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Friday, December 19, 2014

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Movies: 'Non-Stop,' 'Son of God' and 'Mr. Peabody & Sherman'

Published 6:00 pm, Friday, March 14, 2014

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  • Liam Neeson stars in the new airliner-in-peril thriller, "Non-Stop." Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News
    Liam Neeson stars in the new airliner-in-peril thriller, "Non-Stop." Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters

"NON-STOP"

You're never going to see this suspense thriller on a plane because it's a truly terrifying commentary on Transportation Security Administration screening and airline safety protocols.

Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is a battered, boozing U.S. air marshal assigned to work a British Aqualantic 767 from New York City to London on a cold, wintry day. Sighing with resignation, he walks through the airport, profiling potential troublemakers before settling into a business class aisle seat, next to flirtatious Jen Summers (Julianne Moore), who's determined to sit near the window. Shortly after takeoff, Marks' cellphone alerts him to a series of threatening text messages, obviously from someone on board, demanding $150 million be deposited into a certain bank or someone will die every 20 minutes.

Sneaking off to smoke in the lav after adroitly blocking the alarm sensor, Marks suspects it's a joke concocted by a fellow air marshal but that's not the case -- and the body count begins to mount. Trusting only Jen and the two flight attendants -- Nancy (Michelle Dockery a.k.a. Lady Mary on "Downton Abbey") and Gwen (Lupita Nyong'o, Oscar winner for "12 Years a Slave") -- Marks tries to narrow down the list of suspects. There's that Middle Eastern doctor, a surly bald man, a hotheaded NYPD cop, the black computer whiz and a bespectacled schoolteacher, among others.

Complications arise when the offshore account turns out to be in Marks' own name. As cellphone videos of the increasing chaos are picked up by TV news, reporters assert that the flight has been hijacked by an air marshal, and rebellious passengers grow alarmingly suspicious of their alleged protector. Two military jet escorts appear alongside, transmitting orders to the pilot who is, by now, barricaded in the cockpit.

Skillfully directed by Jaume Collet-Serra ("Unknown"), 61-year-old Liam Neeson has the gravitas to make the implausible action compelling, working from a chock-full-of-red-herring script by first-timers John W. Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Non-Stop" is an edge-of-your-seat 8, a dandy whodunit.

"SON OF GOD"

Hollywood's 2014 religious renaissance commences with this clumsy New Testament condensation of the History Channel's 10-hour miniseries "The Bible," produced by reality TV mogul Mark Burnett and his wife, actress Roma Downey.

"In the beginning was the Word," gospel scribe John (Sebastian Knapp) begins, quickly zipping through the tales of Adam and Eve, Noah and Abraham until the Christ child is born to Mary (Roma Downey) in Bethlehem. Reflections on his formative years have been deleted, particularly Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, reportedly because the actor (Mehdi Ouazzani) portraying Satan was said to resemble President Obama.

So the story really starts as Jesus (Diego Morgado) launches his ministry, calling forth his disciples at the Sea of Galilee. Exuding beatific compassion, Jesus heals a paralytic, walks on water and feeds 5,000 hungry followers. When he arrives in Jerusalem, Jesus exposes the symbiotic relationship between despotic Roman prefect Pontius Pilate (Greg Hicks) and the Jewish high priest Caiaphas (Adrian Schiller), turning over the tables of the money-changers in the temple.

Earnestly blending the efforts of four screenwriters and three directors, including Christopher Spencer, is no easy task, so it's not surprising that this banal, distilled biopic seems fragmented and dispassionate, trivializing parables to one-liners, leading up to the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Revelation.

Unfortunately, Portuguese model-turned-actor Morgado's performance is so charmless and bland that it's difficult to comprehend his character's charismatic effect on his supporters, even if he's billed as "the first Latin Jesus."

Specifically designed not to offend, this sermon-tainment has been endorsed by prominent Christian pastors Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes and Sam Rodriguez, along with Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, who calls it "the antidote to the poison that `The Passion of the Christ' became." Yet it suffers terribly when compared with Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" and/or Pasolini's "The Gospel According to St. Matthew."

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Son of God" is a faith-based 5, aimed at a church-driven audience of true believers. Still to come: Darren Aronofsky's "Noah" and Ridley Scott's "Exodus."

"MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN"

"If a boy can adopt a dog, I see no reason why a dog can't adopt a boy," says a judge -- which explains how a brilliant, bespectacled beagle, Mr. Peabody (voiced by Ty Burrell), is able to raise orphaned Sherman (voiced by Max Charles) as his own.

Education is important, so Mr. Peabody teaches Sherman world history by transporting him to different eras, using a time-traveling machine, the WABAC (Wavelength Acceleration Bidirectional Asychronous Controller), that's secreted in his New York apartment. Their nemesis is a nosy social worker, Miss Grunion (voiced by Allison Janney), who believes that even a Nobel prize-winning, Olympic medalist dog is not a suitable parent for a human, particularly when Sherman bites a teasing, competitive classmate, feisty Penny Peterson (voiced by Ariel Winter). That upsets not only Miss Grunion but also Penny's parents (voiced by Leslie Mann and Stephen Colbert).

When Mr. Peabody invites everyone for a peace-making dinner, Sherman disobeys his dad and shows Penny the WABAC, ostensibly to prove that George Washington never chopped down a cherry tree. Things go awry when Penny propels them on an unexpected adventure that starts in ancient Egypt, where she finds herself betrothed to 9-year-old child Pharoah Tutankhamun (voiced by Zach Callison). They discover Agamemnon (voiced by Patrick Warburton) just before the sacking of the ancient city of Troy and visit with Leonardo Da Vinci (voiced by Stanley Tucci) and Albert Einstein (voiced by Mel Brooks). Not surprisingly, their hi-jinks rupture the space-time continuum -- which Mr. Peabody is compelled to try to repair and restore.

Created by Ted Key, the characters are drawn from "Peabody's Improbably History," short skits that were part of Jay Ward's "The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show," broadcast on Saturday mornings (1959 to 1964). Scripted by Craig Wright (HBO's "Six Feet Under") and directed by Rob Minkoff ("Stuart Little"), the inventive animation is stunning, the puns funny and the 3D effects impressive.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" is a zany, surprisingly educational 7 -- for kids and their parents.