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Posts Tagged ‘Aaron Sorkin’

Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin, John Carroll Lynch as David Dellinger, Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman

“THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7” My rating: A- (Now streaming on Netflix)

129 minutes | MPAA rating: R

In the year’s most fortuitous marriage of filmmaker and subject matter, Netflix’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” delivers a superbly scripted and acted mini-epic torn from recent American history.

Along the way it proves conclusively that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing,” natch) and based on real events of 1968-69, “Trial…” is packed with great moments and knockout perfs. Awe-inspiring in its ability to take a complex subject and examine it from myriad points of view, the film will leave viewers amused, infuriated and inspired.

That it also deals heavily in themes of  official misbehavior only makes it more relevant to a time in which the tools of government are routinely twisted to serve the corrupt whims of the White House.

Sorkin, who both scripted and directed, kicks things off with a kaleidoscopic sequence that explains, in superb cinematic shorthand, the philosophical differences among the various rabble rousers who will come to be known as the Chicago 7.

Middle-aged David Dellinger(John Carroll Lynch) is a suburban family man and literal scoutmaster preparing to go to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago to protest the Vietnam War.  He’s so totally into non-violence that one of his legal team later admits: “You’re a conscientious objector who sat out World War II.  Even I want to punch you.”

In a similar vein, youthful activists Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis (Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp) plan peaceful protests in Chicago. They want to change society through the ballot box.

Yippie leaders Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong of HBO’s “Succession”)  take a more anarchistic view. If punched, they claim, they’ll punch back. In the meantime, they’ll mock authority.

Finally there’s Black Panther leader Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who tells us: “Martin’s dead. Malcolm’s dead. Bobby (Kennedy) is dead. Jesus is dead.  They tried it peacefully. We gonna try something else.”

One of Sorkin’s flashes of genius is to not show us the Chicago riots until later in the film, when we see them in flashbacks as testimony is delivered.

Instead the film jumps from the preparations for Chicago to the convention’s aftermath, when Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell (John Doman) orders U.S. attorney Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to indict the leading agitators for conspiring to cross state lines to incite riots against.  Schultz is a reluctant participant; though he has little in common with the men he will prosecute, he doubts the legitimacy of the government’s case. Nevertheless, he forges on.

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Michael Fassbinder

Michael Fassbender

“STEVE JOBS” My rating: A- 

122 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Love him or hate him, Steve Job’s life was epic…so epic that any attempt to encompass it in a traditional movie biopic is doomed to failure. (Exhibit A: 2013’s lackluster “Jobs” with Ashton Kutcher as Apple’s genius in residence.)

Leave it to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network,” TV’s “West Wing”) to find a way to embrace the salient features of Jobs’ life and personality while inventing a near-perfect narrative structure.

“Steve Jobs” works on just about every level, with a near-brilliant central performance by Michael Fassbender as Jobs, a jaw-droppingly good supporting cast, and effortless direction by Danny Boyle.

But it’s the script — not just the snappy dialogue but the way the story is told — that makes the film a small classic of operatic intensity.

“Steve Jobs” is essentially three one-act plays, each unfolding in real time and centering on the debut of one of Jobs’ landmark products.

The first 40-minute segment takes place in 1984 with the unveiling of the Macintosh computer. The second unfolds in 1988 when Jobs, having been fired by Apple’s board of directors, debuts his renegade effort, the ill-fated NeXT work station. Finally there’s the presentation in 1998 of the original iMac…by this time Jobs has returned to Apple in triumph.

Kate Winslet

Kate Winslet

There’s an element of show-biz pizzaz and ticking-clock suspense at work here.  Jobs views each product debut as a sort of Broadway opening involving sound, video and his own central performance. And then there’s the not inconsequential fact that these various Apple products are often unfinished and still plagued by bugs.  When Jobs flips the switch will they perform or just sit there?

In a sense, the film is a sort of backstage drama. As with last year’s “Birdman,” the story is captured with a roving camera (the cinematography is by Alwin H.Kuchler) following Jobs as he stalks the theaters wings and subterranean passages, always in motion, always shouting orders and making demands.

Common to all three segments is a recurring cast of characters who grow older and evolve over more than a decade:

Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) is Apple’s head of marketing and apparently the only person on staff who can tell the domineering and arrogant Jobs when he’s full of shit. OK, she’s more politic than that, but basically she is Jiminy Cricket to Jobs’ Pinocchio.

Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) is the computer dweeb who cofounded Apple with Jobs, spearheaded the Apple II (for many years the only Apple product that made money) and over time was nudged out of the company (albeit with a huge golden parachute). Despite the betrayal and hurt, Woz still cares about his old partner.

“It’s not binary,” Wozniak cautions Jobs. “You can be decent and gifted at the same time.” (more…)

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 “MONEYBALL” My rating: B+ (Opening wide on Sept. 23)

133 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

It doesn’t sound all that cinematic: A baseball general manager uses statistical analysis to bridge the money gap between major market teams and the provincial have-nots.

Flow charts? Graphs? Sexxxxy.

And yet “Moneyball” is one of the year’s best films, a thinking person’s sports movie overflowing with humor, drama, terrific characters, drop-dead wonderful dialogue (courtesy of the writing dream team of Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin) and a low-keyed but absolutely wonderful performance from Brad Pitt.

Heck, Bennett Miller’s film even made me appreciate Jonah Hill. It’s that good.

Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill

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