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Movie Review Special : Something For The “mature” And The “young”

 

January 9, 2013



MOVIE REVIEW SPECIAL : Something for the “Mature” and the “Young”

STRUCK BY LIGHTNING

QUARTET

Gone is the old rule of thumb that the “dog” movies of the year open in the first quarter and 2013 is living proof of that. With award winners and potential award winners going into wide release and some fantastic new films opening just in the first two weeks of the new year, 2013 is off to a great cinematic start and this week is no exception with STRUCK BY LIGHTNING and QUARTET. While STRUCK BY LIGHTNING is written by and stars “Glee” star, Chris Colfer, Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, QUARTET, is of such quality to already be assured a place on my roster of Best Films of 2013.

STRUCK BY LIGHTNING

With an awkward beauty celebrating the beauty of awkwardness that hits you like a bolt of emotional lightning in the third act, STRUCK BY LIGHTNING is a heartfelt charmer (which means, bring tissues, especially knowing that “[Colfer’s] mom cries hysterically every time she sees it.”). Refreshingly opening with the death of its main character courtesy of being struck by lightning, Colfer’s Carson Phillips, the narrative is told in flashback affording some delicious tongue-in-cheek satiric moments thanks to Colfer’s vocal inflections.

Carson Phillips is wise beyond his years. Smarter than the average bear, Carson is the epitome of achievement driven misfit. President of the high school Writer’s Club, editor of the school newspaper and founder and editor of the school literary magazine, Carson’s ambition is to be a writer at the New Yorker and win a Pulitzer and Nobel Peace Prize. So focused, so driven, so determined, he has only applied to one college. His confidence in himself is overwhelming but confidence and ability aren’t going to be enough as Carson is faced with more than a few challenges to attain his goals.

The product of a divorce, he lives with his mother whose addiction to alcohol and pills has put Carson in the unenviable position of beleaguered caregiver to a mother who makes it abundantly clear she never wanted him. His father has moved on to someone younger and is starting a new family, ignoring and forgetting Carson. Seeking respite in school with his eye on the prize of attending Northwestern and leaving the sadness and loneliness of “home” behind, Carson is mired in the stereotypical mediocrity of those around him, but for his best friend, Malerie.

Malerie is herself a bit of a misfit. “The Fat Girl”, she is ostracized by her classmates as well, but retains a more upbeat look at life than Carson. With video camera in hand 24/7, Malerie captures everything so that she will always be able to look back and remember every moment of life around her, whereas Carson wants to forget this chapter and move on. But it is through their bonding and Malerie’s camera that Carson is able to secure the cooperation of his fellow students in providing much needed material for his literary magazine. Blackmail is a powerful tool. And it is by way of this precocious blackmailing and wisecracking that we are given a glimpse into the secrets and pain that each seemingly stereotypical student harbors. Maybe Carson and Malerie aren’t such misfits after all.

A superlative cast is led by Chris Colfer himself. As Carson, he explodes with energy, passion and likeability. You feel Carson’s anger and frustration which he internalizes and turns into outward freneticism and driving focus. Rebel Wilson proves once again why she is a person to watch and why she is the next cinematic sensation. Her subtle fish-out-of-water demeanor that she brings to Malerie bubbles below the surface as Malerie tries to navigate the waters of high school and being "an outcast" while knowing herself to really be the cool one with everyone else lagging behind her and her insight.

The rest of the high school classmates are all not only perfectly rendered and performed as representative of every "type" of person you encounter in high school, but each is crafted as being a necessary spoke in the wheel of the story - and high school. Leading the charge is Sarah Hyland who is deliciously and vainly arrogant as cheerleader Claire Matthews. Joining Hyland in high school hijinks are Robbie Amell, Ashley Rickards, Matt Prokop and Carter Jenkins, among others. Every character and performance is equally well drawn and resonate elements within us all.

As Carson’s mother Sheryl, Allison Janney amazes with her patented smart alecky, hard core persona that we see grow and arc as the story progresses. Unfortunately for Sheryl, however, that growth comes too late and she is ultimately forced to forever live with unredeemable regret, just like all of Carson’s classmates and his father Neal. When it comes to Neal, Dermot Mulrooney is just a delicious ass. It is this "assholiness" though which adds the pages to Sheryl's book of misery as we go from seeing a pathetic drunk pill-popping loser of a mother for whom we have no sympathy or empathy, to a woman whose veneer starts to crack and chip, letting us see what helped make her the disaster before us. Wonderful structure. Janney is a whirlwind of emotion be it going toe-toe-toe with Colfer's Carson, Mulrooney or Christina Hendricks who is a delight as Neal’s pregnant fiancé, April.

With heart and humor, as Carson’s Alzheimer’s afflicted grandmother, Polly Bergen eschews the scenery, adding maturity, grounding and common sense to Carson’s conflicted life. Beyond enjoyable is Angela Kinsey who brings a great ditziness and ultimate warmth to the part of Carson’s guidance counselor.

Written by Colfer, the story structure of starting at the end as a post-mortem reflection works well, leading to simple and effective format. According to Colfer, “I knew that I wanted to see [Carson] dead first. I wanted to see his end before you saw his beginning. There’s something so funny but tragic. Here’s this person you don’t know at all. You see their death. You see them come to a conclusion before you even know what brought them there.” The beautiful aspect to this tactic is that it makes the audience want to know what brought this character to this point. Colfer piques curiosity from the start and for him, he especially appreciates the fact that “the audience knew it was coming and the characters didn’t.” There is an awkwardness to the overall theme and film that appears intentional making the film as a whole, a metaphor for high school and one's teen years. Brian Dannelly's direction keeps the film clean, simple. A softness to the visual tone of the film both in lighting and use of color serves as a nice balance to the harsh realities and high school!

QUARTET

Emotionally exuberant and fulfilling, at age 75, Dustin Hoffman marks his directorial debut with splendor. A witty, smartly crafted, intelligent, tapestried and textured film, QUARTET features a formidable cast, including the casting of and performances by legends in the classical arts that is matched by a story that celebrates the richness of their individual real-life careers set against a palette of visual serenity, elegance and grace.

Dr. Lucy Cogan is resident physician at Beecham House, a home for retired musicians and classical artists. As majestic in its own apportionment as the lives of its residents, Beecham House is not only a godsend for these “forgotten” masters but it gives each new life as they re-bond and perform not only for each other, but annual fundraisers that celebrate Verdi’s birthday on October 10, led by the inimitable and flamboyant former opera director Cedric.

But this year heralds Beecham’s new resident, soprano Jean Horton. Once the greatest prima donna of them all, Jean has fallen on hard times. Forced to sell her home, she has nowhere to go except Beecham. Making the move even more unpleasant for Jean is that her lifelong rival Ann Langley, not to mention Jean’s former husband, tenor Reggie Paget, are also in residence. Jean’s once best friend, Cissy, is also at Beecham. A delightful creature with flirtatious girlish traits that bubble to the surface thanks to her bouts of dementia, Cissy is the non-confrontational connective tissue between Jean, Reggie and the last member of the QUARTET, baritone Wilf Bond, the ladies man of Beecham. With rivalries, aging and aching bodies and mature romance at the ready, the question then becomes, will the QUARTET put aside the squabbles of days gone by and join forces for a revival of their legendary performance from “Rigoletto” at the Verdi celebration.

Anyone who wants to see a master class in performance need look no further than QUARTET. Maggie Smith as Jean, Tom Courtney as Reggie, Pauline Collins as Cissy, Michael Gambon as Cedric and Billy Connolly as Wilf are only the tip of the iceberg. Connolly is particularly enticing with his comedic wit bringing lightness to the air. Breathtaking are the operatic and theartrical performances from renowned artisans of the decades. Dame Gwyneth Jones is a scene stealing Ann Langley opposite Smith’s Jean while chorus singers David Ryall and Trevor Peacock are show-stoppingly joyous performing Flanagan & Allen’s “Underneath the Arches”. Adding a touch of youth to the geriatric mix is Sheridan Smith who, as Dr. Cogan, is the epitome of caring and concern and a shining example of the respect with which we should be treating our elders.

Directed by Dustin Hoffman and written by Ronald Harwood based on his play of the same name, QUARTET is a feast for the senses. Hitting all the right notes, we are treated not only to some brilliant performances such as The Mikado’s “Three Little Maids” or the “Drinking Song” from La Traviata, but rich and delectable one-liners and bon mots sprinkled from start to finish.

As a director, Hoffman has not only a meticulous eye, but an impeccable sense of timing, allowing the camera to softly linger on not only the performers, but the richness of Beecham House and its grounds, allowing us to inhale the visual metaphor of aged elegance with richly polished dark woods, slightly worn but vibrant silk tapestried furniture and walls, delicate roses in the gardens, all courtesy of Andrew McAlpine’s beauteous production design. John de Borman’s cinematography is masterful and carries a softness that allows the vibrancy and vitality of the characters and their performances to take center stage. But where Hoffman truly excels is with a directorial dance of sensitivity and diversity, showcasing each and every performer in this ensemble.

And stay through the credits! Hoffman gloriously provides photos with captions identifying each of the performers in the film in their hey day juxtapositioned with their character in the film.

QUARTET is simply magnifique! Encore! Encore!

 

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