Streaming Spotlight - plane talking

Fasten your seatbelts and settle in for flights of imagination

by Amber Wilkinson

The Wind Rises
The Wind Rises

For our spotlight this week, we're taking off on some flights of fancy with films that feature planes. Fasten your seatbelt and enjoy the inflight movies.

The Wind Rises, Netflix

If you're looking for the emotional lift of being up in the clouds then this stunning animation from Hayao Miyazaki will take you there, although casual viewers should be warned that it has a considerably more melancholic heart than much of his output and therefore suited to an older audience than the likes of Spirited Away or Ponyo. A biopic of Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane inventor Jiro Horikoshi - which also pays tribute to writer Tatsuo Hori, whose words are used as the film's title - we enter the realm of Horikoshi's daydreams as a youngster before taking off on a journey that will see Japan devastated by the Second World War. Alongside the story of invention runs a tale of love and loss, while you can also see plenty of autobiographical touches about Miyazaki's own singular dedication to craft.

Airplane!, Chili, Apple TV


This film has popped up before in our recommendations but there's something infinitely rewatchable about Jim Abrahams and David Zucker's joke-packed parody of a disaster movie. Even if you've seen it multiple times before the gags only seem to fly higher on rewatching, with anticipation of the silliness adding to the fun. Leslie Nielsen always knew how to pitch a sight gag perfectly and Lloyd Bridges, though better known for his more serious roles, deadpans along with aplomb. From the passengers assuming "crash positions" to Bridges, "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking!" and a flight crew "on instruments" on the flight deck, no joke is too silly - and if one doesn't land with you, another one is coming right behind it.  I know you're thinking, it's 40 years old and I've seen it 40 times, surely you can't be serious? Yes, yes I am... and don't call me Shirley.

Flight, Chili, Netflix and other platforms

Alcohol and drugs are taken altogether more seriously in Robert Zemeckis' plane drama. Worth seeing just for the first act in which Denzel Washington's pilot Captain Whip Whitacker suits up for work after a coke and booze-fuelled all-nighter, and Zemeckis stages an gripping in-flight catastrophe that sees Whip, against the odds, manage to land the plane safely. What follows might feel slightly anticlimactic but it offers Washington a chance to show off his acting chops as Whip finds his newly won hero status crumbling after the blood tests come back. A film about enablement and denial, functional alcoholism and the difficult path to recovery, there is some reliance on formula but the tension about whether Whip will fatally crash his own life remains to the last. Read what the star and director said about the film at New York Film Festival and what co-star Bruce Greenwood - who plays a pilot union representative in the film - said about his involvement in the project.

Flying Blind, Amazon, Apple TV

Flying Blind
Flying Blind
Andrew Robertson writes: A stunning central performance from the late Helen McCrory gives Flying Blind life and lift. Director Katarzyna Klimkiewicz's debut feature is all about turbulence. Frankie's work on a project for what might as well still be called the Air Ministry puts her at the leading edge of the global war on terror. A chance encounter with a young man puts her far closer to the conflict. Thoroughly British, to the extent that one of the writers has credits for The Archers, it's in the tradition of barnstorming boffins like Barnes Wallis that Frankie works. Though she is constrained not just by physics but by secrets, bureaucracy is no friend of fliers or fondness. There are films more explicitly about flying, but few (if any) that use that tension of forces as effectively as metaphor.

Top Gun, Now TV, Amazon and other platforms

Top Gun
Top Gun
With the much delayed Top Gun: Maverick finally due for release in UK cinemas next year, nostalgia hounds may want to take the opportunity to go back to a time when Tom Cruise, although he had a few films, including Risky Business and Legend, under his belt, was in the business of firmly establishing himself household name. He plays Maverick, a trainee fighter pilot with a head- butting rivalry with Val Kilmer's Iceman. Quite a lot of this, from a distance, has not dated well, in particular Maverick's over-egged romance with instructor Charlie (Kelly McGillis) - but visually it retains some magic. Tony Scott was a director who knew what to do with an action sequence and the dog fight aerial sequences get the blood pumping if nothing else does. Plus, who doesn't like a nice slice of cheesy soft metal now and again?

Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Virgin TV Go, Apple TV, Amazon and other platforms

Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
If you want a nostalgia kick of an altogether warmer kind, this charmer of a road trip - which involves a grounded plane before moving on to the full smorgasbord of transport options - is perfect. Steve Martin and John Candy have a ball as Neal Page and Del Griffith, two men who meet as they're heading home for Turkey Day. A classic mismatched pairing - Del is a slob who just wants to be loved while Neal views the other man as little more than a means to an end, with John Hughes carefully shifting our sympathies. They find themselves hitting the road after a snowstorm, leading to an all-you-can eat buffet of comic complications. Hughes had previously established a name for himself in teen comedies but he is right at home with the sort of arrested developed adulthood represented by Neal and Del. A remake starring Will Smith and Kevin Hart is currently in the works but they're going to find the original a tough act to follow. Read our full review.

Snakes On A Plane, Netflix

Snakes On A Plane
Snakes On A Plane
Jennie Kermode writes:"Don't you think I exhausted all other options?" askes bad guy Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson) when asked why he has resorted to putting lots of snakes on a plane in an attempt to dispose of troublesome murder witness Sean (Nathan Phillips). The really scary thing here, of course, is that perhaps he's speaking for Hollywood, and is right. The ultimate in ridiculous action plots, snakes on a plane became such a popular idea with the general public that it had to happen. The surprise was that, as a contribution to the disaster film genre, it's actually not bad. The casting is key, from Samuel L Jackson's delightfully OTT tough guy protection officer to Julianna Margulies and Lin Shaye as flight attendants and Kenan Thompson as a bodyguard with a secret skill. All the actors understand exactly what kind of film they're making and manage to send up both the genre and the studio filmmaking process while holding together an unlikely narrative which nonetheless sustains its pace. It's ridiculous, it's exploitative, it's just about perfect if you're 12. There are genuine thrills along the way, and it even manages to explain the snakes' odd behaviour. All else aside, this is one case in which you really can't argue that you didn't get what the title promised.

Our short this week is G-aaah a brief encounter with the story of Amy Johnson's record breaking solo flight, inspired by her time as a typist, animated by Elizabeth Hobbs

G-AAAH - Elizabeth Hobbs from Amy Johnson Festival on Vimeo.

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