We’re barely over a month into the new year, and a theme is already starting to emerge.
It seems 2013 is the year of aging.
Besides the typical January fare – cheap horror movies ("Texas Chainsaw 3D"), even cheaper comedies ("Movie 43") – theaters have been getting slammed with films about getting old. Some of them try to say that age is just a number, especially if that number is attached to an ’80s action hero (Sly, Arnold, Bruce Willis) trying to prove he’s still got it – even if the box office returns would prove otherwise (the jury is still out on Willis and "A Good Day to Die Hard").
There’s also Michael Haneke’s Oscar-nominated "Amour," whose painful depiction of the cruel forces of age and time finally came to town this past month.
If that wasn’t enough, there are two other movies featuring veteran actors and actresses coping with their golden years: "Quartet" and "Stand Up Guys." Neither of the two films have the flashy explosions nor high profile awards hype of their brethren, but they do provide the modest pleasures of watching some of Hollywood’s finest embrace their grey with grace. Well … one of them does.
Let’s go with the good news first and talk about "Quartet," Dustin Hoffman’s modest directorial debut. Veteran British stage and screen actor Tom Courtenay stars as Reg, a former opera great now living in a gorgeous country home for retired musicians. He passes the time teaching music classes and leisurely enjoying the company of his friends, the randy Wilf (Billy Connolly) and the bubbly Cissy (Pauline Collins).
Their peaceful retirement starts going out of tune when the diva Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), the fourth member of Reg, Wilf and Cissy’s renowned quartet, as well as Reg’s estranged ex-wife, arrives at the retirement home in an egotistic harrumph. He can’t simply ignore her either; the house’s ringleader (Dumbledore himself Michael Gambon) insists on the legendary quartet performing "Rigoletto" for their annual fundraiser.
Ronald Harwood’s screenplay (adapted from his own play) isn’t innovating much with its familiar "one last show to save our home" story, and Hoffman isn’t much for exciting or fancy theatrics. It’s a modestly directed film with an equally low-anxiety set of storylines and characters, almost to the point that "Quartet" threatens to be too timid and safe to make an impact.
But Hoffman is an actor’s actor, and as you’d expect, he appears to be an actor’s director as well, much to the benefit of "Quartet." The Oscar-winning actor draws sweetly sincere performances from his veteran cast, including a tender lead performance from Courtenay and a satisfyingly snippy turn from Smith. It’s essentially a better-dressed version of her role from "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," but what can you say; she does it well. Connolly also provides some needed energy as a wily Scot who hasn’t met a staff member he wouldn’t flirt with.
"Quartet" is fluff, but thanks to the high-caliber cast in front of and behind the camera, it’s harmless fluff, as well as a warm opportunity to see some great actors take their well-deserved bows.
If Hoffman’s film is a graceful bow, then "Stand Up Guys" is a tired, desperate reunion tour. Christopher Walken and Al Pacino play Doc and Val, two old gangster pals reuniting after Val gets done with a 28-year prison sentence. The reunion is meant to be short lived; their former boss (Mark Margolis) wants Doc to kill his friend, a task that obviously doesn’t sit well with the weary, guilt-stricken Doc. As a result, he decides to make Val’s last hours as memorable as possible, including multiple trips to a brothel and breaking their old pal (Alan Arkin, currently basking in the glow of an Oscar nomination for "Argo") out of a retirement home for some carjacking antics.
The promise of watching these old dogs hang out and have some fun on the town has its allure, but "Stand Up Guys" doesn’t provide the kind of adventures befitting acting legends like Pacino, Walken and Arkin. Instead, Noah Haidle’s script ladles on lifeless conversations that sound as exhausted as their stars look and embarrassing escapades, including a late night run for Viagra that ends unfortunately just as you might expect. There should be a law against making Michael Corleone the victim of an extended erection joke.
Director Fisher Stevens – most known for playing Ben in the "Short Circuit" movies – shoots the film warmly, but he can’t hide how tone-deaf "Stand Up Guys" plays. Half of the film wants to be tug at heartstrings and create sad drama, while the other half plays like a warmed-over version of "The Hangover" for senior citizens, featuring childish behavior and hard-to-swallow sequences of absurd wish fulfillment (including its cop-out ending).
Everywhere the guys go, they find beautiful younger women who find them riveting – Pacino even manages to swindle a dance from one gorgeous bar patron with his salt-and-pepper beard, wild cockatoo hair and a vulgar come-on – and tough young gangsters who are easily put in their place by grumpy old men. I’d be more accepting of this "they just don’t make ‘em like they used to" idealism if our heroes – especially Val – didn’t seem like profane hooligans.
The story is an unfortunate mix of sweet and sour, but at least the cast is game. It takes a while, but as the main duo grows into their on-screen relationship, they’re a decent bit of fun together. Plus, the only person who can out-"Whoa!" Pacino is Walken, who often seems to be acting in a sweeter, more soulful movie. He’s good. "Stand Up Guys?" Not so much.
"Quartet": *** (See it soon)
"Stand Up Guys": ** (Rent it much later)
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published July 22, 2014
"The Purge: Anarchy" finds DeMonaco coming closer to turning a good premise into an actually good movie. The sequel still feels like a missed opportunity for something smarter, sharper and just overall better, but hey, at least he made a decent horror thriller this time.
Published July 22, 2014
In addition to the successful rotation of the Oriental, the Downer and the Fox Bay movie theaters, the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival has recruited the Times Cinema to its Avengers team of old school Milwaukee movie houses.
Published July 21, 2014
Thankfully, "Fire and Rescue" is a step above its predecessor, if only because the movie was actually made for big screen consumption this time. Gone is the stiff, antiseptic joylessness of the first film, now upgraded to mere bland competence. If "Planes" was like eating cardboard, "Fire and Rescue" is slightly more digestible cardboard. So progress?
Published July 19, 2014
All musicians create new music. Even the most derivative Top 40 hit features a new combination of notes and lyrics. Very few, however, can claim to have come up with a whole new genre of sound. Chicago blues extraordinaire Corky Siegel is one of those few.
Published July 17, 2014
As a fan rooting for Argentina in the World Cup, last weekend was likely a little rough for Italian crooner Patrizio Buanne. This upcoming weekend, however, is shaping up much more nicely with two headlining performances set for Festa Italiana.
Published July 15, 2014
Today marked the kickoff of the Greater Together Challenge, a competition launched to create awareness, hope and ideas to dismantle segregation, as well as address racial and economic inequality in greater Milwaukee.
Published July 15, 2014
Even though it's not even 30 years old, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical retelling of "The Phantom of the Opera" has turned into a truly iconic story, one whose elements are ingrained in the memory even if you haven't seen it. So to tinker around with the show is a bold idea. But that's exactly the case with the upcoming production of the show coming to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
Published July 15, 2014
Milwaukee music fans - and fans of good music just in general - have been waiting since 2012 for news of a new record from Field Report and frontman Chris Porterfield. Well, wait no longer. Last month, Porterfield and company announced the name ("Marigolden") and release date for a sophomore album, and the good news keeps coming, as yesterday the band unveiled "Wings," the first track off the anticipated record.
Published July 12, 2014
It only makes sense that, after seven years and a few projects reaching no further past his home country's shores, John Carney would want to see if the magic of "Once" could happen twice with "Begin Again." His attempt at an encore comes cleaned up of the original's homemade, lo-fi authenticity and complete with a new starry sheen. The heart and charm are still there, though.
Published July 9, 2014
Some families are all redheads or wear glasses. Some are all athletes or outdoors folk. Some pass down their noses, ears, eye color or a particular laugh. In the case of the Wayans family, a flair for the showbiz spotlight is their special trait that seems to be the dominant gene.