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January 25, 2013

Reel Advice:
Quartet, Hollywood to Dollywood

BY
GREGG SHAPIRO

Quartet, Hollywood to Dollywood
In theaters: Senior scene

In 2012, senior citizens got the respect and the screen time that they deserved. From The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to Amour, characters who had lived a lifetime had their say onscreen. At nearly 80, Maggie Smith remains one of the hardest working women in show business. Not only did she appear (and steal every scene in which she appeared) in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but she also left her unmistakable mark on Quartet (The Weinstein Company), directed by Dustin Hoffman.

The foursome of the title refers to the quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto performed, in their youth and at the peak of their operatic skills by Jean (Maggie Smith), Reggie (Tom Courtenay), Wilf (Billy Connolly) and Cissy (Pauline Collins), all of whom now reside in Beecham House, a community for retired musicians. Each character bring along a set of traits that are at turns amusing and tragic. Flirtatious Wilf, the "dirty old man" of the gang, peppers his speech with innuendo and his pursuit of young Dr. Cogan (Sheridan Smith) borders on sexual harassment. Everyone loves dizzy Cissy whose mental faculties fail her on a regular basis. Poor, put-upon Reggie keeps track of all slights against him, but is nevertheless a good friend to Wilf.

However, it's grand dame Jean's arrival that creates the most havoc and opera-sized drama. The unfaithful ex-wife of Reggie, Jean's superiority complex stirs up all sorts of hard feelings at Beecham. Not to mention the fact that it was kept from Reggie that Jean would be the newest resident. Reggie, who never recovered from Jean's betrayal, is dazed by her presence. Since life is especially short at that stage, Reggie and Jean do make an attempt to come to terms with the shards of their brief marriage.

While Jean and Reggie rebuild their relationship, the annual Beecham House gala approaches. An important event in terms of raising funds to keep the institution up and running for its residents, the gala is without a headliner. Pushy and rude director Cedric (Michael Gambon) thinks that including Jean on the bill is essential to the event's success. Of course, convincing her to take part may be the greatest challenge any of the residents have ever faced.

Ronald Harwood, who wrote the screenplay based on his play Quartet, keeps the action stagey and theatrical, which alternately suits and stifles the material. Making his feature film directing, Hoffman proves himself to be as natural behind the camera as he is in front of it. But Quartet really belongs to the duo of Smith and Collins. Courtenay and Connolly are perfectly fine, but the screen practically glows whenever Smith and Collins illuminate it.

Quartet, Hollywood to Dollywood
At home: Divas on DVD

Hot gay identical twin brothers Gary and Larry Lane (OK, get your mind out of the gutter!) have more than just their striking appearance in common. They also share a mutual adoration of Dolly Parton. John Lavin's doc Hollywood to Dollywood (Breaking Glass), follows the "kids with big dreams" who came to Hollywood to "make it" on their quest to meet Parton and present her with Full Circle, the screenplay they wrote which features a part written especially for her.

The North Carolina-born 35 year old twins' coming out story also features prominently in the doc. From a religious family (in which swearing on a bible was a regular occurrence), the boys' complex relationship with their Southern Baptist mother is a subject that causes them great distress and is one of the doc's recurring themes.

Beginning shortly before the boys, and Gary's boyfriend Mike Bowen, leave California in an RV named Jolene on a journey that will take them across eight states and almost 2,250 miles, Hollywood to Dollywood is a refreshing direction in road movies. Including meetings and interviews with friend and gay actor Chad Allen, actress Ann Walker, Oscar-winning gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, out actor Leslie Jordan, actress Beth Grant and dollymania.net editor Duane, as well as folk and Dolly devotees they meet along the way, Dolly remains the driving force in the film.

Editing their lengthy script while on the road so that it is presentable to Dolly, the plan is to arrive in Pigeon Forge TN, home of Dollywood, in time for the theme park's 25th anniversary. The thought is that Dolly, who will be in attendance, will be the most accessible during the festivities. But there are unforeseen forces at work, including the devastating flooding that occurred in Nashville in 2010.

Along the way, there are stops at the Cadillac Ranch in TX, the Fayetteville AR hair salon where friend Cody Renegar (who has his own powerful coming out story to tell) works, Arkansas gay bar Tangerine and Night of 1,000 Dollys in Knoxville. Once they arrive in Pigeon Forge (after paying homage to the Dolly Parton statue), the twins have three chances to get screenplay to Dolly. But those plans go awry. When they finally do get the chance to meet Dolly and give her the script and custom birdhouse (made by Mike), they are touched that she remembers their names from when they previously met in Los Angeles.

To paraphrase Dolly, Hollywood to Dollywood "shines like the sun." The collective love shared for Dolly by the twins, their friends and chosen family, and those they meet on their trip, is a testament to Parton's influence on the culture at large and on the LGBT community in particular. Book passage on Jolene and you won't be sorry. DVD special features include extended and deleted scenes, extended interviews, filmmaker Q&As and more.

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It might not seem possible, but the Blu-ray A MusiCares Tribute to Barbra Streisand (Shout Factory), which should have been a momentous occasion is uneven, dull and disappointing. Honored at the 2011 MusiCares Preson of the Year, Streisand was feted at a gala affair in L.A. in February 2011 and the Blu-ray captures more than a dozen performances from the evening.

Diana Krall's performance of "Down With Love" pales in comparison with Streisand's renowned rendition, but you can tell that Krall (who worked with Streisand on her 2009 Love is the Answer disc) feels genuine affection for Barbra. Seal's performance of "Guilty" is exceptional, especially when he occasionally brings Barry Gibb to mind. Also delivering knockout performances were Lea Michelle ("My Man"), Faith Hill (with a beautiful interpretation of "Send in the Clowns"), a classy Tony Bennett ("Smile"), and Kristin Chenoweth and Matthew Morrison (the Bacharach/David "One Less Bell to Answer/A House Is Not a Home" medley).

As with any concert event with a variety of acts, A MusiCares Tribute to Barbra Streisand has its share of sour notes. Barry Manilow's Vegas schmaltz version of "Memory" has his trademark key changes. Stevie Wonder and Arturo Sandoval's off-kilter take on "People" and Herbie Hancock and young jazz vocalist Nikki Yanofsky "On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever)/Lazy Afternoon" medley were among the lowlights.

Bill Maher was there to pay tribute to "Streisand the citizen," and did so with humor and respect. Streisand herself closed the concert with "The Windmills of Your Mind" and "The Promise (I'll Never Say Goodbye)," a pair of Marilyn and Alan Bergman compositions. The Blu-ray contains no bonus material.

 
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