If I don’t do this soon, I’m never going to get Son #2 off my back. So without further ado, it’s time for another Netflix Catchup. And I do believe this will bring me completely up-to-date.
Let’s start with what we watched last night, since it’s still fresh in my memory. I liked “The Ides of March” a lot, even if it didn’t quite reach classic political intrigue status. But I’d rather praise it for what it was rather than criticize it for what it was not – and what it was, was a taut, well-acted and well-written political drama. It was a tad predictable (I’d figured out how it was going to end as soon as the “shocking” plot development occurred), but sometimes you can find great pleasure simply in watching a lot of great actors have fun with a well-done script. Ryan Gosling more than holds his own with the other luminaries on screen, George Clooney turns in a typically excellent “I know I make this look easy, but just you try it” performance, and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti are terrific as the world-weary campaign gurus who are always looking to find that slight edge to put their candidate over the top – whether it’s strictly moral or not. Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, Evan Rachel Wood, and even Gregory Itzin (the all-time classic bad guy from “24”) round out an incredible supporting cast. Overall, the movie doesn’t really teach us any lessons about the political game that we didn’t already know, but it’s a fun ride nonetheless.
I would not have thought one could make an entertaining movie about the research into human sexuality conducted by Dr. Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s and 1950s, but I was wrong. “Kinsey” was quite good, both at drawing a portrait of the somewhat unconventional Dr. Kinsey and at depicting a world quite different from the one we live in now – where sexual advice is but a mouse-click away. Liam Neeson is clearly having fun in the role of the good doctor, who delights at knocking down conventions that, to his way of thinking, exist only to get in the way of healthy human relationships. But the film is also honest about the emotional pain that can result from the kind of free-thinking that Kinsey and his merry band of researchers engaged in over period of years, as they were conducting their research.
The best reason to see “Iris,” which tells the story of the beginning and the end of the relationship between novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley, is to savor the great acting on the screen from Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent as the couple when they are old, and from Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville as their much younger counterparts. Both pairs of actors do a wonderful job with their characters, and one never doubts that they are indeed watching the same people, at different times in their lives. Because the movie focuses primarily on Iris’ decline from Alzheimer’s Disease, it is very sad – and when it delves into the past to show a scene from their courtship, it becomes even sadder, because you realize what a wonderful, free spirit Iris was in her youth, and understand how the disease has ravaged her mind. But in a way it’s also uplifting, to see Broadbent (as Bayley) becoming the very manifestation of “in health and in sickness,” as he never gives up on her, difficult as the job of being her caretaker has become. “Iris” is a movie small in scope, but very big in heart.
“Under the Tuscan Sun” fits very nicely into the classic definition of “chick flick,” but it does have a lot of appealing moments in it. For one thing, anything that has Diane Lane in it is probably worth watching, in my view. She’s been around forever, going all the way back to her performance as a 12-year old girl in love in the wonderful “A Little Romance.” She’s one of those actors who just seems to be comfortable in their own skin, and her performance, along with the great photography of the Tuscan countryside, is the best reason to see the movie. The plot can best be described as “heartbroken woman heads to Italy to heal and meets quirky, fun characters,” which is hardly original but executed competently. Overall, I can think of worse ways to spend two hours.
And finally, “Billy Elliot,” a classic “fish out of water, feel-good, Rocky type” movie about an 11-year old boy who learns early on that he prefers dancing to boxing. However, he also finds himself growing up in a lower-class neighborhood in a coal-mining town in England, surrounded by testosterone-fueled coal miners (including his father and brother) who tend to frown on such things. The story alternates between the story of Billy and his growing passion for dance, and the struggles of his family to make it during a period when the entire town is out of work due to a strike and is struggling simply to survive from day to day. The arc of the story may be somewhat predictable, but it’s done in a way that doesn’t insult the intelligence of the audience – making the climax even more powerful.