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.

Season One of HBO’s ‘Succession’ Due on Disc Nov. 6

The drama Succession: The Complete First Season, available now via digital download, will come out on Blu-ray and DVD Nov. 6 from HBO Home Entertainment.

Set in New York City, the series  follows the Roy family — headed by the aging patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox, “Medici: Masters of Florence”) and his four children — who together control one of the biggest media communications and entertainment conglomerates in the world.  The Roys out-maneuver each other through cut-throat family and business dynamics, while contemplating what’s in store once their father passes.

The cast also includes Jeremy Strong (“Masters of Sex,” The Big Short), Hiam Abbass (“The State,” Blade Runner 2049), Nicholas Braun (How To Be Single, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot),Sarah Snook (“The Beautiful Lie,” Winchester), Kieran Culkin (“Fargo,” Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Alan Ruck (“The Exorcist,” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).

All home entertainment releases include the exclusive bonus feature, “Anatomy of a Scene,” which takes audiences behind the scenes of the series’ season finale, along with interviews and insights from the cast and crew.  Digital download copies also include character features introducing the many players in the Roy family.

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.