The Trial of the Chicago 7 Movie Review

A common (and sometimes warranted) complaint about Aaron Sorkin is that he needs a good editor for his dialogue. He absolutely has one in the presence of Alan Baumgarten in The Trial of the Chicago 7, his true life based drama that recounts a riveting and devastatingly unfair courtroom proceeding. With its sprawling ensemble cast, we see sequences from scene one where the principals are finishing each other’s sentences. Most of the players are on the same page in theory as they seek to disrupt the 1968 Democratic National Convention while the Vietnam War roils on. How they achieve their point is where they diverge and Sorkin’s screenplay expertly shows that not all forms of protest seek to follow the same playbook. They may be using similar words, but their calls to action are often with different actions in mind.

Months after the convention, the newly sworn in Nixon administration wants to establish a law and order attitude that its leader was elected on in those turbulent times. The new Attorney General charges his prosecutors (led by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Richard Schultz) to try a group of defendants who led unconnected factions in the summer of ’68. Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) are the Yippies with their colorful outfits and outright disregard for authority. Eddie Redmayne’s Tom Hayden heads up a more organized antiwar effort that looks to change politics via the ballot box. David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) is a pacifist whose non-aggression stances included even World War II. And somehow Black Panther leader Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is among the arrested group even though he was in Chicago briefly and has never met the other men.

The trial is presided by Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella), whose scorn for the accused is laid bare in his comments and rulings. There is a sequence, taken from history, where Seale is literally bound and gagged before the jurors and the American public. That was a shock to the collective system a half century ago and it plays that way today onscreen. His silencing is due to his lawyer not being present as he tries to represent himself. The rest of the group is defended by William Kunstler (Mark Rylance), a true believer in the cause who must navigate his way through his clients personalities and the judge who truly believes the opposite of his views.

For a director and writer who pens long passages of dialogue, Sorkin’s Trial is engrossing as we realize what’s not allowed to be said during it. Langella sinks his teeth into the part and you may find yourself verbally objecting to him. The cast’s standouts are the beleaguered Rylance and Baron Cohen. The latter is an inspired choice as he’s the most edgy actor of the bunch portraying the edgiest defendant in the mix (and perhaps the wisest overall). An interplay between his Hoffman and Hayden about the future of liberalism and how to make significant change could be an argument had in 2020. The real star of this movie might be the aforementioned Baumgarten, who cuts the flashbacks to what’s being talked about in court with engrossing efficiency.

There’s a lot of history (some of it altered for dramatic effect) to be unpacked in the 130 minute runtime. This is weighty enough subject matter that Sorkin’s patented righteous indignation doesn’t feel forced. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is right in his wheelhouse and my verdict is that it’s well worth experiencing this fascinating chapter.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Private Life

This Friday on Netflix, Private Life debuts. The comedic drama marks the first directorial effort from Tamara Jenkins in over a decade since her acclaimed The Savages in 2007. Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn star as a couple dealing with infertility. Costars include Kayli Carter, Molly Shannon, Denis O’Hare, and John Carroll Lynch.

Life premiered at Sundance way back in January and warm reviews followed. It currently stands at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. I don’t expect this to be a player in Best Picture or any of the acting races. However, it stands at least a shot at Best Original Screenplay. It could, however, be a long shot.

That category currently has three near sure things (The Favourite, Roma, Green Book), an unseen possibility on the horizon (Vice), and other contenders like Eighth Grade and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. In its favor is that Jenkins was recognized here before for The Savages.

Bottom line: the only chance at a nod for Private Life is Original Screenplay. It’s unlikely, but not out of the realm of possibility.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Founder Movie Review

Michael Keaton can convey so much with an expression. There are scenes in John Lee Hancock’s The Founder where he doesn’t need dialogue to show what’s going through his head. Luckily, a lot of the writing here is quite good and often gets close to matching the lead’s masterful performance.

The pic has Keaton playing Ray Kroc, the man who started McDonald’s. Well, sort of. We open in 1954 as Kroc is a struggling traveling salesman in Missouri who stumbles upon a restaurant in San Bernardino, California. It’s doing things differently from the endless drive-in joints across the nation. Run by Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) McDonald, McDonald’s makes its food fast in an era the term fast food was yet to be coined. The brothers also take their work seriously and have chosen not to franchise after their first try resulted in poor service and quality. There’s a scene where Dick recalls how the restaurant’s burger making assembly line was perfected that’s an absolute joy to watch.

Ray immediately realizes the cash cow that Dick and Mac are sitting on and his relentless salesmanship gets them to relent on opening more locations. This brings forth a flurry of activity as Ray gets those Golden Arches up while constantly clashing with the actual founders.

Director Hancock’s last effort, Saving Mr. Banks, showed another 1950s era titan of industry with an unending drive and ambition in the form of Walt Disney. Kroc is just as much an icon in many ways, though his motives are often far more ruthless. The screenplay by Robert D. Siegel doesn’t exactly make him a villain, but you won’t exactly sympathize with him either. With rare exception, Kroc’s actions are all about his personal gain. He barely speaks to his wife (Laura Dern) and has his eye on a business partner’s wife (Linda Cardellini). Yet at the same time, it was him who had the vision to expand a chain of restaurants that now feeds 1% of the world every day. And it probably took his kind of personality to do it.

The work of Lynch and Offerman is top-notch. Offerman’s Dick sees the writing on the wall with Ray, while Lynch’s Mac can’t quite get there. This is Keaton’s movie, though. Like Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko in Wall Street and Daniel Day-Lewis’s Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, Keaton gives us another corporate honcho to kind of despise and kind of love. The Founder may not be as fantastic as those two pictures, but the star is and it’s quite entertaining watching the intrigue unfold.

***1/2 (out of four)

Jackie Movie Review

Pablo Larrain’s Jackie presents a subject in a horrific stage of grief on a stage very few can identify with. Dealing with loss is a universal feeling. The universe watching you grieve is rare and was even more so in November 1963 when the 35th President of the United States was assassinated. A country turned to Jackie Kennedy and her decisions in the days following the tragedy are explored here.

Yet the most effective moments in the picture belong to Jackie’s quieter moments as she deals with her husband’s death. They are made even more powerful by Natalie Portman’s portrayal of her. In what is easily her finest performance since her Oscar-winning turn in Black Swan, Jackie is propelled by her even when narrative shortcomings present themselves.

The film is primarily set in the immediate days after President Kennedy’s fateful ride in Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy is tasked with planning a funeral when national security concerns are at a fever pitch. She’s also already grappling with how to preserve his legacy and we  witness that through her interview with a journalist (Billy Crudup). It is here we see Jackie’s recollection of the proper way to memorialize a slain leader. How extravagant should the funeral be from a First Lady accused of being a bit extravagant? We see brief glimpses of tension with President Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) and especially his aide Jack Valenti (Max Casella).

Some of Jackie’s decisions literally have potential world implications. Far more personal ones are there like informing two young children. We also witness her bond with Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) and childhood friend Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig). Her psyche is explored in another flashback narrative as she talks about it with a priest, played by the late John Hurt.

The dual flashback setup often feels a tad familiar and sometimes stale. Those with a passing knowledge of the JFK assassination aftermath won’t learn much here. What is rewarding is Portman’s mesmerizing work. There’s also a haunting musical score by Mica Levi. John F. Kennedy has been called the first TV President. One thing does come through here with his First Lady’s recounting of events is her understanding of that. In her darkest moments, she also realizes that she must do all she can to control the story before others do. This does provide some fascinating moments of conversation with Crudup’s reporter. Even in her fragile and stricken state, Jackie feels the duty to write this chapter of history her way.

*** (out of four)

The Founder Box Office Prediction

Michael Keaton has had the rare feat of appearing in the last two Best Picture Oscar winners with 2014’s Birdman and 2015’s Spotlight. For awhile, The Founder (out next weekend) was looked at as potential awards bait. Keaton headlines the biographical drama playing Ray Kroc, the man who acquired what would become the multi billion dollar McDonald’s franchise. John Lee Hancock directs and his previous efforts include The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks. Laura Dern, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, and B.J. Novak costar.

The Founder has had a shifty journey to the big screen. It was originally tapped to debut in November before being pushed up to August before being pushed back to January. It had a very limited release in December to qualify for Academy consideration, but that probably won’t matter much. While reviews so far have been decent (81% on Rotten Tomatoes), it’s likely to receive zero nominations. This won’t be a Keaton trifecta for Best Picture.

What does it all mean for the box office? While any moviegoer is certainly familiar with the subject matter, I don’t that see that translating to much business. That said, the pic comes with just a tiny reported $7 million budget. I’ll predict it mkea under that in its first weekend for a mid single digits start.

The Founder opening weekend prediction: $4.1 million

For my xXx: Return of Xander Cage prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/01/10/xxx-return-of-xander-cage-box-office-prediction/

For my Split prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/01/10/split-box-office-prediction/

For my 20th Century Women prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/01/12/20th-century-women-box-office-prediction/

For my The Resurrection of Gavin Stone prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/01/12/the-resurrection-of-gavin-stone-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: The Founder

Another day, another piece of the Oscar puzzle coming into more focus as The Founder has screened for critics. The film is a biopic of Ray Croc, the man behind the McDonald’s franchise. Michael Keaton stars with John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks) directing. Costars include Laura Dern, Nick Offerman, Patrick Wilson, and John Carroll Lynch.

This has been fairly low on the radar screen of many awards prognosticators. Part of that could be due to its consistently shifting release date over the past few months. It was originally scheduled to debut this Friday and then was pushed up to August before being pushed back to December and its wide release won’t come until January. Got all that?

Nevertheless, The Founder found some positive critical reaction as of yesterday and it currently stands at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. Will it get a Best Picture nomination? Most likely not, but it could be a factor in one particular race. Michael Keaton has been on a roll lately (he’s appeared in the last two Best Picture winners – Birdman and Spotlight). The Best Actor race appears to be rather fluid, with only Denzel Washington (Fences) and Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) as seemingly sure things. Keaton could easily find himself in the mix with Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Joel Edgerton (Loving), Tom Hanks (Sully), Warren Beatty (Rules Don’t Apply), Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic), and others. It could also make a play for Best Original Screenplay, though that could be more of a long shot.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…