Saturday, 20 February 2021

The Trial of The Chicago Seven

This year it is going to be even more difficult to watch the award nominees than usual even though the Oscars have been delayed until the end of April and you would have thought more of the films would be available on streaming.

So far I have only managed to track down one nominee, Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of The Chicago Seven, which was offered free on YouTube by Netflix for a limited period so that they were eligible to be nominated.

This courtroom drama covers the seven who were arrested for allegedly organising violence at the anti-Vietnam War protests at 1968 Democratic National Convention where Vietnam apologist Hubert Humphrey was set to be named the Democrats' candidate for President. These were disparate group of characters, who mostly didn’t know each other, who were charged with conspiracy and incitement to riot.

It was widely accepted at the time that the Chicago police had initiated the violence, a view backed up by attorney general, Ramsay Clark. However when Clark was replaced by John Mitchell, Mitchell set out to prove otherwise.


All the accused claimed to be peaceful protesters. These included students Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) along with David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), who was a member of a pacifist society.

On the other hand, Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) were well up for a bit of violence although still protested their innocence. While the two others occused, Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Danny Flaherty), seemed to have absolutely no idea why they were there. 

There was also an eighth man on trial, Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) of the notorious Black Panther party. Seale was denied the right to proper representation and his case was eventually declared a mistrial but not before he was, among other things, shackled and gagged, at the behest of the judge. 

In court, lawyer William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) fought for the men, struggling both in court and behind the scenes to hold them together as a united front in a trial that lasted five and a half months.


The film, of such a politically motivated trial, feels timely with both America and the UK currently struggling with culture wars and the question of just what actually constitutes freedom of speech these days.

Five of the men were eventually found guilty of inciting a riot and all seven, plus their lawyer and Seale, were sentenced to prison on multiple counts of contempt of court. All charges were reversed on appeal.

It’s an interesting and informative film but not one I’d like to see trouble the Oscars too much.

Saturday, 5 December 2020

Knives Out

In the lockdown we catch up with Knives Out which we missed last year.

The film appears to a homage to the Agatha Christie whodunnits of old, very English in style, yet for some reason set in New England, USA in a house that seems based on the Cluedo board and even includes a very English Daniel Craig faking a (not very good) American accent.

Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is celebrating his 85th birthday with a big party but is later found dead by his housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson). He has allegedly cut his own throat but the investigating Detective Elliott (Lakeith Stanfield) is not so sure. Not when such an odd ball array of relatives with assorted motives attended his party. He is assisted by Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) but no one knows who hired him.

Suspects include his daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her husband Richard (Don Johnson), his son Walt (Michael Shannon) whose publishing company he is propping up, his daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette) whose own daughter Meg’s (Katharine Langford) college fees are funded by him and Ransom (Chris Evans), the black sheep of the family who was heard arguing with his grandfather that night.

Then there’s his carer Marta (Ana de Armas), who vomits whenever she is lying and so becomes a useful sounding board for any theories.

The plot is complicated and hugely improbable but I assume that was the point. I mean, who slits they’re own throat anyway? But overall it’s a very entertaining affair.

Sunday, 29 November 2020


A good test of our new TV is the film Possessor which is streamed from Broadway Cinema via Modern Films. It is directed by David Cronenberg’s son Brandon and it certainly shows influences of his father’s work.

Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is employed by a company that offers remote assassinations. Basically they kidnap and drug someone who has access to the person they want to get rid of, imped a microchip in their skull and then allow one of their staff to take control of their mind and body via super-bluetooth (or something). Just like a computer game.

Tasya is the company’s top assassin but she's been working too hard and needs a break from her job. Too many long hours, killed too many people, you know how it is and she’s begun losing touch with own life. She’s so used to being other people, she has to rehearse being herself before she goes home at nights to her husband and son. She isn’t going to get a break though because her boss (Jennifer Jason Leigh) needs her for the biggest job the Company has ever had.

Her next job to take out John Parse (Sean Bean), the CEO of some mega company, along with his daughter Ava (Tuppence Middleton) using her boyfriend Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) as the weapon of choice, making it look like some massive mental breakdown on Colin’s part. This is at the request of Ava’s step-brother who would gain by inheriting the business.

The assassination is only a partial success as Colin seems resistant to being fully taken over. Ava is killed but Parse escapes. When Tasya attempts to cut her losses and flee by forcing Colin to shoot himself she finds that she can’t make him do it.

Meanwhile a shocked Colin cannot understand why he’s killed his girlfriend or why he is suddenly getting memories of another person life, that of Tasya’s. Confused, he kills a friend of his before tracking down Tasya’s family and confronting her husband at gunpoint, demanding answers he isn't going to get.

Personally, I was disappointed that the film drifted off its more straightforward assassination plot line and into everyone’s weakening grip on reality. Something which vastly accelerated the body count and where it’s not always entirely clear what is going on and who was in control of who.

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Make Up

I rent a British film called Make Up that was made in Cornwall through BFI Player and Broadway Cinema.

Young Ruth (Molly Windsor) get more than she bargained for when arrives at a windswept caravan park in St Ives as the season draws to a close. Her boyfriend Tom (Joseph Quinn) works there and the caravan park's manager Shirley (Lisa Palfrey) takes Ruth on as well to assist with the winter maintenance. 

Although initially pleased to be with her boyfriend, things start to go wrong for Ruth when she finds strands of red hair in their bed and lipstick on the caravan’s mirror. With Tom regularly disappearing for long periods, supposedly working, she suspects he is having an affair but she doesn’t know anyone with long red hair. Let alone someone who is seriously moulting. Perhaps he’s secretly hiding a Red Setter or an Afghan hound? When she goes for a shower and hears someone having sex in the next stall, she suspects it's him and his mystery woman. 

With Ruth also seeing things around the park, like things inside caravans that are supposed to be empty, and also confessing she is scared of the sea and cannot swim, there is a sense that something awful is about to happen.

What does happen is she finds a friend in Jade (Stefanie Martini), who is a fellow park resident, and who offers Ruth a makeover. Ruth doesn’t suspect Jade of having designs on Tom but quickly realises that she might have designs on her but initially she’s far from keen.

As the film goes on she cures herself of her fear of the sea and having convinced herself that her boyfriend is cheating on her, cures herself of any qualms she may have had about indulging in a spot of cheating on him with another woman.

It’s an odd film, a relationship drama but one where we never really get to know the main character so never really understand her insecurities or for that matter are convinced enough by her relationship with her boyfriend to care if she runs off with someone else, male or female.

Its plus point is its wonderful atmospheric setting of an out of season caravan park with its motley collection of residents.

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Joan Of Arc

It is 1429 and the Hundred Years War between France and England for the French throne had already got over one hundred years von the clock. Believing herself to be chosen by God, Joan of Arc (Lise Leplat Prudhomme), leads the army of the King Charles VII of France.

In the aftermath of several victories including the lifting of the siege of Orléans, Joan was eager to continue her mission of killing the English but the French King was less keen. He was pretty much happy to settle for what he'd got, leaving Joan and her followers basically standing around in a sand dune talking long windily about what they'd rather do. The budget was clearly not that great.

One would perhaps have liked to see a spot of medieval warfare at this point but there is none or indeed a bit more background on the situation in England and France at the time but it is assumed you already know this. Instead the film leaps to Joan’s capture, imprisonment, and trial by the pro-English nobility on charges of heresy.

The scenes of her trial in Rouen are even more long winded than those in the dunes, as her accuses constantly try to force a confession out of her while she constantly refuses to deviate from her line that she is God's chosen one.

This stalemate produces an endlessly slow crawl to the conclusion that we all know is coming and it is only sort of broken up by the occasional surreal musical number and some deadpan comedy by the two guards outside Joan’s prison cell. A cell that looks like a concrete bunker left over from World War II and probably is.

The idea of the film is perhaps to highlight the preposterousness of it all, with a lead actress who looks about twelve not only leading an army but being on trial by the French state. Not too sure why it had to be done in such an alienating style though. It’s an experiment that I think I wished I hadn't been part of and perhaps invites comparisons with being burnt at the stake. Comparisons that I won’t make.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Only The Animals

Only The Animals, which was screened on Curzon Home Cinema, opens in the Ivory Coast with a lad cycling with a goat on his back... before we are transported quickly to rural southern France in the snowy winter.

Alice (Laure Calamy) is a farmer’s wife who sells insurance and one of her clients is another farmer, the reclusive Joseph (Damien Bonnard), who is struggling to get over the death of his mother. Meanwhile another neighbour, Evelyne (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) has gone missing.

Alice’s morose husband Michel (Denis Ménochet) is acting rather suspiciously. Uninterested in his attractive wife, he is always working late in his office while his wife is forcing herself on to the equally morose Joseph who seems to just about tolerate the sex with her. There is no accounting for her taste in men.

Then there’s Marion (Nadia Tereszkiewicz), a waitress who was Evelyne’s much younger lover and who became obsessed with her. She is entwined further into the story when her image is confused with the one being used by Armand (Guy Roger N’Drin), the lad with the goat in the Ivory Coast, in an internet phishing scam into which he’s hooked Michel into believing he’s talking to, and sending money to, a girl called Amandine.

Armand needs to make money as he has his own girl trouble. He in love with a woman called Monique (Perline Eyombwan) who is the mother of his child but is now with a wealthier older man who turns out to be Evelyne’s husband Guillaume (Roland Plantin) and they’re headed for France.

There you are, I’ve spoilt the whole tangled circular plot for you. Well almost. It’s a bit more complicated than that and the brilliant thing about the film is how it’s stitched together by telling their overlapping stories with ingenious point of view shifts which often clear up one oddity before presenting us with a new one.

Possibility the best thing I’ve seen this year so far.

Sunday, 7 June 2020


We finally catch up with the film Parasite which was the first ever non-English language film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Not only did it win Best Picture but it also won Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Film.

The film is about two very different families from opposite ends of the spectrum as regards class and wealth etc. Without trying to sound too ‘Family Fortunes’, there is the Kim family who live in a small basement apartment, have jobs as pizza box folders and freeload on other people's wifi and there is the Park family who live in a mansion and have servants.

The paths of these two families cross when the Kim’s son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) is offered the chance to take over a friend’s job as tutor to the wealthy Park’s daughter Da-hye (Jung Ziso). He has no qualifications for this but his artist sister Ki-jung (Park So-dam) is adept at forgery and supplies him with a fake certificate to bluff his way into the job.

Mrs Park is so impressive with him, now known as ‘Kevin’ and not knowing he’s already seduced her daughter, that she asks him if he could recommend an art tutor for their son (Jung Hyun-jun).

Enter Ki-jung, or rather ‘Jessica’, allegedly the cousin of a friend and she is quickly hired too. Together they contrive to frame the family chauffeur, getting him fired for having sex in the family car where ‘Jessica’ has left her underwear. They already have a replacement in mind, their father (Song Kang-ho).

They then remove the family’s housekeeper after they exploit her allergic reaction to peaches but passing it off as tuberculosis. When she is dismissed they install their mum (Chang Hyae-jin) instead.

Although still living mostly in their dank basement apartment, they all seem to scrub up surprisingly well when they need to. However the Park’s Son notices that for a bunch of strangers that claim to not know each other they all smell remarkably alike, and like they have come from a dank basement apartment.

When the Parks leave on a camping trip, the Kim’s all move in and revel in the luxuries of their borrowed abode but the old housekeeper appears at the door saying she has left something in the cellar. This something turns out to be her husband, who has been secretly living there for years, hiding from his debts.

Parasite is a clever black comedy that is set up brilliantly in the first half and which descends into farce and violence in the second half as rain curtails the Park’s camping trip forcing them to return home as a violent battle erupts between the Kims and housekeeper's family for parasitic rites to the mansion.

The violence continues the next day at the Park’s son's birthday party leading to several deaths and eventually a new family moving into the mansion while a new resident hides out in the cellar.

It’s wonderful stuff and best seen before the inevitable Hollywood remake.