The Trial of the Chicago 7: Film Review

The Trial of the Chicago 7 - Wikipedia

            The latest from legendary writer-turned-upstart-director Aaron Sorkin is The Trial of the Chicago 7. The film is based on true events that took place surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, specifically those of violent riots that occurred during that time. The story is that of the Chicago 7, the group of men charged with inciting the riots in Grant Park and other locations which turned violent, and the subsequent trial. An all-star cast list includes Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abdul-Matten II, Frank Langella, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeremy Strong, John Carrol Lynch, Michael Keaton, and Alex Sharp among others. The film was written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the screenplay 14 years ago. This is only his second time in the director’s chair.

            I’m somewhat cautious of how I want to describe this film. The reason for that caution is that I’m very cognisant of my intense, unyielding bias for the brain that bore this film. Aaron Sorkin is my favourite writer in the history of the known universe. I think he’s better than Shakespeare. Anyone who knows me, and I figure there’s a decent chance anyone who does specifically isn’t reading this review for fear of the tangent I could go on, would be able to describe my apostle-like reverence for this man’s work. The aspects of my admiration are many, but, in its shortest form, I love his point of view. I love the way he paints the world, romantic and good, where there exist people, however few, that are simply hardwired to do the right thing (anyone who wants to fight with me about whether or not his representation of politics or media is naïve and hopelessly idealistic is welcome to. Be prepared for an in-depth distinction between idealism and romanticism). The best thing to have ever been on a screen, for me, is a show called The West Wing, which was created by him and written by him for 4 years. If you haven’t seen it…you really, really should. When it’s not rosy valentines to public service, it’s a shockingly nuanced character study of non-heroes (think The Social Network, which is still his best big-screen work). Either way, he’s simply the best dialogue writer in history, and I could go on, and on, and on, and on about how much I love his work.

            Which is why I was worried I’m going to go overboard. Then I remembered that this is my site, and I can write whatever I want. Seriously though, this is an incredible film. Naturally the writing is superlative. I mean, it’s about as close to perfect as you can get. The actors have done a great job; Sorkin dialogue is well understood to be a beast unto itself, but he’s supported by a cast that knew what they were signing up for. Eddie Redmayne and Sacha Baron Cohen are both fantastic as Tom Hayden and Abbie Hoffman, playing off each other so incredibly well. Frank Langella is absolutely repulsive, which is to say he hit it out of the park. Mark Rylance was brilliant when he needed to be, a couple particular moments in the court (and at least one out of it) come to mind. Yahya Abdul-Mateen might’ve been the strongest single performance, as Bobby Seale, and the strength of his performance might’ve been matched by one or two particular scenes for Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Even Michael Keaton shows up for his relatively very small part. I’d say Jeremy Strong was the weakest of them performance-wise, there were moments when he fell slightly flat, but even he had a few great moments (the Grant Park riot scene being chief among them).

            One of the things I read most in the reviews leading up to the film’s release was that the film might’ve been better if someone other than Sorkin had directed it. This was only Sorkin’s second film as a director (the first was Molly’s Game). I’m not going to pretend that there weren’t moments where his inexperience showed, which manifested mainly in some rougher transitions (particularly one sort of inexplicable fade to black), but, on the whole, I actually thought he did more than just direct it adequately. Again, there were moments that were indicative of someone who hasn’t necessarily done this ten times before, but I think you can chalk those up to learning curves that you need to sort out at some point. Aside from those few moments, the film actually has a brilliant pace and flair about it. He’s a fan of heavy intercuts, and my God does he make them work. The opening sequence that introduced all of the characters, the depiction of how things got out of control at the second protest, every second of the court scene, were all examples of moments where Sorkin brought his own directorial flair to the table, and his sense of rhythm for his own words was a sight to see. He even really nailed the riot scenes, which I was expecting to be the source of the problem (I don’t think you could find a scene with half that much action in it in anything he’s ever done before). I also want to touch briefly on the representation in this film, because Sorkin gets hung all the time with claims of naïve, giddy idealism, which was something I read going into this film as well. Now, I take some amount of issue with that under normal circumstances, but I’d actually point out that, for  this film, I’m not sure where one would locate the giddiness. There are tweaks to how things actually happened in the courtroom, Richard Schultz was not seen to actually display the conscience he did in the film after Bobby Seale was gagged in the court (his was declared a mistrial, but only after he remained bound and gagged in court for three days) and the reading of the names of the dead was done, but earlier in the trial, and to much less dramatic effect as it was in the movie. Beyond that, the facts about the ruling being overturned are, well, facts. But, in the face of the judge and the tediousness of getting a fair trial, this couldn’t be called The West Wing by any stretch. This film’s not about everything working out, it’s about good people, lots of points of view, and an ideological tug-of-war at the gates of a potentially oppressive government.

            And that’s an important thing to talk about, the ideological personification that this movie looks to achieve. There are a lot of characters, and they’ve all got things to say and do, but the heart of this movie is the conflict between Abbie Hoffman and Tom Heyman. Arguably the best scene in the film (arguably, there are a couple others that give it pretty steep contest) is when the built up anger and contempt between Abbie and Tom finally gives way, and they decide to voice their issues with each other. Tom makes some pretty salient points about Abbie’s approach to revolution, but only as salient as those that Abbie makes about Tom’s, and the mutual respect that comes from that disagreement is wonderful. In a lot of ways, that’s also the point of this movie. On the stand for conspiracy were four individual groups of people that had their own individual ideas about revolution and protest, each of whom practiced their ideas in their own ways. As much as anything else in this film, I was fascinated by the understated cage-match of progressive ideologies on display. If there was one point of ever-so-slight issue, it would actually be that, for no character, does it ever go deeper than the ideological level. This movie doesn’t have a Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, it doesn’t have a character that you get to understand the deeper gears of, because the ideological conversation takes precedence, maybe rightly so, over character depth. With such a large ensemble, and so many points of view to put across, the characters become mouthpieces for their ideas. That’s fine, it’s what this movie needed, but it’s a level of depth that I think a film like The Social Network had which this film didn’t. Hard to say if that makes it better or worse, the two films had very different purpose. I’ll put it in an update to this review once I’ve seen this movie 87 more times.

            I think I’d be doing a disservice in not mentioning this film’s place in time. Never have I ever seen such a topical film. That they filmed this before the pandemic, before the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, is downright spooky. I mean it. How to protest and why we do it is a conversation long overdue, in America and the rest of the world, and the parallels to present day couldn’t be more poignant. There’s something familiar about Julius Hoffman and his brand of incompetency, something familiar about a spiteful government, and there’s definitely something familiar about how the protests turned, how the police behaved. Given the context, there’s a largeness to this film that’s hard to articulate. In interviews, Aaron Sorkin has described how this is a film about today, that takes place in 1968. If it’s not absolutely clear what that means, you need to watch this movie. If you’ve got an opinion about the innumerable protests we’ve been seeing, you need to watch this movie. Honestly, it goes beyond that. If you live in 2020, you really oughta be watching this movie. Boiled down, this is an incredible film, far and away the best of the year, and one of my new favourites of all time. I think. Like I said, just gonna have to watch it another 87 times to be sure.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 90/100

The Boys – S2: TV Review

Having literally just seen the final episode, the time has come to review the second season of Amazon Prime’s smash-hit 2019 series The Boys. The show has climbed do a different level of popularity since the relatively surprise-nature of the success of its first season. For those unacquainted, however, The Boys is something of an anti-Marvel; it takes place in a world where “supes” are celebrities, and are thusly at the beck-and-call of their corporate overlords, doing good only to sell a brand, having no regard for collateral damage at best, and legitimately sinister intentions at worst. The show follows a group of vigilantes, nicknamed “The Boys”, as they attempt to expose the Supes and the company that controls them. This is a spoiler review for the 2nd season of The Boys. If you haven’t seen the second season, or the first for that matter, please turn back. We’ve got plenty of reviews.

The Boys (TV Series 2019– ) - IMDb

My level of excitement for this season can’t possibly be over-stated. I loved the first season, absolutely adored it. I wrote a review for it at the time, which you can read if you’re interested in why, but the bottom line is that I was a massive fan of this show when its first season dropped, and I’d been keeping my ear to the ground for over a year about the second season. By the time early September came around, I’d just finished my season 1 re-watch and was ready to go.

I feel like my anticipation for this season is a pretty good segue in to the main controversy that met Eric Kripke and the rest of the creative team behind the show, namely the fact that season 2 was released in a staggered way. The first 3 episodes were dropped at once, and the remaining 5 were released on a weekly basis, which took a lot of the fanbase by surprise and resulted in a wave of backlash. Honestly. I find the reaction some people had to this release pattern really pretty childish. To prefer binging is perfectly fine, and it’s just as fine to say it, but to show hate for a show that you like because it’s not being released in the way you’d prefer is kind of ludicrous. Personally, I’m in the camp that says weekly releases is the best way to watch TV. It doesn’t work for every show, the episode that you get each week needs to be interesting enough to hold your attention and maintain your interest week after week, but if you’ve got a show that can do that, among which The Boys definitely is one, then it adds a level of sustained suspense and anticipation that adds to the show, not to mention the fact that it’s probably a good exercise in some amount of patience for us. You don’t need to agree with that, but some people went pretty far in showing their displeasure, and I respect Kripke’s doubling down on the decision and chastising his fans for giving it negative reviews for that reason. Also, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise, they mentioned the staggered release in every piece of marketing I saw beforehand.

It’s a challenge to asses this season as a whole having just seen the finale, so I think I’ll sort of take it thread by thread as they lead up to the finale. I want to start, as all things should, with The Deep, whose existence is basically the most schadenfreude shambles in the history of the world. His whole storyline with the Church of the Collective was hilarious, I loved the Scientology parallels, even though it didn’t actually add up to much. My guess is we’ll be seeing more of his supposed teaming up with Maeve to take down Homelander in the next season, hopefully, although anything would’ve been worth it for Patton Oswald as the gills and the last moment where they take A-Train back instead. Frickin priceless. I also want to take a moment to acknowledge Frenchie. I’ve always held great love for Frenchie, he was always second favorite of The Boys, to Butcher, but I loved him still. Someone I spoke to about it pointed out a lack of development for him, a lack of an arc, and while that’s a fair observation, Frenchie is a rare character in that he has, in spite of having no arc, an incredible depth. It’s like he’s already been through a great arc, before the show, and we get the final product right off the bat, full of emotional depth, and his episode, you know the one, is arguably one of the high points of the whole show. His only real growth is alongside Kimiko, who started the season off really well and then sort of fell by the wayside and wasn’t given an awful lot to do. They actually had some stand out moments (the scene in the church, the first time Frenchie actually gets pissed at her, comes to mind), but they were all C or even D stories until the ‘Girls get it done’ scene in the last episode, which was extremely cathartic (if possibly not the greatest fight choreography in the world, they were basically just kicking her).

Stormfront was a cool character to throw into the mix, I’m glad she’s out of the picture now though, I doubt she’d have kept for more than a season. Ultimately her role, aside from being an evil Nazi, had a lot more to do with Homelander’s growth than anything else Aya Cash did a really good job though, and she was an essential piece to this season’s puzzle. Homelander had a fantastic season. There’s a brilliant irony in the most powerful man in the world’s biggest weakness being a need to be loved, and Antony Starr plays the struggle so. Frickin. Well. Seriously, this is a character who could do anything he wanted (including what he did to show it in the last episode. He could, so he did), but he won’t just wipe out anyone in his way (or at least not quite that bluntly) because in the end he needs people to love him. One of the best paying threads of this season was Homelander’s weird…genuinely caring paternal side for Ryan. One of the things that last episode did so incredibly well is making you feel for the guy. I was not expecting the scene at that Vought restaurant to go the way it did, nor the scenes after it, because it finally came across that Homelander’s intentions with Ryan were kind of for real. You’ve got to wonder, had Homelander had the opportunity to raise Ryan on his own, if Ryan would’ve actually turned out to become a sort of anti-Homelander of his own accord. If Homelander is the way that he is because of the way he was raised, I see great tragedy in the idea that Homelander might actually have solved his own problem by raising Ryan the way he wishes he was raised. Antony Starr continues to be fantastic in debatably the best performance of the show.

Of course, it is debatable, a debate caused solely by the existence of Karl Urban. Butcher’s last episode of this season was unbelievable. In terms of the season as a whole, he had great development parallel to Hughie (although I’m not certain about some of the directions they took Hughie later, more on that later). The big revelation, of course, was the thing with Becca. There was a lot of Becca-hating done after that episode released. I think the bottom line is that she was probably right in that moment, no matter how frustrating it might be. She had the measure of Butcher’s character, much better than we gave her credit for. Would you honestly have put it past Butcher to straight up kill the kid at that point? One could argue that Becca ought to have gone with Butcher, and then bet on the kid’s likeability to get through to Butcher eventually. Cameron Crovetti, the kid who plays Ryan, might’ve been one of the unsung heroes of this show. He did as good a job of selling his likeability as he possibly could’ve done, and, given that he’s just a good kid, Becca might’ve taken the risk that Butcher would come to recognize that about him. All in all though, I definitely see why she did what she did, and Butcher’s actions in the first half of the last episode are evidence of that. Butcher’s actions in the second half of that episode, however, tell a different story. I really wish we could’ve seen Becca with The Boys for longer. We never really saw her talk to Hughie, for example, and I just wish we had. Killing her was the absolute right decision, and they couldn’t have done it in a more heartbreaking way. That whole scene, in the woods, was almost perfect. It might’ve helped that there wasn’t much by way of dialogue, this show’s Achille’s Heel (more on that later), but such as it was, it was brilliant. There were so many dynamics at play in that scene, so much happening internally for every character on screen, and it was made what is was by Karl Urban’s extraordinary performance.

I’m a little confused as to what to say about Hughie and Starlight. I was a big fan of what they chose to do with Hughie’s character up until the second last episode. I generally wasn’t a massive fan of that episode, for a lot of reasons that I’ll get to next, but suffice it to say that I think that whatever emotional development that ought to have been happening with Hughie felt kind of mishandled. The porn metaphor was really stupid, an example of nonsense juvenility that occasionally plagues the writing of the show, and it just led to a poor representation of a very genuine internal struggle (we’ll call it the Hawk-Eye effect). His thing at the conclusion of the season was really vague. I don’t really understand what “stand on my own two feet” means in that context. Okay that’s maybe not fair to them, I do understand more or less what they’re saying, but its implications could be kind of out of character for Hughie, outside of what I’d call a reasonable arc. My confusion stems from the fact that I don’t really understand if this sudden need to strike out from the group is as drastic a character change as it could be, or if it’s actually something more understated. Starlight had a decent season all around, save for a couple examples of poor dialogue, either in the writing or the delivery. I don’t think I understand her decision to go back to The Seven after all of it, I don’t think it makes a ton of sense. The “let the assholes steer” bit is the sort of thing that sound nice enough on the surface, but makes very little sense when you think about the fact that she could be jumping ship and fighting Vought outright from the outside. Do they really still need an inside man? I guess we’ll find out.

There’s just a little bit more to say. I want to, first, point out the gaping problem with this show in general. They really need to find better writers for the dialogue. A little too much of the dialogue (and I’m singling out dialogue because the broad-strokes, storyline writing of the show is fantastic) is really quite average to below-average. It’s clunky, it crosses the line to juvenile at times (that porn metaphor really bothered me), and all of that would be fine if it wasn’t as regular as it is. Again, the bigger picture writing is fantastic, but the syntax really needs some punching up. I don’t know how many people have seen the Honest Trailer for the first season, but the insinuation that the show was basically written by those teenagers Maeve saved from a bus in the first episode is a little too accurate in moments.

Obviously, there’s a lot I haven’t been able to mention. These TV reviews are a lot tougher than film reviews because there’s so much more I’d like to say. I want to talk about Maeve and Elena, about MM being underutilized (of which him not being mentioned in this review is a decent metaphor), and how this show almost made me stop drinking milk, but there isn’t space for everything. Hopefully I’ll be able to give more time to stuff that when season 3 comes out, and it’s all more developed. The season finale did a lot to tie up loose ends, but there’s plenty to wonder about going forward. For example, just who, what, where, when, and why is Victoria Neuman? I figured it was the bald girl at Sage Grove who was blowing people’s heads off, not Neuman, so unless there’s some identity theft going on, those are threads we’ll hopefully see more of. Obviously, I can see Neuman becoming the next lead villain, maybe with Hughie as an unwitting antagonist to The Boys? That could be good. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I think it’s safe to say that this was a phenomenal season, and I can’t wait for more, as soon as they can get it to us.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Season 2 Score – 86/100

I’m Thinking of Ending Things: Film Review

‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ is a great film about the perplexities of human nature, filled with Kaufman’s originalities but will definitely take some time to percolate.

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Before I say anything, it’s important to know that this film is an ACQUIRED TASTE. You have to venture into the world of Charlie Kaufman before watching this film. It’s one of those films where you’d literally rub your eyes to understand what’s happening cause it seems like nothing but everything is happening at the same time, and this feeling will last throughout the film.

There’s really no other way to describe this film other than Kaufmanesque; the meaning of this would vary from person to person: for some it may be positive, for some it could be ‘what the hell is going on?’ but for me, personally, it’s pure genius but only and only if you have previously ventured into Kaufman’s world. Kaufman is a screenwriter and filmmaker who has his own, extremely unique style, which for some may make no sense but for others it’d be an indulgence, quickly evolving into an addiction, to get lost into his perplexing, distressed world; a world that offers a realistic depiction of human emotions in the most abstract way possible. As like Kaufman’s previous ventures too, ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things,’ is an acquired taste, which if you understand and immerse yourself in will prove hugely entertaining. Yes, this film may not be Kaufman’s best but it is definitely a great piece of art.

The film revolves around a young couple, Jake (Jesse Plemons) and his girlfriend who ‘might be’ named Lucy (Jessie Buckley). After a quick montage of a lonely house, we’re introduced to Lucy who, after dating for six weeks, is ‘thinking of ending things’ with Jake. For majority of the film, the couple finds themselves on possibly the strangest road trip through a snowstorm toward the farm Jake’s parents live. But the real deal awaits them when they arrive at the house. You have to really immerse yourself, paying attention to each line to understand what the film is trying to tell you or rather trying to make you feel. In ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ the effects arrive before our understanding of their causes. The writing, the atmosphere, the performances all create certain emotions, evoke curtain thoughts: we know exactly what we’re feeling, but we have absolutely no reason why and that suspense that’s created is what keeps you glued to the screen.

The film is perplexing to say the least. As far as we can guess at the beginning, we are in Lucy’s head, if that’s what’s her name. The conversation through the car ride largely revolves around Lucy’s interests and background. She seems to be studying physics, or painting, or gerontology and despite not being interested in poetry she suddenly recites a touching lyric she claims to have written herself. The exchange is strange to say the least but the somehow this ambiguity, this confusion brings forth the inner desires or anxieties of human nature that we seem to project. At times her peacoat is pink, until it becomes blue, every character seems to have some inconsistency, some quirky trait that eventually ends up being uncomfortably creepy, even the dog. The movie is full of questions (all of which aren’t quite answered): are those around us simply mirrors of our own narcissism, what do we actually desire from life, what are we scared off, are these fears simply created by the mind, are we even real to one another? Honestly, it’s just not that easy, it’s too complicated to simply put into words.

If you thought the road trip was ‘weird,’ the graph just seems to accelerate from there on, exponentially. Jake’s parents (Toni Collete and David Thewlis) grow older and younger every time they enter a scene, the dog’s peculiar movements(?), the awkward table-talk, the random interruptions of the of the scenes of the old janitor in the school, the dead lambs in the barn everything creates a certain sense of ambiguity, augmented by the camera movements, Molly Hughes’ strange production design and jay Wadley’s soft but intense score  which slowly, eventually begins coming together as the movie progresses but is never really completely answered. All this along with Lucy finding herself so puzzled so often creates the sense that possibly her perspective isn’t the one we should trust, maybe she’s the odd normality in a crazy world because she’s faking her thoughts. This foreshadows the end but doesn’t ever give out anything.

This film is possibly Kaufman’s most daring yet creative piece of work yet (not his best – still a ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ guy) and just goes to show how films can be parasites that sit at the back of our minds and infect it with emotions and sometimes misleading ideas that shape our thoughts and ideologies. The amount of detail that he puts into his films – from the change in colour of Lucy’s peacot to the animated pig, the awkward camera angles, the blood streamers in the almost poetic ballet in the school gymnasium and the fake ‘old’ makeup – is really highlighted in this film. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the film in terms of symols, metaphors and plethora of stylistic devices which would be great to sit and analyze (but I guess not in this review).

The cast is nothing short of brilliant. Jesse Plemons and Jessie Buckley play their characters, entangled in this abstract mystery, with great care, detail and trickery, forcing the audience to believe their innocence but then leaving just enough room to doubt their intentions. Toni Collette and David Thewlis brilliantly bring out an almost disturbing feeling among the audience with their awkward actions and their strange dinner table conversation. There’s great amount of thought before the delivery of each line and the credit goes equally to the actors and Kaufman.

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All in all, ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ is a great film about the perplexities of human nature, filled with Kaufman’s originalities but will definitely take some time to percolate. Yes, the film does tend to drag a bit by continuously introducing new questions in each scene without providing any answers whatsoever but you cannot deny the fact that it is a great example of Kaufman’s pure genius. If you aren’t completely pre-invested in watching the movie you may find it difficult to watch it in one sitting but it’ll constantly exercise your brain, trying to look at the smallest of things in search of answers. The details really stand out and combined with the writing there’s an unusual sensation where you feel certain emotions towards the characters and the plotline, without really knowing why and that is the unique feeling I was drawn by. I personally am a huge fan of Franz Kafka and his oppressively strange and nightmarish style of storytelling. From him, we’ve developed the adjective of something being ‘Kafkaesque’ and I won’t be surprised if we soon have a new adjective in the dictionary: Kaufmanesque.

P.S. Before you try watching this film, I’d recommend watching a few other Charlie Kaufman films other wise it really won’t make sense. Another director who has a slightly more similar but more subtle style is Yorgos Lanthimos and I’d definitely endorse watching a few of his films if you enjoyed this one.

By Aryamaan Dholakia

Aman’s Score: N/A Aryamaan’s Score: 79/100

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