Movies on a Plane: Genetic engineering, inept thieves, courtroom romance, Star Trek pastiche, and bizarre experiments

A long trip to the USA and back, all in just over a week, can only mean one thing…

Actually, it can mean a whole lot of things.  But amongst those things is that there’s bee a whole lot of on-board ocean-traversing movie-viewing going on.  Let’s summarize!  Warning:  most of these things are not very good, and there are plenty of spoilers lurking about.

Jurassic World

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

As I was getting ready for this trip, I was trying to figure out what the “big” movie that would be headlining my plane’s in-cabin entertainment would be…or at least, wondering if there was something that came out four or five months ago that I was interested in that I hadn’t already seen.  Because I did see Mission Impossible:  Fallout, and Incredibles 2 and Solo.  What else where there?  Oh yeah, Jurassic World:  Fallen Kingdom.

This is a film that has been reviewed and satirized a good deal since it hit the silver screen, and with good reason.  It’s incredibly stupid.  It’s full of stupid people doing stupid things, and racing around in the midst of stupid set-pieces to boot.  One would hope it could get by on the charm of stars like Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, James Cromwell and Jeff Goldblum, but there’s little of that in evidence.  Indeed, Pratt and Howard are made to service all that stupidity mentioned above (like when Pratt’s Owen comically pulls his semi-paralyzed body out of the way of flowing lave, or dives through the chomping mouth of a T-Rex).  James Cromwell is obviously present as a disposable stand-in for Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond, and Jeff Goldblum is in the movie for two scenes–one at the start and one at the end–which look like they took about 45 minutes of his time.  Seems like a bit of a waste.

There’s an absurd plot about getting dinosaurs to attack people by shooting those people with special lasers (which has rightly been mocked far & wide…if you are already shooting a person with a gun, then why do you need a dinosaur?) and about fifteen seconds of story time devoted to the hugely implicational concept that now that because we can genetically create dinosaurs, we can also clone specific dead people as well.  And one insane dinosaur hunter dies because he purposely enters the cage of a creature he has never seen before after shooting it with some random amount of tranquilizer and hoping it’s asleep, and then trying to pull out one of its teeth.

Bottle Rocket

I find there’s always something worth watching in a Wes Anderson film, and Bottle Rocket from 1996 is no exception.  It is actually Anderson’s first film, and stars brother Owen & Luke Wilson, in both of their movie debuts as well.  The Wilson brothers play two friends (not brothers) who try to pull a gang together to be thieves.  This being an Wes Anderson movie, love and their own ineptitude get in the way.

The movie isn’t anywhere near Anderson’s best work (my favorites are Isle of Dogs and The Darjeeling Limited), but it’s a fun little oddity with plenty of trademark charm, even if the similarities between the Wison brothers make things just slightly confusing if you’re not paying strict attention.

Darrow and Darrow / Darrow and Darrow 2:  In the Key of Murder

I had no idea what these were but they turn out to be TV movies from the Hallmark channel, in which a single mom attorney who fancies herself a bit of a crusading do-gooder must deal with family dramas, quirky neighbors, a burgeoning romantic relationship, and of course, court cases.  I haven’t watched Gilmore Girls very much but they feels like they’re going for the same vibe.

Claire Darrow has taken over her parents law firm when her dad died and her mother ditched it (and her) for a big money-making job in the big city.  Now mom is back and busy trying to help her daughter make money (rather than doing things for free for poor clients) and proving to be more fun for her teenaged granddaughter than Claire would like.  Meanwhile, Claire has started dating Miles, who is actually the district attorney and thus her normal opponent in the courtroom.

The movies are charming in a sort of saccharine way, with nothing too challenging.  The first one is built around a plot of trying to prove that Claire’s neighbor who makes good doughnuts is not guilty of theft (a big deal since he’s an ex-convict and will go to prison for a long time if guilty), while the second ups the stakes and is actually about a murder.  The mysteries are fine but don’t really distinguish themselves from the relational goings-on.

Claire is played by Kimberly Williams-Paisley, whom I didn’t think I had heard of, but actually she’s the same person as plain old Kimberly Williams, who I noticed in 1990’s as Steve Martin’s daughter in Father of the Bride and its sequel, and another warm-hearted comedy called Indian Summer.  Miles, on the other hand, is played by Tom Cavanaugh, who brings the same awkward odd-ball quality that you get with him as the various versions of Harrison Wells in The Flash.  It seems like the guy is a bit addicted to “quirky” in his work, with The Flash being his enabler.

Anyway, the whole thing is diverting and helps to pass the time, if you can stand the overall niceness of it.

The Orville – Season 1

One of the few negatives I have to say about Qatar airways (my travel provider this time around) is that in their TV viewing, they’ll just list the season that they provide, and not the individual episodes.  This means that you don’t know how many episodes they actually have, or how many are left.  I tuned into The Orville, which is Seth MacFarlane’s science fiction Star Trek-like series, and it turned out they only had four episodes of the first (and only, so far) season, out of 12 episodes released.

Anyway, The Orville is a strange animal.  It’s  a show about an exploratory star ship which serves the Planetary Union in the 25th century, and embarks on a variety dipomatic, military and scientific missions.  The focus is on the ship’s senior officers, including the Captain, First Officer, Second Officer, Doctor, Engineer & Science Officer, Navigator, Helmsman, Doctor and Security Officer.  Some of them are human, some are alien or half-alien, and one is an artificial life form.  Sound familiar?  It should, it’s an obvious “homage” or “parady” or simply “rip-off” of Star Trek, in the premise, the plots, the setting and the design elements.

What it’s supposed to be is a comedy…or at least that’s what I’ve heard.  But it’s not actually very funny or interested in trying to be very funny.  What it really looks like is that creator and star Seth MacFarlane wanted to make a Star Trek show like the ones he watched as a young man (he’s almost the same age as me, so I’m talking about Next Generation and so on) but of course he couldn’t exactly do that, so he got this show produced under the guise that it was going to be a raucous comedy, except that it’s really just a guise to do the Star Trek stories that he’s always wanted to.

So the few episodes I’ve seen told stories about people putting humans into their giant zoo, and time travelers from the future coming through wormholes, and efforts to find common ground with implacable enemies.  Really, it’s just because there isn’t a Star Trek show exactly like this right now (Discovery is quite different) that you feel like they can get away with it.

The result is a show which tells passable stories of a Next Generation style, but with less enlightened characters (these guys get drunk, smoke weed, and so on), with occasional sparks of mirth.  In other words, nothing tremendously daring, engaging or creative, but watchable.

The cast includes MacFarlane himself as the Captain, Adrianne Palicki (Bobbi Morse from SHIELD or Lady Jaye from GI Joe Retaliation) as his first officer, who is also his ex-wife, and Penny Johnson Jerald (Kasidy Yates from Deep Space Nine and also Sherry Palmer from 24) as the ship’s Doctor.  The episodes I saw also featured creative contribution by directors Jonathan Frakes (Riker from Next Generation), Robert Duncan McNeil (Paris from Voyager) and Jon Favreau (who directed Iron Man and Iron Man 2), and a guest appearance by big-time movie star Charlize Theron.  So obviously, the show’s got connections, for all its weaknesses.

The Maze Runner / The Maze Runner:  The Scorch Trials / The Maze Runner: The Death Cure

That’s right, the whole darn Maze Runner trilogy.  Remember, this is some long flights I’m on.

The Maze Runner is about an amnesiac named Thomas who is delivered into “The Glade” where a bunch of other amnesiac guys are trapped, but make a life for themselves because the only way out is a killer maze which changes every day.  Some of their number take on the job as “Maze Runners” where they run around the maze before it closes each night and try to get a sense of the place.  You have to get out before it closes because otherwise you die at the hands of some screechy-growly things that nobody has ever seen.

One day a couple of the Maze Runners are in trouble so Thomas jumps in, getting himself trapped.  But miracle of miracles, he is able to survive, even killing one of the screechy-growly things (giant freaky bio-mechanical spiders), but then later incurring a retaliatory attack.  Thomas and his allies (the boys who want to try to do something about their situation) make a break for it and manage to get through the maze (a bunch of their number dying along the way) into the “real world” where it turns out they are all part of some strange experiment which supposedly is to help the world figure out how to cure a zombie-plague.  The kids were chosen because they were born immune to the plague, and had to be subjected to death-trap  experiments to help them maximize this advantage.  The reasons for this are only lightly glossed over at this point, with the hope that they will be explained in more detail later on…a hope that is in vain.

Anyway, the kids who are alive are rescued by a military operation from the experimenters, except that it turns out that their rescuers are the experimenters all along.  So they have to escape again, dealing now with the zombies, and finding the real rebels who are working against the group performing the experiments, who are called, of all things, “WCKD” (…or “WICKED”.)  Only then, the one girl who was part of their group that I forgot to mention to this point betrays them, and a bunch of people are killed and others captured.

They rescue some of those people but not the main one, who is still being experimented on because it’s thought his blood will cure the disease.  This turns out to be a flop, so the chief scientist just gives up, but the girl who betrayed them thinks that Thomas’ blood will do the trick instead except now nobody will listen to her.  Our hero and his friends (including one who was more of an enemy, but still an ally, who was thought to be dead on account of being impaled by a spear in his chest, but is actually still alive) break into the world’s last city, rescue their friend, blow everything up, drop a bus nose first into the ground from several stories without killing anyone in it, and get the cure for the disease. The girl and Thomas profess some love even though she betrayed them, and then she dies semi-sacrificially when a building falls apart under her feet.

At the end, Thomas and other survivors are seen holding up in some remote community where they expect to be able to live peacefully, even though the disease is airborn now.  Thomas has the cure, but for some reason, he’s not working particularly hard to duplicate or distribute it.

I’ve decided to eschew commentary about these films and just to tell the plot instead, choosing to believe that that will say everything that I need to for a little mini-review like this of an entire film trilogy.  If, after reading all of this, you don’t know what I think, then you’re probably not paying attention.  If you still want to kill 6-7 hours with the series, then that’s your own decision, and I for one will not judge you for it, for fear that I will be branded a hypocrite.

Maze Runner.jpg

Now, technically, this post represents only half of my trip (everything, I think, that I watched on the way there).  I’m writing this on my layover, halfway through my trip home.  So there’s plenty of more that’s too come, including stuff I’ll tune into when I get back on the plane in another 6 and a half hours.  Here we go (probably), The Darkest Minds!




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