Tuesday, February 5, 2013


The following review has graciously been offered to Buddies Forever Movie Club by my mentor and friend Nolan Dalla, noted poker historian and author of One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey "The Kid" Ungar. The review originally appeared in Dalla's personal blog, www.nolandalla.com
It took only 75 years for Dustin Hoffman to direct his first movie.
That he chose a film project way outside of Hollywood comprised of an entirely foreign cast (for an American actor and director) comes as a further surprise.
But the biggest shock of all is how his new movie, Quartet works so well. Beautifully filmed, musically enhanced, and topped by stellar performances all around from actors perfectly cast in each of their roles, Hoffman’s long-awaited directorial debut reveals that he picked up some excellent pointers over his last five decades in the movie business from mentors like Mike Nichols, John Schlesinger, Alan J. Pakula, Sydney Pollack, and others who mastered the meticulous craft of cinema from the opposite side of the camera.
Quartet tells the story of a group of retired classically-trained musicians living together in a palatial retirement home in England. All of the seniors were once world-class performers of classical music and opera. Most still play. So, adding it all together we have old people in a retirement home playing classical music. If all this sounds terribly dull and depressing, well think again.
Quartet mainly works because it treats its subjects with great respect and yet also manages to confront issues that elderly people must face about their impending mortality — with absolute credibility. These old people who move around slowly and dress funny aren’t to be pitied. They’re retired, but they still enjoy a zest for living life — which for each of them means continuing to play and perform the music they love.
A number of stories swirl around simultaneously — comprised mostly of personality conflicts and even romance among the cast.  Indeed, this film offers a portrait of all our futures which is both realistic, as well as optimistic. Like a similar movie made last year called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, every action and word of dialogue is entirely believable.
This movie’s real charms are its subtleties.  The way simple scenes flow together, the natural beauty of the estate, complimented by just the right classical vignette. There are no car crashes, special effects, long senseless monologues, or shocking endings. It’s a slice of real life, and the lives of these characters deserve proper reflection.
Perhaps the most satisfying moment of the film comes after the final scene, during the credits. The added bonus material won’t be revealed here. But be sure and don’t leave the movie theater early, or you’ll miss arguably the most poignant moment of the film.
Unfortunately, it’s my prediction that this movie won’t do particularly well at the box office. Young people, who comprise the majority of modern-day movie goers, aren’t much interested in older actors with British accents or stories about what happens inside a retirement home. And that’s a crying shame because it’s ultimately their loss.
But for more mature movie fans, and particularly those who incessantly complain that Hollywood doesn’t make films the way they used to, here’s a film tailor made for more senior sensibilities. Those who stay home and ignore a film like this film do absolutely nothing to support their own cinematic wants and desires. And no matter how you slice it — that’s the biggest shame of all.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 70% 

(Note: Dalla ranks his movie on a scale of 0-10 stars. He ranked Quartet 7 out of 10)

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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Gangster Squad

In January of 2012, I had the opportunity to visit Melbourne, Australia. This was shortly after I started this movie blog, and I actually reviewed my third and fourth movies while there—The Descendants and Tailor, Tinker, Soldier, Spy, the former still one of my most highly-ranked Buddies Forever Movie Club films. This January I returned to Melbourne and made it a point to see another movie with Australian Buddy Forever Josh Bell.

It was a tough choice between Gangster Squad and Silver Linings Playbook. I say tough because between Bell’s love of gangsters and playbooks, and my fondness for squads and silver linings, well we just couldn’t seem to make up our minds. Luckily time made the ultimate decision and we saw the later showing of Gangster Squad.

Australia's Josh Bell
Here’s how IMDb describes the film: “Los Angeles, 1949: A secret crew of police officers led by two determined sergeants work together in an effort to take down the ruthless mob king Mickey Cohen who runs the city.”

The film is loosely based upon true events and is essentially the story of how the mob, which has never had a foothold in the city, was kept out of Los Angeles. Of course that story was glorified, embellished and given the Hollywood treatment, but the material still proved captivating. I didn’t have high hopes for Gangster Squad going in, and I left feeling I got what I expected. I’m not saying that it was a great movie, because it wasn't, but it entertained me throughout.

The thing with Gangster Squad, at least for me, was that it would have made a better television series than a movie. Had the story unfolded organically over time and the characters properly developed it could have been awesome. Instead, we got a turbo version where everything was squeezed into a 113-minute timeframe.

As previously mentioned, the story was appealing but ultimately it was rushed. The transitions for scene to scene, no matter how much time had passed or travel was required, was instantaneous. This warped the timeframe and I can honestly say that I have no idea how much time the film covered. Did it take place over a few months or a few years? I’m not sure.

While I liked the story, my favorite part about the film were the performances. The cast was chalk full of A-list actors, and even though their characters weren’t fully developed, they were fun to watch. That applied especially to Sean Penn, who played the boxer-turned-gangster Mickey Cohen. Penn is a great actor with a tremendous range and it was exciting to watch him portray such a power-hungry, immoral and capitalistic criminal. It didn’t turn out to be an iconic role by any means, but it was a solid performance and showed that Penn has what it takes to play a mean bad guy.

On the flip side were protagonists Sgt. John O’Mara and Sgt. Jerry Wooters, played by Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling respectively. I was under the impression that the film would center around the latter actor, but the filmmakers did a good job balancing him with Brolin. I think both men are good at what they do, and that’s what they were in Gangster Squad—good not great.

The same can be said for the supporting cast, which included Anthony Mackie (who will play The Falcon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Robert Patrick, Michael Pena and Giovanni Ribisi. They rounded out the Gangster Squad and each of their characters were interesting, but due to poor development they didn’t really make an emotional connection with the audience.

I will say that I was impressed by both Nick Nolte and Emma Stone. The former had a small part as the chief of police, but he made the most of his time onscreen. Nolte is getting up there in years, which haven’t treated him too kindly, but it’s still fun to watch him do what he does in suitable roles. Regarding Stone, I must admit she’s becoming quite the sex symbol, which surprises me given past roles she’s had. I’ve always imagined her as a good girl, but I’m becoming convinced that just might not be the case. I also think Stone and Gosling had good onscreen chemistry, much like they did in Crazy, Stupid, Love.

I didn’t care too much for Gangster Squad, but then again I didn’t hate it either. It was entertaining, and that’s all I ask for from a movie. Will it win any awards? Certainly not (it’s more on par with Lawless), but if you’re looking for some quick and cheap thrills for a couple hours Gangster Squad should do the trick.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 58%

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