It’s 8:22 am in Copenhagen. Or 2:22 am in DC. I just got off a red-eye — one of those flights that leaves just a bit too early in the evening to invite any reasonable amount of sleep. And I can’t really sleep on planes anyway. Other people can, like the woman in front of me whose degree of seat recline almost comically violated the unspoken rules of polite flying. But I like to pass the time over the Atlantic catching up on movies. It’s pretty much the only time I can find these days to watch three movies in a row.
So, here I am, waiting for my next flight, in a bit of a haze from sleep deprivation and an hours-long routine of alternating between coffee and beer. I thought it might be fun to write down some things that are running through my head. Then I’ll laugh later about what a dumb idea this was.
First of all, parents who warn their kids about the dangers of sitting too close to the screen are probably right. It’s disorienting, at least after a few hours, to watch a movie just a few inches from your nose. Or chin, to be specific, because my head rises just above the seat height and my downward viewing angle is awkward as hell. Kind of like the opposite of sitting in the front row of the theater. Maybe it’s not the presentation experience that a director intended — even of the opening frame professes that the film has not been modified from its original format — but it’s definitely a better option than listening to the cacophony of snores and screaming babies.
Second, on the subject of distractions, I find that I’m far less concerned on airplanes about the kinds of things that bother me in the theater. Talking, phone screens, restless neighbors. That’s because flying is awful and everything about it is annoying. In the theater, I want to be allowed to focus exclusively on the movie. It’s expensive to buy a ticket, but I also feel obligated to experience a movie in the way it was intended to be seen. When a phone screen pops up in the row in front of me, I’m quickly taken out of the moment. And, honestly, I’m constantly anxious knowing that such distractions are always lurking. On a plane, that expectation of focus is impossible. So, there’s a sense of freedom from that anxiety. I know with total certainty that the viewing can’t be pure. In an absurd way, that allows me to focus in a way that I can’t in the theater.
Third, midair movie marathons, by their nature, don’t let you think critically about what you’ve just seen. The credits roll and you quickly hit the play button on the next one. By the end of the flight, the movies start to blend together, regardless of how memorable they might have been otherwise. When I landed today, I had trouble remembering what I’d even watched.
That didn’t bode well for the second part of this experiment — micro-reviews on zero hours of sleep. But I eventually remembered, once the most recent round of coffee took effect: The Lego Movie 2, Glass, and Fighting with My Family. All three, I think, were on my list of must-see movies of the year.
The Lego Movie 2
Remember the first time you saw Jurassic Park? And remember how every sequel was marginally worse? That’s because you can never see dinosaurs for the first time again. Awe and wonder fade. It’s the same problem with The Lego Movie 2, which, coincidentally, features plenty of Jurassic Park jokes.
The first movie seemed destined to fail because producing a movie based on plastic building blocks was a ridiculous idea. It succeeded wildly because of the brilliantly self-aware humor that Christopher Miller and Phil Lord engineered. Or, to put it another way, it succeeded because nobody was expecting what we got.
This time, you expect the same degree of surprise — and that’s an impossible expectation to meet. What we get is more of the same. It’s still really entertaining, smartly written, and filled to the brim with referential humor. If this exact movie had been the first installment released, it would have received the same praise and box office returns as the original.
It’s a very good sequel. It just doesn’t break any new ground. Also, Chris Pratt’s Emmet Brickowski isn’t the star of this franchise. Will Arnett’s Batman deserves that distinction.
Speaking of surprises, M. Night Shyamalan’s 2016 movie Split shocked audiences by revealing that it was a secret sequel to Unbreakable — 16 years later and remarkably shielded from internet leaks. Not only that, but Split was a genuinely great movie anchored by an Oscar-worthy performance from James McAvoy as a man with multiple personalities.
Glass is the third movie of the trilogy, seemingly focused on Samuel L. Jackson’s titular character. With almost two decades to plan an epic finale that brings together Bruce Willis, McAvoy, and Jackson, it would be fair to assume that Shyamalan’s patience with the story’s extended journey to the screen would have been worth the wait.
It wasn’t. Instead, two-thirds of the movie is extremely boring. That’s an unforgivable sin in a story about super heroes and villains. It’s even more unforgivable when I’m already trying to conquer severe aerial boredom. The final act tries to deliver on the movie’s potential, but it’s too little, too late.
It also ends, predictably, with a big twist. It’s nothing profound, mostly because of how dull the set up is, but it seems like there are two possible reactions. You either appreciate the set up more because of the reveal…or you think that the ending is so dumb that it ruins the whole trilogy. I think I lean towards the first reaction. But I’m in a jet-lagged haze, remember?
I need to think about it some more — particularly about the bizarre mythology that treats comic books as authoritative sacred texts. I probably won’t though!
Fighting with My Family
This is a movie that I wanted to love, and I came so very close. Directed by the great Stephen Merchant and co-starring the equally great Nick Frost, the movie adapts the true “follow your dreams” story of WWE wrestler Paige (played by Florence Pugh as a convincing lead).
In Norwich, England, she grows up in a family obsessed with professional wrestling (hence the clever title). Her family’s destiny hinges on a vision that Paige and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) will become international superstars and rescue the family from the struggles of a blue collar, small town existence.
It’s formulaic, reminiscent of dozens of sports movies before it (mixed with some Local Hero charm). And that’s just fine. Characters struggle through adversity, make obvious and dumb decisions, and eventually (spoiler alert?) triumph. There are even some great moments from The Rock, serving as the wise veteran, and a great turn from Vince Vaughn as the WWE recruiter.
Where the movie falls a bit short is in the narrative arc. Typically, you want a sports hero to become increasingly determined as the movie progresses. The obstacle should appear in the second act and perseverance should dominate the third.
Here – and again, spoiler alert I guess? – Paige’s determination to succeed comes on quite suddenly. With like 13 minutes left in the movie. The payoff feels rushed and the pace robs a good story of a more emotional ending.
Still, it’s a movie worth watching. And it’s the best movie of the bunch!
Okay, that’s it. Time to switch back to beer and head to Italy. If you’ve made it this far in the post, I’m sorry! And do take these reviews for what they are: a muddled mess of semi-coherent ideas, pieced together by someone not quite in his right mind at the moment.