Posted by: greercn | January 11, 2010

Movies on Planes

You have to be really careful when you are choosing films to watch on planes. There will be lots of annoyances and interruptions. Tiny screens, sudden announcements, crying babies and snoring adults all combine to ruin anything that needs a BIG picture or the serious following of a complex plot.

As if to compensate, on a seven-hour transAtlantic flight, here have been real technical advances in film viewing. The picture quality is better than it used to be. You can watch something you choose, separately from the choices your neighbours are making and see it at the time you wish. You can abandon a choice that doesn’t suit,choose another film and – crucial for me – you can see the end credits in full. You can watch a TV show or listen to music, if you don’t want to see a movie. I don’t understand why you might wish to do that, but there are people who just don’t like movies, aren’t there? We don’t know why, but they exist.

I had seen most of the movies on offer on the flight back to London from Montreal, so I needed to decide which films might reward a second viewing or attempt to see something I didn’t wish to see or hadn’t seen in the cinema. I managed to find two I knew about, but hadn’t seen.

When it came out, I missed R.J. Cutler’s film “The September Issue”, the 2009 film about the September 2007 issue issue of Vogue magazine. This edition ran to 840 pages and weighed nearly five pounds. This is the only bulky item Vogue staff will ever find attractive.

I care about fashion and style but I am not drawn to the Vogue view of these things as I find it all a little too glossy and contrived. But I did like Cutler’s film about Bill Clinton’s 1992 election campaign, “The War Room” so I clicked the screen and lost myself in a world in which fabric is much more significant than the waifs that wear it.

It’s actually quite a funny film. Editor Anna Wintour  has a curiously kindly relationship with her staff and an enviable closeness with her daughter. The film is stolen by Grace Coddington and Andre Leon Talley, two gloriously colourful characters who work for Vogue in senior positions. Both seem absolutely immune to the fact that they spend their lives telling others to wear things they wouldn’t dream of wearing themselves.

The highly-strung photographers and designers all use the word “individual” yet their separate collections look oddly similar. If one designs a tight pink jacket, so do all the others. I liked the fact that Cutler was playful and respectful and allowed people to speak for themselves. I liked the idea that there is a corner of modern journalism that is thriving and growing, despite the economic climate.

I also liked Anna Wintour’s perspective and decisiveness.  As a bonus, it was a perfectly small film and didn’t need a large screen. It provided an insight into publishing, advertising and fashion without taking itself too seriously. It passed the time well. Wintour, Coddington and Talley are big personalities and they carry the film and entertain the viewer.

The next thing I watched was the film “In The Loop” based on the TV series “The Thick Of It”, devised by the political intelligence of Armando Iannucci. The premise of the film is that political blundering can lead to war, both for America and for Britain. Peter Capaldi steals the show as Malcolm Tucker but the very funny Chris Addison and a marvellous James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) as an American general all contribute to a tightly-written, plausible and very funny movie.

The plot twists and turns and you will miss nuances, but you can follow it. It is hugely entertaining and very funny. To refer to opera as “sudsidised foreign vowels” is not accurate, but it is hilarious. Iannucci has a wonderful ear for English language puns and the plot zips along, plausibly, frightening and with great humour.

Again, it’s a little film with people chatting in most scenes so it doesn’t matter that it’s a small screen. I will see it again.

I also saw “The Damned United” again and I really do think it is an excellent film about football, class and the 1970s. 

The flight went by quickly and we landed uneventfully, which is everything you want from travel, isn’t it?



  1. Nice reviews and very well written blog! It was also very nice sitting next to you on that plane, while you were actually watching the movies here reviewed! Thanks again for the tips and helping me choose the movies I eventually watched, which were Surrogates, Zombieland and A Serious Man (the latter of which I had to watch, despite your mixed review :-)). These films had all had the right mixture of the fun and seriousness that I was looking for at the time, and worked on the small screen.

    Of course, the big down side of movies on planes is that you don’t always get to know the person sitting beside you. Luckily that did not happen in this case, as meeting you, discussing everthing from life to politics to environmentalism was a much more unique and memorable experience than actually watching the movies. Experiences such as this are something to keep in mind as movies on planes become virtual 3D experiences. Thus, perhaps it is a good thing that they don’t give you the earphones as soon as you sit in the plane…

    • What a lovely comment. Thank you. It was a great pleasure to meet you and I enjoyed our conversation. I hope our paths cross again.

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