“Love & Monsters,” “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” Lead To A Good Time At The Movies!

Let’s get started with “Love And Monsters” which features O’Brian as Joel, a young man living in an underground bunker with a surrogate family for the better part of the last decade as mutated insects and other animals have overrun the planet. Doubting his place in this new world (he functions chiefly as the cook and HAM Radio operator) Joel summons up his courage to venture into the outside world when he discovers his former girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick) is living in a sanctuary only 80 miles away. With some help from a duo consisting of a rugged outdoorsman and a little girl (Michael Rooker and Ariana Greenblatt) and a heroic dog named Boy, he attempts to navigate an alien landscape where everything wants to kill and eat him, usually in disgusting fashion.

Now viewers may notice a similarity in tone to the hit “Zombieland” series of films, especially with Dylan’s entertaining voice-over work, but unlike “Zombieland” this film isn’t really interested in comedy. It can be amusing at times, but “Love And Monsters” is a mostly serious story and that makes all the difference in the world in terms of viewer immersivness in this world. Director Michael Matthews and writers Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson have done a terrific job of balancing the fantastic with the relatable.

O’Brien is terrific here as he has to pretty much carry the movie on his shoulders, his constant companion being a very intelligent but mostly silent dog. Other actors, such as Henwick, the always reliable Rooker and the wonderful newcomer Greenblatt do sterling work, but there parts are relatively small compared to O’Brien’s and without his solid and grounded performance carries the film’s important human element.

The other part that stands out in “Love And Monsters” is in the realm of special effects. I don’t know what the budget was on this film, but the monsters are outstanding. There are six or seven big encounters in this film, starting with a giant frog (more terrifying than it sounds) and ending with a gigantic mutated crab. The scariest of these monsters is a giant centipede that hides just under the ground and waits for an unsuspecting meal to walk by. The effects are really well done and help convince you that Joel and the others are in real peril when they decide to travel above ground!!

All in all, “Love And Monsters” is one of the better giant monster movies out there right now. It’s available on Amazon and it has heart, adventure, and suspense to spare. 4 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer!

Next we move into the world of docudrama and that’s where we find the Netflix original “The Trial Of The Chicago 7.” Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (“A Few Good Men,” “The Social Network”) this film dramatizes the trial of the seven men accused of inciting a riot during the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. The trial gained a great deal of publicity and was considered a landmark event in terms of the clash between the older, more conservative generation (a hostile Nixon administration) and the younger, progressive generation protesting the Vietnam War. The Seven included Abbie Hoffman (a terrific Sasha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin, (Jeremy Strong, channeling a more intellectual version of Tommy Chong), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), John Froines (Danny Flaherty) and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins). The Seven actually had an eighth member in the form of Black Panther leader Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul – Mateen II) who wasn’t even present for the riots. His case is eventually declared a mistrial but he suffered several setbacks (including a four-year sentence for contempt of court) before he was allowed his freedom.

“The Trial Of The Chicago Seven” is a fascinating portrait of social unrest as well as a grudge match between presidential administrations. We find out that incoming Attorney General John Mitchell (John Doman) wants this case in federal court primarily because he’s pissed about the behavior of outgoing Attorney General Ramsey Clark (an excellent Michael Keaton). It’s a grudge match that really has nothing to do with the seven people on trial yet their freedom is on the line. The film also deals with biased treatment of defendants based on political ideology and race. The human face of this evil is encapsulated by the terrific performance of Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman, an old school judge who, as portrayed here, is quite frankly off his proverbial rocker. The real trial lasted six months and five of the seven were convicted of crossing state lines to incite a riot although all of those convictions and sentences were overturned on appeal.

Sorkin is obviously a terrific writer but his first effort in the director’s chair “Molly’s Game” was a tad stilted. I’m pleased to announce he does a much better job here. The courtroom drama in intermixed with scenes at the convention that led to the trial. You quickly find out that the Seven were never going to get a fair trial and that the establishment (including Chicago’s finest) were predisposed to escalating rather then diffusing the situation. The fact that former Attorney General Clark’s investigation revealed that the Chicago Police were most likely responsible for the riots fell on the deaf ears of the incoming Nixon administration. The Seven were going to be served on silver platters as Nixon’s “Law & Order” campaign. The struggle with this pre-ordained outcome is most effectively dramatized by the character of Richard Schutlz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) the young prosecutor assigned by the new Attorney General to get the federal conviction. Schultz pursues to case to the best of his ability, despite some initial misgivings, but comes to see the dishonesty and disregard for law and constitutional rights for himself.

“The Trial Of The Chicago 7” is filled with some amazing performances. Cohen is spot-on as Abbie Hoffman, his penchant for humor masking a passion and anger for justice. Strong’s Rubin is more laid-back in action but no less passionate in intent. Redmayne’s Hayden wants to do things the right way, but his simmering anger makes him do and say things that put him in direct opposition with Hoffman at times. (The scenes Cohen and Redmayne share together are terrific). Mark Rylance is wonderful as lead defense attorney William Kunstler, a man who has to not only deal with a racist judge in the courtroom, but a three-ring circus of passionate protesters who just happen to be his clients. (The whole Bobby Seale fiasco of legal representation sounds like a bad Abbot and Costello routine). Special mention also goes to John Carroll Lynch as Dellinger, a suburban protest organizer who has to recalibrate how far he’s willing to go for his principles.

Finally we get to Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale. He’s not in the movie very long but boy does he make an impression. His inclusion in the trial shows the institutional and political racism at play during the trial. Seale wasn’t even at the riots yet he’s not only listed as a defendant, he’s also denied counsel, denied the opportunity to represent himself, and eventually bound and gagged and placed on display in the courtroom at the pleasure of Judge Hoffman. The scenes in which Seale receives this exclusive punishment are difficult to watch, but necessary for the narrative. Abdul-Mateen II is terrific as a man who know he’s fighting a rigged battle but decides to fight on anyway, trying to hold onto his temper as he does so. If there’s ever a future film about the life of Bobby Seale, I hope Abdul-Mateen II is the first choice for the lead role.

“The Trial Of The Chicago 7” is not a documentary and should not be taken as such. I haven’t done the research but I know some events were embellished for dramatic purposes. I really don’t care as I’m judging the film for it’s dramatic impact and not its historical accuracy. In terms of dramatic impact, “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” is a terrific film and should not be missed! 4 1/2 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!

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