Tag Archives: Laura Linney

Bon Appetit

The Dinner

by Hope Madden

Enduring a dinner party – in cinematic terms, it can lead to a cathartic catfight (Carnage), mass suicide (The Invitation) or an all out apocalypse (It’s a Disaster).

It would appear that having to remain civil through such a meal causes us, as a civilization, a lot of anxiety.

Writer/director Oren Moverman (Rampart, The Messenger) ignites that discomfort and then looks at it from all angles with his newest, The Dinner.

Richard Gere – that silver fox – is Stan Lohman. A politician with a congressional race on the line and an important bill currently up for a vote, he’s juggling a lot right now. So why stop everything to join his brother Paul (Steve Coogan), along with Paul’s wife Claire (Laura Linney) and his own wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) for a 5-star meal?

Well, it isn’t good news.

The restaurant of choice is beyond posh, its lushly appointed dining rooms and obscenely laden tables a fascinating surrounding for the drama unfolding. When Moverman remains with his primary foursome inside this restaurant, an involving and curiously repellant morality play unfolds.

Moverman has a particular talent – one that these veterans relish. He scripts characters who are rarely entirely what they appear at first blush, never go where you expect them to go, and somehow wind up being the same and yet remarkably different than what you’d imagined.

This kid of layered challenge can prove too much for many actors, but Hall, Coogan, Gere and especially Linney are custom made for such work. Indeed, in many respects these actors are superior to their material.

Linney and Hall suffer from underwritten characters, which is a shame because both find something primal under all their characters’ studied polish.

Gere is breezily at ease as the smooth politician, convincing himself and others of his genuineness as he works the room.

Coogan is the standout surprise, playing against his traditionally comedic type as the enigma in the middle of this conundrum.

Suffice it to say, the couples have a parental nightmare to contend with, and it’s when Moverman brings in flashback to enlighten the audience that his drama begins to lose its way. Mix in some additional flashbacks to illuminate Paul’s character, including an excruciating Civil War sequence (we get it – sibling rivalry – enough already!), and the slow film comes to a stand-still.

It’s a frustrating way to spend an evening, The Dinner, but not a waste of time. Every member of the cast has a moment of brilliance working with a script that also shines in fits and spurts.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

Riddle Me This

Mr. Holmes

by Hope Madden

The last time the great Ian McKellen donned the lead role in a film for director Bill Condon, he was rightfully nominated for an Oscar. In their collaboration Gods and Monsters, McKellen played director James Whale in his waning years, trying to remember for himself and articulate for others the difference between who he was as a man and who the world believed him to be.

Director and star tread a similar path with their latest effort, Mr. Holmes. A 93-year-old Sherlock faces his mortality and – worse still for the brainiac detective – encroaching senility. Attempting to battle enfeeblement, he tries to remember the details of his final case – facts clouded by the published story and subsequent film written by his longtime friend, Dr. Watson.

Though the film does stalk a mystery, don’t expect clues, lurid suspicions and a tidy conclusion. Rather, Condon’s effort, based on Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, puzzles over bigger questions about morality, fallibility, regret, and the regenerative power of storytelling.

The retired sleuth spends his waning years in a Sussex seaside farmhouse tending bees and basking in the admiration of Roger (Milo Parker), the son of his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney).

Linney feels slightly miscast as the put-upon housekeeper, aware of her own intellectual limitations and envious of her son’s affections for her employer. Her accent is off-putting and her intelligence is perhaps too fierce to be believably buried inside this character, but she certainly finds the frail humanity beneath Mrs. Munro’s sturdy exterior.

The tale is a bit soft-hearted and not nearly as cerebral as fans of the sleuth might hope. Don’t expect the expected – there is no Watson, no deerstalker, no pipe. Sherlock’s deductive prowess does come into play now and again, but even as logic continues to form and inform his actions, he’s developing an admiration for emotion – even for fiction.

Condon’s pace is slow and his storytelling is not as crisp as it should be, but McKellen soars nonetheless. With effortless grace and honesty he delivers a turn full of fear, courage, regret, need, and joy. It’s a masterful performance.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

For Your Queue: Who doesn’t love Bill Murray?

Another less than stellar week in DVD releases. The strongest contender this week is Hyde Park on Hudson.

A Bill Murray presidency would be gleefully weird, wouldn’t it? Maybe that’s why he landed the role of Franklin Roosevelt in the charming if scattered tale of King and Queen of England’s visit to FDR’s weekend home. When director Roger Mitchell’s film is hitting on all cylinders, it offers glimpses of bold yet delicate nuttiness. The film splits its focus, unfortunately. While the time spent on a love story with cousin Daisy (Laura Linney) grows tiresome, every moment spent with the president and his royal visitors is a gas.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQaScjiWDyY

One of the reasons Murray has become such a beloved figure is his willingness to break convention. Yes, it has led to some disappointments (Garfield, Passion Play), but it has given him a well-rounded film resume filled with overlooked performances worth seeking out. One of these is his fine supporting turn in 2009’s Get Low.  In 1930s Tennessee, a small-town hermit (Robert Duvall) decides to have his funeral before he dies, and thus recruits the local funeral director (Murray) to help him “get low.” Duvall is superb in the lead, and Murray crafts a unique character in his limited screen time.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gy265yfzlNg