Planes, Trains, and Operating Systems

Non-Stop: written by John W. Richardson, Ryan Engle, and Christopher Roach; directed by Jaume Collet-Serra; starring Liam Neeson (Bill Marks) and Julianne Moore (Jen Summers) (2014): Competent, enjoyable thriller featuring Liam Neeson as an air marshal with a troubled past who needs to overcome his own character flaws to save a passenger plane from a terrorist. The movie plays pretty fair with its ‘bottle-show’ premise — all the major action takes place on a passenger plane in flight.

Airplane movies tend to be scientifically loopy, and this one is no exception, but Neeson, Julianne Moore, and most of the rest of the cast keep things interesting while the writers and director keep things moving, though occasionally in the exact opposite way they should from the standpoint of physics or basic geography. Lightly recommended.

Her: written and directed by Spike Jonze; starring Joaquin Phoenix (Theodore), Chris Pratt (Paul), Rooney Mara (Catherine), Scarlett Johansson (Samantha), and Amy Adams (Amy) (2013): Really a brilliant piece of near-future science fiction from director Spike Jonze, who writes his own screenplay here for the first time. There are echoes of Philip K. Dick in the film’s preoccupation with the question of what constitutes a human being, and in Joaquin Phoenix’s lead character, a troubled, decent, normal human being still suffering in the aftermath of a failed marriage.

The filmmakers have done a marvellous job of building the future world through slightly skewed fashion, odd future jobs, and a host of other things. Science fiction is also often about the present-day regardless of its setting, and certainly the movie comments on all the mediated, tech-boosted interactions of modern human beings and their assortment of smart-phones, tablets, and gizmos.

Phoenix is wonderfully modulated and understated as the protagonist, while Amy Adams shines as his best friend. Scarlett Johansson voices the newly released artificial intelligence that Phoenix buys to coordinate all his gadgets (things are pretty integrated in the future). Released from her body, Johansson gives what may be her best performance.

While the movie deals extensively with relationships and connectedness, it also moves towards something more epic by the end of the film. What would intelligent beings capable of thinking a million times faster than humanity think of us? How fast would they evolve? And didn’t any of the beta-testing reveal that the AI’s were capable of theoretically infinite intellectual growth? Is that V’ger on my phone? Highly recommended.

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