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Movies: 'Quartet,' 'The Last Stand' & 'Mama'

Published 3:32 pm, Friday, January 25, 2013
  • The movie, "Quartet," the first directed by Dustin Hoffman, is playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News contributed
    The movie, "Quartet," the first directed by Dustin Hoffman, is playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters.

"QUARTET"

Not to be confused with the similarly titled "A Late Quartet," this tart comedy is, essentially, a British film that revives the old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland "let's put on a show" formula with great panache.

Set in the bucolic English countryside, Beecham House, an elegant retirement refuge for musicians, is facing dire financial straits just as a new resident unexpectedly moves in. It's famed soloist Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). But she's in no mood to socialize. While her arrival stuns longtime resident Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), her cuckolded-and-heartbroken former husband who now devotes his time to making opera relevant for rappers, it delights ebullient, somewhat senile Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins), her former singing partner.

The burning question revolves around whether the haughty, sharp-tongued diva will agree to participate in the Giuseppe Verdi's birthday fundraising concert with her old cohorts. Observing from the sidelines are perennially lecherous rake Wilfred Bond (Scottish comedian Billy Connolly), egotistically cranky Cedric Livingston (Michael Gambon), rival soprano Anne Langley (opera great Gwyneth Jones) and amiably solicitous Dr. Lucy Cogan (Sheridan Smith).

Scripted by Ronald Harwood ("The Pianist"), who adapted his 1999 "aging is not for sissies" stage play, it's adroitly directed by Dustin Hoffman, who encouraged his distinguished cast to improvise dialogue, thereby eliciting sensitive, indelibly individualistic performances. The ensemble also includes many real-life musicians, including former Grammy winners and a past conductor of the London symphony, who enthusiastically perform classical selections from "Rigoletto" and "La Traviata," punctuated by Dario Marianelli's effective score. It's worth staying for their salute during the concluding credits.

A recent Kennedy Center Award honoree for acting, Hoffman makes an auspicious directorial debut with this classy, uplifting crowd pleaser, which is reminiscent of Daniel Schmid's 1985 documentary about retired Italian opera singers living together in the Casa Riposo per Musicisti -- a.k.a. "Casa Verdi."

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Quartet" is an endearing, astutely engaging 8, joining "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" in chronicling life's third act.

"THE LAST STAND"

In his first major screen role since he left California governorship, Arnold Schwarzenegger gives hardcore fans what they want: a few amusing quips and oodles of heroic action, including hand-to-hand combat, prolonged car chases, and blasting, bullet-riddled showdowns.

After an illustrious stint as a Los Angeles police narcotics detective, Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) has become the taciturn, mild-mannered sheriff of sleepy Sommerton Junction, a small Arizona border town that turns out to be the escape route chosen by fugitive Gabriel Cortez (Spain's Eduardo Noriega), an arrogantly diabolical, third-generation Mexican drug cartel kingpin.

While U.S. authorities, led by federal agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker), are in hot pursuit from Las Vegas, Cortez is zipping along through the sun-drenched desert badlands, bursting through various blockades, at more than 200 mph in souped-up Corvette ZR1 with a female FBI agent (Genesis Rodriguez) as hostage in the passenger seat. Meanwhile, Cortz's ruthless henchman, Burrell (Peter Stormare), has gunned down an old farmer (unbilled Harry Dean Stanton) atop his tractor who protested the secret construction of a canyon bridge on his property. So it's up to Owens and his makeshift assortment of deputies (Luiz Guzman, Jaimie Alexander, Zach Gilford, Rodrigo Santoro and wacky "Jackass" Johnny Knoxville) to apprehend the culprit.

Written by Andrew Knauer (who was obviously inspired by "High Noon" and "Rio Bravo") and directed by South Korea's Kim Jee-woon ("The Good, the Bad, the Weird," "I Saw the Devil"), the set-up takes its time getting started, not only introducing the small-town lawman and his motley crew but also the aging citizenry of Sommerton Junction, delivering some folksy, comical inventiveness to the formulaic, if far-fetched predictability.

After spending several years as governator in Sacramento, including a debilitating divorce skirmish involving his admitted paternity of his maid's son, still-muscular, 65-year-old Schwarzenegger swings wearily into this mindless mayhem. Let's make it clear: Arnold is back!

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Last Stand" is a shoot-`em- up 7, a celebration of America's Second Amendment's right to bear arms.

"MAMA"

Creepy scares abound in this conventional creature feature. In the prologue, a distraught businessman, Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), goes berserk when his financial company fails.

After shooting his business partners with a pistol, he drives home and kills his estranged wife. Grabbing his two terrified, young daughters, Victoria (Morgan McGarry) and her toddler sister Lilly (Maya Dawe), he flees from suburbia on icy roads, skidding into a steep ravine, winding up in the snowy mountains in what appears to be an abandoned summer house. That's where Lilly observes, "There's a lady outside -- and she's not touching the ground."

Five years later, Jeffrey's twin brother, an artist named Lucas (also played by Nikolj Coster-Waldau), finally finds the girls, still living in the broken-down cabin. Deeply disturbed, they're filthy, feral animals, having lost most of their language skills and skittering about on all fours.

Working with a prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Gerald Drefuss (Daniel Kash), they draw pictures of their life in the woods, explaining that "Mama" took care of them. While Uncle Lucas wants to raise Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse), he's in love with self-centered Annabel (Jessica Chastain), a guitarist in a punk/rock band. She has her doubts, particularly when it becomes obvious that an evil, vengeful presence known as Mama (CG-enhanced 7-foot-tall Javier Botet) is not going to release its ghostly grip on the girls, even when they move to Richmond, Va.

Executive produced by Mexican-born Guillermo del Toro ("The Devil's Backbone," "Pan's Labyrinth"), it's haphazardly scripted by first-time feature film director Andy Muschietti, along with co-writers Neil Cross and his sister Barbara Muschietti, and based on the Muschietti siblings' 2008 three-minute short horror film, which originally intrigued del Toro.

Wearing dark, cropped hair, a tattoo sleeve and a tight-fitting Misfits T-shirt, Chastain looks nothing like her Oscar-nominated persona in "Zero Dark Thirty," while fans of TV's "Game of Thrones" may recognize Danish actor Nikolj Coster-Waldau.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Mama" is a spooky, grotesquely stylish, supernatural 6 -- with a silly, contrived conclusion.