Skip to main content

What happens when a man stands up, says, "Enough is enough"?

Selma
(2014)

Selma feels like it has garnered more attention for omissions of recognition than its actual content, such that the big the Oscar conversation was how it got Best Picture nominated (and original Song, which it won) but no attention elsewhere, in particular for director Ava DuVernay. As these things go, it’s fairly easy to understand why, as for the most part Selma is sturdy but unexceptional biopic fare. Less so in the context of a ceremony that makes a habit of awarding average or inferior biographical pictures as some kind of badge of pride (see fellow nominees The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything). 


Part of Selma’s problem is in the nature of the biopic; the necessary adherence to a linear agenda and a dogmatic respectfulness to persons and period. Even limiting itself to such a specific timeframe as herein (the 1965 voting-rights marches from Selma to Montgomery) cannot loosen the trappings of worthiness that prevent it from becoming its own thing; it usually takes distance, invention, or a lateral approach to make such films soar (Amadeus, for example).


Selma is constricted on a number of levels, most particularly budgetary, some of which it makes virtues. DuVernay’s direction is subdued and unremarkable for the most part, until it becomes necessary to shock the picture into confrontation; the enactments of scenes of state troopers attacking the marchers, or the shocking opening with the Klan bomb in the 16th Street Baptist Church, are vital and galvanising.


Elsewhere, the writing shows flair through having to make not-Martin Luther King Jr’s words sound like MLK’s words (his estate wasn’t even contacted due to the rights minefield that would need to be navigated), although this is equally down to David Oyelowo’s superb performance (less showy than, but equally deserving of recognition as, Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking). Also well-sustained is the device whereby the events surrounding Selma are verified by FBI surveillance reports, emphasising the complicity in undermining (or removing from the scene entirely) any players who dare to threaten the status quo. And in terms of due balance, the thorny issue of MLK’s extra-marital affairs and their impact on his presence at the march, and his choices in respect of the same, are tackled head-on, rather than painting him as a saint.


But the nuts and bolts of the telling aren’t fresh, they’re very familiar, and it leads the picture generally into that arena of being damned with faint praise. It’s so laudable, even Martin Sheen, acting patron saint of worthy causes, shows up for a scene (and Oprah too, don’t forget Oprah). The soundtrack also drips with rousing and emotive gospel, the least original choice. Familiar faces in supporting roles, doing their part to get behind the message (also including Tim Roth to Cuba Gooding, Jr) are less noteworthy than those grasping a small character and making it resonate (Wendell Pierce and Stephen Root). The tactic of populating a movie with name actors can be a godsend to a dense script or one difficult to market, but here it feels less urgent and more distracting.


An average of two-to-three Best Picture nominations each year are biographical to some degree, a reflection of how quick the Academy is to reward easy emotional uplift and social or political awareness regardless of merit. This is a ceremony eager to garland something as crudely fashioned as A Beautiful Mind with the top award. Since the beginning of this century the only picture to really make something distinct of the biopic is the combination of David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin on The Social Network (at a pinch I might include The Wolf of Wall Street, but much of that comes from the subject matter rather than the screenplay). Selma is a well-made picture that essays a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement with economy and occasional power, but it’s no unfairly ignored masterpiece.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You know, I think you may have the delusion you’re still a police officer.

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996) (SPOILERS) At the time, it seemed Alec Baldwin was struggling desperately to find suitable star vehicles, and the public were having none of it. Such that, come 1997, he was playing second fiddle to Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Willis, and in no time at all had segued to the beefy supporting player we now know so well from numerous indistinguishable roles. That, and inane SNL appearances. But there was a window, post- being replaced by Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, when he still had sufficient cachet to secure a series of bids for bona fide leading man status. Heaven’s Prisoners is the final such and probably the most interesting, even if it’s somewhat hobbled by having too much, rather than too little, story.

They wanted me back for a reason. I need to find out why.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of Snyder’s original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen , where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016) (SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

Oh, I love funny exiting lines.

Alfred Hitchcock  Ranked: 26-1 The master's top tier ranked from worst to best. You can find 52-27 here .

Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody loves a tax inspector. They’re beyond the pale!

Too Many Crooks (1959) (SPOILERS) The sixth of seven collaborations between producer-director Mario Zampi and writer Michael Pertwee, Too Many Crooks scores with a premise later utilised to big box-office effect in Ruthless People (1986). A gang of inept thieves kidnap the wife of absolute cad and bounder Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Unfortunately for them, Gordon, being an absolute cad and bounder, sees it as a golden opportunity, rather enjoying his extra-marital carry ons and keeping all his cash from her, so he refuses to pay up. At which point Lucy Gordon (Brenda De Banzie) takes charge of the criminal crew and turns the tables.

Well, it must be terribly secret, because I wasn't even aware I was a member.

The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) (SPOILERS) No, not Joseph P Farrell’s book about the Nazi secret weapons project, but rather a first-rate TV movie in the secret-society ilk of later flicks The Skulls and The Star Chamber . Only less flashy and more cogent. Glenn Ford’s professor discovers the club he joined 22 years earlier is altogether more hardcore than he could have ever imagined – not some student lark – when they call on the services he pledged. David Karp’s adaptation of his novel, The Brotherhood of the Bell is so smart in its twists and turns of plausible deniability, you’d almost believe he had insider knowledge.

What do you want me to do? Call America and tell them I changed my mind?

  Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021) (SPOILERS) The demolition – at very least as a ratings/box office powerhouse – of the superhero genre now appears to be taking effect. If so, Martin Scorsese will at least be pleased. The studios that count – Disney and Warner Bros – are all aboard the woke train, such that past yardsticks like focus groups are spurned in favour of the forward momentum of agendas from above (so falling in step with the broader media initiative). The most obvious, some might say banal, evidence of this is the repurposing of established characters in race or gender terms.

Now all we’ve got to do is die.

Without Remorse (2021) (SPOILERS) Without Remorse is an apt description of the unapologetic manner in which Amazon/Paramount have perpetrated this crime upon any audiences foolish enough to think there was any juice left in the Tom Clancy engine. There certainly shouldn’t have been, not after every attempt was made to run it dry in The Sum of All Our Fears and then the stupidly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit . A solo movie of sometime Ryan chum John Clark’s exploits has been mooted awhile now, and two more inimitable incarnations were previously encountered in the forms of Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. Like Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit , however, diminishing returns find Michael B Jordan receiving the short straw and lead one to the conclusion that, if Jordan is indeed a “star”, he’s having a hell of a job proving it.

I don't think this is the lightning you're looking for.

Meet Joe Black (1998) (SPOILERS) A much-maligned Brad Pitt fest, commonly accused of being interminable, ponderous, self-important and ridiculous. All of those charges may be valid, to a greater or lesser extent, but Meet Joe Black also manages to attain a certain splendour, in spite of its more wayward impulses. While it’s suggestive of a filmmaker – Martin Brest – believing his own hype after the awards success of (the middling) Scent of a Woman , this is a case where all that sumptuous better-half styling and fantasy lifestyle does succeed in achieving a degree of resonance. An undeniably indulgent movie, it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you got yourself killed.

Bloodshot (2020) (SPOILERS) If the trailer for Bloodshot gave the impression it had some meagre potential, that’s probably because it revealed the entire plot of a movie clearly intended to unveil itself in measured and judicious fashion. It isn’t far from the halfway mark that the truth about the situation Vin Diesel’s Ray Garrison faces is revealed, which is about forty-one minutes later than in the trailer. More frustratingly, while themes of perception of reality, memory and identity are much-ploughed cinematic furrows, they’re evergreens if dealt with smartly. Bloodshot quickly squanders them. But then, this is, after all, a Vin Diesel vehicle.