Saturday, October 5, 2013

Airline Movie Reviews

This post consists of reviews of the movies I watched during my trans-Atlantic flights on my recent trip to Norwich, England.[1] And, since I have your attention, I'll throw in a few others, including books I read on the flight/during layovers, and a few other things I've read or watched recently. First up is Prometheus, a sort of prequel to the Alien series of movies. Next up is a new film rendition of The Great Gatsby. Then I review Argo, a film based on the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. After that is Oblivion, a post-apocalyptic film where humans have abandoned the Earth and are harvesting its oceans so they can survive off-planet. The fifth movie I watched on my flights was Rango, but I've already reviewed that.[2] Since I've been back I've also watched Iron Man 3. During the flight I finished three books. The first was The Wind Whales of Ishmael, which imagines that the narrator of Moby Dick accidentally travels millions of years into the future. Then I read one of Shakespeare's lesser-known plays, King John. Finally, I read Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson, which is about a mysterious artifact that is discovered on Pluto. After that I discuss an English cookie (they call it a biscuit), Coronet Bourbon Creams, and a new brand of rolled tortilla chips, Quitos.

My verdict for Prometheus: This film, like the Alien franchise it belongs to, is a horror film. I generally don't care for horror, so I was unimpressed with the horror elements of this film. However, it did have a storyline that superceded the horror elements. It explores the notion of meeting one's creator (and in the process creates a bizarre blend of panspermia and Christianity). In the case of the android, David (who is possibly the only interesting character), this meeting is underwhelming and ultimately disappointing. The experience and response of the main character, Elizabeth (who is strangely unaffected by the emergency C-section she receives), is more complex—but ultimately not intriguing or satisfying enough to justify watching the film. 

DISCLAIMER: I watched an edited version of this film. I have not seen the original R-rated version and cannot comment on its appropriateness.[3]

My verdict for The Great Gatsby: First I will say that this film was infinitely superior to the 1974 film starring Robert Redford. Infinitely superior. The cinematography and costumes were fantastic (but the CGI looked pretty fake). And the over-the-top parties thrown by Gatsby highlight the hedonistic abandon of the Jazz Age. However, this film wasn't without its flaws. Having Nick in a sanatorium was a poor choice and made for a lame frame story. (Voice-overs by Tobey Maguire will never work.) Which reminds me, when I heard that Tobey Maquire was going to be involved in this film, I was terrified that he would be cast as Gatsby; fortunately he was cast as Nick. I thought he'd do okay as Nick, but I was wrong: he was still disappointing as an actor. The other actors did a great job. I wish they'd used period music instead of writing new songs immitating the style of 1920s music. I didn't like the way they obfuscated who was respondible for Myrtle's death. And the last-minute attempt to give the story a silver lining falls short.

My verdict for Argo: This film did an excellent job of getting the actors to look like their subjects and the acting in general was very good, with one exception: Ben Affleck was rather lifeless in his portrayal of Tony Mendez, the CIA agent who masterminded the exfiltration of the six Americans trapped in Iran. The set design was impressive, too. But the high point of the film was the way it generated and maintained dramatic tension. I was rivetted. However, while I was watching I suspected that they'd taken some liberties and this turned out to be true.[4]

DISCLAIMER: I watched an edited version of this film. I have not seen the original R-rated version and cannot comment on its appropriateness except to say that there appeared to be a lot of language, given how heavily edited the sound was.[5]

My verdict for Oblivion: This was an interesting movie and a few of the plot twists managed to take me by surprise (but not all of them). The cinematography and CGI were excellent, however the script suffered from a multitude of errors and plot holes:

There was a surprising amount of 'brief nudity' for a PG-13 film. The central computer that Jack sometimes communicates with reminded me of GLaDoS [7] and HAL 2000. The climax and the dénouement were handled pretty well.

My verdict for Iron Man 3: This film rounded out the trilogy very nicely. Sure, there were some overly sentimental moments, and Tony Stark's character growth was a little forced. (Robert Downey, Jr. generally hit the mark when he was being snarky, less so when he was being self-mocking, and rarely when he was going for pathos.) But the story was gripping and well-paced, with a few interesting plot twists. I really appreciated that several features of the new suit became plot points later on (though not in a gimmicky way as often happens in James Bond films).

My verdict for The Wind Whales of Ishmael: This book was definitely pulp sci-fi. The hero ("Ishmael" from Moby Dick) finds himself whisked into the future, which is full of bizarre creatures and strange customs. He goes on one adventure after another. He joins a human tribe and quickly reforms their society, their hunting methods, their war tactics, their religion, etc., and (inevitably) ends up their leader. He also (inevitably) marries the first woman he meets, who is (inevitably) the most beautiful woman in the tribe. There were many contradictions (e.g. stealing another city's idols is unheard of, but later it's unheard of not to steal another city's idols), sometimes on the same page—the editor obviously didn't do their job. The author hinted at adding more substance to the novel, but never actually got around to it (except for a trite epigraph at the end). The ending was somewhat abrupt and arbitrary. Overall this book was fun, but not an essential read.

My verdict for King John: There are some good soliloquies in this play, including one comparing the trajectory of the world to a poorly-weighted bowling ball that veers from its path and misses its target and another describing death as a insatiable skull with swords for teeth that loves war because of the many souls it can devour. These (and a few others) are from the character usually refered to as the bastard. He is the most interesting character, but he is too inconstant to be admirable. King John is a supremely capricious character and doesn't seem to have any qualities. He kind of got what he deserved; it's unfortunate that any one like that ever achieved such a position of power, much less believed he had a divine right to it.

My verdict for Icehenge: I've previously read The Martian Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars) by Kim Stanley Robinson. Every once in a while he would right an almost-brilliant chapter. But the rest was schlock. His science was sloppy, his politics were ludicrous, his characters were caricatures, and his prose was frustrating. I decided to give him another chance. This book might be even more disappointing than The Martian Trilogy. Why? Because it was about the exact same things! Human beings who have achieved longevity but are emotionally, mentally, and psychologically unprepared for it; overpopulation of the Earth; political revolution and radical government on Mars; etc. Is his imagination really that infertile? On top of that, the book had a weird structure (three journals) that didn't do much for the overall plot and the final reveal about the origin of the Plutonian monument called Icehenge 1. was easy to guess, 2. turned out to be a really lame MacGuffin, and 3. completely avoided the real question: will mankind try to leave the Solar System?

My verdict for Coronet Bourbon Creams: First a little background. One of the nights in England we ate at a restaurant called The Rare, which was in our hotel. One of the dessert items on the menu was a Bourbon cheesecake. Since I abstain from alcohol [8] I opted for a Tunisian orange cake, instead. Everyone else at my table was excited to try whiskey-flavored cheesecake. But, much to their dismay, the cheesecake had these cookies (pronounced boor-BOHN, mouse-over for IPA) for the crust and not a drop of alcohol (BURR-bun). When I spotted these later, I couldn't resist trying them. These were rather boring cookies, a little weak on flavor and a little heavy on sugar.

My verdict for Quitos Salsa Picante chips: These were an obvious rip-off of Takis. They were rolled the same and even the flavor was pretty similar—somewhere between Crunchy Fajita [9] and Fuego [10] in both flavor and heat. The corn flavor was a little more noticeable than you get from Takis. Overall not quite as good as Taquis but a tolerable substitute if you can't find Takis.

My verdict for Quitos Chili Lime chips: I was pretty excited when I found these because one of my favorite snacks in México [11] were lime-flavored Fritos (limón y sal).[12] These chips by Quitos were disappointing. The lime flavor was nearly indetectable and the chile flavor wasn't very exciting. I'd much rather have lime-flavored Fritos (i.e. with no chili flavor), but I've only ever found them in the U.S. once and I don't make it to México very often these days.


[1] See my post Matt's Trip to England.

[2] Read my review of Rango here.

[3] For more info, I suggest you consult the reviews at and

[4] See (2012 film)#Historical inaccuracies.

[5] For more info, I suggest you consult the reviews at and

[6] For an interesting take on draining the world's oceans, see and the follow-up

[7] See my review of Portal 2 here.

[8] For those who are unsure why Latter-day Saints (Mormons) abstain from alcohol (as well as tea, coffee, tobacco, and illegal drugs), I recommend you visit here and here, where you can learn more about LDS beliefs concerning dietary restrictions. If you have more questions, ask and maybe I'll do a full post on the topic.

[9] See my review of Barcel: Takis Crunchy Fajita here.

[10] See my review of Barcel: Takis Fuego here.

[11] I spent two years in México as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For those who are unsure why Latter-day Saints go on missions, I recommend you visit here and here, where you can learn more about LDS beliefs concerning sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you have more questions, ask and maybe I'll do a full post on the topic.

[12] See—sabor-limon-y-sal-fritos-sabritas.html.

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