- Detroit Unleaded: I saw this at the DC International Film Festival. My date had offered me a few choices and I thought an Arab-American romantic comedy sounded appealing. I was right. The story of Sami and Naj whose relationship is complicated by their immigrant families, whose expectations for them don’t mesh with their own dreams, was charming and felt realistic. I don’t think this has gotten a distributor yet, so you would have to look for it on the film festival circuit. It is worth doing so.
- Hava Nagila (The Movie): This was a rare example of a movie I saw in a theatre at full price because, well, how could I resist a documentary about the best known Jewish song? The film covers the song’s origin (including a dispute about who wrote the lyrics), its popularization (with a lot of footage of non-Jews, e.g. Harry Belafonte, performing it), and more. There is even some attention to the song’s detractors, including one who refers to it as "the kudzu of Jewish music." I took particular pleasure in seeing Dani Dassa (who used to run Israeli dancing at Café Danssa in Los Angeles and choreographed many familiar dances) appear. I enjoyed this film a lot, but I don’t know that I’d recommend it to a general audience. For those interested in Jewish music, however, it is well worth a look.
- Argo: In my quest to see Oscar winning films, I watched Argo on United's on-demand entertainment on my flight from IAD to NRT. I understand why it was so highly praised. I remember the Iran hostage crisis and the story of the embassy employees who escaped with the help of the Canadians, but this filled in a lot of the background. It is, of course, hard to say just how factual the film is. I am particularly suspicious of the timing of their final escape. But I am willing to accept some tweaking in the name of a good story, so it hardly matters. Recommended.
- Robot and Frank: I was interested in this movie (another part of United’s on-demand entertainment) because I like Frank Langella. The idea of a robot assistant for an aging parent is appealing to anyone in my age group. And the idea of the robot helping him return to his previous career as a jewel thief sounded promising. While I thought Langella did a good job of portraying a character with Alzheimer’s, I was disappointed in the movie. I think the problem is that I was expected it to be a comedy, so I felt a bit hit over the head by the emotional drama. There’s an interesting question about what life in a digital age is all about (a major plot point being the digitization of the local library), but it’s explored in too heavy handed a manner.
- Life of Pi: IAD to NRT is a long flight, so I had time for 4 movies. The third one was this adaptation of Yann Martel's novel. Not having read the book, I can’t say how closely the film adhered to it. But the story of an Indian boy surviving several months at sea with a Bengal tiger was interesting and visually stunning. It was a little longer and a bit too philosophical to be completely satisfying, but I thought it was worth seeing and feel safe in recommending it.
- Rebel Without a Cause: The final movie of the IAD-NRT leg was this classic, which I had never seen. Maybe I am too far removed from those years, but there is only so much teenage angst I can tolerate on screen. The characters and their motivations (beyond the need to belong) are not really developed. In particular, Jim Stark (the lead, played by James Dean), seems to fall in with the delinquents too easily. Overall, this just didn’t work for me.
- The Guilt Trip: I used my Narita layover to read newspapers and do crossword puzzles, but the NRT-SIN leg of my trip had me back to movie watching. I wouldn’t say The Guilt Trip. starring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen was a particularly good movie, but it was the sort of light comedy that I find a good distraction when I’m tired. It's predictable and doesn’t break any new ground, but there are enough funny bits to keep the story of a nebbishy young man and his over the top mother on a road trip together from being complete sentimental claptrap. I wouldn’t call it a must see, but you could do worse under the circumstances.
- Wall-E: The last movie on my way to Singapore was this Pixar film I had somehow not seen before. It’s a somewhat odd mix of romance and action-adventure film and is a bit preachy. But, overall, I found it fairly enjoyable. What I think won me over the most was that the song used from Hello, Dolly is "Put on Your Sunday Clothes," not the tedious title song. Again, you could do worse.
- 127 Hours: Qantas has a different selection of films than United does. I was familiar with the true story this is based on. Hiker Aron Ralston got trapped in a crevice and had to cut off his own arm to escape. It's a chilling situation as he tries to free himself, reflects on how he got there and his all too brief past life, and finally makes (and carries out) that gruesome decision. The arm cutting scene is not too explicit, but is still very hard to watch. James Franco did an excellent job in the lead role and, made me feel like Aron is someone I’d like to know. However hard this was to watch, I found it absorbing. Recommended if you like adventure stories and have a strong stomach.
- All About Eve: Back to Oscar winners, I watched All About Eve on my tablet during a train ride across the Nullarbor Plain in Australia. I might have seen it on late night TV some years ago and, certainly, there are many familiar lines. It’s worth watching again. The dialogue is sparkling and both Bette Davis as the aging star who will be supplanted and Anne Baxter as the bitchy ingénue out to steal the spotlight are right on the mark. Highly recommended.
- Silver Linings Playbook: As anybody who has read what I have to say about movies knows, I am a sucker for romantic comedy. The genre does, of course, tend towards predictability and there is plenty of that here. But there are also surprises – e.g. the scene at the football game . Combined with the complexity of the characters (including mental illness), I found this to be particularly entertaining. I also thought it made good use of the Philadelphia setting. (And it is always nice to see movies set somewhere other than Los Angeles or New York.) Recommended.
- The Sessions That this movie showed up on a Qantas flight (from MEL to HKG if that matters) is interesting in and of itself. It’s definitely way too sexually explicit ever to appear on a U.S. flagged carrier’s entertainment system. The story (based on a true one) is that of Mark O’Brien who, confined to an iron lung, decides to lose his virginity and hires a sexual surrogate, Cheryl. The acting is superb, with both John Hawkes and Helen Hunt very convincing. In particular, Hawkes made me feel like O’Brien (who I used to see on his gurney in the streets of Berkeley in the early 1980’s) was someone I would have liked to know. A superb film for adults only, less because of its nudity than because of its emotional content.
- Identity Thief: I was back on United from HKG to SFO, but the 747 has fewer movie choices than some of their other planes. This is a particularly silly and implausible comedy. If you can suspend enough disbelief, it’s reasonably funny, largely because Melissa McCarthy does over the top behavior well. But it is way too violent and the plot makes way too little sense to be worth seeing.
- Major League: I couldn’t remember whether or not I’d seen this before, but watching it proved I hadn’t. I love baseball movies and this is a watchable one. It loses some points for sexism and gains a few for Tom Berenger as eye candy. Given the limited options on this flight, I could have done a lot worse.
- Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: As in the case of the first movie, I thought this adhered well to the book. There were a few scenes with the riders of Rohan that I thought could have been edited a bit. And the ents were just a bit too ponderous. But, on the whole, this is a good adaptation and I look forward to watching the end of the triology.
- The Bling Ring: Why, yes, I was seeing an actual new movie in an actual movie theatre! The explanation is that I had a couple of expiring passes that needed to be used and this film, which tells the story (based on a true one) of a group of Los Angeles teenagers who burglarize celebrities’ homes, sounded reasonably interesting. Alas, I found It disappointing. Perhaps the issue was my lack of interest in the whole celebrity culture, but I think more of it was my annoyance that director Sofia Coppola never took a really strong moral stance against these kids. And, again, I realize that this is based on a true story, but what kind of parents don’t even act on things like a drunk driving arrest? Emma Watson’s performance was the best part of this, but not enough to redeem the movie.
- Much Ado About Nothing: It is something of a running joke among my friends that I don’t do Shakespeare. That’s not quite true, but I don’t go out of my way to see Shakespeare plays. On the other hand, I am a big fan of Joss Whedon, so this was a logical choice for using the other expiring movie pass. And, wow, I was glad I did. This version, with Shakespeare’s language but modern costumes and settings, was hysterically funny. Alexis Denisof looks very nice with a beard (though he loses it midway through) and both he and Amy Acker handled both the physical comedy and the romantic chemistry of the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice very well. Highly recommended.
- Shakespeare in Love: The Shakespearean mode continued in choosing what to download onto my tablet for watching on yet another flight. This was, of course, another Oscar winner. It proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable romantic comedy. I don’t buy the story for a minute, but I didn’t really care. The script was reasonably witty and Joseph Fiennes made excellent eye candy. Another recommended film.
Movie Marathon: Part 2
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