Going Back to the Bridge in Selma

Selma

Like two of the other most ballyhooed films from 2014 (Boyhood and Birdman), Selma is a really good film that has been a bit oversold.  I suppose if one is going to overrate a film, it might as well be one as noble as this, but in the slightly paraphrased words of my girlfriend, “I just wish they would’ve gotten the facts straight and given this girl a little more gospel.”  There’s something curiously missing from Ava DuVernay’s intelligently directed and reverent biopic of our nation’s most celebrated reverend and Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., despite many convenient current parallels reminding informed viewers there is still so much work to be done.  That missing piece is the call to action.

Standing tall in the film are DuVernay’s depiction of the most harrowing events (from the bombing of the four little girls in the church and the violent police suppression of the first attempt to march across the bridge out of Selma towards Montgomery, to the quieter but equally disturbing moments showing the casually institutionalized hate-fueled suppression of the right to vote in court houses across the Deep South) and, naturally, David Oyelowo’s commanding performance as MLK.

DuVernay, taking a cue from Spielberg’s Lincoln, does a commendable job showing the slow tension-building behind-the-scenes process of what it takes to organize a meaningful march against injustice and how that can be used as a tool to raise public sentiment for the passing of legislation (in this case, the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965).  The tenants of nonviolent protest are on glorious display here, showing how powerfully effective yet dangerous it can be, as it coaxes the irrational radicals out into the open light of day where those watching on the sidelines are suddenly spurred to stand up because they are left with no other option once violence erupts against the peaceful marchers.

Sadly, Paul Webb’s uneven screenplay betrays both DuVernay’s skills and Oyelowo’s passionate portrayal as the writer plays loose with some key facts and insists on fitting King into the archetypal mold of a leader riddled with self-doubt.  Continue reading

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If It Was Never New and It Never Gets Old Then It’s a Coen Brothers Film

Inside Llewyn Davis - Oscar Isaac and Cat

The milieu of Inside Llewyn Davis wraps around the Coen Brothers and their audience like a cozy sweater in the dead of winter.  Watching it is akin to sitting down with an old friend you haven’t seen for years during the holidays, perhaps with hot tea or coffee cupped in your chapped hands, a fireplace hopefully roaring nearby, and listening to them tell a story…maybe one you’ve heard before, maybe one that seems new only to reveal the classic themes of your lives, and you’re held wrapt, comfortable, and full of bittersweet feelings.

The film, which chronicles the ups and – well, let’s be honest – primarily downs of gallows humor-laden folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac, perfectly melancholy and full of piss and heartache), is bathed in the soft muted glows and dark greys of wintertime and 1960’s New York City, strung up wall to wall with amazing folk tunes, and filled to the brim with opportunities and love lost.  The Coens, who previously found their hearts tied to music with their blue-grass fueled Southern-fried odyssey O’ Brother Where Art Thou? have never had their love of music tied more closely to their themes – the film (like all of their best films, lest we forget the homespun folksy wisdom of Fargo) is itself a kind of folk song.  There are hints of an odyssey here, too, as Llewyn flounders about from place to place struck with bad luck, bad timing and a perpetual failing when it comes to life’s big decisions, and he finds a bit of a kindred animal spirit in a series of cats who cross his path on their own odysseys through life, and one of the felines is not coincidently named Ulysses. Continue reading

Revisiting 2001: A Space Odyssey – The Best Film of the 1960’s

Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?

Well, HAL, I’m declaring 2001: A Space Odyssey the best film of the 1960’s.  Hell, HAL, it might even be the best film ever made – a perfect symphonic convergence of cutting edge technology, painterly imagery, big ideas and transcendent music, and it was all cobbled together by human hands.

From the dawn of man to the space age, it’s the tools we use and build that define us, that shape our civilization. 

It’s the tools we use to kill and to create.  And it’s the ultimate tool we build, HAL, that will be the death of us.  Working closely with Arthur C. Clarke (upon whose short story, “The Sentinel”, the film is loosely based) Kubrick crafted a vision of the future where mankind is at crossroads – a point at which we have been able to craft artificial intelligence while at the same time being flung into first contact with an alien intelligence that might have been with us, one way or another, all along.  In some ways – it’s the old “the chicken or the egg – which came first?” question.  For is that black monolith not possibly artificial intelligence created by an alien civilization far more advanced than us?  If they have been meddling with our evolution since the dawn of man, could we not possibly be an experiment in artificial intelligence?  Who the hell knows? Continue reading

X Men A Go Go

Oh my dear, Ms. Lawrence, why so blue?

Hollywood loves to rewrite history – not only their recent movie history, but actual history history.  Here in the context of some mutant hybrid of a prequel and a reboot — a preboot? a requel? — Hollywood has decided to (almost completely – but not without some fan boy in-jokes and cameos) erase the history of the X-Men franchise (and quite honestly, who can blame them after the Wolverine train wreck?) while simultaneously providing us with a shocking Inglourious Basterds style revision of history.  Who knew that mutants were behind the Cuban Missile Crisis?  Thanks, Hollywood!  Knowledge is power!

But the real reason to provide a backdrop like the Cuban Missile Crisis is to create an excuse to go totally a go-go and deck smokin’ hot babes in short skirts and high boots and give uber-villains cool pads with all kinds of Ikea-inspired furniture.  You won’t find me complaining here – the film (and the ladies and the set pieces and the special effects) look fantastic.  Continue reading

The Coen Brothers Didn’t Do Anything

They had made it quite clear, hadn’t they, these Coen Brothers, that they didn’t much care about their audience’s expectations.  Hell, spare for Marge Gunderson in Fargo, they had never much cared for their characters either.  While they looked down on their subjects, they often looked right through those who watched…those faithful who tolerated the abominations that were Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers only left to be confounded by the philosophical nonsense wrapped in the ultra-slick throwback genre packaging of No Country for Old Men.  Sure, we laughed at the hatchet job that was their star-studded Burn After Reading…but where had that magic gone?  Where were those brothers who had brought us Miller’s Crossing and Barton Fink and Fargo?  Had they really sold themselves out to those who had embraced The Big Lebowski as their magnum opus?  Oh, why had you forsaken us, Coen Brothers?  Where had you gone?  What did we do to deserve this?  We didn’t do anything!

Where were the Coen Brothers? Continue reading