Non-Stop

In Non-Stop, Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is an alcoholic federal air marshall who gets into a big mess on a flight from New York to London. He begins getting text messages from someone on the plane, threatening to kill a person on the plane every 20 minutes unless money is transferred to an account. Yes, it’s an implausible, likely impossible, setup for a story that gets stranger by the minute.

The steps you or I might take—such as disabling the plane’s onboard wi-fi—are dismissed. Of course, making such a move would prevent this caper from continuing. The result would be a very short movie.

Sounds like an “edge of the seat” nail-biter, no? Unfortunately, Non-Stop fails to generate the necessary tension to increase the pulse rate. A lengthy sequence of text message trading between Marks and the unseen culprit is downright boring. Non-Stop just isn’t in the same league as numerous well-known airplane tension/suspense flicks.

But as a mystery, Non-Stop has some redeeming qualities. It’s not exactly a “whodunit” but a “who’s doing it.”

As with many airplane crisis movies, the cast of passengers includes a number of possible suspects: a woman (Julianne Moore) who begs a guy to trade seats with her, a guy with a Middle Eastern look, an excitable NYC cop, among others. Even the crew is not above suspicion.

As the flight continues, some passengers develop reasons to believe that Marks himself is the perp.

Your enjoyment and appreciation of Non-Stop is likely to depend on how you feel about Liam Neeson as an action adventure guy. And how willing you are to buy into this film’s hard-to-swallow plot.

Lupita Nyong’o, who will probably win an Oscar Sunday night, has a small role in Non-Stop as a flight attendant. (As one guy tweeted, she’ll probably say more onstage Sunday night than she does in this film.) Michelle Dockery of Downton Abbey fame plays flight attendant Nancy.

 

 

Advertisements

The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises is a beautiful Japanese anime by the master, director Hayao Miyazaki. Mixing historical reality with imaginative fantasy, Miyazaki delivers another gorgeous animated film. Miyazaki has said that this will be his last film.

My experience is with the original version which has Japanese voices and English subtitles. This original version is set to play at the Tivoli. The dubbed version (playing elsewhere in St. Louis) features the voices of actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci and Mandy Patinkin, among others.

Miyazaki’s films have a mixture of reality and fantasy. His most famous film Spirited Away is mainly fantasy. The Wind Rises is rooted in reality with a smaller amount of fantasy.

This story of real life Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Gordon-Levitt) begins when he is a student in the early days of the 20th century. He is obsessed with aviation. After completing his studies, he works in the industry in Japan and goes on to design the Mitsubishi Zero, the plane that his country used against America in World War II.

Jiro’s life story features the devastation of an earthquake, a trip to Germany to study their techniques and various personal relationships. But always, his focus is on designing airplanes. Many of the film’s fantasy segments involve his muse, Italian designer Caproni, voiced by Tucci.

For true anime fans and fans of Japanese culture, The Wind Rises is a “must see.” If you’ve never seen a Miyazaki film, you may appreciate the fact that the film is a fictionalized version of true events. (Some of his other films have a dreamy weirdness.)

As an American who has seen the films and heard the stories of the Pearl Harbor attack, it is odd to see Jiro depicted as a hero. But Jiro’s life’s work is designing planes, not ordering military missions.

The Wind Rises moves at a leisurely pace. The film is longer than most U.S. animated features, just over two hours. Some viewers, especially restless youngsters, may find it too slow. (Its rating is PG-13 for disturbing images and smoking.) For me, this movie’s gorgeous images and creative storytelling manage to overshadow any pacing issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Days To Kill

Kevin Costner is not the best actor in the world, but people like him. Men like him because he’s a man’s man who made three movies about baseball. Women like him because he’s rugged, yet sensitive. Of course, he is a handsome man, too.

In Three Days To Kill, we get Costner the gun-toting action hero. We also get Costner the absent husband and dad who’s trying to make up for time spent apart from his family. In TDTK, when those two worlds intersect, the results are funny, frightening, ridiculous and/or deadly.

Following a shootout and chase on foot, CIA agent Ethan Renner (Costner) collapses. A doctor tells him he has just a few months to live. He goes back to Paris to reconnect with his teenage daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) before he dies. He tells his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) that he’s done with spook work.

Up pops the CIA’s Vivi (Amber Heard), driving a fast car and looking like a fantasy babe, offering Ethan an experimental drug that might save him from death. But only if he will eliminate CIA targets “The Albino” (Tomas Lemarquis) and “The Wolf” (Richard Sammel).

Ethan’s pursuit of these weapons dealers happens at the same time he is mending fences with the family, leading to a few cute intersections of the two story tracks. In the midst of tense action, his “I Don’t Care” ringtone signals a call from Zoey. A bad guy who is duct-taped to a toilet shares his mother’s recipe for spaghetti sauce by phone to Zoey.

Another storyline that reveals Ethan’s good nature (not expected from a CIA operative) involves squatters. When he finds his Paris apartment occupied by a large African family and learns the law protects them, he eventually shrugs and accepts it.

Does the action pic/family drama crossover work? Generally, yes. The action, including decent chase scenes, exciting shootouts and gory death, is good. And the family part, featuring some nice bonding between Ethan and Zoey, is sweet. Hailee Steinfeld’s performance is significantly better here than in 2010’s True Grit.

Three Days to Kill, directed by McG of Charlie’s Angels fame, moves along nicely and does not bog down. And, while the film’s outcomes are not unanticipated, McG keeps it interesting with quick transitions back and forth between the film’s two tracks. Costner fans, male and female, have a good movie to enjoy together.

TDTK is rated PG-13. Gunplay is excessive but the sex and cursing are minimal.

Endless Love

14-year-old girls will love Endless Love. Maybe some of their moms will like it, too. Guys may appreciate it because of its potential to put their ladies in a romantic mood. But Endless Love is not a good movie.

David (Alex Pettyfer) and Jade (Gabriella Wilde) exchange glances at their high school graduation. Throughout 4 years of school, he’s never spoken to her! Coincidence of coincidences: David valet parks Jade’s family’s car when they go out to dinner that day. He takes her for a joyride in another guy’s cool car. Voila! Instant attraction!

Jade has a graduation party. David is there. They flirt. They kiss. They fall in love.

In short order, they consummate in front of a roaring fire. (The movie is set in Atlanta where it is hot right after graduation. Not exactly the best time to build a fire in the fireplace.) From that night on, they can’t get enough of each other.

The movie shifts its focus a bit to Jade’s father Hugh (Bruce Greenwood). His efforts to protect his daughter are not due merely to his knowing what teenage boys like to do to teenage girls. The death of Jade’s older brother two years earlier has caused her dad major grief and Jade is now the family’s shining star. Jade’s mother Anne (Joely Richardson) supports her daughter’s romance and has a bit of a mom-crush on David herself.

When Jade turns down her summer internship to stay home and party with David, the lovers have fun but dad is not happy. There’s a good bit of Hallmark Channel level melodrama that leads up to the film’s climax. Spoiler alert: Unlike Shakespeare’s precocious lovers Romeo and Juliet, neither David nor Jade die at the end.

Endless Love may click with teens because its sexual content is mild. The language is tame. Even when the kids get stoned, we don’t see them smoking onscreen. The rating is PG-13. (The 1981 Endless Love starring Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt was rated R.)

Endless Love caters to those who are in love with the idea of being in love. The two stars, Pettyfer (age 23) and Wilde (age 24), are attractive but their acting chops need to be honed a bit. You can send your teenage daughter to see Endless Love, but if you are over 17, you should view at your own risk.

Robocop

The 1987 Robocop is not quite a classic, but it’s a movie I love for many reasons: its story, its gritty violence, its depiction of corporate greed and, especially, its sense of humor. The new Robocop (set in 2028) provides appropriate updates to certain elements of the original but doesn’t have the same impact as the 27-years-ago version.

Despite Robocop 2014’s high level of violence, it gets a PG-13. The ’87 Robocop was an R, thanks to language and a bit of skin (along with the violence).

Three things I really liked about the new Robocop: (1) Gary Oldman’s performance as Norton, a robotics engineer who wavers between his commitment to making a marketable product and his commitment to doing what’s right. (2) Samuel L. Jackson’s right wing TV show, which provides bookends for the movie. (3) The challenge Robocop faces versus a variety of robots, a glorious sequence resembling a rapid-fire first-person-shooter video game.

Samuel L. Jackson as a Fox News Channel personality? Pat Novak (Jackson) is a conservative TV host who is an advocate for security robots made by Omnicorp. He accuses Americans of having “robophobia.” In the movie’s opening, we see a live TV shot from Teheran where these machines protect US forces and a lady TV reporter. (Interesting prediction: that we’ll have ground forces in Iran in 14 years.)

As in the original, Robocop is Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), an injured Detroit cop who is made into a robotic, computer-aided crime fighter. Kinnaman lacks the gravitas that Peter Weller brought to the first Robocop. He’s 34 years old, but has a baby face.

The bad guy in this film (other than the dirty cops who are abetting a weapons dealer) is Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), head of Omnicorp. He’s in a political battle, opposing a federal law against robotic crime-fighters. Robocop is seen as the compromise because he is a human (with feelings), who also has the skills of a robot. Keaton brings an evil sneer to this character, a darker role for him. Other notable cast members include Jackie Earle Haley, Jennifer Ehle, Abie Cornish and Jay Baruchel.

The 2014 Robocop is not groundbreaking. But if you’re looking for a decent action film that predicts a high tech future, showcases plenty of violent gunplay and has a sense of humor, Robocop satisfies.

 

 

The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie is a pure delight! Colorful, clever and FUNNY! With a memorable song you might find yourself humming on your way home. And a story that springs from the dilemma that many Lego users face: do I follow the instructions or do I make my own creations?

The Lego Movie is my first “must see” film of 2014. Even if you’re a not a fan of silly stuff, you need to check it out for the visuals. Even if you never played with Legos or never had kids who played with Legos, the Lego movie will entertain you.

Emmet (Chris Pratt of TV’s Parks and Recreation) is an everyman Lego guy. But thanks to a series of unexpected events, he goes on a trip that’s almost as mindbending as Alice’s journey to Wonderland.

Emmet, through no effort of his own, is the chosen one, charged with derailing the plans of President Business (Will Ferrell) to glue everything in the universe together with something called “The Kragle.”

Along the way he meets a bizarre cast of Legos: a girl named WyldStyle (Elizabeth Banks), Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson), Vitrivius (Morgan Freeman), Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie) and Lego pirate Metal Beard (Nick Offerman).

Other Lego characters seen briefly are Abe Lincoln (Will Forte), Lando Calrissian (Billy D. Williams), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), Wonder Woman (Colby Smulders) and Superman (Channing Tatum) among many others.

The various Lego universes seen in the film are universally spectacular. And The Lego Movie‘s coda (whose content will not be revealed here) is sweet and touching.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller shared directing and screenplay duties. The soundtrack is by Mark Mothersbaugh, best known as a founding member of DEVO, but also known for doing music for the Rugrats TV show.

\My first thought when walking out of the theater was: “I want to see it again!” And I will! Soon!

 

 

 

 

The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men is a movie that could’ve been made any time in the last 50 years. It has an old-timey feel to it. The film is rated PG-13 for war violence and smoking, but except for a couple of exclamations of “holy s—,” there’s nothing in the script that might offend.

Based on a true story, this tale has Frank Stokes (George Clooney) gathering a team of art lovers to go into the rapidly cooling World War II European war zone and save classic works of art from the Germans. It’s a war movie complete with peril and death, but it lacks that gritty feel of the more hardcore war films.

The Monuments Men are James Granger (Matt Damon), Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville), Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin) and Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban). After they arrive in Europe, they add Dimitri Leonidas (Sam Epstein).

They begin their mission after D-Day when the Allies have the Germans on the run. Granger goes to just-liberated Paris where he tracks down Claire (Cate Blanchett) who provides vital info regarding certain works that were taken. After spending time working with him, she transforms from cold fish to would-be seductress.

Jeffries goes to Bruges, Belgium to protect a Michelangelo sculpture from Nazi capture. Campbell and Savitz encamp near the Battle of the Bulge in a sequence reminiscent of M*A*S*H. Garfield and Clermont go to the frontlines.

As the Monuments Men begin to recover these purloined art treasures, competition to regain the works heats up versus… the Russians! Our guys know that if the Ruskies—officially Allies versus Hitler—get to the paintings first, they will claim them for Mother Russia. The situation becomes tense, even after the Germans have surrendered.

In addition to starring, George Clooney directed and co-wrote The Monuments Men. It’s a vanity piece. He looks good. Rarely does he have even one hair of his 40’s-era haircut out of place. (He even gives his dad Nick a cameo.)

The Monuments Men is a decent, but not great, movie. Give Clooney credit for telling a story that’s not been told before. As mentioned above, this is not a gritty war film. So, for those who didn’t care for the language and the gore of Saving Private Ryan (which coincidentally had Damon in the title role), The Monuments Men may be the perfect war movie for you.