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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We may never be able to solve the mystery of how on earth Hollie Cavanagh manages to hang on so tightly to her spot as an American Idol finalist, but we can plead with voters to stop allowing her to sit pretty on the hallowed Couch of Safety. She can silence an entire auditorium of embarrassed by-proxy Idol fans with a single disappointing performance, yet she stays while ready-made performers like Jessica Sanchez and Colton Dixon receive the sting of the bottom ranks. Steven Tyler’s tangential compliments about floating spirits and ism and wasms make more sense than Hollie’s apparently stalwart position.
The Top 6 are about to tackle the classic catalog of rock legend Queen, and unless one of these miracles (or disasters) take hold, there is no way Hollie deserves to hang on like a sweet, flaxen-haired, pretty little leech. She may be a cutie pie and a total sweetheart, but to get all Simon Cowell on this thang: This is a competition, not a friendship circle.
1. The Idol Bug Strikes Back
The infamous illness that swept Idol’s Hollywood week audition rounds would have to make a comeback and take out at least three other contestants (Jessica, Joshua, and Phillip or Skylar) for Hollie to have any right to stay in the competition.
2. Her Idol Journey Has Been a Ruse Leading Up to a Miraculous Movie Moment Comeback
Maybe it’s all part of the plan. First, she won our hearts with her tiny frame and big voice coupled with her childlike love of her impossibly cuddly puppy. Second, she solidified her hold on our hearts by showing off her loving, cute-as-a-button parents. Then, she failed to improve and failed so hard onstage even Ryan Seacrest couldn’t muster a comforting comment. Next, she hung on past top dogs like Colton Dixon, defying all odds, and now, she’s ready to come out of her shell and show us that she had it in her all along. It’s the perfect Lifetime movie moment, but I’d bet a million of Jennifer Lopez’s bandage dresses that it’s never going to happen.
3. Elise Testone Gets Even More Lost
My problem with Miss Testone from day one is that I can never manage to pinpoint Who She Is As An Artist. You’d think after 10 years of America’s oldest live singing competition, our finalists would know how to carve out an image. Elise is more scattered than a Jackson Pollock painting, and if Now and Then week was any indication, she’s still lost. Still, she’s got a fire in her that deserves a little more exploration than Hollie’s vanilla ballads, but if she walks out this week and tries to convince us she’s the next Rihanna after trying on Rocker Chic, Blues Singer, and jazzy hats for the past few weeks, she may be the more deserving castoff.
4. Phillip Phillips Strains His Vocal Chords With an Over-Growl
As I’ve mentioned an embarrassing number of times before, I’m a Phil Phillips fangirl. Do they still make puffy, sparkly stickers for pop stars? Because my day planner could use some sprucing, and I wouldn’t mind using some Phil paraphernalia to do it. But seriously, he needs to watch his growling because he’s approaching dangerous levels. I know it’s his thing, and I love it just as much as the next obsessed Idol viewer, but he’s in danger overusing his superpower. And when he crosses that boundary, it’ll be like that time my cousin loosened the lid on the lemon pepper shaker and my salmon quickly went from pink to black and yellow. It’s bad, mmk? But as long as he continues to keep the grrrrr in check, Hollie should be packing her cute little (I’m assuming) pink and purple suitcase and head on home.
Do you think Hollie deserves to stay? Are you the one voting 10,000 times to keep her on the show? If so, who should go home in her place?
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Forget Black Swan – Natalie Portman’s real crowning performance is to be found in the romantic comedy No Strings Attached in which director Ivan Reitman asks her to convey sincere unqualified affection for Ashton Kutcher. Portman much to her credit gamely complies and though she may not have the emaciated figure bloody nails and bandaged ankles to tell of her labors the psychic scars must no doubt be just as severe.
Exhibiting strong chick-flick leanings and a rambunctious soft-R comic tone (i.e. lots of F-bombs some menstrual humor and a few shots of Kutcher’s naked ass) No Strings Attached is built around a basic relationship role-reversal: The dude Adam (Kutcher) longs for a deeper lasting commitment; the chick Emma (Portman) insists on keeping matters purely physical. Emma’s motive is a practical one: As a doctor-to-be her busy residency schedule with its 80-hour work weeks and intensive exam preparations precludes a serious relationship. But alas a woman has certain needs (foreplay apparently not being among them) and who better to fulfill them than Kutcher’s non-threatening boy-toy?
Thus a “friends with benefits” arrangement is cemented whereupon the ripcord is to be pulled on the occasion that either of them develops stronger feelings. This does not last long for soon Adam is cloyingly lobbying for escalation. Emma demurs – not out of disinterest we are told but because she’s intimacy-averse and afraid of a broken heart. Why else would she resist a more permanent attachment to someone like Adam?
Perhaps it’s because Adam as played by Kutcher is about as interesting as cabbage. And yet No Strings Attached would have us believe he’s some kind of floppy-haired Albert Schweitzer. This despite the fact that his greatest aspiration in life is to join the writing staff of a High School Musical-esque television series the shallow inanity of which is one of the film’s recurring jokes. In vain support of his cause the filmmakers decorate Adam’s apartment with various props – vintage posters books about 1920s movies a guitar that is occasionally picked up but never actually played – that hint at a depth that Kutcher himself never manifests.
Still Portman sells us on Adam and Emma’s inevitable union with every ounce of her not inconsiderable talent. (And her comic chops are legit – as those who’ve glimpsed her appearances on SNL and Funny or Die can attest.) But she asks too much. And Elizabeth Meriweather’s script while witty and stocked with some keen observations on the evolving nature of relationships in the modern age becomes weighed down by sentiment unbecoming an R-rated comedy not directed by Judd Apatow. In the end Kutcher seals the increasingly contrived deal with the climactic line “I’m warning you: Come one step closer and I’m never letting you go ” (I’m paraphrasing but not loosely) by which time the film's already lost its grip.