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Don’t-Miss List: ‘Quartet,’ ‘Beauty Is Embarrassing’ and More

See it! Hear it! Read it! Do it! The best in movies, TV, music, books and beyond

Forget the rom-com. These days, it’s all about the ret-com. The latest “retirement comedy,” Quartet, directed by 75-year-old Dustin Hoffman, stars 78-year-old Maggie Smith ("Downton Abbey") as a reluctant new arrival at an English countryside retirement home that caters entirely to former stage performers. It’s a light-hearted look at the aging diva’s ultimate dilemma: how do you cope with life outside the spotlight?
Beauty Is Embarrassing, PBS, Independent Lens, Jan. 21, 10 p.m.
“I’m a middle-aged man living out a 5-year-old’s fantasy,” says artist Wayne White, whose life and work is chronicled in this documentary that took the indie film fest circuit by storm. Best known for his work as set designer and puppeteer for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, White’s story will captivate and inspire anyone who’s ever dreamed of devoting his life to following his own creative impulses.
West of Memphis, Voices for Justice, Various Artists
For two decades, the plight of the West Memphis 3 has troubled those who’ve followed the case. When three teenagers were wrongfully convicted in 1994 of murdering three little boys in West Memphis, Ark., the story attracted the attention of filmmakers, celebrities and musicians alike. This benefit soundtrack from the recent documentary of the same name features an all-star lineup of supporters, including Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, Henry Rollins, Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp, Natalie Maines and Patti Smith. The music is as haunting as the tragic tale itself.
She Matters: A Life in Friendships, Susanna Sonnenberg
In this memoir chronicling the women she has liked, loved and lost, Susanna Sonnenberg explores the powerful bonds and nuances of female friendships, from a summer camp best friend to the woman who broke off their relationship after lunch with a terse seven-word email: “I can’t be friends with you anymore.” Your friendship history is likely to be less drama-infused than Sonnenberg’s, but her insights just might spark your own fond reminiscences of those once-special someones who got away.
"Irving Penn Underfoot" at the Art Institute of Chicago, Jan. 17 – May 12
Walking the streets of Manhattan with a stool and a camera rigged with extension tubes, fashion photographer Irving Penn lowered his eye nearly to the pavement, where he found a universe of detritus: pebbled concrete, cheap discarded matches and cigarette butts. This exhibition of those images proves that the eye of a true artist can transform something as banal and disgusting as a glob of chewing gum into an object of odd beauty.
Pamela Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles.

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