The Dinner by Herman Koch (Book Review)

I’m reviewing the book The Dinner by Herman Koch as the movie is released today in the U.S. There’s currently no U.K. release date scheduled. The movie was directed by Oren Moverman & stars Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall, Adepero Oduye & Chloë Sevigny.

The Dinner by Herman Koch

What It’s About: (via Amazon)
It’s a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse — the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.

Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

My Thoughts:

I liked this book but it’s probably not for everyone. I’ll avoid plot spoilers but I’ll tell you that none of the characters are very likable, which puts a lot of readers off (including me, usually). The story was intriguing enough to keep me reading, however, and it’s not a long book so it’s a pretty quick read. It might be worth your time if the plot synopsis interests you. However, it’s also the type of story that should work well as a movie so, if it’s a decent adaptation, you might want to skip the book. I’ll let you know if the movie does the book justice (if the movie ever gets a U.K. release date)! It’s a film I’m definitely wanting to check out as it’s one I feel could possibly improve on the book if handled well. The cast seems promising.

I liked the way the story was presented as courses instead of “Chapters”: Appetiser, Main, Dessert, etc etc (I can’t remember all the posh terms for all the different courses. Never knew there were so many courses to a fancy meal!). We slowly learn more & more about the four adults having this meal together while the story of the horrible act commited by their teenage sons comes to light.

I’m not going to say much more as the story is pretty straightforward and there’s not much more I could say anyway without spoiling it. I’ll say it’s a decent character study but doesn’t explore all the moral implications as much as it could have. By the end, it felt more shallow than I was hoping for. That’s why I’m hopeful for the possibility of a really good film adaptation as there’s some meaty material here for a really good set of screenwriters & actors to sink their teeth into. We’ll see. The Dinner isn’t as deep & meaningful as it could’ve been but it’s still an intriguing story told in a fairly original way and I’d say I enjoyed it more than several of the other 13 books I’ve read so far this year.

My Rating: 3/5

**Yes, I’m keeping a list of all the books I’ve read so far this year. At the moment, this is probably how I’d rank them (from least favorite to favorite). If you really want to know… 😉 I hope to review them all by the end of the year:

14. The Sisters by Claire Douglas
13. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
12. The Circle by Dave Eggers
11. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
10. The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
9. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
8. Finders Keepers by Stephen King
7. The Dinner by Herman Koch
6. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King
5. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
4. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
3. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
2. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
1. Murder On The Orient Express by Agatha Christie

(And, yes, I’m focusing on reading books that have been movies/TV shows recently or will be very soon) 🙂

Nocturnal Animals (2016) Review

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Directed by Tom Ford

Based on Tony and Susan by Austin Wright

Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.

My Opinion:

Well! This movie was certainly… interesting? I love Amy Adams but sci-fi is my type of thing so Arrival is the only one I’d planned on going to see (it’s EXCELLENT, by the way – I’m posting my review tomorrow). Hubby saw Nocturnal Animals then was weirdly insistent on me seeing it too while being cryptic as to if it would actually be worth my time. Now I understand: This is one of those movies you want other people to see so you can talk about it & discuss your theories on the meaning of the symbolism and the different characters’ actions & intentions and, umm……. Okay – This is one of those movies you want other people to see so they can maybe tell you what the f*^k is going on. 😉

Was Nocturnal Animals worth my time? Yes. It’s easily in my top ten 2016 movie releases now & I’d be surprised if it’s not still there by December 31st. But it’s a difficult watch and I can’t exactly say I had a “fun time” watching it. I highly doubt I’ll ever watch it again and, quite frankly, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to. It’s intensely disturbing and I was kind of glad when it finished. Am I selling this one to you yet?! Ha! I’m pretty sure I’ll never be asked to contribute a quote for a movie’s poster.

I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from seeing this. In fact, I very highly recommend it. However, I’d only recommend it to a small selection of people who I think would appreciate it, like several of my fellow movie bloggers who may be reading this. You just need to be warned of what you’re getting into if you watch Nocturnal Animals: I guarantee you’ll either love this or you’ll think it’s the most pretentiously boring piece of shit you’ve seen in a long time. There’s my movie poster quote for this!

I always say this but I turn to movies for escapism, which is probably why I go for sci-fi & fantasy and never for gritty realism. I don’t like the ugliness in this world so I don’t enjoy things like true crime dramas, serial killer movies, etc. I say that because this movie is partly “gritty crime drama”. Well, it is yet it isn’t… Just be warned that these parts of the film contain violence more extreme than I’d been expecting (hubby – you could’ve warned me, dude!). The gritty parts are necessary, though, as you start to realize the full meaning behind them so I managed to muddle through despite finding these scenes very uncomfortable.

I’ll try to stay as spoiler-free as possible with this review but I think it’s safe to say that this movie is a story within a story (the book written by the ex-husband of Amy Adams, which she reads throughout the movie). So we go back and forth between Adams & the story in the book which, on the surface, is nothing more than a standard pulpy crime drama. But it IS something much more than that & only Adams and her ex-husband (and hopefully the film’s audience) will be aware of that.

I often don’t go for the “story within a story” thing (er, unless it’s The Princess Bride… Best. Movie. Ever.) but I was completely engrossed every time the movie went back to the book’s crime drama story. Yes, the story feels like formulaic “pulp” (probably why the ex-husband, Jake Gyllenhaal, apparently never made it big as an author) yet it’s so intense & so brilliantly acted that you’re drawn into this story far more than the real-life story of Adams and her superficial art gallery world. But that’s the whole point: Unlike Adams’ real-life extravagant lifestyle, the book’s “fictional” world feels far more real & is full of a raw emotion that I’ve rarely seen captured so well on screen. Honestly, I found these scenes so profoundly & disturbingly moving that credit must be given to everyone involved in their making whether you like the movie or not. Though extremely upsetting, I found this film to be one of the most immersive movie experiences I’ve had since seeing Room, although the emotional effect was the exact opposite (Room filled me with pure joy).

As always, Adams is very good with an understated performance but it’s Gyllenhaal who really shines in what is actually the far more important role. I’ve never been a big fan of his and, though I’ve seen him in plenty of highly regarded roles, I think this is the film that has finally made me appreciate him as an actor. I also loved Michael Shannon in quite a small role as the sheriff in the book’s story. Again, he’s someone highly regarded yet I’ve paid him little attention so, for any of his fans reading this, this movie is worth you checking out just for his role. I can’t guarantee you’ll like the actual movie but he’s fantastic.

I know this is only fashion designer Tom Ford’s second film and I’ve not seen A Single Man but I definitely want to see more from him after this. I think there’s some true brilliance in this film that will unfortunately be too casually regarded as pretentious. I can totally understand why it would be labelled as such, though, as it initially appears that way with beautifully artistic shots & with rich art world snobs moaning about their superficial problems. But the movie itself is the same as book’s story within the film: On the surface it’s superficial & formulaic but deep down it’s an allegorical tale. Wait… The movie is an allegory of itself! No. Um… The book in the movie is an allegory of the real life story in the movie while the movie itself is an allegory of… Something! Maybe. I just like throwing the word “allegory” around. Trust me, there’s some crazy allegorical shit going on here. I’m sure of it!

Is the film itself as deep as its story within a story? I don’t know. My mind is still working on that but I like that I’m still thinking about this movie days after watching it. That’s what I consider true art and only a handful of movies play on my mind for days afterwards. Nocturnal Animals is definitely not for everyone but, if you’re someone who wants something more than just pure entertainment, you may be the type to find this movie an intensely rewarding experience. Or you may just be pretentious. 😉

My Rating: 8/10

**To all the pretentious snobs like me who’ve seen this movie, feel free to discuss it with me in the comments! Full-on spoilers allowed, so avoid reading the comments if you’ve not yet seen this – I think it’s not yet out in America? I want to talk about this one. I want to discuss the parallels in the movie’s story & movie book’s story. The meaning of some of the imagery. The overall meaning of the movie: is it deep like the film’s book or superficial like the film’s real-world. What was with all the naked butts?!? The real life book this is based on (as opposed to the book within the movie) – has anyone read it? Should I dye my hair the same color as Amy Adams in the hope that I’ll look exactly like her? Discuss! 🙂

Mystic River (2003) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Khalid of The Blazing Reel. Thanks for the review, Khalid! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about Mystic River, IMDB rank 239 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE. Also, if you’d like to add a link to your IMDB review(s) on your own blogs, feel free to use any of the logos I’ve used at the top of any of these guest reviews.

Very few people in Hollywood have had a career quite like that of Clint Eastwood. In a career that’s spanned over forty years, ol’ Clint has done it all; he’s starred in some of the greatest movies to come out during this time-period, played some of the most memorable on-screen characters, heck, the guy is basically the poster boy for badassery. He’s also one of the few actors who’ve made even better directors. But of all the Unforgivens and Million Dollar Babies, there’s one film that’s for me, stands out as the crowning achievement on his truly stellar career. That film is of course Mystic River.

Mystic River The Blazing Reel Top 25 Movies of All Time Sean Penn Clint Eastwood Kevin Bacon Tim Robbins

When the daughter of ex-con Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn) is murdered, two of his childhood friends from the neighborhood are involved. Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins), a blue-collar worker, was the last person to see her alive, while Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon), a homicide detective, is heading up the case. As Sean proceeds with his investigation, Jimmy conducts one of his own through neighborhood contacts, soon Jimmy and Sean both start to suspect their old pal, Dave, who lives a quiet life with his wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) but harbors some disturbing secrets.

Dark, ominous and brooding to a fault, Mystic River is quite simply one of the greatest dramas to ever hit the screen. It’s a film that got unfairly swept under the rug when out came out twelve years ago mainly because of the buzz surrounding its two Oscar competitors, Return of the King and Lost in Translation. But while they were both great films, it’s Mystic River that stands out as the most emotionally resonant of the three.

Benefitting from some truly magnificent work by Clint Eastwood, screenwriter Brian Helgeland and an ensemble cast, firing on all cylinders, Mystic River had my attention from the very first scene and proceeded to engage me even more. Brian Helgeland ‘s brilliant script, adapted from the book by Dennis Lehane never loses focus of a story that may seem pretty conventional on paper, rather keeps surprising us with twists and turns that enhance the drama only more.

Mystic River Tim Robbins

And you can’t ask for a better display of acting than the one you get from this film and Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, both of whom seem to lose themselves in their roles, carry the movie with their mesmerising, Oscar winning performances. Many people were shocked when Penn beat out Bill Murray at the Oscars that year but while it’s debatable which performance of the two was better, no one can say that his performance wasn’t worthy of merit because as Jimmy Markum, Penn gives a complex, riveting and groundbreaking performance and despite that Tim Robbins -who’s equally brilliant, if not more- is able to steal so many scenes from him in his haunting turn as Dave Boyle.

Not to forget, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne and Marcia Gay Harden who provide great support as well. But ultimately though, it’s the film’s powerful emotional core that makes it such an unforgettable experience and the reason why I keep revisiting after all these years. The film has a very unique moral conscience and an exceedingly dense plot that sets it apart from most dramas and its stark depiction of tragedy and loss is perhaps one of the most compelling ones ever put on film.

The Truman Show (1998) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from David of That Moment In. Thanks for the review, David! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about The Truman Show, IMDB rank 215 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE. Also, if you’d like to add a link to your IMDB review(s) on your own blogs, feel free to use any of the logos I’ve used at the top of any of these guest reviews.

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Director: Peter Weir
Writer: Andrew Niccol

Stars: Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney

These days, in most cities and towns, avoiding being filmed is next to impossible. We are so used to it now, that we rarely give it a second thought. CCTV cameras line every street, shop and restaurant recording us from every angle. We could probably make a movie about our lives just by going outside. For Truman Burbank though, someone already is.

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Chosen before he was even born, Truman (Jim Carrey) was selected as the first 24-hour-a-day star of a TV reality show, creatively named The Truman Show. The brainchild of eccentric film maker Christof (Ed Harris), the show is an international phenomenon and been on the air for 30 years, documenting every aspect of the man’s life. And what life he’s had. Or rather not had. Christof has carefully orchestrated the world Truman has been living in, guiding the young impressionable mind as a child to remain content with his neighborhood and fearful of the world beyond. That included “killing” his father in a boating accident, an incident so traumatic, Truman can’t go near the water. This is just one of many tricks employed against Truman to keep him where he is.

There are other things that stand out for us, but less so for a man who’s grown up in a sanitized, near perfectly planned environment, which is the greatest set in television history. Everyone in Seahaven (the community Truman lives in) is an actor and they are all in on the con. Truman is married to the wholesome Meryl (Laura Linney), who is eternally chirpy and always within reach of a product to suggest they try, making sure the label and name are clearly visible for the watching audience. This is one of the film’s major conceits, that Truman is the spectacle but we are the consumers.

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Like anyone, things nag at us, and for Truman it is the same. But lately, things have become increasingly curious. A large studio light falls from the sky and crashes on the road in front of Truman. It’s quickly covered up by a radio broadcast talking about an aircraft in trouble, which also help maintain the fear of flying already implanted in his mind (Travel agencies feature posters of airplanes being struck by massive bolts of lightning, claiming THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU!). But not long after, while driving into work, the radio catches static and Truman hears the show’s crew tracking Truman’s movements as he approaches. Suspicious. But most troublesome for Truman is Lauren. Lauren, played by Sylvia in the film’s story and by Natascha McElhone in real life, is the love that he was denied. An extra on set, Lauren was never meant to be a regular. From the start, Meryl was cast as the love interest, but this is the thing about love, right? It doesn’t come from casting. It comes naturally, and Lauren overwhelms Truman. Sylvia, though is not happy about Truman’s life and is a member of the “Free Truman” movement which aims to stop the show and the cruelty of the lie. Christof has her removed from the set, forcing her and her “father” to tell Truman her family is moving to Fiji. Truman marries Meryl and life goes on, but secretly, he can’t stop thinking of his one true love. In one of the more revealing moments of the film, we watch as he hides away in the basement thumbing through magazines with pictures of women, cutting out a mouth here, some eyes there and so on. It seems arbitrary at first, and maybe even deviant for a short time until we see that Truman is actually trying to remember Lauren’s face, and is building her piece by piece with the parts of other women. It’s heartbreaking.

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This is the path Truman must take. He must discover his situation and then find a way to be free of it. Without that, the story has no meaning. But what’s impressive about this narrative is the way it makes the viewer consider the world beyond the one in the movie. What does it mean to be a star? Not long ago, it took a lot to be famous. Actors, musicians, politicians and criminals; these were the rare persons that found fame, for good or bad. These days, with reality TV, YouTube, the Internet and social networking, going “viral” and more can make anyone famous. Director Weir is keenly aware of this, and the enormous dome that houses Seahaven and Truman could easily be the metaphor of the fish bowl we all live in.

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That’s the thing about The Truman Show. It raises questions. But the film is a comedy at heart and has its objective to reach, so does not go to places that would make this a truly defining film. Take Meryl, for instance, as the girlfriend first and eventually the wife. How far does she, as a hired actress, go to play the part? Do she and Truman have sex? If so, is it broadcast? How private is Truman’s life? How much will a television audience want to see? Exploring these and more would have taken The Truman Show in a different direction, naturally, but since they are never addressed, it seems like a lost opportunity, and kind of a cheat.

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That is not to say the movie lacks depth, because that would be a mistake. Both Christof and Truman are exceptionally rich characters and Ed Harris and Jim Carrey are astounding in their roles. Christof in not a cold person, but the show is a product and the ratings are the heart. Without Truman, his world collapses, an empire he’s built for thirty years. Likewise, Truman is a child, no matter his age. His experiences are real to him, but they are aseptic, manufactured, free of conflict. There is a palpable father/son relationship in their design, but more like a god and that god’s subject just beginning to question its existence.

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Weir’s bigger message may be directed at the viewer, and one perhaps lost in the art of the film’s presentation. How closely do we really know our own world? How much do we take for granted? Life is a continuous stream of peripheral activity that goes invariably unchecked. How much of it should we question? Truman starts to see oddities, and because he doesn’t know anything but what he’s been presented, his questions are weak and with no frame of reference. Imagine that it began to rain only on you and nobody else. What do you think it could mean? A miracle perhaps? This is a dilemma Truman must face.

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And this is really all about him. Truman is a wonderful character. He’s honest, sensitive, inquisitive, and because we know his situation, he’s also sympathetic. We want to see him win. There is tremendous joy in watching his discovery. Throughout the movie, we see the audience of the show and given a glimpse into how Truman has impacted many personally. Some wear buttons and have posters that read, “How’s it going end?” We may think we get an answer to that question, when the time comes, but in truth, that answer is not so clear. Where is Truman now?

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