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.

Ready Player One

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 7/24/18;
Warner;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $137.02 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $34.99 3D BD, $44.95 UHD BD.
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language.
Stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Lena Waithe, Hannah John-Kamen.

In its quote displayed on the cover of Ernest Cline’s nostalgia-inspired novel Ready Player One, USA Today described the book as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.” And despite a significant number of elements changing in the translation from page to screen, that’s an apt description for director Steven Spielberg’s adaptation as well. (Unless you want to subscribe to Red Letter Media’s theory that an episode of “Danny Phantom” serves as a better inspiration, but that’s a conclusion you’ll have to reach for yourself.)

Like the book, the film is a love letter to 1980s pop culture, so it seems apt for Spielberg, whose films helped define 1980s pop culture, would take on the task of directing it. Even more interesting is how Spielberg toned down the references to his own works, not wanting the film to appear too self-serving.

The focus on a very specific slice of the zeitgeist, especially with a story set in 2045, might not seem to make much sense (after all, it’s not as if 1950s pop culture dominates today), but the narrative presents a certain logic as to why this would be the case.

In the world of the film, humanity has become obsessed with a virtual online world called the OASIS, whose creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) grew up in the 1970s and ’80s and was himself obsessed with the pop culture of the era. Upon his death in 2040, he left a series of clues within the OASIS that would lead to three keys that, when collected, would unlock the portal to a golden egg, giving whomever discovers it wealth beyond belief and complete control of the OASIS. Solving the clues requires studying the things that Halliday loved, and thus a resurgence of decades-old pop culture references within the OASIS among those seeking the top prize.

Among the egg hunters (known as “Gunters”) are 18-year-old Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who worships Halliday almost as if he were a god, and the freedom fighter Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), who wants to find the egg to make sure the OASIS doesn’t fall into the hands of the IOI corporation, led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who wants to exploit it by selling ads everywhere.

The film is a fun adventure with some eye-popping visual effects and enough background details to require several viewings to spot them all. And looking beyond the pop culture references, beneath it all is a typical Spielberg parable about the value of teamwork versus the destructive nature of greed, and how it’s not exactly healthy to ignore the real world to spend all your time watching movies and playing video games.

The movie also makes some great use of music, beginning with Van Halen’s “Jump,” a song that resonates throughout the film as the story asks the game’s participants to “take a leap” when it comes to finding a connection with other people.

The Blu-ray includes six featurettes running nearly two hours in total. The bulk of it is the 57-minute “Game Changer: Cracking the Code,” which is the primary behind-the-scenes look, focusing on the writing, casting and filming — much of which involved the actors in motion-capture suits.

That leads into the 25-minute “Effects for a Brave New World,” about creating the digital world of the OASIS as well as enhancing the real-world scenes.

The eight-minute “Level Up: Sound for the Future” deals with the sound effects team led by industry veteran Gary Rydstrom.

Film music fans will enjoy the 10-minute “High Score: Endgame,” about how composer Alan Silvestri, who has worked on numerous Spielberg-produced movies, stepped in to work with director Spielberg for the first time (as longtime Spielberg collaborator John Williams was off doing The Post).

Rounding out the bonus materials are the five-and-a-half-minute “The ’80s: You’re the Inspiration,” and “Ernie & Tye’s Excellent Adventure,” in which Texans Cline and Sheridan re-unite in Austin for a fun discussion about the film just before its premiere.