About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Quartet Quartet

Two Quartets invaded the art house scene in the closing months of 2012.

The better of them is A Late Quartet.  Christopher Walken is the cellist of a string quartet -- the other members a couple played by Catherine Keener, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and the fourth by Michael Inavar -- who finds out that he has early stages of Parkinson's.  His imminent departure creates chaos.  Ivanar starts sleeping with the couple's daughter, whom he is instructing in violin, and resists a. effort by Hoffman to split the first chair violin role.  Keener's decision to side with Ivanar and/or the good of the Quartet over her husband creates tension in their (shotgun) marriage. In hindsight, and in actually describing the plot, the melodrama of it all is readily apparent, but to the credit of the cast and filmmakers it doesn't seem that way at all in the watching.  Quite the contrary, everyone plays with such conviction you would feel certain this is as much a documentary as the fictional documentary about the Quartet that we see pieces of along the way. Christopher Walken we all know for his wild-eyed manic roles, but he can act.  It is a pleasure to see him here, paired with a uniformly good cast.

Quartet is the first film to be directed by Dustin Hoffman.  It's a master class in British acting, with the likes of Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon in it.  It's in the grand traditioni of "let's put on a show" movies, here at a home for retired musicians that needs to have a successful annual gala to pay for improvements and operating expenses and secure its future.  It's got nice British countryside to look at, we should all be so lucky to retire in our dotage to a building as stately as the one this home for retired musicians is in.  It's pleasant enough, but it's not really that good.  Hoffman's direction doesn't have a lot of pep or energy to it.  More important, it's not a very good script.  The tension in the movie arises from some old conflict between the characters played by Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay (whom I would have first seen in Dr. Zhivago and first remember seeing 30 years ago in The Dresser, for Maggie Smith it's California Suite over 35 years ago as the first film I remember her in, though I'd have also seen her before that in Murder by Death and Death on the Nile), but the movie withholds any detail about the conflict until near the very end, just so that it can then be resolved quickly and immediately and pleasantly.  A nice touch, the end credits reveal the musical backgrounds of all of the background players, the film is filled with musicians.

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