Over the course of 11 flights and some 34,969KM (21,764 miles) of travel I did have a chance to see quite a few movies in flight, including these:
Runaway Vacation (aka RV)
Robin Williams does his usual routine in this take on Chevy Chase’s Vacation. Bob Munro (Williams) has promised his family – wife Jamie (Cheryl Hines) and typical teenagers Carl (Josh Hutcherson) and Cassie (JoJo Levesque) – a family holiday to Hawaii. Plans go awry when his meano-beano boss orders him to prepare a pitch for a big client in Colorado. Bob then rents the mother-of-all-RVs and convinces the family head west so he can complete the presentation and assist the evil boss in the presentation. What ensues is typical stuff coloured by the arrival on scene of the very odd and very type cast Gornicke family, headed by papa Travis (Jeff Daniels). Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld RV has several (crude) laughs and does all it is supposed to do to unite the family through the course of a road trip. Original it is not; funny it is (in parts). My rating for the sheer dumbness of it all, 5 out of 10.
This 1984 film landed the Coen brothers on the ‘these-guys-are-hot’ map. Directed by Joel and co-written with his brother Ethan, Blood Simple is a crime drama with a deliciously black angle. It stars a very young Frances McDormand as Abby, the wife of a very jealous and evil Texas bar owner Marty (Dan Hedaya). Thing is Abby is busy having an affair with one of Marty’s barmen Ray (John Getz) and Marty hires a perfectly cast M. Emmett Walsh – a perfectly bent private detective named Visser – to investigate. The wicked plot that ensues is brilliantly played out. Misinterpretation, lying and deceit never looked so bloody good on film. My rating 8 out of 10.
Anton Corbijn is a photographer first and foremost and you can see his passion in this film. It is beautifully shot despite its violence. As the movie starts American assassin for hire Jack (George Clooney) has a job end badly in Sweden. He vows to his handler Pavel (Yohan Leysen) that his next job will be his last. Pavel sends him to the Italian countryside where he skillfully builds a gun and bullets to be used by Mathilde (Thekla Reuten) on an unspecified target. While there he befriends Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) and falls in love with Clara (Violante Placido) and begins to self-reflect on the life he’s lead. The American is a beautifully studied film, in many respects a very quite film which makes the violence that more meaningful. At its core is the story of a man destined for hell who finds salvation in the strangest of places and well worth my rating of 9 out of 10.
Essentially a vehicle for Angeline Jolie to strut her stuff, Salt, directed by Phillip Noyce weaves a fantastically dumb premise of bad guy Russians who back in the Cold War days trained wee Russian kids to infiltrate the power halls of the US government awaiting Day X when they would all strike and bring down big, bad America. Salt works best if you can just sit back and enjoy the action and banish all thoughts of reality from your mind. Levi Schreiber does a good job playing pepper to Jolie’s Salt. If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush some night Salt is your ticket to high blood pressure for sure. My rating 8 out of 10.
This docudrama combines funky animation with live acting and an interview with Allen Ginsberg to relate the genesis of his famous poem and the obscenity trial that resulted in California of the late 1950s. Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Freidman it stars an excellent James Franco as beat-poet Ginsberg and Jon Hamm as Jake Ehrlich, his lover of many years. Recounting Ginsberg’s coming to terms with his homosexuality and the creation of Howl, the film works on every level. The use of animation to convey Ginsberg’s poem is fabulous and the trial scenes add a real level of drama – and well-written drama at that. Treat Williams co-stars as Mark Schorer, Mary-Louise Parker appears as Gail Potter and Jeff Daniels plays Professor David Kirk. The film, like the poem itself, resonates even today as being ahead of its time and emblematic of literature that started a revolution. My rating 9 out of 10.
An eclectic band of misfits is recruited for money to head to South America and depose a dictator in this homage to action films of the 1970/80’s directed by the one and only Sylvester Stallone. There is a testosterone rush from the first scenes and the film maintains its relentless pace of toughness, violence and tongue in cheek cheesiness throughout. The Expendables is certainly not a great film but with a roster of stars that includes Sylvester Stallone (as team leader Barney Ross); Jason Statham (as ever romantic Lee Christmas); Jet Li (Yin Yang); Dolph Lundgren (as crazy Gunner Jensen); Mickey Rourke (playing his usual shtick, this time called Tool); Giselle Itie (as the lone female nod, Sandra) and Bruce Willis (as bad guy Mr. Church), everything works well. If you’re looking for an A-Team-inspired flick for a night with the boys this is the one to pick. While it is instantly forgettable, it doesn’t matter as the goal with this one is nothing more than fun, fun, fun. My rating 7 out of 10.
Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud direct the voice of Steve Carroll as Gru, a criminal mastermind biding for king of the kingpins by stealing the moon but really more interested in gaining the approval of his mother (voice of Julie Andrews). What Gru doesn’t expect is a trio of orphaned lasses – Margo, Edith and Agnes – who don’t see the evildoer but a potential papa in the making. Despicable Me is a wonderfully fun film that marries shrink rays, freeze rays, and battle-ready vehicles with two genuine stories – a son’s desire to make his mother proud and the desire of orphaned children to find a family that accepts them. Filmed in a luscious animation reminiscent of the animation of the 1970s, Despicable Me is a wee gem of a film worth renting. My rating 9 out of 10.
Despite its marketing as some sort of Blair Witch Project, Catfish is decidedly more a statement on the state of social media in America and the lengths some folks will go to. Filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost document a story involving Ariel’s brother, Nev, a 24-year-old New York-based photographer when he decides to actually visit a Facebook friend he’s made in rural Michigan. Her name is Abby and while Ariel thinks Abby is a little girl who asked permission to paint one of his photographs, the truth when finally revealed is both intriguing and sad … and certainly worth renting the film to see. Anyone who has ever created a Facebook page and accepted a ‘friend’s request’ will want to see Catfish and will no doubt think twice about their online relationships. My rating 7 out of 10.
Let Me In
Let Me In is a remake of the fabulous Swedish film Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In) based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. It stars Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen, a young lad with an absent father and drunken mother who is bullied at school. Into his life comes Abby (Chloe Moretz) an ever-12 year-old vampire who appears one evening in the playground of his tenement. Abby’s ‘father’ (a oddly miscast Richard Jenkins) acts as her protector and assists the vampire in securing the blood she needs. Directed by Matt Reeves, this version is honest to the original story and movie and does a good job at maintaining the eerie feel and tempo found in the Swedish film. Ultimately it is a tale of love, loneliness and revenge. Let Me In is an exception to the usual rule that remakes by Americans of Asian or European films are trashy. My rating 7 out of 10.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
The rumour is true, Gordon Gekko is back. Released from prison Gekko (Michael Douglas) is out to win the respect of the Wall Street world, regain the trust of his daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan) and assist a young trader, Jake (Shia LeBoeuf) – who is rather too conveniently dating his daughter – in eking out revenge on mogul Bretton James (Josh Brolin) who had a hand in the demise of Jake’s mentor Jules Steinhardt (Eli Wallack). Sadly the themes here seem dated despite the rash of Wall Street inside trading and the entire story feels forced. This reviewer has never been a fan of the work of director Oliver Stone. His films are all far too self-indulgent and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (dumb title by the way) is another example of this. My rating 3 out of 10.
The single biggest problem with this Bond-lite flick rests with the utter lack of romance that is supposed to exist between its two stars, master thieves Robert MacDougal (Sean Connery) and Virgina Baker (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Directed by John Amiel, the premise is the entrapment of the aging burglar by the younger agent who is working for an insurance agency. There’s plenty of action, the requisite master thief training the up-and-comer, Mission Impossible-like antics at the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur , a twist or three and moments of ‘romance’ which are laugh out loud silly. Rent this only if you’re heading to Kuala Lumpur – as I actually was at the time – or want some comic relief, otherwise avoid being entrapped by its supposed star power. My rating 2 out of 10.
The Social Network
David Fincher directs what will be an Oscar contender about the rise of Facebook and its founder, the acerbic Mark Zuckerberg (Jessie Esienberg). When Zuckerberg gets dumped by his girlfriend he heads back to his Harvard dorm room and invents what will become Facebook. Helped by his closest friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and initially funded by two wealthy Harvard classmates, the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence), Facebook takes off across American colleges. Zuckerberg moves to California and is befriended by Napster founder Sean Parker (a very good Justin Timberlake) who secures the ‘in’ needed to flow Silicon Valley dollars to the enterprise. But along the way Zuckerberg manages to alienate those who helped him and ends up being sued and sued again. Fincher does an excellent job pulling the matrix of connections associated with this story together and the scenes with Zuckerberg and his lawyers mediating settlements are by far the best. Guaranteed to make you look at Facebook a little differently after seeing it, The Social Network proves truth is – as always – stranger than fiction. My rating 8 out of 10.
Olivier Gourmet stars as a Belgian inventor with not much skill, Michel Roy, who lives his life in the limelight of his successful father, the author Herve Roy (Jean-Pierre Cassel). Michel is married to a Congoese refugee Alice (Claudia Tagbo) and has a budding tennis star of a son, Jules (Arnaud Mouithys). One day his father confesses he was adopted from a family in a small Quebec town called Sainte-Cecile. Fascinated by this, Michel travels to Quebec to pitch an invention and seek his roots. In Sainte-Cecile he meets Louis Legros, the son of an inventor of hybrid autos, and when their paths cross after an accident the real story of Congorama takes flight. Directed by Philippe Faladreau, Congorama twists a comic tale of fate and family as only the Quebecois can conceive. A wonderful little gem of a film that tells a cautionary tale of the importance of honesty. My rating 7 out of 10.
Director Darren Aronofsky’s companion piece to his Oscar-winning film, The Wrestler, is a macabre psychological thriller that plays brilliantly with the central theme of Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake, where a dancer is required to play both the White Swan and her evil Black Swan twin. Nina (Natalie Portman) is chosen by her New York City ballet company director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) to champion the role. Nina is obsessed with perfection – a by-product of her wildly over-bearing mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) – and is clearly mentally ill. She soon begins to confuse what’s real with what’s imagined and believes a younger, more earthy dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) is vying to take her place. What results is a marvelous examination of an artistically ill mind filmed with a richness and complexity that is both horrific and beautiful. Aronofsky’s directing is stunning with each scene a study in black and white. Black Swan is a deep film and will garner Oscar nods this year. My rating 9 out of 10.
The Book of Eli
Allen and Albert Hughes direct the screen version of Gary Whitta’s novel about a Christian black man wandering a post-apocalyptic America with purportedly the last copy of the Bible in his hands. Denzel Washington plays Eli with a sort of cool hand Luke attitude as he crosses America just ahead of the evil Carnegie (the always great Gary Oldman) accompanied off and on by Solara (Mila Kunis), a lass he rescues from bandits. While an excellent study of one man’s journey to his destiny – at Alcatraz of all places – the marriage of Mad Max-like scenes with spirituality doesn’t feel genuine. America – post-apocalyptic or not – is hardly the place we’re going find a latter-day saint. My rating 4 out of 10.