SELMA (2014)

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Firstly, biopics never fully satisfy, they are overly dramatized, obviously, and then comes the artistic license; this is not what turns me off. There will ALWAYS be someone who takes umbrage because “‘insert name here’ “didn’t wear that tie, etc, etc.” I am being flippant but you get the drift. For me, I find that they rarely leave a lasting impression. Malcolm X was an exception. For me.

I went into this with many reservations. Will it be an emotional blackmailing piece because of the subject matter? Will David Oyelowo be any good? I am happy to say that I was wrong, on all counts. Oyelowo is brilliant and deserved a nomination, as should director Ava DuVernay. The snub seems to be a political one. 12 Years a Slave was lauded last year and the voters either didn’t see Selma or decided to go the Cooper route. I have yet to see The Imitation Game or The Theory of Everything but my instinct tells me that although the performances will be special, the films will be average. My money is on Birdman for Best Film.

It’s great that we are getting more female directors gaining more commercial and critical success and I welcome it. DuVernay treats the subject matter with depth, sensitivity and respect and it comes through. This is an important film; it is the first feature film to focus on Martin Luther King Jr, which is crazy that it took so long to do so.

Set in 1965 and centring around the Selma to Montgomery civil rights voting march and written by Ava DuVernay and Paul Webb, this film succeeds on many levels. The cast are all brilliant, bringing their ‘A’ games to the table for such a prescient piece of American history. British actress, Carmen Ejogo (The Purge: Anarchy) plays Coretta King (she previously played her in Boycott in 2001) and delivers a performance of subtlety and skill. Tim Roth is Governor George Wallace, steeped in the racist ways of Alabama of the time and manages to make him three dimensional, veering away from pantomimicry. Wendell Pearce (The Wire, Treme) is Rev. Hosea Williams and, as usual is a joy to watch. Stephen James plays John Lewis, the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who was a key member in the endeavour to end racial discrimination and segregation. Common plays James Bevel. Tom Wilkinson is brilliant as Lyndon B Johnson, eschewing caricature for a performance with layers. Nigel Thatch plays Malcom X in a fantastic scene with Coretta King. Oprah Winfrey imbues her Annie Lee Cooper with dignity and delivers a performance filled with respect and admiration for this incredible woman who not many people know about. That’s one of the joys of this film, the fact that a lot of the key members are featured and it shines a light on these brave, heroes of recent American history. Special mention goes to Dylan Baker who portrays J Edgar Hoover with a coldness and menace in the one scene he appears in.

The cinematography is inspired by Bradford Young who did a wonderful job on the low budget, Pariah. Jason Moran is on soundtrack duties and creates a perfect accompaniment to the visuals. For a film that I had expected to disappoint, I was wonderfully surprised.

One to watch.

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3.5/5

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THE PURGE: ANARCHY (2014)

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Like an eighties B movie this film posits some interesting ideas much like the first film but it would have worked better as a graphic novel rather than a film. The characters feel like they are straight out of a comic book and somehow the imagined translation onto film loses power.

It is entertaining in an eighties style with a modern slant.

The plot is simple enough, one day a year, all crime, including murder is legal. A way for the government to allow the population to purge their dark urges, so the crime rate throughout the rest of the year is kept at a minimum. James De Monaco directs the second part in this series coming off the back of the first and IMDB tells us that he is busy directing the 3rd one at the moment.

A couple, Shane and Liz, played by Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez break down on their way home, merely hours before the Purge begins.
A lone man, Sergeant, Frank Grillo (Captain America-The Winter Soldier), fills his car with guns and weapons and heads out into the night. Two sisters, Eva and Cali Sanchez, Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul head out into the night to try and find their father, who has ‘sold’ himself as a victim in order to provide for his daughters.

These are our protagonists and their job is to stay alive during this dangerous, deadly time.

If you’re a fan of great thrillers of the eighties, Escape From New York, The Warriors, Assault on Precinct 13, etc, you will enjoy this. It draws inspiration from a lot of these films and does it reasonably well. It is probably equally as good as The Purge and while neither of them are what anyone would call a classic, there is enough in each of them to keep the audience entertained.

The idea is prescient in this day and age, holding a mirror up to society in a sci-fi stylee.

If you’re in the mood for a thriller that requires little brain-work this is for you.

It does, however, ask questions about the state of the nation and dissatisfaction of the people who live there. It is far from mindless and is a definite step up from the usual studio fare.

Violent and suspenseful, for those who like their thrillers a little bit twisted.

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3/5