Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (Netflix)

Two words. One noun. Aaron. Sorkin. Along with Quentin Tarantino, I consider him one of the masters of dialogue. His dialogue alone makes THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7, which was supposed to debut in theaters before coronavirus, but then Paramount sold it to Netflix because the filmmakers wanted it released before the election, the #2 film of 2020 for me, right behind Tenet. The dialogue in this, combined with the incredible cast that make the line deliveries seem effortless, is nothing sort of spectacular. When you also combine it with an inspirational but devastating story that is reminiscent to not only our current racial tensions in the world but also the political bullshit we are dealing with in our current major election, this film is masterful. To me, this is what pure, ingenious filmmaking is all about. Movies like this and Tenet are the reason why people like myself go to the theaters. And because of this asinine virus, I had to watch it at home, but the fact that I did not pick up my phone or get distracted once during the two hour and nine minute run time, says more than you will ever know. This is also required viewing. If you watch and do not like this movie, just stop watching movies and go back to your fucking on the spectrum sports that keeps on disappointing you week in and week out. And even though this is Aaron Sorkin’s only second time directing, he directs as if he was Spielberg, having already been doing it for years. Oh, and someone please give Bruno and Borat a Oscar nomination this awards season.

IMDB describes The Trial Of The Chicago 7 with the following, “The story of 7 people on trial stemming from various charges surrounding the uprising at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois.” To add more emphasis to that log line, prosecutors were trying to make an example of individuals and groups trying to rightfully and peacefully protest the Vietnam War by grouping them together in a conspiracy like domestic terrorism charge. It was bullshit. The things that the justice system tries to get away with during this event is going to make you fucking angry, I guarantee it, and again, if what happens doesn’t make you angry, you are probably a fucking Trump supporter. The incompetence of the judge, here played perfectly by veteran Frank Langella, and what he does to Black Panther Bobby Seale, played expertly by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, will make your jaw drop, face red for days after you’ve finished the movie. If you don’t know anything about the trial of the Chicago 7, I encourage you to not do any real research on it until AFTER you have watched this movie. You would think a film like this could get messy with the details, but Sorkin’s dialogue yet again gives the audience a master class in understanding what is going on, not getting confused in the slightest, while still entertaining you with witty words than just boringly stating the facts. Most of the movie takes place inside the court room, but the runtime still goes by in a flash, and in fact I could’ve watched an hour or two more of it.

There are a lot of well known A-list actors in this movie, so I’m not going to go one by one and rate their performances. I mentioned two highlights above, and others such as Eddie Redmayne, Michael Keaton, Mark Rylance, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt give solid performances, but the two that steal the movie completely out from everyone are Borat/Bruno’s Sasha Baron Cohen, and Succession’s Jeremy Strong, as two hippie leaders of students in the college system that want the Vietnam War to end. I could see either of these two guys getting an Oscar nomination in either lead or supporting for this film, more likely Cohen than Strong though. Cohen completely sheds his usual goofy character persona here to give his real life interpretation of Abbie Hoffman some bluster yet fragility that I never believed the actor could pull off until now. His performance is an amazing achievement and deserves to get him a serious career boost and not be overshadowed to his return to Borat next week in the Amazon Prime exclusive sequel. His relationship and rapport with Jeremy Strong’s Jerry Rubin is the best part of this film, one that will surely leave an impression on you once the movie is over, especially when you find out their ultimate fates in a title card sequence right before the end credits. There’s nothing more to say about this movie than has already been said in countless glowingly positive reviews from other more professional critics than I, leaving this film somewhere in the 90s on Rotten Tomatoes. This film will receive a whole bunch of nominations come Oscar award season (if that even happens because of this stupid fucking climate we are living in) and I will be rooting for it to win Best Picture, since a lot of dumbasses didn’t take to Tenet because it debuted in theaters at an “inappropriate time.” Fuck you who think that. Just go watch this movie. It’s an automatic ‘if you put money into a Vegas slot machine you get all 7’s the first time’ winner.


Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: PROJECT POWER (Netflix)

PROJECT POWER is only a half realized film and it feels as though it was rushed out to market too fast, when the “completed” story and script felt like it was still in its developmental stages at best. It is a 1 hr and 50 minute movie, where 10 minutes consist of just the end credits, the 1st hour feels like the first act of a movie with no 2nd act, and the last 40 minutes is just a very ho-hum by the book auto pilot climax. And was is so disappointing is the fact that it has a pretty neat premise that wastes a lot of its potential. Per IMDB: “When a pill that gives its users unpredictable superpowers for five minutes hits the streets of New Orleans, a teenage dealer and a local cop must team up with an ex-soldier to take down the group responsible for its creation.” The possibilities are endless in that description. What the description doesn’t tell you is that the premise doesn’t challenge its audience with any deeper way of thinking. What would be the real ramifications if such a pill existed? Instead, it is a very generic story about a father taking down the people that kidnapped his daughter, a cop that uses the pills even though he wants to take down the group responsible for it, and a kid that is a dealer of the pills because she needs the money for her and her poor mother. Everything is spoon fed to you, the viewer. There are no sit down conversations on the ethics of the pill, or any dialogue about the ethics of a good cop using it but still trying to do the right thing, nothing. It’s a one time watch action movie with some neat special effects and solid performances by the three leads. Nothing more, nothing less. If this were a school project, it would barely get a passing grade from most teachers. In my world those teachers would be casual movie goers. Me? With my obsession and knowledge of film I would be more of a college professor in this instance, and I would maybe…MAYBE give them another chance at a do over, but I certainly wouldn’t let them hand in what they already have.

The main problem with the movie is that the first hour feels like act one of a movie, then they completely skip the second act and go straight to the third. The movie isn’t terribly hastily edited like 2016’s Suicide Squad was, however they share one thing in common: there are too many introductory scenes. All set ups, and absolutely no gradual pay offs. There is no second act, there is no turn. It’s like when a teacher at school is giving the class a ‘following instructions’ lesson where they present the students a maze and tell them to “draw a straight line from the beginning to the end of the maze.” Those that don’t follow those directions try to solve the unsolvable maze instead of just doing what the teacher told them. She didn’t say solve the maze. She said ‘draw a straight line.’ The 2nd act of any movie would be solving the maze to get to the climax. This movie is just one of those ‘following instructions’ lesson. There are scenes 40 to 60 minutes into this movie that feel like they should’ve belonged in the first 15 minutes. Each of the three leads, played by Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Dominique Fishback get their own introductions, and then we they meet up one by one, they get yet another set up scene. For example, Fishback’s character, in her introductory scene, let’s us know that she is an aspiring rapper, and she’s really good. But when she finally meets Jamie Foxx’s character, she tells him and does what we already know she can do, because we saw it ten minutes earlier. When she raps to him, THAT should’ve been the reveal that she was a good rapper. THAT should’ve been a pay off to a previously established intro. But her introductory scene involves a teacher getting onto her for failing his class in front of her classmates and then proceeds to tell her he will give her a C if she can prove she’s a good rapper right then and there. So she raps, and you think she’s successful, but then it’s reveal it was all in her head. The movie should’ve cut out imagination sequence out and saved that reveal for when she meets Foxx mid film.

And while the other introductory scenes (other than that one I just described, they are mostly action packed introductory scenes) are well acted, look good special effects wise, and fun (because we get to see what different superpowers all these people get for five minutes), it’s not anything we haven’t seen before, specifically from the X-Men franchise. Plus, the action scenes in (most of) those films had twist or turns mid scene. None of the action scenes in this challenge the audience or the characters. Sure, a lot of them set their watches to 5 minutes, but instead of the script throwing the characters a curve ball in the last couple of seconds of having superpowers, all of the characters seem to be smart and just shrug off the fact that their time is up after their watch beeps at them. Also, this movie is kind of supposed to be a detective story, yet instead of the characters doing any detective work to find this organization responsible for these pills, they are handed everything on a silver platter. They just “run into” what they need to take them into the next scene, which is forced plot progression. None of this film is complicated, it is 100% predictable. Will Jamie Foxx find his kidnapped daughter? Will the three leads survive the film? Near mid film, when everything still felt introductory, Foxx reveals that he took the pill before and it almost killed him…so do you think he takes another pill by the climax? I’ll give you a hint, all three answers to those three questions are all obvious, and they are all the same answer. And the movie doesn’t even really have a central interesting villain. 300’s Rodrigo Santoro is set up as one, and without really revealing much, he is disappointingly not in the movie that long, even less screen time than he got in the third season of Westworld. His character is completely uninteresting until he takes one of the pills, and even then that is short lived and anti-climatic. Other than his character, there are two women characters that are supposed to be these distribution type government drug “bad guy” bosses, but they are barely in the film to even matter.

So let me ask you this: how do you expect to be a superpower/superhero like movie without a central supervillain? Answer: YOU CAN’T. That’s why this movie ultimately falls flat on its face several times throughout: there is no interesting threat, you feel like the protagonists will end up saving the day with only a brush off their shoulder to get rid of the minor debris. Even though there is no threat, Jamie Foxx, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, and Dominique Fishback all do a fantastic job acting to make you think like maybe there actually is one. Before going into this, I thought the direction was going to be the problem. Project Power is directed by Henry Joose and Ariel Schulman, the duo behind movies like the barely watchable Nerve and Paranormal Activity 3, and the unwatchable 4th movie in that franchise. The only decent film they have done is 2010’s Catfish, which as you know, coined that now famous phrase and sparked the television show of the same name. No, this isn’t their fault, as this is probably their best shot film, with some cool sequences such as Jamie Foxx fighting people around a tank, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s introductory scenes, and certain parts of the climax. The problem is ALL script, written by a man named Mattson Tomlin who not only doesn’t have much writing experience but who…oh God no…who is also writing The Batman movie that stars Robert Pattinson. At least Project Power isn’t as bad as it could’ve been, it just isn’t a fully formed idea. And at least he’s not the sole writer of The Batman, but is co-writing it with director Matt Reeves, who is a more experienced filmmaker. With a solid resume, Mr. Reeves could help Mr. Tomlin fully form a fantastic idea and premise. So I’m not too worried. As for this film though, it’s just a mindless and unmemorable one time watch Netflix action-er that will be lost in the pile in the coming years. This project produced enough decent sparks to get going, but in the end had as much power as a typical assembly line machine, doing the same thing over and over again, nothing different, and with little effort.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: 7500 (Amazon Prime)

Ryan Reynolds in a box. Colin Ferrell in a phone booth. And now Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a cockpit. That’s Buried, Phone Booth, and now 7500. What do these three movies have in common? Almost their entire run times take place in these little claustrophobic places and all three leading men are in some sort of predicament to get out of them. And while 7500, which debuted exclusively on Amazon Prime a couple of weeks ago, is probably my least favorite of the three, it is still a very effective little thriller, although some of the choices the screenwriters make are questionable. At first these “advance the plot” choices seem to be very realistic and bold, but then they have characters make really stupid decisions in order to make the movie longer. This movie is about 92 minutes, and 10 could’ve easily been cut out of it. I know that many filmmakers with short films try to get to that solid and tight common 90 minute mark, but if you don’t have the material, you don’t have the material. There is one choice that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character makes in the movie that will have you screaming your head off, shouting “why, why didn’t you do that?” over and over again. I can answer that question for all of us, it was strictly to extend the run time unnecessarily.

Per, it describes 7500 as: “When terrorists try to seize control of a Berlin-Paris flight, a soft-spoken young American co-pilot struggles to save the lives of the passengers and crew while forging a surprising connection with one of the hijackers.” A lot of the film is eerily realistic. The way the hijackers try to take over the plane is genius, especially in a world where it is near impossible to get guns, knives, or any other kind of weapon aboard a plane. A lot of the decisions they make and then the decisions that Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes in the process of these 90 minutes are hauntingly brilliant, except for one. Basically, without giving anything away, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a chance to kill one of the hijackers while he is knocked out, but instead just straps him into the dead head passenger seat. And it’s not really straps in more than it is buckling him up…where if JGL pays attention to the controls to try and find a way to land the plane safely, and then the terrorist wakes up…see what I’m getting at? Should’ve just killed that fucker. I would’ve. Other than that one really frustrating decision (I can think of plenty of ways to have advanced the plot to where it was without doing that), the rest of the movie is very solid.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt acts his ass off, and gives us one of his best performances ever. The film also takes some necessary risks. No character is safe in this, which is something I appreciated as well. The camera shots, angles, what have you, make the entire journey feel really claustrophobic to not just the characters, but to you on your couch at home. This isn’t a Hollywood-ized cockpit, where there is more room than necessary. They filmed inside a real cockpit, which as you know, doesn’t really have that much room. They way director Patrick Vollrath captured everything without cutting anything out of the frame at important times in the movie is unbelievable. Really good work on all sides. If I had one more complaint, is that I didn’t really care for Joseph Gordon-Levitt forging a surprising connection with one of the hijackers. If anything felt out of place in that movie, it was that and the dumb decision he made not to kill one of them early on. The acting when they were forging that connection seemed realistic and true enough, but I don’t know if I could see that happening in the situation that played out, seemed a little too convenient for me, but then again, that just could be me. Anyway, for a solid 92 minute film that mostly takes place in one location, it is a very tight and realistic thriller, just expect one or two moments of forced turbulence to take you off course for a couple of unneeded extra minutes.