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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S4E8: Parenting is an overarching theme in Californication, but it's not always the parent doing the parenting. In seasons past, we've seen Hank deal with all sorts of issues with Becca, from her getting stoned and sharing his wisdom, to the reversal, with him going on a bender and needing her advice. Through their ups and downs, their relationship has become special and, well, it's one of Hanks' best and most redeeming qualities. He's always been a father -- a good one -- and somehow, he's managed to not screw that up.
This week, the parenting theme came out even stronger, beyond just Hank and Becca. Marcy's pregnant. We meet Sasha's mom. And Hank deals with all of it. "Lights. Camera. Asshole." wasn't the best episode that Californication has ever done, but it did offer us a few sweet, genuine moments that made me remember why I enjoy Hank Moody so much and why, despite his constant idiocy, I genuinely want him to succeed.
"100 Gs?" -Hank
Hank's been offered a job, and it's a pretty friggin' sweet job. Sasha Bingham has hired him (for 100,000 dollars for one week's work) to help re-write some of her lines for her new zombie apocalypse film. In reality, Sasha just wants him to be around so she can have someone to "play with," but there seems to be something more than that. Sure, she likes to have sex with Hank, but it almost seems like she, in a really creepy way, looks to Hank as a father figure. Later in the episode, we learn that her mother is only around a few times a year and that she could really use the support. So, it's almost as if Hank has been paid 100 G's to hang around Sasha while she works, be supportive, offer advice and, well, be willing to have sex at any moment.
Before they start to get frisky, though, Hank receives a call. Becca is in trouble -- she's high. He leaves Sasha and rushes to Becca, and we see a fucked up Becca. It's sad. She tells Hank in the most honest way that she is beginning to understand why he is always messed up. "It's easier when you're high," she says. Hank can't offer anything except a shoulder. (I'd also like to note that it was nice to see Hank and Becca have a scene together again. Since this season has focused so much on Hank's legal troubles, we haven't seen as many Hank-Becca moments as previous seasons.)
"I think you need to face the fact that there's a part of you that wants to have a baby." -Karen
Meanwhile, sticking with the parental theme, Marcy goes to the doctor for her abortion. She brings Karen, and the two talk about the situation. Marcy isn't quite sure whose baby it is, but it's pretty apparent that she believes it's Charlie's, not Stu's. But beyond that, Karen calls Marcy out on the fact that maybe she actually does want a baby. After all, she's changed the appointment with the doctor numerous times and continues to hint about motherhood. So after a long discussion, Marcy decides that she will keep the baby.
"Your mother?" -Hank
Hank takes Becca home and, of course, meets a woman. They sleep together, and Hank is actually happy about it. He calls her "age appropriate," which doesn't necessarily make her feel the best, but in a weird way, it's charming. Hank spends so much of his life in Californication looking for something. But, he doesn't really know what that something is. So, often times, his quest to find that "something" affects everyone around him -- sometimes positively, but most of the time, negatively. Regardless, there's something always likable about Hank Moody. As a viewer, I want him to succeed -- despite how hard he messes up. Perhaps the reason for this should be credited to David Duchovny for playing Hank in such a lovable way, but I always want him to be successful. When he meets this woman, visibly, we can see that he feels comfortable with her. Almost as if there's a weight off his shoulders that he's actually with someone who actually has the potential of a relationship. But, then we learn that this magical woman is Sasha's mom and, well, Sasha does what she should do and punches Hank right in the dick.
"I'm going to be a father!" -Stu
Back to Marcy's pregnancy problem/joy, and she tells Stu that she's pregnant, but, he doesn't let her finish. He immediately assumes that he's the father. (And really, why wouldn't he? If a woman I was dating told me she was pregnant, I'd assume I was the father as well.) Stu's celebration is so loud and boisterous that Marcy doesn't even stop him to tell him the truth. Perhaps this is because, maybe, deep down, Marcy wants to believe that Stu is the father as well.
"You're reaching the point of no return." -Sasha's Mom
Hank finds himself at the bar, again, talking with Sasha's mom, again. And, well, this woman is special. Although she's only known Hank for a short amount of time, she's able to understand him and understand what he's going through. She helps him recognize that this time this crazy life that he lives is not going to last forever. Eventually, he's going to have to face the consequences of all of his actions.
And, frankly, that's what Californication is about. Hank has been hiding from his problems since we first met him in season one. That's all he does; he hides. But sometimes, rarely, we have characters that come into this world and they remind Hank that he needs to face the reality of the life that he's lived. He's not going to be able to escape and if he keeps running, he'll alienate his whole world, and, to be even more specific, he'll alienate Becca. "Lights. Camera. Asshole." was a crazy episode that put Hank in weird situations, but on top of that, it was an episode that challenged Hank to confront his issues before it's too late.
S4E7: Sometimes, Californication gives us episodes, like "The Recused," where things get a little messy. The story line gets lost with random characters in random scenes that are extremely boring. In "The Recused," to be frank, nothing happened. To me, it was a "knee-bender" episode, spoon feeding us plot twists and character development that we could have easily figured out ourselves.
"Oh, you're recused." -Hank
We closed last week with Hank and Abby, after episodes of sexual tension, finally hooking up. Good for them! I'm a big fan of Abby and Hank as a couple. Mainly because I think Abby is the exact kind of woman Hank needs -- smart, sexy, strong, confident. Plus, they have great chemistry. But we quickly learned that this, smartly, is not the type of situation that Abby wants. She knows that she can't be Hank's lawyer, professionally, if they're sleeping together on the side. So she convinces Hank to come to the office to meet a senior partner of hers who would take over the reigns of the case.
"What's the pitch?" -Charlie
"Well, you were married to her." -Stu
Meanwhile, in the Marcy-Charlie world, Stu has come up with an idea for a new Showtime series based around Marcy's world as a celebrity waxer. They sell the idea to Charlie, and the group of them head into a meeting with Showtime to pitch it. During the presentation, Stu loses it. He fumbles his words and has to excuse himself, turning it over to Marcy -- until Charlie jumps in and saves the day. He sells the Showtime execs on the show, and they love it. All of this was a nice moment, but c'mon, it was very, very easy to see coming. And, quite honestly, I just don't care that much about the whole Marcy situation. Sure, she's an important character on the show, but I've always felt that Californication is about Hank Moody and his struggles. Yes, the other characters in the show deserve some development as well, but this part of the episode just felt so long and boring. It was nice to see Charlie step up when Marcy needed him -- and that did plant the seed that Marcy may still potentially have feelings for him -- but other than that, it was just a boring scene.
"We can have guilt-free sex now." -Abby
Abby and Hank get invited to play golf with Abby's senior partner who wants to get a feel of the case (and turns out, Abby) and even though it was pretty hilarious to see Hank golf, I'm pretty sure the whole point of this golf scene was to just show how Hank doesn't fit in and give him an opportunity to do something stupid. Now, I may slightly be a hypocrite right now because I love seeing Hank get wild and do ridiculous things, but usually, it's not just for the sake of doing wild and ridiculous things. He usually has a motive for his antics or it's at least entertaining. This scene was neither. While the three were at the golf course, of COURSE Hank isn't good at golf and of COURSE the senior partner is really uptight about it. So, of COURSE Hank provokes the senior partner into tackling him and of COURSE the end result is that Abby will be his lawyer, just without sex. Californication is usually a show that gives us great wild and crazy scenes, but what makes them great is that they are unexpected. For example, earlier in this season, in "Monkey Business," Hank found himself again involved in an absurd situation, but the end result wasn't something that we saw coming from a mile away. No, the end result was some dude accidentally killing himself as he masturbated. These were things I did not see coming at all, and that's why they worked. With "The Recused," I felt like everything coming was predictable.
"I'm not going to stop trying." -Ben
"I wouldn't expect you to. If you did, you wouldn't deserve her." -Hank
We ended with Hank meeting up with Ben and Karen at Becca's band's gig and, well, this just was dumb. I don't know why; maybe it's because I hate the Queens of Dogtown so much, or maybe it's because I don't buy this whole Becca-in-an-unbelievably-awesome-band-at-age-17 thing. Regardless, Hank talks with Ben and they agree that Hank was an asshole and they both like Karen. Whoa! Big surprise there! Then Hank does the noble thing and says that Ben doesn't deserve Karen if he gives up on her. Wow. Way to go, Hank!
I know I'm being a little sarcastic in this recap, but, just, ugh. This episode was so lame. It was full of all the things that Californication usually avoids. This whole episode felt like just a knee-bender, and frankly, might be the black-eye in a pretty-well done and solid season so far.