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: The Trial of the Chicago 7

One of 2020’s most talked about Oscar contenders has screened this evening ahead of its October Netflix debut. The results are encouraging when it comes to Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 and it retains its status a major player throughout awards season.

The true life legal drama marks the second directorial effort of Sorkin, known most for his screenwriting work on the big and small screen. He’s thrice nominated for his words with The Social Network (where he won), Moneyball, and Molly’s Game (his debut behind the camera). Buzz indicates he’ll be nominated again for Original Screenplay. A Best Picture nomination seems likely. I’m not 100% sold he makes the director cut yet, but time will tell.

Here’s where it gets tricky: Trial has a sprawling cast of acclaimed actors that includes Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, and Jeremy Strong. To say that Netflix will need to be strategic in their Supporting Actor campaign is an understatement. This is the same issue faced with other hopefuls like Mank and One Night in Miami.

Early word of mouth could match my initial projections before this screened as Cohen and Mateen II are garnering attention. Yet the same can be said for Rylance (Supporting Actor winner for 2015’s Bridge of Spies) and Langella. I doubt it will happen, but the door is at least open for Trial to get 3 Supporting Actor nods. The combination? TBD. If that occurs, it would be the first pic to accomplish that feat since 1974’s The Godfather Part II.

Also noteworthy is an Original Song submission titled “Hear My Voice” from Celeste that could make the final five. The verdict so far is that Trial is a probable contender in Picture and Director and Screenplay (that one basically assured) with several actors in the mix. It also appears a given that this gets Best Ensemble attention at the SAG Awards. Like Nomadland and One Night in Miami, I suspect this (which has been in my Best Picture predictions from the get go) won’t be leaving. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Summer 2009: The Top 10 Hits and More

Today we continue with my recaps of the movie summers from 30, 20, and 10 years ago. I’ve already covered 1989 and 1999 and if you missed them, you can find them right here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/07/10/summer-1989-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/07/23/summer-1999-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

Looking over the 2009 list, it’s a reminder of how one thing in particular has changed in just a decade. In the summer of 2008, Iron Man came out and kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Two seasons later, Iron Man 2 followed. In every summer since, there’s been a massive MCU title often ruling the charts. 2009 is the last year not to feature one.

Instead, one of the most indelible images from 10 years past is Mike Tyson belting out a Phil Collins classic.

As I’ve done with previous entries, I’ll recount the top ten hits along with some other notable pics and flops. Let’s get to it!

10. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Domestic Gross: $150 million

Hasbro was kind of the MCU of this summer by bookending the top 10. Based on their popular set of action figures, Cobra spawned a sequel and introduced many moviegoers to Channing Tatum.

9. The Proposal

Domestic Gross: $163 million

What a year for Sandra Bullock. First she has this huge rom com with Ryan Reynolds and months later gets her Oscar winning turn in The Blind Side. Not to mention Betty White is in this!

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=IiL0pskex2U

8. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Domestic Gross: $177 million

While it couldn’t match the $250 million earned by its 2006 predecessor, the Ben Stiller led  family adventure sequel still did enough for a part 3 to eventually follow.

7. XMen Origins: Wolverine

Domestic Gross: $179 million

The first of three spinoffs for Hugh Jackman’s iconic clawed character, this is generally considered the worst of them. It still made a pretty penny and gave us a first glimpse at Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QvLeNgzmjcE

6. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

Domestic Gross: $196 million

The third of these five animated tales, Dinosaurs stands at the largest grosser by a mere $1 million over 2006 predecessor Ice Age: The Meltdown.

5. Star Trek

Domestic Gross: $257 million

J.J. Abrams was able to bring this long running film and TV milestone to the next generation in a critically acclaimed way. His reboot remains the highest grossing entry in the canon of Trek. Two sequels so far have followed.

4. The Hangover

Domestic Gross: $277 million

The breakout comedy of the summer made stars out of Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis in particular and had the aforementioned Mike Tyson musical moment of glory. Two lesser regarded sequels followed.

3. Up

Domestic Gross: $293 million

Pixar had another smash hit with this tale of aging and wonder that contains my personal favorite sequence of any of their titles. The opening montage of a couple’s journey through life is simultaneously beautiful and devastating.

2. Harry Potter and the HalfBlood Prince

Domestic Gross: $301 million

This sixth Potter pic set up the two part franchise finale and it stands at the third biggest grosser behind the eighth and final entry and the first film in 2001.

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Domestic Gross: $402 million

The follow-up to the 2007 original, Michael Bay’s metallic action extravaganza is the high point in terms of box office dollars overall and largest opening, even though critics mercilessly crucified it.

And now for some other notable flicks from the summer that was 10 years ago:

Angels & Demons

Domestic Gross: $133 million

The sequel to The Da Vinci Code, the return of Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon performed decently, but nowhere near the $217 million achieved by its predecessor. The next sequel Inferno bombed.

Inglourious Basterds

Domestic Gross: $120 million

Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist World War II saga become his best earning pic at the time and earned a slew of Oscar nods, including a win for scene stealer Christoph Waltz.

District 9

Domestic Gross: $115 million

Made for a mere $30 million, Neill Blomkamp announced himself a serious force of sci-fi nature with heralded work that nabbed a Best Picture nod.

Public Enemies

Domestic Gross: $97 million

This gangster tale from Michael Mann was headlined by Johnny Depp and Christian Bale as they took a break between their respective pirate and bat franchises. It was a slight box office disappointment as it couldn’t quite match its $100 million budget back domestically.

Julie & Julia

Domestic Gross: $94 million

Meryl Streep got her umpteenth Oscar nod playing famed chef Julia Child in this Nora Ephron dramedy that proved to be a nice August hit.

Bruno

Domestic Gross: $60 million

There was enough goodwill left over from Sacha Baron Cohen’s smash Borat to propel this satire about a fashion journalist to a $30 million opening weekend. It fell off quickly after that impressive start.

Drag Me to Hell

Domestic Gross: $42 million

Following on the heels of his SpiderMan trilogy, this horror comedy brought Sam Raimi back to his Evil Dead roots. Box office dollars were just ok, but critics appreciated it.

(500) Days of Summer

Domestic Gross: $32 million

Made for a tiny $7.5 million, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel charmed audiences with this rom com from Marc Webb. He would take over the Spidey franchise from Raimi shortly thereafter.

The Hurt Locker

Domestic Gross: $17 million

Kathryn Bigelow’s intense tale of bomb technicians in Iraq made a name for Jeremy Renner. While its box office earnings weren’t that potent, the real reward came later when it won the Oscar for Best Picture and Bigelow became the first female to be awarded Best Director.

We move to pictures that failed to meet expectations or were outright flops.

Terminator Salvation

Domestic Gross: $125 million

The Governor of California sat this one out and this McG directed franchise entry couldn’t match the opening of part 3 from six years prior. Today it’s perhaps best known for a secretly recorded onset argument between McG and star Christian Bale.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Domestic Gross: $65 million

A remake of a 1974 Walter Matthau action flick about hijacked subway cars, Tony Scott’s collaboration starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta fell short of anticipated blockbuster status.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pa4w4NyhIY4

Funny People

Domestic Gross: $51 million

Judd Apatow had made two huge comedies with The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. This one centered on the world of stand-up with Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen. It was more personal and divided critics and crowds alike.

Land of the Lost

Domestic Gross: $49 million

Based on a loopy 1970s TV series, Will Ferrell had a rare bomb with this critically derided prehistoric pic. It didn’t earn half of its $100 million price tag back stateside.

Year One

Domestic Gross: $43 million

Yet another prehistoric comedic failure, the talents of director Harold Ramis and Jack Black and Michael Cena couldn’t get reviewers or audiences on its side.

Imagine That

Domestic Gross: $16 million

Families ignored this particular Eddie Murphy headliner that stands as one of his lowest grossing efforts.

And that does it for my seasonal summer recaps! A year from now… look for 1990, 2000, and 2010 coming your way.

Snowden Movie Review

Maybe there’s something to the notion that the passage of time when it comes to Oliver Stone’s political dramas is an asset. After all, JFK and Nixon are two of his most riveting and they took place a couple of decades beyond the events. Whether or not you agreed with the director’s conspiracy theories or characterizations, they both flourished on separate terms. The former crackled with energy as a legal and courtroom procedural. The latter felt like a glorious Shakespearean tragedy.

In these more recent years, Stone’s films of the genre have been concerned with issues in the fierce urgency of now. His third picture named after a President – 2008’s W. – was released while Bush 43 was still sitting in the Oval and it was unimpressive. His newest is Snowden, centering on the man who turned the American intelligence universe on its axis in 2013 and beyond. The common feeling I had for both? That a solid documentary about both stories would’ve been more effective. In this case, it actually was. The director’s visual flourishes and creative editing are here in spots, just as they were in his finest works. They’re welcome on occasion, yet 2014’s Oscar winning documentary Citizenfour essentially told the same story and didn’t need Stone’s talents to tell it in an interesting way.

Joseph Gordon Levitt is Edward Snowden, who worked for both the CIA and NSA and very famously grew disillusioned with their data mining practices. His disclosures of their content and of agency practice have given him both hero and traitor status, depending on who you’re talking to. The film opens in 2013 as he’s holed up in a Hong Kong hotel with three journalists as he prepares to reveal his secrets.

Snowden then traces about a decade of his journey through government employment, government frustration, and, finally, fleeing from the government. His relationship with girlfriend Lindsay (Shailene Woodley) is also explored, from the happy times to difficult ones as he can’t really talk about what happened at the office, ever. There are also a host of familiar actors playing reporters and federal employees, though the lens is firmly trained on the title character.

Stone’s biopic presents its subject as whip smart, patriotic, and determined to right perceived wrongs. That Mr. Snowden himself makes an appearance towards the conclusion stamps his approval. Levitt does a fine job mimicking his cadence and mannerisms and his low-key persona. For those who didn’t catch watching the real man in Citizenfour, this could serve as an OK telling of the tale as Stone sees it. Yet I could not completely escape the thought of that filmmaker who’s done much better dramatically when longer political seasons passed between their happenings.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Snowden

Oliver Stone has won two Best Director Oscars for 1986’s Platoon and 1989’s Born on the Fourth of July. He’s received little love from the Academy for the past two decades and his new true life political thriller Snowden hits screen next weekend.

It screened at the Toronto Film Festival this weekend. The verdict? Look for the lack of Oscar attention to continue. Some reviews marked it as a return to form for Mr. Stone, but others weren’t impressed. The tale of CIA analyst Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon Levitt) had originally been scheduled to open late last year before being delayed.

The buzz is muted enough that I don’t expect any nominations for it, including its director, lead, and supporting cast that includes Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Tom Wilkinson, Zachary Quinto, and Nicolas Cage.

As the Toronto Festival rolls along, so will my Oscar Watch posts.

Snowden Box Office Prediction

Four have passed since Oliver Stone released his last picture and it’s been eight years since he’s gotten political. That changes next weekend when Snowden hits theaters. This is a biopic of former CIA analyst Edward Snowden with Joseph Gordon -Levitt in the title role. A stellar supporting cast includes Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Tom Wilkinson, Zachary Quinto, Scott Eastwood, Timothy Olyphant, Rhys Ifans, and Nicolas Cage.

The thriller was originally set for release in December of last year before being pushed to May and, finally, September. Snowden will be a test as to whether audiences wish to spend over two hours witnessing a story well-publicized in the press and already covered in the recent documentary Citizenfour.

My feeling is the answer will be no. Political dramas often struggle at the box office and I don’t see that as an exception. My prediction is Snowden doesn’t reach double digits in its debut as many moviegoers may be getting their fill of current events on the small screen.

Snowden opening weekend prediction: $6.8 million

For my Blair Witch prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/09/07/blair-witch-box-office-prediction/

For my Bridget Jones’s Baby prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/09/07/bridget-joness-baby-box-office-prediction/

For my Hillsong – Let Hope Rise prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/09/12/hillsong-let-hope-rise-box-office-prediction/

2016 Early Oscar Predictions: Best Actor

Day #4 of my first 2016 Oscar predictions brings us to Best Actor and in the past two years, even these incredibly early predictions yielded positive results. My 2014 late August/early September Actor predictions gave us four of the five nominees and in 2015 – three.

We start with Michael Keaton. He just missed out on a win in 2014 for Birdman and has had the distinction of appearing in the last two Best Picture winners (Birdman, Spotlight). It’s likely he’ll receive buzz for this December’s The Founder, in which he plays Ray Kroc – inventor of the McDonald’s franchise.

Denzel Washington both stars and directs in Fences, based on an acclaimed play. It’s been 15 years since he won for Training Day and it could be time to hear his name called again.

Casey Affleck has received raves for Manchester by the Sea. Same goes for Joel Edgerton in Jeff Nichols’ Loving. Readers of the previous posts in the Supporting races know that Moonlight looks to make some noise this season and that could extend to its star Trevante Rhodes.

Same goes for La La Land, which could mean a second nomination (ten years after Half Nelson) for Ryan Gosling. There’s Joe Alwyn in the title role of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, the latest from double Oscar winner Ang Lee. Woody Harrelson plays the 36th President in LBJ. Double Oscar winner Tom Hanks is Sully. And so on and so on (I’ve even listed Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool as a possibility… even though it’s extremely unlikely).

This finally brings us to Nate Parker, director, writer, and star of The Birth of a Nation, which received raves on the festival circuit earlier this year. It is impossible to know right now how his recent publicity due to a years old rape charge (in which he acquitted)  and the suicide of the alleged victim plays out in the minds of voters. For now, I do not have him being nominated. Whether that’s because of the serious competition or other reasons is a factor that is sure to be discussed as the nominations draw closer.

Here’s how I have this initial round shaking out:

TODD’S EARLY OSCAR PREDICTIONS – BEST ACTOR

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Joe Alwyn, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Joel Edgerton, Loving

Michael Keaton, The Founder

Denzel Washington, Fences

Other Possibilities:

Ben Affleck, Live by Night

Bryan Cranston, Wakefield

Colin Farrell, The Lobster

Andrew Garfield, Silence

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Jake Gyllenhaal, Nocturnal Animals

Tom Hanks, Sully

Woody Harrelson, LBJ

Dave Johns, I, Daniel Blake

Joseph Gordon Levitt, Snowden

Matthew McConaughey, Gold

David Oyelowo, A United Kingdom

Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation

Dev Patel, Lion

Brad Pitt, Allied

Chris Pratt, Passengers

Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool

Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight

Michael Shannon, Midnight Special

Will Smith, Collateral Beauty

Miles Teller, Bleed for This

We’ll hit Best Director tomorrow and then Best Picture!

The Night Before Movie Review

Far from a Christmas comedy classic nor a lump of coal, The Night Before gives us a drug fueled holiday happening from the team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. They’ve penned better work in the form of Superbad, Pineapple Express, and This is the End and this is more on the level (though not tone) of the hit or miss humor of The Interview.

Before centers on three friends who have a Christmas Eve tradition of spending their time together after Ethan’s (Joseph Gordon Levitt) parents died. His supportive buddies are Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) and they’ve agreed that their 14th year of buddying up will be their last. Isaac is married and ready to become a first time dad and Chris is a famous NFL player. Their lives are moving on while Ethan remains aimless, especially after a recent breakup with the lovely Lizzy Caplan. The boys make sure their final excursion is hopefully a memorable one when Ethan scores tickets to the Nutcracker Ball, an NYC kick ass bash they’ve only heard about in mythological terms.

Getting there is a challenge for many reasons. Isaac’s wife (Jillian Bell, who stole scenes in 22 Jump Street and does here) gives him a night to let his freak flag fly and that means lots of narcotics. Chris gets caught up with the wrong woman and is preoccupied with impressing his newer celebrity friends. Ethan is struggling with the knowledge that life’s traditions are changing.

While The Night Before is centered on these sometimes not so wise men, some supporting players shine. This holds especially true for Michael Shannon’s drug dealer character, who seems to possess powers even more potent than his weed. Mindy Kaling amusingly turns up and there’s some fairly effective (if obvious) celebrity cameos sprinkled in.

The proceedings don’t really pick up steam until close to the hour mark and what comes before it is often ho (ho) hum. Ethan and Chris’s storylines are just OK and the biggest guffaws come from Isaac on his pharmaceutically fueled journey. One wonders how good this could’ve been if it focused solely on him. The Night Before has its laughs to be sure, but it’s on the lower end of what these writers have accomplished before.

**1/2 (out of four)

The Walk Box Office Prediction

Recounting the true story of Philippe Petit’s tight rope walk across the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in the mid 1970s, Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk hits theaters next Friday after its limited IMAX debut. Starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ben Kingsley and James Badge Dale, the pic looks to capitalize on its mostly positive reviews (85% on Rotten Tomatoes currently) for stellar returns.

I’m of the opinion this will just do OK numbers. First, we’ve just recently seen a similar IMAX to wide roll out with Everest and it brought in less than expected numbers when it hit over 2000 screens at $13.2 million. I don’t believe The Walk will outdo what Everest accomplished. There’s also plenty of competition in the form of adult titles like The Martian and Sicario, both of which will be entering their second weekends.

Add all that up and I’m thinking low double digits out of the gate.

The Walk opening weekend prediction: $11.9 million

For my Pan prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/10/01/pan-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: The Walk

Opening today in limited IMAX release is Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk, which recounts the true life tale of French high wire artist Philippe Petit’s adventures walking across the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center over 40 years ago. The pic had its premiere last week at the New York Film Festival and it certainly has its admirers (to the tune of a solid 84% on Rotten Tomatoes). Could it be a factor in the Oscar race?

The answer: doubtful. While reviews have been mostly positive, they haven’t been over the moon and many critics have said the film is only really worth it for a thrilling last forty minutes or so. As the lead, Joseph Gordon Levitt has gotten fine notices but appears to be a long shot in the Best Actor race. It’s worth noting that Gordon Levitt was once seen as a potential double threat for a nod in 2015 until his title performance in Oliver Stone’s Snowden was pushed to 2016. Supporting players Ben Kingsley and James Badge Dale appear unlikely to be factors.

Even with reviewers praising the directorial effort of Zemeckis (who won in 1994 for Forrest Gump), his nomination seems improbable. If the movie itself becomes a runaway hit, it could sneak into Best Picture but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Two areas where The Walk could garner notice is in Visual Effects and Cinematography, yet those races are bound to be crowded as well.

Bottom line: at this time, I wouldn’t list The Walk as much of a threat for Academy attention, but it could always be subject to change.