Raised as I was by an Anglophile and theater aficionado, I was given an appreciation of Maggie Smith that dates long before any of the Harry Potter movies, and certainly before Downton Abbey. She won her first Oscar in 1965 for playing the lead in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. She's no longer in her prime, one might say, but neither is anyone else in Quartet, the new film by Dustin Hoffman, who's decided to take a position behind the camera.
Smith plays Jean Horton, a retired opera singer whose appearance at a home for retired musicians decimates the tranquility that the residents have enjoyed. She is, in fact, the reason a quartet made up of her, Wilf (Billy Connolly), Reggie (Tom Courtenay) and Cissy (Pauline Collins) split up, after she broke Reggie's heart many years ago. The facility is having financial problems, however, and it seems the best way to raise money is for all of them to get over themselves and perform the famous quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto.
Will they, eventually? Well, sure, and you're pretty well aware of that fact throughout, but though Quartet is a bit slight, it's also charming, primarily due to the cast. Despite the predictability, Hoffman has gathered a talented group and has nicely captured the home, where musicians are constantly gathering to play and a birthday is reason enough for a serenade from a senior-citizen committee whose voices can't be beat.
There's a bit of meditation on life and love and art and aging, but the movie never goes too deep. And when it does, there's Smith, as always, to ground it in reality.
56 Up: Every seven years since 1964, filmmakers have captured the lives of a group of British children who were just 7 when the process started. Director Michael Apted has spent a lot of time with these people, and it shows.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters: Sure. Why not?
Human Rights Film Festival: Every one of these six films is a winner. We have all the details on Page 13. The event runs Thursday, Jan. 24, through Monday, Jan. 28, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.
Movie 43: Three teenagers kick around the Internet, looking at nasty short films, which allows all kinds of big stars, like Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet and Emma Stone, to appear without making a huge commitment.
Parker: After his crew double-crosses him, Jason Statham teams up with Jennifer Lopez to get his revenge.
West of Memphis: Amy Berg's new documentary about the West Memphis Three looks at the entire journey of the men who were railroaded on murder charges as teens and spent almost 20 years in jail. It also casts a light on a new suspect—and not the person you might expect.
One Time Only
The High Cost of Low Prices: Documentarian Robert Greenwald takes a hard look at Walmart. Presented by Women Occupy San Diego, it screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, at the Women's Museum of California in Liberty Station.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights: Mel Brooks robbed from Kevin Costner's version of Robin Hood to give to the poor people who paid to see that one. Screens at around 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, at Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park.
My Cousin Vinny: Marisa Tomei was a surprise Oscar winner, playing the girlfriend of Joe Pesci, a brand new big-city lawyer who finds himself in the Deep South, trying to help Ralph Macchio beat a murder rap. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Lawrence of Arabia: David Lean's epic telling of the story of T.E. Lawrence almost never graces big screens anymore, so take advantage. Peter O'Toole is fantastic, but he lost the Best Oscar race that year to Gregory Peck. Screens at noon and 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, at Reading Cinemas Town Square in Clairemont.
"Manos" The Hands of Fate: Fans of this RiffTrax live commentary clamored for an encore, and they got it. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, at several area theaters. Check fathomevents.com.
The Great Moment: The Public Library's Preston Sturgess series continues with this biopic of Dr. William Thomas Green Morton, the 19th-century Boston hero dentist who was the first guy to give his patients ether. Way to go, doc! Screens at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson's new movie—set on an island off the coast of New England in 1965, is about two 12-year-olds who fall in love and run away from the dysfunctional adults in their lives—earned a number of Oscar nominations. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, at Full Moon Drive-In in Pacific Beach.
Hospitalite: Japanese comedy about a family that invites a husband and wife to share their home, and then has to deal with all of their weird-ass friends. Screens at noon, Saturday, Jan. 26, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Platoon / Forrest Gump double-feature: Well, they're both Oscar winners, and they both feature Vietnam War sequences. Starts at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, at Full Moon Drive-In in Pacific Beach. Dances with Wolves: Yeah, Kevin Costner has a Best Director Oscar on his mantle. The movie looks great on the big screen. Screens at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, and Tuesday, Jan. 29, at Reading Cinemas Gaslamp.
The Flintstones: Rick Moranis played Barney Rubble opposite John Goodman's Fred. Too bad that guy (Moranis) dropped out of the movies. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27, at Full Moon Drive-In in Pacific Beach. Towards Zero: They're still making Agatha Christie movies! This one is in French.
Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28, at the Central Library, Downtown.
My Fair Lady: It won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor Oscars. Not too shabby. Screens at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28, at Reading Cinemas Town Square in Clairemont. Tarantula: Watch out. The spinner of this web isn't Charlotte. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, at the Central Library, Downtown.
One Night Stand: Creating a Play in a Day: This sort-of documentary is about folks like Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Cheyenna Jackson, Richard Kind, Roger Bart and Nellie McKay, putting together a musical in 24 hours. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, at several area theaters. Check fathomevents.com.
Dumb & Dumber: Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. Still dumb after all these years. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Beasts of the Southern Wild: Wait, what? Didn't this micro-budget movie come out last summer before being nominated for a slew of Oscars last week? Yeah, that's why it's back in theaters, Sherlock.
Broken City: Ex-cop Mark Wahlberg finds himself immersed in scandal when he starts trailing Catherine Zeta-Jones, wife of New York Mayor Russell Crowe.
Cosmic Collisions: So, that asteroid that might smash into Earth in 20 years is much bigger than previously thought? Awesome. This new IMAX movie at the Reuben H. Fleet looks at what happens when things bash into each other in outer space. On the bright side, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, at least future species will have a new source of fossil fuels.
The Last Stand: What do governors do after they're termed out? Star in ultraviolent movies, of course! The Governator plays Ray Owens, an inexperienced border-town sheriff who's the only thing standing between a drug lord and his destination in Mexico.
Mama: Fresh from Zero Dark Thirty, Jes sica Chastain has to take care of her young nieces, who survived in the woods for five years. Also, there are ghosts or something.
The Rabbi's Cat: A rabbi's cat, who lives in Algeria in the 1920s, swallows a parrot, learns to talk and explains that he'd like to convert. Oy. Ends Jan. 24 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
One More Try: In this Filipino drama, a woman tries to convince her ex-husband to give her another child so she'll have a blood donor for their very ill son.
Amour: Michael Haneke's Palm d'Orwinning drama, about an elderly couple facing declining health, is as terrifying as his movies about sadism, home invasions and fanaticism.
A Haunted House: Comedy-horror! Horror-comedy! Marlon Wayans (who co-wrote the script) and Essence Atkins move into a new house, where Atkins is quickly possessed by demon spawn. Hilarity ensues.
Gangster Squad: Hey, girl, Ryan Gosling is a spiffy L.A. cop shooting up mobster types like Sean Penn's Mickey Cohen in the new movie from Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer.
The Studio Ghilbi Collection: After a week at La Jolla Village Cinemas, Miyazaki's animated masterworks move to the Ken Cinema. Check landmarktheatres. com for details.
The Impossible: Biopic about a family, led by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, caught up in the 2004 tsunami in Thailand.
Texas Chainsaw 3D: Because the best kind of chainsaw is the kind that comes right at you.
Zero Dark Thirty: Kathryn Bigelow's movie, about the 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden, is a masterwork of filmmaking, and the fact that it's inspiring debate about torture should be more tangential than anything else.
Django Unchained: Tarantino takes on yet another genre—the western—and blows it up and makes it fun again. Jamie Foxx is Django, a slave freed by German bounty hunter Christoph Waltz, off to rescue wife Kerry Washington from plantation owner Leonardo DiCaprio.
Les Miserables: Fans of the legendary musical will get their fix from this big-screen adaptation by King's Speech director Tom Hooper, who relies heavily on close-ups and, sadly, Russell Crowe, who isn't a trained singer. Anne Hathaway, on the other hand, dreams a nice dream as Fantine.
Promised Land: Matt Damon and John Krasinski co-wrote the screenplay for Gus Van Sant's new movie, an impressively nuanced look at the world of fracking from the point of view of Damon's corporate cog, who believes that he's doing something good for the world. Unfortunately, a twist at the end undermines that whole idea.
Parental Guidance: Billy Crystal and Bette Midler agree to look after their grandchildren. Hilarity for a certain demographic ensues.
The Guilt Trip: Seth Rogen takes an unexpected road trip with his mom, played by Barbra Streisand.
Jack Reacher: Tom Cruise takes on the title role in a movie based on the best-selling series of books, obviously looking for another Mission: Impossible sort of franchise.
Monsters, Inc. 3D: Sulley, Mike and Boo are coming at you, literally.
Rust and Bone: Marion Cotillard plays an orca trainer whose relationship with young Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts from last year's Oscar-nominated Bullhead) takes on a new dimension when she suffers a serious accident at work. Ends Jan. 24 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
This is 40: Judd Apatow returns to Knocked Up territory, though this sort-of sequel focuses on Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), who were supporting players in the earlier film.
Hyde Park on Hudson: Bill Murray plays FDR in the days leading up to WWII, and Laura Linney is the distant cousin with whom he enjoys a special relationship. Ends Jan. 24 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Peter Jackson returns to Middle-earth in the first of three films based on the book that came before Lord of the Rings.
Anna Karenina: Director Joe Wright teams up again with his Pride & Prejudice star Keira Knightley to take on another period drama.
Life of Pi: Ang Lee's adaptation of the Booker Prize-winning novel about a boy, a tiger and a lifeboat is this year's movie that you simply must see on a big screen and in 3-D. Really.
Rise of the Guardians: The Immortal Guardians—aka the Easter Bunny, Santa, etc.—team up to kick evil-spirit ass.
Silver Linings Playbook: Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a bipolar guy from Philly who's just out of the mental hospital, having lost his job, his home and his wife. He moves in with his parents (Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro) in hopes of regaining his marriage, but things are thrown askew by Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who has problems of her own.
Lincoln: It might as well have been called The 13th Amendment. Despite another spellbinding performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln's biopic is really about getting legislation through Congress.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2: The long national nightmare is over.
Skyfall: Daniel Craig's third outing as 007 is thankfully closer to Casino Royale than Quantum of Solace. This time, he's going up against Javier Bardem, who has some history with MI-6.
Tales of the Maya Skies: This IMAX movie explores the rich history of the Mayan people, just in time for the end of the world. At the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Wreck-It Ralph: The latest animated film from Disney stars John C. Reilly as Ralph, the bad guy in an old-school video game who desperately wants to be liked.
Argo: Ben Affleck directs and stars in this take on the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, and believe it or not, it's gonna be a Best Picture contender.
Flight of the Butterflies: It turns out Monarch butterflies are much like SDSU students—every year, thousands of them head to Mexico. This IMAX film captures their beautiful trip. The butterflies, that is.
Flying Monsters 3D: No, it's not a crappy studio blockbuster—this one is all about dinosaurs and was written and directed by Richard Attenborough, using Avatar-like technology, and plays the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.
To the Arctic 3-D: Cute-animal-movie alert No. 2. Meryl Streep narrates this new IMAX movie about a mama polar bear and her two cubs.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.