Monday, January 4, 2010

Outdone myself

This is it -- I've set a daily viewing record. (I should say "daily" viewing record -- it was, after all, a 43-hour day).

But I didn't just set it. I shattered it.

When I returned from Australia in 2007, I bragged to people -- not very many people, only when the subject came up naturally -- that I'd been able to watch four movies on the flight. That seemed to amply demonstrate my preference of watching movies over sleeping, didn't it?

Well, meet Vancetastic version 2010.

When I got back to my house yesterday morning a little after 7, I could add only the three most recent films to my Most Recently Seen list on The Audient.

Which left four movies completely undocumented.

For those bad at math (or maths, as they say in Australia), that means I watched seven movies on the flight.

Seven. One more than six, one less than eight. Add one more at home last night before going to bed, and that meant eight movies watched on January 2, 2010. The seven on the flight get credit for occurring in the same 24-hour period.

Those on the flight were, in order:

The Proposal
The Time Traveler's Wife

Paper Heart

Jennifer's Body


Michael Jackson's This Is It

Land of the Lost

And in the order that I preferred them:

1) Michael Jackson's This Is It
2) The Proposal
3) The Time Traveler's Wife
4) Duplicity
5) Jennifer's Body
6) Land of the Lost
7) Paper Heart

At home, I watched the smart little thriller First Snow, starring Guy Pearce -- long overdue since my wife knows its writer-directors.

So how the hell did I manage it? You'd say I didn't sleep, but I did probably sleep for 45 minutes. And it wasn't the 16-hour flight I'd advertised -- I don't know how I got that number into my head. It was more like 14 hours, as it was on the way over, though I thought one direction should take longer than the other, as it does east to west in the U.S. And we benefited from a strong headwind, allowing us to land about a half-hour earlier than expected -- even though we took off 15 minutes late. So it really may have been closer to 13 hours, though even seven short movies would be difficult to fit into that time -- so let's just say it was 14. (And one more correction from my previous post -- it's not 14 straight hours of daylight. Not sure how I got that into my head, either. Maybe it was the later-arriving flight I took in 2007 that made me think this, but if you are landing before 6 a.m., at least the last six to eight hours have to be in darkness, which is more than half the flight.)

So, um, how the hell did I manage it?

1) I watched only one movie over two hours long (Duplicity). A big change from 2007, when Oscar nominees Babel, Dreamgirls and Blood Diamond were each over two hours. Running time was one of my key determining factors in which films I watched, which is why the 2-hour-and-12-minute He's Just Not That Into You (which I said I was targeting in my last post) got left on the table.

2) Before the flight took off, I went through all the categories and scrawled a hit list on the back of an envelope. This would prevent me from having to spend the time reviewing all the categories later on, for films I wanted to see but had forgotten about. To give you some idea of the wonderful selection available on Delta (which gets nothing but kudos on its handling of its new Australia route), the titles I didn't watch were only a percentage of the ones I hadn't seen, only the ones I thought I might realistically watch during this flight. The following titles made that list but never got watched: Two Lovers, The Informant!, Dance Flick, It Might Get Loud, The September Issue, Public Enemies, State of Play, He's Just Not That Into You and Whiteout. Some of those were because they're available on DVD, and I wanted to see them enough to actually go to the trouble of renting them, where my wife will be able to watch, too. I blew it on The Informant!, though -- it's not coming to DVD until February 23rd, which means it will miss the February 2nd cutoff for my 2009 rankings. (That's the morning of the Oscar nominations, the traditional cutoff date.) The guitar documentary It Might Get Loud would have been my last film instead of Land of the Lost, but a message at the start said it had been "edited for content" -- unlike the other films I'd watched -- so I decided to skip this version and watch the real one. (And by the way, I love how an international flight totally disregards the possibility that a child will randomly view nudity or violence on someone else's screen. While none of the films I watched had any nudity (except for a bare bottom or two in Time Traveler's Wife), I watched a bit of an episode of Californication just to see if they would leave the nudity in -- and they did.)

3) I watched the first 20 minutes of The Proposal before the plane left the ground, and the last 10 minutes of Land of the Lost after the plane landed. I was pretty surprised to find the movies working before the plane took off, but when I saw the guy across the aisle from me playing Sudoku on his screen, I realized the entertainment systems were active. So I got to work. I should say that they cut off the entertainment systems before I was able to finish Land of the Lost, but it was after the climax, so I'm sure all I missed was some dumb final joke.

4) I just wasn't that sleepy. I had envisioned watching about three movies, then taking a Unisom and sleeping for five or six hours. But unlike the first flight, I had a girl setting next to me -- a rather big girl at that. So I didn't think I'd be able to get into a good sleeping position, even with the Unisom. Since I was a bit wary after the Unisom hangover I had after one poor night's sleep in Australia, I decided just to skip the drug and deal with the sleep issue when I got home. (Figuring rightly that my early arrival time would allow me to sleep for a couple hours without screwing up my sleep schedule). I did nod off a couple times -- pausing one of the movies (I think it was Duplicity) when the urge struck me -- but my body never had the powerful urge for a deep sleep, so I never had to yield to that urge, or wallow in frustration as I was unable to yield effectively.

5) I didn't set out to do it. In fact, I thought that if I watched five movies, it would be an exciting outcome of the trip. But when I saw the daunting list of titles I wanted to see (even for very flimsy reasons only a critic could appreciate), I didn't know how I could limit my list to just five. And when I never really felt that tired, I just went with it, and queued up a new movie only seconds after the last one finished. If I had set out to watch seven, the enormity of my own expectations might have crushed me.

6) I didn't do much else. I took one nap as a break between either the second and the third or the third and the fourth (it all blends together now, as do the finer details of these movies), and I played one game of Sudoku set at expert level that I couldn't summon the brainpower to finish. I didn't read anything or listen to anything, even with an ipod I had taken pains to charge at my sister-in-law's house in Melbourne. (Her computer somehow ran my ipod battery down to zilch before eventually charging it to full, so it was pretty touch and go, and I think I came close to accidentally synching her library to my ipod.)

So did watching all these movies in a dreamy stupor -- I'd slept less than three hours the night before as well -- make me less able to appreciate them individually? Who knows. I took an intentionally mediocre selection of films, ones I doubted would be in the upper echelon of films I'd see this year. If it's a really good film, I'd rather see it under more ideal circumstances. Would any of them have ranked higher than This Is It's current ranking of #31 on my 2009 list, if I'd seen them under those more ideal circumstances? Again, who knows.

But since I am a critic, here's a quick blurb on what I thought of each:

1) Michael Jackson's This Is It (2009, Kenny Ortega). It's unusual to see a documentary so essentially unstructured -- it's mostly just a straightforward trip through the numbers planned for Jackson's 50 concerts in London that were supposed to have taken place this fall, with a few interviews interspersed. But it turns out to be a wonderful window into Jackson the perfectionist, and just exactly what goes into a building a massive, Jackson-sized stage show. Unintentionally illuminating, and a fitting send-off to the King of Pop.

2) The Proposal (2009, Anne Fletcher). The enormous $164 million box office for The Proposal made me as interested to see it as I was to see Paul Blart: Mall Cop, a similarly gigantic box office force. This time, I agreed with The People. There's nothing really new in this movie, but I managed to be sort of delighted by it anyway. Maybe that's because I like Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock, and they are used well here.

3) The Time Traveler's Wife (2009, Robert Schwentke). I have been anticipating the arrival of this film for years, as its gestation had been repeatedly delayed. I really liked the book, hence the anticipation. But enough bad buzz (and no interest from my wife) downgraded it to an airplane movie. There's something curiously cold about this film, but it also got to me at times. And for fans of time travel films, it presents a number of juicy new conundrums for you to chew over.

4) Duplicity (2009, Tony Gilroy). A respected colleague of mine loves this movie, so I became interested, even though it struck me as one of those overly clever and cutesy con movies. (I have recently decided I don't really like movies where everyone is conning everyone else -- I consider myself pretty smart, but these movies can be annoyingly tough to follow, and it's too difficult for me to work out whether I was just too slow to make all the connections, or whether the connections were never actually made in the script.) Well, Duplicity surprised me in a couple ways -- the tone is far more dour than I would have ever guessed (I don't think Julia Roberts smiles once in this movie), and its ending was totally unanticipated. Still not enough for a hearty recommendation.

5) Jennifer's Body (2009, Karyn Kusama). I once considered a theatrical screening of this as well ... enter bad buzz. As it was written by Juno's Diablo Cody, I expected a smartly written film and got one. It also has style to spare, and yeah, Megan Fox is pretty hot. But a movie I thought I was really liking petered out into a movie I sort of liked in the last act. Until then, though, it's quite fun.

6) Land of the Lost (2009, Brad Silberling). It's as dumb as you've heard. But that doesn't mean you won't laugh a couple times. Will Ferrell's delivery alone guarantees that. I mean, it's just funny when Ferrell calls an intelligent primate named Chaka "a little asshole."

7) Paper Heart (2009, Nicholas Jasenovec). Never has a movie sent the word "twee" through my head more times as I was watching. I expected it to be twee, but it was TWEE. I'm totally over Michael Cera and his (as brilliantly described by my co-worker) "stammering, you-can-borrow-my-hoodie sweetness," but I was even more annoyed by the stammering, you-can-borrow-my-hoodie sweetness of Charlyne Yi, the film's driving force as she tries to find out if love exists by interviewing a totally random selection of people, as though she were a four-year-old. That's supposed to be cute, but it's not. Then they create a totally artificial fiction film portion in which Yi, Cera and an actor playing the film's actual director debate the usefulness/intrusiveness of "filming" Yi and Cera as they are "dating." Paper Heart is a totally bogus contraption.

Oh, and the film I saw at home, which would actually outrank all the airplane movies:

1) First Snow (2007, Mark Fergus). Smart, compact and satisfying, until an ending that's just a little less so. Reminded me fondly of The Lookout and (probably because of the presence of Guy Pearce) Memento. Also has some good "can you control your fate" conundrums.

Yep, my diarrhea of the keyboard is back. You can tell I'm finally home, at my own computer again.

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