The Dinner

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Dinner

By way of confession, it’s not often that a movie digs into my fairly shallow well of negativity. Considering how tough it is to make a good movie, it seems only fair to look for the good before turning nasty. It’s not fun to tear down the hard work of someone else unless the film is an insult to the audience. That said, The Dinner is a carefully crafted film with a fine cast that is viscerally unpleasant from beginning to end. If that’s what you want, be assured this one will please you.

Stan (Richard Gere) is a U.S. congressman now running for governor. His brother Paul (Steve Coogan) is a former history teacher who overwhelms us with his anger at everything and everyone in his world. Stan has trophy wife Kate (Rebecca Hall) at his side as he runs for office; Paul has Claire (Laura Linney), a kind, and protective wife to her obviously mentally disturbed husband.

Director Dan Moverman teases us with shots of the children of these two odd couples who work their way in escalating scenes toward committing an unimaginable crime while wrapped in their own delicious pleasure at the doing of it.

Paul and Stan, along with their wives, are meeting to discuss and decide how to treat the crime their children have committed. Should they use their power and influence to protect the guilty children with a cover up or admit the truth? In one of the oddest and ugliest parts of the story, Stan chooses to meet at a restaurant so fake and unimaginable that it becomes an ugly mockery of people who can afford to eat there.

A word about the restaurant. A single file procession of wooden soldier waiters walks slowly, deliberately, to the table with multiple courses of perfect food which the head waiter describes in ludicrous detail. Each course is introduced with an announcement of the food along with an insulting description of its perfection. The awful ritual is interrupted repeatedly by Stan or Paul, jumping up to leave in anger at the other. Nothing goes well because the two are usually involved in an outside-the-the-dining-room verbal confrontation or – finally – in a violent physical rage where they vent years of resentment.

All this said, the acting is formidable, the filming clever. The fakery of the characters and that restaurant that caters to their tastes while they decide how to handle their murderous children is close to intolerable. The overall effectiveness is a tribute to Richard Gere and Steve Coogan for making us detest the choices available to their characters. Coogan’s Paul, who labels himself “a warrior for the underclass” is a hideous bundle of his own disillusioning life experiences.

Although the movie is written, acted, and filmed with skill, there is nothing here of the unexpected. When good writers create no change in character, no lesson learned over its length, an audience can feel they’ve been had. You decide.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Dinner
Word Count: 498
Running time: 2:00
Rating : R
Date : May 14, 2017


Get Out

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

T2 Get Out

Get Out was made by writer/director Jordan Poole, a black man who slashes at the shallow understanding white people have of black culture. His movie is his command that white liberals face up to the truth that their level of acceptance is shallow, phony, and late.

The movie will be received by viewers according to the complex inner settings each of us has about race. The easiest way to react to Get Out is to surrender to pure anger at its violence but we can’t get away with the easy way in this case.

Why couldn’t Poole have made his points about white liberals in a way that might make us think, that might encourage us to work together? Because we wouldn’t have heard what he is saying. He suggests that we know nothing about black people being scrutinized by police and passersby whenever they are in public, that the culture of their neighborhoods is unknown to whites.

Look what he has done to wake us up. Rose (Allison Williams) is taking her black boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet her family on their plush estate tended by housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and handyman Walter (Marcus Henderson) – both black and odd. Dad (Bradley Whitford), a too affable neurosurgeon, and mom (Catherine Keener), a nutcase hypnotist, greet the lovers with a creepy kind of acceptance.

A gathering of friends and relatives arrives. On meeting Chris, the guests respond: Chris must be a good golfer because Tiger Woods is black and whites envy black bodies. Poole uses his perceived white jealousy of black minds and bodies to soak his movie in blood. The attitudes of the white guests are simplistic and crude and Poole
makes sure we understand those white simpletons are no more shallow than those of us who think we understand the problem even as we live in segregated cultures.

Do we have much to atone for? The British stole the continent from the Indians. Then they destroyed the Indians and brought black men to America locked in chains and sold them as slaves. The Civil War freed the slaves and left them in poverty. Two world wars distracted us until the ‘60s when desegregation was brought front and center in education and sports. And then progress slowed again. Fifty years later, we still live in segregated neighborhoods and cultures.

A horror/comedy is a popular movie format these days but when the subject is part of an uncorrected historical disgrace, it’s a shame that only a violent movie like this could make us look inward. Now that we’ve been kicked on this score, perhaps that format can be used to attack alcohol excess or how fraternities have weakened education, or the horror of wars wrought by men? Or how about the comedic horror of the president of the United States bestowing public approval and encouragement on sexual bullying of women? You’re a talented guy, Jordan Poole. You could do a great job on that one.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title Get Out
Word Count: 499
Running time: 1:44
Rating : R
Date : April 9, 2017