A few weeks ago I took the nine hour flight from Moscow to New York City on Aeroflot Airlines. Instead of spending the time looking at the disconcerting hammer and sickle logos on the airline cutlery or wondering about the overly sexual wecome videos encouraging me to turn off all electronic devices, I took full advantage of the in-flight entertainment and watched four movies during the long haul. Now, I don’t want to toot my own horn or anything but it takes some serious focus to catch that many movies in that amount of time. I pushed past urges to sleep, ignored the sounds of babies tortured by turbulence, and dedicated myself to the task at hand. Here are my quick thoughts on the movies I watched.
The Aeroflot Airlines Welcome Video
This movie was insane. It features all the usual weird elements of airline videos: smiling passengers with obscene amounts of leg room, cheerful mothers putting on oxygen masks while creepily looking at their unmasked children, and giggling men curling up into a ball while their plane nosedives. Plus it adds extra images of airline stewardesses with psychotic happiness and Mars Attacks-style smiles who grin curiously at young boys with Game Boys.
Clint Eastwood’s controversial war movie starts off with the scene that appeared in nearly all the press material leading up to the film’s release. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Brad Cooper) watches through the scope of his rifle as a young boy carrying an RPG steps towards a group of Marines that Kyle is protecting. The SEAL has to determine if the boy is a threat to his fellow soldiers and decide if he needs to take out that threat. Before we see whether or not he takes the shot, we flashback to Kyle as a boy and see his overbearing father and the road he takes to eventually joining the Navy SEALs. By the time we return to the scene, Kyle’s choice seems obvious and the tension is stunted. The movie feels overly protective of Kyle and the difficult decisions he makes as a soldier. But it also does its part in showing how the killing affects him. Cooper’s performance is excellent and deserving of his Oscar nomination. The Silver Linings Playbook star is barely recognizable as the gruff Texan soldier and far removed from his previous works. His performance is a highlight of an otherwise strong film with its share of deserved controversy.
P.S.: One of the most bizarre parts of American Sniper is without a doubt the fact that this serious, big budget Hollywood film uses a plastic doll baby instead of, you know, a real human baby. One of the most dramatic scenes features a doll which lays motionless cross Cooper’s chest. Motionless because it’s made of plastic. It looks like one of the baby’s hands have been given some CGI movement but the result is a strange motionsless torso and a weird writhing computer hand. How does this happen? How? I’ve read some defenses talking about the price of getting a baby on set and the difficulty of getting the baby to stay calm. But a doll? Figure it out Clint. Hire thirty babies if you need. They probably don’t ask for much compensation and don’t mess with the buffet. Bradley Cooper’s beard worked too hard to have the drama sucked out of the movie by a doll.
The Wachowskis have basically hit M. Night Shymalan levels of recent disappointment after early successes. Like Shymalan, The Wachowskis don’t seem to understand what made their early movies so great. The Matrix was a phenomenal movie in nearly every way. It had a compelling story, interesting characters, sweet fight scenes, etc etc. What it didn’t have was extended sequences of unnecessary CGI fighting. Sure it used plenty of effects but they were usually warranted and the movie used them measuredly. Jupiter Ascending reaches Star Wars prequel amounts of annoying and unnecessary green screens and CGI. We spend far too long watching Channing Tatum basically rollerblade through the air in anti-gravity boots. And the excess stretches beyond the visuals and to the plot itself. There is simply way too much going on at once. Too many characters, too many sub-plots, too many confusing relationships. The Matrix basically has four core characters and we care about all of them. Here I don’t care about anyone. Especially the supposed main character. Jupiter Jones, played by Mila Kunis, is more annoying than endearing and her “I’m just a normal girl in a weird place” humor do nothing for me (she must have said “Holy Crap” a dozen times. That’s right. “Holy crap.” The thing you stopped using in middle school). I did like Channing Tatum’s occasional jokes but that has more to do with how much I like the actor himself than the movie’s writing. The romance between Chaning and Mila comes out of nowhere and ends up turning Jupiter Jones into a variation of Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster in the Thor movies: a confused and love struck normal woman in awe of some non-human superhero.
Exodus: Gods and Kings
Before this was released I could not wait to see the pairing of Ridley Scott and Christian Bale. The early reviews forced me to stay away, at least until I was stuck on this flight. The acting of the two stars, Bale and Joel Edgerton, are the strongest points in the movie. Which shouldn’t be that surprising given the actors involved. Ben Kingsley’s brief parts worked as well but we don’t see much of him. Overall Exodus ends up being a pretty bland film. The action scenes were exciting enough and Scott takes an interesting approach to the Plagues of Egypt. Unfortunately the plot drags at times and the movie strains to reach epic levels. Sadly it never quite makes it.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
I was not excited at all to see this when it was released. If this wasn’t the only in-flight movie short enough to finish with the time left before we landed, I doubt I would have ever watched it. I was a huge fan of the Ninja Turtles growing up and the idea of another reboot was disappointing (the same way diehard Spider-Man fans react when they hear their favorite character is going to be ruined in a movie again). Plus, I dislike Megan Fox as much as I loved the 1990’s turtles movies (and cartoon and video game). Even with an admitted bias against her, I feel confident in saying that Megan Fox is completely terrible in this movie. Honestly, the movie isn’t all that bad when she’s off-screen. But even The Godfather trilogy couldn’t survive with Fox in it. At least Fredo wouldn’t be the worst anymore.