Monthly Archives: November 2012

"A Late Quartet"

Despite the complexity of the characters and Beethoven’s Opus 131, “A Late Quartet”, is a simple film. You can watch, take in the music and understand the struggles of the quartet members all while looking at snapshots of a New York City winter.
Christopher Walken plays the eldest member and cellist in the quartet, Peter Mitchell. He helped raise Juliette Gelbart, the violist played by Catherine Keener. Philip Seymour Hoffman is Juliette’s husband Robert, and plays the role of second violin. The dark horse, while he has long-time ties to the rest of the quartet, is Daniel Lerner (Mark Ivanir) on first violin.
At the start of the film the quartet is embarking on its 25th season performing together, primarily in New York City. Mitchell then receives the news he is diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, which is devastating to the rest of the quartet, especially Juliette.
The diagnosis serves to push the emotions, and in some cases impulses, everyone in the quartet has over the edge.
They’re like a family, which director Yaron Zilberman says in a Los Angeles Times interview is not all that uncommon for an orchestra quartet.
Zilberman sets the film against the backdrop of the Opus 131, which is said to be one of the most challenging pieces for a quartet to play.
As Mitchell describes to a class of young orchestra hopefuls, it is seven connected movements that are to be played without pause. The players cannot rest, or tune their instruments. “Our instruments must in time go out of tune, each in its own quite different way,” Mitchell says.
He talks to the class reading a poem, “Four Quartets,” by T.S. Eliot.
“Was he maybe trying to point out some cohesion, some unity between randoms act of life?” Mitchell continues: “What are we supposed to do, stop or struggle to continuously adjust to each other up to the end even if we are out of tune?”
The struggles are Mitchell’s illness, of course, but also lies, infidelity and ego between four people with a passion for music.
The Gelbarts’ grown daughter Alexandra – also a musician – is a fifth to the quartet in a way. She is in Mitchell’s class and also taught by Lerner. I think she struggles to know if she should be a musician just because her parents are and to have her own identity.
At times, though it was minimal in the scheme of the whole film, I think the strife between the characters was taken too far and at others not far enough.
The relationship between Juliette and Robert has the most strain, and love as we learn in the end, and I think that story needed to be the focus just a little bit more.
It’s hardly a flaw of the film, especially with the cast assigned to play out these roles. A lot of Robert’s struggle is tied to being second violin – both literally and in his relationship with Juliette – and I think Hoffman did the best standing out in his role.
Walken plays the subdued personality of Mitchell – despite his struggle perhaps being the worst of them all –  perfectly to balance the clash between Juliette, Robert, Daniel and even Alexandra.
Mitchell does break at one point, requiring Walken to escalate a bit, which he also does perfectly.
When the strife between the quartet – with Alexandra in the mix – goes too far it is mostly with her character.
But that’s nothing negative about Poots’ performance. If nothing else, I hope there are some acting nominations from this film when the big award season hits.
The script is deserving of recognition too with its seamless style following the continuity required in Beethoven’s Opus 131. There are times when the focus is on one character more than the other, but Zilberman and co-writer Seth Grossman bring all the parts together for closure in the end.
Viewers can take away as little or as much as they want from “A Late Quartet,” even just by listening to it in the background.
It reminds me of one of my favorite films, “Lost in Translation,” in that regard.
As with most movies, I recommend giving “A Late Quartet” a try.
However, I do suggest watching it at home. You can crank up the volume, which was a big problem in the theater my sister and I went to, and not deal with the annoyances of the audience around you.
Bravo, I say, Bravo!


“How’s your French? Slow.”
“How’s the coffee? Burnt.”

There are so many good lines in “Looper” but, for some reason, I remember that one between waitress Beatrix and Joe.
First things first, I really do need to see this movie again.
I was finally able to listen to the Hollywood Prospectus podcast about the movie, which I knew there would be spoilers in, and Andy Greenwald dropped a very interesting Easter Egg that he thought he saw during an early scene.
How did I not see that? This movie better be playing at the budget theater, stat. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be worth paying full price, even twice in a row, but who can really afford that? Not me.
Luckily I have enough thrill from the film’s magic and plot to analyze for a while.
I was expecting an action flick with a time-travel theme and for it to definitely be good. I love “Brick” by writer/director Rian Johnson and his episodes of Breaking Bad so I just knew I was in for a treat.
But it’s so much more. The visual effects, the wit, the mystery, Emily Blunt, Old Joe, Young Joe, Jeff Daniels, and a kid that can be cute and creepy at the same time.
Basically, the plot you need to know is listed on sites like IMDB:

In 2074, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe, who one day learns the mob wants to ‘close the loop’ by transporting back Joe’s future self.”

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt with a fake nose) is the Looper who eventually encounters his future self to close out his career and move to France. The nose is to make Joe look like Bruce Willis/Old Joe.
It works once you get used to looking at it, but still never really made a match between the two actors for me. Maybe it was the eyebrows.
Gordon-Levitt’s performance, along with Emily Blunt’s and Daniels’ stood out in the film. Johnson made some smart casting choices. One shortcoming, while I can’t think of another actor who could have played Willis’ role, is I feel like I’ve seen his performance before in other films.
Once Joe and Old Joe have their first encounter, the film is a chase through time that challenges two versions of the same person against each other. It’s an internal battle as much as it is an external battle with people who control the Loopers closing in as they try to fix everything the way they want it.
Joe, at least initially, wants his silver and the next 30 years of his life after closing the loop. Old Joe is not ready to let go yet and has some unfinished business.
What is at risk is what stands between him and his younger self and people who Joe has developed relationships with in his life outside of being a hitman. Or, he could develop relationships with them in the future.
Joe (the younger one) I think, is ultimately in control. He just has to decide what he is willing to give up in the present at the risk of ruining his future plan.
There is some confusion in the plot, as can be expected with any futuristic story that explores time travel, , but Johnson brings it full circle.
I didn’t know how long “Looper” would last in the theater, not because it’s a bad movie, but because people who don’t absolutely love science fiction, someone in the cast or the director may not give it a chance.
Now having seen it I recommend people — no matter what your taste in movies is — take that chance.
Johnson has managed to take a film with so many components and genre samples and make it for a universal audience.
I am feeding off the Hollywood Prospectus podcast again here, but I do need to stress how Emily Blunt’s performance really took the film to another level. It was the component to the film that, I think, makes it accessible for everyone to have a benefit in their viewing experience.
I’ve liked all of Blunt’s roles, but this one will push her more into leading lady territory.
Johnson clearly has it together when in charge of a script and behind the camera and I also want to see more from him. He doesn’t appear to have any titles on the way, but that’s okay with me. “Looper” is worth a second, and maybe even third look.