Tag Archives: Historical drama

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO SEVEN (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO SEVEN (2020)

Directed by: Aaron Sorkin

Produced by: Stuart M. Besser, Matt Jackson, Marc Platt, Tyler Thompson

Written by: Aaron Sorkin

Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Eddie Redmayne, Noah Robbins, Mark Rylance, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong, etc.

Music by: Daniel Pemberton

Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael

***CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS***



In 2006, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin met Steven Spielberg met to discuss a film project which would focus on the 1968 riots at the Democratic National Convention, which occurred in Chicago. After the meeting Sorkin has admitted he had no knowledge of said riots or the infamous trial which took place afterwards. Sorkin would remedy this with much research and complete his screenplay in 2007. Having been in development for some time eventually Sorkin himself has directed, The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020). Part-historical drama, part courtroom-thriller and part political satire, the film illustrates skilfully the shocking attempt by the U.S. Government to convict, initially eight, then latterly seven individuals believed to have conspired to cross state lines with the desire to incite violence and mayhem in Chicago.

I, like Sorkin back in 2006, knew nothing of this huge legal and political event from the late 1960’s. But, The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020), while obviously taking narrative liberties with the temporal order and specificity of certain events, provides an entertaining and insightful flavour of the before, during and aftermath of the incendiary trial. Opening stylishly and rapidly, Sorkin establishes the major characters who will be charged with causing violence on the streets of Chicago. Notable amongst these are civil rights and counter-culture figures such as: Abbie Hoffman ( Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch et al. Swiftly, Sorkin then takes us into the trial itself, which took place in 1969, and structures the narrative around flashbacks from witnesses on the stand to events leading up to conflict between police and demonstrators.


Given the gravity of the socio-political importance of this trial, I was surprised how much I was laughing during, The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020). The humour, and later pathos, comes from both the absurdity of certain events and behaviour of the characters on trial. Indeed, in a trial which lasted an incredible five months, there was clearly an abundance of rich material for Sorkin to mine. Thus, we get a greatest “hits” summation of this politically driven farce, explained as being influenced by, U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell’s ire, at being snubbed by his predecessor. Moreover, the trial itself escalates into further absurdity as Judge Hoffman (Frank Langella) takes exception with the majority of the defendants and their lawyers, bringing most of them up on charges of contempt, notably the attention-seeking Hoffman and Rubin. It was not surprising as there were often mocking and zinging one-liners from them and even more vociferous protests from Bobby Seale. Nonetheless, that does not excuse what Judge Hoffman did to Bobby Seale in court. That remains a low in the history of the American justice system.

As The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) progresses, the comedic elements transition to a more serious tone and many heartfelt speches are given. The demonstrations and violent scenes from the riots bleed through to the fore also. My understanding is that in the United States there is such a thing as freedom of speech and the demonstrators were attempting to have their say on the war in Vietnam. They wanted their voices heard against what they considered to be an unjust war. Of course, I cannot possibly know what occurred that day as I was not there, however, given the U.S. Government’s fear of opposing views, as demonstrated by their handling of race issues and the McCarthy-led investigation into the Communist threat, one must surmise they were scared of anyone protesting a different perspective from theirs. From such fear comes a desire to wield power and suppress such voices; something which the Chicago Police Department appeared to do during the fateful Democratic National Convention.

Aaron Sorkin and his incredibly adept ensemble cast deserve much praise for taking such a complex case and distilling it into such an enlightening work of cinema. Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong stand out as a fine double act, while Mark Rylance attends his usual intelligence and class to the role of defence lawyer, William Kunstler. In fact, all the cast are exceptional in bringing to life Sorkin’s witty and storming screenplay. Ultimately, one could argue though that The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020), is simplistic fodder, designed to spoon-feed the liberal left and preach to the millennial choir. In all honesty, it is that and arguably full of caricatures and one-dimensional storytelling. However, given the United States, and the world, have suffered recent and extreme political dumbing down from one of the worst U.S. Presidents of all time, Sorkin’s one-dimension is still more nuanced and deep than those in power could ever be.

Mark: 9 out of 11

HARRIET (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

HARRIET (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons

Produced by: Debra Martin Chase, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Gregory Allen Howard

Screenplay: Kasi Lemmons, Gregory Allen Howard

Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Janelle Monae, Clarke Peters, Zackary Momoh, Vondie Curtis-Hall etc.

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**



With $100 million being spent on the film Midway (2019), which I haven’t seen, and $160 million being spent on The Irishman (2019), which I have, it’s kind of shame that a way bigger story like that of Harriet Tubman is only afforded a mid-budget tribute adaptation. Because, even if this story is only 10% true, Harriet Tubman’s character deserves so much more. In fact, I am shocked that it has taken this long for her achievements to reach the cinema screen. Especially because we had to endure another rendition of Lincoln (2012), in Spielberg’s recent ponderous epic.

That isn’t to say that old Abraham isn’t deserving of praise. I’m just an ignorant Englander, but Harriet Tubman, as represented by Cynthia Erivo’s sterling performance and Kasi Lemmon’s and Gregory Allen Howard’s fizzing screenplay, is a tour-de-force encapsulation of empowerment. That isn’t to say that the film isn’t without flaws. Indeed, this is an amazing story which is professionally told. However, it seems to have been short-changed on budget and marketing possibilities here in the U.K. I mean Frozen 2 (2019) is on about a million screens, whereas I struggled to find one for this film.



Araminta “Minty” Ross was born in 1820 and into the slavery that blighted the “United” States. Eventually this humanitarian stain would lead to civil war in the U.S.A and the film charts Minty’s legacy from slavery to escape to freedom fighter, during the build up to this fierce conflict. Her character is one of guts, determination, fight and she also has the gift for second sight. Indeed, if the period setting wasn’t so well evoked, you could be mistaken for feeling like the film was using the beats of a superhero origins film.

But that is what Harriet Tubman becomes; a superhero and saviour to her family, friends, slaves and the abolitionist movement as a whole. A superhero needs a nemesis though and white slavers have now become the new Nazis. They are the bad guys and villains we boo and hiss and hate. Here they are represented by Joe Alwyn’s Gideon Brodess. While not as charismatically dastardly as Tarantino’s Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), he remains a benign, matter-of-fact vision of evil. Perhaps, the brutality could have been heightened, but this is more of an inspirational and empowering tale, rather than one that wallows in the misery and genius of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave (2013).

Overall, the film is a fine tribute to an incredible human being. There are some issues in the telling of the story. It feels rushed like a “greatest hits” package. I mean I just wish they could have developed a longer television series for this character or given it the running time Harriet’s plaudits deserved. Plus, some of the direction is a little flat in places. Where suspense and fear could have been ratcheted up a bit, in certain scenes Lemmons rushes through them. Nevertheless, I was thoroughly absorbed by the subject matter, themes and character throughout. Special praise goes to star-in-the-making Cynthia Erivo too. Via Harriet Tubman’s incredible actions Erivo has broken out in more ways than one.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



JUDY AND PUNCH (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

JUDY AND PUNCH (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Written and Directed by Mirrah Foulkes

Produced by: Michele Bennett, nash Edgerton, Danny Gabai

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Benedict Hardie, Gillian Jones, Virginia Gay etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



If you’re not aware of the good, old-fashioned Punch and Judy puppet show, then it was basically a seaside attraction that has its origins in 16th century Italian commedia dell’arte. Over the decades it thrived and would move from marionette stylings to a mobile glove puppet show. Punch would batter various characters including his wife, Judy, a crocodile, a police officer, a dog, a blind man and the Devil. He would be a very bad parent; often drunk and violent in charge of his own baby. Incredibly, this rather unsavoury character would become very popular with children, appearing at carnivals, fairs and coastal shows.

With Disney cornering the market adapting myths, fairy tales and Theme Park rides over the years, I’m surprised they did not have a go at Punch and Judy. How they would reconcile this brightly coloured, but despicable character would have been fascinating. Yet, it is Australian filmmaker Mirrah Foulkes, who has written and directed this arthouse drama starring Mia Wasikowska as the harassed Judy, and Damon Herriman as the drunken puppeteer. Set during the Dark Ages in the town of Seaside, the plot follows the traditional narrative of the original puppet show. Except, this time Judy is very pissed off and about to go medieval on Punch’s arse!



Part revenge thriller, part-black comedy and part mythical origins drama, Judy and Punch (2019) is full of fantastic and gritty detail. The reconstruction of the theatrical puppet shows are brilliant, and evocation of the era is very realistic. The film performs well as a savage denouncement of toxic masculinity in the #MeToo era. But, despite the excellent performances from Wasikowska and Herriman, the characters were a bit too one-dimensional to really grip me. Yet, Wasikowska is especially memorable as Judy, eliciting an inner strength to overcome the cruelty of her husband and the town she lives in.

Lastly, the story also felt a little flat and lacked surprise in places, but that may be because the trailer gave a lot of the narrative away. It’s also because I am very familiar with the original Punch and Judy show, as I watched loads of them as a kid. Having said that, Mirrah Foulkes has delivered a stylish film curiosity which is destined for cult status. Moreover, she deserves much praise for attempting to give a children’s puppet show story depth. The visual iconography is powerful, as is the exploration of themes relating to domestic violence, child neglect, witch hunts; and the exclusion of the outsider or other by petty townsfolk mentality.

Mark: 8 out of 11



CINEMA REVIEW: THE LOST CITY OF Z (2017)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE LOST CITY OF Z (2017)

TITLE: THE LOST CITY OF Z (2017)

DIRECTOR: James Gray 

SCREENWRITER:  James Gray (based on the non-fiction book by David Grann)

CAST:  Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

the_lost_city_of_z_still

I’m not a great traveller myself. Boats and trains aren’t too bad but I can’t stand flying. If I feel the need to experience the world I am more than happy to either Google a place or vicariously familiarise myself with other worlds and cultures by absorbing it through TV or indeed at the cinema. Moreover, stories about explorers, adventurers, mountain climbers, adrenaline junkies and the like are not always my favourite kind of sub-genre film. Obviously, if it is a story well told then I am open to all genres but more often than not the obsessive and narcissistic characters in pursuit of thrills or far flung places can leave me cold. Not so with James Gray’s epic adaptation of The Lost City of Z which focuses on soldier, surveyor and explorer Percy Fawcett’s dogged search for definitive archaeological proof of a historical Amazonian civilisation.

lost_city

The story begins at the turn of the 20th Century where Percy Fawcett (Hunnam) is a mid-ranked officer in the British Army. Keen to find some serious military action he’s disappointed to be given the job of surveying and mapping the uncharted borders of Bolivia and Brazil. Accompanying him is his guide and aide-de-camp Henry Costin (Pattinson) and what begins as a punishing journey into the heart of darkness becomes, over the course of the film and subsequent expeditions, an obsessive ‘Holy Grail’ type quest for Fawcett. The drama in the jungle gives us Fawcett’s encounters with: the elements, piranhas, rapids, illness, wild animals, starvation, dehydration, cannibal natives and even an Opera concert at a plantation deep in the forest. However, the conflict back in Blighty is just as resonating as Fawcett battles the naysayers who question his belief that the indigenous tribes may have been in anyway civilised or cultured. Indeed, as a historical critique of the old British Empire and their inherent racism the film makes some interesting points.

lost


I watched the film at the Picturehouse Central on a 35mm print and it really added to the old-fashioned, poetic and golden feel of this attractive sprawling epic.  Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Tom ‘new Spiderman’ Holland and Sienna Miller all provide excellent performances. Hunnam – who I know from his sterling work on Sons of Anarchy – stood out especially and given the right script choices he’s likely to become a bona fide movie star. His Fawcett is a complex, confident but honest man who, while obsessed with his pursuit of the Lost City, loves his family and stands on the side of the righteous. The director James Gray and his filmmaking team, above all else, deserve special mention for delivering a beautifully shot, acted, paced and edited historical drama. Indeed, this fascinating material deserved more screen time and it was so mesmeric I could easily have watched this film for hours.     (Mark: 9 out of 11)