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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The Two Faces of Helen Mirren

Oscar-winner Helen Mirren is at the point in her career where she is an institution in the world of acting.  Actresses occupying this rarefied air (like Streep) generally will pick roles either for fun or to win awards (though they would never admit to that).  Whether doing it for fun or for serious posturing, Mirren’s name instantly adds a sense of class and gravitas to any film she stars in.  This past Labor Day weekend, movie-goers could see The Helen Mirren in two puzzling films, Brighton Rock and The Debt

Helen Mirren in BRIGHTON ROCK

 

Helen Mirren in THE DEBT

 

***POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD – Read With Caution***

First up is Brighton Rock.  Whether you view it as a remake of the 1947 quasi-classic (of which I wasn’t a big fan) or as a different adaptation of Graham Greene’s classic 1937 novel (which I loved and count among his best)…the film has no reason to exist, which isn’t to say it’s all that bad.  Director Rowan Joffe lays on the atmosphere thickly, and for the most part the film is engaging enough.  The seedy underbelly of England’s seaside resort town of Brighton is brought to life in grand fashion with nice production values, moody lighting and ominous waves crashing underneath the pier, though there is a rather oppressive music score to accompany it.  Continue reading

The Ghost Writer

A nameless writer (Ewan McGregor) is hired to finish the autobiography of the shamed former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan) after the first man on the job dies under mysterious circumstances in Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Robert Harris’ oh-so-timely political thriller.  Polanski uses the contemporary thriller to play on his classic theme of a man pretending to be an artist (or is it an artist pretending to be a man?) getting in way too deep and swept up into events much larger than himself.

What a treat it has been for cineastes this bitter February (normally the harshest of months for fans of the art form) as we’ve had new entries from filmdom’s greatest living masters, both putting their own stamp on the Hitchcockian thriller: Martin Scorsese’s bombastic and psychologically disturbing Shutter Island and Roman Polanski’s subtly handled political potboiler, The Ghost WriterContinue reading

Watch or Die: HBO’s John Adams

 **This was a post in progress. 

 Weekly updates appeared as each episode of John Adams aired Sunday nights on HBO.   

 

And remember, faithful viewers, Samuel Adams White Ale is the (un)official beer of HBO’s John Adams.  Real Patriots Drink Samuel Adams.

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*Above: Political Propaganda circa 1776.

PREVIEW: 

Ever since the demise of The Sopranos and Rome, the only thing even remotely worth watching on HBO (or on TV in general) has been the Mormon soap opera, Big Love.  Well, thankfully, the good folks at HBO have got their wits about them once again and will be unveiling the first two parts of their epic 7-part miniseries, John Adams this Sunday, March 16th. 

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by David McCullough, HBO’s John Adams will attempt to take the same intimate look at history that made the two-part Elizabeth I starring Helen Mirren and, like John Adams, directed by Tom Hooper, such a roaring success, while painting historical events across a sprawling gritty epic canvas like they did with the decadent Rome (which was essentially a 22-part miniseries) in hopes of bringing the past frightfully alive. 

Loaded with a cast of award-winning character actors and familiar faces (check out Danny Huston as Sam Adams, David Morse as George Washington, and Tom Wilkinson as Ben Franklin), and headlined by Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as John and Abigail Adams, HBO will give us a glimpse into the events leading up to the American Revolution and the first 50 years of American history.   For many people, their knowledge of this time period comes only from school textbooks or images from the ridiculous musical 1776 or more recently, the historically inaccurate Mel Gibson vehicle The Patriot.  HBO has taken on the task of educating and entertaining, a dangerous gambit that could pay off in scores. 

Check out the full length trailer:

Official Site:

http://www.hbo.com/films/johnadams/index.html

For a complete list of cast and crew:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0472027/fullcredits

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REVIEW: 

After each episode aired over the course of six weeks, I posted a review of each part. Continue reading

A Review of Tony Gilroy’s “Michael Clayton”

Stylish Legal Thriller Ends in Hung Jury, 16 October 2007
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

So there’s this giant corporation that creates some super-pesticide (or something) that gets into the ground water of some rural upper Midwestern farmers, and low and behold, leads to all kinds of hellish cancer (exactly what the in-house scientists warned of) that then–Surprise!– turns into a three billion dollar class action lawsuit. Six years into the seemingly endless proceedings, the lead attorney defending the evil corporation (Tom Wilkinson, channeling Peter Finch from “Network”) turns into a raving morally conflicted lunatic. In steps the firm’s “fixer” (George Clooney, somber and serious), the film’s title character, to make sense of things and perform damage control. Meanwhile, the corporation’s in-house counsel (Tilda Swinton, perfect as an unethical lawyer in way over her head) scrambles towards a fiscally feasible settlement before the truth is leaked.

Despite the convoluted legal mumbo-jumbo, “Michael Clayton” is entertaining enough, as much of it results in some well executed scenes of wire-tapping and murder. In his directorial debut, screenwriter Tony Gilroy successfully plays with some stylistic elements. Most of this occurs in the film’s editing as time-frames and POV’s are occasionally jumbled, and dialogue frequently overlaps onto scene transitions. It keeps the viewers on their heels even when what’s going is rather dry and boring. The early scenes with Swinton’s character are especially well done, as is the elliptical focus on a car bombing.

The performances are all top-notch, with the normally smug Clooney nailing the lead role with just the right amount of nonchalant star power. Unfortunately, the attempts at character development are superficial and stretch credibility. If Clayton is such a legal genius and so good at fixing problems, why does he have gambling issues and get sucked into bad business deals with his clichéd shifty brother? Clayton is also given an obnoxiously precocious son who plays into some of the film’s more literary motifs, an ailing father, and a noble cop brother (yes, another brother) who factors too conveniently into the film’s conclusion. None of these elements or unnecessary characters explain why Clayton is the way he is, or for that matter, who he really is.

“Michael Clayton” comes to a modestly satisfying conclusion, though the internal conflict of Clayton isn’t as compelling as Gilroy so valiantly wants it to be. Thanks to some stylish attempts to invigorate what is traditionally a low energy genre and some excellent performances, the film scores slightly higher than a top-line John Grisham adaptation, but still amounts to nothing extraordinary.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0465538/usercomments-62