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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Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Treading water at the very surface of RoboCop, there is an idea. A dense concept, ready and willing to provide no dearth of dissection for any eager student of philosophy, psychology, political science, physics — hell, any of the Ps. To simplify the idea on hand: What separates man from machine? It's a question that is not just teased by the basic premise of José Padilha's remake of the 1987 sci-fi staple, but asked outright by many of its main characters. And then never really worried about again.
We have principal parties on both sides of the ethical quandary that would place the security of our crime-ridden cities in the hands of automatons. Samuel L. Jackson plays a spitfire Bill O'Reilly who wonders why America hasn't lined its streets with high-efficiency officer droids. Zach Grenier, as a moralistic senator, gobbles his way through an opposition to the Pro-boCop movement. We hear lecture after lecture from pundits, politicians, business moguls (a money-hungry Michael Keaton heads the nefarious OmniCorp...) and scientists (...while his top doc Gary Oldman questions the nature of his assignments while poking at patients' brains and spouting diatribes about "free will"), all working their hardest to lay thematic groundwork. Each character insists that we're watching a movie about the distinction between human and artificial intelligence. That even with an active brain, no robot can understand what it means to have a heart. But when Prof. Oldman tempers his hysterical squawking and Samuel L. Hannity rolls his closing credits, we don't see these ideas taking life.
In earnest, the struggle of rehabilitated police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — nearly killed in the line of duty and turned thereafter into OmniCorp's prototype RoboCop — doesn't seem to enlist any of the questions that his aggravated peers have been asking. Murphy is transformed not just physically, but mentally — robbed of his decision-making ability and depleted of emotional brain chemicals — effectively losing himself in the process. But the journey we see take hold of Murphy is not one to reclaim his soul, although the movie touts it as such. It's really just one to become a better robot.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Meanwhile, RoboCop lays down its motives, and hard: Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and a puckish young John Paul Ruttan) lament the loss of Alex, condemning his dehumanization at the hands of Raymond Sellars' (Keaton) capitalistic experiments, and sobbing out some torrential pathos so you know just how deep this company is digging. Weaselly stooges (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earl Haley) line the OmniCorp roster with comical wickedness. Overseas, killer combat bots take down peaceful villages, unable to work empathetic judgment into their decision to destroy all deemed as "threats." And at the top, figures of power and money like Sellars and Pat Novak (Jackson) speak the loudest and harshest, literally justifying their agenda with a call for all naysayers to "stop whining." Clearly, RoboCop has something to say.
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And when it's devoted to its outrage, RoboCop is terrifically charming. The buzzing political world is just a tiny step closer to ridiculous than our own; the pitch meetings at OmniCorp are fun enough to provoke a ditching of all the material outside of the company walls. And one particular reference to The Wizard of Oz shows that the movie isn't above having fun with its admittedly silly premise. But it loses its magic when it steps away from goofy gimmicks and satirical monologues and heads back into the story. We don't see enough of Murphy grappling with the complicated balance between his conflicting organic and synthetic selves. In fact, we don't see enough "story" in Murphy at all. First, he's a dad and a cop. Then, he's a RoboCop. But can he also be a RoboDad? With all of its ranting and raving about the question, the film doesn't seem to concerned with actually figuring out the answer.
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Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Sutton Foster took the stage together. No, they haven't teamed up for a Broadway show, a new television series, or a Modern Family/Bunheads crossover (which would be awesome). But the theater-loving stars came together Tuesday to announce the nominations for the 2013 Tony Awards. (They are the hosts for this year's show, after all, so it only made sense that these two would have the honors of making the big announcement.)
Check out which plays and actors are nominated for Tony Awards for their work on the stage this year.
2013 Tony Awards Nominations:
Best Play:The Assembled PartyLucky GuyThe Testament of MaryVanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Best Musical:Bring It On: The MusicalKinky BootsMatilda The MusicalA Christmas Story, The Musical
Best Book of a Musical:A Christmas Story, The MusicalKinky BootsMatilda The MusicalRodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Best Revival of a Play:Golden BoyOrphans The Trip to BountifulWho's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Best Revival of a Musical: AnnieThe Mystery of Edwin DroodPippinRodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play: Laurie Metcalf, The Other PlaceAmy Morton, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?Kristine Nielsen, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and SpikeHolland Taylor, AnnCicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play: Tom Hanks, Lucky GuyNathan Lane, The NanceTracy Letts, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?David Hyde Pierce, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and SpikeTom Sturridge, Orphans
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre: A Christmas Story, The Musical Music and Lyrics: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul Hands on a Hardbody Music: Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green Lyrics: Amanda Green Kinky Boots Music & Lyrics: Cyndi Lauper Matilda The Musical Music & Lyrics: Tim Minchin
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical: Stephanie J. Block, The Mystery of Edwin Drood Carolee Carmello, Scandalous Valisia LeKae, Motown The Musical Patina Miller, Pippin Laura Osnes, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical: Bertie Carvel, Matilda The Musical Santino Fontana, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella Rob McClure, Chaplin Billy Porter, Kinky Boots Stark Sands, Kinky Boots
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play: Carrie Coon, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Shalita Grant, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike Judith Ivey, The Heiress Judith Light, The Assembled Parties Condola Rashad, The Trip to Bountiful
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play:Danny Burstein, Golden Boy Richard Kind, The Big Knife Billy Magnussen, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike Tony Shalhoub, Golden Boy Courtney B. Vance, Lucky Guy
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical:Annaleigh Ashford, Kinky Boots Victoria Clark, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella Andrea Martin, Pippin Keala Settle, Hands on a Hardbody
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical:Charl Brown, Motown The Musical Keith Carradine, Hands on a Hardbody Will Chase, The Mystery of Edwin Drood Gabriel Ebert, Matilda The Musical Terrence Mann, Pippin
Best Costume Design of a Play: Soutra Gilmour, Cyrano de Bergerac Ann Roth, The Nance Albert Wolsky, The Heiress Catherine Zuber, Golden Boy
Best Costume Design of a Musical: Gregg Barnes, Kinky Boots Rob Howell, Matilda The Musical Dominique Lemieux, Pippin William Ivey Long, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Best Direction of a Play:Pam MacKinnon, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Nicholas Martin, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike Bartlett Sher, Golden Boy George C. Wolfe, Lucky Guy
Best Direction of a Musical:Scott Ellis, The Mystery of Edwin Drood Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots Diane Paulus, Pippin Matthew Warchus, Matilda The Musical
Best Choreography:Andy Blankenbuehler, Bring It On: The Musical Peter Darling, Matilda The Musical Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots Chet Walker, Pippin
Best Orchestrations:Chris Nightingale, Matilda The Musical Stephen Oremus, Kinky Boots Ethan Popp & Bryan Crook, Motown The Musical Danny Troob, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Best Scenic Design of a Play:John Lee Beatty, The Nance Santo Loquasto, The Assembled Parties David Rockwell, Lucky Guy Michael Yeargan, Golden Boy
Best Scenic Design of a Musical:Rob Howell, Matilda The Musical Anna Louizos, The Mystery of Edwin Drood Scott Pask, Pippin David Rockwell, Kinky Boots
Best Lighting Design of a Play: Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer, Lucky Guy Donald Holder, Golden Boy Jennifer Tipton, The Testament of Mary Japhy Weideman, The Nance
Best Lighting Design of a Musical:Kenneth Posner, Kinky Boots Kenneth Posner, Pippin Kenneth Posner, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella Hugh Vanstone, Matilda The Musical
Best Sound Design of a Play:John Gromada, The Trip to Bountiful Mel Mercier, The Testament of Mary Leon Rothenberg, The Nance Peter John Still and Marc Salzberg, Golden Boy
Best Sound Design of a Musical:Jonathan Deans & Garth Helm, Pippin Peter Hylenski, Motown The Musical John Shivers, Kinky Boots Nevin Steinberg, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre:Bernard GerstenPaul LibinMing Cho Lee
Regional Theatre Award:Huntington Theatre Company, Boston, MA
Isabelle Stevenson Award:Larry Kramer
Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre:Career Trainsition For DancersWilliam CraverPeter LawrenceThe Lost ColonyThe four actresses who created the title role of Matilda The Musical on Broadway: Sophia Gennusa, Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon, and Milly Shapiro
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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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At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.