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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I call the Real Housewives all sorts of mean names, from screech banshees to shriek harridans to feces-chucking monkeys, but basically they are all just monsters. They are awful molded flesh, plasticine, and filler wrapped around a dark core. They're the opposite of a Scooby-Doo villain who looks like an evil sea creature but you tear off it's head and there is a human underneath. They all (well, most of them at least) look like real people but when you gaze deep into their eyes or other orifices you see that there is just some gross squid mutant below, shucking and jiving its limbs in the blackest abyss. Yes, they're all monsters, but the biggest monster I have ever seen was Vicki when her daughter announced that she eloped. It's like she turned into Slimer from Ghostbusters just wobbling through the air and pelting everyone with green glowing globs of her all-consuming narcissism.
Vicki says that Brianna eloping was disrespectful and rude. She says, "You've taken every dream away from me. It robbed me...Hello, it's not about them...I hate to make it about me." Oh Vicki. You are like the cowpie stain on King Joffrey's face. That's what you are: Residual turds. Everything she has to say about Brianna's marriage is wrong because, well, it is about Brianna and her husband. Their relationship is about them. It has nothing to do with you, Vicki. Yes, you may be disappointed and upset, sure, but you have absolutely no right to carry on like you have been robbed of some fundamental right. Driving your daughter crazy about the flowers at the engagement party isn't in the constitution. It isn't even in the covenants of whatever gated community you live in. It's not even in your Bravo contract. It is some elaborate fantasy that you have cooked up for yourself so that you could find a way to shine through your daughter. Frankly, it's pretty disgusting.
Particularly because we all love Brianna. She is, I suppose, the only real person who has ever inhabited one of these shows. She's like an actual, rational human being, which is harder to find than a unicorn giving a ride to a straight Liza Minelli fan on the way to watch the Browns in the Super Bowl (the Browns are a family of football playing squirrels). That is to say that Brianna is unique and amazing and someone who I would actually want to be friends with. I would say that I would watch a reality show all about her, but it would probably just be scenes of her watching Grey's Anatomy on DVR wearing her comfy sweats and on her third glass of wine, which would be fun but I watched that show for 18 years when it was called "Mom" and it was kind of boring.
This is all to say that the audience, of course, has Brianna's back in The Great Battle of the Elopement. Oh, speaking of which, I love when Vicki was like "We never really fought," and then the show brings up all this old black and white footage of years of the two of them squabbling. You can't hide from the past when it's so well documented, Vicki. You can't run, you can't hide, and you can't reinvent. You can only be humiliated.
Next: What the hell is Wine By Wives?
Alright, I'm going to skip over all the stupid shit about Gretchen and Slade getting married (seriously, Gretch, if you marry him with all that debt and messiness then your head is emptier than Alexis' prayers) and get right to the Wine by Wives party. First of all, what is Wine by Wives? It appears to be some sort of alcoholic ponzi scheme. It's a Pinot Grift-io. I bet Brooks thought it up because, well, he is a flim-flam man. Anyway, Vicki and Tamra invite all their friends over to some penthouse in Irvine, the luxury capital of the state of California's higher education department, to launch their liquid pyramid scheme. Actually, there weren't that many people there. It was the Housewives and their attendant husbands (except Tamra got a special dispensation for her son Ryan so that he could leave the house and go to the party and his ankle monitor wouldn't go off) and Alexis brought an alien. Oh, wait. That's Jim. He just looks so much like a fat version of the Great Gazoo that I always get confused. There were like three other people there and they were all probably employees of Vicki's.
Anyway, Michael, Vicki's other kid who is never on the show at all because he must be boring as blob of Play-D'oh or just hates that his family is trotting it's life out on the screen, show's up at the party and everyone is all fancied up and gussy gloried to hell and Michael rolls in wearing jeans. "What up, dawgs?!" he asks, giving everyone deuces and making a face like someone just dropped said deuce. Vicki introduces him to Brooks, her boyfriend who is a criminal of some sort, and tells them to go off together and have a catch and sing a round of "Cat's in the Cradle." They go upstairs and Brooks is all, "I really love your mom. She's so great, and I know I just met her two weeks ago but I have investigated her stock portfolio and I have decided that I will say whatever she wants to please her. Are you OK with that? So, what about your sister? Oh, and I have these time shares in Arizona and the great thing is you don't have to sell them, you just have to recruit people who are going to pay you to try to sell them. It's called multi-level marketing. That's what I do. We can make a fortune."
Michael, however is all like, "Um, I don't really want to do this now. I don't want to meet every man my mom dates. Also, I saw Glengarry Glen Ross and I think that you're trying to pull a scam on me. What the fuck is wrong with you?" Michael is also a little pissed that Brianna didn't tell him that she got married and he had to find out on Facebook. I feel your pain, Mike. My brother eloped and he told me by text message. He couldn't even call? What a jerk! But I got over it pretty quickly, why can't all of these Housepersonages? What is their damage, Dion?
Anyway, so Vicki calls all 10 people at this big deluxe Amway wine party and says she has a big announcement to make. Her daughter Brianna, that no good asshole, went and got married in Vegas and didn't even ask her. "Here is a whip, if you will please step up and take turns lashing Mr. and Mrs. Brianna and her Husband!" Brianna comes out and everyone is all excited. Heather says, "I'm shocked!" Alexis says, "Praise Jesus." Gretchen says, "I think I lost my blue cheese in this wine glass. SLLLLLLAAAAAAAAAAAAADE, get it out!" Tamra says, "You are wearing my dress, you freaking cooze!"
Everyone is very happy but they all say that if their daughters eloped, that they would have a conniption fit. Get over it, people. When your child is 25 years old and makes a decision that makes her happy you just need to get over it and move on with your life. I mean it's not like Brianna's husband Ryan is some guy who abandoned his children in Mississippi so that he could go live with a lonely wealthy woman on a reality television show and has no describable profession and has been to prison for not paying child support. No, it's not like that at all. He's a nice young man who was in the Marines and served in Iraq and is as quick to laugh and easy-going as Brianna. Anyone would love to have him in the family.
Then Vicki tells everyone that she has a huge surprise for Brianna. "Oh, don't say you're engaged," she mumbles. Vicki shoots a dagger out of her eye says, "No. It's drunk Uncle Billy!" She says and a sozzled swizzle stick of a man comes sloshing down the stairs holding a bottle of Jack in one hand, his tie undone and his jacket full of boozy sweat. "Heya kiddo. Howth it hangin?" Oh, Drunk Uncle Billy.
After that big surprise, Vicki tells Brianna and Ryan that they have to sit down and talk to Brooks. She doesn't want to. As she said before, no one knows anything about this guy or what he does or who he is and he just says everything you want to hear in his low twang like he's Sawyer returned from The Island and aged 20 years. Brianna is right to be cautious. They sit down and Brooks is all, "I love you like a daughter. I love you like my own kids, which means I think you're really awesome and everything, but I won't give you a red cent. But you are the HTTP Colon Backslash Blackslash Dubya Dubya Dubya dot Bomb dot Com. And you have success in your genes, because your mom is so successful, so whatever you do, you are genetically disposed to be amazing. Now, enough with the flattery. A friend of mine told me about this bridge that is connected to Manhattan. Now, it seems like a sound investment and he said that he could sell me a few pieces of this bridge and it's going to make a very lot of money. Would you be interested in loaning me some money for this business opportunity?"
Vicki cuts him off to let Brianna know that their relationships are the same. Oh hell no, Vicki. Brianna is married to a nice, normal, wonderful, loving hunk of a Marine and you are being swindled by Foghorn Leghorn. You're just letting Colonel Sanders walk right into your henhouse and walk away with all the Chicken (Flavored Product). Brianna is this guy's partner. You are Brook's meal ticket. Don't you see the difference?
After their meeting, Brianna finished off her stemless glass of champagne and got up off the Ikea couch to go. "Brianna, wait," Vicki said, toppling after her into the hall. And that left Ryan an Brooks sitting alone on the sectional. Ryan was leaning back into the cushions, his arm up on top of them, feeling the void that Brianna just left. He put his hand on his leg close to his crotch. It was a defensive position, and Brooks rocked on his feet a bit as he sat hunched over with his arms on his thighs. He was looking right at Ryan and trying to figure out the thing he would say to him to win him an ally. Maybe he could mention something about the war or his time in the service. He hadn't even served, but he could make something up, he was good at that. Maybe he should welcome him and let him know that his first mother-in-law didn't like him either, which is why he sold her savings bonds and bought himself a jet-ski. Maybe he should just get him drunk and tell him stories about when he was a young pussy hound down in Bay St. Louis, taking the young windows of oil men from New Orleans to town and getting gifts out of them slowly, like pearls out of oysters. No, that was too obvious. Like gold from a mine. Nope, again, too on the head. Like those little bits of pudding out of bubble tea, one flavorful burst at a time flying up a fat plastic straw and into his mouth. That's what he would tell him, his pussy hound days. "You know, Ryan...."
"No." Ryan responded, not moving or flinching. Definitive. Succinct. "Don't."
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
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Well folks, the first night of the new American Idol has come and gone and now we get to discuss just how "new" this revamped Idol really is. There's good news and bad news. The bad news is: they lied. Every promo and interview has promised us a revolutionary Idol; one filled with hope, one where dreams begin, one where the days of sending the crazies through to the judges just because it's fun comes to an end. This was not that Idol, and believe it or not, that's also the good news. It's basically the same as it ever was but with a slightly different dynamic. Idol now delivers the same standbys we all know and (begrudgingly) love, but now with new flavors in the form of two novice judges and a newly empowered Randy Jackson.
"Oh my goodness gracious!…I wanna go home!" - Jennifer Lopez
The biggest shift is obviously the new blood at the judges' table, and for Lopez, the new post was a little troubling. She has no issue threatening to kill the host of the Golden Globes, but when it comes to telling some poor soul their dream is over, she couldn't take the heat. Of course, as the auditions wore on, her exhaustion afforded her enough gumption to start telling it like it is (kinda) but not before we were treated to a montage of her whining about how hard her job is. Jennifer, Ellen DeGeneres is pretty much the nicest celeb I can think of and even she didn't complain about this as much as you do. You're getting millions of dollars, you should be able to learn to say the word "no." Say it with me, N-O.
"Where is your pitchfork you little devil?" - Steven Tyler
Of course, for Steven Tyler the transition was a little easier (maybe because he's a little crazier than JLo), but this is no surprise. He's an aging rockstar who's trying desperately to prove he's still got it (and by "it" I mean insanity). He took to his post, bringing his signature raspy squeal and rock star sensibility to the room.
They may not be adding a 5 second delay to make sure his colorful vocabulary stays off the air, but that wouldn't help what seems to be the real problem (or delight depending on who you ask) which is the fact that S.Ty. can't seem to keep it his pants. Obviously the producers at Idol caught onto this fact and treated us to a cheesy little montage of all his over-the-top praises for the young girls reaching for their dreams, including one sixteen year old who he noted was "showing just the right amount of skin" like that creepy, and perhaps slightly unstable uncle who makes inappropriate comments at a family reunion. If you're like me, you thought when Jennifer couldn't be mean that we may be looking at another Paula Abdul on the panel, but I think that's a premature judgement. Besides, my money is on Tyler. He's a little loopy, he loves EVERYONE, can't seem to say anything productive about anyone's voice or singing ability and he screams at the end of all of their auditions. I got your new Paula RIGHT HERE.
"I think people would tell me if I sucked." -Contestant
"Really?" -Randy Jackson
As the old hand of the group, Randy is able to take the seat he's never been quite able to reach - Simon's seat. Okay, yes this is figurative and literal because he actually did take a seat in the chair that for the past 9 seasons has belonged to the Frost-miser himself, but he's also realized that now that he's the only Idol vet left, it's up to him to reign in the crazies. There's a little less "yo dawg" and a little more of that "you've got to be kidding me" sentiment and it's clear that Randy's got a little bit of the big man on campus complex that dudes get when they make the varsity football team or finally reach senior year of high school. We get it, you've been around the whole time, but guess what, JLo and Tyler are way more fun than you are. Still, we need him to lead the pack, otherwise we'd be left with an hour of Steven screaming and squealing at every contestant and JLo switching between trying to hide under the table or hug every contestant because they make her want to cry, and that will not stand. Sorry Randy, I guess no one warned you that you'd be babysitting.
"Did you eat paint chips as a child?" -Steven
Okay, now for the reason we're all here for an audition episode: the contestants. Of course the episode treated us to the usual barrage of faces some talented, some delusional, and some were actually entertaining. For those that weren't brought on just to make audiences cringe, youth and inexperience was the theme. Though we saw a few vets who've been trying to make it for years - we're talking to you singing waitress - it was hard to miss the sheer number of minors making it through to that glorious golden ticket moment. Perhaps showing us slews of 16 year olds with serious pipes is the show's way of proving that Idol is newer and more hopeful, but here's the thing, youth doesn't necessarily equate to hope. What we saw last night was a group of teens who definitely packed the goods but haven't yet learned how to use them - other than a feeble attempts to sound like Mariah Carey or Michael Jackson. They're all products of pop music, and hopefully when they finally step foot in Hollywood, they'll start learning how to use those voices or it's going to be a long, flat (or sometimes sharp) season.
Alright, now that we've got all those smiling faces out of the way, what about the crazies? Well, we had our share of the usual set: the next William Hung and Michael Jackson impersonator who can't sing or dance really, but is likely to become a YouTube sensation; the kid who shared with us his homemade video about ending the "texting while driving" epidemic before massacring a classic Sinatra song; and a girl whose audition was so bad that the judges gave up trying and just joined her in singing and clapping before swiftly crushing her every dream. Aw. My favorite of this set was one Buster Bluth (from Arrested Development, may it rest in peace) reincarnation who not only sounded like he had play-doh covering his vocal chords and whose notes landed anywhere but where they should be as he audaciously rolled through "Proud Mary." (Unfortunately the internet gods didn't find him as interesting as I did so you'll have to settle for the glimpse of him in the montage clip higher up in this post.) I was with the judges when they finally told him that he just "shouldn't sing anywhere." Sorry, dude. The truth hurts, but it's supposed to set you free, right?
"What's with those joo-joo-bies on your ooh-ooh-bies?" -Randy
Of course there were a few contestants that played exceptions to the rule; one who gave Snooki a run for her money and the other who seemed to embody all the trashiest elements of Britney Spears if BritBrit was a Liza Minelli fan. First up, the next Miss Jersey Shore gave a shameful display of Jersey stereotypes ushered onto television by MTV's biggest reality show, leading us all to believe she'd be awful - and she was at first. She sang her own original song including lyrics that claimed Fox needs her - specifically, for ratings - but then, because this is the nice Idol, they gave her a chance to sing another song (no wonder it's pitch black outside by the time they finish these auditions) and the girl, as trashy as she was with a bikini top bedazzled with giant silver stars to go with her grey business slacks, can actually sing. Boom, ticket to Hollywood (even though she's so obnoxious that her continued success in the competition may require that I start turning the show into a drinking game).
Then there was the trashy Broadway "star," who despite having a fantastic stage voice sang "Gimme Gimme" from Thoroughly Modern Millie like she had the devil inside her and he was trying to break out through song. Her face was that red. Of course, in their insanity most likely induced by the crazy girl breaking down crying and screaming touting that "Pop music needs to get with Liza Minelli," the crazies of the judging bunch let her through to Hollywood as Randy joined the rest of us shaking his head in disappointment (and let's be honest, total disbelief). This is where Simon would have said with a blanket of judgment wrapped around that prim British accent, "You have GOT to be kidding me." His eyes would then follow that up by rolling completely out of his head.
So there you have it folks. The first of many episodes that promise to make you yell at your TV, smack yourself in the face, gasp so loud your windows rattle, and make your hair stand on edge. Idol is back and it's just as ridiculous as ever, but that's really all we ask for, right?