By Barry Neenan
For all my blustering about pop culture, I’m actually pretty bad at watching movies. Because of my watching habits, I’m not really one to just sit down and watch random-ass films I haven’t already researched. I’m more of a Watch The Same Movie Three Times kind of guy, god help me. So it’s always a welcome change of pace when I get to switch things up – like when I’m trapped on trans-Atlantic flights.
On my recent trip to see my girlfriend, I ended up watching three films. Here are quick thoughts on all three.
The Spy Who Dumped Me
This first one perfectly demonstrates the beauty of random in-flight entertainment. About a week or so before my flight, I had seen a funny gifset where renowned, lovable lesbian Kate McKinnon is fawning over Gillian Anderson (“I have so much respect for you it has circled back into objectification!”). I was curious to see the original film it came from, but not so curious I would, say, Google it. And suddenly, here it was!
This is a buddy romp starring Mila Kunis as the person McKinnon is buddies with. As per the title, Kunis discovers her ex-boyfriend is an international man of mystery, and both women are drawn into a dangerous murder-tour of Europe as a result. I swear, normal people trying to survive an action movie has so much beautiful potential for comedy. That’s also what really sold me on Kingsman: The Secret Service.
It’s not Ibsen, shockingly. If you’re looking for a film that’ll change your life, this is probably not it. Probably. But if you want a dumb comedy with an above-average number of actions sequences – and that is all I have ever wanted – I’d say this is worth a look.
You’ve probably all seen this one, but I hadn’t. In terms of using this flight to catch up on long-ass movies, it was this or Inception. I feel like I made the right choice.
In case you don’t know, this is the story of Matt Damon getting stuck on Mars. It’s been a long time since a story got me on an immediate, practical level – but an early scene where Damon calculates how woefully understocked he is really caught me. How is he gonna survive? Gosh!
The story is fundamentally about humanity’s ability to confront problems. “You solve one problem,” says the eponymous misfortunate, “and you solve the next one, and then the next.” It’s a fascinating approach, and one that delivers. I normally prefer thin, bouncy sci-fi, but I didn’t find the realistic tone alienating in the slightest. More than once I wondered if the film was an accurate depiction of the real-life NASA astronaut who got stranded on Mars, which is a ringing endorsement of either the film’s realism or my just capacity to accidentally ‘remember’ fictional events.
It’s important to note that as with all good stories, ‘realistic’ does not mean ‘boring’ or ‘dour’. I was a little wary of the runtime, but the dialogue of the very first scene soon settled my nerves. The characters are believable and likable, with the sardonic insults traded across the members of Damon’s astronaut team especially sticking out to me. They don’t talk like Movie Characters, either in being too funny or, crucially, not funny enough. The characters react to bad situations with humour in a way that actual, real people do. The space calamities and science monologues are filtered through humanity, so the film is far from dry or grating.
Also, much like Spiderman: Homecoming, Donald Glover has a fantastic if minor role. Here for a good time, if not a long time.
12 Angry Men
I’d like to close out with the only film on this trip I rewatched. There were a lot of options, like Ant-Man and the Wasp or Incredibles 2, which I was ambivalent about watching a second time (at least so soon after their release dates). But when I saw 12 Angry Men on the list, I knew it would deliver. And it did.
For those unfamiliar, 12 Angry Men stars Henry Fonda as a lone juror with reasonable doubt, who finds himself having to hold that position against his eleven peers. A young man will be sentenced to death should they find him guilty. Originally a play, the narrative consists almost entirely of one long, real-time debate held in a single locked room. And it’s magnificent.
As with most stories, it all comes down to character. Despite the crowded table, each of the jurors comes across as a believable person. Indeed, the characterisation is so strong that the story doesn’t even need to use names. The development isn’t evenly divided into twelve equal cubes, of course; the focus mostly comes down to #8, our steely protagonist, and #3, a self-described “excitable person” who argues very loudly and very firmly for the defendant’s guilt. But all twelve are strong enough, both in terms of writing and performance, to hold some notable moments each.
This film is regarded as a classic for good reason. I am a child who craves colour and motion, and this black-and-white slow motion argument is one of my all-time favourite films for its undeniable craft. I also found myself repeatedly marvelling at how relevant this 1957 film remains. In reviewing the evidence, the jury also interrogates questions of justice, society, and racial inequality. Let’s be optimistic and say the film’s continuing relevancy comes down to how deftly it approaches these topics, and not merely to how badly the world needs Henry Fonda to turn to the camera and explain that racism is bad. #10’s monologue near the end of the film, and how the others handle it, is the kind of scene that sticks with you forever.
My favourite is #4 I relate to how he physically does not sweat