Quartet (PG-13, 2012, Anchor Bay)
Dull moments are rare as is in Beecham House, a retirement home for musicians that, consequently, is a haven for retirees whose mouths, egos and gifts of self-expression haven’t much aged at all. Still, what’s the harm in a little more excitement? It’s on the way in the form of Jean (Maggie Smith), an opera singer who not only achieved significant fame as a soloist, but who became a star only after bolting from a quartet that included the husband (Tom Courtenay) she left behind as well. Guess what? All four members now live under the same roof. And as Beecham House’s annual concert gala looms on the horizon, a reunion might be in order were it not so completely out of the question. Heartache is in ample supply in “Quartet,” and we haven’t even touched on the theme of aging and whiling the nights away in a retirement home instead of on a stage. But if you believe at all in that adage about aging well, “Quartet” is the movie that validates it several times over. There’s an art to laying all that heartache on the floor, sifting through it, and picking out the pieces that make it worthwhile without completely hiding the rest under the rug. “Quartet” masters this, toeing the line between poignance and sharp, sniping comedy and occasionally using its four terrific main characters (and their comparably free-speaking housemates) to crisscross and tangle that line beyond recognition. How does a movie so thoroughly about heartbreak address it head on and still feel this good? Hard to explain, but “Quartet” does it, and it’s a sight to behold. Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins and Michael Gambon also star.
Extras: Commentary with first-time director Dustin Hoffman, behind-the-scenes feature.
Stoker (R, 2013, Fox)
“Stoker” begins almost straight away with the news that the father of India (Mia Wasikowska) and husband of Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) has died in a completely senseless accident, and it is considerably more fitting than is initially apparent that this story begins this way. As it happens, it’s far from the only thing happening that’s hard to explain. India seems unusually dour even without the news of her father’s death further souring her mood. Her mother seems completely out of place in her own skin. And her uncle Charles (Matthew Goode) … well where did he even come from? Evelyn can’t really explain, and India never even knew he existed before he appeared, moved in, and provided an uncomfortably calm presence to complement the other strains of discomfort currently choking the house of any life. “Stoker” only gets stranger from here, both in terms of what happens and how it makes everyone feel, and the senselessness that encompasses the early themes doesn’t exactly disappear in favor of neat explanations (or, one could deftly argue, explanations of any variety). What potentially makes this allowable is how deliberately “Stoker” pursues the weird mood it achieves and the many ways it takes advantage of that mood once it has it in hand. Put another way? It’s extremely creepy, but confidently and freshly so. It doesn’t take much skill simply to be strange or unsettling just for the sake of it. But “Stoker” develops its own unique strain of uneasiness, and while it won’t remotely explain that sensation to everyone’s satisfaction, it sure is fun to try and read its mind.
Extras: Deleted scenes, four behind-the-scenes features, soundtrack song performance.
21 & Over (R, 2013, Fox)
Everything that happens in “21 & Over” has sorta happened before. Miller’s (Miles Teller) the friend who dropped out of college and wants to carry on pretending he isn’t an adult yet. Casey (Skylar Astin) is the business school guy who’s spending his final spring break in a joyless internship. In between is Jeff (Justin Chon), whose 21st birthday arrives the day before a crucial medical school interview that, along with immense pressure from his admittedly scary father (François Chau), has him too stressed to celebrate. But Miller persuades him to sneak out for an early-night celebration, Casey rolls his eyes while going along with it, and “Over” embarks on a wild night out that, again, has sorta happened before in other movies. At its stupidest, slapstick-iest and most outrageous, “Over” is both a remix of the classics (without fully imitating them) and an occasional attempt to out-shock them (without going overboard and prioritizing shock over comedy). In every respect, it does adequately — entertaining at worst, mostly amusing throughout, and legitimately very funny here and there. But “Over’s” best asset, amid a storyline that’s often hopelessly predictable, is Jeff. There’s an advantage to being the character sandwiched between two cliches, and without spoiling why, Jeff makes good on those advantages en route to some good surprises and a stab at sincerity that should completely fall flat but instead turns a serviceable movie into a genuinely likable one.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features, bloopers.
Movie 43 (R/NR, 2013, Fox)
Depending on criteria, there may be no movie in 2013 more extraordinary than “Movie 43,” which convinced a cruise liner’s worth of Hollywood superstars (Dennis Quaid, Emma Stone, Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Halle Berry, Naomi Watts, Stephen Merchant, and the list goes on) to slum it in what easily goes down as one of history’s worst attempts at making a funny movie. “43” stitches together multiple short films into a storyline about a screenplay pitch meeting gone wildly wrong. Those shorts’ premises vary, as does the cast of each skit, but every last one of them cherishes the same method of comedy that involves doing or saying something “outrageous” (to a fourth grader, anyway) and beating that revelation into submission in a manner even a bad “Saturday Night Live” skit would find overlong and boring. Outside of a benign double take or two, the nerve that tells the brain the body is bored is the only nerve “43” really touches. For all the talent and appetite for subversion it wields, all the movie produces is 94 long and lame minutes of A-listers suffering from enough amnesia to feel a need to show up and collect the paycheck but not enough to put in the kind of effort that keeps this whole thing from feeling strangely pitiful. Have you ever wondered what Kristen Bell’s career might look like in an alternate universe where someone else lands the lead in “Veronica Mars” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall?” Here’s your chance, and there goes the only sliver of a reason to one day catch a few minutes of this on cable or Netflix.
Extras: Unrated cut, behind-the-scenes feature.