Leah McFall ‘Home’ single review: “A prodigious pop anthem”
The Voice may have bagged some of the world’s biggest stars to spin around in their red chairs, but when it comes to producing chart-worthy acts, a cog in the mechanism has clearly gone askew. Not until Becky Hill’s recent number one had a contestant achieved mainstream post-show success, and so last year’s runner-up Leah McFall will be hoping to keep the momentum ticking along nicely. Let’s remember, Leah is no stranger to chart success - it was her performances on The Voice in 2013 that sold consistently well.
That early public enthusiasm was solely down to her wonderfully kooky style and vocal tone, a characteristic that has been carried over into her official debut single ‘Home’. Lifting the pastoral brass hook from Edward Sharpe’s track of the same name, Leah and her mentor will.i.am have turned the bohemian serenade into a prodigious pop anthem. “I’ll be climbing up that hill for you/ I’ll give everything I can give for you,” she booms over the towering chorus, the track peaking in all the right places - and let’s hope her blossoming career follows suit. - GW
'The Back-up Plan' review
There was a time when Jjennifer Lopez seemed on course for world domination. Movies, music, merchandising, not to mention the constant tabloid coverage of her private life, you couldn’t move without Jenny From The Block seeping into your life in some form or another. Then she seemed to take a step back from the limelight, getting married to Marc Anthony and giving birth to twins Max and Emme. So perhaps it’s appropriate that her first big screen rom-com since 2005’s Monster-In-Law is about a woman pregnant with twins…
Zoe (Lopez) is a former corporate hotshot-turned-petshop owner tired of waiting for Mr Right to swoop in and help make her dreams of starting a family become reality. She decides to visit a fertility clinic and get the baby train rolling on her own, but as pure bad (good?) luck would have it, ends up meeting the potential love-of-her life in the taxi ride home. While initially reluctant to give cheese-maker Stan (O’Loughlin) a chance, she soon throws caution to the wind when she realises he could be the one she’s been waiting for. Cue awkward attempts to hide her pregnancy, baffled astonishment when Stan finds out, and battling the build-up to the birth together.
The hilarity of The Back-up Plan is supposed to come from the fact everything is done backwards. Get pregnant. Start dating. Fall in love. But Zoe and Stan’s relationship moves so fast you never really get the sense that they’re still getting to know each other. Their courtship is stilted, clunky and dull, and it’s only when they decide to give their romance a go that proceedings seem to liven up. Unfortunately, the script relies too heavily on a string of underdeveloped background characters for laughs, including an oddball group of single mothers and Zoe’s employee Clive, who turns down the chance to be the “babydaddy” because he has too many women left to sleep with. There’s also the ever-present “cute” pet, who - as in all rom-coms - seems to exist purely to drum up even more humour. In this case it’s a handicapped dog with a customised wheelchair who eats a pregnancy test, topples over and begs for food.
There’s no doubting that Lopez and O’Loughlin make a good looking couple - Lopez managing to radiate perfection even in labour - but there’s a spark and chemistry missing between them that’s really necessary to make their romance believable and inject a bit of life into the story, although both characters have shining moments on their own. It’s great to see Lopez back on screen, and she brings a welcome vulnerability to Zoe, with her infectious excitement about the arrival and increasing frustration over her changing body, while O’Loughlin’s best moments come from Stan’s bonding with another father at the local park.
There’s nothing really wrong with The Back-up Plan - it does get better as the movie progress - it just never manages to lift itself above a pretty standard rom-com, and every scene feels like it’s been done before, and better. To be fair, there’s probably a limited number of ways to make pregnancy refreshing and funny - particularly on the heels of Knocked Up - and there are a couple of genuinely funny moments, including the priceless sight of Lopez stuffing her face with beef stew using her bare hands. There’s even a humorous nod to J.Lo’s most famous asset as Zoe tries to convince Stan that her butt used to be her best feature. But in the end not even a good comeback performance from Lopez can make this anything more than a forgettable date movie. - GW
Charli XCX ‘Boom Clap’ single review: ‘Lashings of electro attitude’
Featuring on a film soundtrack can be dodgy territory. There’s one side of the scale, capable of tipping your music into the public eye whilst maintaining your individuality. Then there’s the more risky terrain where many esteemed bands have been shunted to the credibility graveyard. The Fault In Our Stars toes the line by being a huge box office smash with, bar one or two notable exceptions, a largely non-mainstream soundtrack. Can Charli XCX prove herself to be more than a hitmaker for other artists by manoeuvring her solo effort through the questionable channel of the film soundtrack?
Resisting the all too easy trap of making a song about love vomit-inducing, Charli XCX has plied softly sentimental lyrics with lashings of electro attitude. “You take me over you’re the magic in my veins/ This must be love” lingers for all but a few seconds before the combined sonic punch of Charli XCX interjecting “Boom” with the fizzing over of the bustling drums drags the song back to earth. Residencies are still open at the credibility graveyard. ‘Boom Clap’ is a thundering and ick-free love song that confirms Charli XCX as a popstar in her own right. - GW
Cheryl: ‘Crazy Stupid Love’ single review - “Colourful and sugary”
She may be the most talked about popstar in Britain, but Cheryl managed to pull the wool over showbusiness’s massive snooping eyes earlier this month. Not only did she wed her handsome French boyfriend in secret, she successfully kept the news to herself for a whole week before letting everyone else know. That’s no easy feat when you’re someone who is firmly back in the spotlight after returning to The X Factor, while pushing a new single on the radio.
Considering the latter, titled ‘Crazy Stupid Love’, hears her gushing about her uncontrollable feelings for her beau, the clues were undeniably there from the start. “You make my brain stop/ Sink my heart to my feet,” Chezza coos over rattling beats and a midi sax line more colourful and sugary than a tray of macaroons. Sure, the lyrics are laden with sweet nothings and clichéd sentiments, but while Mrs Fernandez-Versini may be swirling in mushy marital bliss right now, she hasn’t sacrificed any of that star-quality sassiness to pull it off. - GW
Morrissey: World Peace Is None of Your Business - Album review
Morrissey’s band often gets a rough deal of it. Compared with The Smiths or the luscious intricacy of Vini Reilly on Viva Hate, most groups would struggle to compete, but especially since his 2004 comeback there’s been the feeling that despite occasional melodic/lyrical highs, those behind Moz have lacked a certain finesse.
On World Peace Is None of Your Business, bassist Solomon Walker, drummer Matt Walker and guitarists Jesse Tobias and Boz Boorer have, together with producer Joe Chiccarelli, more than held up their end of the bargain. While not every melody hits, the sound is never anything less than interesting. Vocally, Morrissey really is as good as ever, and there are welcome flashes of his enduring brilliance.
There’s a clutch of fantastic lyrics here that show he’s still got it when he does put in the effort. 'Neal Cassady Drops Dead' is one such moment. Backed by crunchy, crisp, muscular rock, he blazes with an irreverent fire that makes you forgive everything. “Neal Cassady drops dead / And Allen Ginsberg’s hosed down in a barn / Neal Cassady drops dead / And Allen Ginsberg’s Howl becomes a growl”.
'Istanbul' is the best song on the album, all raw emotion and poetry. “Rolling breathless off the tongue the vicious street gang slang / I lean into a box of pine, identify the kid as mine”. The music is hectic, textured and shot through with melody.'Kiss Me a Lot' has that cheeky sexuality first given full flight on Ringleader of the Tormentors (“Kiss me a lot, kiss me a lot / Kiss me all over my face / Kiss me a lot, kiss me a lot / Kiss me all over the place”).
Closer 'Oboe Concerto' is an askance view at the issue of mortality that so occupied Morrissey towards the end of Autobiography. ”All I do is drink to absent friends”…. “The older generation have tried, sighed and died / Which pushes me to their place in the queue”.
'The Bullfighter Dies' takes a childish glee in the death of a bullfighter, and despite myself I can’t help but laugh along, not least at the attempt to play with the names of Spanish cities (“Gaga in Málaga / No mercy in Murcia / Mental in Valencia / Then someone tells you and you cheer”).
But as I said on my first listen to the opener/lead single/title track, when he looks at the bigger picture Moz suffers from a lack of focus. It’s a vague Brandian sideswipe at the status quo without much punch to back it up. There’s a similar problem on 'Earth Is the Loneliest Planet'. A wild time is going on musically, but when Moz warbles that “humans are not really very humane” he’s walking his silly/serious line with much less skill than he has in the past.
The sprawling 'I'm Not a Man' aspires to be a Moz-eyed deconstruction of masculinity, but it completely misses the mark. “Wheeler, dealer / Mover, shaker”… “Wolf down / Wolf down / T-bone steak/ Wolf down / Cancer of the prostate”. Morrissey is giving a dressing down to the sort of big-armed John Wayne macho man that has long died away and been superseded by much more unpleasant replacements. Tired ideas of masculinity still pervade on the streets and horrorshows like The LAD Bible, but Morrissey feels too stuck in the past to hit a relevant target.
And it sits ill on the same album as 'Kick the Bride Down the Aisle'. It’s the sort of stuff that would embarrass Les Dawson. “She just wants a slave/ To break his back in pursuit of a living wage / So that she can laze and braise / For the rest of her days”. Sigh. “Kick the bride down the aisle / In a mudslide of gloom / She’ll order you to tidy your room”. Is it ironic? It doesn’t sound it.
But despite the odd mean-spirited swipe or irrelevant moan, it’s still good to have Morrissey back in our lives. Let’s hope we won’t have to wait another five years for album #11, and that next time around he’ll hit the ground running. - GW
Rixton: ‘Me and My Broken Heart’ - Single review
Rixton are getting a bit fed up of being compared to all those boyband types. What was it that helped the hard-done-by Manchester troupe overcome their terrible grievance? “We realised boybands get a lot of women.” Their words. That said, while the charismatic four-piece may be enjoying the attention of masquerading as a boyband, their new single hears them navigating the deep and murky waters of a broken heart.
Some of the best songs ever written about love come from the darkest gnarls of human experience and the most tortured of souls. Rixton have cheekily managed to sidestep the classic heartbreak-to-hit formula to create an upbeat, lolloping pop tune with nothing to suggest any plucking of the heart strings except the title itself. The Maroon 5-tinged groove and sampling of Rob Thomas’s 2005 hit ‘Lonely No More’ means ‘Me and My Broken Heart’ may not be the most original ode to grace the airwaves, but Rixton can sleep safe in the knowledge that they’ve risen above their love/hate boyband title. - GW
Nicole Scherzinger: ‘Your Love’ - Single review
When it comes to her solo career, Nicole Scherzinger hasn’t had the smoothest of transitions. We all know she’s capable of belting out a ballad, her time in one of the biggest girl groups in the world showcased her ability for a ferocious dance routine, and you can’t help be charmed by her glowing good looks and sense of humour. But after a few wobbly releases - and around five albums’ worth of material shelved - Scherzy’s post-Pussycat Dolls music output has faltered in making the same impression on the global stage.
In some ways, Nicole’s new single ‘Your Love’ feels like the smash she needs to make happen. “MC Hammer girls can’t touch this, I got everything they don’t,” Scherzy playfully purrs over a cocktail of tropical piano lines, scintillating synths and a “do-do-do-do-do” refrain more blissful than those deluxe yoghurts she’s been eating in the back of her chauffeur-driven car. Teaming up with hit-makers The-Dream and Tricky Stewart has certainly proved fruitful, and with a house-inflected jam that edges her sound forward without abandoning the energetic charge of her earlier work, let’s hope the public still has the appetite to lap it up. - GW
Sia ‘1000 Forms Of Fear’ album review: Some of the year’s most stirring pop
There’s something curious about an artist who has proven potential to be one of the biggest stars in the world, but after years of working to breakthrough, now wants to remain out of the spotlight. While most have only come to know her work in recent years, Sia Furler has been courting popstardom since 1993.
During that time she released five studio albums - as well as performing on an episode of Home & Away (!!) - but it wasn’t until she found herself on David Guetta’s ‘Titanium’ that proper, chart-topping worldwide recognition presented itself.
By that time it was too late, though. The vocal for that particular hit was famously intended for Mary J Blige, until Guetta sneakily kept Sia’s demo take on the final album, much to her annoyance. Why? The Australian singer no longer has a desire to be famous after years of battling alcoholism and depression. As bleak as it sounds, it’s an artist’s most desolate hours that provoke the biggest emotional hooks, and when it comes to 1000 Forms of Fear, it’s what makes it all the more compelling and vulnerable.
Sia’s ear for a simple but incredibly catchy melody balanced against her dark lyrics of pain and despair results in some of the year’s most stirring pop. 'Chandelier' is a brooding skirmish; Sia’s voice breaking and bellowing at just the right moments over crisp clicks and a theatrical chorus as she combats her drunk demons. It strikes a place between the head and the heart, her raspy tone calling for help but the consequences self-inflicted. It’s truly powerful stuff that is made all the more remarkable wrapped up in Greg Kurstin’s gleaming pop sheen.
It’s a formula the pair execute consistently well throughout 1000 Forms of Fear. 'Big Girls Cry' is Grade A balladry that plays out the familiar breakdown of a relationship caused by career success. It forces Sia into an aphotic shell, but that barrier is soon broken down on 'Dressed In Black', the song reaching a crescendo of purgative ad-libs. The deepest moments are tense, but it makes the lighter numbers even more savory.
When Sia picks up the pace - like on the beach-pop bop of 'Hostage'with its jaunty guitar lines and lyrics of being held captive by the love for her beau - her elation is welcome appeasement.
Elsewhere, 'Free The Animal' is a prowling anthem awash with glitches and stuttering beats, while 'Elastic Heart' - originally used to soundtrack Panem’s Hunger Games - is a mountainous duet with The Weeknd that hears their voices blend seamlessly, as her smoky inflection underlies his flying falsetto.
Despite spending the past four years writing hits for Rihanna, Katy Perry and Beyoncé, among numerous others, 1000 Forms of Fear proves that Sia certainly hasn’t lost her own voice in the process. It may have returned more polished and with a larger following, but lyrically she has refused to hold anything back.
For an artist who continually attempts to avoid the public eye, her material feels more revelatory now than ever - and just when she decides she doesn’t want to be famous, she has recorded the best album of her career. - GW
will.i.am ft. Cody Wise: ‘It’s My Birthday’ single review
I suspect it rarely has to be will.i.am’s birthday for the Black Eyed Peas star to do what he wants. The rapper has forged a fruitful solo career for having barmy ideas slightly outside the box, without becoming too zany to alienate his chart appeal. His latest effort, ‘It’s My Birthday’, hears him turn to Bollywood for a whiff of inspiration, expanding a sample of A R Rahman’s ‘Urvasi Urvasi’ into an electronic pop ditty for mass consumption.
It also hears him take the opportunity to introduce rising star Cody Wise who, in this instance, acts as Robin to will.i.am’s Batman. “It’s my birthday, it’s my birthday, I’mma spend my money,” they croon over the bubbling chorus with its hip-pop flow and vibrant Indian chants, staying in line with will.i.am’s brand of electronic music fusion. The final result doesn’t wander too far away from his recent successful offerings, but with a hint of the new here and there, will.i.am proves once again he can have his cake and eat it whether it’s his birthday or not. - GW
La Roux Trouble In Paradise album review: “Wall-to-wall bangers”
Waiting For Elly Jackson: it’s become a running gag to rival anything Samuel Beckett could have conjured. For the past five years time has been tricking by and, just like the elusive Godot, it’s not brought a new La Roux album with it. And at some point, in that half-decade of missed deadlines and delayed releases, the question’s ceased being ‘when’ - it’s become ‘how’ instead. How could this LP, fast approaching Chinese Democracy levels in terms of tardiness, justify the never-ending wait? How would La Roux, after coming on like the freshest mainstream pop act in yonks back in 2009, fit into the fabric of 2014? Pop’s a fickle mistress, and if you’re not leading the charge, you’re straggling at the back of the pack instead.
And yet for all the trials and tribulations - including the split with musical partner Ben Langmaid - Trouble In Paradise is an utter triumph: an album of wall-to-wall bangers which makes a mockery of the idea that all those long chewed-over ideas would sound old-hat upon release. Case in point, opener 'Uptight Downtown' is inspired by the London riots that lit up Brixton back in 2011 - a topic which, by now, should sound cloyingly passé - and yet here it’s electro-pop magic, with its shimmering, Chic-like guitars and taut backdrop.
Whereas La Roux was a tinny, hard-edged listen at times - compressed and condensed, synths fizzing into one another and Jackson’s shrill pierce of a vocal - Trouble In Paradise is warm, immersive and made from a much broader sonic palette. 'Kiss And Not Tell', for example, is Blondie’s NYC disco taken down a Brixton back alley, a tale of relationship strife with bubbling synths and cascading, tropical riffs. It’s a winning sound, but there’s no sense of sticking rigidly to formula here: 'Cruel Sexuality' is another treatise on the same squabbling of couples but is spikier and sparser, built on a chugging bass and spacey, sci-fi squiggles of sound and a washed-out guitar. Some lesser mortals cling steadfastly to one formula; La Roux has more great ideas in just one album - nay, in just one song - than nearly all of them.
'Tropical Chancer' is the most cheeky and charming of the lot, perhaps - and certainly the most immediately catchy - with its sun-kissed swagger and calypso-like bounce a near-perfect echo of the scallywag taken to task in the lyrics, but it’s hardly the only gem. 'Sexotecqhue' is a sordid take on a man who can’t stop going to seedy dens of inequity (“He wants to go where the red light shines so bright”), and yet there’s no hand-wringing or condemnation or woe-is-me moping; as with most of the love-on-the-rocks tracks here, Jackson’s got tongue firmly-in-cheek, using the story of a sleaze addict as fodder for a romping sing-along chorus.
And the sense of saucy fun means that when things do get more serious, it pricks all the more painfully: 'Let Me Down Gently' is gorgeous slow-burn heartbreak with woozy synths that blossoms two-and-a-half minutes in into dark disco a la Pet Shop Boys as Jackson sings: “Turn me into someone good/ That’s what I really need,” lost and alone with only the glare of the mirrorball for company.
Elsewhere, the seven-minute chug of 'Silent Partner' journeys on a filthy synth that’s the grubby cousin of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, 'Paradise Is You' has enough moon-eyed holiday longing for the slushiest of beach novels and 'The Feeling' is perfect staccato pop. La Roux may have kept us all dangling on for five years for a second album, but sometimes the old clichés ring true: good things - very, very good things - do come to those who wait. - GW
Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea: ‘Problem’ review - ‘Triumphant hip-pop’
When it comes to the precarious challenge of straddling a tween following while trying to capture a wider demographic, no-one has made it look so effortless as Ariana Grande in recent times. On Nickelodeon you’ll find her as the rouge-haired Cat Valentine in Victorious spin-off Sam & Cat, but on the Billboard Hot 100 she’s near the top of the chart as one of the world’s most promising new divas.
It’s a duty she continues to balance going into her second studio album. ‘Problem’ - the set’s lead single - is triumphant with its hip-pop mix of sassy brass, sharp clicks and celestial vocals. “Hey baby even though I hate ya/ I wanna love ya/ I want you-oo-hoo,” Grande admits on the jaunty opening verse, trying to navigate herself out of a rocky relationship while keeping it strictly PG. It might mean Ariana is stuck in a sax loop of fluttering eyelashes and angelic posturing, but with a sassy attitude starting to bubble beneath the surface, she’s heading in the right direction. - GW
Usher ‘Good Kisser’ review: “Forgiveable smoothness and charm”
Usher’s never been the most demure of popstars when it comes to catching the attention of the opposite sex. Whether it’s his desire to “make love in the club”, ‘Yeah’s championing of a “lady in the street but a freak in the bed”, or his astute observations on the female form in ‘OMG’ (“Honey got a booty like pow, pow, pow/ Honey got some boobies like wow, oh wow”), he seemingly knows no boundaries. For new single ‘Good Kisser’, however, Usher claimed: “I really just want to connect to my fanbase: the ladies” - so has the silver-tongued charmer succeeded?
"Got lipstick on my leg," Usher brags over a sneaking drum beat, foxily revealing his ode to kissing isn’t as innocent as it seems. Shrouded in a seductive mist of clicks and whistles, the track’s overall slick R&B glow redeems what teeters on becoming another excuse for the US superstar to regale us with the number of notches on his bedpost. The final result may just be the latest instalment of the star’s lust for the ladies, but he manages to carry it off with a forgiveable smoothness and charm. - GW
Ed Sheeran: x album review - “Darker, snappier and loaded”
Ed Sheeran isn’t expecting good reviews for his new album. Not because he thinks it’s rubbish, but rather he’s used to 200 critics tearing his work apart. “I used to find it hard,” he said recently, but when you have a debut album that sells over 5 million copies worldwide, along with sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden and a big trek across America with Taylor Swift, you’re not going to let opinion detract from the thrill that accompanies a flourishing career.
You’d be well placed to presume that Sheeran would change very little for the follow-up, sticking to a formula that has served him very well. For the most part, x is a solid continuation of +'s blend of emotive crooning, wistful guitars and gentle beats. While Ed hasn't drifted too far away sonically, lyrically his tone is darker, snappier and loaded. Fundamentally, we find Sheeran in a very different world than we did three years ago.
As admissions go, they don’t come more blunt than'I'm a Mess'. Ed’s boyish sensibility has been washed away with a few pints of cider as he searches for “a sweet surrender”. Most would presume fame has caused him to hit the bottle, but it’s that other enigma that’s bothering him; the heart. Ed has been crossed and then crossed again over the past few years, and his antagonists have obviously forgotten about his ability to channel that panging hurt into a stomping, slow-building anthem. Talk about having the last say. It’s a turn he doesn’t employ just once, but a handful of times throughout x, letting that doe-eyed mask slip to reveal a toughened expression.
"I’m stumbling off drunk, getting myself lost, I am so gone," he confesses on 'One' as he realises he has potentially f**ked up the only chance he had with his soulmate. His vocals may scale into a more delicate tone, but its power is formidable and compelling. As is the case with most singer-songwriters, there’s a real sense of courage in Ed’s lyrics as he exposes his deepest thought processes for all to hear. It ranges from complete awareness on 'Bloodstream' (“All the voices in my mind/ Calling out across the land”), to a gritted, “He does know she’ll probably hear this, right?” on 'Don't'.
The honesty presents itself with varying degrees of surprise on x. Sheeran’s image is at odds with the boozy Vegas outing on'Sing', as he attempts to charm a lovely lady back to his hotel room. Paired with Pharrell Williams’s slick funk and some Timberlake-inspired falsetto, it was a risky move for Sheeran to take, but one that has ultimately paid off. It doesn’t have the same level of success on'The Man', though, as he angrily raps at his ex over her infidelity, but the Taylor Swift-meets-Snow Patrol stomp of 'Photographs' is a pleasant ode to memory-making that will satisfy his teen followers.
Sheeran’s bite, however, has never felt as forceful as it does on the aforementioned 'Don't'. The scathing address to an unnamed popstar is clearly an album highlight, straddling a weighty hook and tight flow, while offering itself as a setting for tabloid column conjecture. Ed flits between Rick Rubin’s robust production and Benny Blanco’s radio-friendly sheen to produce a concentrated pop hit. It’s potent, it’s catchy, but most importantly it is completely fearless. This is the Ed that doesn’t need to wallow over bad reviews anymore - and neither should he. - GW
Duck Sauce ‘NRG’ single review: Shinier than Tony Manero’s disco ball
With a name like Duck Sauce, it’s a relief the duo don’t take themselves too seriously. “It’s about making a career out of brain farts,” A-Trak said in a recent interview, explaining the humorous outlook he shares with Armand Van Helden as part of their side project. It’s a joke that earned them a Grammy nomination for ‘Barbra Streisand’ back in 2010, and one that looks to repeat itself again with their new single ‘NRG’.
The Duck Sauce recipe is simple: take a classic ’80s track (in this case Melissa Manchester’s ‘Energy’) and turn the looped sample into a camp and kitsch disco number with more sugary flavours than a bag of jelly beans. Add a ramped-up guitar solo, plenty of spritely beats and an almost unbearable wedge of frenziness, and you’re left with a stomping club anthem shinier than Tony Manero’s glitterball. Their approach may be comical, but the final result is seriously addictive. - GW
'Non-Stop' review: “Liam Neeson excels in Mile High Fight Club”
Welcome to the Mile High Fight Club. Liam Neeson gets his glare on in this thrilling, action-packed whodunit set on board an airplane, which blends the crowd-pleasing intrigue of an Agatha Christie murder mystery with the brutal force of Taken at 40,000 feet. Non-Stop keeps you too busy clinging to the edge of your seat to cynically probe for plot holes, providing relentless entertainment from take off to touchdown.
Neeson is perfectly cast as alcoholic air marshal Bill Marks, haunted by a turbulent past and reliant on secretly consuming a stash of booze and fags to keep him going during the commercial flight. That’s pretty much standard for a Ryanair trip. But soon, he receives a series of cryptic text messages containing threats to kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless he stumps up some serious cash. $150 million to be precise. That puts the EasyJet ‘speedy boarding’ charges into a bit of perspective.
The viewer is consequently forced to play detective alongside Bill, as he races against the clock to figure out the identity of his foe. As the death count starts to rise, we’re soon left wondering whether Bill can trust his shady fellow passenger Jen (Julianne Moore) and air hostesses Nancy (Michelle Dockery) and Gwen (Lupita Nyong’o), who help him to whittle down the suspects. Hold on, can we even trust Bill?
Director Jaume Collet-Serra does a wonderful job at making such a limited spatial environment feel dynamic and fresh, by using clever camerawork to weave through the aisles and across the passengers in the metal tube as it hurtles towards an uncertain future.
Yet he also knows when to tighten the visual noose, inducing extreme claustrophobia at tense moments like the fierce fight sequence between Bill and one of the suspects set entirely within an airplane’s bathroom. There’s barely enough room for one person to take a leak in one of those places, let alone two to have a full-on brawl. Yet it appears utterly convincing and enthralling.
The cast is perfect at deploying glances and narrowing the eyes at certain points to arouse our suspicion, particularly Moore and Dockery. Their familiarity to viewers works well alongside the twisting plot, as Hollywood convention tends to dictate that those with the biggest ‘star power’ will come to the fore - and Non-Stop has great fun toying with the audience with this.
Now in his 60s, Liam Neeson still manages to be convincing as the action tough guy with his imposing physicality. Yet it’s the flexing of his thespian muscles that lie at the heart of his appeal, as he manages to instill Bill with enough depth to make him appear credible as an empathetic and troubled human being too. He even succeeds in generating poignancy amidst the chaos, with a mournful speech to hysterical passengers in which he admits “I’m an alcoholic, I was afraid… I’m not a good father.”
Such a confessional should reek of awkward contrivance and be stilted in the extreme, much like some of the other manipulative plot mechanics elsewhere. But it all works to nail-biting effect due to the conviction the actors and director have in the script. It’s taut, immersive and rattles along at such pace you barely have time to shove a sweet in your mouth to stop your ears popping. - GW