The Trial of the Chicago 7

STREAMING REVIEW:

Netflix;
Drama;
Rated ‘R’ for language throughout, some violence, bloody images and drug use.
Stars Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Alex Sharp, Danny Flaherty, Noah Robbins, Ben Shenkman, John Doman, J.C. MacKenzie, Frank Langella, Michael Keaton.

Writer-director Aaron Sorkin demonstrates his continued mastery of the craft of filmmaking with this docudrama about the court trial of the leaders of the violent anti-war protests that took place during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

While Sorkin’s screenplay does play a bit fast and loose with the chronology of actual events, the subject matter plays to his strengths as a writer with its political overtones and eclectic cast of characters. This is most emphatically not a documentary, but like Sorkin’s other historical re-creations, such as The Social Network, Steve Jobs and Molly’s Game, it provides a framework for him to tell a compelling story while highlighting the foibles, actions and heroic deeds of the people involved he considers relevant to his examination of the human condition.

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Sorkin treats the trial conducted in federal court from 1969 to 1970 as a farce, as the newly installed Nixon administration wanted to make an example of the leaders of various movements opposed to the Vietnam War. The end result is an actors’ showcase — a well-balanced array of humor and drama mixed with a bit of between-the-lines ruminations on modern America.

Standouts include Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden, who delivers his lines as if they were written for Bradley Whitford 20 years ago, and Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, whose irreverence provides the film with one of its key sources of comedy. Mark Rylance gives an appropriately steady performance as William Kunstler, their lawyer, while Frank Langella shines as the judge who seems intent on doing everything he can to aid the prosecution.

Sorkin manages to keep a brisk pace thanks to some crisp editing by Alan Baumgarten, jumping between the trial and flashbacks to the Chicago riots at the center of it, as numerous undercover cops testify as to what happened.

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The attempts to demonstrate the alleged overzealousness of the police certainly draws parallels to modern times, but Sorkin seems to undercut the fervor of some of his points with depictions of evidence that contradicts them.

Still, even viewers who disagree with Sorkin’s sentiments can appreciate the sharpness of his dialogue and the skill with which his assembled cast delivers it.

‘West Wing’ Cast to Reunite for Voting Benefit Special on HBO Max Oct. 15

A “West Wing” reunion to benefit Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote organization will  premiere on HBO Max on Oct. 15, two weeks prior to the national election.

The special marks the first time in 17 years that the original cast of the Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning Warner Bros. Television drama series will come together with creator Aaron Sorkin and executive producer-director Thomas Schlamme for a special theatrical stage presentation of the “Hartsfield’s Landing” episode from the show’s third season. “The West Wing” stars Rob Lowe, Dulé Hill, Allison Janney, Janel Moloney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford and Martin Sheen will reprise their roles from the episode.

The special will include act breaks with guest appearances from When We All Vote co-chair Michelle Obama, President Bill Clinton and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Emmy Award–winning composer W.G. Snuffy Walden will play the iconic score for “The West Wing.” Folk rock band The Avett Brothers will also close out the special.

The creative team and cast organized the production to raise awareness for and support When We All Vote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that was founded to increase participation in every election in America. In honor of the special, WarnerMedia will make a donation to When We All Vote.

The production will strictly follow COVID Safe Way Forward Protocols.

Spanning seven seasons, “The West Wing” provided a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of an eclectic group of frenzied staffers in the Oval Office and the West Wing of the White House. Emmy winner Sorkin created the series and served as an executive producer with Emmy winners Thomas Schlamme and John Wells (“ER,” “Shameless”). “The West Wing” won 27 Primetime Emmy Awards (including one for The West Wing: Documentary Special), two Peabody Awards, two Humanitas Prizes, two Golden Globe Awards, seven Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Writers Guild of America Awards, two Directors Guild of America Awards, and five Television Critics Association Awards, among many others.

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In the “Hartsfield’s Landing” episode, original air date Feb. 27, 2002, Bartlet (Martin Sheen) engages both Sam (Rob Lowe) and Toby (Richard Schiff) in intricate chess matches that mirror the wily game of brinksmanship that Bartlet is playing with the Chinese, who are conducting war games in the Taiwan Strait. The Chinese threaten real war if Taiwan begins test firing its new U.S.-made Patriot defense missiles. Meanwhile, Josh (Bradley Whitford) is nervous about the 42 votes in a remote New Hampshire town’s election, which are counted immediately and always predict the winner of that state’s primary. Mischievous C.J. (Allison Janney) tries to upset Charlie (Dulé Hill) by hiding his copy of the President’s top-secret daily schedule — prompting a spate of playful tricks. The episode was written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Vincent Misiano.

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When We All Vote is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit launched by co-chair Michelle Obama in 2018 on a mission to change the culture around voting by bringing together citizens, institutions, brands, and organizations to increase participation in every election. They are also on a mission to close the race and age voting gap and empower all eligible voters to cast their ballot by harnessing grassroots energy, establishing strategic partnerships, and implementing digital organizing strategies. Learn more here.

HBO Max Reuniting ‘The West Wing’ Cast for Pre-Election Special

Ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election, HBO Max and “The West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin Aug. 25 announced that for the first time in 17 years, the original cast of the award-winning drama series from Warner Bros. Television will come together for “A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote,” which will debut on the streaming service this fall.

“A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote” will feature a theatrical stage presentation of the “Hartsfield’s Landing” episode from the show’s third season. The presentation is designed to raise awareness for “When We All Vote,” a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization co-chaired by Michelle Obama, which was founded to increase participation in every election in America.

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Spanning seven seasons (1999-2006), “The West Wing” provided a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of an eclectic group of frenzied staffers in the Oval Office and the West Wing of the White House.

The series starred Emmy nominee Rob Lowe (“Parks and Recreation,” “9-1-1: Lone Star”), Emmy winner/Oscar nominee Stockard Channing (“The Good Wife,” “Six Degrees of Separation”), Emmy nominee Dulé Hill (“Psych”), Emmy and Oscar winner Allison Janney (“Mom”; I, Tonya), Emmy nominee Janel Moloney (“The Leftovers”), Emmy winner Richard Schiff (“The Good Doctor,” “Clemency”), the late Emmy winner John Spencer (“L.A. Law”), Emmy winner Bradley Whitford (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” Get Out) and Emmy winner Martin Sheen (“Grace and Frankie, The Departed), and was produced by John Wells Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television.

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WarnerMedia will make a donation to “When We All Vote.” Entertainment Weekly revealed a cover story today featuring “The West Wing” cast standing alongside Sorkin as they unite to get out the vote.

A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote will shoot over multiple days at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles in early October. Series stars Rob Lowe, Dulé Hill, Allison Janney, Janel Moloney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford and Martin Sheen will reprise their roles from the episode.

In addition to the participation of the original series cast members, the staged production will also feature special guest appearances, including a special message from Obama, among others. Additional cast members and special guests from the worlds of public service and the arts will be announced in the coming weeks.

The unique stage production connects Sorkin with his roots in the theatre as the playwright of productions A Few Good Men, The Farnsworth Invention and To Kill a Mockingbird. Sorkin will write original exclusive material for A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote, and Thomas Schlamme will serve as director of the production.

“We are excited to revisit this legendary series and offer our passionate fans something that is substantial, meaningful and unforgettable, while also promoting an important message for our time,” Sarah Aubrey, head of original content, HBO Max, said in a statement.

Sorkin created the series and served as an executive producer with Emmy winners Schlamme and Wells (“ER,” “Shameless”). One of the most critically acclaimed and lauded shows in television history, “The West Wing” won 27 Primetime Emmy Awards (including one for “The West Wing: Documentary Special”), two Peabody Awards, two Humanitas Prizes, two Golden Globe Awards, seven Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Writers Guild of America Awards, two Directors Guild of America Awards, and five Television Critics Association Awards, among many others.

Molly’s Game

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 4/10/18;
Universal;
Drama;
Box Office $28.78 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for language, drug content and some violence.
Stars Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Camp.

With its exploration of the tawdry world of underground gambling, not to mention a tour of the criminal justice system after its protagonist gets caught, Molly’s Game seems like the perfect subject matter for the Aaron Sorkin treatment.

The film is based on the same-titled memoir by Molly Bloom, a former competitive skier who ended up running a series of illegal, high-stakes poker rooms in Los Angeles and New York.

In making his directorial debut as well as writing the screenplay, Sorkin must have had a field day with the material, as the story allows him to indulge himself with the kind of expositional flourishes that often populate his trademark witty banter, as he gets to have the characters explain to each other (and the audience) all the intricacies of poker, gambling, shady business dealings and legal minutiae.

The film is structured a bit like The Social Network, in that the main story is told through a series of flashbacks in discussions with lawyers in preparation for court. Chastain shines as Bloom, front and center and in command of the proceedings as she refuses to be bullied or outmaneuvered, even in the face of pure physical brutality.

Molly’s Game clocks in at 141 minutes, but despite its wordiness it doesn’t feel like a chore to sit through thanks to a brisk pace and good performances from the rest of the likeable cast as well, particularly Idris Elba as Bloom’s attorney, and Kevin Costner as her father.

Unfortunately, the disc is rather barren of bonus material, featuring just a single three-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that appears to have been culled from the promotional campaign.