Bid farewell (maybe) to one of the greatest modern filmmakers and welcome a legendary actor’s first time behind the camera.
Steven Soderbergh swore he was retiring from theatrical filmmaking roughly a year and a half go, preferring to paint than direct another movie. Since then, he released two of his most popcorn-fun films (Haywire and Magic Mike) and has a pair slated for this year, the Liberace biopic for HBO, Behind the Candelabra (starring Michael Douglas as the lead, with Matt Damon, Rob Lowe, and Dan Aykroyd leading the typical stellar supporting cast), and Side Effects, which may very well be the last time a new Soderbergh film plays on the big screen. (Long-form television is apparently still a possibility down the line.) The film stars Rooney Mara (Lisbeth in the U.S. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as a young wife who, having trouble coping with the release of her husband (Channing Tatum) from prison, turns to anti-depressants. The new pill that her psychiatrist (Jude Law) gives her, however, results in a rash of unexpected behavior and leads to trouble for all involved. As with any Soderbergh film, the subject matter could be anything and I’d be excited to see it. If this truly is the end, I’ll be sad to see Soderbergh go, but he’s left us with plenty of treats to enjoy for years to come.
Three months after it closed the Asheville Cinema Festival, Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet returns to town at both the Fine Arts and the Carolina. The actor’s directorial debut takes place at a British retirement home for musicians (inspired in part by one such actual establishment) and features an appealing cast led by Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, Billy Connolly, and Michael Gambon (in partial Dumbledore regalia). Full of charming classical tunes and a healthy dose of comedy, the film centers on four singers reuniting to perform their famous rendition of Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” and the various impediments that threaten its occurrence. Considering its similarities to another recent senior citizens ensemble, the film may as well be titled Best Exotic British Musician’s Retirement Home. If you enjoyed the Indian version, chances are good that you’ll like this even lighter tale, too. Look for my review on Friday.
Making its annual appearance is the collection of Oscar Nominated Short Films. This year, it appears that finalists for the animated, live-action, and documentary fields will screen at the Carolina, though how it’s all split up has yet to be announced. Typically, these presentations offer a wide range of both topic and quality, plus deliver arguably the most bang for the buck of any local screening, with the total time almost certain to exceed three hours. They also may or may not help you win your office pool while your co-workers simply pick the funniest-sounding titles (hello, “Fresh Guacamole”!). The film most likely to have been seen is Disney’s cute “Paperman,” which played before Wreck-It Ralph, though the nominated Simpsons short, “The Longest Daycare,” must have been shown somewhere. Look for my review of the animated and live-action films on Friday.
The week’s token silly comedy, Identity Thief stars Jason Bateman as Sandy Patterson, a laid back guy whose life is shaken up when the seemingly harmless Diana (Melissa McCarthy) goes on a spree with his credit cards. When he travels to Miami to confront the criminal, her other wrongdoers also come knocking (with guns), sending the unlikely pair fleeing for their lives. Not the most promising story and writer Craig Mazin (guilty of the past two Scary Movies and Hangovers, including the upcoming third installment) hints at trouble, but the leads are certainly appealing. McCarthy has been on fire since breaking out in Bridesmaids and seems likely to expand her star this summer opposite Sandra Bullock in The Heat. Bateman is in line for some career amplification as well with the new season of Arrested Development scheduled to hit Netflix in May. The director here is Seth Gordon, mastermind of the oppressive Four Christmases, but also the exceptional arcade documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, which keeps him on the “nice” list (for now).
Lastly, Argo is back, though its DVD release is not far off.
Fleeing the Scene
Not much crying over the latest departing titles. A Royal Affair will be missed the most (which is still not much), though it feels as if Hyde Park on Hudson, Movie 43, and Parker were never in town at all.
Plenty of new offerings, a few of them noteworthy. Hosted surprisingly well by Keanu Reeves and featuring a murderer’s row of top directors, the superb documentary Side By Side examines the myriad advantages and disadvantages of celluloid vs. digital filmmaking. Sadly overlooked in its lone week at the Fine Arts back in mid-November (and not to be confused with the film opening there this weekend) is A Late Quartet. Also recommended is the Rashida Jones-Andy Samberg indie Celeste & Jesse Forever, which is plenty funny but also somewhat vapid in its hipness.
How Flight landed on multiple critics’ Best of 2012 lists is a mystery, as is its Best Original Screenplay nod over the likes of Looper and The Master. Another mystery is Tyler Perry’s casting in the ridiculous Alex Cross. As for ultimate unsolved mysteries, I am perfectly content in keeping Kevin James’ Here Comes the Boom and the uber-flop Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure as unknowns.
On Netflix Instant
After last week’s deluge, we’re left with Julia Roberts academically fighting for women’s lib in Mona Lisa Smile on the 7th and the real-life bravery of the 9/11 passengers who foiled the third plane’s terrorism (as conceived by Paul Greengrass) in United 93 on the 11th.