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‘Good Joe Bell’ Review: A Movie with Good Intentions That Sends a Bad Message | TIFF 2020

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It’s well worth spreading awareness about the true story of Jadin Bell and his father Joe, but sometimes that isn’t enough to justify a feature adaptation. While I’m sure the filmmakers’ hearts were in the right place, Reinaldo Marcus Green‘s film version of the Bell family’s story grossly misses the mark and winds up sending some very confusing messages in the process.

Good Joe Bell stars Mark Wahlberg as the title character, a father who decides to walk across America, from Oregon to New York, to speak out against bullying in support of his gay son, Jadin (Reid Miller). He’s got a lot to learn about truly understanding his son, processing his own emotions and figuring out how to best convey his message to inspire change, but Joe is committed to making it happen.

Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry construct a mighty ambitious script here that begins with Joe already on the road before bringing us back to the events that encouraged Joe to go on the trip to begin with. On the one hand, this non-linear approach can play as a thoughtful examination of how one might approach a conversation if given a second chance, but on the other, it runs the risk of sending a dangerous message about what it might take to be fully understood by your loved ones. It’s a very delicate balance that Ossana and McMurty do find some success with, but it’s also a concept that doesn’t allow for room for failure, even in the slightest.

Good Joe Bell is at its best when Wahlberg and Miller share the screen together. While Wahlberg does handle Joe’s solo, highly emotional beats quite well, Miller is downright radiant as Jadin. Whether it’s a deeply moving scene or something a bit more fun-loving, Miller truly lights up the screen and brings the best out of Wahlberg in the process. Miller also has a phenomenal amount of chemistry with the rest of the ensemble, namely Connie Britton as Lola, Jadin’s mother, and Morgan Lily as Jadin’s best friend, Marcie. But one of the most powerful scenes of the bunch is actually a brief but extremely heartfelt exchange between Jadin and his little brother, Joseph (Maxwell Jenkins).

good-joe-bell-mark-wahlberg-reid-miller

Image via TIFF

Director of Photography Jacques Jouffret captures those more intimate moments with delicately crafted handheld close-ups that amplify the performances and, in a sense, bring you right into the conversation. Jouffret applies that same level of specificity and attention to the physical requirements of Joe’s journey – the terrain, the elements and the importance of every possession he has with him. Editor Mark Sanger knows just how to maximize the cast’s work here as well. There are quite a few examples throughout Good Joe Bell when the choice to hold on an actor for just a few seconds longer makes all the difference.

Unfortunately, the moment Good Joe Bell becomes more Joe’s story than Jadin’s is where things become exceedingly unfocused, the movie unravels, and its message becomes diluted and jumbled in the process. While Wahlberg does manage to sell every single beat of this non-linear narrative, he still can’t cover up the fact that we’re missing some significant chunks of Joe’s journey, namely what’s really driving his decision to go on this walk in the first place. Is it a pure passion to advocate for anti-bullying? Is it a walk for forgiveness? Is it because he thinks it can help him manage the pain he’s suffering through? There’s no reason why they all can’t be in play here, but when you don’t have a clear understanding of where Joe’s head is at at the very start of it, it makes it difficult to track his growth and lessons learned.

While stuck in a world where homophobia and other biases still run rampant, I find myself desperate for more tools to inspire change – and as someone who lives and breathes movies, my tools are often films that send an inspiring message. This version of Joe and Jadin Bell’s story isn’t going to be one them, and that’s a huge disappointment.

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Good Joe Bell.]

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the true story, this last bit will be a spoiler, but it does feel necessary to address. The bullying Jadin experienced, drove him to take his own life. The Jadin we see on the road with Joe isn’t really there, something I suspect viewers will pick up on mighty fast, even if they don’t know the full story. On the one hand, raising awareness is vital but not if it means running the risk of suggesting that Jadin could only get Joe to understand him once he was gone. That thought crept into my mind early on, wound up being a cloud hanging over the entire film and then, in the end, when nothing concrete was conveyed about Joe’s growth and how we could use his message to keep the campaign going and spark change for the better, I was left feeling devastatingly empty.

Grade: C-

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Trial Of The Chicago 7 is cornball Sorkin

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Note: The writer of this review watched The Trial Of The Chicago 7 from home on a digital screener. Before making the decision to see it—or any other film—in a movie theater, please consider the health risks involved. Here’s an interview on the matter with scientific experts.


For all his interest in mashing the hot buttons of contemporary political discourse, Aaron Sorkin has never exactly had his finger on the pulse of the here and now. He’s always been more of a hindsight sermonizer, prone to after-the-fact soapboxing—a habit that can, at best, result in insightful postmortems of cultural sea change (like his Oscar-winning script for The Social Network) and at worst manifest as self-righteous Monday morning quarterbacking (like all three seasons of his HBO series The Newsroom). History does, however, tend to repeat itself, and Sorkin has lucked, for that reason, into a drama of at least superficial topicality: Though set on the chaotic precipice of the late 1960s, The Trial Of The Chicago 7 offers a disturbingly familiar vision of an America where police come down hard on peaceful demonstrators, where the federal government conducts witch hunts for the “radical left,” and where Black citizens are murdered with impunity. Of course, all of that’s been true and “timely” for the half-century that separates the film’s real-life events from those of current headlines. And with Sorkin at the helm, it takes the evergreen shape of crowd-pleasing political theatre, the kind on which the West Wing creator has built a career.

Sorkin has a knack for courtroom theatrics, going back to his first screenwriting gig, A Few Good Men. Here he’s dramatized a true story of legal railroading: the proceedings that followed 1968’s Democratic National Convention, when thousands of protesters flooded Chicago and were greeted with the very kind of blunt-force police brutality that’s currently filling up social media feeds and cable-news programs. Months after the teargas cleared, the justice department of the newly elected President Nixon pressed charges of conspiracy and inciting riots against several prominent anti-war activists.

These defendants, the eponymous seven, were a motley ensemble of firebrands, all arrested during the demonstrations and played in Sorkin’s film by movie stars, Oscar winners, and dead-ringer character actors. There was Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), the sardonic countercultural icons at the head of the Youth International Party, a.k.a. the “Yippies.” There was Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), who the film presents as the less theatrical yin to Hoffman’s yang, and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), both of Students For A Democratic Society. And rounding out the Seven were the buttoned-up and staunchly nonviolent David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), John Froines (Danny Flaherty), and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), of The National Mobilization Committee To End The War In Vietnam. These accused were tried alongside Black Panther cofounder Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who was in Chicago during the convention for all of a few hours, and denied the right to represent himself in court in the absence of his lawyer.

The Trial Of The Chicago 7

The Trial Of The Chicago 7
Photo: Netflix

The trial was, to be put it mildly, farcical—a sham presided over by a judge, Julius Hoffman (played here by Frank Langella), who made up his mind about the guilt of the defendants long before they set foot in his courtroom. The Trial Of The Chicago 7, which Sorkin directed as well as wrote (it’s his second feature, following the overlong Molly’s Game), cuts between this kangaroo court and the chaos surrounding the convention. It’s a flashback structure reminiscent of the one the filmmaker adopted in The Social Network but also of an earlier film on this subject, Brett Morgen’s exhilarating agitprop documentary Chicago 10, which tackled the same events with a mixture of archival footage set to modern rock and animated reenactments adapted from the court transcripts. Sorkin even opens his film with the exact same footage of Lyndon B. Johnson announcing another wave of deployments to Vietnam. He also filches Morgen’s rat-a-tat cutaways to Hoffman performing for college kids on the weekend, tossing insults and quips like the Lenny Bruce of progressive politics.

The Trial Of The Chicago 7 wants to bottle the revolutionary spirit of its setting—the take-to-the-streets idealism of the ’60s—but its snappy montage-glimpses of demonstrations verge on costume-party kitsch. The movie is at its best and most persuasive in the courtroom, when Sorkin can draw on the clashes of ideology and personality. A few of the more highly publicized testimonies have been curiously excised. (Where, for one example, is Allen Ginsberg’s humming cameo on the stand?) But Sorkin preserves from the public record the comic highlights and most outrageous lapses in judicial objectivity: the judge bungling names and issuing vindictive contempt charges at the drop of a hat; Hoffman and Rubin playing the room like a comedy club, at one point donning robes; and the gut-wrenchingly racist spectacle of Seale bound and gagged for his demand that he be allowed to speak on his own behalf. The trial remains one of the most notorious in American history, and Sorkin remains faithful to its infuriating miscarriages of justice—to the way it seemed to illustrate, on a giant public stage, the rigged game our legal system can become.

But this is no procedural. It’s a Hollywoodized recounting, like a courtroom sketch rendered by a carnival caricature artist. Sorkin can’t resist manufacturing little arcs and dramatic payoffs, even when they contradict what we know about these men. That means we get the gentle Dellenger, who swore off all violence in college, slugging a bailiff when the injustice of the trial finally goes too far for him—an outburst that’s answered with a shameless shot of his adolescent son watching, wide-eyed and quiver-lipped, from the gallery. Rubin, in this version of events, is something close to comic relief, his shtick conforming to flower-power cliché and his feelings “hilariously” wounded by the discovery that his Chicago meet-cute was with an undercover agent. (Leave it to Sorkin to invent whole-clothe a backstabbing seductress.) And the film insists on giving one of the prosecutors a nagging conscience: While the real Richard Schultz has been described as a “pit bull” for his attack-dog reputation, Joseph Gordon-Levitt portrays him as a conflicted, principled patriot, reluctant to even take the case; it betrays Sorkin’s politics as much more centrist than his subjects’.

The Trial Of The Chicago 7

The Trial Of The Chicago 7
Photo: Netflix

At least the performances are top notch, expertly handling Sorkin’s trademark quip and sanctimony. They help rescue The Trial Of The Chicago 7 from its sketch-comedy leanings and biopic simplifications. If you’re going to idealize radical, divisive defense attorney William Kunstler as a paragon of legal integrity, who better to stick in the role than soft-spoken nobility incarnate Mark Rylance? The real stroke of casting genius, though, is Baron Cohen as Hoffman, activism’s prankster rock star. The accent isn’t perfect, but the comedy chameleon pinpoints Hoffman’s rebel spirit, that alchemy of irreverence and moral conviction that defined his appeal. The turn—less impression than conjuring act—pumps some soul into the movie’s most fruitful dramatic embellishment: its depiction of Hoffman and Hayden as adversarial allies, skirmishing for the direction of the movement. It’s the one bit of poetic license that feels truly relevant to the challenges facing the American left, then and now.

For a time, Steven Spielberg was attached to direct The Trial Of The Chicago 7, and his absence is felt in the televisual staging: For all the sentimental uplift of this film’s closing minutes, Sorkin lacks the master’s skill—flaunted in Lincoln and The Post—at enlivening gabby civics lessons. The film could have used some of Spielberg’s craft and twinkly open-hearted conviction… or, perhaps conversely, more of Hoffman’s radical, down-with-The-Man sensibility. Ultimately, Sorkin seems less interested in the actual politics of any of his seven than in the way their flipped bird to the establishment facilitates his own taste for zingers, clever comebacks, and grandstanding. Parallels to the present aside, Trial Of The Chicago 7 is ultimately more timeless than timely in its flaws and conventions. Which is to say that some things sadly never go out of fashion, like perversions of justice and eleventh hour surprise witnesses in legal dramas.

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Sammy The Seal Is So Outgoing, He’s Making Human Friends At The Beach

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Dorset, a county in South West England, has a new local celebrity and it’s a seal named Sammy. For some mysterious reason, this adorable seal is extremely friendly and outgoing, and thousands of people are absolutely head over heels for him.

Looking through photos capturing this cute creature, it almost starts to seem as if Sammy has the personality of a little puppy. He looks like he’s constantly smiling and he loves to pop up on people unexpectedly. Besides, Sammy constantly tries to get onto people’s surfboards.

More info: Facebook | Instagram | photo4me.com

Sammy first appeared on Weymouth Beach during the peak of quarantine

Image credits: Will Badman Photography

These photos were taken by a photographer named Will Badman who found out about Sammy after seeing a few pictures of him on Facebook. “I thought I would drive over to Weymouth, which is about an hour from me, to see if I could get some photos of Sammy as it’s something different to add to my profile,” Will told Bored Panda.

When the beach became crowded again, Sammy was determined to find friends

Image credits: Will Badman Photography

Turns out, Sammy first appeared on this beach during the peak of quarantine. At the time, the beach was very quiet and peaceful since most people were spending time at home, so it was the perfect place for him to fish and rest.

Sammy the seal absolutely loves to pop up on people unexpectedly

Image credits: Will Badman Photography

“Sammy is a cheeky young seal and the expressions on his face are funny,” the photographer Will Badman told Bored Panda. “I have had great feedback from the photos and people like to see them, but you’ve got to remember that Sammy is a wild animal and we have to give him space and if he pops up in the sea in front of you as he does in my photos, it is best to get out the sea and give him the space he needs.”

“Sammy is a cheeky young seal and the expressions on his face are funny”

Image credits: Will Badman Photography

“Sammy has a habit of popping up on people unexpectedly and tries to get onto their surfboard, kayak, or on people’s back as they are swimming,” the photographer told The Dodo. “[He] seems to love the cameras… when he comes onto the beach to rest.”

“If Sammy is on the beach, please keep your distance and let him rest”

Image credits: Will Badman Photography

“I started learning photography in January 2017, we got a Military base near me and they do an Air Show every year and started taking photos and it progressed from there,” the photographer Will Badman told us. “I love taking photos of nature, landscapes, family events, long exposures at night. I have done a couple of weddings, but I also take photos for a lot of charity events for the organizers to help raise funds for the charities.”

A group of volunteers are watching over Sammy to protect him

Image credits: Will Badman Photography

“Well worth getting up at 4 am today to get the sunrise and to try and see Sammy the seal,” Badman wrote in his Facebook post

Image credits: Will Badman Photography

Here’s how people feel about Sammy and these adorable photos capturing him

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Stream These Family Movies For Kids on Hulu in 2020

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Everyone loves a movie night, and Hulu has your family covered with its selection of movies for kids (and adults) to stream and enjoy. From ’90s classics like Passport to Paris to newer releases like Wonder Park, there’s something for every kid on the service.

Ahead, see the movies your kids can stream now on Hulu, and you can keep checking back to see what’s added throughout 2020. And if you’re also a Netflix family, check out the newest movies that have been added to Netflix for kids.

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