“SELMA” (2014) Q & A w/Ava DuVernay,Common, Carmen Ejojo

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Yes, I should have done this review ages ago as it’s been a month since I attended an Oscar screening of this film along with an after-screening Q & A with Director: Ava DuVernay; Cast members Common, Carmen Ejojo, and Henry G. Sanders. Not even sure why I waited so long, but I will say I’ve thought some about it since then. Maybe it’s because the movie, while I’m not even going to pretend it isn’t a strong, powerful film, just missed a few things for me. And historical inaccuracies aside, as let’s be real, many prestigious movies take dramatic license with historical events and pretty much all bio-pics have them, I think I’ve just been trying to put my finger on what it was. Could be the slower pace of it or the fact that, some needlessly added small odd scenes, at times I thought I was watching a MLK biopic instead of a Selma one, or for me the too strong religious aspect of it. Yes I am fully aware and know MLK was REVEREND Martin Luther King..I am aware of the fact he was a religious man, but since they are taking liberties with some things, including re-writing the “I Have a Dream” speech, this would have been what I would have chosen to tone down some as some of it comes off unnecessary in parts. But whatever it was, I think a lot of it has to do with everything going on from Ferguson to New York to Paris, maybe I’ve been trying to come to terms with man’s atrocities against each other in every way and this film started that for me as it couldn’t have come at a more relevant time. Selma 1

As the opening of the film opens with a heart-wrenching explosion we move along quickly to the man “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” (David Oyelowo), pulling off a performance that seems true to the man without being a caricature or overly reverent. The film acknowledges that King was a man, with faults like any other, but in a way that makes him affecting. Oyelowo doesn’t look especially like King, but he does capture a good rendition of the heart & soul of the man. However, he’s only a piece of the puzzle, with this being a true ensemble film with at least a dozen good roles, from Carmen Ejogo as King’s wife Coretta, to pros like Wendell Pierce as “Rev. Hosea Williams”, musician/actor Common “James Bevel” and Martin Sheen “Frank Minis Johnson” as some of the allies King encountered along the way.
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The film does a great job portraying just how much the people in the march, from all walks of life, were risking their lives by participating, against a southern resistance ranging from ignorant yokels to devious politicians, to definitely more than a few sadists, who were so keen to inflict harm to the peaceful marchers that at times it’s painful to watch. There are scenes of people riding horses and brandishing whips, covering wood clubs with spoke-like wire to inflict as much damage as possible on the marchers. While some might think it’s puzzling as to where this hate comes from, but even more so in that the film tries to keep an even hand in showing both sides. Tim Roth as “Gov. George Wallace” could have easily played him as demonic, but he tries and somewhat succeeds to humanize him as much as he can, which is not easy when you’re playing one of history’s truly great evil bastards. Tom Wilkinson is very effective as “Lyndon Johnson“, who’s not above playing the good ol’boy card with Wallace, but also sympathizes with King, even if he’s reluctant to stir up trouble and makes a few horrible decisions along the way.
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In a cast of ‘names’ many of which I have been a fan of for a long long time, yes I’m looking at you Lorraine Toussaint “Amelia Boynton”, Tom Wilkinson, Giovanni Ribisi “Lee White”, Wendall Pierce, Tim Roth and yes, even Oprah Winfry as I wasn’t an ‘talkshow’ Oprah fan, but I am an ‘actress’ Oprah fan. My three standouts of this film that made me sit up and take notice are Stephen James as “John Lewis”, Trai Byers as “James Forman”, and lastly Alessandro Nivola as “John Doar”.

Hopefully the best thing about “Selma” that we can take away from it is that it’s not a movie about blame or hate. Rather, it’s hopeful in that it shows how people can come together and change things for the better in a non-violent manner ~ a message that should always be kept in mind when things get out of hand as they often do. Even with it’s faults,“Selma” is a strong film that sends a clear message to a new generation about what standing up against intimidation in any form is all about. It is a passionate work about a towering figure who left an enduring legacy, but one that, as recent events might indicate, is still short of completion. selma common 1

Additional note: I love Q & A’s after films with directors/producers/cast etc. They really give you insight sometimes into things about how the film got made or a fun antidote or two.. This Oscar screening was on Thursday, December 18th,2014 at The Landmark Theater with Dir. Ava DuVernay giving insight into that this project was really made because of David Oyelowo who took it and ran with it (which explains the large Brit casting also! 🙂 ) getting Oprah & her team including Brad Pitt & others involved, including picking her as the director, even though she didn’t have much experience and convincing everyone to get onboard. Also, reasoning behind not using the actual “I Have a Dream” speech..the rights to it are held by someone else who has never used them and they could not get them for this film so she ended up re-writing it herself. As for something I completely did not know, at the end of the film we see a shot of a bridge ~ it’s the “Edmund Pettus Bridge” ~ as DuVernay noted was named after the leader of the Klan back then..it’s name remains today.
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Grade: B-

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“THE HUMBLING” (2015) – REVIEW ~ incl. Q & A w/Al Pacino

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The humbling
What happens to actors when they can no longer remember their lines or worse when they can no longer deliver them? Well this film might have your answer and was simply quite fun to watch while finding out.

Al Pacino plays fictional acclaimed stage actor “Simon Axler”. We first meet him backstage, warming up before going on stage, talking to the mirror, asking his reflection how good his recitation is. He has two masks, one representing comedy, the other tragedy, and these masks could very well be the metaphor for this film. We watch the tragedy of a man losing his talent and losing his mind, but at the same time there are lots of laughs to be had on the way. Axler gets lost backstage and finds himself outside boxed in an alleyway. When let back in, he isn’t recognized and is kicked out of the theatre and though I felt like I’d seen this scene before ala Michael Keaton in Birdman, it didn’t lose it’s luster here.
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As the film moves along we discover that this is all in his head and this is where the fun parts of the film kick in as we are not always certain that what we see is occurring or whether it is a figment of Axler’s quite funny and oh~so~vivid imagination. After throwing himself off stage, Axler heads to rehab where he meets “Sybil” (Nina Arianda) who is hysterical in this role and probably my favourite character after Simon in film. She wants Axler to kill her husband, who she claims is sexually abusing her daughter and as she turns into one of the funniest stalkers ever, popping up at the most inopportune of places and times, you can’t help but wonder is she really batshit crazy or did any of what she says.. really happen. I’m guessing it’s the former.

Back home, Axler receives a visit from “Pegeen” (Greta Gerwig), the lesbian daughter of his old theatre friends “Asa” (Dan Hedaya) & his wife (Dianne Wiest). Pegeen has worshipped Simon since she was a little girl and her childhood obsession was with a successful actor, not this old man who can’t seem to pick up a bag without throwing his back out and she lets him know this in no uncertain terms, even though he is supporting her every whim to the point of bankrupting himself. Herein lies the question of the film…How long can Simon resist not only the lure of the stage despite its risk of further humiliation for him, but the fact that he needs to make money is also paramount here.
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As the film leads towards Axler’s return to the Broadway stage, the situation around him becomes ever more chaotic and surreal, leaving us to wonder just how much of all this is really going on. But it doesn’t really matter because it is all real to him. Pacino is in every scene of the film and we see everything from his viewpoint, real or not real, this is his experience. For Simon Axler, life and performance have somehow become fused and there is no way for him to work out what the difference is any more.

As he has done so often in the past, Levinson has made an intelligent, funny and most human film. The cast, including Charles Grodin as Axler’s agent “Jerry”, and Kyra Sedgewick as “Louise Trenner” the jilted lover of Pegeen, are all a pleasure to watch. Pacino’s wonderfully fun performance never wavers and though of a similar age as his character, but so unlike him in real life as his legendary talent seems far from burning out.
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After the screening we were treated to a Q & A with the man himself, the consummate storyteller both on and off screen, Al Pacino. The man is a just a treat to listen to explain not only this role & film, but stories about ‘Dog Day Afternoon’, another of my fav directors, Sidney Lumet whom he worked with many times, and so many others. As he spoke noting a few fun things about making the film making us all laugh: “It was about an actor, so I thought, ‘Gee, it’s possible I could make this into a film.’ Because at least it’s a little something that I know about — an actor on the way out,” “The world it’s in, it’s sort of my wheelhouse.” “It’s an advantage to know the world you’re making a movie about”
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Grade: C+
*Note: Oscar screening series took place on Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 at The Landmark (Westwood). The Humbling is in very limited release with a set release date of January 23rd, 2015.

@pegsatthemovies
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