By Lynn Venhaus

One person’s trash becomes another person’s treasure when a feisty lost soul rescues a beat-up acoustic guitar from a dumpster in modern-day Dublin. In yet another charmer from Irish writer-director John Carney, “Flora and Son” achieves harmony for its scruffy characters through the transformative power of music.

Flora (Eve Hewson), a single mom who is at war with her son, Max (Oren Kinlan), thinks the guitar would be a good hobby/diversion for him, as he close to being sent to a juvenile detention center. With the help of an L.A. musician/guitar teacher Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), she finds a path to self-discovery.

With its intentional aim to tug on our hearts and evoke honest laughter through ordinary people’s daily lives, Carney hits his target. It may not be as profound an example as his previous films, “Once,” “Begin Again” and “Sing Street,” but each well-drawn character finds purpose, changes subtly, and reinforces the magic of music as a universal language.

Carney’s affection for music to soothe our souls is vividly brought to life as Flora takes guitar lessons from Jeff, and in those Zoom calls, the connection they share through technology is palpable.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jeff

Both the appealing Joseph Gordon-Levitt, himself a musician, and charismatic Eve Hewson, an actress known for “Bad Sisters” and “The Knick,” have pleasant enough untrained voices, singing from the heart. This is not a grandiose moment like Lady Gaga singing in “A Star is Born” – this is a quieter, more realistic portrayal. They are not destined for greatness, but to them, music is the gift that keeps on giving.

Oren Kinlan is also convincing as the sullen teenager whose interests lie in dubstep and hip-hop. He and his mother are perpetually scowling at the world, so their collaborations make them a bit more tolerant of each other, achieving some well-needed bonding.

Both their relationships with Max’s unreliable father Ian are complicated. A grown-up kid himself, Ian’s claim to fame is that he was in a band good enough to once open for Snow Patrol, an Irish-Scottish indie rock band who had mainstream success in the early 2000s.

Jack Reynor, who gained attention as the rock-loving older brother Brendan in Carney’s 2016 “Sing Street,” is effective here as someone who needs to figure out his life.

Hewson, whose father is U2 frontman Bono, heretofore hasn’t performed music, but has been working steadily in films and television for a decade. She was Tom Hanks’ daughter in “Bridge of Spies” and James Gandolfini’s daughter in “Enough Said,” among others. But this is her moment to shine.

Eve Hewson as Flora

Being able to show range with this gift of a character, she is a revelation as the tart-tongued, blunt Flora, who is definitely not a candidate for Mother of the Year nor is she striving to be. She’s utterly engaging as an immature woman dealing with life’s setbacks in a more self-destructive way, desperately in need of some direction.

The song the quartet perform together, “High Life,” written by Flora and her son about motherhood, is a catchy earworm that will remain in your head after the movie’s over. It’s the song, written by the writer-director and Gary Clark, a Scottish music producer, that is being submitted to the Oscars for Best Song awards consideration. Carney and Clark wrote the original tunes for the soundtrack.

(Carney’s films have a decent track record in this category – “Falling Slowly,” written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the stars of “Once,” won Best Song in 2007, and “Lost Stars,” sung by Adam Levine in “Begin Again,” was nominated in 2014.)

You’ll want to listen during the credits to Gordon-Levitt’s character Jeff’s song he wrote about Flora.

The movie is set in the Dublin neighborhoods that tourists may not see, and the dialogue is salty.. A word of warning: the Irish dialect is sometimes difficult to decipher, so close captioning is advised for streaming.

Shown at the Sundance Film Festival in January, “Flora and Son” was enthusiastically received and has been tagged a crowd-pleaser ever since.

This affecting tale runs 1 hour, 34 minutes, and is designed to make you smile. It’s delightful to experience with others, who understand the joy that music sparks, and it has enough humorous moments that people responded to its heartfelt message.

“Flora and Son” is a 2023 comedy-drama written and directed by John Carney and starring Eve Hewson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Oren Kinlan and Jack Reynor. It is rated R for language throughout, sexual references and brief drug use, and runs 1 hour, 34 minutes. It opens in select theaters and is streaming on Apple TV+ Sept. 29. Lynn’s Grade: B+

By Lynn Venhaus

A civics lesson for the ages, writer-director Aaron Sorkin’s riveting account of “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a potent examination of injustice during a politically charged time of civil disobedience. Through the lens of a riveting courtroom drama, the film is an acting showcase and one of the best films of the year.

And because the maestro is Sorkin, the film is also a discourse on cultural revolution and political theater, all while working in the confines of a true story. Because it is not a documentary, some of the timeline jumps around and incidents are embellished, but trial transcripts are used, along with archival footage, to create an authentic portrait.

In August 1968, several activist groups opposed to the Vietnam War converged at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago – the Students for a Democratic Society led by Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), the Youth International Party (Yippies) led by radical revolutionaries Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) and the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE), led by older conscientious objector David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch).  Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), leader of the Black Panthers, is also present but not connected with the others. They, along with eventually acquitted Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Danny Flaherty), are the Chicago 8. Seal’s case would later be declared a mistrial, thus leaving seven.

Demonstrators violently clashed with police in and around Grant Park, which was captured on live television and the reason for a courtroom circus the next year after Nixon was elected President. Using a new law, the eight are charged with conspiracy to cross state lines to incite a riot. 

The infamous 1969 trial, orchestrated by Nixon’s Department of Justice, is presided over by Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella). The legal eagles are civil rights attorney William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) and Ben Weinglass (Leonard Shenkman) for the defense and Justice Department prosecutors Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Thomas Foran (J.C. MacKenzie).

The Trial of the Chicago 7. Mark Rylance as William Kunstler, Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden in The Trial of the Chicago 7. Cr. Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX © 2020

The casting is impeccable. Sorkin’s breakthrough was the play “A Few Good Men” in 1989, later a movie. Known for “The West Wing,” he won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for “The Social Network.” With his fast-paced dialogue and customary insightful monologues, Sorkin’s original screenplay now vaults to leading awards contender. It is a marvel of nuance and first amendment passion, focusing on change – how people make it happen.

Sorkin immerses us in the atmosphere of the ’60s volatile times, as dissent grew throughout the country. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in April, followed by the killing of presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bobby Kennedy two months later. More anti-war activists took to the streets when the conflict in Southeast Asia escalated. But “the Establishment” attacked free speech and peaceful protests, fearing anarchy and widespread unrest.

His dialogue, nimbly spoken by this extraordinary ensemble, astutely advances character development and shows the duality of law – when it works in a courtroom, and when it doesn’t. With such a large cast, Sorkin has managed to bring out the distinct personalities of the iconoclast rebels.

Sorkin has shrewdly opted to concentrate only on the present with the major defendants, providing little backstory to their rise as movement leaders. While everyone snugly fits their roles, stand-outs are Eddie Redmayne as fervent Tom Hayden, convinced working inside the system is the right conduit for progress, and Sacha Baron Cohen as the mouthy disrupter Abbie Hoffman, who mastered media for his own purposes. Their different approaches lead to confrontations but ultimately, they are on the same page.

As the clearly biased tyrannical judge, Frank Langella is chilling as a man who thinks he does not discriminate but his cruelty to Seale suggests otherwise. Mark Rylance, Oscar winner for the 2015 “The Bridge of Spies” and three-time Tony Award winner, will likely score nominations for his remarkable portrayal of impassioned lawyer William Kunstler.

Abdul-Mateen II, who won an Emmy for HBO’s “Watchman,” is powerful in his silence as Seale and bears the brunt of the injustice during the trial. Seale, who co-founded the Black Panthers in 1966, was just in Chicago to give a speech and did not know the other guys.

Alex Sharp excels as the dedicated Rennie Davis, who is less flashy than the other counterculture activists but whose involvement is significant nonetheless. Sharp won a Tony Award for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” in 2105.

Sorkin had only directed once before, 2017’s “Molly’s Game,” an uneven but interesting account of a true story. For this legal drama, he keeps the courtroom scenes taut and the street scenes intense and chaotic.

Sorkin gets terrific assistance from cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, who shot last year’s “Ford v. Ferrari,” and editor Alan Baumgarten, known for other Sorkin films and “American Hustle.” Composer Daniel Pemberton scores the action with the right tempo without using popular protest music from the times.

As an important acknowledgement of this case in America’s evolution, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” conveys precious civil liberties. And demonstrates what makes compelling stories – Americans speaking out, what inspires revolution and why civil discourse matters.

Sasha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a courtroom drama based on real events, directed and written by Aaron Sorkin. It starts Eddie Redmayne, Frank Langella, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Alex Sharp, Michael Keaton, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, J.C. MacKenzie and Ben Schenkman. Rated: R for language throughout, some violence, bloody images and drug us, The runtime is 2 hr. 10 min. Lynn’s Grade: A
Available in select theatres Oct. 9 and on Netflix Oct. 16.

By Lynn Venhaus
On a routine Airbus flight from Berlin to Paris, terrorists try to seize control of the plane, but the mild-mannered American co-pilot Tobias (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tries to thwart the chaos, struggling to save the lives of the 85 passengers and small crew.

The code for a hijacked airplane is 7500, hence the title. This straightforward suspense has nearly all its action contained in the cockpit, which makes it taut – and claustrophic. First-time feature director Patrick Vollrath co-wrote the script with Senad Halilbasic, and they make sure it’s gritty instead of a slick Hollywood film. In fact, you will question decisions made by the characters.

Smaller in scale but gripping nonetheless, the film takes a procedural approach, detailing the initial steps of the terrorists as they move through the airport and the two pilots as they check off their lists of to-dos. Flight-attendant Gokce (Aylin Tezel) is Tobias’ baby mama, they have a 2-year-old, but they are low-key about their relationship when working together. After Tobias is injured, his arm slashed when the hijackers stormed the cockpit, he contacts ground control and plans an emergency landing in Hanover. Their pleas for him to open the door are unmet, so they kill a passenger and threaten more carnage. That sets off a chain of excruciating life-or-death struggles.

Vollrath, Oscar-nominated for a German short film, “Everything Will Be OK,” realistically builds tension. The script leaves key details out, so we are forced to use our imagination. It is specifically vague, which can be frustrating.

It’s also intense and bloody, ramping up the anxiety and the violence.

Projecting calm at times while other moments are anguished, Gordon-Levitt is quite strong as the conflicted Tobias. He hasn’t been seen on the big screen in a feature since 2016’s “Snowden,” although he has done voice work and some TV. In fact, he is nominated for a Daytime Emmy as host of the Sesame Street 50th Anniversary Special. Here, he effectively carries the movie, keeping us riveted to the action in the cockpit.

The stretch to the ending is wobbly and lacks a definitive punch. Had the finale packed as much as the terrifying take-over of the plane, we’d really have something here, instead of a routine skyjacking with a few nail-biting scenes.

“7500” is a thriller directed by Patrick Vollrath and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Aylin Tezel, Carlo Kitzlinger. It’s rated R for violence/terror and language, and run time is 92 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: B-
Amazon Prime original available June 19

A version of this review is online at the Webster-Kirkwood Times.