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Music Culture cheat sheet: Miranda July, beabadoobee, and more

Oct. 23, 2020
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Watch: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020, dir. Aaron Sorkin)

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wanted us to forget about his subpar directorial debut Molly’s Game, so he returned to courtroom dramas—his forte—with The Trial of the Chicago 7 and it worked. More movies are leaning into his style of fast-paced, overlapping dialogue, and while I’m not saying Sorkin started it, no one quite does it like him. (He wrote The Social Network, let me simp for him a little.)

Sorkin’s screenwriting seems untouchable. Hundreds of video essays have been made about it, and they all share that same sentiment. His ability to structure a rich, multilayered story based on testimonies, on stories being told verbally, is something so unique and thrilling. This was the first movie I’ve seen in months that I didn’t have to pause for a quick Twitter scroll. The two hours felt like twenty minutes.

The pacing is immaculate, but for a movie as explicitly political as Chicago 7, he only scratches the surface. Sorkin is no stranger to films based on true events, but in this, it felt like he was in uncharted waters. The protagonists, a group of anti-Vietnam War protesters charged with conspiracy and crossing state lines with the intent to incite a riot, kept saying the trial was about something bigger, that it was a political trial, and in many ways they were right. But the film’s political backbone faltered when it left the storyline of Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), co-founder of the Black Panther Party and the eighth defendant in the trial. Suddenly it felt like everything the movie had to say had been said, with the trial (and the film) nowhere near over.

You can sometimes spot Sorkin’s deliberate choices in making the film more cinematic—his direction wasn’t as subliminal as his screenplay, making it distracting. Nevertheless, this was an exhilarating experience, especially with such a loaded cast: Mark Rylance (as defense counsel William Kuntsler) wears a bad wig; Eddie Redmayne (as student activist Tom Hayden) inexplicably delivers what I unironically think is his best performance; Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as federal prosecutor Richard Schultz) is finally employed again; Sacha Baron Cohen (as yippie leader Abbie Hoffman) gets so immersed in his role I didn’t believe it was him until I Googled it; Michael Keaton (as Ramsey Clark) shows up seventy minutes in! Watch this in the living room with your dad (who will love pointing out all the actors), but remember that the real fight doesn’t end when Sorkin’s script does.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is streaming on Netflix.

Watch: Kajillionaire (2020, dir. Miranda July)

The best thing about Kajillionaire is that it’s two movies at once. It’s like the life of Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), who belongs to a small family of low-stakes con artists, and the genre of the film shifts slowly with her. “There’s the movie with me and Richard [Jenkins, who plays her father] and Debra [Winger, the mother], and it was very clear that you were going to feel that sense of isolation and this uneasy feeling around [Old Dolio’s] parents, it was going to feel slightly suffocating,” Wood told The L.A. Times“Then when it transitioned into this other world, the whole movie changes, ’cause that’s when Old Dolio is alive.”

Kajillionaire was written and directed by Miranda July, known Quirky Indie Filmmaker, so naturally everyone rushed to call it quirky. But it actually taps into something incredibly visceral and human: the performance of sincerity, and how it can be easily confused with the real thing. Old Dolio’s parents are master manipulators—they’re con artists, and while the inherent “quirkiness” of their ploys make it seem harmless, the neglect their daughter has been through is very real and very traumatizing. The artifice of their love quickly crumbles the moment Old Dolio looks at it more closely. Essentially, this is a story of rediscovering and redefining tenderness, and it culminates in what I will unabashedly call the best closing shot of the year.

“I think Old Dolio has tried her whole life to be invisible to the world,” Wood continued, ”but trying so hard to get approval from her parents, love has never been unconditional. It’s been very much based off of performance. So to finally have her greatest hope, and worst fear, realized—‘Oh, I’m being seen, and not only am I being seen, I’m being loved'—it’s just so powerful.”

Kajillionaire is available on demand.

Listen: Fake it Flowers by beabadoobee

Filipino-British singer and songwriter beabadoobee’s debut album is definitely what 10 Things I Hate About You’s Kat Stratford would play from her car if the movie was made today. Known for her bedroom pop, lo-fi sound—her most streamed song on Spotify is “death bed (coffee for your head)”, the song laid over cute relationship TikToks—beabadoobee takes a turn and calls back '90s alternative rock in Fake it Flowers. The nostalgic, grungy instrumentals and lyrics singing of indifference feel new in her hands, with the DIY bedroom feel emblematic of her work sealing the punk nature of the record. 

Earlier released singles “Care” and “Sorry” make clear the direction of the album, with both songs apt to accompany the rolling credits of a '90s coming-of-age movie. Even slower songs like “How Was Your Day?”, which is sonically closer to the poppier “death bed (coffee for your head)”, are elevated and transported through a time machine. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go wallow in my room, which I know I do every day, but this time I get to pretend I’m in a '90s movie.

Stream Fake it Flowers on Spotify here