Friday, February 19, 2010

Travel Notes and Movie Reviews

I traveled from Tel Aviv to Cincinnati on three flights, with two hour stopovers between each flight.

First flight: Tel Aviv to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. Ben Gurion Airport, one of the most secure airports in the world, did not make me take off my shoes and did not prevent me from passing through security with a 1/2 liter water bottle.

Second flight: Istanbul to JFK on Turkish Airlines. There is a special transfer desk for those traveling to the US, which includes two special check-ins: passport and additional security, in a cordoned off area of the airport (away from all the stores and other parts of the airport). No liquids allowed, shoes off, every bag opened, and everyone got a full body pat-down. I flew on a 777, and I, like many others on the flight, had an entire row of three seats to myself. It was a good flight.

Both flights cost me - total - $640, round trip.

Third flight: JFK to Cincinnati on Delta. I had to leave the airport terminal and check in to a different one. Once again, the security procedure, but no pat-down.

I had no check-in luggage for any of these flights. I had a carry-on, a laptop case, a belt pouch, and a coat with pockets. For one month of travel time. Every time I fly, I take less.


Bright Star: I had head good things about this, but ended up switching to something else after ten minutes. I probably would have enjoyed the intense parts that were supposed to come later in the movie.

All About Steve: boring and shallow, I switched to something else after ten minutes.

New York: I Love You: An excellent experience, essentially a sequel to Paris, Je T'aime (see my review).

The Invention of Lying: I have nothing personal against Ricky Gervais, but I haven't found any of his movies interesting. I'm usually not a stickler for "sense" in a movie, but I'm an old-school sci-fi aficionado, and this is essentially a sci-fi movie. In a world where no-one ever told a lie, the dialog in the movie (bold-faced rudeness, what people "really think") could never happen, because everyone's expectations would be entirely different. And a lot of what they said (such as "I'm sorry", when they weren't) was incompatible with the premise. And it still looked entirely predictable. Switched off after ten minutes.

Walk the Line: About Johnny and June Cash. Nice enough, but also kind of predictable and shallow; unfortunately suffers in comparison to the much better Ray, about Ray Charles. Good acting, but Reese Witherspoon, while professional and capable of delivering emotion and dialog, seems to be incapable of acting like anything other than Reese Witherspoon.

Joueuse (Queen to Play): About a maid who suddenly longs to play Chess. Kind of enjoyable, if you enjoy a lot of Chess matches and a blatantly metaphorical movie about a wife not getting her needs met by her husband. Mediocre cinematography and direction, and an unbelievable script mar the enjoyment.

So much for the airplane movies. Here are a few others:

Avatar 3D: A three-dimensional movie with two-dimensional characters and a one-dimensional plot. As far as sci-fi adventure movies go, it's derivative but ok. As far as movies go, it's really bad. It's the intersection of Pocahontas and Dances With Wolves (not the union; the intersection).

The 3D was impressive, and the world building "bug on every leaf" was lovely, of course. The usual action stuff, with effects. There's nothing else there. That's it. What a waste. Really, the 3D was wasted on this movie; when the action sequences began, my mind pretty much blanked out any 3D aspects to what I was looking at and reverted to standard 2D mental image. I could really only focus on the 3D when not much was happening on the screen. I think the 3D will have more of an effect for me in a romantic or dramatic movie.

District 9: While - like The Matrix - this was perhaps a little too focused on violence, this was a phenomenal movie. It's metaphor to the treatment of blacks by white was transparent, but that just made it better. The decision to use non-humans to represent the blacks was perfect; it forced us into the point of view of the racist white who sees blacks as non-human, something which can't work using any other genre. Brilliant sci-fi.


Gerald McD said...

Your review of Avatar 3D described exactly my reaction. I have long been a big science fiction fan (more of books than movies), and I was really looking forward to this film. I thought the 3D and special effects were excellent, but (as I have told other people) I saw absolutely no original ideas, action, or dialogue in the film. I could easily anticipate every scene and outcome. I recognized many old and good science fiction books in the ideas presented in the movie, but nothing new. It was worth seeing, in my opinion, for the effects and 3D, but for no other reason.

After seeing the film, I went to my movie collection and watched again (for the umpteenth time) the first Star Wars film. Ignoring its shortcomings and old technology to some extent, it was a much better film, and one I will continue to enjoy watching occasionally. I do not plan to purchase Avatar for my collection.

Dug said...

I had exactly the *opposite* reaction to Avatar than either of you. I agree there were no original ideas, action, or dialog. No surprise there. Even District 9 where we are oppressing aliens is nothing new at it's core. There are very few original thoughts in entertainment. Even Star Wars made very heavy use of mythic archetypes as storytelling devices, something which Avatar did as well, frankly. Critiquing any film because of a lack of originality damns the entire storytelling experience, and I defy you to show me a truly original idea in *any* medium over the past 20 years, especially one that was well executed too. Fiction is plagarism. Even Jules Verne stole from Da Vinci.

Avatar was a landmark movie because it's use of 3D was *appropriate* not just a marketing device as almost every single other 3D movie ever made has been. It will drive the adoption of 3D television over the next 10 years, and that's saying something. Was it derivative? Yes. Was it entertaining? Yes. You know exactly where it is going, but the movie creates a world and wraps you in it like exceedingly few large budget films do.

All of that said, there will be a huge "Jurassic Park" effect when the film comes to Blu-Ray/DVD. What was very impressive and immersive on an IMAX screen in 3D will indeed be dull and uninspiring even on a good large screen or projection system.

As for Star Wars, it is a flawed classic, largely redeemed by Empire (and nearly ruined by Return - killer teddy bears, indeed). However, every time I get a new (and bigger) TV, one of the first things I do is stick in the DVD version for what is one of the best shots in filmmaking, the blowing of the viewer's mind in terms of scale, first with the planet in the distance followed by Tatooine up close, then with the space ship chase. The most brilliant thing Lucas has ever done and ever will do, IMHO. Empire is superior in many ways, largely because Lucas didn't have final say on things like script and story (we saw what a mess that was when he got to do whatever he wanted in the "prequels").

Interesting side note: even though the military is not depicted in Avatar (these are mercs, not a national force), our own services are strongly discouraging their people from seeing the movie because they feel it casts a negative light on military operations and the chain of command. Take that as you will.

Roman Age said...

The original Starwars (first one, Empire..., and Return...)was good because it was all about the characters, their personnality, the dialogues...and of course there's still the action. Of course the 3 episodes are not equally good, but they have essentially the same formula (the first one is the best in my opinion).
As for the Starwars prequels, they are terrible because it takes itself too seriously, starting from the written intro of Phantom Menace that looks like a history book, talking about taxations and other stuff that has no place in a Starwars movie, there's the whole Senat boring thing, it tries to be deeper and relevant to the problems governments are facing in our world, and it ends up being a flop.
I haven't seen Avatar, but many recent SF movies have the same flaw, they're just not fun.

Peer said...

The problem with Avatar (which I find OK - a popcornmovie) is not the lack of originality. Its the lack of surprise. Every part of the story is absolutly 100% predictable. Its like they showed the subtext in every szene :-)
(Take note: To get the clans together you have to ride this dinosaur! Takenote: We can transform your soul to your Avatar! ...)