Outside of Opening and Closing Nights at the Philadelphia Film Festival, the first Saturday always includes a fantastic lineup of movies. This year was no different, so I returned to the Prince Music Theater again for 9 hours and four consecutive film screenings. First up was the Sundance hit The Sessions starring John Hawkes and Helen Hunt. I've been told over and over again about the high caliber performances they both give in this stunning true story about a 38 year old virgin confined to an iron lung who seeks out a sex therapist to help him "do the deed". Hawkes is simply outstanding in his role and I'd be downright shocked if he weren't recognized come awards season. The Sessions was a touching, but often hilarious, film that succeeds at tugging on the heartstrings. The movie packs an enormous emotional punch and it sets the bar high (along with David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook) for the rest of the entire festival.
After The Sessions, many in the audience dried their eyes and joined me for the next feature on the schedule called Stand Up Guys. Roadside Attractions was nice enough to give the Philadelphia Film Festival a copy of Stand Up Guys months before it plans to hit theatres (January or February 2013), making our audience only the second in the world to have screened the movie. Exclusivity being my thing, I sat back and enjoyed another fine film starring the legendary trio of Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin. Stand Up Guys follows Val (Pacino) as he is released from prison 28 years after a job gone wrong. Never squealing on his crew, he's greeted outside of the prison gates by his best friend Doc (Walken). The only issue being Doc has been ordered to kill Val by 10am the next day. The pair embark on one last crazy adventure that includes breaking their buddy Hirsch (Arkin) out of a retirement home, stealing a fancy sports car and helping a battered female stranger seek revenge against her attackers. Stand Up Guys was a strong feature that flashed glimpses of the Pacino of old. Keep an eye out for this one in early 2013.
The third title on my schedule was another movie, like The Sessions, garnering some Oscar buzz. Directed by the great Dustin Hoffman in his first attempt behind the camera, Quartet focuses on the crazy collection of retired musicians and opera singers living in Beecham House. This British comedy stars Maggie Smith as a famous opera singer who finds herself moving into the retirement facility which is also home to an ex-husband of hers named Reggie (played by Michael Gambon). The old pair of lovers struggle to put their past behind them in order to perform at Beecham House's annual Gala in hopes of boosting ticket sales to help save their retirement home. Quartet's brightest spots come from an excellent supporting turn given by Billy Connolly as the hysterical and still lustful (despite his old age) Beecham resident named Wilf. Quartet is simply a good movie never short on laughs, but Hoffman really struggles to offer those Oscar-worthy type of scenes necessary to make an impact during the awards season.
My Saturday evening concluded with a fourth and final feature called The Missing Piece: The Truth About the Man Who Stole the Mona Lisa. Obviously a documentary, The Missing Piece attempted to bring to life the true motive of Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian immigrant who stole Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa right off of the wall of the Louvre in France during 1911. For two whole years French police were baffled by the disappearance of the painting, with many believing it would never be recovered. However, in 1913 Vincenzo Peruggia migrated back to Italy where he was arrested for the theft and the painting was returned to Paris. But a larger question remained, why did Peruggia steal the Mona Lisa? Was it out of patriotism for his native country? Or perhaps for a huge financial gain? Then again, maybe he was just crazy? You'll have to check out The Missing Piece and discover the answer for yourself.
A Look At Today:
On the schedule for today are three lesser known films. They are The Everything Will Be Okay Trilogy, then Philadelphia's own Shane Bissett's (Temple University) feature length directorial debut This Time Tomorrow and finally Gayby. I'll be closing out the weekend on a lighter note, but remember to keep coming back for all of your 2012 Philadelphia Film Festival updates.