Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Netflix Potpourri

I freely admit from the outset that these capsule reviews won’t do justice to any of these films. But I can’t stand the thought of not saying something about every film I’ve watched this year on Netflix.

“Biutiful” is a powerful movie driven by the great performance of Javier Bardem. Bardem plays Uxbal, a man in literal and spiritual pain – he is dying of cancer, and has spent much of his life in the midst or on the outskirts of the criminal underground in Barcelona. Even with the bad things he has done, he is essentially a good man who is trying to do right by his children. He desires to do what he can to make things right before he dies. But this is a film by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, so one knows going in that the journey will not be an entirely pleasant one. Some of what Uxbal faces (trying to reconcile his relationship with his troubled wife) is moving, and some of it (the episode with the gas heaters) is telegraphed from a mile away. But thanks to Bardem, whose pain is etched within every line on his face, it all feels real. Well worth seeking out for his performance alone.

And now for something completely different. “The Trip” is basically a two-man show, the two men being Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Coogan is about to embark on a road trip to examine some of the most chi-chi restaurants in the U.K., accompanied by his best friend, Brydon. The two of them talk, talk, and talk. And nearly all of it is laugh out loud funny. Most memorably, the two do battle over who performs the best Michael Caine impression (they’re both spot on, in my book), from each era of his long career. But that’s not the only reason to see the movie – if you want to cheer yourself up on a dank wintry day, you could do a lot worse than put this one in your queue.

“Limitless” is a thriller that, upon reflection, really makes no sense at all. It’s about these pills that give you super-human powers, both mentally and physically (sign me up for a trial!). I’m not going to delve very deeply into the plot, except to say that the more you think about it, the less sense it all makes. This is a story that has holes so huge that a Death Star could navigate through them. But having said that, I enjoyed it. It’s mindless fun, the pace never lets up, Bradley Cooper demonstrates that he can do more than act in “Hangover” movies, and even Robert DeNiro puts in a turn that isn’t embarrassing. The story may not stand up to scrutiny, but in the end the execution makes up for it.

I’m not really sure what to say about “The Conspirator,” directed by Robert Redford. It tells the story of Mary Surratt’s trial, shortly after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The production is very classy, as one would expect from a Redford enterprise, and the acting is sold – particularly Robin Wright as the doomed Surratt. But I can’t say that I was ever that engaged, and to be perfectly honest, I had a tough time staying awake at times. Recommended for history buffs, but maybe not cinephiles.

“Knocked Up.” This one stays true to what I would call the Judd Apatow formula – starts out very funny, drags a bit in the middle, and closes with more funny stuff. My favorite part of the movie was Seth Rogen’s pals, and while I recommend it, I can’t say that it displaced “The 40 Year Old Virgin” from its pedestal as my favorite Apatow movie. One of these days, he’s going to make a masterpiece. He hasn’t yet.

And with the exception of the two we watched last night, I do believe that brings me up-to-date.

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