“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-

REVIEW ~ “WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL” (2014 – SONY/AFFRIM)

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There have been a lot of really good sports movies done..especially about our good ol’ American past time, football and it happens to be a sport I do watch on occasion as it can be fun.  Some of those movies have been very memorable like “Brian’s Song” “Remember the Titans” even “Rudy” was a touching tug of the heart one.  This movie is not going to be remembered as one of those.  It’s vapid, religious based storyline is based on the De La Salle High School Spartans football team that had a pretty yes, incredible 151 game winning streak going on from 1992-2004 and then lost it.  Unfortunately, the story of how is bland, formulaic and follows every sports cliche ever done, but without any heart or soul in it whatsoever..which considering the religious aspect of the movie, was really odd.

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The events that define this movie and lead the narrative of it are the murder of their star linebacker “Terrance Kelly aka T.K.” (Stephan James), Head Coach “Bob Ladouceur” (Jim Caviezel) heart attack, and the ultimate loss of this streak but with the always true to form comeback game against the best team in the country, Long Beach Poly.  Now call me cynical, but watching a bunch of kids cry about a loss..even if it’s a big one to them when say a movie like “We Are Marshall” shows the utter loss of almost a WHOLE TEAM was lost in a plane crash makes this feel quite petty indeed.  This movie never showed us about how this streak was even started or anything that lead up to the all the events.. they just sort of happened in whatever chronological order they threw them at us.  Caviezel seems to be walking through this role like a robot, has zero chemistry with his cast, not even his wife, “Bev Ladouceur” (Laura Dern) who just wants him to be a more hands on father, or his son “Danny Ladouceur” (Matthew Daddario) who only wants his dad to be able to coach him during his final senior year because well, he’s never really been at home enough to be a dad…just a coach.

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The supporting cast of football players is simple and the norm for a sports movie.  “Chris Ryan” (Alexander Ludwig) as the best player on the team who is trying to break the long lasting record of touchdown held whose dad is  “Mickey Ryan” (Clancy Brown) one of those horrible ‘sports parents’ who you just want to punch because they are so awful, “Tayshon” (Jessie Usher) as the other superstar of the team, but the bad boy – rulebreaker type, “Beaser” (Joe Massingil) the heavy-set tackle who’s got the hot girlfriend because he’s on the football team tho because of the religious aspect of the movies, they’ve taken a purity vow,  “Arturo” (Matthew Frias) as the smallest kid on the team. 3rd string but plays one play and saves the day..yeah..I know..seen it all before.“Rick” (Richard Kohnke) and lastly the only character that really stood out for me, “Terry Eidson” (Michael Chiklis) as not only did he spark a little tiny bit of humour, but was almost unrecognizable from his various roles and just showed some range with his character in an otherwise dull sports story.

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I’m sure we can all figure out the plot of this movie..they lose..and come back to win again.  My biggest beefs were not only the plodding plot but the product placement was truly ridiculous.  When Caviezel’s character says to his son, “Would like like some of my Muscle Milk shake” with the container right there in full view, or when one of the scouting University’s, Oregon State give one of the players a pair of Nike’s with the phrase..”Here have our newest pair of Nike shoes” and those are just 2 examples.  I realize product placement is part of movies..but the way they handled it in these movies was just plain silly.  Also, I don’t mind religion, I’m definitely a supporter of ‘to each his own’ but when they blatantly show how much prayer they do before the games and how god will make them win and when he doesn’t, well they must pray harder.  That’s just so wrong to me.  And don’t get me wrong, we all see plenty of religious notes from players in sports, it’s a given, i’m not putting it down in the slightest, but in a world where people are getting killed everyday and trust me, not over football, I am truly hoping that whichever god you support, he or she has better things to worry about or do than make sure you win your football game.  Sorry to all those that think otherwise, but that is my sincere thought on the matter. It’s not meant to provoke anyone, just be honest with the situation at hand.

All in all this just isn’t a memorable, inspiring or well done sports movie and that sadly is what will make it completely un-memorable.

Grade: D

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Grading Scale: A = Oscar- worthy;  B = Above average – must see; C = Average – should see; D = Don’t waste your time or money; F – Don’t see.  (+ or – tilts the scale up or down)