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THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (2020) – My rating: 9/10

The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is a historical legal drama written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. The film follows a group of anti–Vietnam War protesters. Branded the name of “The Chicago Seven”, they have been charged by the federal government with conspiracy and crossing state lines with the intention of inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. I didn’t know I wanted to see this film until I saw it — The Trial Of The Chicago 7 definitely gets my vote, well done!

In August 1968, Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) –  a founding member of the Youth International Party (Yippies), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) – a founding member of the Yippies, Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) – a leader and one-time president of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) – an organizer in Chicago for the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam and the national organizer of community organizing for the SDS, David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) – leader of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE), Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) – the only Chicagoan of the seven defendants, John Froines (Daniel Flaherty) – on the faculty at Goddard College in Vermont, where he taught chemistry, Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) – national chairman of the Black Panther Party and eighth defendant, make preparations to protest at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Five months later, all eight of them are arrested and charged with trying to incite a riot. John N. Mitchell (John Doman), the Attorney General, appoints Tom Foran (J. C. MacKenzie) and Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as the prosecutors, while all the defendants except Seale are represented by William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) and Leonard Weinglass (Ben Shenkman).

Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) who presides over the trial, shows significant prejudice for the prosecution. Bobby Seale’s attorney, Charles Garry could not be in court because he was hospitalized having had emergency surgery to remove his gall bladder. This prompted all the attornies to request the trial be delayed, but the judge would not comply.  Seale repeatedly blurted out in court that he had no lawyer which led Judge Hoffman to insist that Kunstler represent Bobby along with the other seven defendants, however, the Judge’s insistence was rejected repeatedly by both Kunstler and Seale. The only support Seale receives is from a colleague named  Fred Hampton (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) who sat right behind Bobby in court, which Judge Hoffman assumes is legal help. Abbie Hoffman openly antagonizes the court throughout the proceedings. Judge Hoffman (who is not related to Abbie) begins replacing jurors who are suspected of sympathizing with the defendants due to unproven reported threats from the Black Panther Party and charges the defendants and their attorneys with multiple counts of contempt of court. Days later, the defendants learn that Fred Hampton was killed during a police raid. In retaliation to Seale continuing to speak up for his constitutional rights, Judge Hoffman has him taken to another room, beaten, and returned gagged and chained. The prosecution and defense object to the judge’s order against Bobby, so Judge Hoffman declares Seale’s case a mistrial. In reality, the original title was for the Chicago 8 but due to Seale’s severance, it became the Chicago 7.

The trial goes on for nearly five months.  Many truths were revealed and covered up.  Former Attorney General Ramsey Clarke’s testimony alone would have caused the entire trial to be thrown out or with all defendants found not guilty but because of racist judges like Hoffman, his testimony was covered up instead.  There are so many issues with the original trial which writer/director Aaron Sorkin tried to make known to the public that one would gasp at what was allowed to pass. Based on our current political climate, this story is one for the masses.  The Trial Of The Chicago 7 was originally slated to be directed by Steven Spielberg but he pulled out in favor of Molly’s Game, giving his blessing to Sorkin.  There is much to learn about each of the 7 defendants as well as all of the prosecutors. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 90% based on 309 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The website’s critic’s consensus reads, “An actors’ showcase enlivened by its topical fact-based story, The Trial of the Chicago 7 plays squarely – and compellingly – to Aaron Sorkin’s strengths.”  Additionally, The Trial Of The Chicago 7 received five nominations at the 78th Golden Globe Awards (winning for Best Screenplay).  I found The Trial of the Chicago 7 film to be a necessary addition to our society with a huge potential impact — Check It Out!

[THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 is Oscar-nominated at the 93rd Academy Awards for Best: Picture, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Song, and Original Screenplay — Totaling 6 Nominations]

 

LAST CHRISTMAS (2019) – My rating: 7.5/10

Last Christmas is a romantic comedy directed by Paul Feig and written by Bryony Kimmings and Emma Thompson, who co-wrote the story with her husband, Greg Wise. Based on the song of the same name.  Because Last Christmas had so much hype as a must-see movie, one felt if they didn’t go to see it, they’d be missing a potential future classic. Not having any idea what to expect, I went to see Last Christmas and found the movie to be fun, romantic and a little sad.

During the Christmas season, a young lady who lives in London named Katarina “Kate” (Emilia Clarke), has been given a second chance at life, but abuses everyone she used to cherish. With the help of Tom Webster (Henry Golding), a mysterious gentleman who rides a bicycle and volunteers at a homeless shelter, she begins to slowly improve her attitude and heal her body. Working a dead-end job as an elf selling Christmas ornaments all year round, Kate goes out on singing auditions but is never hired. Her boss, who is referred to as “Santa” (Michelle Yeoh), bends over backward to keep Kate in her employment. On a more friendly side, Kate sets up Santa with a Danish man (Peter Mygind) who she befriends in front of the shop.  Kate is currently homeless after being thrown out by her flatmate. By choice, she remains homeless until she has no choice but to live back home at her mother Petra (Emma Thompson) and father’s Ivan (Boris Isakovic) house. The environment there is not the greatest, as her mother is a Yugoslavian immigrant who is suffering from depression and a father who was a successful lawyer back in Yugoslavia but is now driving an Uber cab because of money issues and is never home. Kate has a sister Marta (Lydia Leonard) who is a successful lawyer practicing in the UK.  Marta lives with her girlfriend Joyce (Patti LuPone) who is ignored by the family, as her mother doesn’t accept their relationship.

I thoroughly enjoyed Last Christmas, which was a far cry from the Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones: Mother of Dragons) I was used to.  Emilia is a brilliant actress, however, Last Christmas received mixed reviews from critics, who praised the performances and chemistry of Clarke and Golding but criticized the screenplay, clichés, and plot twist, and has grossed $67 million worldwide. I recommend this film to everyone.  Check It Out!

 

GEMINI MAN (2019) – My rating: 8/10

Gemini Man is an action thriller directed by Ang Lee and written by David Benioff, Billy Ray, and Darren Lemke. Gemini Man follows a hitman who is targeted by a younger clone of himself while on the run from the government. I waited with bated breath for this movie, it didn’t let me down.

**** SOME SPOILERS ****

Henry Brogan /Jackson Brogan (codenamed “Junior”),   (Will Smith), is a government-paid assassin with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and regarded as the best killer of his generation. Gemini Man opens with Henry, who has eyes on an anonymous terrorist aboard a bullet train that he has been commissioned to assassinate. Once in position, Henry’s spotter alerts him of a young girl approaching the target, causing Henry to delay his shot until the last second. He shoots the man in the neck but was aiming for his head. Disillusioned by his aging skills, Henry retires from government service. While adjusting to retirement, Henry meets boat rental manager Dani Zakarweskiand (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and reconnects with an old friend, Jack Willis (Douglas Hodge), who reveals that an informant named Yuri Kovacs (Ilia Volok) told him that the terrorist Henry killed was an innocent man. Demanding proof, Henry has Jack arrange a meeting with Yuri. In retaliation for Henry knowing their deception, agency director, Janet Lassiter (Linda Emond) plans to kill Henry. Clay Varris (Clive Owen), head of a top-secret black ops unit codenamed “GEMINI“, request permission to do the job of getting rid of Henry but is denied.

Meanwhile, realizing Dani is a fellow agent sent to monitor him, Henry befriends her. After his home is broken into by government agents, Henry calls his spotter, who is killed along with Jack and his mistress. Henry warns Dani about the attack. Together they manage to kill the assassins sent after them, learning the agency wants them both dead. Escaping to Colombia, Henry and Dani go to the home of Henry’s former colleague and friend, Baron (Benedict Wong) and plan to meet with Yuri for further options. Meanwhile, Clay gets his chance to dispatch his top assassin to kill Henry. While they are fighting, Henry realizes the assassin bears an uncanny resemblance to himself as a young man, with a similar skill set.

Gemini Man turned out to be a pretty good movie despite Will Smith’s rather large ego.  It’s probably no coincidence that Will’s character is considered the best in his particular field and because he’s the best, only the best (a clone) could be considered for the job of assassinating “his best self”.  Fast-forwarding to the special effects, I think they were brilliant.  In the old days when one actor played two people that looked exactly alike, their faces couldn’t be shown together at the same time.  Oh, how times have changed, in my opinion, the special effects were fantastic.  The ending was a little cheesy but a nice idea.  So how does a younger you kill an older you, after all, one of you knows every move the other is going to make.  You’ll just have to see this one to get all the answers.  I recommend Gemini to all.  It was fun and enjoyable, as I was thoroughly entertained.  The film received generally negative reviews from critics, who complimented the performances but lamented the script and plot. The de-aging of Smith and the high frame-rate of 120 FPS drew a mixed response, with some critics praising them as technical achievements, while others felt they were unconvincing.  Gemini Man has earned $119.2 million and was produced on an estimated budget of $138 million. Check  It Out!

 

Every Oscar Best Picture Winner, Ranked

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Every year starting in late August and ending sometime around late February, Hollywood is consumed with winning an eight-and-a-half-pound gold trophy. Even in a world overrun with awards shows, the Oscars remain the grandest prize, and a Best Picture victory cements filmmakers and actors’ place in history. It also means that, for the rest of time, a lot of people will complain that your movie wasn’t that great and should have lost to some other movie they felt was eminently more deserving.

It’s very easy to second-guess the Academy on its Best Picture picks, but while putting together our ranking of every winner, we decided that, all in all, there aren’t that many terrible choices. Sure, mediocrity rules the roost, but for the most part this list is littered with good movies — sometimes very good, occasionally incredible, but largely good-enough movies…

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A STAR IS BORN (2018) – My rating: 9.5/10

AStarIsBornA Star Is Born is a romantic musical drama produced and directed by Bradley Cooper (in his directorial debut) and written by Cooper, Eric Roth and Will Fetters. This film is a remake of the 1937 film of the same name. It marks the third American remake of the original 1937 film (which starred Janet Gaynor and Fredric March), after the 1954 musical (starring Judy Garland and James Mason) and the 1976 rock musical (with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson).

Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) performs at sold out concerts but has a serious drinking problem, which he hides from the public (“Black Eyes”). Jackson’s main support and manager is his older brother Bobby Maine (Sam Elliott) who is always there for him. One night, after preforming a show, Jackson has his driver drop him off at a bar so that he can continue to drink.  There he witnesses Ally (Lady Gaga), a singer/songwriter perform (“La Vie en rose”).  Ally also works as a waitress with her friend Ramon (Anthony Ramos), while moonlighting as a singer at a drag bar. Amazed by her talent, they have a drink together and Ally reveals that she has never pursued a professional career due to being told that she has a big nose, something Jackson admits that he finds attractive and they share songs together.

He drops her off at her home where she lives with her widower father Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay) who runs a driving service with his friends. Jackson asks Ally to come to his show that night, but she refuses even when her father insists that she go. She eventually changes her mind and takes Ramon with her where Jackson asks Ally to sing on stage with him. After some hesitation, she relents and is praised on social media (“Shallow”).  Jackson has Ally perform at several concerts with him and they slowly begin to form a relationship (“Maybe It’s Time”).

A Star is Born is an intense love story of two singers of which one of them is an alcoholic.  I cannot say enough about the performances of Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Bradley Cooper and Sam Elliott.  I was memorized by Clay’s performance as Ally’s father.  It was the first time I’ve seen him in a serious role.  Bradley Cooper was more than convincing as a hopeless, love sick, drunk. I was also surprised at his singing abilities.  Lady Gaga was her usual kick ass singer self.  It was worth seeing the movie just to hear her sing.  A Star is Born was totally believable and very entertaining.  I loved this movie and shout out kudos to Bradley Cooper, what a debut.  The story gets very deep and shows the ups and downs of an alcoholic as he tries to change his life around.  A Star is Born is well worth your time and money to see it.  Check it out!

[A Star is Born is Oscar nominated for BEST: Picture, Actress, Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Song and Best Sound Mixing]

 

THE PREDATOR (2018) – My rating: 8/10

The Predator is a science fiction action film directed by Shane Black and written by Black and Fred Dekker. It is the fourth installment in the Predator film series (the sixth counting the two Alien vs. Predator films), following Predator (1987), Predator 2 (1990), and Predators (2010). Black had a supporting role in the original film, while John Davis returns as producer from the first three installments. The Predator follows a group of PTSD-afflicted soldiers who’s mission is to destroy a pair of alien Predators.  This is not a film I wanted to see but after sitting through it, I decided it was pretty entertaining and even exciting.

** SLIGHT SPOILERS **

A Predator ship crash-lands on Earth. Army Ranger and Sniper, Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) and his team are attacked by a Predator while on a hostage retrieval mission. Quinn incapacitates the Predator (Brian A. Prince) and has its armor mailed to his estranged wife, Emily McKinna (Yvonne Strahovski) and son, Rory McKenna (Jacob Tremblay).  At the behest of government agent Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), Quinn is captured and interrogated while Traeger sends the captured Predator to a lab for experimentation and observation. Evolutionary biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is tasked by Traeger to study the captive alien. As Casey was conducting test, the Predator awakens, breaks out of its bonds, kills the lab workers, but spares Bracket before leaving.  Meanwhile, Quinn, along with a group of other government captives, including ex-Marine Gaylord “Nebraska” Williams (Trevante Rhodes), a military veteran named Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), a military veteran from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder named Baxley (Thomas Jane), a helicopter pilot named Nettles (Augusto Aguilera), and Lynch (Alfie Allen), another ex-Marine is bussed out to the military base where the Predator is held captive. As the bus arrives, they witness the Predator escaping from the lab, thus proving his existence to all.  Instinctively, Quinn and the rest of the crew take over the bus and commence fighting off the Predator.  Taking Bracket with them, they head over to Quinn’s estranged wife, Emily, where he expects to find the Predator’s armor he mailed. However, Quinn’s autistic son Rory has gone trick-or-treating while wearing this armor, in hopes of avoiding detection from bullies.

Of course The Predator gets more and more interesting.  There are Predator Dogs, big Predators and small Predators, just to name a few of the surprise scenarios.  I thought this was one of the better Predator films given where we are technically and scientifically.   The acting was brilliant and the adventure had lots of little twist.  The plot made as much sense as it could, considering the fact that this is a science fiction movie — they can make up anything they desire, but  it has to be believable to us.  I’m not sure about this one, you’ll have to see it for yourself to determine whether or not the story is  believable. the story.  I liked it, so I recommend it — check it out!

 

BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT (2016) My rating: 7.5/10

Barbershop-TheNextCutBarbershop: The Next Cut is a comedy with a profound message. A third sequel to the barbershop series tries to send a message about the senseless killings of our youth in our communities who are too often  hit by stray bullets intended for those involved in gang activity. Children are being killed so often, this Chicago neighborhood is trying to come up with a solution that can be implemented quick and easy. Calvin Palmer (Ice Cube) and his wife Jennifer Palmer (Jazsmin Lewis) are watching their son Jalen (Michael Rainey, Jr.) change from a sweet loving kid to a hard headed rebellious type that is staring to head down the wrong path. Calvin and Jennifer, being in denial, is blaming their son’s new attitude on his current buddy, Kenny (Diallo Thompson) who is the son of Rashad Jones (Common), Calvin’s best friend. In the meanwhile, gangs are running rampart in the Chicago neighborhood and more youths are getting killed in the crossfire and recruited by these gangs. One-Stop, (J.B. Smoove) a hustler who sells real estate among his many other talents, works in Calvin’s barbershop, which is now co-ed as the barbershop is also a beauty salon with Angie (Regina Hall as Calvin’s partner. Calvin is entertaining the idea of moving to the north side of town where it is safer to raise his son and operate his shop. The usual gang is back in session with Terri  Jones (Eve) as Common’s wife, Draya (Nicki Minaj) as a hair stylist and over sexed trouble maker, Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) as the oldest barber, J.D. (Anthony Anderson) as the caterer, Raja (Utkarsh Ambudkar) as the Black Indian barber, Jimmy James (Sean Patrick Thomas) as the Congressman and Isaac (Troy Garity) as the over-the-top White boy player. New comer Jerrod, (Lamorne Morris) who comes off as a gay guy and Bree, (Margot Bingham) a hair stylist become love interest for each other, despite the gay rumors. The overall goal of the Barbershop is to force a cease fire among the gangs, causing peace and trust and most of all, no killings of youth for days at a time, in exchange for free services offered by the barbershop/hair salon during the cease fire. Of course there’s much more to this so you will have to see the film to find out how it all works out.

Barbershop is a little corny but sends an excellent message and is well acted as well as entertaining. It’s been in the queue for several weeks, which tells me that it’s worth seeing. Also, a couple of fun surprises were incorporated into the ending so check it out!  I enjoyed it.

STEVE JOBS (2015) – My rating: 7.5/10

SteveJobsSince the death of Apple’s Co-Founder, Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender), there’s been a lot of interest to get his story out so the world knows who he really was.  In this version, much like the Bible, only a portion of Job’s life is revealed and is basically told in three parts:  All the problems leading up to the beginning of Apple prior to 1984, Job’s preparing to launch the NEXT computer at Davies Symphony Hall in 1988, then finally, Jobs preparing to premier the iMac in 1998, the computer that restored the company.

I thought this movie was well acted and the story well told.  Kate Winslet plays Joanna Hoffman, Apple’s High Marketing Executive as well as confidant to Steve Jobs. Seth Rogen brilliantly plays Co-Founder Steve Wozniak who together with Jobs, created the Apple II.  Jeff Daniels plays CEO John Sculley who had a very complex relationship with the very complex man, Steve Jobs.   During the years depicted in this film, we learn that Steve Jobs was an intense person with a lot of problems.  He managed to alienate many people who were instrumental to his career and life achievements.  The film was pretty factual and to the point, not leaving much to the imagination.  The fact that he was adopted was mentioned and his biological father was shown briefly.  Steve didn’t really have much excitement in his young life save he had difficulty making friends and was considered a loner.  Steve never married but has a daughter who played a big part in the movie.  It is argued whether Jobs was really as troubled as the movie portrayed him and if he was disliked as much as the movie indicated.  I think that’s something we’ll never really know.

Steve Jobs is worth seeing.  He revolutionized technology and has a superior product on the market that is well respected.  If for no other reason, we should know the history of the man and the vision.

[STEVE JOBS is nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress]
 

 

BLACK MASS (2015) – My rating: 8.7/10

BlackMassBeing a big Johnny Depp fan, I didn’t want to see Black Mass.  I didn’t like the way he looked with the receding hairline and slicked back hairdo, nor did I want to see him as a villain.  Of course that’s ridiculous because Johnny Depp is an excellent actor who can play many different genres.  Black Mass is a long, long, way from Captain Jack Sparrow or Edward Scissorhands.  Not a hint of Johnny Depp’s brand of silliness is anywhere to be found in Black Mass.  This is not Depp’s first go round as a mobster type character (Public Enemies & Donnie Brasco) to name a couple.  Black Mass is a true story about James “Whitey” Bulger, (Johnny Depp) a small time gangster who reined on the South side of Boston in the 1970s .  Bulger controlled an Irish-American gang called the Winter Hill Gang along with his right hand man, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi (Rory Cochrane), Kevin Weeks (Jesse Piemons) and hitman, Johnny Martorano (W. Earl Brown).  Whitey has a brother, William “Billy” Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch) who was a Boston senator and not tied to any type of crime.  A lot of this film surrounds the details of a relationship between Whitey and a FBI agent who was also a childhood friend named John Connolly (Joel Edgerton).  Connolly became corrupt as he grew closer and closer to Whitey and the gang.   The Angiulo Brothers, a powerful family with ties to the Mafia controlled the Northern side of Boston and killed one of the members of Whitey’s gang.  After some pressure from Connolly, Whitey became a FBI informant against the Angiulo Brothers.  The plot runs deep, the crime and violence runs deep and the corruption runs deep.  I found Black Mass to be quite entertaining and a solid story about organized crime.  The end is wrapped up nicely, the acting was superb, the story was real and I heard some talk about Oscar.  BTW, Kevin Bacon plays one of the FBI bosses at odds with Connolly.  I didn’t know he was in the film, so it was a surprise and a treat to see him perform.  This was one of the better movies of 2015.  Definitely worth seeing!