Thursday, August 1, 2013

Quartet of Wild Angels

     Today we cover a bi-sexual three way romance, another bi-sexual three way romance, and a tale about an elderly foursome.  Always trying to keep you on your toes here at TheMovieFrog.  Age before beauty...

  Quartet - This film was the directorial debut of acting legend Dustin Hoffman.  While it is not the most deeply affecting film you are likely to see this year, nor the most imaginatively rendered, it is a solid ensemble performance piece.  Often when actors are transitioning into the role of director, the aspect of the job that comes most naturally is motivating and guiding other actors.  Such would certainly seem to be the case here.  To Mr. Hoffman's credit, he chose a script that lent to great performances.  Academy winning writer Ronald Harwood (who adapted from his own stage play) has certainly written more ambitious scripts (The Pianist, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), yet Quartet does an excellent job of providing interesting character frameworks for the actors to build upon.
     The film really is an actor's showcase first and foremost.  Although all four of the primary actors do extraordinary work, bringing well rounded characters to life, Tom Courtenay is probably the least memorable.  I do not think we can hold it against him too much, though, as every comedic ensemble must have a "straight man", and Reginald is the (relatively) reasonable member of the title group.  He is a bit curmudgeonly, but once men round a certain age that passes for suave.  Billy Connolly is his polar opposite and best friend as the outlandish and delightfully cheeky scoundrel Wilf.  The "oafish clown whose external nature masks a true self that is calm and wise" persona has certainly been done numerous times before, but Connolly brings real charm and sincerity to the role, embellishing a slightly tired character "type" with genuine humanity.
     The ladies REALLY steal this show, however.  Pauline Collins plays Cissy, a delightfully daft alto who appears to be in the early stages of dementia.  What she lacks in reliable cognitive function, she more than makes up for in radiant goodness.  It is impossible not to love Cissy, even as you laugh at her slow ruination, then hate yourself just a little for doing so.  Ms. Collins never treats Cissy as a joke, and the effects of this choice enhance both the character's comedy and pathos in equal measure.  Then, of course, there is the truly incomparable Maggie Smith. No one plays the crusty old Brit with a heart of gold quite like Smith, and that is exactly the sort of role that Jean, the film's true diva, qualifies as in spades.  While it's not exactly new territory for the veteran actress, it is terrain she travels in style.
      In many ways, we've seen the story of Quartet before.  It is essentially Cocoon without the fountain of youth.  However, we have rarely seen this tale told with such a consistently high quality of acting talent involved, and this keeps the film well worth paying attention to.  I wouldn't say that Hoffman has knocked it out of the park with his directorial debut, but he hits a solid double...4 out of 5 stars.

  Angels of Sex - As I mentioned before, this film and Young and Wild are very similar in terms of both story line and thematic center.  Both films involve a central character caught in a love triangle in which they have fallen for two people, one of each sex.  As such, both films delve wholeheartedly into questions of gender identity, sexual orientation, and society's relative acceptance of the bisexual.  I have to admit that I preferred Angels of Sex, but this could be because I find it more relevant to my own life experience, having gone through a phase of my life when I was a guy sexually involved with both genders.
     You also can't argue with the power of eye candy, and all three of the leads in this story are definitely pretty to look at.  Astrid  Berges-Frisbey plays Carla, who starts out as the woman wronged when her boyfriend gets a boyfriend of his own. She previously crossed over into English language films in Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides.  Lorenc Gonzalez plays Bruno, the boyfriend with the wandering eye and Kinsey scale score. His previous acting experience has mostly been on Spanish language television.   Both of these actors give fine performances, but it is Alvaro Cervantes (who may be recognizable to English speaking viewers from the feature Hanna) in the role of the tempter Rai, who steals the show for me.  Of course, as the tempter Rai, he is meant to steal everything, but he does so remarkably well.
     I won't say that Angels of Sex is a revolutionary film or that it revisits its story's ideas with a lot of original insight.  I WILL say that it was entertaining, and featured a believable and palpable chemistry among the cast's central trio.  It also managed to mislead me at the end, faking me out a bit.  As many movies as I watch, that has to count for something...4 out of 5 stars.

  Young and Wild - Then there's the OTHER mixed gender three way romance of this post.  I actually had somewhat higher hopes for this film.  I found the mixed message of spirituality played against more bestial instincts to be thematically intriguing, but didn't ever really feel as if the film developed these ideas enough for my liking.  While I did see potential in the film making technique of director Marialy Rivas (this is her first international breakout feature, and the second one period), her skills as both a writer and a director may still be a little too raw to handle such ambitious subtext gracefully or in manner that probes it deeply enough. I do hope that she sticks with it, and meets enough success that she flies onto TheMovieFrog radar again.
     I WAS quite impressed with the film's young star Alicia Rodriguez, who brought a sort of bemused vitality to her role.  If anything was lacking in her performance, it would be chemistry with her two co-stars, but I found them lackluster next to her in general, so this may have been due to no fault of Ms. Rodriguez's.
     All in all, Young and Wild was a film with several great moments that never quite found a cohesive whole to belong to...3 1/2 of 5 stars.