Every Thursday this summer and for however long we feel like it, Jim and I will review and discuss a movie (or documentary) – SANS SPOILERS, so you can read even if you haven’t seen it yet – currently available for streaming on one or many of the popular services– Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, Amazon, Vimeo. Think of it as a summer movie club for men… that might last longer than just the summer and isn’t exclusive to men. We kick things off in the best way possible, with Non-Stop, a movie in which Liam Neeson tries to save the lives of passengers on an international flight, and therefore the world.
Non-Stop – 2014, iTunes, Amazon (rental)
Kyle: Wait a minute, wait a minute. So you’re telling me there’s a plane action movie starring Liam Neeson (awesome, obvi), Julianne Moore (epic nude scenes, Don Jon), and Russo (rep-PA) from House of Cards?!
I have a weird obsession with planes and perhaps an even weirder obsession with action movies that take place on passenger transport vessels. I regard Speed as the best move of all-time. Don’t judge me. And Air Force One reminds me of eighth grade. Seriously, when I think of eighth grade, I think of seeing Air Force One and playing Goldeneye. That’s when my fear of the Eastern European bloc began. Anyway, yeah, this was an instant iTunes rental this week.
Jim: Speaking of Air Force One, I think I have a copy of GQ around here somewhere in which Gary Oldman — who has since said worse things — basically said he did the movie because he needed to make a mortgage payment. I respect that.
But yeah, I do not like flying, in general, but I would fly all around the world if Liam Neeson was my Air Marshal.
Kyle: I have this theory that Liam Neeson has never made a bad movie: Schindler’s List, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (for my money the best Star Wars movie), the Batman movies, Love Actually (the best Christmas movie of all-time and SHUT UP IT’S A CHRISTMAS MOVIE), Taken, Taken 2— the guy just doesn’t do bad movies. Non-Stop is no exception. Admittedly, as a society we’ve moved on from surface-level popcorn flicks (and shows) like this to much heavier, cerebral fare (unless you’re a 22-year-old woman, which, I’d argue, is the specific demographic with the absolute worst taste in video content), but every once in a while it’s good to just watch something that is downright entertaining, and that’s what Non-Stop is… non-stop entertainment. I love the wrinkle that gets thrown into the we’re all on a plane and going to die troupe by way of a mini-mystery thriller. Neeson is on-screen virtually (not virtually?) every scene and you never feel like he’s straining to be a worn-down badass who doesn’t want to be fucked with. It takes a special person to never waver from that appearance— even Bruce Willis in Die Hard movies has moments where he looks like he’s bored with his role. Neeson never flinches, his character never looks like he’s not going to do everything in his power to save that plane, even though he’s an Air Marshal who hates flying, himself and life in general. And while that all maybe makes the movie sound even more ridiculous, it actually adds to the intrigue since there are a decent number of genuinely unexpected twists and turns in the plot. It’s far-fetched, but not so outlandish that it ever becomes completely unbelievable. By the time Neeson suggested the best course of action was to literally blow up the plane, I was like, yeah, that’s the onllllly way.
Jim: Okay, I’m going to totally gloss over what you said about Star Wars: Episode 1 and Love Actually because that is not what this conversation is about and I may break my keyboard.
Kyle: I can understand your Star Wars pushback, but if you seriously have a problem with Love Actually, you’re fired.
Jim: I have no problem with Love Actually itself, just a problem with anyone thinking it’s better than the Home Alone movies. But I DIGRESS. You’re right, no one can ever say Liam Neeson isn’t giving it his all, even if his all isn’t really all that much. But Liam Neeson (his character’s name is Bill and he is not a Bill so I will call him Liam from here on out) is your standard, typical, movie badass. He’s not up to date with technology (he’s basically using that cell phone all of your high school administrators had on their belts in 2003), he drinks, he smokes, he doesn’t like flying because he needs at least one flaw, he’s great with kids, he’s foreign but not threateningly so. He hits all the marks (Marks is his character’s last name, so that was a pun).
And for an action movie that more or less requires Liam Neeson to do everything and no one else to do anything, it has one hell of a cast. You’ve got Julianne Moore, the one woman from Downton Abbey, LUPITA, that bald dude from all of those things, Scoooooooot McNairy, that guy from Law & Order, etc. They definitely did NOT have to cast all of these talented people in this admittedly dumb movie, but they did.
Kyle: It’s downright remarkable how well Corey Stoll (bald dude, Russo in House of Cards) plays a well-meaning asshole.
Jim: Of course they made him NYPD because airplanes.
Kyle: Agreed, the cast was unnecessarily good. I bet you they all signed up just because it’s Liam and he’s a box office sure-thing right now. Or because Julianne Moore’s vagina isn’t what it once was. But I’ll disagree that the movie was dumb. It was an action movie, which means it’s inherently got a dumb quality to it. I’ll call it fun. But I was disappointed in the eventual backbone of the sinister plot, though by that point it didn’t even matter— I was having too much FUN. I give a B+, on an obvious action movie curve. What says you?
Jim: Oh I mean dumb in the best way possible. I’d feel hesitant to give it an A because let’s not get nuts here, but a B+ is a fair grade. It’s air-miles beyond — I apologize — most popcorn action movies these days (don’t get me started on the last Die Hard), and it’s an original idea. So I’d say B+ for film, maybe a side-score of A for making the mystery aspect legitimately appealing and mysterious. You could almost call it a thriller first and an action film second, but most thrillers don’t feature Liam Neeson fist fighting people in airplane bathrooms.
Kyle: They should. They really should.
Jim: My last thought: If Liam Neeson doesn’t carry business cards that look like this…
… he is doing himself a huge disservice.
Beware of Mr. Baker – 2012, Netflix
Among the so-called “rock docs” on Netflix, Beware of Mr. Baker falls more into the realm of character study. Ginger Baker — who drummed in Cream, Blind Faith, Ginger Baker’s Air Force, collaborated with Fela Kuti and more — became more legend than man over his long, drug-addled, eccentric career. And then he moved to South Africa. Filmmaker Jay Bulger tracked him down, lived with him, and spoke with him about his life, legacy, critics, and his own volatile personality. Bulger refuses to take any shit from Baker, even when Baker breaks Bulger’s nose with a walking stick. The film does little to dissuade the argument that Ginger Baker is a madman, but it builds upon his legend as one of the best there ever was.
This is kind of two-fold, but they go hand-in-hand: Park Avenue – 2012, Netflix, and Inequality For All – 2013, Netflix
Many documentaries on Netflix (and other streaming services) are liberal, anti-establishment or conspiratorial in nature, and these really aren’t much different, but they’re on the more legitimate end of things. Park Avenue is an Alex Gibney joint (Client 9, We Steal Secrets, 30 For 30: Catching Hell) and it’s really well done. It doubles as a gossipy look inside 740 Park, perhaps the richest building in New York, and a study of the growing divide between the rich and poor. Inequality For All features former labor secretary Robert Reich, who may be the shortest man on Earth not classified as a midget, explaining, in a fairly entertaining fashion, why that gap exists.
Don Jon – 2013, Netflix, Amazon (rental)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his directorial debut in a movie about basically The Situation being obsessed with porn and then falling in love with Scarlett Johansson who has a problem with his porn problem and, bonus!, Julianne Moore again. It’s not a rom-com and features a lot of JG-L flexing and masturbating. Just what you always wanted!