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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Vertigo (1958) starring James Stewart & Kim Novak

Hitch was quite upset at he failure of the film when it was first released; he blamed this on James Stewart for “looking too old” (nearly 50 y.o.) to attract large audiences. Bernard Herrmann’s musical score was inspired by Wagner’s Tristan & Isolde which is also about doomed love. This film was the first to use computer graphics. The second-unit cameraman (most likely) invented the famous zoom/out and track/in shot to convey the sense of vertigo to the audience. 

Let’s not probe too deeply into these matters, Kim. It’s only a movie. -Director Alfred Hitchcock explained to actress Kim Novak (when she asked for more info on her character’s motivation during a scene)

John “Scottie” Ferguson (Stewart) is a middle-aged/retired/detective who suffers from acrophobia. He is a bachelor who is still good friends w/ his former fiance, Midge Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes), who works in fashion merchandising (being an artist). An old friend from college, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), calls Scottie to his office (in the San Francisco shipyards) and asks him to follow his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak). Gavin explains her unusual behaviors and fears she is losing her mind, though he hasn’t discussed the matter w/ any medical professionals. Scottie is skeptical, BUT agrees after seeing the beautiful Madeleine. 

Stewart would NOT be one you would think of portraying a voyeur and a stalker, yet he pulls it off so well. As one viewer commented (see #TCMParty on Twitter): “Vertigo shows how versatile Jimmy Stewart could really be. That’s the sign of a great actor.” Another movie fan tweeted: “This is where Jimmy’s ‘nice guy’ persona becomes so effective. It’s esp. painful to see him reduced to this.” He enables viewers to sympathize w/ him, even as we cringe at his character’s actions and decisions. 

Hitchcock set his film in San Francisco, a city well known for its unique topography and hilly landscape, in order to add a further torment to Scottie’s life and emphasize the debilitating nature of his vertigo. Location shoots were done at the Big Basin Redwoods State Park and the Spanish mission at San Juan Bautista. Hitch spent a week filming a brief scene where Madeleine stares at a portrait just to get the lighting right. After Judy has been made over into Madeleine, she and Scottie kiss; the actors were on a revolving circular platform (a la Gone with the Wind). 

Vertigo is full of scenes where the colors have been saturated or changed to create a special feeling. Hitchcock even went so far as to openly dye some frames is bright unnatural colors. He played around with colors in all his color films, but never as much as in this one. -Excerpt from IMDB review

Much is done with color and light in this film; you will notice it (even upon first viewing). I noticed more tonight- my second time viewing it fully. An astute viewer noted: “Am noticing for the first time that each scene is pretty monotone – yellow, red, redder, green, blue.” The lighting changes when important events occur. Here are some examples: 1) When Scottie first sees Madeleine in the restaurant, the light around her becomes unnaturally bright. 2) While Scottie is listening to the story of Madeleine’s ancestor in the bookstore, it gets very dark; once he exits, it brightens again. 3) When Scottie first sees Judy made over as Madeleine, she is lit by a ghostly green light (the reflected light from the neon sign outside). On this point, a viewer tweeted: “Bathed in the color green… the ghost of Madeleine is wiping out Judy’s identity.”

There’s a dark sexiness to the film that lends the film an air of mature and serious art. Barbara Bel Geddes’ tragic Midge practically throws herself at Stewart’s Scottie Ferguson, while Novak’s “Madeleine Elster” seems rather matter of fact when she realized that Ferguson had completely undressed her after saving her from death. Later, as Judy Barton, her real identity, she shows a frank knowledge of pickups, sizing Ferguson up as a masher. Judy, it seems, has been around the block once or twice. Where earlier Hitchcock movies played coy with sex, here he tackles the subject head on, and it adds to the film’s mature atmosphere. -The Hitchcock Report blog

The words “power” and “freedom” are repeated three times in the movie: 1) In the beginning, Gavin longs for the old San Francisco b/c there was more power and freedom. 2) At the bookstore, the elderly history buff explains that, in Carlotta Valdes’ time, a man could just throw a woman away b/c he had more power and freedom. 3) During the climax, John suggests that after the murder was completed, Gavin left Judy b/c he had more power and freedom (w/ his wife’s fortune). 

[1] Vertigo is Alfred Hitchcock’s most discussed, dissected and critically reappraised film…

[2] This movie is so deep that you could write a thesis on it and keep adding to it from time to time… Hitchcock really gave his all in this picture… it’s about the ultimate love… wanting to achieve the ultimate love, and, as happens in life, never having love turn out to be the way we want it to be…

[3] If a flaw is to be found, I would say that the script developed for the film was probably not the most friendly for the audience. This film is certainly not for everyone, as it’s slow pace and heavy darkness in the subject may turn off people familiar with Hitchcock’s lighter films as his usual dark humor is not present here…

[4] Hitchcock is in his very best form creating hypnotic scenes and a general sense of unease and dread in even the most banal of situations. A particular favourite of mine is the extended (largely silent) segment where Stewart follows Novak for the first time. Nothing much happens, but the atmosphere of these scenes is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat!

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

 

 

Rear Window (1954) starring James Stewart & Grace Kelly

This month (July) TCM has been showing Hitchcock’s films every MON & WED; Rear Window is probably my fave of his films. (Strangers on a Train would come in second, b/c WHO could resist the devilish Robert Walker!?) This is a simple story, BUT there is a LOT going on (once you watch it a few times)! Most of you know the synopsis (below from IMDB): 

Professional photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries breaks his leg while getting an action shot at an auto race. Confined to his New York [Chelsea] apartment, he spends his time looking out of the rear window observing the neighbors. He begins to suspect that a man across the courtyard may have murdered his wife. Jeff enlists the help of his high society fashion-consultant girlfriend Lisa Freemont and his visiting nurse Stella to investigate.

When two people love each other, they come together – WHAM – like two taxis on Broadway. -Stella tells Jeff her view of relationships

The relationship between Jeff (James Stewart) and Lisa (Grace Kelly) is a BIT complicated; they are VERY attracted to each other, BUT have different lifestyles and personalities. Jeff thinks that Lisa is TOO good for him; you can tell by the way he describes her (to others and also during their evening dates at home). Lisa is (obviously) waiting for him to settle down (note the comment about the art gallery) and ask for her hand in marriage (b/c she loves him a LOT, putting up w/ his quirks). Straight-talking Stella (Thelma Ritter- always a delight) bemoans the fact that courtships have become SO complicated (LOL- a LOT of modern/single people would agree).

Stewart gets to flex his acting muscles in this darkly comic role. You can’t help but laugh at a LOT of Jeff’s lines, the way he looks, and generally expresses himself. He doesn’t have the luxury of much movement, being confined to a wheelchair (though is still VERY effective). Lisa is willing to make their lives work together, though he has doubts. And when she faces danger, Jeff realizes just how much he loves her! 

[1] Alfred Hitchcock is considered by most to be the master of suspense. I believe he was also a master of understanding human nature. He intuitively understood that human beings are voyeurs by nature, not in the perverted sense, but in the curious sense. 

[2] The acting is superb in this film. Jimmy Stewart is unabashedly obsessed as the lead character. Photographers have an innate visual perceptiveness and the ability to tell a story with an image and Stewart adopts this mindset perfectly. Grace Kelly has often been accused of being the “Ice Maiden” in her films, yet in this film she is assertive and even reckless. Though cool at times, she is often playful and rambunctious. 

[3] The main characters are wonderfully portrayed and full of life. The apparently simple setting in an apartment complex is developed into a world filled with intriguing and sometimes unsettling possibilities, and this apparently average neighborhood comes to life with a wealth of lavish visual detail and interesting minor characters.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews