I’m finally catching up with films that got away from me during the last few weeks.  Here’s my take on two out now, beginning with the latest from Woody Allen: A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK. The film comes trailing significant baggage. Allen sued Amazon for refusing to release the film in 2019 because of the controversy around sexual molestation allegations against him in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Several cast members including Timothee Chalamet, Selena Gomez, and Rebecca Hall have donated their salaries to relevant charities, and the film has already been seen in Europe, South America, and Asia. It comes to us, wrung out and a little worse for wear artistically and culturally.

Timothee Chalamet and Elle Fanning two of today’s youngest, most talented, and bankable stars, headline the cast as a pair of uppercrust college kids who plan a romantic weekend in NYC which is then upended by unforeseen adventures, romantic entanglements, and family revelations. Chalamet plays Gatsby Welles, his girlfriend is Ashleigh Enright and they are both as privileged as their names sound. He’s brilliant with a penchant for playing piano and the odds, and hates the pretensions of his mother’s (Cherry Jones nails this pivotal part) moneyed milieu.  Ashleigh, formerly “Miss Amiability” from Scottsdale, is now a perky film wonk who’s just snagged an interview for the college paper with a famous and very moody filmmaker played by Liev Schreiber.  Jude Law plays his screenwriter and “keeper,” and Diego Luna plays their frequent leading man and lothario. Ashleigh becomes either muse or prey to all the leading men as the day turns into a rainy romp through old New York with stops at The Carlyle’s Bemelmans Bar, The Met, the Delacorte Clock in Central Park, with Chalamet singing in the rain and playing cocktail jazz piano for a possibly new romantic interest played by Selena Gomez –who’s cruelly lit.

The opportunity for something fresh to come of 21st century lovers cavorting through classic Manhattan never materializes, and these characters sit claustrophobically in a time warp of Woody’s stunted making. I so loved seeing this cast in these locales, but ached for them to stop doing 1970’s Woody impersonations, and function like smart, sentient young adults in the 21st century.  Even Chalamet– as brilliant an actor as he is– couldn’t make his lines stick. Elle as brilliant as she is, came off like a wind-up Annie Hall doll. It all felt weirdly stale. The old tunes can still deliver, but we can’t hear them if we don’t believe that whoever’s doing the singing in the here and now, lives on the same planet we do. Now playing in select theaters including  Landmark Theatres: Kendall Square/Boston (October 9) and Embassy/Boston (October 16). 

Whereas writer/director Aaron Sorkin’s THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 is as up to date and relevant as an historical event can be. The film focuses on the circus of a trial that took place after the riots in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Hippies, Yippies, activists and Black Panthers were accused of inciting violence against the police whom Chicago boss Mayor Daley had standing by to keep the demonstrations against the Viet Nam war from getting out of hand.

There’s a lot to keep us entertained and riveted to what’s on trial here: societal upheaval in the form of civil disobedience against entrenched injustice against a backdrop of political and cultural polarization. Sound familiar? Though the film is sometimes stiffly directed, riding roughshod over tone and pace, and occasionally losing its narrative thread, it is a linguistic tour de force propelled by Sorkin’s gift of gab and a dazzling cast: Sacha Baron Cohen (who butchers the Massachusetts accent) as the brilliant, wild-haired Abbie Hoffman; Jeremy Strong as Jerry “Never trust anyone over 30” Rubin; their courtroom scenes conjure something like the Marx brothers anarchic absurdism.

Eddie Redmayne (who nails an American accent) is perfect as conflicted activist and Jane Fonda’s ex Tom Hayden; Yahya Abdul-Mateen II seethes as Black Panther Bobby Seale who sat infamously bound and gagged in the courtroom; Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Mark Rylance are at the same measured but increasingly heated temperature as opposing attorneys Schultz and Kunstler; and Frank Langella brilliant as the cranky and possibly senile presiding Judge Julius Hoffman (no relation to Abbie.) When none other than Michael Keaton galloped in for the climax as Attorney General Ramsey Clark– I gasped with delight. He’s terrific.

Despite its flaws,  I recommend THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7. Now playing at select theaters including Landmark Theatres: Kendall Square/Boston, coming to Embassy/Boston, streaming on Netflix 10/16.