'"THE DINNER" RUMINATION WORTHY FOOD FOR THOUGHT
From left, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney (back to camera), Richard Gere and Rebecca Hall end up dissecting each other's lives at an elegant dinner.

“The Dinner” stars Richard Gere and Laura Linney but don't be mislead by that star power. “The Dinner” is a weighty meal about issues worthy of high-carb ratings.

How weighty? Well, at the end in the screen credits is included a very long list of contributors. A sure sign that nobody thought there was any way in Heck this picture was going to make any money at the box office.

All of which can be a good thing. If you have enjoyed the stage play “God of Carnage,” or its movie version, you will enjoy biting into “The Dinner.” Both use some of the same ingredients.

Two couples meet for dinner. Underlying issues deliberately buried eventually surface after much scratching and clawing. The ending isn't pretty.

Writer/director Oren Moverman has adapted his script from the best-selling book by Dutch author Herman Koch – moving the action from Amsterdam to an unnamed American city large enough to have an obnoxiously upscale gourmet-beyond-all-reason restaurant -- bypassing an adaptation for the stage but still coming up with a film that feels stagey.

Not that static conversations are necessarily a bad thing, yet we can't help noticing how someone sitting at this dinner is always jumping up from the table and running outside or to the ladies' room or seeking the foyer of the very elegant and mansion-like setting.

The other two actors are Steve Coogan (yep, the British comedian doing great playing a retired American high school teacher grappling with mental issues) and Rebecca Hall, another Brit with bite.

The line-up has Gere as Congressman and candidate for governor Stan Lohman, married to Katelyn (Hall), going up against Paul Lohman (Coogan), who is the congressman's less-esteemed brother, and his sweet wife Claire (Linney).

At first it looks like a conflict of traditional sibling rivalry between the far more successful older brother, Stan, and his equally deserving but financially less successful younger brother Paul. As the film is set up, we are always seeing this confrontation from Paul's viewpoint.

He is the acerbic commentator, insulting Stan and insisting his own opinion is the most important. But then he keeps pushing the point so far, we begin to question Paul's own sanity.

Or think there must be more to the story, because Stan is the one who called together this family pow wow. But Stan is also the one who keeps getting interrupted by another phone call every few minutes because his political life has hit a snag.

Is Stan as thoughtless as Paul insists? Or is Stan actually the long-suffering one who has carried Paul through life, even as Stan must keep his own lofty career goals alive? And what, exactly, is the problem that seems to keep tightening everyone's jaws?

Moverman has chopped up his film into fragments of flashbacks that shatter against the spaced-out narrative Stan always wants to convince us contains the true facts. This approach does seem startlingly appropriate.

As if mirroring the chaos of real-life current events when a controversial statement blurted out on Monday is walked back on Tuesday, then opposed and attacked on Wednesday, only to be modified on Thursday in a way that makes Monday's original comment seem even more bizarre by Friday. Just in time to dominate the Sunday morning news analysis programs on TV.

Plan on attending "The Dinner" with friends who will enjoy discussing afterward all the movie's ramifications of public responsibility to both civil discourse and to the homeless, and to one's own family regardless of the situation.

And also asking why someone can't, now and then, receive a get-out-of-jail free card for no good  reason whatsoever? Wouldn't that be considered a random act of kindness?
























THESE LOVABLE SCREEN ICONS ARE "GOING IN STYLE"
From left, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin plan a big bank heist over breakfast in their favorite coffee shop.

Is there such a genre as Nostalgia Comedy? If not there probably will be as the boomer generation slips unwillingly into retirement and gets pushed closer to the wings on life's stage.

Testing the waters is Warner Bros. with a consumer-proven favorite, “Going in Style,” re-tooled for modern times from the original 1979 release featuring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasburg.

This time around the lovable old timers are Morgan Freeman, 79, as Willie, Michael Caine, 84, as Joe and Alan Akin, 83, as Albert. Three pals who live across from each other in a corner of Brooklyn that is resisting gentrification.

Th plot is everybody's favorite – tired retirees who feel even more exhausted to learn their company pensions are cut off, and then discovering a new zest for life when they decide to rob the bank that is keeping all their pension money.

Yep, it is also the same plot as last year's “Hell or High Water,” in which two brothers much younger and sexier than the above threesome, decide to rob the Texas bank that intends to foreclose on their mom's farm.

Both movies do respect their shared Hollywood tradition. “Going in Style” is lovable as a basset hound and just as aggressive.

Smoothest of the smooth is Freeman , a guy who can make the supplest of shoe leathers feel stiff by comparison. He's the patient grandfather every kid wants to have, still young at heart with a twinkle in his eye.

Caine is another guy who turns on the charm with capitol letters. He's the one who is a little more daring. An octogenarian risk-taker that knows how to use the internet to find out the average time it takes for New York City police officers to respond to a crime – about two minutes, 35 seconds.

Arkin is the irascible one, always complaining, always working the angles. And always the most entertaining. He's the one, wouldn't you know, who gets the girl at the end.

Of course, in this crowd that role is played by the radiantly smiling Ann-Margaret as Annie. She works in the neighborhood grocery the guys frequent and has apparently been after Albert for years.

Once the masculine thrill of robbing a bank begins coursing through his system, Albert sees Annie in a completely different and much more positive different light.

It takes awhile to get all this setup and running as we first see how meaningless their lives are in retirement, then watch the idea of a bank robbery take hold as they consider all the consequences and make their plans.

The pleasure of “Going in Style' is watching how buoyantly each familiar scene unfolds. There are no surprises, which would only upset the friendly flow of events, anyway.

Zach Braff as director gives each of these endearing actors the time and the freedom to develop his character. They are having fun and we love watching them have it. Maybe we have seen all this done before somewhere else, but we haven't seen it done any better.