Documentaries and current affairs dramas headline our new streaming movie picks this week. And if you’re looking for premium, fresh Halloween horror treats, we’ve got them, too.
The Chicago 7 trial: Writer / director Aaron Sorkin is curbing his crushing tendency and the result is one of his best films. Sorkin allows the characters’ actions to carry the same weight as his meaty words for a sensational reenactment of a stormy chapter in the story.
Sorkins terrifically acted, scripted, and directed a drama Netflix exploits what made his West Wing television staple: complicated characters, risky moral dilemmas, and crackling dialogue. It is a step up from the lukewarm directorial debut of Sorkins, the wandering game Mollys with Jessica Chastain.
Sorkin avoids cluttering up his story this time around, bragging about the fallout from the famous 1968 Democratic convention. What was supposed to be a united peaceful protest has turned into a violent clash between opponents of the Vietnam War, the police and the National Guard. Seems familiar?
The bizarre trial that ensues of the various activists who make up “Chicago 7” for their involvement in the protest constitutes the majority of the film. The buffoonery exhibited by the presiding judge (Frank Langella) is both hilarious and disturbing.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is packed with award-worthy performances from Sacha Baron Cohen (Abbie Hoffman), Eddie Redmayne (Tom Hayden), Langella, Michael Keaton (Ramsey Clark) and Yahya Abdul-Matten II (Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers)) .
Sorkin gives each of them juicy dialogue, and the result is a clever, angry movie. Details: 3 stars, available October 16 on Netflix.
The boy behind the door: Screening as part of the American Film Institute Festival, David Charbonier and Justin Powells’ directorial debuts couldn’t be more intense. It only gives you a second to breathe. An idyllic day for two inseparable young friends – one black, the other white – turns into a nightmare when they are kidnapped and then trapped in a house of hills of horror. Stars Lonnie Chavis and Ezra Dewey are absolutely amazing. Boy is one of the most terrifying movies I’ve ever seen, but it refuses to be dark or cruel and ends up emerging as a testament to the power of friendship. What a director’s first film. Details: 4 stars; available from October 17 to October 17. 22 on fest.afi.com.
The mortuary collection: The problem that plagues 90% of horror anthologies is that there are bad apples thrown in the basket. This is not the case with the delightful quartet of writer / director Ryan Spindells. Each short film can be combined with the best of Stephen King. Horror regular, also executive producer, Clancy Brown serves as a macabre guide, a bizarre mortar who puts these stories together while interviewing a potential replacement (Caitlin Custer). It’s the best Halloween movie I’ve seen this year. Details: 3 stars, available October 15 on Shudder.
Time: Garrett Bradley takes a poetic approach to tell his true story of a woman’s battle to secure her husband’s release – serving time for a bank robbery she was involved in -. Most directors would have been content to unfold everything in a traditional linear narrative. Not Bradley. She uses an intimate black-and-white video to illustrate the lives of the wife, Fox Rich, as well as the husband, his sons and his mother. It is one of the greatest redemption stories you will ever see. Details: 4 stars; available October 16 on Amazon Prime.
The lie: Blumhouse Productions’ much-publicized deal with Amazon Prime sent fans screaming in approval on social media when it was announced. But this 2018 effort, one of the first BP movies to drop on Amazon, drew a lukewarm response from critics and horror fans alike. Too bad, because this icy psychological thriller is a chic, well-played production that’s more O. Henry than Eli Roth. Writer / director Veena Su reworks the 2015 German film Wir Monster with a cast that includes Peter Sarsgaard and Mireille Enos playing desperate parents covering a tragic act of their teenage daughter (Joey King). Details: 3 stars, available now on Amazon Prime.
Spontaneous: A romantic horror comedy about high school kids that spontaneously ignites makes it seem like it could be a terrible mess. But writer / director Brian Duffield pulls it off, making an absurdly funny, gripping, and moving film that boasts one of the best screenplays of the year. As two lovers realize their next embrace might just be the last, Katherine Langford and Charlie Plummer couldn’t be nicer. The Duffields genre films are one of the brightest surprises of 2020. Details: 3 stars; available now on various platforms.
Love and monsters: Prolific Brian Duffield (see article above) co-wrote but didn’t direct this ridiculously entertaining mashup of a classic Ray Harryhausen stop-motion movie and classic horror movie Them! Even Jaws and Attack of the Crab Monsters get a nod of approval here as Dylan OBrien plays the role of a nebulous 20-year-old survivor of an asteroid attack that drove the mutant creatures to roam the earth. . He seeks his dear heart, from which he was separated after the initial attack on Fairfield. Yes, this Fairfield – or rather Queensland, Australia, serving as an understudy. There is a sharp wit to the whole production and the effects are top notch. Details: 3 stars, available October 16 on various platforms.
No ordinary man: Billy Tiptons’ death made headlines in 1989 – and spawned plays, songs and books – when it was revealed that the 74-year-old jazz pianist and conductor who had lived in as long as a man was physically a woman. Director Aisling Chin-Yee ignores the conventional as he tells the story of Tipton and his lasting legacy, and how his family endured harsh judgments and questions. This excellent documentary is part of the AFI Film Festival and includes ideas from actors who represent Tipton in online reading. Don’t miss it. Details: 3 stars; access the film here.
The belly of the beast: San Francisco director Erika Cohns’ documentary Asks to be Seen, a shocking and topical report on the unauthorized sterilization of inmates in California. Two intrepid women provide the heart and soul of this damning film: former inmate Kelli Dillon, who bore witness to her ordeal; and Oaklands Cynthia Chandler, a tireless lawyer dedicated to ensuring justice is served and these surgeries are stopped. Given recent whistleblowers claim that involuntary sterilizations are performed on ICE inmates, Cohns’ functionality could not be more relevant. Details: 3 stars; begins airing on October 16 as part of the Virtual Cinema series at the Smith Rafael Center. Access the film here.
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