Selma reviews

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Re: Selma reviews

Postby Greg » Wed Dec 03, 2014 1:55 pm

I'm curious to see if this year parallels 2010 with The Social Network dominating the critics awards and then The Kings Speech dominates the guild awards and then wins the Oscar, where this time Boyhood and Birdman win the bulk of the critics awards with Selma the big winner with the guilds and ultimately takes the Oscar.
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Re: Selma reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Tue Dec 02, 2014 11:12 pm

I responded to Selma in about the same way I expected to after glancing over the reviews below -- it's traditional filmmaking, for sure, and hardly anything formally or thematically edgy. And yet I found its level of detail and thoughtfulness made it a very worthy effort. I don't think the movie is at the level of Lincoln -- DuVernay/Webb aren't exactly the dream-team combo of Spielberg/Kushner -- but as a historical piece, it succeeds in many of the same ways Lincoln does, highlighting the fits and starts, the comprises, and the uncomfortable deals that needed to be made for progress to move along at a specific moment in America's history.

Most of all, I think the movie is compelling for the scenes I didn't necessarily expect to see here. A powerful household moment between the Kings where she confronts him about his infidelities. Scenes that highlight the uncomfortable attitude young black SNCC workers had when King and his supporters arrived in Selma due to differing opinions over how best to achieve results. The appearance of Malcolm X, oft-critical of King, but who showed up in town encouraging support, albeit to the great skepticism of Martin Luther and Coretta. The feud that occurs among black Selma residents after King puts a stop to the Selma-Montgomery march. Scene after scene in the movie shows characters who all want to achieve the same goals, but who often struggle tremendously with one another over how to accomplish them. And scene after scene shows King and company in a manner that honors but never deifies them -- you could even add LBJ to this mix of compellingly realized characters, as the movie depicts him as a man who wants to achieve civil rights victories, but for a combination of moral and politically motivated ends.

Another main reason why the movie works as well as it does is the way DuVernay refuses to sentimentalize the events of the film -- the material is innately powerful, but I'd say her interest in emphasizing the brutality rather than the triumph is what gives the film much of its impact. One of the movie's earliest scenes depicts a group of young black girls playing in a church -- which, of course, anyone familiar with history will quickly recognize as an event that will not end well, but I still found myself startled by the force with which the movie delivered this scene. And I assume a good bit of praise for the director will be the result of the Pettus Bridge sequence, which is shot and cut with brutal honesty. (I also imagine that many of the film's sequences are going to feel painfully relevant for audiences -- I doubt anyone watching the scene of the white cop whipping out his gun to shoot the unarmed black man won't be reminded of recent news.)

The cast is good throughout, though the standout is obviously David Oyelowo in the central role. He's been primed as an actor to watch for a while now, and it's nice to see him get a character as tremendous as Dr. King to play -- he's hugely commanding in his speeches and sermons, and thoughtful and wise in his more quiet scenes. There's certainly no reason to suspect he won't be a very likely Best Actor nominee.

I don't know if any of the supporting cast will be getting nominations -- I guess it depends on just how well-liked the movie is overall. Carmen Ejogo has had some buzz, and certainly you can never count out the long suffering wife of the real-life hero in the Supporting Actress category. But truth be told, though she's around a lot, she only really has one scene that's focused on her in a way that's any kind of highlight (the aforementioned infidelity discussion). Given the competitiveness of her category, I have doubts she'll make the cut. On the flip side, I guess Tom Wilkinson is a Supporting Actor candidate in a "why not him?" sort of way. He strikes me as a possibility along the lines of Jon Voight/Ali -- not a huge part, portraying a very familiar personality in a manner that feels a bit affected, but the kind of respected actor who often gets nominated in this category.

Not sure where to throw this in, but I admired one little detail a lot: during the Selma-Montgomery march, you can clearly see the characters singing "We Shall Overcome," while the filmmakers chose a different song to actually play over the scene.

I don't think this movie is necessarily going to knock anyone's socks off -- at least not anyone around here -- but as far as classically filmed historical prestige pics go, I rate this on the high end of the available options this year.

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Re: Selma reviews

Postby Greg » Wed Nov 26, 2014 10:37 am

The official trailer for Selma:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6t7vVTxaic
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Re: Selma reviews

Postby Greg » Sat Nov 15, 2014 5:28 pm

Even though it only has 5 reviews so far on Rotten Tomatoes, Selma is 100% fresh and has a 10/10 score.
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Re: Selma reviews

Postby flipp525 » Thu Nov 13, 2014 11:42 am

Mister Tee wrote:Cuba Gooding Jr. (doing his best work in years)

Damning with faint praise?
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Re: Selma reviews

Postby Sonic Youth » Wed Nov 12, 2014 7:59 pm

"A cut above".... More than a cut, no?

Maybe one reason this succeeds to a greater extent is that, like "Lincoln", its focus is sharper. This is about a historical event rather than another condensed biography.
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Re: Selma reviews

Postby Big Magilla » Wed Nov 12, 2014 7:45 pm

And so we now have the theme for this year's Oscars: it will be a race between two women directors, neither of whom has directed a major film before. Will the winner be DuVernay or Jolie, Jolie or DuVernay? Stay tuned.

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Selma reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Nov 12, 2014 5:10 pm

So...this happened last night, somewhat catching people off-guard -- word had it it was more in the Long Walk to Freedom category. These reviews are clearly a cut above, making one wonder: can a movie that looks like Oscar bait be made better art with the right talent involved?


Variety
Scott Foundas
Chief Film Critic @foundasonfilm

A half-century on from Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic voting-rights march from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol in Montgomery, director Ava DuVernay revisits those events with startling immediacy, dramatic force and filmmaking verve in “Selma.” A far cry from the dutiful biopic or ossified history lesson it could have become in lesser hands (or the campy free-for-all the project’s original director, Lee Daniels, might have made of it), DuVernay’s razor-sharp portrait of the civil rights movement — and Dr. King himself — at a critical crossroads is as politically astute as it is psychologically acute, giving us a human-scale King whose indomitable public face belies currents of weariness and self-doubt. Bolstered by Paul Webb’s literate, well-researched script and David Oyelowo’s graceful, majestic lead performance, DuVernay has made the kind of movie that gives year-end “prestige” pics a good name, which should equate to considerable box-office and awards-season gold for this Dec. 25 Paramount release.

While King has figured as a peripheral character in many civil-rights-themed dramas including Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X,” “The Long Walk Home” (about the Montgomery bus riders’ boycott) and the recent “The Butler,” the only attempt at a full-fledged King biopic to date was the three-part 1978 TV miniseries “King,” starring Paul Winfield in the title role. Probably, the sheer enormity of King’s life and achievements seemed a daunting subject for any one movie to convey, but it’s a task “Selma” ably tackles by focusing on a piece of King’s story that feels representative of the whole. The microcosmic approach recalls playwright Tony Kushner’s script for Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” a movie “Selma” also resembles in its fascination with the mix of politics, showmanship and media manipulation by which real change gets accomplished in America. But in the end, “Selma” may be the more impressive achievement in its effortless balance of the intimate and epic, and its notable absence of great-man mythmaking.

As depicted here, the Selma-to-Montgomery march (or, rather, marches) came at a crucial juncture in the civil rights movement, when the stubborn persistence of leaders like King had done much to turn the tide of race relations in America in theory, if not in practice. While the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act had legally desegregated the South, towns like Selma remained very dangerous places to be a black man or woman, with Jim Crow discrimination still in effect, especially with regard to the contentious subject of voter registration. Throughout the South, majority-black voting districts showed minuscule percentages of registered blacks and disproportionately large numbers of whites (often due to the names of dead or relocated residents being left on the voting rolls), while white police and voting officials employed a wide range of arcane laws and intimidation tactics to discourage black citizens from even attempting to register. And under the leadership of the racist Gov. George Wallace (Tim Roth), Alabama was hardly inclined to change.

That was the battleground onto which King and other members of his Southern Christian Leadership Conference ventured in January 1965, and DuVernay and Webb spend much of “Selma’s” first half setting that stage — literally, in the sense that King is drawn to Selma in part because of its theatrical possibilities. At the time, King and the SCLC were still licking their wounds from a yearlong anti-segregation campaign in Albany, Ga., that had yielded relatively little media attention or measurable results, in part because of the uncharacteristically civil behavior of the local white authorities, who refused to counter King’s nonviolent protests with the kind of violent retaliations that had made headlines during the SCLC’s 1963 Birmingham campaign. “Is your sheriff Bull Connor or is he Laurie Pritchett?” King asks early upon his Selma arrival, trying to get a bead on where the local law enforcement falls on the Birmingham-Albany spectrum. When the answer comes back “Bull Connor,” he knows he’s come to the right place.

A former publicist who previously directed two low-budget dramatic features (including the excellent “Middle of Nowhere,” also with Oyelowo), DuVernay has here made a panoramic, choral film that juxtaposes King’s grassroots work in Selma against his White House lobbying efforts (with a combustible Tom Wilkinson as LBJ), potent glimpses of the ordinary men and women drawn into King’s orbit (like the hospice nurse Annie Lee Cooper, well played by Oprah Winfrey, also one of the film’s producers), and a smart depiction of the internal friction within the civil rights movement itself, from the less confrontational likes of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to the aggressive agitation of a Malcolm X (played, in one superb, provocative scene, by Nigel Thatch).

Though the canvas of “Selma” is markedly larger than anything DuVernay has tackled before, she makes the transition with no evident strain. Shot on location in Selma itself, the movie is beautifully staged even when the events it depicts are at their ugliest — such as the infamous “Bloody Sunday” confrontation between King’s marchers and Selma police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, an expert action setpiece in which every thud of a nightstick lands with a sickening force. (The cinematography is by Bradford Young, one of the few cameramen who truly understands how to light black actors.)

But “Selma” is rarely more affecting than in its quiet scenes of King, alone or surrounded by a few trusted advisers, at the end of a long day in the trenches, plotting his next move. The British-born Oyelowo, who was brilliant as Forest Whitaker’s Freedom Rider-turned-Black Panther son in the best scenes of “The Butler,” is a marvelously internal actor whose piercing brown eyes, fleshy cheeks and broad forehead seem to register every thought that flashes through his mind. He’s uncanny at replicating King’s fiery public orations, but he’s even more impressive as the pensive, reflective, private King, a man haunted by what he calls “the constant closeness of death,” played with none of the self-important airs that can sometimes afflict actors cast as secular saints.

Oyelowo’s King is, above all, a man with a man’s problems, including a damaged relationship with his wife, Coretta (the remarkable British actress Carmen Ejogo), who needs no surreptitious wiretaps from J. Edgar Hoover (a sniveling Dylan Baker) to know that her husband is far from a perfect man. Although King’s infidelities are a well-known part of the historical record, it still comes as something of a surprise to see the sober, unvarnished way “Selma” confronts them, in a shattering scene of two loving spouses trying to salvage what remains of their marriage.

As it turns its focus to the planning of the Montgomery march (which finally took place from March 21-25, after two aborted attempts earlier that month), “Selma’s” political shrewdness rises to the fore, as DuVernay and Webb detail the game of inches played by King, LBJ and Wallace to curtail a second “Bloody Sunday.” The movie has the electric feel of events unfolding in the moment, even if we already know how everything turned out. That feeling extends to King’s impassioned “How Long, Not Long” speech, delivered on the Montgomery capitol steps — a sequence DuVernay movingly stages through an assembly of re-enactments and actual newsreel footage. It’s a powerful moment by any measure, but one that takes on uncanny resonances as King talks about the “vicious lie” of racial superiority passed down from one generation to the next — words that seem all too prescient in the age of post-Katrina Louisiana, riot-torn Ferguson, and the various campaigns to delegitimize the presidency of Barack Obama. So “Selma” ends on a note of queasy triumph, with the sense that we have come so far and yet still have so far to go, and the hope that the arc of the moral universe does indeed bend toward justice.

The film’s ace ensemble casting extends to its smallest roles, including Cuba Gooding Jr. (doing his best work in years) as civil rights attorney Fred Gray and Martin Sheen as federal district court judge Frank M. Johnson. DuVernay’s intelligent, understated approach extends to the film’s musical choices: a sparingly used original score by Jason Moran and a few choice spirituals, including Sister Gertrude Morgan’s “I Got the New World in My View” and Martha Bass’ “Walk with Me,” in lieu of the era’s more familiar (and overused) pop protest songs.


Hollywood Reporter
Stephen Farber

The civil rights movement has of course been chronicled extensively in books, documentaries and television films, but surprisingly few feature films have plumbed this rich history. The battle for equality spearheaded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been touched on indirectly in such films as The Long Walk Home, Mississippi Burning, and Lee Daniels' The Butler. Now Ava DuVernay's Selma, as the title suggests, tackles the subject head-on — and, more importantly, does it justice. The film received its world premiere at AFI Fest, and although a few scenes are still receiving a technical polish and the end titles were not complete, the audience gave the picture a rapturous ovation.

DuVernay's earlier films such as Middle of Nowhere have been intimate dramas. So this epic tale with a large cast of characters and violent confrontation scenes represents a departure for the director. Yet the strength of the film is the sense of proportion that DuVernay demonstrates. In a season of so many bloated, overlong films, this two-hour recounting of a few crucial months in 1965 seems just the right length. Intelligently written, vividly shot, tightly edited and sharply acted, the film represents a rare example of craftsmanship working to produce a deeply moving piece of history.

The film, written by Paul Webb, makes an intriguing companion piece to Robert Schenkkan's Tony-winning play All the Way, which showed how Lyndon Johnson manipulated members of Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Johnson also figures prominently in Selma, as King urges the reluctant president to get behind voting rights legislation, a campaign that ended with Johnson introducing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The film gets off to a slightly shaky start. It opens with King receiving the Nobel Prize in Stockholm, then cuts to the bombing of the church in Birmingham that killed four black girls. That juxtaposition seems a bit forced and on-the-nose. The film surprisingly find its tone in a short scene that follows, in which a Selma resident attempts to register to vote and is turned away. The surprise is that the character is played by superstar Oprah Winfrey (one of the film's producers), who does not call attention to herself but blends convincingly into the period and seems representative of the ordinary black citizen who gained a voice partly as a result of Dr. King's crusade to extend freedom to all Americans.

DuVernay's experience making much smaller domestic films shows in her attention to all the faces in the backgrounds of scenes and to all the actors who have only a few minutes onscreen and yet register vividly. Nigel Thatch offers a remarkable impersonation of Malcolm X in one brief but telling scene with Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo) in which he suggests that his public conflicts with King may have actually been part of an effective good cop/bad cop strategy that worked to the movement's benefit. In another fine cameo, Henry G. Sanders is heartbreaking as the 82-year-old father of a man murdered in Selma.

It's no accident that the film is called Selma rather than King. DuVernay and Webb want to provide a tapestry of a movement rather than a hagiography of one great leader. The film gives time to all the people who worked alongside Dr. King, sometimes arguing and at other times supporting him as they struggled to refine their strategy. Those who think they know the story will have their memories jogged by bits of less familiar history, like King's initial decision to turn back from the march to Montgomery.

DuVernay brings these backroom negotiations to life, but she also demonstrates an unexpected flair for widescreen spectacle. The initial march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, which led to a savage attack on the marchers by troopers on horseback, is a breathtaking sequence. Cinematographer Bradford Young and editor Spencer Averick make major contributions throughout the film.

The cast also shines. Although there is a long tradition of British actors playing Southerners, going back to Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, it does seem a bit strange that three of the key roles here are played by Brits. As LBJ, Tom Wilkinson sometimes veers a little too close to caricature, but he rouses himself for his final speech to Congress, which is heartfelt and affecting. Tim Roth as George Wallace captures the shrewdness as well as the viciousness of the racist governor.

In her comments after the AFI screening, DuVernay generously acknowledged British-born actor David Oyelowo as the film's prime mover. He dreamed of playing King for years and enlisted her to direct. Although Oyelowo doesn't look or sound exactly like King, he gives a definitive performance. His rousing speeches are superbly done, and his moments of introspection and self-doubt retrieve the humanity in a leader who has come to seem larger than life. This year's race for best actor, which is already packed with strong contenders, may just have a new front-runner. And DuVernay may also make history by becoming the first African-American woman nominated as best director. This stirring yet always level-headed piece of history does what all the best films accomplish: It opens hearts and minds.


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