The Trip to Italy (2014; dir. Michael Winterbottom) It's cold, the world is crummy, and the Oscar nominations are a joke. What better way to get away from it all with a trip to Italy with comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. This follow-up to their more succinctly titled The Trip takes the winning formula of fine dining, celebrity impersonations, and melancholic musings to Southern Europe. This lightly fictionalized travelogue is just as funny as the original. I usually hate the way sequels repeat material, but when Coogan and Brydon launch into a new Michael Caine-off it feels more like a rock group playing their hit song in concert. As in the first film, the cheeky rapport has an undercurrent of sadness. The things that happen during the trip range from inconsequential to potentially devastating, hanging it all on the complicated friendship between the comedians. They make the film. The mouthwatering food and stunning vistas are a bonus.
Mean Girls (2004, dir. Mark Waters) I watched this movie when it was new in 2004 and haven't thought much about it in the time since then. When the missus fired this up the other night, I wasn't expecting much, but was totally sucked in within just a couple of minutes, and laughed like a damn fool for the entire duration. I had forgotten how sardonic and biting Tina Fey's screenplay (based on a book by Rosalind Wiseman) actually is, and it reminds me how much I used to enjoy Fey before her schtick became too much for me. Luckily, it's dialed back to tolerable levels here, and most of the performances steer clear of caricature. I'd also forgotten how much talent is in this movie: Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Lizzy Caplan, Lacy Chabert, and Amanda Seyfried have all worked steadily in the last 10 years (in some cases, when not in jail), and there's a ton of other recognizable faces. Furthermore, I've been assured by an actual female that this is how girls act, and that it doesn't stop when high school ends. This is not something that would normally be on my radar, but I'm glad I revisited it.
Altman (2014, dir. Ron Mann) Clearly, given the subject, this documentary could have been five times longer and just as enjoyable. Robert Altman is one of the ten greatest directors in movie history*. Great clips (in primo quality), great interview segments with Altman himself, even Altman family home movies! One could quibble about how Altman's favorite actors are used (it is a major quibble) but there is a banquet here for the film lover, a banquet that should not be missed. Director Ron Mann has made other pop-culture documentaries I have enjoyed, like Comic Book Confidential, Twist, and Grass, none of which are available on Netflix anymore.
SIDENOTE: As opposed to evil corporations like Sonos and Comcast/Xfinity with business models designed to ensnare, enslave, and bilk, Netflix seems of late to be investing in technical upgrades. The last few films I have streamed (on Apple TV, Sony blu-ray player, and Apple tablet) have looked nothing short of stunning. The Netflix Instant Streaming picture quality far exceeds Comcast's On-Demand cable picture quality, and Comcast is hard wired, for Pete's sake!
* The others? In no particular order: John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino. I know--your favorite did not make my list.
Wetlands (2014, dir. David Wnendt) I was just talking about this movie a few podcast ago, and now it's brand new on Netflix Instant! Wetlands (aka Feuchtgebiete), a German film based on the best-selling novel by Charlotte Roche, is crazy gross and uncomfortable as lead character Helen (Carla Juri in an amazingly brave and warm performance) is obsessed with her own sexuality and bodily functions. There is stuff in here that made me wince more than any horror movie, but that's sort of the point -- director Wnendt is forcing us to confront our hang-ups about stuff by making it as extreme and graphic as possible. But Wetlands isn't just shocking for its own sake; in fact, if you can get past the gross body stuff it's a really sweet and, dare I say, gentle romance and coming of age film. It just happens to be one centered around an anal fissure. If you know what you're in for, there is so much to like in this movie.