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


The Circle

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Circle

The Circle is perfectly timed for this moment. To dismiss its premise as impossible is to ignore history. While every decade can be identified by its primary thrust, the one that has changed the professional, business, and personal lives of the world is surely the Internet. Rooted in that change, this movie shows us the problems that often follow enormous transitions. The good comes first, the bad often follows. We can already see and sense the growing erosion of privacy that this movie envisions.

The Circle is the name of a spectacular new city where people live and work in a culture of sharing their lives. Privacy is eliminated (“bad things happen in privacy”) and all people live in the dream world of friendship, luxury, sports, social gatherings, and work as they create a new culture that travels round the world on the Internet. Everyone is proud to be hired to live and work in The Circle. They have become passionate adherents of a new culture wrapped in a deceptive coating of progress, friendship, and caring.

Mae (Emma Watson) and Circle boss Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) show us what might happen in the future. Initially, new hire Mae has simmering doubts, especially when she meets Ty (John Boyega) the disaffected original founder of The Circle. Bailey has wrapped Ty’s original concept in fine sounding theories and sold it to millions around the world as open caring, open sharing. He announces at a packed meeting the company’s new product: a marble size glass ball that can be attached to any person or any building. He has put forty of these in a European city where no human detail escapes observation.

Bailey’s goal? Everyone will wear a marble, every detail of their lives will be automatically shared with the world. After two tough happenings in her own life, Mae squashes her suspicions and embraces Bailey’s “full transparency.” He preaches that lost children will be found in eight minutes, that dictators can’t thrive in public life and democracy will be strengthened. Privacy is the enemy. Everyone will thrive. It is “the chaos of the world made elegant.” Bailey assures his thousands of followers that his plans will cure disease, end hunger. Everyone will know everything. If you are laughing by now, reconsider.

In her usual understated way, Emma Watson plays it straight and effectively. Tom Hanks creates a convincing deceiver covered in his phony good intentions. If you think the big picture here is extreme, what is your reaction when you remember the world without the Internet? We have already learned that in its few decades the Internet has already allowed the computer to rule the communication and behavior of the world. Before you laugh, remember that enormous world change is always open to selfish misuse. The fine casting of Emma Watson and Tom Hanks reminds us to continue asking ourselves the central question of the movie: Where is the Internet’s erosion of our privacy taking us?

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Circle
Word Count : 502
Running time: 1:50
Rating : PG-13
Date : May 7, 2017