Movies on a Plane: Goofy espionage, light filmmaking fantasy, arctic monsters, and romance everywhere

Hey, guess what? I went on an international flight for the first time in about three years. And that means it’s been the first time in a long time that I’ve watched a bunch of movies on a plane!

Our flight was with Air Canada, between Sydney and Vancouver, which was about fourteen hours long. I needed to sleep a little bit but the rest of the time was pretty much spent flicking through the movies on offer. Sometimes on flights like this I might revisit some old favorites, but this time around everything I watched was for the first time.

Burn After Reading

Burn After Reading is by the Coen Brothers and came out in 2008. The Coens are obviously interesting filmmakers whose work spans a range of tones and genres, but always feels distinctly there’s. Burn After Reading is a bit in the mode of Fargo–funny and violent and disgustingly crude and generally about idiots. The differences are that Fargo is about stupid people involved with crime, while Burn After Reading is about stupid people involved in espionage. The other difference isn’t that there isn’t a character to parallel Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson. With pretty much nobody showing any admirable qualities at all, the whole thing threatens to be a little tiresome.

That’s not to say it’s not funny–it is. The story is about a CIA analyst played by John Malkovich who quits after facing a demotion, and deciding to write a tell-all memoir as an act of revenge. But it turns out that he is low-level enough that none of his former employers really cares. But when a series of coincidences means that his notes are found by a couple of inept employees at the local gym (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt), they think they have found high-level secrets, and attempt to profit from them first by blackmailing Malkovich, and then by sending them to the Russians. The presence of a womanizing US Marshal (George Clooney) who is having affairs both with McDormand and Malkovich’s wife complicates things and triggers a chain of violence that leads to a lot of people being killed or arrested.

All the performances are good, with standouts including Brad Pitt, John Malkovich and J.K. Simmons (as an annoyed CIA boss trying to figure out what exactly is going on), and they make the movie enjoyable, which somewhat compensates for the movie’s cynicism and sexualized grossness, but not enough to make me ever want to watch it again.


RK/RKay is an Indian film directed by and starring Rajat Kapoor as a filmmaker who is directing and starring in his own movie. The character, Mahboob, is killed at the end, but the filmmaker, RK, is having difficulty making the project come together in the edit suite. One day, the editor gets distracted while playing the climactic scene, and as a result, Mahboob runs away from his killers and right out of the movie into the real world! With Mahboob now missing from the entire film (negatives and all), RK and the filmmakers must scramble to figure out a way to finish the movie.

RK/RKay is a movie that has an interesting premise and it isn’t afraid to use it. The movie goes into some fun places–Mahboob is actually a lot kinder and more in touch with his feelings than RK, but of course he was created by RK and all his wise and insightful dialogue was written by RK, so what does that say about both of them? That’s the question that RK and his family must contend with. Mahboob, for his part, is willing to return to his lie as a film character until he discovers that he is destined to die–as a result, he starts to grapple with what life really means to him.

The movie isn’t perfect–I found the ending a little unsatisfying–but in general it was engaging and thought-provoking and had some funny moments related to filmmaking.


Slash/Back (the second movie I watched on this flight with a backslash in the title) is a low budget monster movie directed by Nyla Innuksuk. The film’s main claim to fame is that it was shot in a Canadian Inuit town and featured local people as its main cast. Specifically the movie focuses on four teenage girls (all around 14 years old) who discover that creepy aliens have landed nearby their hometown. The aliens are of that generically evil sort who don’t have personalities but just like to eat blood, and like to live in the skins of the animals or people they have killed. They lumber around just quickly enough to be threatening but slowly enough to still be able to outrun.

This is the same as the film itself, which moves along in fits and starts. It takes quite a while for the monster story to really get going, with the movie spending a lot of its early runtime focusing on the girls’ problems with their families or with each other. These sub-stories continue as the monster plot kicks into gear, which becomes a little annoying. Worse, the monster plot is never that exciting or scary, which makes the whole thing an exercise in perseverance.

The biggest thing that Slash/Back has going for it is the authenticity with the setting and the casting (the young local cast are all earnest and charming even if they are obviously not seasoned), and so there is some interest there, and I like the idea of the movie more than I actually enjoyed watching it.

Before Sunset

I watched Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise a couple of years ago, as part of my series focusing on a film from every year of my life. It’s an interesting little drama that focuses on the chance meeting of Jesse and Celine, an American guy and a French girl, who wind up spending a single night in in Vienna, talking and exploring and falling in love. At the end of that film, as the two are saying good-bye, they decide not to trade numbers or contact information, but to meet up in Vienna again in six months time.

Well, Before Sunset is the follow-up movie, showing the two characters meeting again, for the first time, nine years later. Jesse in the mantime has written a best-selling novel based on the experience, and Celine catches up with him when he’s on tour through Europe promoting the book. He has only a couple of hours before he is due to fly out (roughly at sunset, hence the title) and the two use the time to its fullest. And so the movie is much like the first, except that it’s in the daytime, in Paris, and there is a much tighter ticking clock, meaning the movie basically takes place in real-time.

These movies aren’t the sort of thing you’d want every movie to be, but it’s interesting as a change of pace to watch a movie that’s almost entirely about two people talking. This time, both Jesse and Celine are at a pretty different stage of life, both in their 30s and finding themselves more mature but also more disillusioned about life. Both are in relationships that they are not completely wholehearted about (but for different reasons).

Maybe most interesting of all is seeing them slowly reveal what their previous encounter really meant to them. This isn’t immediately apparent, but over the course of their conversation both characters let their guard down and we realize the massive impact that they have made on each other.

Neither Ethan Hawke nor Julie Delpy are my favorite actors, but the movie gives them the chance to be real and raw in a rambling sort of way that makes their characters captivating. Ultimately, I liked Before Sunset a fair bit, even if there is a reasonable amount of crude language (off-putting to me) to wade through, and no doubt someday I’ll watch the third installment, Before Midnight.

New Year’s Eve

Last and possibly least in my most recent spate of Movie’s on a Plane was New Year’s Eve, the 2011 romantic comedy from director Garry Marshall, in which about 30 famous people act out about 9 or 10 loosely connected stories all set in New York City on New Year’s Eve, mostly featuring romantic misadventures of one sort or another, though some explore other territory. I think movies like this have a bit of an uphill battle trying to make any of their stories feel meaningful or relevant when they are so crowded by other material, and for the most part New Year’s Eve fails. There’s nothing wrong with love stories (obviously) but they need time to develop, just like any story. In the case of New Year’s Eve, pretty much all of the plots and characters are forgettable, and often are forgotten in the time it takes for the script to rotate back to them.

Maaaaybe the most affecting is the story of Robert De Niro’s character, who is a terminally ill father connecting to his adult daughter shortly before he dies, but this is down completely to De Niro’s performance and the built-in pathos of the subject matter. Otherwise, nothing has the time to be funny or inspiring, and so in the end all we’re left with is watching the movie juggle its ridiculously large expansive celebrity cast, which includes appearances by De Niro, Hilary Swank, Katherine Heigl, Michelle Pfeiffer, Zac Efron, Ashton Kutcher, Halle Berry, Jon Bon Jovi, John Lithgow, Hector Elizondo, Common, Abigail Breslin, Cary Elwes, James Belushi and lots of others, many in quite small roles.

And that’s it! The first five movies on a plane in quite some time. There is at least another long flight coming up (I gotta get home somehow), so there’s probably more of these to come.


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