A Plethora of Plane Pics!
What to do while watching:
What to eat while watching:
First, dear readers, I must apologize for leaving on vacation without warning you. In the hectic preparations for travel, I neglected to alert you, my large but largely invisible audience, of my weeks off. I have been on a whirlwind tour of Asia for the last two months, and it has been incredible. Thank you for indulging my hiatus and returning now for more video ventures. And please extend silent thanks to your employer, who doesn't overwork you to the extent that you cannot check my site every now and again.
Having spent 30 hours on long-haul flights, I have seen several newly released films. To match the small servings of airline food--two bits of pineapple, a four-ounce coffee, a half chicken thigh--I will dish up small helpings of critique on the films I saw while airborne, plus two that I caught on TV in Singapore.
Like airline food, these films are utilitarian above all else. They are simple. A comedy is just a comedy, as a piece of fish is just a piece of fish. The films, like the food, seem almost designed to be taken as tide-one-over nutrition, enough to appease only until landing. I cannot quite imagine the experience of seeing them in the theater; but on the small screen in the back of the chair in front of me, these diverse films all took on a similar feel, one of simple functionality.
Take Bruce Almighty, for instance. Here's a film that's about one thing: Jim Carrey being silly. He is at peak form in his physical clowning. If you're looking for a story, you'll find only a thin coating of amber sauce. Carrey, a newscaster, upset at a turn of bad luck, blames God for his misfortunes. God, played by Morgan Freeman, decides to turn the reins of the all-powerful over to Carrey for a spell, and to teach him an obvious, oversimplified, and overstated lesson. Carrey mugs like mad as the world under his power falls apart and finally comes back together in a happy ending. For a 90-minute distraction, it's fine. You open the airplane window and marvel that the sun is up though your body thinks it's 2 a.m. Time to use the toilet. 9 stars.
Anger Management is only slightly more complex (than the toilet). Here, Adam Sandler plays a straight man across from the trickster, Jack Nicholson. The movie is mainly about these two actors playing together. The story is likely enough: a tale of an angry but repressed young man who is coerced into anger management sessions with an "unorthodox" psychiatrist. Hilarity ensues, as does loud snoring from the next row. But the twist at the end of Anger undercuts the entire plot, making everything that has happened pointless, though we still get a happy ending. Bottom line: I had three decent belly laughs, so I'll give it 9 1/4 stars.
While I'm on comedies, let me mention Scooby Doo, the Movie, which came on television in Singapore. Since all references to the cartoon occur within the first ten minutes--from Velma losing her glasses to "I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids"--I decided that was enough for me. If I were the gambling kind, I'd bet the movie warrants 9 stars based on the first 10 minutes.
The other comedy I caught on Singapore TV was The Cherokee Kid starring Sinbad. A Western film with a mainly black cast, it's not terribly funny or charming. It is, however, marginally funny and passably charming in two or three spots. Lackluster otherwise, it gets a merciful 9 1/4 stars at least because it was better than both Scooby and Bruce.
Daddy Day Care, by the way, is a "don't fail to miss" movie according to my dad, Warson Goody, who saw it on an America West flight to St. Louis. He reports that every gag is predicable enough to bore a third grader and that Eddie Murphy's compromised career is further compromised. As Warson is not bound by my rubric of giving at least nine stars to every film, he gives it 1 1/2 on a scale of 10 because it was in color.
Let's switch gears--and positions in this torture device known as an airplane seat. On Cathay Pacific channel 11, we find Bridget Jones' Diary. Here's a British comedy starring Rene Zellwegger (however you spell it) and Hugh Grant. Zell-... Rene is a 30-something who wants a boyfriend, but is subject to the familiar foibles of dating. Though her self-esteem issues are nothing new, the portrayal is human. There's a dose of irony, but not enough to make the film bitter or ungainly. And Rene is a very credible and charming actor. Grant is also good in his typecast role as a handsome cad. The happy ending comes right on time, but remains enough in doubt as to be pleasantly suspenseful. In all, 9 1/2 stars: not bad. Add 1/4 star if you're a woman and another 1/4 star if you're a woman between the ages of 27 and 36.
But now let's get to the action. There's nothing like watching kung-fu, swashbuckling, high flips, and Xtreme sports while forced to remain motionless and seat-belted--unless it's watching exploding airplanes while flying through what the pilot has announced as "a rough spot." The high point of my flights between Hong Kong and Los Angeles, viewing-wise, was Matrix 2: Reloaded. 9 3/4 stars. It's exciting; the effects are mega-wow, state-of-the-art; and the fight choreography is fine (though surely better on a big screen). This doesn't negate the simple-and-functional theme that runs throughout all these movies, though. The Matrix is like the airline fish dinner. At its core, there's a bland piece of protein. That's the sociopolitical philosophizing that forms the backbone of the movie and manifests in stretches of abstract dialogue. If you didn't see the first Matrix, it's about life as we know it being a computer-generated illusion, wherein avatars of real-reality fight to release the masses from their deception. Meanwhile, real-earth is a polluted wasteland in dire need of human energy to repair it. But this fish is tasteless and bland. One eats it because on top is a thick layer of a sweetish red sauce: that's the special effects, which are totally over the top and, thus, engrossing. When your disbelief can't be suspended at watching people dodging bullets and leaping tall buildings, you can at least marvel at the filmic technology that enables you to see it with your own eyes. The fight choreography, as I've mentioned, kicks attention away from the drab dialogue and acting so that you forget about the latter. Though it's appeal is adolescent in the sense that it's action above all, I found it enjoyable enough to watch twice, both too and from Asia. It's the pick of the litter, along with…
The Matrix, which Cathay Pacific showed back to back with the sequel. In the original movie, the philosophical component was more fleshed out, and the action was just as good--better because it was novel. Furthermore, the Matrix has an ending, whereas the sequel ends with "to be continued," a conclusion that's every bit as excruciating as the end of The Empire Strikes Back. I liked Matrix. It was a very pleasant viewing experience and worthy of the rare 10-star rating. Though maybe not apt for a best-movies-of-all-time list, I might pick it among the best fifty of the last decade. For its influence on subsequent movies, not to mention the fashion world, it's worth seeing if you haven't already.
Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle is a sequel on the other end of the spectrum. I never saw the first C.A., but in the second, the single note that the movie keeps hitting is the sexy strength of the three stars, Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, and Whatzer Face. Here, the plot is so shoddy and the action so far-fetched, that there's no reason to follow the movie scene to scene. A drawback of airline viewing is the lack of fast forward. Hopping from bikini scene to wet-T-shirt scene would have shortened this movie twenty-fold and improved it the same amount. The point of the film is sex. On the other hand, the soundtrack is quite good. Separate ratings here: 9 3/4 stars for the music, particularly "High Voltage," but 9 stars for the ridiculous movie.
Rounding out the trilogy of sequels, is X-Men II, a comic-book adaptation revolving around approximately two dozen super-powered mutants who fight each other and a society-wide bigotry against their kind. Comic fans will certainly like seeing so many of the long-standing funny-book's characters come to life. Non-comic book fans probably won't see this movie, except as a captive viewer on an airplane, where the small-screen rendition will neutralize the special effects, rendering the entire movie as bland as airline flan. I give it the benefit of the doubt and 9 1/4 stars. Add up to 3/4 stars depending on how big an X-Men fan you are, but know that the more stars you add, the greater your geekiness, as well. And isn't it time you outgrew fan-boy comics and discovered some of the intelligent, creative, and pertinent examples of sequential art?
Finally, there's Pirates of the Caribbean, which I watched in patches of on the plane, having seen the entirety in a pizza cafe in Bali. A far-fetched tale of pirates, soldiers and ghosts, based on the Disneyland ride, the movie has a definite amusement-park feel. It's just plain fun, like the single-serving chocolate ice cream that followed the fish. Johnny Depp isn't at his best, but that's okay. You can get your swash buckled and your timbers shivered without any real emotional commitment. The happy ending is as guaranteed as the hoisting of the Jolly Roger after a plot as plastic as the Disney ride's facades. For being nothing except likeable, 9 1/2 stars.
That wraps up this cavalcade of films from Cathay Pacific. You may have missed my reviews for the last seven weeks, but I hope this helps make up for lost time. As a parting recommendation, I'll point again to Talk To Her, the best movie I've seen in the past year. Coming up are some other winners: Invincible, King of the Hill, White, and more. Keep on watching, and don't forget to rewind.
©2003 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.