The first time I ever saw a Personal Entertainment System on a plane was en route to Pordenone in 2005. I was so thrilled by it -- I don't think I even had a TiVo yet -- that I looked forward to the return trip much more than I otherwise would have. And neglected to replenish my supply of reading material. Of course, it turned out that on the way back the system promptly went down and stayed down for the entire twelve-hour flight time.
The system on my flight to Amsterdam en route to Il Cinema Ritrovato, XXVII Edizione, Bologna only went down for a couple of hours. But I was already less than enchanted with its choices, especially in comparison with the amazing I.C.E. system I'd been treated to on the 16-hour Emirate Air flights to and from Dubai, which made sleep superfluous.
On my way to drown myself in restored and rediscovered masterpieces for ten days, first (and not without irony) I chose "The Guilt Trip," figuring that a two-hander famously shot in front of a green screen (since la Streisand refused to travel more than "45 minutes of her Malibu mansion" would be more suited to a back-of-the-chair video screen than, say, "Argo," "Deadfall," or "Django Unchained" (all of which I'd actually seen already, anyway).
It was amusing to see that the 45-minutes-from-Malibu rule resulted in a much-photographed Victorian house on Carroll Avenue in Los Angeles' Angelino Heights -- complete with palm trees -- standing in for one supposedly in San Francisco. (Couldn't the budget run to inking the tropical interloper out?) I sampled "Nameless Gangster," a Korean film billed as "praised by Time magazine as 'the Korean mob film Scorsese would be proud of,'" long enough to realize that I'd already seen it at some festival or other, and that either Scorsese should be ashamed of himself or that the end of the quote was "not having directed."
Then I segued to "Love," a 2012 Taiwanese romantic comedy, because I find that rom-coms work well on the small screen,. It's been compared to "Love Actually" and I'm a sucker for Shu Qi, the pillow-lipped actress who never quite became the international superstar I thought she would be. It's during the frenetic and neither particularly romantic nor comedic "Love" that the system goes down.
I don't return to "Love" when the system staggers to its feet again. I try "Broken City," the Allen Hughes film about corruption in NYC politics starring Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. It turns the trick not achieved on the Pordenone or Dubai flights: it beats me into submission and Dreamland. I missed Griffin Dunne's turn entirely, it seems, although I wake up not long before the end and still think that I followed the plot pretty darn well.
I then watch enough of "Hyde Park on Hudson" to discover that it's actually worse than I thought it would be when I avoided seeing it last year.
We arrive nearly an hour early in Amsterdam, so my five-hour layover becomes six. I have two books to while away the hours, both of which are destined to be given to Pierre Rissient, the legendary French producer/writer/festival advisor who's presenting a restored Lino Brocka film in Bologna. I read "Shadow of Heaven," the second novel of screenwriter Alfred Hayes, who Rissient thinks is the secret source of neorealism, through his work on "Paisan" and (uncredited) on "Bicycle Thief." The story of a Jewish union organizer in the Midwest just post World War II who is irresistible to women but seems to prefer turning them down to turning them on (forgive me), with occasional flights of stream-of-consciousness, is diverting but not a discovery.
I can't slog much more than a few pages in to "Slim," the 1934 novel about telephone linemen that was written by William Wister Haines, an often-filmed novelist and screenwriter most famous for "Command Decision," a 1948 MGM movie starring Clark Gable. "Slim" was made into a 1937 film starring Henry Fonda and Pat O'Brien (not in that order on the credits!) and directed by the prolific but unsung Ray Enright. The book is over 400 densely-printed pages and seems both folksy and, well, a serious look at the life of telephone linemen. I decide I'll wait for the movie, either on TCM or when Il Cinema Ritrovato restores and rediscovers him. It could happen.