Non-Stop is an action thriller starring Liam Neeson as Bill Marks, an alcoholic US Federal air marshal on a nonstop flight from New York to London. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously worked with Neeson on the 2011 thriller Unknown, Non-Stop brings Liam Neeson in the air and forces him against an anonymous threat, who promises to kill someone every 20 minutes unless he is paid $150 million dollars. Bill, slightly drunk and just having smoked a cigarette in the airplane lavatory, receives an anonymous text detailing that this person knows he is the Federal Marshal on board, and unless he receives the money will kill someone on the plane every 20 minutes. From there things get weird. Bill must rely on people he can barely trust to find the killer, and in the process must examine his own demons as he questions reality and the threat turns from bad to worse, with nobody to trust.
The entire film besides some establishing scenes takes place on the airplane. That’s not a lot of room to be able to try new things, and films that suffer with this problem, often have issues arising from a constrictive shooting location. Non-Stop was able to visually keep the film interesting, as it not only built tension but had unique shots that brought the audience closer to the action. The first two acts do a great job building the tension that inevitably must be resolved in some way during the third act. The audience is kept questioning who the threat is while being shown that almost anyone could be a suspect. The passengers are all suspects, and the film does a good job in building up to its conclusion. The third act and ending are not as good as the setup, which is why the score is not higher. It’s not a terrible ending, however, it lacked something special. Still, for the type of movie it is, most of the audience seeing the movie know what they’re getting, and for the most part Non-Stop is an overall fun movie.
Within the last couple years Liam Neeson has come into his own as an action star. At the tender age of 61, Neeson is as strong as ever as a true bonafide action star. Neeson is believable as someone who can hold his own in a fight, and he’s also a pretty good actor. Many action stars we have come to love in our movies can’t really act. Audiences forgive the lack of acting ability in favor of electricity on screen, but it’s nice to see an action star who’s really an actor first. Non-Stop mostly features Neeson, often by himself attempting to solve this mystery and stop the killer. Neeson is one of those actors that has that look about him; he can convey emotions without speaking a word. In this film, Neeson, even as an alcoholic US air marshal, will still get sympathy.
Non-Stop is a movie that doesn’t attempt to be anything that it’s not. It embraces its relatively cliché plot and lets Neeson handle most of the load. The supporting cast of Julian Moore, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker,Linus Roache, and Shae Whigham (Boardwalk Empire) more than back up Neeson’s efforts and add to the overall quality of the film. I would have given it a higher score, but the originality of the plot and the third act held it back. Overall, Non-Stop is an incredibly fun film to watch. You will be trying to guess who the killer is for most of the film, and you get to see Liam Neeson do what he does best, kick some ass.
Non-Stop can now be purchased on Video on Demand (VOD), and will be available to rent Tuesday June 3.
Rolling Midwestern flatlands are put on high display in Alexander Payne’s new film Nebraska. Nebraska stars Bruce Dern as Woody Grant, an aging and naive man who thinks he won $1 million in a sweepstakes no matter how many people tell him it is a scam. The film begins with Woody walking on the side of the road as he attempts to travel from his home in Billings Montana to Nebraska, where he is going to collect his $1 million that he won in a sweepstakes. Woody is picked up and brought back to the police station, where they call his son David (Will Forte) to come pick him up. On the drive home, David learns that Woody will stop at nothing to go to Nebraska to collect his prize money. After another “escape” attempt, David agrees to drive his father to Nebraska despite opposition from his brother Ross (BobOdenkirk) and hilariously outspoken mother Kate (June Squibb). As expected, Woody and David run into obstacles along the way, and eventually get to Woody’s hometown Hawthorne Nebraska where his brother and family live. Hawthorne is a small town, so once people begin to hear that Woody is now a millionaire he quickly becomes the talk of the town and craziness ensues. Nebraska is a well acted character piece, shot in black and white, and highlights the dying towns of the Midwest and an attempt for a father and son to reclaim their relationship and their lives.
Nebraska at its core is about the relationship of the Grant family, all perfectly cast, with many sure to be nominated for Oscars. Bruce Dern plays the clueless Woody Grant perfectly in one of his best performances of his career. Woody’s wife Kate was the funniest character in what was a very dry humored film. June Squibb plays the outspoken Kate, who never even knew Woody wanted to be a millionaire. Kate holds nothing back, and lets everyone know her opinion. Some of the funnest lines in the film are delivered by Squibb, who you won’t believe says the things she does. Dern and Squibb deserve nominations for their performances, and Will Forte was surprisingly good as David, who just wanted to spend time with his father. The acting in Alexander Payne’s new film is on par with his other work, so I expect a few nominations come Oscar season.
The cinematography of Nebraska, shot in black and white, brilliantly displays the dying Midwestern towns which parallels the aging and dying Woody Grant. The wide-angle shots put David and Woody’s trip on center stage, as the film takes us from Montana to Nebraska. Half of the movie is spent on the road, and once prosperous working towns are shells of their former selves as each town passes by through well shot establishing shots that truly help set the tone of the film. Nebraska is a unique film, and there aren’t many like it which is a great thing. Everything in the film felt natural, from the locations to the acting which seamlessly draws you into the action where you take a ride to Nebraska with the Grants.
Nebraska is the first film directed by Payne in which he was not directly involved in writing the screenplay, but he did put some finishing touches and rewrote only a few things with the script. The script like in all of his films thrives on its dry humor, which was perfectly exacted by the actors and captured by Payne. At 110 minutes the film moves with a nice pace, never overstaying its welcome in one location. The film flows at a nice speed, and has a incredibly satisfying ending which will leave most content.
12 Years a Slave is the type of movie that tends to come out during Oscar season. The film is an adaptation of the 1853 autobiography Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. The film is directed by English director Steve McQueen, and stars Chiwetel Ejofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, and Brad Pitt. The film tackles very tough subject matter fearlessly, and the end result is a fantastic film that is sure to be on the top of everyones Oscar list. 12 Years a Slave is relentless in its storytelling, and the end result is a beautiful film which at times is hard to watch.
The filmbegins with Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejofor) as a free black man living with his wife and children in Saratoga, New York. Northup is a talented musician, and offered a great salary to tour with a show for a couple weeks. Northup is tricked by two men after a night out in Washington D.C., and wakes up the next morning to find himself chained to the ground and imprisoned. Realizing that he had been tricked into slavery, Northup protests that he is a free man, but this only leads to a severe beating. From this point on, Solomon must keep his real identity and education hidden to avoid being beaten and killed.
12 Years a Slave is an extremely intense film, and at times very hard to watch. Slavery is not your typical subject matter in hollywood films, and it often takes a fearless director like Steve McQueen to make it happen. In his third feature film, McQueen tackles an even heavier subject than his first two films, Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011). Seeing a man go from free, to a slave overnight was a glimpse into just how twisted our society was not long ago. Quentin Tarrintino tackles slavery in Django Unchained, but with an almost heightened sense of reality. Django felt like it took place in Quentins world, while 12 Years a Slave has the brutality and feeling like you are watching something that really happened, and its hard to watch.
As with all true stories, Im sure things were added in to dramatize and facilitate the story to fit the screen, but both the directing and acting made this film very believable in its representation of the brutality of slavery. Chiwetel Ejorfor was incredible as Solomon Northup. The range of his performance was fascinating to see. Michael Fassbender was excellent as the sadistic slave master Edwin Epps. You truly dispize the kind of character Edwin Epps is and who he represents, and Fassbenderchannels this perfectly. While these were two of the standout actors in the film, there were many great performances by many other actors that are worthy of praise, and Im sure when the Oscars roll around, there may be a couple names from this film.
Overall, 12 Years a Slave is both acted and shot beautifully. The visual look of the film immerses you into the story, and Hans Zimmer does a great job filling in the blanks with his subtle but intense score. Many great films are starting to come out with the Oscars around the corner, and 12 Years a Slave is not a film you should overlook. While the film is emotionally exhausting, I think it a film that everyone needs to see. Steve McQueen if he isn’t already will soon be a household name, andI am excited to see what direction he takes for his next film.
12 Years a Slave is now on Blu ray and Video on Demand (VOD).
In the new sci-fi tale Her,Spike Jonze introduces us to his vision of the near future where artificial and human intelligence interact and form relationships and the lines between the two are forever blurred. Her, written and directed by Jonze, looks at the relationship between humans and artificial intelligence and is set in the not too distant future where society and technology are based off what we already have today, which makes for a very believable interpretation of the future. Her stars Joaquin Phoenixas Theodore Twombly, who having recently gone through a divorce from his wife Catherine (Roony Mara) is going through the motions of life and seems to get no pleasure anywhere in his world. His job is to write letters for other people who have trouble expressing their own emotions to give to their loved ones. Feeling alone, Theodore purchases a new operating system for his computer called the OS One. This new OS is the first of its kind, and is developed to evolve and grow over time just like a human. Theodore decides to give his OS a female identity, and the OS gives herself the name Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Samantha talks Theodore into going on a blind date that his friend Amy (Amy Adams) sets up, and while the date seems to be going well at the end right before they are about to go home together the date, played by Olivia Wilde, asks if Theodore is willing to commit to her. Theodore of course stumbles on the answer and the date leaves, after saying a couple hurtful things. After this failed blind date, Theodore, who is really searching for someone to love him begins to fall in love with Samantha, who also is beginning to fall for Theodore. Samantha has a thirst for life and knowledge and this excites Theodore, who loves the way she looks at the world. Samantha begins to change Theodore, and Theodore is helping Samantha change even more. Her envisions a future where humans and OS’s interact as one, with the underlying question of whether or not we need actual human contact for relationships or if artificial intelligence romances are enough to keep us satisfied, while losing the little things that make us human.
While set in the future, Her hits close to where our society is currently shifting in terms with our relationships with technology. One of Theodore’s only hobbies is video games, which are very interactive and not too far off from where we are today. Theodore interacts with the characters in the game through speech and movement, and some of the few times early in the film we actually see Theodore smile and genuinely look happy, and again its another form of satisfaction from technology as opposed to human contact. Theodore seems the most alone when he is surrounded by people. Whether at work or on his way to work, Theodore seems to have no human friends except Amy, who lives in his building and who he had once dated briefly in college. In a city filled with millions of people he can’t seem to connect with another human, and the one person he once had is on the verge of being gone forever if he would only sign his divorce papers. This feeling is felt by millions of people today, as they turn to social media and other technologies to fill in the loneliness in their hearts and to try to connect to someone, or anyone who will love them. These current technologies, and the new OS in Her may help fill some of the loneliness we all experience on a day to day basis, but can it ever truly replace human to human contact?
Theodore, who is a talented writer, works in a cubicle like many of us do today writing letters for other people. This commentary on the dying art of letter writing, which has already hit our society is spot on and very funny. With technology today, many people my age (25) and younger have given up letter writing all together, in favor of a quick email, call, or text which they believe accomplishes the same same thing. Talking to my grandparents, I know what receiving a letter can do for someone to raise their spirits. Taking time out of your day to hand write a letter and mail it is incredibly more intimate and personal rather than just emailing or texting them. A letter shows more thought and preparation, and used to be an important part of interpersonal communication but in our society and especially in Her this isn’t the case, where the act of writing a love letter is passed on to someone to do for you. In Spike Jonze’s future, letter writing is another casualty of technology, as the conciseness shifts from people to machines.
The color palettes used in Her are visually very stimulating. Everything on the outside from the exterior of the buildings landscape to the bland minimalist interiors of the future are very grey and beige, while people wear bright color shirts, and everything from the paper to the blinds are bright realms of colors. Showing that may make it seem like there’s not much going on looking just at the surface, but when you go inside there is more than you originally thought. This goes with the evolving technology in that at first the OS is bland and like the rest, but the more time you spend with “it”, the more unique it becomes and you can see the different colors. Heris a film that will have many different interpretations, and will be equally good on repeat viewings. Spike Jonze has constructed a tightly filmed love story set in the not to distant future, with the question of whether or not technology can fill in the holes left in the heart from past failed relationships.
Joaquin Phoenix played the lonely Theodore to perfection, with the possibility of being the frontrunner in the Oscar competition. Phoenix can display the full spectrum of emotions simply with his facial expressions. This role required him to interact with his OS Samantha for a good chunk of the film, so he had to do a good job not being able to bounce his performance off another actor but also had to show his emotions by body language and sometimes minimal dialogue. Even though you only hear her voice, Scarlett Johansson plays off Phoenix very well and does an excellent job in giving Samantha life, making her feel more human than most of the people Theodore saw every day. Besides technology and his friend Amy, Theodore’s only really other friend is Paul (Chris Pratt), who did a great job with some of the funnier moments of the film. Everybody from Phoenix to his ex-wife Catherine, played as a small role excellently by Rooney Mara, did their jobs well and were perfectly cast in the film.
The fourth feature film by Spike Jonze may be his best overall. Being John Malkovichshowed Jonze had his own style. Adaptation showed that he can get stellar performances from his actors, as Nic Cage was nominated for an Oscar, while Where the Wild Things Are showed that Jonze could handle a big-budget film. Her however combines all these elements from his previous films to make what is his most complete film and it shows his evolution as a feature film director. Her has all the quirky elements that Jonze is known for, while getting some incredible performances as well. Her offers a unique glimpse into what Spike Jonze believes is the future based on the current trends of society. Her is sure to be on top-ten movie lists of the year and it deserves all the recognition it gets. Phoenix and Jonze is a match we’ve all been waiting for, and the result speaks for itself. We are working on developing artificial intelligence, and as Her becomes more and more plausible, it will be interesting to see how it effects interpersonal communication of the future. You may never look at Siri the same way ever again.
Spike Jonze’s new film Her starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Pratt is available on blu-ray/DVD and Video on Demand (VOD).
The name Godzilla roars in the streets worldwide. He is known from Japan to L.A., and even has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But, after appearing in more than 28 films for the Japanese production company Toho, and three American productions (one of which was the terrible 1998 Roland Emmerich version), Godzilla deserved the proper big-screen treatment. Gareth Edwards has given fans a reason to cheer, as he has successfully brought everyone’s favorite daikaiju to the twenty-first century. The technological advancements in cinema have allowed Godzilla to become more than a man in a suit and fully demonstrate the brute force and power of the one-and-only Godzilla.Director Gareth Edwards’ only other work was the 2010 small-budget hit Monsters, so he seemed like a risky yet fitting choice. On a micro-budget, he was able to write and direct a film that much like Godzilla, featured a small story told on a grand scale. With a script by Max Borenstein, Godzilla is a huge movie with a relatable story that draws you into the action, often through the perspective of our main protagonist Lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Ford’s wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and son are thousands of miles away when the first sightings of the beasts take place, and as he makes his way home Brody uses his military prowess to help fend off the threats. The entire film wasn’t about him attempting to get back to his wife and kid (like in so many current alien/monster movies churned out by Hollywood), but the characters are used as the vehicles into the action. The less you know about the plot going into the film, the better your experience will be, so I will cut the plot details short. The plot is compelling on both the micro and macro levels, and the film looked beautiful while telling the story.The first hour or so, all I wanted was to see the beast in action, but the slow build eventually payed off big in the end. You see this worldwide destruction play out mostly through the perspective of one family. The great thing about the script is that while part of the story is the typical getting back to save your loved one schtick, it’s simply used as a backdrop to the much larger story. Lieutenant Ford Brody is caught away from his family when things take a turn for the worst, and while he wants to get back to them, the movie isn’t about him attempting to save them from this disaster. He’s obligated along his journey home to participate and help fight the problem at hand, while still wanting to return to his wife and kid. Aside from the character and plot development, you have one incredibly gorgeous film that completely immerses you into the action and finally delivers on giving fans the Godzilla they have been waiting for.
For the first time, Godzilla looks the way filmmakers had always intended (Although overseas audiences seem to believe Godzilla is overweight, like most Americans). The CGI is beautiful, and the scale of the daikaiju is enormous. The destruction caused by the fights are massive, and at the same time, visually stunning. Gone are the days of men in rubber suits battling amongst miniatures (not there’s anything wrong with that), and now believable as any monster to grace the big screen. Presented in IMAX 3D, Godzilla is a visually stunning display of the highest levels of technology at work. I was never a huge fan of 3D, but within the last year or so, I’m officially sold. It works incredibly well for certain films, and Godzilla is one of them. I highly suggest seeing it in its intended format of IMAX 3D if that’s an option, but if you don’t live near an IMAX theater, I’m sure it will still look beautiful, just not immersive.
As long as your patient for the reveal of the daikaiju, Godzilla pays off in the end. I can’t help shake the feeling of being underwhelmed, but as I’ve been thinking about the overall experience, I think the filmmakers nailed it. The acting from Aaron Taylor Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, and Bryan Cranston help carry the decent script, but the main star of course Godzilla. Godzilla clocks in at 123 minutes, and the time flies. Gareth Edwards and crew have crafted a beautiful film, that will please both new and old fans. There are over 30 Godzilla movies to date, and Edwards’ American version does everything you would want to see in a giant monster movie. The relatable story bring you into the action while Godzilla roars through streets. Godzilla has always been a dynamic creature, being portrayed as both hero and villain, and the new film does an excellent job exploring this relationship to humans. Godzilla is an grounded film, that explores the chaos of a creature larger than a skyscraper, and while it’s tone is very serious, the film is a fun experience from beginning to end.
Godzilla is now playing in IMAX 3D and other large-format theaters nationwide
Divergent is the most recent (and surely not the last) trilogy of young adult novels to get the big screen treatment. We have already been blessed with Twilight, Percy Jackson, and The Hunger Games (which I actually enjoy), and now we get to see the world author Veronica Roth created in the widely popular series. Divergent is the first story of the trilogy where we are introduced to futuristic post-apocalyptic Chicago. Society has split into five factions based on personal attributes. The factions are Abnegation the selfless, Dauntless the brave, Erudite the intelligent, Candor the honest, and Amity the peaceful. Each faction runs a different part of the society, all working together so that there is never a war again. When teenagers turn 16 they are forced to select which faction they will be in for the rest of their lives. They may choose to leave their faction, but if they do, are never welcomed back to their families (Like the Amish). Our protagonist Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is in this predicament as she must chose which faction she will join. The problem is that during her entrance exam, its discovered that she does fit into one specific category and doesn’t easily conform. As you would imagine, the powers at be don’t like people thinking for themselves, and hunt down all that don’t fit into a faction, known as Divergants.
The premise for the film sounds interesting enough, as it’s relatable to what goes on in our society today. While certainly less extreme, we all are put into specific categories through state-sanctioned standardized testing, and put into a box much like the characters living in this world. The problem this movie has is that it asks these important questions, but choses not to answer them. Instead we follow Beatrice “Tris” from her transformation from caregiver to protector of the city. We have to watch her boot camp at Dauntless (brave), as she goes from the worst to best in class. Everything that happens has been seen before, as the film adds nothing new, and chooses instead to ride what successful films have already done. I found it difficult and tedious to watch this movie-enduring the love interests, friends turning on each other, and Tis’ incredible improvement in her fighting ability was painfully dull. The action is spread out and what action scenes we do get, are so forgettable, I’m having trouble remembering the film from one day ago.
It’s a shame to see Kate Winslet and Mekhi Phifer used almost solely for their name on the poster, and not properly utilized. Shailene Woodley does a good job at having to carry this film, which was an incredible amount of weight for her to support. She needed help but was left out to dry. Director Neil Burger (Limitless, The Illusionist) struggled at putting this film together as one cohesive story, and instead it feels like a ton of scenes just thrown together, as the flow of the movie never materials. You just don’t believe, or don’t care about the story the way you should, as the scope of the film seems big but never comes into fruition. The filmmakers had this huge playground of a city to play with, but 80% of the movie takes place in a dimly lit room or narrow corridor. If the story and script are weak you hope for a visually beautiful film, but in Divergent they missed on all parts.
Fans of the books may enjoy seeing the movie brought to life, but other than the real fans, I don’t know who will enjoy this film. Just because you have successful novel/movie franchises doesn’t mean that it will always work on film. Divergent, while having a fairly good cast, delivers nothing in the way of thrills, fun, entertainment, or uniqueness. Coming in at 139 minutes, Divergent feels even longer, and with two more sequels in the works, lets hope that they can right this ship.. or train (Yeah I guess in the future our main mode of transportation will be trains).
Directed by Neil Burger, Divergent stars Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller, Zoë Kravitz, Mekhi Phifer, Kate Winslet, and is in theaters now.
Jason Bateman makes his directorial debut with Bad Words, an offbeat black comedy, raunchy and wrong, yet is able to show an incredible amount of heart. Bateman stars as Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old high middle school dropout, who after finding a loophole in the rules, embarks to win the presigous spelling bee. The only trouble is, his competition are middle school aged children. The premise is simple, but Bateman is able to shine as one of the most unlikable characters in cinematic history (minus many a killers/etc.). Along the way, Trilby is accompanied by by insecure reporter Jenny Widgeon, played hilariously and awkwardly by Kathryn Hahn (Step Brothers, Anchorman). She believes the story of Trilby will make a fantastic story, and is determined to get inside Guy’s head. Guy however is unwilling to open up to anyone, except for 10 year old Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand). The rivalry/friendship between Guy and Chopra is hilarious to see, as Guyu shows the young estate contestant how to have a little fun. While the actions of Guy are usually absolutely deplorable, by the end of the film there is enough heart that shines through and makes it a sweat story. As long as your willing to overlook the foul language and actions of one of the worst people you may have ever seen, Bad Words is actually a fairly heartfelt comedy that will leave you laughing at times you know shouldn’t be funny, if you were a “good” person.
Bateman has made a career for himself playing the straight man in everything from successful television shows (Little House on the Prairie, Arested Development) to successful movies (Horrible Bosses, Identity Theif). As well as he does in these roles, its the offbeat roles which really seem to stand out. Playing commentator Pepper Brooks in 2004′s Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, showed that he is more than a one trick pony, and could turn himself into an almost unrecognizable character. Not to mention filling Michael J. Fox’s furry shoes in the teen wolf sequel, cleverly titled Teen Wolf Too. In Bad Words, he takes it to a whole new level, as you immediately distain his character, but somehow can’t seem not to laugh. By the end, you begin to see the motives, and even sympathize for his charter, while still never condoning his actions in the spelling bee.
With his directorial debut, you can tell Bateman is a fan of classic cinema. Many of the camera tricks and stylistic choices are done by someone who clearly has a knowledge of film. From the lense flares to slow motion, Bateman uses things he loves in other films, and successfully brings it all together for a surprisingly well shot debut. Along with the aesthetics, the script is equally as sharp. Written by Andrew Dodge, the screenplay was on 2011′s The Black List, which is a survey put out every year of the best currently un-produced screenplays. Like many actors Bateman always wanted to be a direct films, and chose this script as his debut. Together, he has crafted a well balanced raunchy comedy that does not fit into any specific category. It’s a unique film that highlights the dark side that Bateman can tap into as an actor.
Bad Words is a film that from begging to end, you’ll be in tears. For the first time, Bateman steps behind the camera, and proves that he actually knows what he’s doing. The relationship between Guy and Jenny is awkward and funny, but the best relationship in the film is between Guy and Chopra. They are two completely different people, but its hilarious to see Guy showing the youngster the ropes on having fun. At 88 minutes, the film is well paced with enough story and bad words to make a unique slightly offensive film that will leave you wondering why you rely so much on spell chek, and whether you should’ve laughed as much as you did.
Bad Words starring Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, Kathryn Hahn, Rohan Chand, and Phillip Baker Hall opens limitedly March 21, 2014 and everywhere March 28, 2014.