<p>Elijah Wood plays a pianist who is threatened during the most important concert of his life in &#39;Grand Piano&#39;</p>

Elijah Wood plays a pianist who is threatened during the most important concert of his life in 'Grand Piano'

Credit: Magnet Releasing

Review: Elijah Wood plays rough in the fiendishly fun thriller 'Grand Piano'

Now this is how you do a ticking clock thriller right

If you saw Eugenio Mira's earlier film "Agnosia," then you may have already noticed his fondness for Brian De Palma. Anyone making thrillers who holds De Palma as part of the pantheon is already on my short list of people I like, but when you see how well Mira pulls it all together for "Grand Piano," it's obvious that he's graduated to a different level with this film.

I think it's very fair to compare this to "Non-Stop," which I reviewed earlier today, since both of them are thrillers that take place over a compressed period of time in a fairly restrictive setting with a ticking clock. For both filmmakers, the exercise is the same. Can you keep the film somewhat plausible while ratcheting up the tension and convincing us that things could unfold like this? In the case of "Grand Piano," the answer is a resounding yes, and I was delighted by just how playful and fun this is.

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<p>Liam Neeson is prepared to kick the butt of EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON THIS PLANE IF HE HAS TO.</p>

Liam Neeson is prepared to kick the butt of EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON THIS PLANE IF HE HAS TO.

Credit: Universal Studios

Review: Liam Neeson's 'Non-Stop' works as a thriller but makes some terrible choices

It's safe to say that Jaume Collet-Serra has a love of the ridiculous

"Unknown," "Orphan," and "House Of Wax" are all various degrees of fun, depending on how seriously you take them, and director Jaume Collet-Serra is certainly slick. Part of me wonders if he can read, though, because he seems to have made a habit of picking ridiculous scripts with ridiculous ideas at the heart of them, and then he directs them as if they are the most serious things in the world.

In theory, I have no problem with that. As I said, I think those three films manage to be silly pulpy fun, and that's exactly what I expected from "Non-Stop." For a good chunk of its running time, it is indeed a silly but well-made ride in which Liam Neeson plays his popular character John Taken, but on a plane this time and without a daughter. There is a point in the film, though, where the bad guy (whose identity is played as a mystery for most of the film) finally spells out his motivations, and in that one moment, I completely disconnected from the film. More than that, I was repulsed. It would be akin to watching an "Austin Powers" movie that suddenly tried to deal seriously with the Holocaust before cutting back to a dance number with a barely-dressed Beyonce.

The script, by John W. Richardson & Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle, takes its time with the set-up. We see Bill Marks (Neeson) go through his pre-flight preparation, and we also see a number of other passengers as they all wait for their flight. It's only once everyone is onboard and in place that we learn that Marks is a Federal Air Marshall, and he's supposed to be providing security for the flight across the Atlantic to London. Marks is a drunk, still despondent over some personal tragedy, and he seems content to just sleepwalk through his job until he gets a text, not long after take-off, that tells him he has 20 minutes to figure out a way to get $150 million transferred to an off-shore account or someone on the plane will be killed.

It's a great hook, and as with any of these films where you have characters in a small confined space with a ticking clock, part of the challenge of the film is how you can find ways to keep things interesting and keep some sort of internal logic in place even as you find excuses to keep the characters from leaving or bringing in other help. "Non-Stop" manages to keep things rolling along, using the mystery of the bad guy's identity to keep Neeson active.

There are two major problems with the film. First, there's that motivation I mentioned. Without getting into the details, I will simply offer up a trigger warning, because there are people who will get blind-sided by suddenly dragging 9/11 into a movie this goofy. If you're someone who still finds memories of that event and discussions of it to be emotionally painful or upsetting, then skip this one. It is a cheap and stupid answer to what is driving the film's plot, and used in this way, I find it genuinely distasteful.

The other major problem is that this time, Collet-Serra's fondness for frommage tips too heavily in the wrong direction, and he piles on the ridiculous moments in a way that eventually becomes too much. It is a fine line between making a crowd-pleasing moment that pays off emotionally and drowning everything in Velveeta, and there's one in particular that they go for at the end of this film that makes me think Collet-Serra is unafraid of even the hokiest, silliest beats.

Neeson is fine here, and I'll be curious to see how many more years he's going to be able to play the action star. Hollywood figured it out very late after decades of giving him primarily dramatic roles and romantic leads, and as a result, Neeson's kicking into this sort of high gear at the exact moment many guys would be trying to move out of the action movie business. It helps that he's roughly the size of a house and when he throws someone around the cabin of an airplane, he authentically looks like a guy who can do that. The bad guy in the film sets a frame that makes it look like Neeson is the one pulling off the hijacking, and they get some decent mileage out of him having to confront his own demons in order to effectively do his job.

Julianne Moore has a good time playing Jen Summers, a suspiciously friendly woman who ends up seated next to Neeson on the plane. The various passengers and crew all end up as suspects, and when you've got people like Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll, Lupita Nyong'o, Linus Roache, and more all playing the parts, it seems like a shame to give them so little to do. In particular, anyone who thinks they're going to get a sense of what Nyong'o can do beyond her work in "12 Years A Slave" won't get any help from this film. She's barely in it, and for most of the film, she's a glorified extra.

If someone really digs "Non-Stop," I certainly wouldn't hold it against them. I don't think it's a bad film. It's a completely average film that makes a few terrible choices, and those pulled me out of the movie enough that I don't think I'd ever bother with this one again. Besides, there's another film that plays this same kind of game that I'm going to review this afternoon as well, and it does it sooooooo much better.

"Non-Stop" opens in theaters everywhere on Friday.

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<p>Looks like he is indeed about to be shot into outer space.</p>

Looks like he is indeed about to be shot into outer space.

Credit: CBS Films

'Girls' star Adam Driver in talks to be a major new villain for 'Star Wars Episode VII'

Does Hollywood see Driver strictly as a bad guy?

Hollywood's going to make Adam Driver happen. It's not a question of "if," but just a question of "when."

Variety reports today that Driver is in talks to join "Star Wars: Episode VII," and they suggest that his character will be a major villain in the film. Driver was one of the names in the mix to play Lex Luthor for "Man Of Steel 2," which ran contrary to earlier reporting that he was being considered as Nightwing, and it looks like he's being viewed as a candidate for bad guy roles in a number of these big movies right now. I certainly think he has the right charisma to make a character like that interesting, but I hope that's not the only way Hollywood sees him. He's more interesting than that.

It's always interesting to see how Hollywood tries to figure out an actor once they've made that first big splash. Driver's been working consistently since 2010, and it feels like he has very quickly become a familiar face thanks to appearances in films like "J. Edgar," "Frances Ha," "Lincoln," and last year's "Inside Llewyn Davis." By far, the role he is best known for at the moment is Adam Sackler in Lena Dunham's "Girls." He's been able to build a very complex and interesting character there, slowly peeling back layers to reveal that he's not at all what he first seemed to be when the series began.

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<p>I&nbsp;would totally give someone an award for both of those dresses.</p>

I would totally give someone an award for both of those dresses.

Credit: Sony Pictures

A full rundown of my picks if I had an Oscar ballot

From 'Gravity' to 'Get A Horse!', here's the way I'd vote if I could

2013 was an unusually rich year for movies. I felt strongly about both my top ten choices of the year and the runners-up, and I still left off a ton of movies that I enjoyed completely and that I'd recommend to audiences. One of the things that is hardest for me to get my head around when contemplating the Oscars is the idea of picking one thing to represent the year in each of these categories.

Still, if I were told today that I had an Oscar ballot and I was asked to vote, the only way I could do it would be operating from pure gut feeling. I wouldn't worry about trying to predict anyone else's response. This was an annual exercise for Siskel and Ebert for years, and they always seemed to use the opportunity to champion what they felt were the underdogs of the nominations.

We'll run down every category here. If you want a list of all the nominees and in-depth writing about the entire race, you should be on In Contention, where Guy Lodge, Greg Ellwood, and Kris Tapley eat and breathe this stuff. What I'm doing here is what I imagine many Academy voters do… I'm going to run down the list and just pick what I pick, the thing that I think speaks the most to me about last year.

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<p>Harold Ramis and a Twinkie = comedy gold</p>

Harold Ramis and a Twinkie = comedy gold

Credit: Columbia Pictures

How meeting comedy giant Harold Ramis exceeded any expectations I had

He was one of the greats, both on-screen and off

There are very few perfect films.

Part of what makes films so beautiful and rich and rewarding is that they are the result of a sort of mass insanity that happens when you have all of these people all pushing to create something tangible, something that moves us to some sort of real emotional place. It's easy to forget that movies are ultimately a bunch of people standing around playing make-believe, but with a crew there to capture it all. Considering how many moving pieces there are in any film, it's almost miraculous when they actually come together coherently, much less in a way that manages to make us genuinely lose ourselves in what we're watching.

Harold Ramis made a perfect movie. "Groundhog Day" is one of the few mainstream comedies that I think actually grows and gets richer and more wonderful the more you revisit it, something which seems especially apt considering how the film is structured. The original Danny Rubin script was a damn fine starting point, but it was Ramis who polished that script into the gem it is, as great a piece of commercial movie writing as "Back To The Future," and in scene after scene, Ramis is so on-point as a director that it's sort of humbling. "Groundhog Day" is what it looks like when someone is so in the zone that they can't get it wrong, when everything clicks on every level, and it may be the best of Bill Murray's big comedy performance. Again, that's apt considering the history Murray shares with Ramis, and while the collaboration they had on this evidently ended their personal and professional relationships, at least we'll always have this moment, this particular high point for both of them, and we can cherish that.

When I got the news via phone call this morning that Ramis had passed away, it hit me much harder than most celebrity deaths do, and I'm still struggling to fully articulate why that is.

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Aaron Paul on the grieving process over the end of 'Breaking Bad'

Aaron Paul on the grieving process over the end of 'Breaking Bad'

How would you feel after wrapping up something that special?

Aaron Paul is in an enviable position for any actor. He's just wrapped up a major artistic accomplishment with the conclusion of "Breaking Bad," and now he's got room to choose what it is he wants to do next, and how he wants to further define himself. No matter what he does, Jesse Pinkman will always be one of the key things we know him for, and as defining roles go, that's a winner.

By now, it's clear that Paul is particularly gifted at playing a sort of weepy rage. He does this sort of shaky fury better than anyone working right now, and the writers of "Breaking Bad" took full advantage of that over the years. Part of the reason that show was so good is because they really understood the strengths of their cast and how to play to them.

In "Need For Speed," there are a few key scenes where that weepy rage comes into play, and in those moments, it's hard not to see the shadow of Jesse Pinkman.

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<p>I&nbsp;thought he was dead.</p>

I thought he was dead.

Credit: MGM Home Entertainment

Heroes vs. Villains: What would you call Snake Plissken?

Time to vote on John Carpenter's most iconic anti-hero

The NCAA basketball tournaments are less than a month away. Because it's obviously never been done before, HitFix is going to host its own tournament, but this battle won't take place between teams on Tobacco Road. We've got something more exciting in mind.  In our competition, the greatest Heroes from the worlds of television and movies will face off versus the greatest Villains. 

The committee is currently mulling over the brackets, but we need your help.  There are six characters who some would consider anti-heroes, but we know then need to part of the battle royale. Do they fall in the Heroes bracket or the Villains bracket?

You decide.  You have 48 hours. Choose wisely.

Halloween, 1981. Chattanooga, Tennessee.

An eleven-year-old kid spent weeks putting together a meticulously detailed costume with an eyepatch, guns, sleeveless shirt, and a leather jacket, and headed out with three of his friends to make the house-to-house rounds in a suburban neighborhood called Mountain Shadows. He was thrilled to be dressed as Snake Plissken, the main character in John Carpenter's "Escape From New York," and thrilled to see people's reactions to the costume.

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<p>Emily Browning and Kit Harrington captured at the exact moment they saw the script for 'Pompeii'</p>

Emily Browning and Kit Harrington captured at the exact moment they saw the script for 'Pompeii'

Credit: Screen Gems

Review: One part 'Gladiator,' one part 'Titanic,' Paul Anderson's 'Pompeii' is entirely silly

But at least things blow up real good

People often misuse the term "camp" to mean anything that is exaggerated and broad and somewhat silly, but they also use it as a somewhat coded term for "gay" when using it to describe entertainment. When originally used, though, "camp" referred to something that provided amusement but by accident, something that is funny by virtue of being exaggeratedly stylized or artificial. It had nothing to do with "gay," and real camp never winks at the audience to let it know that it's a joke.

"Pompeii" is true camp, and I spent much of the last hour laughing pretty much non-stop. It's a very silly movie, but it is played dead straight, and part of what had me laughing the entire time was the thought of Paul W.S. Anderson taking this all very, very seriously. The script, credited to "Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes as well as Lee and Janet Batchler, feels like they took the scripts for "Gladiator" and "Titanic" and then just shuffled the pages and changed some names. It is shameless in its desire to be just as romantic and just as affecting as Cameron's movie, but it reveals just how tricky the balancing act was that he accomplished.

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<p>Twice the Ron Burgundy this time around?&nbsp;Fine by us.</p>

Twice the Ron Burgundy this time around? Fine by us.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

The R-rated 'Anchorman 2' alternate version hits theaters a week from Friday

Over 700 new jokes seem like a good reason to see this again

Oh my god, it's really happening. I had written this off completely, but now it's really happening.

On February 28, Paramount will be re-releasing "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" but in what they're calling the "Super-Sized R-Rated Version" with 763 new jokes.

We wrote about this earlier, and in the editing room for the film, Adam McKay was just starting to get excited about the possibility of putting out a totally different version of the film. One of the reasons they couldn't do it at the same time as they had the other version in theaters is because the MPAA has a rule that you can't have two different ratings of the same film in theaters at the same time. You can pull the film, get the new rating, then put the new one out. But they don't want any confusion in terms of people buying tickets.

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<p>Wait... is the orange one Kate Mara?</p>

Wait... is the orange one Kate Mara?

Credit: Marvel Comics

We dig in to discuss what we can expect based on the 'Fantastic Four' casting

And, no, race is not the most interesting topic to consider

Perhaps the least interesting thing about the "Fantastic Four" casting is the issue of race, so why are so many fanboys so hung up on it today?

It's officially time to stop using the excuse that comics are a visual medium, therefore characters have to look the same when they are translated to film. I get it… you've seen a character a certain way. But even within the world of comics, there have been so many different ways these characters have been presented that it seems like an excuse, not a valid reason. There are things that define us as characters that go well beyond how much melatonin we have in our skin, and yet that refrain comes up any time we see anyone cast a comic book in a way that challenges the norm.

Greg Ellwood and I ended up chatting today on-camera about the casting and about the overall approach that it seems Fox is taking on the film. I say "seems" because I have no idea what the script is going to entail. We can deduce certain things based on the casting and the age range of the actors and the involvement of Mark Millar, but it's all still speculation. I only know what's been said in public so far, and that's not much.

Josh Trank strikes me as a guy who really, really, really wants to get "Fantastic Four" right. When he first came onboard the film, back when Jeremy Slater was the sole screenwriter on it, everything I heard gave the impression that this was something that they took very seriously. While Fox has done the typical studio round-robin on screenwriters, Trank has been the constant here, and he remains fiercely protective of whatever it is they're cooking up. I'm certainly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt based on "Chronicle," and as I said yesterday when we posted our first piece about the casting… I have my fingers crossed. I want this to work, and I'm going to be Captain Optimism for as long as I can be.

"Fantastic Four" arrives in theaters June 19, 2015.

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