Tag Archives: Laura Linney

The Dinner

As a book, I very much enjoyed The Dinner. It’s fascinating and controversial but hard to talk about without giving everything away. Same goes for the movie I suppose, but the most important takeaway is that the movie is very, very bad. Read the book. It’s a gut punch page-turner. The movie fucks it all up.

First, the book is Dutch. The movie of course makes the characters and setting American (even though half its stars are Brits). It’s about two couples who meet at a very fancy schmancy restaurant to discuss their problematic children. Paul (Steve Coogan) is a history teacher with some mental health problems; his wife Claire (Laura Linney) is a cancer survivor. It’s hard to say who is more protective of whom. Paul’s older brother hero_Dinner-2017Stan (Richard Gere) is a politician poised to become an even more powerful politician, as evidenced by the aides who can’t quite allow him a moment of peace or privacy during the dinner (not that he objects); his wife, aka, his second wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) raises his kids so that he can govern unencumbered and expects to be rewarded. Their sons have recently been involved in a crime that is making its way around Youtube. They are thus far unidentified but now the parents must decide how to handle things should they found out – or should they remain undiscovered.

The dinner is filled with tension, not just because of what their boys have done, but because of the strained family dynamic between Paul and Stan. And because Paul is uncomfortable with all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the haute cuisine. The dinner is constantly interrupted by flashbacks, many of which actually detract from the story. The book is really about morality and the thin veneers we hide behind in “civilized” society, and the tension ratchets up as more and more secrets explode like bombs dropped among the gold-rimmed china. The movie doesn’t manage to retain much of what makes the novel great. The characters are repugnant because they’re stripped bare of any pretense. The worst has happened, their primal, parental instincts have been activated – anything can happen.

But the movie just drops the ball. It’s a complete waste of time that doesn’t even know what to do with itself. It has maybe the worst, most abrupt ending that I’ve ever encountered, and it made me want to interrupt their dinner by swinging an angry cat around by its tail. Fuck y’all.

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The Life of David Gale

David Gale (Kevin Spacey) is an anti-death-penalty activist and professor in Texas (in Austin, Texas, actually, which happens to be where we’re headed this week for SXSW, but that’s just a weird coincidence). He’s quite politically active until he winds up on death row himself, accused and convicted of the murder of another activist (Laura Linney), and sentenced to capital punishment.

The_Life_of_David_Gale,_2003Journalist Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) is brought in to do one last interview with him before he’s put to death, but what he tells her isn’t a straight forward of guilt or innocence, but rather challenges her notions of justice and the legal system. But can she trust what she’s being told, or is David Gale just a smarter-than-average killer?

The thing about this movie…[this is me trying to decide whether I’m going to be polite about it]…is it’s not very good. I mean, it’s trying to be mysterious with a message. But if you can imagine that the message is a big salami, then imagine getting hit in the teeth with this salami, well, that’s The Life of David Gale.

Obviously it’s not for capital punishment. Or is that obvious? Or even true? Because I think tumblr_nijqy0nx9o1t0t91ao7_1280unintentionally, somewhere in the convoluted mess, it might actually manage to do the complete opposite. The Life of David Gale certainly traps some very worthy actors in a mess they can’t act their way out of. Kate Winslet is pretty Winsletty, although she does a fair bit of running just to show how urgent, how life-and-deathy this whole thing is, but Spacey: man. That guy did not get the good end of the salami here. He’s particularly bad acting opposite the kid playing his young son. It’s just uncomfortable to watch.

The film, Alan Parker’s last, wants to be thought-provoking but leaves neither room nor nuance for any thought at all. Although it lures you in with the promise of high concept, it’s more manipulative and frankly, more mundane than you’ll think possible. It ends up feeling fairly generic despite a stellar cast with 13 Oscar nominations between them. In the end, I was just hoping they’d be put out of their misery, which is probably the last message an anti-death-penalty movie wants to send. Then again, nothing about The Life of David Gale suggests that anyone put even that much thought into it.

Genius

A crazy man insisting he’s a genius wanders into Max’s office. He’s ranting, he’s raving, he doesn’t know that Max (Colin Firth) is already under his spell, has already been reading his manuscript, enthralled. And when Tom (Jude Law) learns that Max is on board, he can’t quite believe it – no other publisher has found his work worthwhile. Max is the first to take him seriously.

It turns out that Tom is Tom Wolfe and Max is editor to the greatest literary minds of the genius-leadtime, counting F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) among his authors. They’re all jealous of each other, of course, all big egos with weighty demands on Max’s time, and skill.  This movie will make you feel as though editors do not get paid nearly enough. It might also question just who is the Genius referred to in the title – is it the brilliant writer, or is the man editing his writing so that it may appear brilliant to others? Certainly Max is good at spotting talent, but also at shaping it.

Not everyone is grateful, however. Max’s wife Louise (Laura Linney) feels neglected. Tom’s wife Aline feels even worse: she feels replaced. Aline (Nicole Kidman) isn’t even properly his wife – she left her husband and her children just as they were grown to be with Tom and feel needed by him. She supported him for years as he wrote feverishly, as the rejection letters piled up around them. But now that his work has found a home, and an audience, he doesn’t need her as much, and she knows it. She is obsolete, and she warns Max that he may soon be the same.

The real meat of the story is the relationship between writer and editor, the ugly push and genius-official-trailer-14960-largepull necessary to hone a manuscript into a masterpiece. Max Perkins has an excellent track record but still prefers to hide behind an editor’s anonymity, still grapples with the fear of having “deformed” someone’s work.

 

Colin Firth never sets a foot wrong, so it’s difficult to put my finger on exactly why this movie isn’t great. I suppose if I had just the one word it would be: superficial. I suppose it must be a great headache to make writing and editing, two very quiet, solitary activities, seem cinematic, and I can tell you that director Michael Grandage has not found the way to make them seem otherwise. Firth is fatherly, Law is petulant, Linney saintly though ill-serviced by the script, Kidman downright unhinged. It just never really gels. After more than 100 minutes, I was left thinking: is that it? The story is sufficiently interesting that I will look up the book upon which it is based, not because the movie left me wanting more, but because it left me needing more, which is never a good sign.

 

 

Nocturnal Animals

As the film opens, Susan (Amy Adams) feels guilty for not being happy, despite having ‘everything’ – Armie Hammer plays her current husband, but apparently they were maybe never truly supposed to be together.

A successful art gallery owner, Susan’s home is perfectly styled, filled with lacquered objets, 18nocturnal1-master768-v2beautiful things, much like herself, impeccably dressed, heavily made up. Her “bare” (movie bare, of course) face comes as a shock when she curls into bed to read a manuscript that has arrived that earlier that day, a surprise from the ex-husband she hasn’t heard from in 20 years.

She’s immediately engrossed in the story, which we see recreated as a movie within a movie. Jake Gyllenhaal and Isla Fisher play two halves of a couple travelling down a remote road at night. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays a sinister man threatening them. It’s immediately tense. Disturbing. Distraught, Susan slams the book shut.

But that’s not the end, is it? No, she keeps going. And things get darker, and trickier. Director Tom Ford pulls a nasty trick on us: in casting Isla Fisher, he is intentionally making her a very easy substitute for Amy Adams (Isla Fisher once sent Christmas cards to friends and family with Amy Adams photo-shopped in her place, and no one noticed). But we’re not the only ones to notice the similarities: Susan starts to feel a little unsettled too.

This is only Tom Ford’s second film; I was blown away by his first effort, A Single Man. He has a distinctive style, he’s incredibly visual, but the story in A Single Man held up. More than that: it crawled right into my soul and crushed it, just a tiny bit. Colin Firth was robbed when he didn’t maxresdefault-6win an Oscar for it (well, he lost to Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart, and that was certainly deserved as well; luckily Firth one the very next year for The King’s Speech). You may know that Tom Ford is a fashion designer, but that’s clearly not the only trick up his sleeve. His direction is not a gimmick (it likely helps that he leaves the costuming to someone else, and that no Tom Ford suits appear in the film). Maybe it’s little more style than substance, but it’s not without substance, or merit, or worth. Nocturnal Animals is dark and moody and horrible. It is sometimes graphic, and psychologically tortured, and stunning.

It’s the kind of movie that will haunt you for days. There are lots of performances worth talking about: Amy Adams, and the sadness she can convey in her downturned eyes; Jake Gyllenhaal’s fire, and his anguish. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was nominated for a Golden Globe for his supporting skeevy work here, but I think it’s Michael Shannon who maybe deserved the nomination, mustache and all. Can this man do any wrong? Oh wait

Most people bill Nocturnal Animals as a work of revenge, but I feel it’s more about regret. I suppose your interpretation may rest on the ending, which is intentionally vague, but I believe an indictment on Susan’s character. What did you think?

 

 

Sully

You know his name: Captain Sully became a celebrity and a hero when he made a successfully landed a passenger jet in the Hudson river after losing both engines shortly after takeoff. The passengers, the media, and then the sully-tom-hanks-aaron-eckhart-slice-600x200world, praised him for his quick thinking and skill. His maneuver saved every soul on board. It was quickly labelled “The Miracle on the Hudson.” He made the rounds of late night talk shows, smiling politely as hosts feted him, but that smile was a facade.

What few of us realized at the time was that Captain Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeff Skiles were going through private hell. While dealing with crippling flashbacks, they were basically put on trial by the National Transportation Safety Board, accused of making the wrong decision and endangering a plane full of passengers.

Sully, with 40 years of experience, knew in his gut that going into the river was the best option. The NTSB, however, maintain that computer simulations prove he could have made it back to La Guardia for a safe landing on an actual strip. All the people thrown into frigid waters, the cold and frightened babies, the weakened-heart old ladies, could all have been spared a terrifying crash-landing. Should Sully be held responsible for his actions?

Tom Hanks as Sully is spectacular. He deftly portrays a crumbling man, one whose confidence is badly shaken, who can’t escape the mental replaying of the incident, the assessment of the choices he made, effectively putting 155 960lives on the line, his own included. Aaron Eckhart plays Skiles, the right-hand man with an equally formidable mustache (what is it with pilots and mustaches?). Laura Linney has is relegated to an even smaller part, as the wife on the other end of a telephone. Both are fine, but this is clearly Hanks’ show, and Sully’s story. He’s the one not just with his reputation on the line, but his career and pension and ability to support his family in flux too.

Director Clint Eastwood plays it safe; in fact he even downplays what must have been a petrifying few minutes for the other 153 on board. What he may not have accounted for is how jarring Sully’s day-mares are to an audience, post 9-11 (and keeping in mind the movie hit theatres for its 15th anniversary). Sully keeps imagining that his plane is zipping through New York City’s skyline, missing and not missing buildings along the way. It hurts.

Where Eastwood excels, and always has, is in hero-worshiping, and Sully’s an easy target. Humble, grateful, stoic: just the kind of man that appeals to old Clint. But Sully’s not the only hero I see here. The flight attendants are brave. The air traffic controller is determined. Rescue workers are quick. Ordinary citizens lend a hand. Heroes come in lots of shapes and sizes. Not all wear uniforms. Maybe Clint should make a movie about one of them sometime.

A little light incest

hyde-park-on-hudson-MOVIE-reviewI just watched Hyde Park on Hudson, in which the fabulous Bill Murray plays president Franklin Roosevelt, who engaged in an affair with his cousin Daisy (Laura Linney), among many others (women, not cousins. as far as I know).

FDR was a powerful man and president and Bill Murray manages to show his loneliness and sadness without giving up his strength. Linney and Murray embrace the occasional absurdity of their situation, Daisy realizing, while giving ole FDR a handie in the car, that they are not just 5th cousins “but also really good friends.” Ahem.

During this time period, FDR is visited at his vacation estate not just by the many women he’s hyde-park-on-hudson-movie-clip-screenshot-king-eats-hotdog_largefucking, but also by King George and his wife. A “social” rather than official visit, the royals hope the USA will commit to helping them in the war against Germany. In turn, the Roosevelts feed them hotdogs, and created a scandal with bigger headlines than Hitler was currently enjoying.

Although rooted in fact, this isn’t Lincoln. It’s a comedy. Murray shows a lot of range and gives us a very interesting portrait of a man who is historically significant but also just a man. The performances are good but I’m not sure the movie really conveys anything fair or enlightening about the events. But who cares, it’s Bill Murray!

daa46d65a1e5004f284bf0681b3a7e57What’s your absolute favourite Bill Murray movie?

 

 

 

Sibling Relationships (Biologically Related)

TMP
Time again for Thursday Movie Picks. Sibling week hits just two weeks away from when we leave for sunny California where we will see my own brother who I haven’t seen since Christmas. Let’s hope our reunion goes smoother than they did in these three amazing films.

Rain man

Rain Man (1988)- Tom Cruise has some serious daddy issues to work out finally gets his chance when he discovers that he has an autistic brother (Dustin Hoffman). Their road trip may start out as Charlie’s selfish scheme to get his inheritance back but spending time with his brother soon becomes its own reward in one of Hollywood’s all-time great feel-good movies.

The Savages (2007)- Neither Wendy (Laura Linney) or Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are in great shape when their estranged father’s dementia progresses to the point that he needs to be placed in a nursing home. The always-amazing Linney and Hoffman are completely believable as brother and sister both at first when spending time together dealing with this family crisis is completely uncomfortable and finally when they start actually enjoying each other’s company.

Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married (2008)– Before this movie came out, I never would have thought that I’d like Anne Hathaway in anything. She reinvents herself completely for this though as a tactless drug addict on temporary leave from rehab to attend her sister’s bizarre wedding. I could have easily picked this for father-daughter or mother-daughter relationships but it fits this category better. The sisters have the only relationship in this family that actually may see some healing.