THE DINNER. Elliptical awkwardness isn't everybody's thing and that's understandable. In real life, it's almost nobody's thing, and those who enjoy it are challenging to be around, to say the least. But cinematically, a sort of rootless discomfiture can go a long way toward establishing tone, serving story and locating characters in context. Such is the case with this little emotional land mine, adapted from Herman Koch's novel and directed by Oren Moverman (Rampart 2011, The Messenger 2009). With oblique camera moves, a constantly shifting soundtrack and jumps in the chronology, The Dinner underscores and amplifies the neurosis and tension at the center of its narrative to distinct, successful and occasionally jarring effect.
As Claire Lohman (Laura Linney) prepares for an evening out, her husband Paul (Steve Coogan) holds forth about how unpleasant he finds the prospect of the dinner they are about to attend. It quickly becomes clear that Paul, in fact, finds the prospect of most things unpleasant, and takes no small satisfaction in holding forth about that fact, verbosely and at great length. Apart from Paul's social awkwardness and pomposity, something is off in the house of Lohman. He sneaks around the house, stealing glances at something on his son Michael's (Charlie Plummer) phone and then trying to conceal his sneaking. His interactions with Michael are charged with a sort of upside-down dominance, the son exploiting the unease and insecurity of the father.
Meanwhile, in a nearby campaign van, a well-dressed couple simmers in their own domestic distress. He, Stan (Richard Gere), a congressman campaigning for governor, makes an 11th-hour effort to gather votes for a bill he has authored. She, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), can barely look at him. Against the protestations of Stan's campaign manager, they disembark to meet Claire and Paul, Stan's brother, for dinner.
Over an elaborate meal at a ridiculously high-toned restaurant, the couples spend the next two hours or so circling each other, with Stan attempting to wrangle the others into addressing the ever-growing elephant in the room. That elephant, we eventually learn, has to do with something awful Michael and his cousin Rick (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), Stan's son, seem to have gotten away with, despite the knowledge of Rick's more conscientious adopted younger brother Beau (Miles J. Harvey). As the couples continue to dance around the issue at hand, layers of obfuscation gradually become clear: Claire had prior knowledge of the events in question but kept it from Paul, possibly in an effort to protect him emotionally. Stan only made Katelyn aware of the boys' actions just before dinner, and might now derail his campaign to address the issue. In flashback, the lifelong tension, jealousy and anger that define Paul's relationship with his brother become painfully clear, as does his tendency toward stifling depression and lashing out.
The upshot, of course, is that family can be a mess, mostly because people are a mess. The Dinner sets this theme against a kind of familial worst-case scenario, and is perhaps appropriately messy in its execution. There is a section — Paul and Stan visit the site of the Battle of Gettysburg toward the middle of the movie — when that messiness threatens to undermine the otherwise excellent tone and aesthetic of the movie. It's a logical progression: Paul's long-time obsession with the battle coincides with his emotional nadir but the tonal juxtaposition, plus the heavy-handed brother-versus-brother stuff, is a little out of place.
Taken as a whole, though, The Dinner strikes a satisfying balance of psychological realism, narrative risk-taking and unique visual style. The effectiveness of the technique is underpinned by the excellence of the cast, with the four leads each bringing a formidable emotional charge to the proceedings. Coogan stands out here, setting aside his usual acerbic comic genius in a controlled, menacing portrait of frustration and discontent. He, like the movie he top-lines, avoids simple moralization or tidy solutions, presenting instead a potent, complex, authentic yet stylized performance. The Dinner poses a great many questions, leaving many (most?) of them unanswered. It's a risky, raw proposition, carried off stylishly. R. 120m. BROADWAY.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 offers more of what one would expect and that's not a bad thing. There are gigantic space battles, colorful creatures, sly jokes and middling blue-eyed soul aplenty. The team is back together, ceaselessly ribbing each other while reinforcing the strength of their bond. It's a sequel, in other words, and a good one, made better by its makers' clear and enduring love for the characters.
Not long after the events of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are back on the job, contracted by a golden-hued uber-race to defend some exotic batteries against a marauding space beast. They complete their task, receiving Gamora's captive fugitive sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) as compensation. They set out for a distant planet to exchange Nebula for a bounty but Rocket's kleptomania runs them afoul of their former employers. This foments a crash landing, a meeting with Peter's long-estranged father Ego (Kurt Russell) and as much plot-business as one can cram in to a two-and-a-half-hour comic book movie.
Over-length may be the only substantial criticism one can levy at Vol. 2, as it delivers and expands on all the promise of the first installment. It is colorful and buoyant and funny and zips along despite the running time. Most importantly, though, it is gentle and humane and heartfelt, feeling like a sort of love-letter from writer-director James Gunn both to the material and its fans. NR. 110m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
SLEIGHT. A sharp street magician turns to crime to take care of his sister and must use his skills and wit to save her when she's kidnapped. Starring Jacob Latimore, Seychelle Gabriel and Dulé Hill. R. 89m. BROADWAY.
SNATCHED. Amy Shumer plays a hot mess who takes her stick-in-the-mud mother (Goldie Hawn) on a tropical vacation that goes sideways. R. 91m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD. Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan and Rebecca Hall play parents who must decide whether to cover up their children's crime. R. 120m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965). Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer star in the timeless musical that makes us want to sing, eat strudel and punch a Nazi. G. 174m. BROADWAY.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. The cast, style and scale are impressive, but the moody darkness and slow pacing of this live-action/CG fairytale reboot seems tailored for nostalgic grownups more than kids. Starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. PG13. 100m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
BORN IN CHINA. Live action documentary follows panda, monkey and snow leopard families in the wild. With John Krasinski, thankfully narrating and not cast as a panda. G. 76m. MILL CREEK.
THE BOSS BABY. Fresh from SNL, Alec Baldwin voices another business-minded infant in this animated comedy about corporate intrigue. With Steve Buscemi. PG. 97m. BROADWAY.
THE CIRCLE. Emma Watson, Tom Hanks and an underutilized John Boyega star in a corporate techno-surveillance thriller that feels a bit outdated and not nearly as scary as the real cybersphere around us. PG13. 110m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
COLOSSAL. Anne Hathaway gives a brilliant performance as a woman linked to a Godzilla-like monster in writer and director Nacho Vigalondo's funny, touching and terrifying treatise on abuse, alcoholism, American jingoism, toxic relationships and domestic violence. R. 109m. MINOR.
THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS. The juggernaut keeps rolling with explosions, crashes, nutty car chases, submarines and, at last, the action sequence Jason Statham deserves. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez. PG13. 160m. BROADWAY.
GIFTED. Chris Evans stars as an uncle raising his gifted niece (McKenna Grace) and fighting his own mother for custody. With Jenny Slate and Lindsay Duncan. PG13. 101m. BROADWAY.
GOING IN STYLE. Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin are old, broke, desperate and starting a late life of crime. PG13. 96m. BROADWAY.
THE LOST CITY OF Z. Charlie Hunnam stars as a British explorer following clues to an advanced civilization in the Amazonian jungle. PG13. 141m. BROADWAY, MINOR.
MY ENTIRE HIGH SCHOOL SINKING INTO THE SEA. An animated comedy about an earthquake shaking a school into the ocean where it drifts and sinks like a ship. With Jason Schwartzman. PG13. 75m. MINIPLEX.
A QUIET PASSION. Cynthia Nixon stars in a biopic about reclusive poet Emily Dickinson, which makes sense because she was such a Miranda. PG13. 125m. MINIPLEX.
UNCERTAIN. Documentary about a remote town named Uncertain, Texas, its eccentric characters and their checkered pasts. NR. 82m. MINIPLEX.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill