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.

Aquaman

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 3/26/19;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $334.52 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language.
Stars Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Ludi Lin, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison.

It’s a bit amazing to think that the Justice League member so often derided as “the one who talks to fish and is useless on land” is now the subject of the highest-grossing movie based on a DC Comics character at the worldwide box office.

Already a regular target of parody shows such as “Robot Chicken,” the Aquaman character was famously used as the centerpiece of a storyline on HBO’s “Entourage” involving a blockbuster movie version directed by James Cameron — poking fun at both Cameron’s penchant for water movies and the idea that anyone would ever make an Aquaman movie.

Well, the real film, directed by James Wan, certainly dispels any notion that Aquaman isn’t suited for the big screen. Coincidentally, with this film and Furious 7, Wan became the only director other than Cameron (with Avatar and Titanic) to guide two films from separate franchises into the global box office’s billion-dollar club.

Jason Momoa takes on the title role, his third film appearing as the character, after a cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and an expanded presence in Justice League. His larger-than-life persona and carefree attitude serve the film well by helping the audience accept the bizarreness of the worlds being created without the need to take it too seriously.

Arthur Curry (Momoa) is the product of the unexpected love of a lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and the Queen of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman) who ends up at his shore when she escapes an arranged marriage. Arthur’s unique heritage gives him superhuman abilities, such as strength, invulnerability, the ability to swim fast and a telepathic bond with sea creatures.

With his reputation as a hero established in Justice League, Arthur is sought out by the princess Mera (Amber Heard) to claim the throne of Atlantis from his half-brother (Patrick Wilson), who wants to destroy the surface world.

To do that, he and Mera must embark on a quest to locate a mythical weapon that will allow him to assert his claim as the rightful king of Atlantis.

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The story will draw a lot of comparisons with Black Panther in that both deal with heroes introduced in earlier films, with their own films focused on tying their origins into storylines involving taking control of their hidden kingdoms away from maniacal family members who want to conquer the outside world. Tonally, the film is more like Thor: Ragnarok, which also deals with a battle for the throne of a powerful kingdom. These recent superhero movies have certainly embraced that Shakespearean power dynamics motif lately (which may just speak to how most comic books can be reduced to a few fundamental tropes before all the personality and detail that makes them popular are added).

Aquaman

Between the “Game of Thrones”-esque political intrigue and “Indiana Jones”-style adventure subplot, much of the film’s success owes to its sense of fun and its willingness to depict absolutely anything on screen despite how absurd it is while treating it as epic. Wan fills almost every frame with fantastic imagery awash in vibrant color that really shines through in its high-definition Blu-ray presentation. Many of the scenes look as if Wan pulled them directly from a comic book, and even makes Aquaman’s traditional orange and green costume look cool, which should no doubt please fans of the character.

The Blu-ray includes more than an hour-and-a-half of featurettes detailing all the aspects of the production, from Momoa’s casting, to the stunt work, to the development of the depictions of the undersea kingdoms that comprise the Atlantean realms.

One of the more interesting videos in this regard is the “Kingdoms of the Seven Seas,” a profile of underwater politics hosted by Dolph Lundgren, who plays the ruler of one of them. Between this and his recent turn in a “Rocky” retrospective on the Creed II Blu-ray, Lundgren has been pretty busy on the Warner lot hosting bonus videos.

Another interesting tidbit comes during an analysis of the film’s memorable sequence involving the devolved creatures of the Trench, which plays to Wan’s horror roots. At one point, an excited Wan suggests the Trench should be the basis of its own movie. Unsurprisingly, a Trench spinoff has already been announced.

Finally, the disc includes a three-minute scene from the upcoming Shazam! movie.