It might make sense to try to sleep as much as possible during the 16-hour direct flight from San Francisco to Dubai via Emirates. Especially since one hadn’t slept much the night before, and had dutifully arrived at the check-in counter three hours before departure time, as instructed on one’s e-ticket.
But that was before I was confronted by what an Emirates representative had proudly called their “insane inflight entertainment system called ICE which features over 600 entertainment channels.” The flesh is weak. ICE stands for “information, communication, entertainment” and predictably I went for entertainment. (Information, such as where we were on our flight route, appeared periodically anyway on the larger screens visible on the cabins’ bulkheads, and I welcomed the chance to not “phone, SMS, or email the world below” during my flight, despite the ability to do so. The world is too much with us. Give it a rest.)
Despite the famous Iyengar/Lepper jam experiment in which too much choice is shown to be demotivating, I had scrolled through dozens if not hundreds of choices in movies (in categories such as new, film club, world cinema, Bollywood) and was watching my first choice, “The Bourne Legacy,” ten minutes before we took off.
Within my range of vision, I could see that my seatmate to my left was watching a slate of Bollywood films, which gratifyingly offered me soundless glimpses of lavish dance numbers and adorably ungrammatical subtitles, and that the man across the aisle spent the flight alternating between cradling his adorable baby son and watching snippets of “Red Lights,” a psychic thriller with the intriguing cast of Cillian Murphy, Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Jones, Joely Richardson, and Elizabeth Olsen, which had played in January at the Sundance Film Festival and whose admittedly limited U.S. release in July had escaped my notice.
“Red Lights” was on my very long shortlist. But after “The Bourne Legacy” (diverting action sequences, but Jeremy Renner is nowhere near as engaging as Matt Damon, even playing a cipher, and I detected no chemistry between him and Rachel Weisz) I segued to my admitted weakness, French cinema, watching in quick succession a double bill of movies directed by actresses: “Another Woman’s Life,” starring Juliette Binoche and Mathieu Kassovitz, directed by Sylvie Testud, and “The Adopted,” directed by and starring Mélanie Laurent. (Both of which had played in this spring’s “City of Lights, City of Angels,” festival in Los Angeles, but hadn’t made it to the Bay Area.)
Afterwards I perused the TV selection, and chose “Parade’s End,” a 2012 BBC miniseries based on the tetralogy by Ford Madox Ford, about a love triangle, set in England before, during, and after World War I. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, the Australian actress Adelaide Clemens (soon to be seen in Baz Luhrman’s “The Great Gatsby”) and a score of England’s best acting talent, and was brilliantly written by Sir Tom Stoppard. To say I enjoyed this experience is to seriously understate the case. I loved every minute of its almost five-hour running time, and fully intend to buy the DVD, read the novels, and annoy my friends by rhapsodizing about it until it shows up on HBO (it’s a joint BBC/HBO production).
It was a tough, not to say impossible, act to follow, and time was growing short. I sampled an insipid romantic comedy, “Love’s Kitchen,” in which restaurant chef Dougray Scott gets entangled with American food critic Claire Forlani, which I exited after twenty minutes, and then cynically opted for something that I knew would send me off to the land of nod, the starry, excruciating “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” which did the trick almost before all of its five oddly-assorted couples (OK, Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro, and Cameron Diaz and Matthew Morrison. But Elizabeth Banks and Ben Falcone? Dennis Quaid and Brooklyn Decker?) were introduced.
I needed at least a little sleep before choosing what I was to see from the 158 films from 61 countries in 43 different languages unspooling over the next eight days in Dubai. Emirates’ ICE was a hard act to follow, but Dubai did have the advantage, the big advantage, of the big screen. (“Parade’s End,” after all, was made for the small screen.)
But I must say I was unexpectedly looking forward to the 16-hour return trip, entirely because of Emirate’s ICE inflight entertainment and the second chance to curate the Meredith Brody film festival.