Quartet

Image_square_webby Susan

2012, Maggie Smith, Billy Connelly, Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins. Written by Ronald Harwood (adapted from his stage play). Directed by Dustin Hoffman.

If you missed this one in theaters, then definitely look for it on disc, cable, or Netflix. It’s a charming, character-driven story about aging musicians and opera divas living harmoniously together in a retirement home. They each have their own lifetime’s worth of emotional baggage to bear, but when a new arrival brings some very complicated personal history with her, painful memories swell to the surface for several of the residents.

quartet

As if having to deal with the problems of aging isn’t enough, personality clashes strike a sour note when the annual Verdi tribute concert is suddenly overshadowed by the arrival of Jean Horton. She’s an infamous diva refusing to come to terms with her current living arrangements who happens to be the ex-wife of one of the other residents. They haven’t seen each other in decades and all the old feelings – good and bad – bring all the old tempers, drama, and rivalries to the forefront.

Billy Connelly is a real treat and Maggie Smith is in top form, as usual. Connelly has the most comedic role and portrays the delightfully sex-obsessed Wilf with flair and gusto. Stick around for the closing credits – most of the home’s residents are played by actual retired musicians and singers who shine with a special glow.

Three boxes of popcornRating: Triple Serving 

 

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Distances

by CosmicTwin3

 

2011, Directed by Brandon E. Marshall, stars Jordan Tanner, Shauna La, and Jackie McCardell, Jr.

How far does a man have to go to get back to himself?

Written and directed by newbie Brandon E. Marshall, this little gem showcases a budding talent.

Grieving from the sudden loss of his father in a car accident, Graham Richards (Jordan Tanner) drops out of grad school and abandons the family publishing business to return to Austin, Texas where he reconnects with old friends and hopes to find, if not healing, then at least solace in the local music scene. Graham is passionate about two things: music and Leah (Shauna La), the old girlfriend he had left behind in Austin two years earlier.

Understanding his depression, Graham’s buddies attempt to raise his spirits while at the same time giving him plenty of space to work things out in his own mind. Conveniently, his friend Windham (Jackie McCardell, Jr.) is also a psychologist. The problem is that his mind seems to be playing tricks on him in the form of increasingly confusing and frightening hallucinations. Leah wants to comfort him, maybe even heat up their old relationship, but is frustrated and angered by Graham’s odd behavior.

Why is Graham experiencing these psychotic breaks with reality? How bizarre and violent will they become? As he slowly realizes that he must face up to and understand what is causing the inner turmoil, he is also in danger of destroying his chances with either a music career or the lovely Leah.

See the music video. Working within the constraints of a lower-than-low budget, Marshall has carefully crafted his story into an entertaining and suspenseful movie experience. He has given us believable characters, particularly in the two leads Graham (Jordan Tanner) and Leah (Shauna La) who exhibit a good on-screen chemistry. Taking full advantage of a beautiful location, we also get some wonderful glimpses of Austin.  With a couple of minor exceptions, the movie flows well from scene to scene and is nicely balanced with interesting camera angles and artistic shots. Another great aspect of this film is the soundtrack and original music by Jordan Tanner. The lead actor truly shines when performing his own music as he is an authentic Austin musician.

Marshall makes the most of meager resources available to him. The only thing that comes across at times as a little less than polished and professional are performances of the secondary characters.  A more experienced cast could have made a big difference in the final product. Also, the final scene felt a trifle flat and tacked on, as if there was some obligation to wrap up the story in a “Hollywood ending.” The dialog, for the most part, felt authentic with some moments of true, natural humor as well as some genuine darker episodes.  

The bottom line here is not simply about the entertainment value of the movie itself, but the potential it promises for Marshall. Hopefully this movie will get some well-deserved attention on the indie film festival circuit. I’m anxious now to see what he and Out There Productions can accomplish with a real chunk of money, not a shorter-than-shoestring budget. It should be awesome.

Two boxes of popcornCosmic Twins rating: Double Serving plus a Large Box of Milk Duds