All of the below is made possible by the fact that most intercontinental flights on reputable airlines now feature personal video screens with many movie choices. On Swiss Air, there were something like 15 possible choices, even in Economy class. My pulse quickens at the sheer cornucopia of crap that must be available in Business or First!
On the way to India I was relatively good -- I partook mainly of several cups of airplane coffee and "serious" vacation reading suitable for an erstwhile English professor. I was so good I actually eschewed the viewing of any movies at all, in favor of hacking all the way through Hari Kunzru's new novel Transmission -- which I enjoyed, but didn't like (if you know what I mean). I also got a good start on Donna Tartt's The Secret History, a novel in the tradition of Foucault's Pendulum, A.S. Byatt, etc. The Tartt (which I later finished during a night of fitful jetlag in Ladakh) I liked, but didn't enjoy.
However, on the way back from India I was quite sick. I kept having these bouts of nausea that made reading anything further impossible.
The only thing to do in such a situation is to indulge in airline movie overdose. Between Europe and India, most airlines now have Indian food (over-spiced and generally dry), as well as the option of some recent Indian movies. The schlock is going global!
Aetbaar. Bipasha Basu is curvaceous. She has a few more pounds on her than most of her peers; you could say she's defying the Hindi film industry's trend to Aguilerian skinniness. But the feminist statement entailed in looking like you weigh more than 80 pounds is lost in a hackneyed plot of about an homme fatale boyfriend, which prominently emphasizes the dangers of pre-marital sex and the centrality of family responsibilities. My favorite line in the Planet Bollywood review is: "John Abraham is convincing as the maniac but he doesn’t ooze with an amazing impression." Yes, if only he oozed with more of an amazing impression, this might have been better. I still haven't seen Bipasha's earlier film Jism; perhaps I will bring it along on my next nausea-filled transcontinental movie-fest. (However, I did see Raaz -- pretty much watchable)
The Story of the Weeping Camel. Since when do airlines have Mongolian art movies amidst all the forgettable Ben Stiller screwball comedies? This is a Mongolian art movie about camel parenting. I'm serious: the dramatic tension in the film is whether the mommy camel will decide to acknowledge its colt and begin to mother it properly. Ultimately, the villagers decide to call in a violinist to perform a Hoos ceremony to attempt to reconcile mommy camel and baby camel. This film should be of interest to anthropologists and two-humped Mongolian camel fans. I watched all 90 minutes of this thing.
The Girl Next Door. The premise of this sleazy movie is a brazenly misogynist one: porn stars secretly want to be monogamous suburban sweethearts, even as they continue to dress like porn stars. This movie crosses the line into exploitation at numerous points, and yet tries to keeps its formula teen-romantic "heart of gold" somehow intact (one review wretchedly referred to it as a "sex-soaked teen comedy that actually has a heart"). The musical choices are equally crass. I was furious that a film of such low calibre should be allowed access to Elliot Smith's archive, though I was moderately impressed that they used N.E.R.D.'s "Lapdance" at the prom scene. Normally you would expect them to go to a chart-topper like Lil Jon for the prom.
Starsky and Hutch. I fell asleep after half an hour; I would have probably enjoyed Anchorman more. I don't think anyone on the Airbus actually watched this big pile of suck; I think it was just included in the selection because Ben Stiller is to airplane movies what plastic forks are to airplane food. Ben Stiller is the semi-charming, semi-handsome face whose semi-boring laughter guides 10 million air-travelers to their respective destinations, whether the destination is Jeddah or Jakarta or Jamaica. Ben Stiller's semi-gigantic nose is a metaphor for air-travel itself, in all its slightly uncomfortable, hemmed-in blandness.
Hidalgo. (Alternate title: Raiders of the Lost Pile of Suck; Scott Weinberg called it "Dances With Seabiscuit of Arabia"). Suffice it to say, neither the horse nor the clueless blond American Befriender of Arab Despots (Viggo Mortensen) did much for my nausea -- I had to run to the loo with a certain trusy paper bag in the middle of this one for a bit of duty-free. When I came back, I changed the channel, so I never found out how the whole epic running horsie/conquest of foreign peoples/conquest of woman thing turned out. I do remember something about: 1) guilt for involvement in the genocidal Indian wars, 2) affection for an oriental princess with a vaguely Hispanic accent (shades of Maria Montez's Arabian Nights all over again!), and 3) poor, poor Omar Sharif, who is still stooping to Hollywood whenever it comes calling with the latest racist formula film.
The Ladykillers. When the Coen brothers miss, they really miss. Intolerable Cruelty -- so cynical it's boring; The Man Who Wasn't There -- just plain boring. And this film is a completely unfunny disaster of a heist comedy. It might have worked better without the 'modern' 'hippety-hop' elements, though I did appreciate the little reference to A Tribe Called Quest's "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo." It would certainly have worked better without Marlon Wayans.
Hellboy. Ok, this is not an airplane movie but a rental. Though it's a little cheesy, I have to admit I found the story quite gripping -- the thickly Gothic/Lovecraftian tone gives the storyline some nice symbolic complexity and weight. I especially liked the bit about Hellboy's horns, which he normally keeps filed down so as to fit into the human world a bit better, but which also play an interesting iconic function later in the story. Also good are the villains, particularly the "Rasputin" character. I've never read Mike Mignola's comics; now I'm a little curious.
Thanks for good times, SwissAir.