Movies on a Plane: Teen Dystopias, Super-Heroes, Unsatisfying Sci-Fi, and Surprisingly Good Mark Twain Update

I’ve recently done a trip across the world (and am still recovering from the jet lag), which means it’s time for another edition of Movies on a Plane, where I surf through Emirates @247 channels of television viewing to find the films that I’ve been curious to see, but which I didn’t want to pay for.  (I’m still waiting for GI Joe: Retaliation to show up on one of these trips.)

First up on this recent trip was a little gem called

Band of Robbers

I’d never heard of this film before but I gravitated toward it because it listed Melissa Benoist in the cast.   Who?  That’s the actress who plays Supergirl on the popular (in my household) TV drama about the Girl of Steel.  Band of Robbers is a re-imagining of the classic story of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.  It places them in the modern day and we meet the characters as adults, where Huck and Tom are good-natured miscreants who decide to form a “Band of Robbers” in order to pull off a heist, even though Tom is actually a police officer. Benoist shows up as Becky Thatcher, Tom’s surprise new partner who becomes not only an obstacle to his plans, but also his love-interest.

I call Band of Robbers a gem because it was unexpectedly delightful.  It had a witty script and a quirky style, and gave us a pretty good sense of what makes these characters tick.  Melissa Benoist was a little uninspiring in the movie, but the cast overall was really good.  There were lots of funny moments peppered throughout some moderate violence, giving the whole thing a bit of a Fargo-lite kind of vibe, except more upbeat.

The movie featured a great bit where a bad guy gets one of the most satisfying deaths I’ve ever seen in a movie:  an old lady he carjacks shoots him with her handgun!  There was also a very funny bit where our heroes (in a manner of speaking) ineptly pull off their heist (wearing plastic bags instead of stockings on their heads, and robbing a pawn shop owned by The Office‘s Creed Bratton).  But  my favorite bit was probably an extended conversation that the characters have about whether a white guy calling himself “Injun Joe” is racist or not.

After Band of Robbers, I tuned in to…

400 Days

400 Days

…which I trusted would have the right level of mindlessness to make it the perfect movie-on-a-plane watching experience.  This science fiction film is a funny animal.  The story is about four astronauts who willingly subject themselves to an isolation experiment in which they will live in a simulated spaceship for 400 days, to approximate the impact of deep space travel on human beings.  Of course, things get tense and there’s all sorts of interpersonal conflict, which eventually builds up to some crazy stuff on the last couple of days.  Circumstances compel the character to leave their underground tank early only to find that the world has apparently experienced some sort of apocalyptic breakdown.

All this is sort of par for this sort of course, but what makes the movie odd is that the characters continuously speculate that what they are experiencing is an elaborate extension of their simulation; in other words another test they are being subjected to.  Indeed, the movie itself gives many ongoing hints that yes, this is the case.  We might even believe it, except that what’s going on happening is so extreme that this seems impossible.  These two conflicting messages run all the way through the second half of the film, up until the last image…with nothing ever being resolved.  We neither find out what’s going on with this apocalypse and what the crazy survivors are up to (but then…maybe it’s just a simulation), nor we do we discover find out the nature of the test the astronaut’s are experiencing (though of course…maybe it’s all real).

I guess the idea is to make a film that’s challenging and defies typical expectations, but the end result instead is a movie that’s annoying and unsatisfying.

Incidentally, the cast of this movie includes Bradon Routh, Caity Lotz and Tom Cavanaugh, who all currently appear on one or more of DC’s superhero television series, so the trend here continues.

I also watched

Allegiant

on this trip, the third movie of the increasingly ridiculous Divergent series.  Well, I guess it’s not increasing in its ridiculousness, just consistent.  The latest in this story is that Tris and some of her compatriots are finally able to leave the walled city of Chicago to discover the apparently idyllic world without.  But as viewers familiar with every single dystopia story ever, the apparently idyllic world is always just as bad or worse than whatever the characters escaped from in the first place.

Allegiant

Aside from this, it’s also hard to make sense or what is going on.  Let’s see…human decided they needed to genetically alter themselves to fix things, so they did.  This created  factions (five different “ways of life” that exist side by side), and nearly destroyed civilization as a result.  So then some people  walled up Chicago and some other cities, erased people’s memories and re-created these factions…all with the goal of seeing whether these “genetically damaged” people would eventually produce a “genetically pure” person…thus proving that they can eventually be saved…and not just exterminated?  They don’t say this, but  the world is already run by all sorts of genetically pure people who seemed to have got that way without the benefit of the experiments, who spend their time looking down (an understatement) on those who were modified.  When a genetically pure person is produced (see Divergent and Insurgent), the leader of the experimenters decides to start the experiment all over again, wiping everyone’s memories and re-creating the factions.  Somehow, that will help keep things under control, even though he’s fully aware of the factions failing to do just that, twice.  But it doesn’t matter, because he’s eeeeevil…

Anyway, is anything good about Allegiant?  Well, it’s got Jeff Daniels.  It does a better job than The Hobbit or The Hunger Games at giving the movie a decent ending even though it’s only adapted from the first part of a book.  And overall, it’s not badly produced.  It’s just unbelievably stupid.

As far as DC superheroes are concerned, this movie featured Keiynan Lonsdale–Wally West on The Flash–in a recurring but non-speaking role.

I took a break from films starring DC TV actors after that, but I should mention that in the midst of all these movies, I also caught some TV shows.

Arrow (Season 3) & Agent Carter (Season 1)

Well, most of Season 3 of Arrow, anyway.  (Hey, round trip to the United States…it’s a looong trip!)

Anyway, Arrow had some fun moments but ultimately was as annoying as Arrow always is.  Watching it all in a row highlights how much of the story is based on the characters deciding and then changing their minds about who they get along with.

Agent Carter on the other hand was pretty good, although maybe a little tiring watching her having to protect her “secret identity”.  I’m not sure how much the plot makes sense, either/  Some bad guys steal some of Howard Stark’s failed inventions (when Howard Stark’s inventions fail, they don’t just become useless like most failed stuff.  Instead, they turn into unstoppable lethal deathtraps!), they later give them up they’ll be brought into police lock-up, which then they infiltrate so they can steal one of them in particular….

Hey, wait a minute…why didn’t they just take that one critical invention before they gave everything else back again?  Oh well, I’m sure there was some plot point to explain this, I just can’t remember what it was.  Also, the plot of the season turned out to be something similar to the plot of the recent film The Kingsmen, which came out around the same time.

Anyway, back to the movies…

Money Monster

This was a completely different deal.  Money Monster is an improbable but gripping thriller in which George Clooney plays a TV personality who talks about money and investing and tries to make it all sound sexy.  But when his comments lead one guy to lose  his life savings, Clooney finds his life threatened on live TV.  Julia Roberts plays his director who tries to keep him alive, while at the same time figuring out if any shady business dealings led to the disgruntled guy’s financial woes in the first place.

Money Monster is directed by Jodie Foster, and is not really a sensible movie, but it is an entertaining one.  It benefits from both its star power (George Clooney and Julia Roberts are always watchable, of course) and also from being viewed right after Allegiant.  Maybe if I’d seen it in the theatre, it would only have been so-so.  It doesn’t really have a DC comics superhero connection, unless we remember that George Clooney once played Batman (something that on the whole we all try to forget).

Money Monster

And then finally, I also pushed myself through

The Fifth Wave

…an alien invasion / teen angst film.  The movie tells the story of a quiet invasion through flashbacks.  Four “waves” of destruction are wreaked upon the earth:  an electro-magnetic pulse that shuts down power everywhere, earthquakes that cause tsunamis which destroy some popular coastal landmarks, a mutated & deadly bird flu, and guys hiding around the woods with guns.  Yup, really…the Fourth “wave” of the alien assault is…some alien rednecks with sniper rifles.

All this leads to the chilling fifth wave, in which the aliens decide the best thing to do is spend endless resources training human children to become armies deployed to skulk around and shoot people.  Yes, you read that correctly:  the fourth wave is a few guys with guns, and the fifth wave is more guys with more guns, except instead of them being super-powered alien assassins, they are bunch of little kids.  Hand to heart, the aliens say, this is the very best and most economic way to assure complete conquest of the planet.

The story is about teenaged Cassie, whose is orphaned by the invasion, and whose younger brother is being trained by alien-controlled military to be a soldier.  Cassie is spotted by one of the Fourth Wave snipers, but have no fear because this young lady is soooo special that the very sight of her inspires this murderer to renounce his half-alien heritage and believe again in the power of love.  Fortunately, this dude is a particularly hunky half-alien sleeper agent, so his feelings are quickly reciprocated.  This all leads to a climax where various people infiltrate the military headquarters and conveniently show up just in time to save one another, fail to kill the main villain, and position all our heroes for the potential sequels.

Conclusion

Well, thanks to these long flights, I live in a world where I never have to worry about watching Allegiant, The Fifth Wave, or 400 Days again.  And I’ve conveniently ticked Money Monster off the list, and am all set for whenever I come across Season 4 of Arrow or Season 2 of Agent Carter for free.

The winner, this time?  Definitely Band of Robbers, which was genuinely funny and likeable.  Not enough to go seek it out, but given the chance, I’d watch it again.

Until next time!

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2 thoughts on “Movies on a Plane: Teen Dystopias, Super-Heroes, Unsatisfying Sci-Fi, and Surprisingly Good Mark Twain Update

  1. I almost watched 400 on my last Emirates flight, and I think I’ll avoid it now for sure. I did think that Money Monster was a pretty solid three star movie that was on the plus side of three stars movies. Interestingly, on my last flight I watched the pilot for Agent Carter. I haven’t yet watched anymore of it, but I probably will when I’m done catching up on Agents of Shield, which I’m very much enjoying.

  2. Yeah, I wasn’t a fan of 400 Days. And if you are like SHIELD, then I don’t see any reason you wouldn’t enjoy Agent Carter as well. Happy viewing!

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