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May 16.13 / Spling
Promised Land Movie Review: Small Town Stand Off

Promised Land deals with the contentious fracking debate, which isn’t surprising, considering it’s a Gus Van Sant film. The director is known for tackling difficult subjects head-on and he’s opted for a big one as far as environmental concerns go. While he’s quite fearless in most of his films, he’s taken a step back with his approach to Promised Land, delivering a quietly powerful message that’s neither backdrop nor full-blown propaganda.

Instead of beating us over the head with the issues or going for a underdog versus corporate scenario, Matt Damon and John Krasinski have written a screenplay from the salesman’s perspective. Matt Damon is known for playing likable, everyman characters and he delivers a fine performance from a difficult standpoint. Beyond the ecological frame, it’s a small town drama about pioneering, doing what it takes to clinch the deal and being able to keep your head high.

In many ways, the eco-drama is a skin for a high school popularity, Mexican stand-off or election contest as two forces go head-to-head in a race to get the sway of public approval. Promised Land rumbles with enough humour and infotainment to keep us locked in, but it’s Damon’s performance that elevates the film.

Damon knows the script well, which helps him translate the complex character of Steve Butler with great aplomb. It’s not as determined as Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich, but he manages to make us like him despite his apparent oblivion. He’s supported by heavyweights in Frances McDormand as his colleague and Hal Holbrook as a local science teacher, with co-screenwriter, John Krasinski filling in for Ben Affleck as a charming environmental activist and thorn in his side.

Spling MoviesPromised Land is a product of our times. You could argue that Man’s proclivity towards hedonism and narcissim has made us a selfish, self-made, independent and vain species. However, the “plague” or “scourge” of the Earth as David Attenborough put it, better known as humanity, is becoming more environmentally-conscious. Then another trend is that community can effect change – just take a look at the rise of organisations like Avaaz, Groupon, Kickstarter and Waze.

Most films of this type generally underplay the issue or fall headlong into a preachy one-sided affair bordering on propaganda. Gus Van Sant’s film falls into neither, which would put it at risk of being bland. The human drama has real weight and we’re able to get an insider’s perspective. By taking the flawed salesman’s point-of-view with sympathy, he disarms us. Keeping the fracking and social context as the glue, Van Sant affords the opportunity to inform his audience in a subtle manner and he doesn’t harp on.

The end result is an entertaining coming-of-age small town drama with an ecologically-conscious message. While fracking leads to a clean energy source in natural gas, the method of extraction has a serious impact on the environment. By the end of the film we’re both moved and enlightened by a first-rate cast, solid performances, subtle direction and a script that bristles with life.

The bottom line: Compelling

Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling
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May 07.13 / Spling
Little One Movie Review: The Ugly Duckling & The Good Samaritan

Little One is the story of a mother, who takes a young girl under her wing. The story is simple, yet the circumstances are not. A six year old girl has been left for dead in the veld near a middle aged woman’s home near an informal settlement. After saving her life, an inextricable and life-changing mother-daughter bond is formed between the rescuer and victim.

The story is truly heartbreaking and there’s a tensile emotional undercurrent that drives this simple, yet beautiful film. The endless reserve of love this mother has for this abandoned child is inspiring and you can’t help but be drawn into this contemporary take on the Good Samaritan. In our violent and ruthless society, we find someone who is able to rise above as justice runs its course.

While Little One deals with the rape and brutality of a child, it does so after the event. Roodt doesn’t take away from the severity of the crime or its affects on the victim, instead he chooses to show the flip side by focusing on the guardian angel. Her selfless act and unconditional love for the child lead to transformation in both of their lives.

Darrell Roodt (Yesterday, Cry the Beloved Country) has created a quietly powerful crime drama that blends the authenticity of South Africa’s socio-economic conditions with the sincerity of a heartfelt and redemptive love story. Little One can be likened to the cinema of Iran, engaging in life-affirming storytelling that cuts across age, race and culture. We can all identify with Little One and journey with ordinary people behaving in extraordinary ways.

Lindiwe Ndlovu is the life force of Little One. While probably best known for her comedic TV roles, she’s seamless as Pauline, concerned with more than simply conveying an accurate dramatic performance. In much the same way as Precious, you can sense a beauty that goes beyond circumstances. She embodies a naive and spirited character in a performance that works for and against Little One, lifting the film’s standards and showing up some of her supporting cast.

Spling MoviesMutodi Nesheshe delivers a solid supporting performance as Detective Morena. There may not be much in the way of exposition, but he represents the frustration of the justice system – determined to serve, yet unable to protect. It would have been fascinating to see the same story with a greater focus of the crime from his perspective.

Young Vuyelwa Msimang’s performance as the title character may be sheltered by bandages and behind-the-head shots for most of the film, but she’s there to represent every child. Her performance is instinctive and its a matter of letting the love in. Roodt uses her character to create deeply moving and symbolic scenarios involving her rehabilitation and reintegration.

One of the film’s drawbacks is the character and casting of Pauline’s husband, Jacob. While Luzuko Nqeto’s performance is sincere, it’s difficult to believe his character’s day and night transition. He’s stereotyped as an abusive and disconnected husband, who just wants his dinner on time. The actor has a comic edge, amplified by his features, that ultimately make him likable. This shines through, affecting the integrity of the drama and creating some unintentionally discordant moments.

Little One’s simplicity may not hold everyone’s attention. This is a quietly powerful drama that taps you on the shoulder to get your attention. Beautiful cinematography and symbolism make for a visceral experience that could be likened to walking through a gallery of South African photo-journalistic imagery with the subjects as your guide.

The bottom line: Powerful

Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling
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Apr 29.13 / Spling
Trance Movie Review: Hypnotic, Kaleidoscopic and Psychological

Trance“You’re back in the room.” What happens when are our eyes are closed and our subconscious has the run of the place is a mystery in itself. Whether we’re dreaming, hypnotized or in a state of deep relaxation – we seem to be vulnerable to the power of suggestion by the voices around us. Trance explores this state with a similar edge to Inception, Memento and even Fight Club.

A fine art auctioneer (McAvoy) becomes the missing piece to a gang’s recovery of a stolen Goya artwork. After a knock on the head… the task becomes much trickier as a hypnotist (Dawson) tries to foil the gang leader (Cassel) and puzzle altogether.

Danny Boyle is a versatile director, having delved into an array of genres with great aplomb. Who would imagine that someone could shoot a film in-between orchestrating the opening of the Olympics? He’s an energetic force, and while he agreed to direct the Olympics opening, he prefers smaller scale projects in which he has more control. Trance is one of those projects, teaming up with John Hodge (Trainspotting) again to adapt a 2001 TV movie script into something with more panache.

Trance stars James McAvoy, although to be fair, this is a three-headed creature with Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson flanking the likable actor. This role reveals a much darker side to McAvoy, who recently played MacBeth on stage. It seems that the cheerful upstart is a type McAvoy is trying to shake with a series of performances with a much more sinister edge. Perhaps he’s just trying to give X-Men’s Professor Xavier more mystique?

Spling MoviesIn Trance, McAvoy delivers Simon in a complex performance that harnesses equal measures of light and dark, shifting his flawed character with demented sincerity. Vincent Cassel seems destined to play another typical Vincent Cassel villain as Franck, but all notions of this are shattered as Boyle bends the crime genre’s rules from a straight art heist thriller into a swirling and surreal mystery drama.

Then, Rosario Dawson almost hijacks the lead as Elizabeth, as the psychological puzzle locks in place. Dawson wants to fall in love with her roles and she immerses herself in the world of Trance, giving a beautifully controlled performance.

Trance is a sleek film with a fragmented reality and sensuality based in the subconscious, which gives the director free range. Danny Boyle doesn’t shy away from nudity or violence making the journey visceral and thrilling in every sense of the word. He uses a trail of breadcrumbs to lead you into a space, where several realities exist.

While as mesmerising as a kaleidoscope, the narrative does get a little messy. Boyle likes to feel his way through a film to journey with the audience and the set is an extension of him. He uses mirrors and interesting angles to represent these altered states, casting us in the deep end of the maze and making the process of getting lost deeply affecting and fascinating.

As they say in the film “No work of art is worth a human life.” Trance is not a masterpiece and it isn’t as good as its Nolan and Fincher contrasts, but it is a work of art. Boyle has crafted a film with artistic flair that will: evoke emotion with a selection of solid performances, enchant viewers with dazzling visuals, immerse us in another dimension with a surreal score and lose us in a maze of mirrored realities.

The bottom line: Mesmerising

Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling
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Apr 22.13 / Spling
Seven Psychopaths Movie Review: Wildly Entertaining Crime Caper Comedy

Seven Psychopaths Movie ReviewArmed with an intriguing title and oozing suave cool, Seven Psychopaths is destined for cult status. What movie starring Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken wouldn’t achieve some level of notoriety? Throw in some dark Tarantino style crime comedy and you’ve got yourself a locked-and-loaded shotgun ready to blow your head off… with laughter.

Each of these cocky actors bring their own variety of on-screen charisma to the film, playing oddball characters they could have written for themselves. Each actor accomplished in their own right, adds their own spice to this dark comedy concoction that ranges from quirky off-beat comedy to ultra-violent crime thriller. Their career consistency ensures a solid ensemble performance with Rockwell and Walken carrying the majority of the story.

It’s an unusual comedy crime caper in the way that it’s quite unpredictable and experimental as a script writer (Farrell) accompanies the troupe as a passenger, conceptualising his own script, while playing out the reality of another. He’s there as a keyhole for the audience, a measure of normalcy in a story that seems to flow from one fascinating scene to another, almost by association. Imagined scenarios for each psychopath play out between the troupe’s shenanigans as a beloved Shih Tzu sets the psychos in motion.

Spling MoviesThe dark comedy and warped sense of humour is at the core of this hugely entertaining character-driven caper. Framing a movie within a movie gives the filmmakers license to bend the rules, reflect on them and alter the rules altogether. This gives the story detours to uncover both “real” and imagined psychopaths, while the charismatic co-leads march the circus onward.

In case the title didn’t give it away, Seven Psychopaths is not for everyone. There aren’t too many constraints on this film, allowing it to defy genre conventions in a dark, playful and curious way. The storyline echoes The Dog Problem, a Woody Allen style comedy with Giovanni Ribisi and the handling resonates strongly with Horrible Bosses and Martin McDonagh’s other film, In Bruges.

Seven Psychopaths is fragmented. While perpetually fascinating, the tonal shifts and buffet of intriguing stories and colourful characters, never really amount to anything substantial. The end result is wildly entertaining, wickedly funny, crazy charming yet slightly disjointed and fleeting.

The bottom line: Zany

Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling
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Apr 15.13 / Spling
The Impossible Movie Review: Airport-worthy Joy and Sorrow

The ImpossibleThe Impossible is one of those films that you dread watching, because you know you’re going to have to endure real devastation and emotional upheaval. It’s the kind of drama you end up seeing because there’s nothing else to watch, your curiosity got the better of you or you heard it was a must-see.

The affects of the tsunami that killed over 250,000 people in Thailand in 2004 literally rippled throughout the world. Tourists and locals were washed away and families separated in a matter of minutes as a wave of destruction swept up everything in its path. In the middle of this natural disaster, one family took it upon themselves to continue the search no matter what…

The Impossible is not a definitive film on the tsunami, but rather a personal journey from the perspective of a British family holidaying in Thailand. As such, the storytelling focuses on the sacrifice, endurance and spirited determination of one family. It’s one of the positive stories to come out of the disaster, that seeks to immerse you in the situation from a Western point-of-view, without taking away from the traumatic circumstances of the event.

Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and young Tom Holland star in The Impossible. Each of these actors had to endure similar conditions to the people that inspired the film in some sensational recreations. The breathtaking photo-journalistic accuracy of the visuals and realistic production design must have helped transport them to the time and place. They have each done an excellent job in delivering real and sincere performances with relatively little dialogue.

Spling MoviesWatts is a fine actress, whose acting choices are always brave, challenging and determined. She plays Maria, a doctor turned mother of three, whose tropical getaway becomes a survival nightmare. Beyond the exposition of her roles as wife, mother and doctor, Watts composes a willful and strong woman with fervent fortitude. You feel her in the pain, numbness and emotional turmoil.

She’s supported by Tom Holland as her son Lucas, whose performance comes across as if he’s really there, living in the moment and trying to be strong for his mother. Holland shows remarkable maturity as the young boy learns some hard life lessons and takes on a protective role. Ewan McGregor delivers easily one of his most vulnerable and earnest performances, portraying a family man who risks it all to reunite his family. While both Holland and McGregor deliver, it’s Watts whose star shines the brightest.

You can’t help but be moved to tears in The Impossible. As the unexpected tsunami shatters a vision of paradise, we’re swept up in an emotional journey of our own. Tears well up as we encounter flashes of what it must have been like to be there. The reality makes the film difficult to watch because you’re trying to come to terms with the sheer, indiscriminate power of nature and then trying to comprehend the thought of losing everything that matters.

Clint Eastwood touched on the magnitude of the emotion and devastation of the tsunami with a vivid depiction of one woman’s experience in Hereafter. The Impossible takes a true story and brings it to life through an array of mouth-dropping visual effects, gut-wrenching body make up and performances that carry the kind of joy and sorrow you’ll find in airports.

While life can get ugly, The Impossible represents that burning glimmer of hope, the triumph of the human spirit, man’s innate propensity towards kindness in the most dire of situations and the eternal quest to reunite with loved ones. It’s a powerful and life-affirming story that is told with great conviction and a rare emotional resonance, reminiscent of Grave of the Fireflies.

The bottom line: Powerful

Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling
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Apr 10.13 / Spling
Jack the Giant Slayer Movie Review: All CGI and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy…

Jack the Giant Slayer is a hybrid reworking of the cult classic, Jack the Giant Killer, and the fairy tale, Jack & The Beanstalk. Individually, these stories are simple and too insubstantial for a feature film. By combining the special effects action, medieval fantasy romance of Jack the Giant Killer with the humble, imaginative, magical zero-to-hero quest of a lowly farm boy in Jack & The Beanstalk, Bryan Singer has created an action-adventure of epic proportions.

The only problem is that both these origin stories did not prioritize characterisation, relying on special effects and incredulity instead of character to accomplish their missions. Singer has fallen into the same trap, leaning too heavily on CGI instead of building a bridge between the characters and the audience. While the cast are likable and more than capable, the little people in Jack the Giant Slayer remain little people…

Rising stars, Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson, are padded by a stellar supporting cast in: Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane and Bill Nighy. While each actor doesn’t seem to hold back, we’re never completely convinced they are who and where they say they are. The comedic undertones of Tucci’s villain, the deadpan royalty of McShane, the chipper charms of McGregor and the second head on General Fallon… Jack the Giant Slayer nestles on the fence between pantomime and epic.

Spling MoviesOne gets the impression that they were trying to imbibe the same swashbuckling spirit as The Princess Bride with the epic spectacle of The Hobbit. However, it never pans out. The characters aren’t as charming, detestable or funny and the over-reliance on CGI dissolves any attempts at portraying larger-than-life personalities. While the CGI is of a high standard, the balance tilts in favour of unreal as a skyscraping beanstalk and an army of giants weigh in.

The film’s enjoyability comes from simply accepting these two-dimensional characters for what they are and embracing the adventure at the heart of this fantasy. You may not warm or sympathise too much for the characters, but you’re able to get lost in the imaginative and spectacular visuals. Singer has turned a children’s fairy tale into something with adult appeal by leveraging the tale’s sinister edge. We always witness the violence, but it’s strongly suggested as the cannibal giants snack on some of the humans.

It’s become a trend to adapt classic fairy tales over the last few years. Thankfully, Jack the Giant Slayer is one of the better ones, remaining entertaining right up to its cheesy set up for a sequel. The parallels with The Hobbit give the film more credit than its worth, but also give you an idea of what the genre mix offers up in terms of scope, production values and entertainment. If you get the opportunity, rather see it in 3D.

The bottom line: Enjoyable

Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling

Apr 02.13 / Spling
Warm Bodies Movie Review: Eat your Brains Out, Twilight…

Paranormal romance is now a thing. Bloodthirsty vampires and werewolves used to prey on the hearts of humans, but now it’s a feast of love, not entrails. One of the horror creatures not to make the cut in Twilight was zombies. Overall, the most humanoid of the lot… the living dead did not get a chance to win Bella’s heart. Perhaps the thought was too macabre, messed with Edward’s skin tone and delved a little too close to necrophilia for public consumption?

Warm Bodies has changed that in a film that transforms a horror environment into something sweet, heartwarming, funny and sometimes scary. Jonathan Levine managed to balance the genre mix in 50/50, a comedy and drama about a man living with cancer, and he’s done it again in Warm Bodies!

We’re introduced to R, a zombie kid, whose existence has become lonely and mundane. Who can blame him, forced to survive on a diet consisting of brains and more brains, stumbling around an abandoned city with a troop of grunting, personality-challenged zombies. That is until he eats… or meets the girl of his dreams’ boyfriend.

Warm Bodies is somewhere between cuddly teen romantic comedy and a guts and gore zombie horror. The production values hold up against most zombie horror flicks in terms of urban sprawl, army units, visual effects and make up. They don’t shy away from shotguns, violence and grit… yet it seems to soften along with its lead character as R warms to the idea of romancing the colonel’s daughter.

Spling MoviesIt doesn’t get soapy or sappy like Twilight or Beastly, but leans on the central themes from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet and the classic fairy tale gothic romance, Beauty & The Beast. R (Romeo) and Julie (Juliet) find themselves drawn to each other, yet repelled by their heritage and ultimately doomed. This classic love theme drives the film as they transform from enemies to lovers.

To get us there, we’re guided by charming co-lead performances from Nicholas Hoult (still can’t believe this is the kid from About A Boy) as R and rising star Teresa Palmer as Julie. They trade brooding, distant gazes for charm in likable performances that really get you to root for the young couple as they become more involved. Hoult downplays the zombie to great effect, both dramatic and comedic, while Palmer tries to overcome her fear and see past the dead eyes.

It sounds creepy, but it isn’t thanks to the warmth and wit of the script, turning an unlikely romance into an epic whirlwind adventure. The cast is reinforced by a willful John Malkovich, a doting Analeigh Tipton, a restrained Rob Corddry and short-lived Dave Franco, providing a solid platform for Hoult and Palmer to create magic.

While Warm Bodies does feel like a by-product of the Twilight phenomenon, it gives the Romeo & Juliet/Beauty & The Beast love story some fresh paint by turning it into a smart modern horror. The tension between the young lovers, the paranormal romance and the harsh environment all contribute to a pensive atmosphere, while the zombie romantic comedy adds a splash of fun and warmth to proceedings.

The bottom line: Sharp

Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling

Mar 25.13 / Spling
The Croods Movie Review: Meet the Simpstones

The Croods are like any other prehistoric family, with one exception – they’re still alive. Grug (equal parts Homer Simpson and Fred Flintstone), has managed to keep his family one step ahead of the perils of a prehistoric lifestyle, living by the mantra “never not be afraid”. When his daughter, Eep, discovers there’s more to life than hiding in a cave… the family are cast into the throes of possibly the first family road trip adventure of all time.

The Croods is like The Incredibles, The Simpsons and The Flintstones all rolled into one. The visuals and unusual strength and speed of the characters, echo the jungle scene from The Incredibles. Their Modern Family dysfunction, character make up and apparent lack of social skills is very The Simpsons. While their Land Before Time home, evolution and likability are reminiscent of The Flintstones.

The voice cast features the talents of Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds. Each of these big name stars play leading roles with great affection for their characters. While the casting of Grug seemed a bit off-key at first, Cage really owns the performance. Emma Stone fits in perfectly as Eep, a tough cookie and curious teenage girl, using her gravelly voice to great effect. While Ryan Reynolds plays the likable, slightly more evolved tour guide, counterpoint to Grug and romantic interest to Eep in Guy.

Spling MoviesIt’s a solid voice cast, but the first thing you’ll notice about The Croods, is the dazzling, imaginative eye-popping 3D animation. The film-makers have composed a playful, fun and somewhat experimental look to The Croods. The colour palette is surreal, injecting loads of eye candy into backdrops with imaginative creatures that will no doubt be released as cuddly toys.

Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco make a great writer-director team, drawing on a wealth of animation experience from How to Train Your Dragon, Lilo & Stitch and Space Chimps. The style of animation and the sense of humour takes a little getting used to, think Madagascar, and it’s refreshing to watch an animated family comedy that knows how to deliver good, clean fun.

That’s not to say there isn’t a bit of mild peril with the central theme of overcoming fear at the heart of The Croods. This makes the message quite timely without losing sight of the entertainment factor. There’s just so much fun to be had in this prehistoric thrill ride. The family dynamic has real heart that catches up with you in the third act amid some really playful and silly humour. It’s on par with The Incredibles for visuals, not content, but falls safely into the realm of The Simpsons and The Flintstones when it comes to pure entertainment.

The bottom line: Zippy

Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling

Mar 18.13 / Spling
The Sessions Movie Review: Hollywood sex reinvented

Sex in Hollywood is more often than not, represented as something depraved, insignificant, lust-induced and fleeting. According to Hollywood, the act of sexual intercourse has lost it’s intimacy with two actors essentially reducing themselves to mascots for their species. Whether love at first sight or high school sweethearts, it’s incredibly rare for sex to be given the respect it deserves in popular culture.

One film that does instill a sense of intimacy is ironically one that starts off trying to represent intercourse as something professional and well-meaning. This is the story of Mark (Hawkes), a man condemned to an iron lung at night and a bed on wheels by day. He’s a paraplegic guy, a charming poet and a virgin. Mark contacts Cheryl (Hunt), a sexual surrogate, in order to help him have sex for the first time.

This is a character-driven comedy drama with a dash of romance. We’re immersed into Mark’s world as a naive, innocent and likable man finds himself in a private relationship with his surrogate. What starts as a professional and clinical arrangement slowly blurs into something more unavoidably meaningful as the two people become sexually involved.

John Hawkes plays Mark, resigned to a bed, only able to use his head and still able to reel us in with irresistible charm. The performance holds our attention, giving Hawkes a chance to showcase his most innocent, sweet and likable self. The actor does a remarkable job and many would insist that he deserved a nomination ahead of Helen Hunt.

Helen Hunt’s performance gets more attention, firstly because of her commitment to the role – spending a great deal of screen time in the nude, and secondly for a solid performance as a conflicted sexual therapist. The camera does not shy away from her and the 18SN age restriction is fully justified, yet there’s no perceived stigma when you leave the cinema.

Spling MoviesAs a fly-on-the-wall, we’re given a voyeuristic look at the drama unfolding behind closed doors and it’s not sleazy at all. This is the end result of great casting and sensitive direction from Ben Lewin. Mark couldn’t hurt a fly, both literally and figuratively. John Hawkes plays the man with such child-like innocence that you can’t sense any ill will, threat or a dark side at all.

Helen Hunt is an attractive woman, but she comes across as plain and professional in The Sessions. Hunt’s body is in great condition, yet she remains pretty ordinary as Cheryl, without her character degenerating into a sexual object. This is one of the most surprising elements of The Sessions, because there’s great intimacy and tenderness at play, without the sexuality turning into an act of lust.

While this unusual dynamic sustains our attention with intermittent sessions, we’re given a behind-the-scenes tour of their lives: from Mark reacquainting himself with an old flame to Cheryl finding her work interfering with home life. It’s a character portrait and chapter from Mark’s extraordinary life story as he becomes sexually-enlightened.

The Sessions is a warm, humorous, intimate and well-acted piece about an unusual relationship. While there was potential to delve deeper into Cheryl’s marriage and professional life, The Sessions focuses on the sweet-nature and chemistry of its co-leads. The Sessions is memorable thanks to its original premise, tender treatment and excellent performances from Hawkes and Hunt.

The bottom line: Charming

Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling

Mar 11.13 / Spling
Quartet Movie Review: School of Opera

A quartet is a group of four people playing music or singing together. This is the basis of Quartet, a new comedy drama and complete directorial debut for one of Hollywood’s finest, Dustin Hoffman. After voicing Shifu in Kung Fu Panda, playing a Focker and checking in as Paul Giamatti’s father in Barney’s Version… it was time for a change.

Hoffman directs Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and Billy Connolly in this delightful comedy about a home for retired musicians. School of Rock was a quick tour of rock history and delivered comedy and rock music in the palatable form of a concert. Quartet “reinvents” this formula, by setting it at a retirement home instead of a school, with the elderly instead of children, experience instead of beginners and Opera instead of Rock.

The result is terrific and it’s spurred on by its talented quartet of actors, who each bring a wealth of experience and a shade of comedy to the piece. Maggie Smith is commanding as Jean Horton, a revered opera singer, who plays the cat among the pigeons. Tom Courtenay is her ex-lover, a determined man, who stubbornly opposes her despite his feelings.

Billy Connolly drives the cheeky tone of Quartet, playing Wilf Bond, the quintessential “dirty old man”. He drifts from scene to scene… leaving a trail of pinched bottoms and noses behind him with a gleeful kick of the feet. It’s amazing that the actor is in his ’70s, considering how youthful he is in spirit. While Pauline Collins completes the quartet with a sweet, gentle yet feather-brained performance as Cissy Robson.

Spling MoviesThe rest of the ensemble is made up of musicians and actors from yesteryear. While not part of the quartet, Michael Gambon deserves special mention. He’s hilarious as a retired director, whose flamboyant outfit and outrageous attitude give the film extra punch.

These retired talents have so much to offer and Hoffman shows just how lively a home can be with the right mix of inspiration and emotion. He doesn’t stray away from the rigors of growing old, but gives the film a gallant pace that seems to whip everything up into an operatic frenzy that is often funny, sometimes serious and always entertaining.

Quartet makes a wonderful foray into genre music like School of Rock, enlivens a retirement home like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and sparkles with a set of admirable performances. Hoffman doesn’t quite get a hold of the old world charm or graces of a typical British comedy, but charges on with a fanfare instead… and t works just fine!

The bottom line: Charming

Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling