The Dinner: Movie Man Jackson

This stuff never happens during brunch. The Lohman family—politician Stan (Richard Gere), his wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), Stan’s brother Paul (Steve Coogan), and his wife, Claire (Laura Linney), are getting together one night for dinner at an upscale restaurant. It’s a busy time for Stan, who’s hoping to get a bill passed and retain his public office role.

But, matters need to be attended to that involve the respective sons of these families. They’ve done something that can land not only themselves in hot water, but undo all of the goodwill and public standing the Lohman family has. Over the course of a few hours, a five course meal is served, but that’s merely a backdrop for a conversation to ascertain what actions—if any—should be taken with their children.

First World Problems? White Privileged? These could also be titles for The Dinner, albeit pointed ones. Director Oren Moverman takes a look at a family in disarray, while asking some questions about parenting, affluenza, and even mental health. These are elements that could make up a compelling movie overall, but, The Dinner isn’t really so.

It’s no surprise that The Dinner is driven by dialogue. Dinner tables have often served for many uncomfortable conversations, and Moverman nails that quality very easily, using the upscale locale and dim lighting to create a stuffy atmosphere. The atmosphere, pretentious and artificial, comes to serve as the representation of the bulk of the four characters. At the actual table is where The Dinner is most intriguing and a tasty bite.


Whenever The Dinner leaves the table—not literally, but figuratively—is where the film loses its storytelling and structure. Based off a Dutch novel with the same name, I imagine certain plot points and moments come off better in written word compared to the silver screen. As stated, the mental health of one particular character is a pretty important piece of this film, and at times, the story is told from this character’s viewpoint.

There are a lot of prolonged flashbacks that are designed to give context to characters, but end up breaking the pace and flow. Maybe Moverman was going for a disjointed approach to mirror the mental health issues the character was having, narration is occasionally used as well, but it becomes hard to follow. One flashback in particular involving a Gettysburg memorial visit may be up there as one of the more painful scenes in recent memory, making one question why it was left in the final cut (and it goes on and on and on). The Dinner also seems to struggle a little with point of view, initially beginning with one character, but switching to another in the final act. With that said, the ending isn’t bad, but it would have been nice to see a little more aftermath of it.

The Dinner may be arriving in theaters with little fanfare, but, it does possess an impressive cast to boot. Sadly, Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall can do much more than what they’re gifted with here, which essentially amounts to entitled ice queens. But, each does get a moment or two in the last act to show off their talents. Much of the meat belongs to Richard Gere and Steve Coogan. Gere should run for office; he’s easy to buy into as a politician, and is the one character out of the foursome who garners some sympathy from the viewing audience. Coogan, who may be known more for comedy in some circles, does good as darker details are revealed about his Paul. But the biggest issue may be simply finding one person to truly side with in this morality story, and no amount of solid acting can overcome this.

All of this leaves The Dinner feeling like it should have been prepared more in the kitchen before being served on a plate. Some aspects on it are tasty, but most others are overcooked/undercooked.


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Nocturnal Animals: Movie Man Jackson


Whenever you’ve got it, hold onto it. Art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) has made a new life with husband Hutton (Armie Hammer). It’s a bourgeois life, one that Susan has been accustomed to with well-off parents. It’s also an empty one that only looks glamorous from the outside.

Many years before, Susan found love with writer Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). They married, and things were rosy for a while, until Susan determined that Edward couldn’t take care of her like she wanted to be taken care of due to his overly sensitive nature and writing profession.

Susan receives a manuscript of her ex’s latest novel, Nocturnal Animals, a name Edward affectionately called Susan. It’s a dark tale, about a Texas man and his family who run into a gang of unstable individuals on the highway. Seems random, but the more Susan delves into the novel, some characters and some events hit awfully close to home.


With a title fitting for a horror movie, Nocturnal Animals is dark. It’s uncomfortable. It can be hard to watch and even a little scary. But like the best fashion, it is also impossible to take eyes off of, or forget. Nocturnal Animals illuminates in quality and memorability from from start to finish.

Attention is seized right from the movie’s opening credits sequence. Fashion mogul turned director Tom Ford (A Single Man) certainly sears this sequence on the brain as one that is equal parts revolting yet extremely mesmerizing, with a beautiful dreamlike musical track by composer Abel Korzeniowski.

While the meaning and/artistic merits of said scene are likely to be debated for a while (count yours truly as a guy who gets the meaning but still feels that it’s done for shock more than anything), I’ll admit that it was rather alluring. Much—if not all—of Nocturnal Animals is, whether it be in the sweltering Texas desert heat, or in the cool interiors of an NYC penthouse or art gallery. The color red makes its way into a great deal of the movie. Red typically symbolizes a lot: Love, anger, attention, revenge, courage, to name a few. These are all themes that Ford touches upon or goes into depth on, maybe not perfectly, but they are there.


Honestly, Nocturnal Animals works a lot better narrative-wise than it should. What could easily become confusing to follow never does become so, thanks to on-the-point editing and stylistic choices. The parallels between stories aren’t always congruent with one another, but when they are, Ford’s feature is extremely fascinating and rewarding, and maybe it just requires another watch for every piece to fit snugly. Aside from one visual in particular, he pushes audiences to make their own final decision as to what the meaning of the story is, whether it’s positive or negative, what happens to the (real world) characters, etc. Another strong strength? It’s unpredictable.

It’s no surprise that the cast assembled here makes for one of the stronger ensembles of the 2016 calendar year. When Amy Adams, no obvious slouch, turns in what is probably the fourth best performance of the entire movie (more as a result of her character, not her actual skill), there’s some high level acting present. Jake Gyllenhaal, again pulling double duty in a feature, is brilliant once again, and the writing for his characters allows him to display his amazing skills as both are given wonderful arcs. As an aside, he has what may be the most truest and moving quotes about love I’ve heard in an extremely long time. They are lines of dialogue I’ll never forget.

It’s Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson who give Nocturnal Animals an element of “fun” that would likely not be there without them. Make no mistake as that does not mean the work they do here is not deserving of serious supporting category consideration (already has garnered it at the time of this writing), but their characters are so dogged and world-weary (Shannon) or eccentrically vile (Taylor-Johnson) and it makes for an interesting showdown that could easily be its own movie. Shannon’s been a stud for a while, but it’s nice to see Taylor-Johnson reassert himself as a talent. He’s more or less The Joker as a guy who seemingly just likes to watch the world burn and inflict suffering on people, but he’s chilling every time he’s on screen. Pick better roles please!


I don’t pop Molly I watch Tom Ford. And with Nocturnal Animals, I want to keep watching him, and I hope he directs more. But if it takes seven years to come up with a unique story worth telling in cinematic form, keep on making those Gucci handbags and Saint Laurent dresses while prepping that next film, Ford.


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Sully: Movie Man Jackson


Everything is unprecedented until it happens for the first time. On January 15th, 2009, flight Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and his First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) have the unprecedented arrive mid-flight in the skies. Their plane completely fails electrically after a flock of birds comes into contact with the engines. This isn’t going to end well.

Miraculously, Sully, the pilot vet with over 40 years of experience, thinks on his feet and manages to land right in the middle of the Hudson river, with no casualties whatsoever. Despite his humility and claim to just be doing his job, he’s a hero and should be treated as such. Yet, everyone doesn’t see it that way. The National Transportation Safety Board maintains through diagnostics that there was enough power to return back to the airport, and aim to show that Sully was more reckless than heroic in those 208 seconds from system failure to water landing.

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Death, taxes, and Tom Hanks delivering in an adult biographical drama. These are the only certainties in our world. It is of little surprise that Sully is solid. But to yours truly, it is a surprise that Sully is very good. Just maybe not for the reasons one might not expect, at least for yours truly.

Instead of working with longtime collaborator Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks links up for the first time with director Clint Eastwood to tell the tale of one man’s duty to those around him. In Sully’s mind, he isn’t doing the heroic thing, he’s simply doing the dutiful thing and the right thing. It would have been really easy for the movie to come off as overly committed to romanticizing a man and painting him in an unbelievable soft and perfect light (a criticism many had with Eastwood’s last feature in American Sniper), but Eastwood commits to simplicity and a streamlined approach. Some may consider the flashbacks to the harrowing event a bit much; I found the piecewise flashbacks handled well with clarity (could have done without the military one, possibly). In a genre that can sometimes contain bloated screenplays and overlong runtimes, Sully is brisk and refreshing, clocking in at a tick over 90 minutes.


Charles Barkley would love Sully. Why is he mentioned here? It was in February of 2015 that the “Sir Charles” went on a rant about how analytics were the result of people who had never played basketball using numbers to tell people how the game should be played and coached. Eastwood uses Sully to show the craziness of an overnight celebrity in the 21st century, but it ultimately is a story about man versus machine. No matter what the numbers or statistics may say or dictate, there is nothing like the human element which has to process a multitude of scenarios in real-time while actually being a human.

The finest aspects of Sully may be the technical ones, however. While at least half of the movie doesn’t “pop” in IMAX, the other half is pretty immersive, and as harrowing as one could imagine in that situation for all involved. But it is the little things that add to the immersion, like the establishing shots of the Hudson, or the interior of the aircraft. In particular, the sound is impeccable. A musical score is present, but nonexistent for the sequences in the plane. It’s a great artistic choice; hearing the malfunctions in the cockpit and the chant of “Brace brace brace! Heads down, stay down!” do more than any piece of music could do. This film’s sound design isn’t the type of feature that gets nominated in the respective award categories, but it should be.

What more is there to be said about Hanks at this point? His work is so effortless that it appears like he’s hardly trying. I think it is just the heightened quality level Hanks operates at. He forms one of the best, if not the best, bromances of 2016 sharing the skies with Aaron Eckhart, who provides a nice level of humor that does not undercut anything. Laura Linney adds a little to Sully’s character as his stressed-out wife. If there were somewhat of a substantial flaw with Sully, it would have to be its antagonists in the form of the NTSB officials. Their refusal to see anything past the data and what the flight simulations show (hard not to chuckle a bit at how much screentime those sims get during the end investigation) becomes sort of comical and eye-rolling by the film’s end.


To call Sully extraordinary may be a reach, but seeing a hero’s tale handled so deftly and with such precision is great stuff. Eastwood flies pretty high with this one.


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The Truman Show: Movie Man Jackson


Seahaven Island is a nice place to live. Or, at leas that is what is said on the license plate. In Seahaven Island resides Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey). Truman has lived in Seahaven for his entire life, and now is a married adult with a steady career.

However, known to everyone else but Truman, his life has been completely controlled from the moment he came out of the womb. Nothing is organic or random, from his best friend since seven years old, Marlon (Noah Emmerich), to his wife, Meryl (Laura Linney). Truman is the star of the most popular television show in the world. As things begin to get odd, he starts to question just how authentic his life is.


It’s often been said that art imitates life. Well, life can, on occasion, imitate art, and yours truly believes that looking at The Truman Show. No, reality TV did start before the film came out in 1998, but it came before reality lynchpins such as Survivor and Big Brother. It simply wasn’t the phenomenon that we’ve been inundated with today, and who knows how many reality TV producers have been influenced by this movie? All at once, it equal parts funny, disturbing, prophetic, and ultimately unforgettable.

First, the premise is just so damn ingenious. While not exactly Big Brother in Orwell’s sense, the themes of constant surveillance and little choice is ever-present, and these themes and parallels feel fleshed out thanks to strong writing by Andrew Niccol (Gattica). A great job is done by introducing little pieces to Truman’s character that eventually, by the end of the movie, have a very emotional payoff. The script never feels like there’s too much going on, yet also doesn’t make a mistake of failing to say anything. Its stance on letting an individual live his or her own life is clear, but it also asks some thought-provoking questions. My personal favorite is how it could be argued that maybe it isn’t so bad to place an individual in a fabricated life if the real life is nothing but horror. Perhaps just the broadcast element is the one that deserves criticism.


The whole cameras everywhere thing allows director Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society) to play around with some different vantage points and angles. All are designed to make us the audience feel more voyeuristic—even dirty in this case—than usual when watching a movie, and Weir succeeds. He also does an excellent job with using flashbacks that progress the story and make sense, instead of stalling the story and breaking up the rhythm. It’s a great production all around, with the only flaw being that it isn’t long enough. Clocking in at just under two hours, I believe an additional 15-25 minutes could have explored to give a few more story details and even a more resounding ending. The ending is fine, one just wishes that more of the aftermath could be seen.

As the complete focal point of The Truman Show, Jim Carrey absolutely carries the movie. There’s a heavy darkness that exists in the film, but at the same time, there’s an inherent goofiness aspect that is present in one’s life being shown to the entire world and everyone except for one individual so complicit in keeping up the charade. What the long sentence is trying to say is that Carrey is perfect at convenying both ends of the spectrum. He’s emotional and introspective when needed, as well as humorous when the time calls for it. Above all, Truman is a character who is easy to get behind, and reacts how most people would react if they found out their lives weren’t real.

Carrey, like Truman, is the obvious star of the show, though others fit in as needed. Ed Harris, clearly serving as the inspiration for Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs, is a perfect casting choice. He’s not in the film a lot, but makes his God-like presence known immediately in his first scene and just possesses this disturbing-yet-still-semi-rational reason for doing what he does. Roles by Laura Linney, Paul Giamatti, and Noah Emmerich (though the latter has standout scenes with Carrey) aren’t all that memorable, but serve to further the illusion that Truman has thought of as real for his entire life, and they all react differently when the foundation begins to crumble, which is also pretty funny.


It isn’t a requirement that films must age well, but I’d think that a lot of directors would like their works to be remembered and hold importance in any year viewed. With a stellar lead performance and an original premise, The Truman Show is absolutely one of those films that will always be relevant, and serves as a reminder that reality TV can—and maybe will, one day—become worse.

Grade: A

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The Savages: Movie Man Jackson


“We’re not in therapy now- we’re in real life.”

In the darkest of clouds, a silver lining can be found if one looks hard enough. The Savages are a family, made up of freelance writer Wendy Savage (Laura Linney), drama professor Jon Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and their father Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco), showing early but rapidly developing signs of dementia. When Lenny’s girlfriend dies, her family, refuses to take care of him anymore.

This forces his kids, abused and neglected when they were younger, to get back into not just his life but each other’s lives as well. Facing the inevitable of their father passing away simultaneously forces the siblings to re-examine their lives, facing their personal struggles and demons along the way.


Two stellar thespians in Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Seymour, along with an old steady hand in Philip Bosco should make for a compelling movie, right? Not exactly. The Savages, as one might expect, is a well-acted production, but unsupported by a lackluster script. It all adds up to a simple feeling of “meh.”

I have to admit, I am likely not the target audience for this film which in all likelihood shapes my thoughts on it. Surely many people of different ages have experienced the themes of loss and having to provide care for elderly ones, but the target audience appears to skew towards older adults who can relate a bit more to the story. It isn’t so much a story about facing the last few moments of a family members’ life as it is a story of two people, in this case siblings, rallying around a sad situation to become closer.


It is all supposed to be sad and touching, but for yours truly, little of it was felt, perhaps because of how predictable and formulaic it is from the beginning. Written and directed by Tamara Jenkins, outside of some commentary on nursing homes/clinical care, not a lot is being said that hasn’t been said before about family dysfunctionality and deteriorating health. It is a late November/early December piece of cinema, meaning that much of what occurs here feels like it exists for one reason.

If it were just billed as a drama, some disappointment would still be had but not as much if this was solely a drama. But since this is also billed as a comedy, however, not seeing that come to fruition serves as the biggest downer of The Savages. I envisioned a somewhat dark comedy dealing with mature themes, and all that was present were the mature themes, leading to a depressing and not-all-that-interesting of a film.


As long as great workers like Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman are lending their talents, it is hard to imagine that whatever they appear in cannot be an utter failure. The two are believable as brother and sister, even if the script doesn’t give them a ton to work with. Their roles are more understated and less “charactery” than some of their other credits, but both, especially PSH, excel at playing people who are not just dealing with an unfortunate life-altering scenario, but people who are at a major crossroads in their own lives. They do get the chances to deliver memorable dramatic moments, but the main beauty is seeing the two just be regular, everyday humans.

If a comparison to a recent and fairly similar production could be made to The Savages, think of This Is Where I Leave YouA talented, all-star cast can keep a feature at a middling level without any help, but performances alone don’t comprise a great film.

Grade: C

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