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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NIGHT CATCHES US (2010)

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Set in Philadelphia in 1976, Marcus Washington (Anthony Mackie) returns home to bury his father and inadvertently gets drawn back into his old world, very different in some way to his younger days and in others exactly the same.

His return opens old wounds within the community regarding an event that had taken place a decade previously.

It feels like this could have been a brilliant HBO series, the film is too short, the characters earning the right to a full treatment. Everybody brings interesting work to the table. Joining Mackie is Kerry Washington, very good as an old comrade from the Black Panther days. Wendell Pearce turns up as a cop and another Wire alumnus, Jamie Hector supports well as the local man on the block.

This is a film that doesn’t shout its message from the rooftops, as in real life, there are complexities in the minutiae of life and this film approaches them with a subtler energy than usual. It’s a well put together drama about the ghosts of the past and how unless you break free of them they can keep you in a place.

The film is directed by Tanya Hamilton, which explains a lot about the way the film plays out. This was her first feature, which she wrote, co-produced and directed.
With the majority of films released helmed by men, it is a joy to get the feminine angle.
Like Wadjda the message is brought in sensitively and there are really no black and white answers to the problems. There are so many aspects to one’s life and certain sacrifices have to be made for the greater good or at least for the benefit of one’s immediate family and situation.

The problem here is that the credits roll at the point that feels like the end of the first episode.
One is left wanting more.

The music is brilliant, starting with El Michel’s Affair’s instrumental version of C.R.E.A.M and going on to use another 3 tunes from their Wu inspired album Enter the 37th Chamber (well worth getting by the way).
It evokes a time beautifully and with soul.

An interesting film looking at the relationships we have with our family, our secrets and our past.

3/5

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