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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Electronic music stars Chase & Status have denied accusations the free school for musicians they are setting up in their native U.K. is an academy of fame. The dance duo is preparing to launch the East London Arts & Music (ELAM) school, where youngsters aged 16 to 19 can train in music technology, business and performance alongside regular subjects such as maths and English.
They have now spoken out to address accusations they are creating an X Factor-style institution to tutor kids on a fast-track to stardom, insisting the claims are unfair.
Musician Will Kennard tells NME magazine, "There's a misconception that we're trying to promote a sort of Fame Academy, but ELAM isn't about how to be a pop star. Even being incredible on a mixing desk is not enough to get you a career in music - you need the professional expertise too."
ELAM is being backed by the prestigious Brit School, which counts Amy Winehouse and Adele among its former students.
Gangster Squad the new movie from genre-blending filmmaker Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) has a tone problem. The scatterbrained approach to the vigilante tale is summed up in one particular sequence: the "Squad " cops given permission to take down the goons of Los Angeles gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) by any means possible bust a dope smuggling operation at an airport in Burbank. Instead of tailing the criminals making off with the drugs they engage them in a car chase full of gunfire explosions and hyper-stylized CG-assisted camera work. When they finally do capture Cohen's men the squad leader Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) interrogates them then shoots the cowering thugs in the back of the legs before rolling them down a hill. Within seconds the movie jumps from outlandish comic book roller coaster ride to gritty crime fiction exploring the moral complexity of defeating crime lords. The two mix onscreen like water and oil.
Fleischer packs it all into Gangster Squad and rarely does any of the material shine. Brolin works as the hard-nosed policeman dedicated to justice physically perfect with beady eyes and a square chin. But that's all his character has to offer with his squadron offering even less. Ryan Gosling appears as the whippersnapper cop on the verge of corruption expressing his doubts with the whiniest '40s accent ever to grace the screen. Anthony Mackie Michael Pena Giovanni Ribisi and Robert Patrick fill out the group — after sleek Ocean's 11-style introductions — bringing identifiable traits that open the door for one or two oh-right-that's-why-you're-here moments throughout the film. They feel barely existent in Gangster Squad's zippy script convinced to work outside the law all too easily and following O'Mara into suicidal missions that likely have sounder alternatives. For O'Mara whatever takedown creates the biggest mess — be it the aforementioned chase or setting a Cohen-owned club aflame — is top priority.
The saving grace is Penn playing Cohen like a long lost castmember of Warren Beaty's Dick Tracy. Every moment he's on screen Penn is scarfing down scenery and spitting it in our faces going over the top and sticking to it. He loves money he loves women he loves fudge sundaes. Penn makes a choice one the movie desperately needs. Surprisingly Emma Stone can't keep up as his arm candy Grace Faraday who falls head over heels for Gosling because it's an old fashioned noir throwback and well you certainly can't have one without hammy dialogue and paper thin romance.
The nods to Hollywood's golden era upgraded with flashy costumes and special effects would work if Gangster Squad didn't insist on bringing reality into the picture. Too often the movie resorts to moments of shocking violence much of it intensified by the slow motion shots of a tommy gun. The violence is raw while the film surrounding it is cartoonish. The choice raises questions Gangster Squad never answers: is O'Mara in the right when he takes the law into his own hands? Ribisi's techie character — a WWII vet like O'Mara and someone deeply changed by his war experiences — asks these questions challenging his boss' choices. Briefly. O'Mara and the film brush off the debate any time it comes up making room for more slick scenes of action.
Muddled in some of the most heinous digital photography in recent memory (no exaggeration: half the movie is motion blur) Gangster Squad is an experiment in modernization gone wrong. As Brolin and Penn trudge their way with entertaining choices Fleischer's film goes rogue around them. In this case entertaining outside the law doesn't work.
While Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan helped define the style of a modern day war film it was his HBO mini-series Band of Brothers that truly captured the World War II experience. The multi-part saga dealt with every nook and cranny of the US military's involvement in the war from large scale battles to intimate character details. The new movie Red Tails developed and produced by Spielberg's Indiana Jones collaborator and Star Wars mastermind George Lucas attempts to cover the same ground for the sprawling tale of the Tuskegee Airmen—albeit in a two hour compressed form. The result is a messy handling of a powerful story of heroism. The good intentions make it on to the screen...but the drama never gets off the runway.
Red Tails assembles a talented cast of young actors to portray the brave men of the 332nd Fighter Group a faction of the Tuskegee Airmen. The ensemble is reduced to a jumble of simplistic one-note characterizations: Easy (Nate Parker) the do-gooder with a dark past; Lightning (David Oyelowo) the suave rebel who never listens to orders; Junior (Tristan Wilds) the fresh-faced newbie ready for a good fight; and the rest a nameless group of underwritten yes men all with just enough backstory to make you interested but never satisfied. Thankfully with the little material they have to work with the gentlemen excel. Rapper-turned-actor Ne-Yo is a standout as the quick-witted Smokey overshadowing vets Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. (who spends most of the movie chomping on a corn cob pipe and grinning).
With the plethora of characters comes too many plot threads and Red Tails stuffs its runtime with everything from epic flyboy dog fights romantic interludes (Lightning finds himself infatuated with a local Italian woman) office politics alcoholism and even a POW camp escape. If there was a true lead character the movie may have succeeded in stringing the events together in a coherent narrative but instead Red Tails is choppy and uneven. The aerial battles for all their CG special effects nastiness are incredibly exhilarating but when the movie's not tackling the intensity of a battle (which it does often) it comes to a near halt. That mostly comes down to history standing in the way—the crux of the story focuses on how segregation caused the military's higher ups to avoid utilizing the Red Tails in true battle. Meaning there's a lot of talk on how the team should be fighting as opposed to actually doing it.Director Anthony Hemingway tries to do this important historical milestone justice but the execution flies too low even under made-for-TV movie standards. Red Tails is a dull history lesson occasionally spruced up with Lucas' eye for action. The charisma of the the main set of actors goes a long way in keeping the film tolerable but they can't fill the gaping hole where the emotional hook belongs. This is a movie about heroes yet not once are the filmmakers able to pull off a moment that feels remotely brave. Which is unfortunate—as it's a story of the utmost importance.
Okay. Fine. I'll live.
I went on a desolate three-day bender after hearing that Bryan Cranston was dropping out of Gangster Squad, which compiled the most monumental assortment of actors in the history of time. I wasn't sleeping, I yelled at strangers... but there is a bright light on the horizon, and a fire in the sky. Robert Patrick, the Terminator 2 villain, will be taking Cranston's role. Although I'll never truly be happy with anyone accepting the character of Max Kennard, I don't have much to say in the vein of negative criticism regarding Patrick.
Max Kennard is a didactic Texan police officer based in Los Angeles, hellbent on doing his job to a fault. Kennard has that in him. In fact, I think it's a role pretty well-suited for him.
No matter what, Ruben Fleischer's film will be a sensation: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Giovanni Ribisi, Holt McCallany and Emma Stone. THAT'S how. But you probably already knew most of that, since this film is huge enough to be overshadowing everything from the economic crisis to whatever else exists in the present period of time (I wouldn't know, I've only been focusing on this film).
Just yesterday, I had the good fortune to report that dramatic demigod Bryan Cranston might be joining the cast of the CIA hostage-rescue film Argo. But Cranston is not done thrilling me this week. Reportedly, he’s also attached to Gangster Squad: a film chronicling the true story of the investigation and capture of 1940s mobster Mickey Cohen by a secret police task force.
Cranston will play a no-nonsense LAPD officer named Max Kennard. Others cast members include Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin (seriously…how GOOD is this movie going to be?), Anthony Mackie and Michael Peña. Zombieland's Ruben Fleischer is set to direct (THAT'S how good!).
Cranston’s fourth season as an increasingly criminal drug dealer in Breaking Bad will premiere July 17. After four years on one side of the law, Cranston seems to be interested in exploring the intricacies of the “good guys,” both in Gangster Squad as a police officer and Argo as a CIA agent. Traditionally in film, the good guys are treated as lesser characters. But with the unstoppable force of Heisenberg behind these roles, I predict nothing short of intensity-induced brain-explosions. Just wait. Brain-explosions, people.
We are first introduced to our bushy-haired redhead friend Napoleon (Jon Heder) in a vintage unicorn T-shirt dangling a superhero action figure out the window of his school bus. When his much younger friend asks "What are you going to do today Napoleon?" our protagonist's first words are marked with an attitude that is unmatched by anybody other than Napoleon himself "Whatever I feel like!" Napoleon and his chat room surfing brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) 31 with braces live with their biker grandma (Sandy Martin) until she's injured quad running at the dunes and Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) comes to babysit. Dynamite becomes the campaign manager for the class presidency of his best friend a new Mexican student named Pedro (Efren Ramirez) handing out key chains made by expert friendship bracelet-maker Deb (Tina Majorino). Dynamite also wins over the likes of Trisha (Emily Kennard) with a personal drawing of her that took forever he winsomely says "to finish the shading on her upper lip"; wears a vintage suit to his school dance; and injures his scrotum with a time machine purchased on the Internet. If this proud geek wasn't being kicked during class and pushed into lockers after he could just as easily be considered the coolest dork in town.
Jon Heder masters the coolness of weird and the awkwardness of youth through his social reject Napoleon Dynamite. Heder certainly has the open-mouthed squinty-eyed spectacle-clad doofus down to a T. From breaking an excessive sweat after practicing dance moves in his room to throwing fruit at his Uncle Rico to showing a pent-up rage while dancing for Pedro's candidacy speech Heder does every little thing with a resentful anger that makes his performance unforgettable and oh so laughable. As dazzling as he is alone Heder's act benefits when complemented by his equally outrageous costars. Ruell does a notable job portraying the fragility of his character Kip perfectly displaying the transition from computer geek to ghetto superstar thanks to new girlfriend LaFawnduh (Shondrella Avery). Gries is Uncle Rico--his constant nostalgic comments about his chance to "make State" in high school football in 1982 really start to get on your nerves. But Majorino takes the cake for the hilarity with which she depicts her character down to her hairstyles outfits jobs and hobbies. Her character Deb is eerily reminiscent of Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo) from 1995's dork homage Welcome to the Dollhouse. One of the most attractive things about the movie is the organic love story that unfolds as Napoleon and Deb realize that they're in fact two peas in a pod.
Jared Hess directs Dynamite written by him and wife Jerusha. This movie is his baby as his only other directing and production credits include Peluca 2003's 9-minute short film focused on the character of Napoleon Dynamite then dubbed Seth. Without special effects or an expensive budget Dynamite will blow you away with its simple cinematography paralleled by the plain rural town in which the movie is set. Each of his characters has a specific quirky personality that they stay true to every minute on camera. Dynamite's Deb seems to look to Welcome to the Dollhouse's Dawn for fashion and boy advice. The two films are geek anthems that are both pathetic and inspiring at the same time. Just as Dollhouse reached its peak with a fuming Dawn marching over to her male obsession and releasing her rage over years of being unaccepted Dynamite reaches a whole new peak with the curiously angry Napoleon putting on an emotional dance performance in front of his victim of choice--the entire student body class.