Maria Duarte and Alan Frank review The Dinner, Stronger, A Matter of Life and Death, Brigsby Bear and Better Watch Out
The Dinner (15)
Directed by Oren Moverman
I’M CONVINCED that there is a tense and dark psychological thriller somewhere in the depths of this dog’s dinner of a morality tale which questions how far you would go to protect your offspring.
Based on Herman Koch’s best-selling novel, it centres on the showdown between two wealthy couples — history teacher Paul (Steve Coogan) and his wife Claire (Laura Linney) and his older brother and popular congressman running for governor Stan Lohman (a phenomenal Richard Gere) and his much younger second wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall).
It takes place during a pretentious seven-course meal at a fancy restaurant, where Stan has invited Paul and his wife to dinner to discuss the heinous crime their 16-year-old sons have committed which has shocked the country.
What is surprising is that it is Lohman, the politician, who wants them to do the right thing and go to the police while his troubled brother and his sister-in-law in particular wants to protect the youngsters at all costs.
What ensues is an exploration of power and privilege and of the morally reprehensible lengths to which the rich are willing to go to save their own kids.
The problem with director Oren Moverman’s screen adaptation is that his attempts to build any nail-biting tension are hampered by the endless lengthy flashbacks and the constant interruptions due to its seven-course plot structure and characters walking out during each one.
It’s a film which should give you food for thought but, sadly, its impressive cast’s superb turns aren’t enough to save it as a thriller.
Directed by David Gordon Green
JAKE GYLLENHAAL gives an extraordinary performance as the inspiring real-life survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing in this emotionally gripping drama which depicts the harsh realities of PTSD and questions notions of patriotism and heroism.
Jeff Bauman (Gyllenhaal) captured the hearts of his city and became a symbol of hope and the poster boy for Boston Strong when he survived the terror attack in 2013 and then went on to provide vital information on one of the bombers.
Determined to win back his on-off girlfriend Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany), he promised to be at the marathon finishing line cheering her on when he was caught up in the explosion which cost him his legs.
What makes director David Gordon Green’s rousing drama, based on Bauman’s memoirs, stand out is that it provides a gritty and painstaking look at the physical and emotional effects his accident had on him and his loved ones. It pulls no punches on both fronts.
Excellent performances by Gyllenhaal, also one of the film’s producers, Maslany and Miranda Richardson as his drunken mother drive this captivating and moving drama
A Matter of Life and Death (U)
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
THIS glorious restoration of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s controversial classic masterpiece is a visual, inventive delight.
Seven decades after it was made, it remains an extraordinary cinematic achievement as it weaves surreal yet fascinating themes into its exploration of love, death and war.
Part-time travel, part-romance, part-court room drama, it’s set in 1945 and follows wartime airman and would-be poet Peter Carter (David Niven), who cheats death when he jumps out of his burning plane without a parachute and miraculously survives.
When Conductor 71 (Marius Goring), who lost him in the fog, comes to collect his soul and take him to heaven via a moving staircase he insists on appealing his case before a celestial court.
The reason being that he has fallen in love with US radio operator June (Kim Hunter), the last person he spoke to before he bailed out of his aircraft and who he meets on landing in Devon. The question is, is all of this real or is he hallucinating due to a brain injury?
The way the film transforms from Technicolor on Earth to black and white in heaven is seamless and quite remarkable — The Wizard of Oz in reverse — and it typifies the huge ambition of this stunning film.
Despite how many times you may have seen it on TV, you must see it on the big screen.
Brigsby Bear (15)
Directed by Dave McCary
AT THE start, likeable oddball James (Kyle Mooney) is rescued from life in his underground home since 1987 when his “parents,” Ted and April (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams), abduct him as an infant and he’s reunited with his real-life father and mother Greg and Louise (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins)
The screwy story convincingly posits James’s overweening obsession with the eponymous cartoon bear, not realising that Ted created the TV series and he was its sole audience.
In what turns out to be a bizarre adjustment to real life, James and his new friends, including a cop (Greg Kinnear) who dreams of becoming an actor and steals film props from the police, set out to make a Brigsby feature film…
Given the tsunami of kids’ cartoons created to satisfy the insatiable appetites of TV-addicted youngsters, this daffy, well-scripted and unexpectedly enjoyable comedy is well served by Mooney, the supporting cast and debut director Dave McCary.
Better Watch Out (15)
Directed by Chris Peckover
IN BETTER Watch Out, Christmas beckons, offering a smiling snowman and the seasonal song Joy to the World.
But seeing the snowman’s head knocked off with a baseball bat presages a nerve-snapping shocker – think Home Alone with gore.
With his parents out on Christmas Eve, precocious 12-year-old Luke (Levi Miller) watches a horror movie on TV, then makes a pass at lovely high-school babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge).
Unluckily for her, resisting Luke’s advances plunges her into escalating terror as the boy and nerdy pal Garrett (Ed Oxenbould) fake a home invasion to scare her into submission.
Director Chris Peckover’s terrifying antidote to traditional syrupy seasonal films creates a monstrous young slayer to haunt your nightmares.
Miller is memorably scary, DeJonge and Oxenbould score too and suspense never slackens.
As Tom Lehrer would have it, ”Christmas time is here, by golly, disapproval would be folly.”