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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Late Woodstock icon Richie Havens' ashes are to be scattered over the fabled 1969 festival site on the anniversary of the event's last day. Havens famously kicked off the festival with a marathon performance that transformed him from folk performer to legend and he will be remembered on what will be the 44th anniversary of the event at New York state's Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on 18 August (13).
The music venue has been built on what was Max Yasgur's farm in Sullivan County, where 400,000 music fans celebrated three days of peace, love and bad weather in 1969.
Havens suffered a heart attack and died in April (13), aged 72.
Friends like actors Danny Glover and Louis Gossett, Jr, and musicians including Jose Feliciano and John Sebastian, will celebrate his life and music at a concert at the arts centre.
Woodstock organiser Michael Lang is also expected to take part.
His ashes will be spread over the site by plane.
The end of the world as we know it is marked by a number of familiar tropes. When surveying an endless wasteland, one often encounters the same remnants of our once-thriving civilization. Certain types of structures always seem to endure the cataclysm and sometimes even serve as refuge for the last pockets of humanity. We also typically catch glimpses of the ruins of iconic landmarks both foreign and domestic. Such staples are certainly alive and well in Joseph Kosinski’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi actioner Oblivion.
But is it realistic? Which buildings, installations, and monuments, if any, had the best change of actually weathering Armageddon?
John Blood, Senior Lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture and an a previous collaborator of Oblivion production designer Darren Gilford, burst the bubble. Picture the grand old libraries that always seem to survive the nuclear fallout or world-ending natural event relatively unscathed. Is there something about these old book depositories that make them ideal havens?
“From a purely physical point of view, they aren’t that much different from other buildings,” he says. “Maybe they are designed a bit more stoutly; books are heavy so there’s a little bit more robust structure to them. However the forces of the disaster will do the same thing to libraries as they would to any other structure.”
Architect Mark Reynolds emphasized that proximity to nuclear strikes must be accounted for. “In the small towns situated tens of miles away from major metropolitan areas, there would likely be minimal property destruction and we would still find city halls, libraries, schools, etc.,” he notes. Reynolds further argued that thematic effect trumps accuracy in this regard.
“In my opinion, the reason they use nice old libraries in these movies is they are trying to contrast our high level of accomplishment and civilization against our advanced ability to destroy these accomplishments.”
In Oblivion, we see the charred, but very much still standing remains of the arena in which the last Super Bowl was played. Were these temples to athletic glory built to last? Blood cries foul, stating, “If anything, they’re just more exposed to the elements.”
Another remnant of the past Oblivion that Blood believes would remain are our bridges. It’s common in post-apocalyptic cinema to see the towers of great suspension bridges protruding out of the scorched Earth, or sometimes the sea. Once again, these function as signposts for humanity’s long-obliterated dominance of the planet. Blood suggests the likelihood of bridges surviving nuclear fallout in some form isn’t that outlandish.
“Certain bridges are meant to be simultaneously light and graceful and symbolic, and last a good long while, but they’re made out of steel and stone just like anything else.”
Suddenly, Blood pulls up a poster for Oblivion that features Tom Cruise standing before the remains of what appears to be the Brooklyn Bridge. He immediately spots an architectural inaccuracy.
“I can’t look at this thing without thinking it looks wrong,” he says. Blood points out the various cables, big and small, and the way that they’re positioned. The massive cable stands out. “It’s called a catenary, you just hold a string at two ends and that’s the shape a cable makes. But that cable is not going downward. In other words, those cables should all be sloping to the right. They should go down to the center of the Earth instead of back to how they were when it was an upright bridge. It’s just wrong. So we don’t have gravity in the future? The gravity on the cables is based on when the bridge was upright, they did not correct it for when they tilted it.”
Finally we came to the subject of those obligatory fallen landmarks. By this point, Blood’s curiosity was piqued. As we discussed the structural durability of national monuments, he was watching an Oblivion trailer.
“If anything they’d be more fragile,” he says. “The Statue of Liberty keeps cropping up everywhere, doesn’t it? It’s in Planet of the Apes, and one of the asteroids just happened to hit it in Armageddon. But yeah, they would be more fragile. There’s a thin layer of copper [in the Statue of Liberty] that is about the thickness of a penny. That thing particularly would not last.”
Blood then came to a particular scene in the trailer that had him totally puzzled, and one that further casts doubt on the staying power of national monuments post-annihilation. After the cataclysmic events prior to the action of the film, the Washington Monument and The Capitol remain.
“That’s just silly,” Blood says. “What happened to the rest of the city of Washington D.C.? There is nothing stouter about those two landmarks than any other structure in that town.”
Reynolds also stresses the dubious nature of these landmarks withstanding the apocalypse. He points out that “reinforced concrete buildings can withstand the blast in the peripheral areas, but most of our major buildings, stadiums, and monuments are concentrated at the ‘bulls eye’ and therefore, most buildings would be destroyed.”
Oblivion production designer Darren Gilford says any inaccuracy is done for the sake of the audience. Watching Tom Cruise run past a unrecognizable skyscraper simply wouldn’t be interesting.
“I think you've got to play to the cinematic icons,” Gilford says. “I think if it was a generic building that could have been anywhere, I don't think it would have been as impactful.” He says the existence of Independence Day and Planet of the Apes are proof. There's something that resonates with an audience when they can see an iconic piece of architecture that they relate to that's obviously been put in a situation that's alien to their typical expectations or memories.”
So where would our architects of destruction seek shelter in the event of doom and calamity? Their congruent responses should sum up the faith we should all place in any building withstanding any sort of apocalypse.
“Underground. Unless it was a flood or tsunami, but if it’s anything that has any kind of dynamic action going on, I would prefer to be in a hole underground,” Blood confesses. Reynolds adds, “Underground or earth covered structures are the best shelters in the event of an apocalypse, however, if 23,000 nukes were set off, the air, water, and food sources would be irradiated and very few people would survive.”
Additional Reporting by Matt Patches
More: Tom Cruise Only Gets Hurt Handsomely'Oblivion': Post-Apocalyptic Future Is Appropriately GlossyRead Our Review of 'Oblivion'
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June is going home for her sister’s wedding toting a mess of car parts from a junkyard in Wichita apparently the best place in the country for scrap parts. At the airport she twice bumps into a mysterious fellow with dynamite bangs. Just when she feels she might be falling for him she returns from the airplane lavatory to find he has killed everyone onboard. What follows is 110 minutes of your life siphoned painfully from you that you can never reclaim.
Knight and Day is the pinnacle of studio laziness: two pretty people forcefully crammed into an empty vessel in the hopes that their celebrity will dupe more than a few rubes into buying a ticket. This movie is lifeless; it has no pulse from beginning to end. I’m not naive. I know why movies like this exist and I know that I am not the target audience. But what really burns me about Knight and Day is that it fails to deliver on the one note on which movies like this typically bank: cheap romance.
The principal design of a film like this is to provide masturbatory fantasies for people who read gossip magazines. When you are making a film in that vein the only requirement of you is to create chemistry and steaminess between your two leads. Knight and Day managed to fashion a film like that without spending a lick of effort to create sexual tension between the characters. At no point in the film did I feel like they had a relationship -- or that they were even interested in one another -- until I was explicitly told that it was true.
Most of the absence of heat between them is a product of two veteran movie stars who obviously could not care less about the film they are making. If you are a fan of either Tom Cruise or Cameron Diaz I would highly suggest taking a trip to Madame Tussauds and staring at their wax likenesses because they will offer more skilled performances cast in wax than they did on screen. If Cruise’s performance were any more phoned in AT&T would’ve sponsored the film. To counterbalance that Diaz is a complete doorknob. Her “fish out of water” routine more often than not devolves into completely inauthentic stupidity and emotionless non-reactions. And I’m sorry Tom but even you have to exert yourself just an iota to be charming.
The plot of the film isn’t just generic it’s insultingly stupid. Take the actors out of the film -- hell take away the fact that the film exists -- if you were to recount the plot points of Knight and Day to someone as if it were a story that person would think you a moron. MacGuffins about batteries characters identified by their naiveté suddenly becoming fully cognizant of complicated schemes and being pretty serving as the only criterion for graduating to superspy all expected to be swallowed as fact.
At least it’s an action film so there are moments of sheer entertainment right? Wrong! The action scenes are as bland and unsatisfying as the rest of the script and offer little more than sweet retreat from the idiocy of the plot and the inadequacy of its cast. Please do not waste your time money or brain cells on this unmitigated garbage. If we collectively say no to movies like this perhaps the next summer vehicle for pretty people will have the good decency to be mediocre.
Once respected NYPD detective Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is now pretty much on his last legs literally and figuratively. He drinks is relegated to a desk job and walks with a limp. One morning after a long shift he’s corralled into transporting a petty criminal Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) to the courthouse 16 blocks away so he can testify by 10:00 a.m. What Jack doesn’t know is that Eddie is one of the key witnesses in a case against crooked cops--that is until the two start getting shot at. Then it becomes crystal clear. The main bad guy Jack’s former partner Frank (David Morse) basically lets Jack know Eddie will never testify to just go ahead and hand him over but Frank underestimates Jack’s desire to finally do something good. So Jack and Eddie fight their way to the courthouse block by gut-wrenching block. Oh no there’s nothing formulaic about 16 Blocks not at all. In a film as predictable as this the only thing that’ll make it stand out is the performances. 16 Blocks nearly succeeds--but not quite. It would seem Willis is playing a character he’s played a hundred times before--the misunderstood and slightly unorthodox cop with a heart of gold. But as Jack the actor does a nice job trying out some new things namely playing fat bald and grizzled. You can almost smell how bad Jack’s breath has to be. Rapper/actor Mos Def who usually brightens any film he’s in also tries his hand at something different but his choices aren’t as smart. As the talkative and affable Eddie Mos comes up with one of the more annoying nasally accents ever recorded. After about five minutes of screen time you desperately want him to stop and say “Just kidding! I don’t really talk like this.” But he doesn’t. It’s too bad something like an accent can ruin an otherwise decent performance. Old-school director Richard Donner best known for his Lethal Weapons is a consummate professional when it comes to making these kind of movies. In other words he pretty much paints by numbers. We watch Jack and Eddie get out of one tight situation after another as the gaggle of bad cops try to gun them down. I mean 16 blocks doesn’t seem that far to go so they better throw in as many highly implausible obstacles as they can. Chinese laundries alleyways rooftops subways. And yes even a city bus which the pair--who have by now bonded big time--has to hijack. Donner also employs a popular but nonetheless annoying technique of zooming in when the action heats up so you can’t really see what’s going on. Even if you’re addicted to action movies--a Bruce Willis action movie no less--16 Blocks just doesn’t deliver the goods.