Tag Archives: Frank Langella

The Trial of the Chicago 7

The trial (little t = not the movie, the trial itself) of the Chicago 7 was a clusterfuck from the start. From before the start. From before the trial, from before the election, from before the protest, from before the war…injustice is as American as apple pie and is baked right into the constitution. To say it wasn’t a fair trial assumes it was ever even a trial. By its very definition, a trial is an examination of evidence in order to determine guilt. Although the trial of the Chicago 7 was by jury, the judge on the case made it clear the evidence didn’t matter and wouldn’t be heard because their guilt was presumptive and anyone who disagreed was an idiot. Of course, not only was the trial of the Chicago 7 not a trial, there weren’t technically 7 of them either. We start with 8 and end up with 5, but more on that later.

A quick pre-trial bit history: it’s 1968. American is gearing up for a tough election amid a lot of unrest. MLK has been assassinated, and civil rights has become more dominated by the Black Panthers than by peaceful protest. The Vietnam war is increasingly unpopular but still racking up a disturbing daily body count. And so a bunch of different protest groups are descending upon Chicago, which is hosting the Democratic National Convention. Though there are many different organizations with different goals and methods of exacting them, they all pretty much agree that change starts with electing the right kind of leader. But the convention becomes secondary news to the riots and bloodshed that surrounds it. When the dust clears, “seven” men have been arrested for conspiring to start a riot. They did no such thing – some had never even met before being indicted for the crime, but like I said earlier, this was never about justice or truth. It was about politics.

The five men who wind up on trial are Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), and David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch). The bonus 8th is Black Panther Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who was only passing through Chicago at the time but got lumped in because a group that includes an angry black man looks 90% guiltier to any jury of “their: peers. As you can see, this is already a fantastic cast and I haven’t even told you about Mark Rylance, who plays a defense attorney, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays the lead prosecutor. But the man who steals the show (and this is indeed an undeniable sausage fest) is Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman, a man so inept at his job, so obviously biased and painstakingly obstructive in his own courtroom that he appears to be mentally incompetent. The trial is a circus, the truth is irrelevant, the law has no part to play, and the whole thing gets so wildly out of control you simply won’t believe what is allowed to happen in a court of law. And yet it did, it’s all true.

Writer-director Aaron Sorkin is absurdly good at sifting through months worth of testimony to find the perfect exchanges to illustrate this absurd miscarriage of justice and a mind-boggling waste of resources. He’s also deft enough (un oeuf) to point us toward the inevitable conclusion; this was train wreck of a trial but an excellent diversion that dominated the news cycle, elbowing things like an unpopular war and an unpopular president off the newspaper’s front page. Sorkin’s direction keeps things simple. History has provided some outsized personalities and a court transcript so outlandish you couldn’t make it up. It’s not a flashy film but it is a memorable one.

The Tale of Despereaux

In which Sigourney Weaver proclaims herself anti-ratist, and is wrong about rat facts. You might think a mouse named Despereaux is the hero of this film but Sigourney the narrator first introduces us to Roscuro the rat (Dustin Hoffman) who is quite pleased walk fresh off the boat into a village that’s in the middle of worshiping soup, as they do annually. The royal soup smells amazing and Roscuro cannot wait to partake, but his eagerness unfortunately plops him right into the royal cauldron, and when the queen finds them there, she dies on the spot. The king, in his grief, outlaws soup. And rats. The kingdom goes gray. You might not have guessed that soup could have such a vital influence on a town’s happiness and success but there you have it. Roscuro flees into the sewers.

Which is where he eventually meets Despereaux (Matthew Broderick), a mouse unlike any other. Despereaux is bold and curious but he can’t or won’t follow the strict rules of Mouseworld where learned fear is the most important thing.

Fun Fact: Sean and I are pretty into soup. Which is admittedly a weird thing to be into. We love to cook together – I am an excellent cook and Sean is a decent helper (as long as he does grunt work like cleanup and grating cheese – he’ll chop veggies too but it takes him at least 20 minutes to fell a bell pepper). I’m on the front lines, being impressive, he’s in the background, looking for a stubborn cap to unscrew. One of our favourite things to make together is roasted red pepper soup, a recipe we’ve come to think of as our signature dish. We made it in our first apartment, accidentally splashing the walls red and murdery when the blender’s top wasn’t properly secured. We repeated the process out at the cottage one winter’s eve (minus the murder scene), with a fire roaring and big fat flakes of snow coming down outside. We loved making it so much that when we got married we insisted the chef replicate it for our wedding menu.

Fun Fact #2: Sean is also not anti-rat. He grew up with not one but two rats as pets. Pets! They let them in their house ON PURPOSE. And named them BamBam and Rocky.

So it would seem that Sean is the prime target for a movie about soup-loving rats. If not him, who? The Tale of Despereaux is like the dark side of Ratatouille (which, incidentally, is one of Sean’s favourite Pixars): what if it turns out people DON’T like rats in the kitchen? Crazy, I know, but hear me out. It’s mixed with shades of Dumbo and a touch of the Gladiator with maybe a wee bit of cursed princess, a smattering of Downton Abbey, and a sprinkle of The Three Musketeers for good measure. Which ultimately means that while the voice cast is excellent and the the film looks great, the story is familiar no matter which way you look.

Power of Grayskull

I don’t know of many men around my age who don’t know the opening words to He-Man: “By the power of Grayskull…I have the power!” It appealed to every kind of kid the world over. Whomever holds the sword, holds the power. And what kid doesn’t wish for power? The power to eat unlimited popsicles, stay up past bedtime, and rot your brain with comic books and candy. They were humble asks, really, but the very promise was intoxicating. Adam could, with the use of his sword, turn into the most powerful man in the universe. He-Man’s muscles were popping! His scaredy cat sidekick Cringer turned into a mighty Battle Cat who fearlessly leapt into battle, fangs first, with He-Man saddled to his back.

Mattel was struggling as a toy company. They had the successful Barbie line as well as Hot Wheels but wanted to get a great line of action figures for boys, a brand they could rely on. They were buying up movie licenses to release tie-in merchandise, but they always missed the mark. In the 70s, there still hadn’t really been a movie that spawned a successful toy, and Mattel’s Clash of the Titans line was another huge miss. The movie came and went in theatres, and the demand for toys immediately dried up (there weren’t home videos back then to keep the steam going). They had the opportunity to grab Star Wars licensing and passed. D’oh! So they went with the next big thing: Conan. Which might have been a good idea had the movie not turned out to be rated R with nudity and violence – not exactly toy-friendly. Shit. So instead of chasing after licences, they decided to just invent their own brand, which is where He-Man comes from – inside some Mattel guy’s brain. To sell the toys (and the vehicles, accessories, sidekicks, villains, etc etc etc), they came up with a back story to illustrate on the packaging, hopefully sparking the imagination of children. It worked. Little boys loved the toys, especially since Mattel released mini comic-books in the packaging to further flesh out the mythology.

In 1981, rules around children’s programming changed, and while before they would not have been able to create a show about a toy (essentially a 30 minute commercial), suddenly they could, and so of course they did. And heck yes the kids ate it up. The show had a whole cast of characters and cool locations that inspired toys constantly, which turned the Masters of the Universe into a billion dollar empire. The show and toy line were so successful that they thought: why not chase the girls too? So a twin sister was invented out of thin air: Adora, who of course turns into She-Ra, Princess of Power.

These stories were manufactured ass-backward to serve a need to sell bits of coloured plastic. It’s actually kind of fascinating to see how it comes together, and ultimately inspires a live-action movie starring Dolph Lundgren and Frank Langella. He-Man is remembered ever so fondly by fanboys of a certain age, who also embraced She-Ra, it probably goes without saying (her story lines were more sophisticated, her animation bolder, and she rides a goddamn horse with wings).

She-Ra was definitely my jam, although having little sisters usually meant that I was Swift Wind, the talking unicorn, more often than the princess of power herself (who wears the coolest head piece ever invented). So I really ate up every bit of this documentary which seeks out all the dusty corners of its creation. I love learning the practical ways in which creative ideas were born. It’s a call behind the scenes opportunity to pick the brains of those involved, and what a fabulous collection of creators!

Captain Fantastic

Captain Fantastic, the movie and the man, asks big questions, gives brutal answers, and leaves you with deep thoughts for analysis.

Captain Fantastic, played with vigour┬áby Viggo Mortensen, is a man raising 6 kids in the woods like a pack of wild coyotes. They’re off the grid. They hunt web1_160715_edh_captfantastic_m-1024x682and grow food, read meaty novels by campfire light, and train their bodies strenuously, sometimes dangerously. Each kid has a unique, made-up name so they’ll be the “one and only” in the world. It sounds heavenly or lonely, depending on your perspective. Not all the kids are happy. Not all the parents are happy either, although so far I’ve only mentioned Captain Dad. Mom, as it turns out, is off in a mental health facility, and has been away from the family for several months before they learn she’s committed suicide.

Her death is the catalyst for the family returning to civilization to attend her funeral.

Viggo Mortensen is fantastic, although not always likeable. I’ve seen enough documentaries to know that raising a family off-grid, though idealistic, is not always so great for the kids. In Surf Wise, a doctor raises his kids on the beach, establishing a surf school. He turns out some great athletes, but the kids are otherwise totally unprepared for real life. Without education or even identification, it’s tough for them to rejoin the ‘real world.’ In The Wolfpack, a bunch of kids are kept pent up in a New York apartment. They develop rich inner lives and lots of art, but are totally unaware of what real life entails. In Captain Fantastic, the kids are book-smart but lacking in experience. They don’t know how to interact with the modern world, so unless all of them are prepared to continue subsistence living, and form an incestuous colony, it’s not really a sustainable lifestyle. And the kids are growing resentful.

Captain Fantastic raises a lot of interesting questions about parenting. Should a parent’s decisions always be respected? Are anti-capitalist, anti-movies_captainfantasticestablishment values best addressed by dropping out of society? How much freedom is too much freedom for children? And what kind of risk is acceptable? And do children need to sometimes be shielded from difficult or painful concepts, or is complete honesty always the best policy?

This film is quite funny in parts, and quite serious in others. And by serious I mean I cried a small ocean’s worth of salty tears. The kid actors are mercifully good, and Mortensen is generous with them in their shared scenes. Writer-director Matt Ross delivers some pretty satisfying emotional release, and a captivating twinning of joy and sorrow. Unfortunately the script dips a bit in its final acts, letting Captain Fantastic off a little easily, but it’s already a philosophical triumph by that point, a good movie that’s actually about something.