The Dinner (2016) starring Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, & Rebecca Hall

[1] Nobody can accuse The Dinner of being unambitious, but I would like to accuse it of being an ambitious mess. 

[2] What happens when your are face to face with a clear moral dilemma? Can you bury your integrity in lies? Surely, such a deception will haunt you if you have a conscience. Self interest makes it harder to do the right thing, and this test will be faced by everyone at some point in their life.

[3] The enablers… are not helpful. They help perpetuate the problem via denial and/or self-interest. Unfortunately, this is how many families deal with mental illness: by winging it and not bothering to look up symptoms of abnormal and/or destructive behavior, and/or to consult with experts when these behaviors emerge.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

A former high school history teacher, Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan- an Englishman I’d only seen in Philomena) and his wife/cancer survivor, Claire (Laura Linney- one of my faves), meet at an exclusive restaurant w/ his older brother/congressman, Stan (Richard Gere), and his much younger wife, Kate (Rebecca Hall). Paul (who sees the negative side of life) obviously doesn’t want to be there; he has a very strained relationship w/ Stan and thinks that this food is extravagant. The plan is to discuss over dinner how to handle a crime committed by their teenage sons, Mike and Rick. We see in flashbacks the teens harassing a homeless woman, throwing garbage at her, then setting an ATM building on fire (w/ her inside). This was filmed, uploaded online (by Stan’s adopted black son- Beau), and made the local news. The boys have not been identified yet; the parents are very anxious about how this will affect their future.

Stan’s tireless assistant, Nina (Adepero Oduyo from 12 Years a Slave) is in the sitting room, holding his calls. Stan is a very busy man, running for governor and trying to pass a mental heath bill (partly b/c his own family has been affected by this issue). Kate is the one who truly knows Stan’s kids, as she has time for them (his ex-wife Barbara, played by Chloe Sevigny, has run away to India). We learn that the brothers’ mother was abusive, esp. to Paul. Stan was favored and had to be “the man of the house” (since their father was “checked out” emotionally). Paul lost his job after he lost his cool (in front of his class), cursing and insulting them. He was placed on meds, though stopped taking them (wanting to “feel like my old self”). Claire noticed that he was hiding the pills, yet didn’t say anything. 

This film has an interesting premise and tries to tackle big issues: morality, loyalty, mental illness, family dysfunction, and different fears (losing a spouse to illness, losing a child to jail, etc.) It’s not effectively put together, unfortunately. The sound design is bad (at times), the camera moves around (for no reason), and the editing is choppy. The characters turn out to be unlikable, yet not in an entertaining way. (A few viewers mentioned that the play Carnage tackles some of the same issues, but in a more interesting way.) The ending of the film is very abrupt- it’s as if the producers ran out of money! 

The author of the book “The Dinner” (Herman Koch) walked away from the European premiere of this film in early 2017. The Dutchman did not wish to stay for the after-party to talk to the director (Owen Moverman), cast members, or audience. Koch thought the scriptwriter had transferred his cynical story into a moral tale. He esp. disliked the movie’s reference to themes like American violence and the stigma of mental illness. A Dutch film came out in 2013, then an Italian one in 2014; both were well received and nominated for many awards.

I think it needed to be trimmed down. I loved the performances, esp. Rebecca Hall; I think she’s great in everything. I wasn’t bored. I was exasperated on some occasions. 

-Comments from Mark Kermode’s review (see below)

 

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North by Northwest (1959) starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, & Martin Landau

While filming Vertigo (1958), Alfred Hitchcock described some of the plot to its star/frequent collaborator James Stewart, who naturally assumed that Hitchcock meant to cast him in the Roger Thornhill role. This time, the director wanted Cary Grant, who he thought looked younger (though, at 55 y.o. was 4 yrs older than Stewart). By the time Hitchcock realized the misunderstanding, Stewart was so eager to play the lead that rejecting him would’ve caused a great deal of disappointment. Hitchcock decided to delay production until Stewart was already committed to Anatomy of a Murder before officially offering him the North by Northwest role. Stewart had to turn down the offer, allowing Hitchcock to cast Grant.

Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself “slightly” killed. -Roger describes himself

A Madison Ave ad man, Roger Thornhill (Grant), finds himself in the world of spies when he is mistaken for someone named George Kaplan. A British man, Philip Vandamm (James Mason), along w/ his henchman Leonard (Martin Landau) and others try to kill Roger. In a meeting room somewhere, a group of FBI agents (headed by The Professor), are discussing the dilemma of Mr. Kaplan- a decoy, not a real man. Roger investigates, though even his mother is skeptical, and eventually gets framed for murder. He manages to flee the police and runs on board the 20th Century Limited (a train) headed for Chicago. Roger meets a beautiful blond, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who decides to hide him in her sleeper berth. He wonders why she’s being so helpful. Vandamm and his men continue to pursue Roger. 

The moment I meet an attractive woman, I have to start pretending I have no  desire to make love to her. -Roger admits sheepishly

What makes you think you have to conceal it? -Eve asks, matter-of-factly

She might find the idea objectionable. -Roger explains

Then again, she might not. -Eve replies

Though this film is fast-moving and efficiently made, MGM wanted the film cut by 15 mins (to be under 2 hrs). Hitchcock’s contract gave him control over the final cut (which is the most power that can be given to a director). Eva Marie Saint said that Alfred Hitchcock was unhappy with costumes MGM had designed for her, so marched her to Bergdorf Goodman (a department store) and personally picked out clothes for her character. When Landau’s character first sees Grant’s, he comments: “He’s a well-tailored one.” All of Landau’s suits for the film were made by Grant’s personal tailor. The clothes are fabulous (esp. the black and red floral evening dress worn by Eve in Chicago). Grant even has a shirtless scene, proving that clothes don’t only make the man. 

[1] This film has something for everyone within it: a little comedy, a little romance, great snappy dialogue and action… 

[2] There is great acting and a great story. You should be engaged and intrigued, and always surprised and what will occur next. 

[3] Of course the famous crop dusting plane scene and the Mount Rushmore chase are terrific. The former is really more notable for the amount of time taken to build up to the action than the action itself, while the technical work on the latter still looks pretty good. 

[4] Roger Thornhill is one of the best roles Mr. Grant played, during his long career. His chemistry with Eva Marie Saint is perfect. 

[5] Cary Grant’s debonair manner is displayed to the full in this film, even though the peril that his character goes through would cause any normal dude to break into a maddening sweat. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The Two Faces of January (2014) starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, & Oscar Isaac

[1] In turns enchanting, brooding and cowed like a cornered animal, he [Isaac] plays the perfect James Stewart character in this Hitchcockian homage.

[2] The narrative is very well-balanced and restrained from the hyperactive traps of modern cinematic storytelling.

[3] Not so much a morality play as a tale of amorality, this psychological drama makes for a movie that is moody and deeply satisfying.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The principal relationship in this film (referred to as “a reto reworking of film noir” by one viewer) is between two men (one of them married; the other drawn to his wife). Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) is a rich American touring Greece w/ his younger wife, Colette, (Kirsten Dunst). The man who is intrigued by them is young tour guide, Rydal Keener (Oscar Issac), who is also American (yet able to blend in w/ the locals due to his language skills). Chester reminds Rydal of his father, who recently passed away, and w/ whom he had a difficult relationship. At first, Rydal thinks he has the upper hand; soon he realizes that he may have taken on too much by offering the couple his help. Who is the true con-man here? 

Adapted by the director, Hossein Amini (who is British-Iranian), from a novel by Patricia Highsmith (The The Talented Mr. Ripley; Strangers on a Train), this film is an atmospheric, well-acted thriller set in beautiful locations (Athens, Crete, and Istanbul) w/ great (’60s) costumes. Amini knows how to heighten the tension as the film goes on. This film is tightly edited, which adds to its effectiveness. The music fits very well w/ the action, too. You can watch it on Netflix. 

 

 

 

Christian Bale (& co-stars) discuss new movie: Hostiles

Set in 1892, Hostiles tells the story of a legendary Army Captain (Christian Bale), who after stern resistance, reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family back to tribal lands. Making the harrowing and perilous journey from Fort Berringer, an isolated Army outpost in New Mexico, to the grasslands of Montana, the former rivals encounter a young widow (Rosamund Pike), whose family was murdered on the plains. Together, they must join forces to overcome the punishing landscape, hostile Comanche and vicious outliers that they encounter along the way. -Synopsis for the film

This “revisionist” Western film is written/directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart). The cast includes Academy-Award winner Bale and nominee- Pike (also a Brit). Veteran character actor  Studi (who is of Navajo heritage); you may know him as the imposing antagonist, Magua, on The Last of the Mohicans. The supporting cast includes Stephen Lang, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster (Hell or High Water), Adam Beach (who is Canadian from the Ojibwa nation; co-starred on SVU), Q’orianka Kilcher (Bale’s co-star on The New World) and up-and-comer Timothee Chalamet (currently on big screens in Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird). 

Official trailer for the movie:

 

Some of the cast and director talk re: the film at TIFF:

 

Christian Bale on CBS This Morning:

 

Bale, Rosamund Pike, & Wes Studi on BUILD (a live interview series in NYC):  

 

A relaxed, in-depth interview (shot in LA) w/ DP30: The Oral History of Hollywood:

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (NOW PLAYING) starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, & Oscar Isaac

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for the new Star Wars movie.

Growing up, mentorship, and the search for belonging (identity) continue to be themes in this sci-fi movie series. The Last Jedi is also re: growing old and regret (esp. when it comes to Luke and even Leia). Early filming began on Skellig Michael Island (off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland) in September 2015 w/ Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley. It was speculated by MANY fans that Rey is actually the long lost daughter of Luke. Being the prankster that he is, Mark Hamill made a comment, accidentally referring to Daisy Ridley as “my dau… I mean my colleague.” Luke wants no part of fighting, throwing his lightsaber over his shoulder (much to Rey’s dismay and surprise).

The island has some cute (new) creatures- the Porgs and “caretakers.” There are some touching moments (esp. for long-time fans) when Luke sees the Falcon (Han Solo’s old ship), reunites w/ Chewy, and bumps into R2-D2. Chewy can’t eat the roasted Porg b/c he feels guilty- one of the funniest moments in the movie. There is a good amount of humor in this movie.

There is more of lovable rogue Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac)- YAY! He’s in the cool battle at the start, along w/ co-pilot BB-8, and also makes fun of Gen. Hux (Domnhall Gleeson). You can’t deny the great chemistry between Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a new character. Tran did not tell anyone she was doing a Star Wars movie, instead saying she was working on an indie film in Canada. She even got some maple syrup to bring back to her parents. Finn and Rose go to an island like Vegas (and Monte Carlo); this was a quite different world for Star Wars

“This movie introduces new stuff into The Force” (as reviewers on Collider noted), such as the connection between Rey and Kylo Ren- formerly known as Ben Solo- (Adam Driver). These scenes were quite effective, thanks to the sound design, and the acting skills of both actors. I watched Driver on Girls (HBO); the more I see, the more I appreciate his acting. He is an unconventional leading man, not just b/c of this looks, but b/c he is easily able to convey confusion and vulnerability. Rey thinks that Kylo isn’t totally lost, though he’s trying to pull her over to the Dark Side of the Force. And did you hear re: how Driver didn’t know what “emo” meant (until recently)? Social media was buzzing about this.

Leia (Carrie Fischer- in her final role) finally uses the Force- I didn’t expect that! She had begun training as a Jedi shortly after the events of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983). Motherhood, and troubles in the Galactic Senate, caused her to cut that short. Fischer was also a writer; she helped Rian Johnson with the writing of the script for this film.