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Cinema at 35,000 Feet

July 20th, 2013 · No Comments · Books, Dubai, France, Italy, Lists, Paris, Rome, Travel

A significant percentage of the movies I have watched in the past two months has been while flying.

In part, it’s because so few films I am interested in seeing have come out during that time. But a big part of it is the array of movies-on-demand available for viewing on the big and modern jets that ply the long-haul routes. In this case, Air France and Alitalia, and my taking no fewer than six flights of five hours or more since May.

I saw something like 10 movies on the four flights this month which took us through Paris on the way to/from Los Angeles. Some of the movies I had never seen; some I was returning to for the third or fourth or fifth time.

The greatest advance is the sheer number of movie choices, at 35,000 feet. I would estimate that Air France’s flight 66 today, from LAX to CDG, offered 70 choices.

Ranking those I saw (and can remember watching):

1. Forrest Gump. An inspiring film holding up very well as the 20th anniversary of its 1994 release approaches. Tom Hanks at his best, Year 2 of a period when he knocked out hugely successful films on a nearly annual basis — Philadelphia, Gump, Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, Cast Away. (Hanks is, without doubt, the best actor of the past 20 years.) Anyone on the A380 watching me watch the movie would have seen lots of smiles as well as eye-watering moments.

2. Unforgiven. Clint Eastwood’s bleak rendering of the latter years of a killer in the waning days of the Wild West. Still memorable for William Munny’s dark response to a gunslinger’s declaration that a dead man “had it coming to him”. Retorts Clint: “We all have it coming to us, kid.” Like Gump, this was not my first viewing or second, but it was the first in a long while. A film which makes clear that much of the violence of the West was about hardly more than alcohol-fueled fury.

3. Romeo + Juliet. Baz Luhrmann’s predictably vivid 1996 re-imagining of Shakespeare’s play about doomed young lovers. It held my attention. Leonardo DiCaprio is nearly unrecognizable; great acting, or a reflection on the aging process (he was 22 at the time of the film’s release) — though he looked fairly svelte earlier this year in The Great Gatsby.

4. The Hangover. (Or, as it is known in France: “A Very Bad Trip”.) This remains a staple of “viewing in the sky”. I could have watched it four times this month. I settled for 1.5 times. Perhaps I ought to be embarrassed by that; I am not. Still slays me.

5. L.A. Confidential. Liked it lots when it came out in 1997. Hard to imagine, now, that Kevin Spacey got top billing in a movie dominated by the force of nature that was the early Russell Crowe. Plot is a bit confusing and aimless, but we get where we need to go.

6. Rear Window. One of several Hitchcock classics, this one from 1954, I had never seen. Slow-paced by modern standards … well, slow-paced by 1980 standards … it still held my interest, as we see Jimmy Stewart’s not-exactly-healthy interest in spying on his neighbors lead to his solving a murder. Grace Kelly also involved; a beautiful woman, but a fairly wretched actress.

7. The Trip Across Paris. Might rank higher had it come with English subtitles. A 1956 French “comedy” (they like Jerry Lewis, remember) about two men attempting to transport black-market meat across the city during the privations of World War II and the German occupation. Still interesting for its depiction of life in the great city during the war.

8. A Late Quartet. Hard to pass up a chance to see Philip Seymour Hoffman, but not even he could save this plodding exploration of the complicated relationships inside a string-quartet ensemble. More string quartet and less exposition might have helped. Christopher Walken walks through his role playing Christopher Walken playing a guy who plays the cello.

9. North by Northwest. Came out in 1959, at 136 minutes, and Hitchcock drags us through a remarkably dull and action-less and tension-less film. I know it is well-regarded. I fell asleep twice during the movie. And not just because I was jet-lagged while still on the jet. Carey Grant is foppish as some sort of secret agent; Eva Marie Saint is interesting as the inevitable Hitchcock blonde, but not interesting enough to keep me awake.

10. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Still love the book; still hate the whole of what Peter Jackson did with the trilogy on film. My loathing for his despoiling of J.R.R. Tolkien’s oeuvre is what kept me engaged. “So, he screwed that up, too? … No, he did not just do that, did he?” The reworking of Tolkien is nothing short of criminal for those who know the books, including this one, Part 2 of the trilogy, and perhaps the most compelling. In print, anyway. Plus, it’s three hours of loathing; no one needs to loathe that long. Movies are supposed to help make flying time fly by. This made it seem like we were standing still at 450 mph.

But, I enjoy the choices. Next up: Watching, again, You’ve Got Mail, if it is still in the rotation. Now that has to be a dated flick at any altitude.


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