Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures and Netflix

The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Film Review

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

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Synopsis: In the run up to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the organisers of several protests at the time, who later became known as the Chicago 7, are put on trial by the Government…

Review: It’s hard to get away from the fact that in this most chaotic of years, that the world of politics, especially in the USA, is a very fraught and bitterly divided arena. As politics becoming increasingly partisan in nature, society has been reeling from the riots and civil unrest that has stemmed from senseless brutality from law enforcement, and a fundamentally flawed judicial system that significantly disadvantages ethnic minorities and people of colour. The parallels between the current situation and the unrest of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s are extremely hard to avoid, lending increased relevance to the second directorial effort from seasoned screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. To say this is “timely” is practically doing the film a disservice, for the simple reasons that right from the start, there’s a real sense of urgency about the film, with a message that needs to be heard around the world, because as they say in the film: “The whole world is watching.”

With the 1968 Democratic National Convention taking place in Chicago, several different groups of people, with numerous leaders, converge on Chicago to protest the Vietnam War. With the Civil Rights Movement of the time in full swing, a tense atmosphere exists between the protestors and the police/National Guard who quickly arrive on the scene. It doesn’t take long for the situation to escalate into brutality and violence, leading to the arrests of the leaders, who would go on to become known as the Chicago 7. The Government, under President Richard Nixon, is eager to make an example of these protestors. Hence, they appoint a top prosecutor Richard Schultz (Gordon-Levitt) to seek prosecutions and lock these protestors up for allegedly inciting violence. The stage is now set for one of the most politicised trials in the history of the United States.

As he demonstrated with his slick and stylish debut feature Molly’s Game, Sorkin’s proved himself to be a confident director to combine perfectly with his skill as a master screenwriter. It’s to his great credit that he made stories about about numbers and baseball, and the social media company that would change the world, extremely compelling watches. It raises the possibility that Sorkin could craft something extremely riveting based on the most ordinary of tasks. Though, the events being depicted here are given extra significance by the politically charged nature of this story. There’s no holding back when it comes to its subject matter, and how these events that are being depicted over fifty years ago, are starkly relevant in today’s society. A society where those in positions of power seek to use the political and justice systems as weapons to punish those who dare to have a dissenting opinion. The dialogue, as you would expect from Sorkin, is sharp and engaging throughout, and he effortlessly blends the urgent and important drama, with some brilliant humour.

With a massively stacked cast, there’s always a risk that not everyone will get their moment in the spotlight, and while Sorkin does his level best to give each of the Chicago 7 a moment, some use their opportunity better than others. One of the brightest spots by far is Sacha Baron Cohen’s Abbie Hoffman. On first glance he might seem like nothing more than an eccentric hippie, but don’t let that fool you, for he is a man with razor sharp wit, with his finger on the pulse. While his accent wobbles in a few places, Eddie Redmayne’s Tom Hayden is another who uses his screen time effectively. He might seem like a more quiet and reserved individual, but he has his moments where he exhibits fierce passion for the cause that all of the defendants stand for. While there are clashes within the ranks of the Chicago 7, they remain committed to their goal of exposing this trial for what it is, a sham and politicised trial.

On the other side of the courtroom, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Richard Schultz is a little concerned about the Government’s position, but is determined to do his job to the best of his abilities. By contrast, Frank Langella’s Judge Hoffman is one character who will infuriate every time he’s on screen. The sheer contempt he exhibits for the defendants, their legal representatives, and the fact he fails to be impartial throughout illustrates how he’s unequivocally unfit to be a judge in this situation. Through his clear disdain for the defendants, it makes for some fiery (and sometimes entertaining) clashes between the Judge and the Chicago 7, as well as their legal counsel William Kunstler (a truly excellent Mark Rylance). Additionally, while they’re not in the film for sufficiently long enough, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Leader of the Black Panther Party Bobby Searle and Michael Keaton’s, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, both leave lasting impressions with their performances.

In this politically charged era that we’re currently living in, battlegrounds are being drawn between those on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Furthermore, as they were in 1968/69, those in power today are using the flawed justice system and the courts as a means of achieving their own ends. This powerful and urgent drama is an important reminder of the power of protest, and how people should use their voice to speak out and should not let government intimidation bully them into silence. Like they were fifty years ago, the whole world is watching, and it is essential to stand up for democracy, and ensure that people make themselves be counted.

Signature sharp Sorkin dialogue throughout, this urgent drama is a sharp and stinging look at social, legal and political issues that even after a generation, continue to be deep-rooted thorns in today’s society.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

The Aeronauts (2019)

Image is property of Amazon Studios

The Aeronauts – Film Review

Cast: Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel, Rebecca Front

Director: Tom Harper

Synopsis: Using a only a hot air balloon, a pilot and a meteorologist attempt to go higher than anyone in history, in the pursuit of making groundbreaking discoveries….

Review: Every day, our daily lives can be dictated by this unpredictable phenomenon known as the weather. Though we now have the capabilities to predict the weather, it was not always so.  As a species humanity is on a seemingly never expanding quest for scientific knowledge and truth. But, how far does one go to make new scientific discoveries? The answer for two people, is to hop on a hot air balloon and go to unprecedented, exceedingly dangerous heights, higher than anyone in history.

Meteorologist James Glaisher (Redmayne) is convinced that humanity has the capability to predict the weather. The only problem is, none of his peers see this as even remotely possible. Determined to prove his theory, whilst simultaneously making ground-breaking scientific discoveries, he seeks a hot air balloon to go into the heavens and to confirm his theories. However, the person capable of taking him to such heights is Amelia Rennes (Jones), a woman who due to a tragic incident in her past, is initially, a little reluctant to get back into a hot air balloon.

Having proved that they have wonderful chemistry together in The Theory of Everything, it’s a pleasure to see Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne back on screen together. Once again, they make a very effective on screen duo. Redmayne is no stranger to playing a man with a brilliant scientific mind and once again, he does an admirable job portraying a scientist who is driven to make new discoveries. However, his ambition is just not possible without Amelia Rennes. Due to that horrible moment in her past, she very much represents the heart and soul of the film. In that situation, it takes incredible courage to take that step back into a balloon, and thanks to Jones’s fantastic performance, her journey is a critical component of their daring feat.

Lovely view up here, just don’t look down…

Visually, as the pair of them make their ascent through the sky to frightening heights, every technical aspect of the film-making soars. From the breathtaking visuals, to the phenomenal cinematography combined with Harper’s meticulous direction, and a superb score from Steven Price. It’s all executed perfectly, and it puts the audience right in the basket of the balloon with these two people direction, going to heights that you could never have even imagined, all while maybe raising the heart-rate especially if you have a fear of heights. However, the tension begins to build as the risk of catastrophe striking rises the higher up into the atmosphere they go.

What frustratingly threatens to burst the balloon of this story is the film’s narrative structure. It chooses to jumps backwards and forwards between their pulsating balloon adventure, and events in the past that led the pair of them to attempt this daring feat.  Though the flashbacks are not without moments of intrigue and drama, such as the tragic incident in Amelia’s past. The decision to tell the story in this manner, hampers the the film’s ability to build and maintain the enthralling momentum that their journey generates. Though when it is focused on the balloon’s ascent, descent, and the subsequent fight for survival, is when the film soars the highest.

Like with any film that is based on a true story, certain liberties are taken with the true to life events. The most notable being, that Amelia Wren as a character is fictitious and has been incorporated into this story. While this could be problematic for some viewers, it does not serve as an overwhelmingly troublesome distraction. Principally because, at a time when women were seldom involved in the world of science, to have a strong female who takes charge in such an escapade sends a positive message. Even in today’s society, the sky is the limit and nothing should stop any woman from wanting to pursue a career in science.

Breathtaking visuals and a solid pair of performances from Redmayne, and especially Jones, is when the films soars the highest. However, it’s prevented from reaching the spectacular heights it was aiming for due to its problematic narrative structure.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

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Image is property of Warner Bros studios and Heyday Films

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Film Review

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Alison Sudol, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Colin Farrell

Director: David Yates

Synopsis:  Magical Zoologist Newt Scamander (Redmayne) travels to New York to continue his work of caring for magical creatures, but runs into trouble when one of his creatures is let loose in New York City.

Review: When the last adventure to feature our favourite boy wizard graced the big screen in 2011, fans of the Harry Potter universe must have wondered, if this truly was the last time all the magic and mystery of this incredible world that came from the pen of one J.K. Rowling would ever return to the big screen? The answer to that is well yes, and no, because for now Harry Potter’s story has been told. What hasn’t been told however, is the adventures of Newt Scamander, a magical zookeeper with a great interest in magical animals unsurprisingly. However, with his adventures occurring in 20th century America, this is a very different direction for this magical franchise to go in, and don’t expect to see Harry and his friends here!

As you might expect, almost everything in this new chapter is, well new. New characters (for the most part), new location but that magic that ensured anyone who fell in love with the Potter franchise very much remains. Fresh off the boat from across the pond, Scamander arrives in the quest for more knowledge on magical creatures in the USA when Jacob Kowalksi, (Fogler) an unfortunate No-Maj or muggle as they’re more commonly known, encounters one of Scamander’s magical creatures, and we soon find ourselves delving deep into a mystery that is plaguing the wizarding community in America.

Director David Yates, who helmed the Potter franchise to its grand conclusion is back behind the camera, with Rowling herself on screenplay duties, marking her first foray in screenplay writing. Of course with this being a brand new entry in the franchise, there is much that needs to be set up and introduced to us, resulting in some very exposition heavy dialogue, which while can be, and is interesting to observe, can drag the movie down in places. Unfortunately that does occur, as the screenplay is a bit uneven in terms of pacing. However, seeing all these incredible magical creatures is fascinating to watch, even if you do struggle to remember all of the creatures names. Yates showed he could bring tremendous visuals to the world of Harry Potter, and here he does so again in fine magical style too, with some excellent action scenes being brought to the fore.

Scamander as our hero is a very different sort of hero when compared to Harry Potter, but Redmayne does a tremendous job. He might seem a bit irksome, but Redmayne works hard to make sure that you end up on his side. Katherine Waterston is also on fine form as Porpentina Goldstein, there is great chemistry between these two characters but there is too much focus placed on the relationship between Fogler’s No Maj and Tina’s sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) which does detract from the story that you signed up to see. Ezra Miller is haunting as a young man with a disturbed past while Colin Farrell completes the core cast, all of who deliver solid performances.

After five years, it is undoubtedly great to be back in this magical world that everyone first fell in love with all those years ago. However, for all its wonder and all the magical creatures, the screenplay could have been just that bit sharper and more focused. Nevertheless, the interest in this franchise, not that it ever went away really, has been truly reignited and with a further four films expected, fans of this universe will undoubtedly be grabbing their wands with excitement and keen to delve deeper into this new aspect of this magical franchise.

It’s undeniably brilliant to be back in this magical world, and Rowling does her best to bring it from page to screen in an enthralling way, but one would hope for a much more focused story next time around.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Theory of Everything (2014)

theory of everything
Image rights belong to Working Title Films, StudioCanal,  Focus Features and Universal Pictures

The Theory of Everything – Film Review 

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Harry Lloyd, David Thewlis, Charlie Cox

Director:  James Marsh

Synopsis: A look at the famous physicist Stephen Hawking, chartering his university years, his diagnosis, and how his illness begins to have a serious effect on his family and work

Review: The summer of 2014, the summer where we all poured a bucket of ice water on our heads donating money towards  Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Yet its arguably most well known patient is one Professor Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s finest living minds whose work has had a tremendous impact on the world of science. Through this moving biopic, with a screenplay adapted from the novel Travelling to Infinity: My life with Stephen by Jane Hawking, we see how the disease took hold of him and how his condition worsened as the years went by, but his spark of brilliance never waned despite the horrific and brutal nature of ALS that slowly withered his condition.

We see a young Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) in his university years before his illness really takes hold, and how he meets Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) While both are studying opposite subjects, they form an immediate bond that leads to an engagement and marriage. In the initial stages, it all seems so perfect, dancing by a pond, watching some fireworks illuminate the night sky with Stephen showing off his incredible intelligence. Yet their marriage has to undergo the most horrific of challenges that could very easily tear it apart, as his illness gradually gets worse and worse. Yet through all these tests, their bond despite all these intense tribulations is a hard one to break, and through that it delivers a very heart warming movie with drama, suspense and some terrific acting.

When you do not seen an actor in a film, instead you see a character who , it is obvious you are witnessing a special performance, and that is certainly the case with Eddie Redmayne. His performance as the famous physicist was nothing short of exceptional. As the illness worsens and deteriorates his condition further, resulting in more and more impairments, it is truly a sensational performance. Every time he loses a sense or feeling in his body, he has to act that way, and as such . Towards the end, you actually felt you were watching the great man himself, and this is recognised as the great professor thought that it was himself on screen. Equally on top form is Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking. Her undying love for her husband is the emotional rock that binds this story together, and even as the illness takes a greater hold, she does not wilt, but merely grows stronger. Their love goes through the sternest of challenges and both deliver wonderful performances that landed both Oscar nominations, and Redmayne duly scooped among many other awards, the Oscar for Best Leading Actor.

As the story unfolds, the genius of Hawking is explored. The theory of black holes and gravitational singularities, which constitutes arguably some of Hawking’s most important work is brought to the fore. Rather like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, James Marsh weaves complex science and theories with romance, chemistry and how love has a tremendous power, that even a crippling disease such as motor neurone disease cannot contend with. While the former was filled with mind boggling scientific theories in almost every frame, the theme of love and compassion is more prevalent in this story. There is mention of the science and of Hawking’s work, but it is ultimately about his life and his family. The love and desire for each other is fierce as Hawking’s initial diagnosis of no more than two years left to live leaves their relationship on the rocks. Many black holes threaten to break the marriage down, but the bond between the two stands firm, because as Hawking himself says “however bad life may seem, where there is life, there is hope.” Though a little slow at times, through Anthony McCarten’s excellent screenplay, combined with a superb score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, the film is a superb account of one of the greatest minds alive today.

Moving, inspiring, heart warming and dramatic with two incredible lead performances with the right blend of science and heart warming story telling

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