired to Nick's best efforts the movie lives up to the title: a bite-size portion of a bigger better cinematic sweet.
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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S2E2: NBC did a nice job of packing three weeks worth of blind auditions on The Voice into two, back-to-back nights. It’s amazing how last night’s two-hour special quickly tripled the team members and brought the total to 13 singers. Every coach is pretty even at this point with three singers except Christina, who has four, and keeps displaying her need to show off a little too much cleavage (I’m not complaining). It was a “jam”-packed night that saw some ultra-creative song renditions of Adele’s “Someone Like You” to a coffee-house cover of Trey Songz “Say Aah.” Oh, and the judges threw in a mini Prince concert to kick it all off. Let’s get this party started!
“As soon as I heard the second voice kick in, I was really, really intrigued.” - Christina
Our first duo of the season, The Line (consisting of Hailey and Leland) hit the judges early with “American Girl,” a song I’m proud to say was inspired in Gainesville at the campus of my Florida Gators (just saying). The group got together after Leland approached this buxom blonde by offering her a shot of Jack Daniels (my kind of guy). Apparently this couple is not involved even though you can tell Leland is playing the long con. Keep at it man, it will happen someday. Blake jumped on The Line first, later followed by the trio of Christina, Cee-Lo and Adam, almost at the same time. Blake was not happy. He was even less pleased when they chose Christina, who laughed and gloated a little too much.
The next singer selected is one who will definitely use the show’s platform to spread his message. Jamar Rogers got off Crystal Meth six years ago only to find out he had HIV. Cee-Lo is his personal idol and after he made a bold choice by singing “Seven Nation Army,” it was kismet as Cee was the only coach to turn his chair around and select the young man. It was a goosebumps kind of moment. He actually kind of sounded like a mix of Cee and Adam during the performance. Rogers put it best when he said “There is beauty that does come from ashes.” Okay, I’m done being sentimental, let’s move on.
“If you look across this panel here, you’ll see spikes and you’ll see tattoos, and things like that. I’m your county guy, I’m your man.” - Blake
Oh Blake, you smooth talker you. That plea cajoled Gwen Sebastian, who is putting off having a family to pursue music, to join his team after everyone except Christina buzzed in. The girl had a wide range from the start singing country hit “Stay” and Cee-Lo mixed it up by getting in the action. That would have been an interesting pair! Adam felt left out, poor baby, so he buzzed in as well. Blake and Cee hit the nail on the head by calling her rendition kind, considerate and tender in all the right places. We know what Blake meant by this but lord only knows what Cee meant and that’s probably for the best.
In addition to our first duo of the season, we saw our first 50 year-old in Kim Yarbrough. No early bird special jokes here. This woman is as cool as the other side of the pillow, once having worked security for Dave Matthews Band. You kidding me? There was also the little detail of her working in a potato chip factory (I can’t make this stuff up). The woman doesn’t look a day over 49 and with deep soothing tones, she belted out “Tell Me Something Good” to the delight of Cee-Lo, who started to hump his chair (again, not kidding). After Adam used his best Willy Loman (look it up people), she gladly chose the rock star.
“But you’re beautiful obviously, so congrats on that.” - Adam
It was a bad day for the hotties as Pamela Rose, who Adam congratulated on her looks, and Dez Duron, a Yale football star, were sent packing. Christina took one look at Duron, who sang Backstreet Boys and said “How adorable are you?” Obviously not cute enough.
“I saw a woman in a military outfit singing an incredible Adele song. I was like look at this hot chick singing who’s defending our country.” - Carson
Air Force hottie Angie Johnson has been deployed to the Middle East seven times, and that alone should earn her a spot on the show, but her voice was a nice addition. Carson actually helped get Johnson on the show after seeing a YouTube video of her with over a million hits. Johnson busted out “Heartbreaker” to the delight of Cee-Lo, who was obviously smitten. Even Christina could not pry this war vet away from Cee’s strong, yet little hands. Mark one for Team Cee-Lo.
The highlight of the night for me was Lindsey Pavao who had the stones to sing an acoustic version of “Say Aah” by Trey Songz, who tweeted #LOVE right after her performance. Her Fiona Apple influence was apparent to Christina, Cee and Blake who all buzzed in. Despite Christina creepily saying she wanted to “play” and “experiment” with Pavao, she still got her aboard the Aguilera train.
“I could hear the swag, it sounded like swag” - Cee-Lo
This was one of the more interesting pairings of the night. Jermaine Paul used to sing background vocals for Alicia Keys, but his audition piece was a soulful “Complicated” by Avril Lavigne and instead of going with the natural fit Cee-Lo, he went with Blake. That’s punk, R&B and county all rolled into one blind audition. Now, I think Paul made the right choice here and one that may catapult his career. Blake is not going to give Paul anything and he does not care one bit that he used to sing for Keys. You can just tell these two are going to push each other to their limits. Worse comes to worse, it will make for some entertaining TV.
I swear there must be some singers out there who had a normal life, but they are not on The Voice. Angel Taylor comes from an abusive father and used music as an escape. It was fitting that her audition was “Someone Like You” by Adele and prompted Adam, Blake and Cee-Lo to all fight for her. With a very smoky tone, this girl was absolutely nervous to start but even I could tell there was serious raw talent there. And even though she admitted to having a serious crush on Blake, she chose Adam who we all know has “Moves Like Jagger” (even thought Jagger is 70 and probably has a hip replacement).
After two intense nights, we get a well deserved week off from The Voice to marinate on the singers already chosen by the coaches. It’s time for everyone to pick a side and root for a team. So, the only question I have for you is what’s it going to be: Team Christina, Adam, Cee-Lo or Blake?
What did you think of the show last night? Do you like who was chosen for the teams? Do any of the backstories touch your heart? Let us know with some comments below and find me on Twitter @TheRealRothman.
Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
For real estate broker Peter Klaven the bride wasn’t hard to land; it’s finding a best man that’s proving the real challenge. After he gets engaged to sweet Zooey he realizes he has no close male friendships so he sets off on a series of “man dates” to rectify the situation until he finally stumbles upon Sydney Fife a care-free bachelor and Peter’s polar opposite. An immediate best-buddy connection is formed as the two bond to Rush music and engage in honest mano et mano conversation. But when the bromance gets a little too intense it causes ripples in his relationship with Zooey and threatens the wedding.
WHO’S IN IT?
With a cast who mainly cut their teeth in TV sitcoms and improv this is can’t-miss comedy providing the best role Paul Rudd has had to date. Playing Peter as the ultimate female-loving straight guy a potential bride’s dream because he likes to cuddle up on the couch and watch chick flicks like Chocolat Rudd is hilarious especially later on as he tries the male-bonding thing with Sydney -- using hip phrases and non-sequiturs he is incapable of uttering with any level of competence. There’s a grounded sweetness to Rudd in this role and he never loses sight of the character. Rudd and Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) are sensationally funny together -- the best movie buddy team in years. That’s largely because Segel also is down-to-earth in a role that could have soared over the top but never does. The two are always believable and that’s key to making the comedy work as well as it does. Rashida Jones is refreshingly likeable and sweetly understanding if frustrated as Peter’s fiancée. As her BFFs are: Jaime Pressly (My Name Is Earl) who is always battling with her hubby (a riotous Jon Favreau) and Sarah Burns as the awkwardly man-hungry Hailey are highly amusing. SNL’s Andy Samberg is surprisingly understated as Peter’s gay brother and there are nice moments from J.K Simmons (Juno) and Jane Curtin as their parents. And watch out for Thomas Lennon who steals his few scenes as Doug a spurned early “man date” of Peter’s. The original Incredible Hulk Lou Ferrigno also turns up as himself in a wryly amusing running gag.
This is a broad comic premise but it’s never allowed to careen out of control allowing everyone to create three-dimensional human beings despite the hijinks going on around them. The bits with Rudd and Segel jamming on Rush songs are great and so is the endless stream of corny catchphrases such as Rudd’s "we’re just chillaxin’" and Segel’s "Dude Von Dudenstein."
Considering the smart instinctual comic chops that writer/director John Hamburg (Along Came Polly) displays here he could have cut back on the raunch which gets piled on a little thick at times for the film’s own good; although compared to last week’s dreadful buddy bomb Miss March this is Disney stuff.
There are too many to name but the Chinese restaurant engagement dinner is a comic knockout particularly when it comes to Segel’s toast -- full of thinly disguised and totally inappropriate sexual innuendo.