Oren Moverman, the brilliant director of The Messenger, displays his talents as writer and director in The Dinner. Some viewers might see the plot, written by Moverman and based on Herman Koch's novel, as far too complex. However, Moverman teases the complexities apart with striking effect.

The content of The Dinner concerns sibling rivalry, marriage, Gettysburg, cancer, politics, and history. Its form concerns lighting, music and terraced sound, and acting -- all stunning aspects of a worthy film. The plot centers on the title dinner, attended by two brothers and their spouses, with the silent presence of their three children, boys involved in a heinous crime. 

Their fiery act does not center the film. Inter-relationships do. The brothers Lohman comprise Stan, a Congressman, running for governor and trying to pass a bill about mental health even as he dines; and Paul, a former history teacher, a mental case off his meds. Richard Gere's performance as the politician, the moral center, is admirable, but Steve Coogan, a comedian turned tragedian here, has never performed better, ever, not even in Philomena

Matching their acting, chop for chop, are Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall the wives. Each actor must reach a climactic scene by creeping up on it, and she does so stunningly. The Dinner offers exemplary supporting actors, including Adepero Oduye as the politician's assistant, and Michael Chernus as the maitre'd, who narrates each course that divides the film like chapters, from aperitif  to digestif.

Moverman's attention to layered sound is also exemplary, and his lighting and attention to framing -- Stan stands in that memorial arch at Gettysburg -- armature and architecture are admirable as is the whole of The Dinner, a complex moral fable.

 

Their Finest is a nicknamed title for this movie history. It whispers of Winston Churchill's history, entitled Their Finest Hour, and cuts into the title of Lissa Evans' novel on which Gaby Chiappe based, Their Finest Hour and a Half. That title suggests whimsy, but the movie exceeds persiflage.

The film tells of a Welshwoman in search of her role in life within a story of film propaganda. Catrin Cole started as a secretary before being thrust into the role of scriptwriter to produce the "slop," as women's dialogue is called. In 1940, as London is bombarded by the Nazis, the Ministry of Information must face that its films are being laughed at instead of applauded. So the Film Division sets out to design a good film of "authenticity informed by optimism." Soon, the film becomes an agent for pulling Americans into World War II as well. Catrin's live-in boyfriend is being a horse's patootie, and her apartment is bombed flat, and she is starting to fall for her boss. 

Without good acting and credible writing, Their Finest would sink into nostalgia, a copy of a genuine film from the Brits in the Forties. Their Finest is an inside look at how the American audience was perceived as different from British viewers. In wartime, women and old men were given opportunities that peacetime did not afford either group.

Those old men include an old actor, played to a fare-thee-well by Bill Nighy,  and Richard E. Grant as the supervisor. Sam Claflin, from Me Before You, is little wooden as the scriptwriter, his mustache stuck to his face. Rachael Stirling, familiar from The Bletchley Circle, is the differently inclined show-runner, and handsome Jake Lacy is the plastic Norski-American.As Catrin, Gemma Atherton focuses the film. Director Lone Scherfig keeps the story true and zippy with extra ounces of reality. Their Finest is really fine.

 

Ordinarily, a visit from an old friend calls for drinks and dinner, trips to old haunts, and tête-a-tête, plus reminiscences. But when one of the friends has decided to cease chemotherapy for the cancer he's fought for a year, the visit becomes something else. It undergirds this moving movie.

Tomás travels to Madrid from Canada to visit Julian for four days, which constrain the film's story in time. He admits that his wife insisted he visit Julian, that he spend no small amount of time trying to talk Julian out of his plan to die on his own terms. Tomás realizes quickly that Julián's mind is made up and that his role is to accompany Julián to deal with matters. Julián even praises Tomás for never wanting payback.

These include negotiating with the undertaker and saying good-bye to some of Julián's many women friends, including his ex-wife. Julián confronts old friends who are afraid to speak to a dying man; he even confronts the husband of a woman he slept with. The friends fly to Amsterdam -- on Tomás' peso -- to make sure that Julián's estranged son accepts his father's decision. They interview people to adopt Truman, Julián's faithful bull mastiff. 

The two tease each other, with Julián spearing Canadian Tomás for living at the North Pole or in Greenland. But the two are friends, good friends, mercifully together. Each morning, Tomás asks his friend, "What surprise to you have for me today?" At the airport at their last good-bye, Julián says, "They've gone fast, these four days."

Ricardo Darín and Javier Cámara, who played a cardinal in television's The Young Pope, inhabit these men, close yet different. They ground the realistic film in a sympathetic, loving way from the script by Tomás Aragay and Cesc Gay. Gay directed Truman with understanding but without drippy sentiment. 

 

 

The title Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer accurately summarizes the central character's trajectory suggesting that the interest lies in the narrative's unfolding and the man at its center. Indeed, Norman Oppenheimer is one politically astute individual who wheels and deals, truly believing in his own clever machinations -- until he can't.

Repeatedly throughout the film Norman talks himself into a corner only to weasel out, dodging and weaving verbally with the aplomb of a con man who exudes confidence in his own charm. As with good tricksters and shape shifters, their success relies heavily on our desire to believe what's often too good to be true. In this case, Norman works his marks, seeking to impress everyone from his local rabbi to the ambitious, upwardly mobile Israeli Deputy Minister he intentionally intercepts from a conference. A gift to him beyond Norman's financial means endears him to the politician in ways that will play out with successes and failures.   

With Richard Gere playing Norman, it quickly becomes obvious that he's lost none of his wily, seductive charisma so unmistakably on display in the wonderful 1980 film American Gigolo. There he also embodies a slick operator who outfoxes himself in a series of disastrous developments. Here Israeli director Joseph Cedar makes the most of his non-Jewish actors to subtly interrogate stereotypes. Michael Sheen plays Norman's nephew, Steve Buscemi a savvy rabbi, and Charlotte Gainsbourg an investigator. Each makes the character a complex individual while New York adds a strong location ambiance with the film's setting on the Upper West Side. Jun Miyake's music adds a lively commentary and Yaron Scharf's cinematography communicates undercurrents of the changing moods.

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer resonates intensely in today's climate of misrepresentation of facts and oneself. And yet. with his ability to spin almost anything, Norman risks becoming too annoying to remain appealing. Alternately, he may invite a fair amount of schadenfreude or just the simple pleasure of watching him becoming trapped in his own spider's web. In English and some Hebrew with English subtitles, at Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Cinema.

 

The Armenian genocide is said to have started on April 24, 1915, so the April opening of The Promise honors that historical event. The Turks still refuse to term the mass killing of Armenians anything but "one Armenian dead for every dead Turk." The Promise successfully presents Armenian history through romance.

The romantic couples comprise Ana, a sophisticated woman with Armenian roots; Chris Myers, an American journalist with the Associated Press, Michael Boghosian, a medical student, and his fiancée. The latter two live in a small Southern Turkey village, and Mikael, an apothecary like his father, uses her dowry to finance his study to be a doctor in Constantinople. He meets Ana and Chris. He tries to stay true to his betrothed, but he and Ana fall in love, even though she's involved with Chris.

These duplicitous love stories work, believe it or not, due to the finesse of the scriptwriters, Terry George and Robin Swicord. Thankfully, they do not cover up the political story. George also directed The Promise -- with the same brio that he brought to Hotel Rwanda and In the Name of the Father. Gabriel Yared's music swells in all the right places as cliched, symphonic accompaniment, and Javier Aguirresarobe's cinematography sweeps mountainous vistas widely and intimate kisses and battles closely.

Starring in The Promise are Charlotte Le Bon as Ana, Christian Bale as the truth-telling newspaperman; and Oscar Isaac as Mikael. Isaac is excellent, but he's becoming the Anthony Quinn of his day, cast in any ethnic role despite his own Spanish roots. James Cromwell cameos as ambassador Henry Morganthau. At the beginning, it's hard to wade through all the accents. In the end, it's hard to tolerate such ethnic hatred and continued blindness and belligerence.

 

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