SELMA

One Dream Can Change The World

Director
Ava DuVernay

Starring
David Oyelowo
Carmen Ejogo
Tom Wilkinson



The opening scenes of Selma immediately set the tone for the state of America. The Civil Rights Movement is in full swing across the United States, causing backlash and retaliation in several forms. Martin Luther King [Oyelowo] receives the Nobel Peace Prize, children are killed in a racially motivated bombing of a church, Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey playing an oppressed citizen of Selma) fills out the forms and jumps through the hoops to register to vote, only to be denied by the registrar. Hearing of the treatment of those in Selma, King and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference travel to the small Alabama city to hold peaceful, non-violent protests. Everyone involved is mistreated by the local law enforcement and tensions grow between the Governor of Alabama [Tim Roth] and President [Wilkinson], who wants to keep the public eyes off the voting rights and on his own promoted policies.

All too often, message pieces are weighed down and trapped by the principles they are trying to convey. The dialogue comes off as stilted and unnatural, the morals are diminished to finger pointing lectures and the infallible characters are simply alien and unrelatable. Thankfully, Selma side-steps all of these pitfalls and demonstrates that one can portray a powerful and important segment of history without romanticising the events or elevating those involved to an unrealistic saintly level. In other words, Selma is an approachable look at a key point in the evolution of tolerance in the United States, whilst reminding audiences that inequality still runs rampant today. At the forefront of this release is a wealth of immensely talented individuals delivering energetic and gripping performances. Admittedly, wanting to be associated with a film about equality, several prolific actors and cameos come out of the woodwork to such a degree that their presence really takes you out of the moment. Oyelowo gives a wonderful and very human performance but partly lacks the charm and charisma of his real-life counterpart causing him to blend in with the crowd somewhat, rather than standout from it. To me, some of the really standout roles belong to Carmen Ejogo as King’s wife Coretta, who fully supports the cause but sees her family being lost and consumed by it, Wendell Pierce as activist Hosea Williams and Andre Holland as the impressionable a young Andrew Young. Equally, Tim Roth gives a superbly malicious and despicably credible turn as the southern Governor Wallace, who remains fervently against desegregation.

Though his career is still blooming, Bradford Young’s cinematographic penchant for shadow and interiors lit solely by available light is beautifully presented here. Combined with DuVernay’s direction, the film swells visually with vibrancy and life without resorting to many of the clichéd elements that period dramas usually elicit. The production value is equally high, adding several aesthetic layers to the already detailed finished piece. The only technical area that seems to falter somewhat is the musical score. It’s not that there’s anything outwardly offensive or displeasing about it but it lacks any real weight and gravitas outside of the typical melodic style utilised in made-for-TV dramas; which is a great shame considering those involved. The pacing is also worth a note, flowing neatly for two solid hours without draining or overwhelming the audience – aided by the script’s sparse moments of levity amidst the anguish.

While I believe there is an artistic reasonability to accurately represent history, cinema is first and foremost a storytelling medium and if we get too bogged down in the minute facts and details of events and portrayals, we end up with a very bland depiction of what should be a rousing representation. Those with first-hand experience seem to be praising the film’s accuracy while condemning the portrayed actions and conduct of President Johnson. Personally, I think the scripts’ handling of Johnson’s struggles with racial bigotry in the government and the slow-moving political system is more than adequate without damaging the legacy or reputation of the man himself. In truth, the key talking points should be focused more on things like changes to the law that were actioned and largely ignored by the disillusioned individuals in charge. The fact that the black populace already have the vote at the start of the film but are kept out of the registration booths because they cannot apply to vote without a registered voter personally vouching for them. And with the registered voters being white the likelihood of getting anyone on the electoral system is minimal. The fact that national change was put into law and openly ignored is more important than whether or not the President did or didn’t argue with Martin Luther King down a phone.

Events you would assume are important, such as Malcolm X’s involvement and subsequent assassination were rather hurriedly gleaned but this only serves to remind us that Selma isn’t a movie about one man, the issue is so much bigger than that; hence the title. But by focusing on an important segmented turning point, we are able to fill in the gaps and glimpse the personality of the man at the head of the movement.


Release Date:
6th February 2015

The Scene To Look Out For:
A film of this nature is all about powerful scenes – it has to be in order to convey the importance of what is being said. One of the most shocking moments comes right at the start of the film. A small group of children are descending a staircase in their Sunday best, discussing various trivialities that children innocently preoccupy themselves with. Without warning an explosion rips through the wall killing everyone on-screen, sending a shockwave across the country. Brutal acts, brutally illustrated are the backbone of any film about the civil rights movement and this particular example sets the tone and urgency for change that echoes throughout the film.

Notable Characters:
More often than not, the standout performances in films focusing on inequality are the villainous characters. Not because they are better or worse than the inspirational roles but because they stir such a deep and passionate hatred in our system – which is an extreme (if odd) compliment to pay any actor. As such, Tim Roth’s calculating and vicious delivery of frankly abhorrent dialogue makes ones skin crawl and sets him aside as a chilling example of the abuse of power in line with a questionable moral compass.

Highlighted Quote:
“If Jesus Christ himself and Elvis Presley both came to him together and told him to go easy on the negroes, he would beat the shit out of the two of them and throw them in jail”

In A Few Words:
“Refreshingly different portrayal of the US civil rights movements that neatly tiptoes through a minefield of cliché to produce something thought provoking and impressive”

Total Score:

4/5

FOXCATCHER

Based On The Shocking True Story

Director
Bennett Miller

Starring
Channing Tatum
Steve Carell
Mark Ruffalo



Foxcatcher tells the real-life story of 1984 Olympic wrestling gold medallist, Mark Schultz [Tatum] and his modest lifestyle in between professional bouts. He lives a solitary life constantly in the shadow of his more affable older brother Dave Schultz [Ruffalo], who is also an Olympic gold medallist. Out of the blue, Mark is contacted by representatives of the obscure and eccentric John DuPont, heir to the DuPont fortune and a wrestling enthusiast. DuPont explains to Schultz that athletes have been let down and forgotten by their own country and he feels it’s his civic duty to provide the means necessary for them to be great. Flattered, Mark agrees to head up the Foxcatcher wrestling team. The only other stipulation that DuPont requests is that Mark’s brother Dave join the facility too. Not wanting to uproot his family, Dave turns the offer down but wishes his brother all the best. As various competitions approach, Mark moves onto Foxcatcher Farms and is slowly exposed to his benefactor’s absurdity and unpredictable nature.

First and foremost, this is a character study and any success this film has is owed to the central performances. To my mind, Ruffalo has always been an acting powerhouse who has too often been relegated to background supporting roles – it’s only in recent years that his talents are beginning to be appreciated. Tatum and Carell, on the other hand, as talented and popular as they are, had yet to undertake a drama of this demand but both excel superbly. Unfortunately, like all biopic features, the supporting cast are wholly neglected and potentially interesting figures such as Dave’s wife, played by the unrecognisable Sienna Miller and DuPont’s mildly eccentric and equine obsessed mother [Vanessa Redgrave] are regrettably overlooked. Yet despite their diminished screen-time, both actresses ensure that their roles are memorably presented to the audience. Additionally, the way in which the film is made relatable is quite impressive. Contemporarily speaking, all one need do to make an audience identify with a character is to show they’ve been let down by society. With economic crashes and slow recoveries, the public really root for the downtrodden and neglected (no matter how successful they outwardly appear). In this case, we have an Olympic gold winning athlete – not exactly the most identifiable of individuals – but he still lives in moderate conditions and doesn’t exude the lavishness one assumes success automatically provides. On top of that, his older brother is in the exact same position but has made a more prominent name for himself and lives a happy life with his wife and two children. It’s this curious everyman, Faustian, cautionary tale element that makes the story painfully intriguing and sets an air of unease from start to finish.

If I had to summarise the entire film with one word, I would opt for ‘quiet’. From the direction, to the editing, the sound design, the music, the performances, everything is quietly and neatly contained beneath the surface. The tension is so slow burning that you would be forgiven for wondering if it was ever going to peak. But this all seems to service Foxcatcher rather well, as if to imply that you know some terrible event is coming but you arguably don’t want to experience its inevitable denouement. However, one thing the film lacks is a real exploration of the situation. There’s plenty of implication and insinuated instability but no outright definition to clarify for the audience. However, this can be argued two ways: either it’s an explicit decision by the writer and the director to portray the facts as known and as perceived at the time by those involved or alternatively it’s an unfortunate case of performance and bold direction overtaking closure and narrative clarity. Personally, I believe this was wholly intentional. From the title of the release, to the content, to the manner in which it is depicted, the whole Foxcatcher farm tale feels like a tragic death at the hands of a cult leader. At the centre, you have this mysterious, powerful and oddly charismatic figure who lures in a susceptible, naïve individual and uses that position of power and authority to shape how this person effectively lives their life, whilst displaying wildly mercurial mood swings. Even the production design supports the notion of cult and in a way, one could draw more parallels between Foxcatcher and something like The Master than any sporting-related feature.

Is Foxcatcher a good movie? Without a doubt. Is it an entertaining movie? Admittedly, that depends heavily on your personal taste in narrative. But one thing the film is, is mature. So many key components are handled with a subtle complexity; the acting is frankly career highs for the principal cast, Miller’s direction is executed with the utmost confidence, Grieg Fraser’s cinematography simultaneously compliments and overtakes his previous work and the partnership of Frye and Futterman’s scripting is bold, compelling and darkly intriguing. Granted, we could have explored the peripheral characters more, or analysed the levels of DuPont’s insanity but I think the final presented content more than does justice to the story being told.


Release Date:
9th January 2015

The Scene To Look Out For:
Each character has more than a few standout scenes but one that I found particularly interesting takes place in the third act. DuPont has arranged for a camera crew to follow his work at Foxcatcher and interview those involved in the training. David is asked to take part in a single talking-head interview and fed several loaded questions. Despite trying to answer as honestly as possible, the director highlights David’s deflection and regrettably explains that David is expected to use the exact words, “John has been like a mentor to me.” David’s final begrudged delivery of this line is subtly crushing and Ruffalo conveys so well how much self-loathing is at play here.

Notable Characters:
To reiterate what I’ve said above, this movie is a standout accomplishment for Carell and Tatum. Both actors have more than proved their worth in overt comedic performances but I have stated on many occasions that comedy comes from a place of pain. No right minded human being sets out to make people laugh, it’s usually a defence mechanism that comes from somewhere very dark. That darkness ensures that comedians will always give you surprisingly cutting dramatic performances, given half the chance. Carell and Tatum are no exception.

Highlighted Quote:
“Ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist”

In A Few Words:
“A dark and chilling film stapled with fine performances, marred only by the highly independent pacing and editorial choices”

Total Score:

4/5

Cinema City Film Quiz #135

[04 January 2015]


Winning Team:
Knickers Of Time

Genre – Underwear like a TARDIS

Runners Up:
Too Much Fucking Perspective
Genre – A rockumentary
Nick The Knicker-Nicker’s In The Nick
Genre – Nick stole knickers and got slammed in the pokey. A romance
Justin Lin – Star Wrecked
Genre – The tortured making of Justin Lin’s ill-fated Star Trek sequel
The Bitches Of Beast Nick
Genre – Nick Mellish’s dark secrets come to light
Nearly Headless Nick
Genre – Harrowing docu-drama on the British porn industry as they explore a Harry Potter/circumcision themed film starring John Cleese


ROUND I: Pre-Production
1. What type of mythical creature is Louis in Interview With A Vampire?
VAMPIRE
2. What type of animal is the central focus of Happy Feet?
PENGUIN
3. Who plays the lead role in Coming To America?
EDDIE MURPHY
4. Who directed Dances With Wolves?
KEVIN COSTNER
5. What is the first film in Sergio Leone’s dollar trilogy?
A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS
6. The Parr family’s costumes in The Incredibles consist of three colours. Name them. (one point per correct colour)
RED / BLACK / YELLOW (arguably a little white but barely enough to highlight)
7. The 2007 film Once is predominantly set in which country?
IRELAND
8. What instrument does Dewey Finn (Jack Black) play in the school band in School Of Rock?
GUITAR
9. Who played the role of Tony Blair in The Queen?
MICHAEL SHEEN
10. Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill and Anna Paquin all appeared in which film?
THE PIANO

ROUND II: Filming [Films with people called Nick]
1. Who directed Gone Girl? David Fincher? Michael Bay? Barry Levinson?
DAVID FINCHER
2. Which of the following nicknames is not given to Nick (played by Stephen Marcus) in Lock, Stock & Two Smokin’ Barrels? The Greek? The Pig? The Bubble?
THE PIG
3. Who played the role of Nick in The Deer Hunter? Robert De Niro? John Cazale? Christopher Walken?
CHRISTOPHER WALKEN
4. The victim killed at the start of Basic Instinct is Johnny Boz, a retired what? Rock star? Policeman? Journalist?
ROCK STAR
5. Horrible Bosses was released in which year? 2010? 2011? 2012?
2011
6. What is the name of the band that Nick and Norah are trying to locate in Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist? The Jerk-Offs? The Torah? Where’s Fluffy?
WHERE’S FLUFFY
7. What Women Want is set in which US city? Chicago? San Francisco? Boston?
CHICAGO
8. What is Sam Rothstein’s (played by Robert De Niro) nickname in Casino? Fingers? Ace? Buddy?
ACE
9. What are the names of the two characters played by Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap? Susan and Sharon? Penny and Jane? Annie and Hallie?
ANNIE AND HALLIE
10. Samuel L Jackson (as Nick Fury) appears in every Marvel Cinematic Universe film (to date). True or False?
FALSE (He’s not in Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World)

ROUND III: Post-Production
1. Which director wrote the script for the Tony Scott film True Romance?
QUENTIN TARANTINO
2. The Kite Runner is set in how many time periods?
THREE (1978/79 – 1988 – 2000)
3. The following is the poster tagline for which film, “The most terrifying motion picture from the terrifying number one bestseller”?
JAWS
4. James Caan played the role of Paul Sheldon in which 90’s film?
MISERY
5. What colour is the diamond that Solomon Vandy finds and subsequently hides in Blood Diamond?
PINK
6. What are the titles of the two sequels to Before Sunrise? (one point per correct answer)
BEFORE SUNSET / BEFORE MIDNIGHT
7. What is Irwin Fletcher investigating when the executive vice president of Boyd Aviation approaches him with a murder proposition, in Fletch?
DRUG TRAFFICKING
8. Joel Barish and Clementine Kruczynski are the lead characters in which film?
ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
9. How many organ donations does Ruth undergo before ‘completing’ in Never Let Me Go?
THREE
10. How old is the title character at the start of Juno?
SIXTEEN

ROUND IV: Promotion & Release
1. Who did Margaret Hamilton famously play? The Wicked Witch of the West – The Wizard Of Oz? Blanche DuBois – A Streetcar Named Desire? Melanie Daniels – The Birds?
THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST – THE WIZARD OF OZ
2. How composed the music for North By Northwest? John Addison? Bernard Herrmann? Franz Waxman?
BERNARD HERRMANN
3. The following songs are from which musical: Barn Raising, Lonesome Polecat and Spring Spring Spring? Funny Face? Calamity Jane? Seven Brides For Seven Brothers?
SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS
4. How are Charlie and Johnny Boy connected in Mean Streets? Friends? Brothers? Cousins?
FRIENDS
5. How many droogs make up Alex’s gang in A Clockwork Orange? Two Three? Four?
THREE (George, Pete and Dim)
6. What is the name of the horse that Lonnegan bets $500,000 on in The Sting? Steely Shaw? Joyous Day? Lucky Dan?
LUCKY DAN
7. 42nd Street was released in which year? 1933? 1943? 1953?
1933
8. The following films all featured which actor: Bringing Up Baby, Arsenic And Old Lace and An Affair To Remember? James Stewart? Cary Grant? Kirk Douglas?
CARY GRANT
9. Akira Kurosawa was born in which year? 1896? 1902? 1910?
1910
10. Gene Kelly’s iconic dance scene in Singin’ In The Rain was achieved in one take. True or False?
FALSE (although this is a popular myth, the scene took 3 days to film)

BOUNS IMAGE ROUND
Screenshots: Mission: Impossible II / 28 Days Later / The Secret Of Kells
Poster: Gangs Of New York
Actor: Brendan Gleeson

BIRDMAN

It’s Time For A Comeback

Director
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Starring
Michael Keaton
Edward Norton
Emma Stone
Naomi Watts
Zach Galifianakis
Andrea Riseborough



Birdman’s is at once a very simple story but also a very complex analysis. The story opens as Riggan Thomson [Keaton] mentally prepares himself to go on stage for the final rehearsals of his upcoming Broadway play. Riggan has been associated with a superhero (the eponymous Birdman) he played some twenty five years ago and hasn’t been able to really shake that role to attain the level of professionalism and respect he craves. With the success of the recent sway of superhero releases, he feels forgotten and believes this play – an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s ‘What we talk about when we talk about love’ – is his way back into circles of appreciation and recognition. The production of the play quickly becomes farcical as an injury wipes out one of the supporting roles and a last minute rehiring leads to the procurement of the acclaimed but unpredictable Mike Shiner [Norton]. As each of the preview performances is wrought with drama and absurdity, Riggan begins to meltdown desperate to escape typecasting by the industry and pigeon-holing by the public. And all the while a confident voice chants in his head that all this is beneath him and unworthy of the actor’s true potential as the greatest superhero of all time, destined for a comeback.

The first and most obvious thing to note about this release is the manner in which it is presented. Everything from the single-take-esque structure to the story, to the performances draws a parallel with theatre; in addition to parallels with Carver’s story and Macbeth. Everything is backdrop for the characters to grow. Even the plot, to a degree, is just a device to serve conversation and character progression. That’s not to say there isn’t a story per se, more the narrative takes a backseat to the performances, it doesn’t really matter what happens, more how it is presented. As with any ‘behind the scenes’ feature, several acting clichés are played out but mercifully done so in a manner that is not only entertaining but somehow feels original. We have the manic insecure central performance, the erratic uncontrollable method actor, the starlet desperate for success, the panicking producer, the neglected girlfriend, the somewhat estranged recovering relation (daughter, in this case) and the overbearing menacing critic. It’s not anti-theatre but like any differing artistic mediums, there’s definitely an ‘us and them’ mentality that plays heavily throughout, much to audience amusement. As a film, it’s a very risky venture. The plot alone is such a simplistic one that without the powerful self-aware performances required, the entire project would fail. Thankfully, Birdman is perfectly cast in the sense that the roles portrayed mirror the public’s general opinion of how each respective actor seems to be (even if it’s a completely inaccurate view).

One can only imagine the rehearsal time necessary to orchestrate this kind of release but despite rehashing the same delivery over and over without interruption, each member of the principal cast manages to evoke a spontaneity and energy necessary to make the events believable – again, a staple of any theatrical production. Leading the fore is Michael Keaton, reminding audiences that he is an acting talent to be reckoned with. It’s been several years since he’s starred in a leading role and it very much feels like his career has been building to this point. The man is a very gifted ad-libber and can deliver exceptional intensity or restraint with great ease, this movie simply shows off that ability. Thankfully, the praise doesn’t solely rest with the central character, with Ed Norton somewhat parodying himself as the abrasive, committed thespian who believes art requires more than just talent, one must live, love and breathe that role in order to convey any form of truth. Emma Stone is the next standout individual as Riggan’s standoffish daughter, born of the industry and immediately smothered by it. Recovering from addiction and hateful of those around her, Sam starts out as a generic two dimensional character but proves herself far more interesting and layered through her interaction with others. Same goes for Zach Galifianakis’ turn as the squawking lawyer/producer/best friend who appears both self-serving and genuinely concerned for Riggan’s interests, health and success. For all the good they do, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough felt just a tad underdeveloped. I understood where they were coming from and what their characters hoped to achieve but they never really evolved out of that, lacking a conclusion to their base presence.

The nature of the ‘single shot’ style that Inarritu and Emmanuel Lubezki developed could easily have surpassed the story or the characters and the functionality of how the film was made would dwarf what the film was trying to show. Thankfully, this is far from the case and the manner in which it was shot simply feels like any other artistic method of visually presenting events. In a way, this is just another example of the exceptional subtlety utilised throughout this release; from the lighting, to the camera movements, to the sound design, to the minimalist but very present CGI, aspects that can be garishly forced down an audiences’ throat were implemented with care and consideration for how they would enhance the performances, rather than take centre stage and overwhelm them – which is one of the movie’s critical messages of contemporary releases. But for all this positivity, the film falls short of perfection for one or two simple issues. I applaud the surrealism and the denouement but the whole thing comes off just a little too heavy in pop cultural references. I appreciate this film is an analytical breakdown of the current state of cinematic success but while plucking out names of actors and features will feel cutting edge, relevant and on-the-mark now, these elements will no doubt age the film. Having said that, one could argue that this movie is in fact a time capsule piece, taking a snapshot of the era of its release; a timeless précis of the evolution of acting in the early twenty first century. Only time will tell.

Whether this movie holds up in years to come, it is undoubtedly a fresh and wonderfully original release, which has rejuvenated not only a few careers but reminded audiences that cinema doesn’t have to be limited to funny, sad, tragic or any other singular description. It can be a glorious mess of colour and tone and still come out as a readily identifiable piece of human analysis.


Release Date:
2nd January 2015

The Scene To Look Out For:
The self-referential nature and play-within-a-play that mirrors the narrative makes it a little tricky to single out a standout scene, especially as the scenes never really stop, only momentarily inhale. Part of me really enjoyed the interaction between Riggan and Tabitha Dickinson, a theatre critic with the power to make or break any Broadway release. She openly confides to Riggan that although she hasn’t seen his rendition, she resents him for thinking he can waltz into her turf/medium without any form of theatrical training and expect to be loved. It’s a very unfair argument and highlights both the snobbery of the theatre industry but also the arrogance of the film industry – not to mention the performances feel vivacious and real.

Notable Characters:
To highlight anyone outside of Michael Keaton would be criminal. This film is stocked from wall-to-wall with mesmerising performances but Keaton makes us genuinely believe every second of his portrayal. It is reasonably well documented that the character of Riggan couldn’t be further from Keaton’s personality or mindset but his delivery and mannerisms are so utterly convincing that you would never know any different – which, at its basest of elements, is the very nature of acting.

Highlighted Quote:
“People, they love blood, they love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit. Shave off that pathetic goatee, get some surgery. Sixty is the new thirty motherfucker!”

In A Few Words:
“Wonderfully crafted avant-garde genre-defying satirical revelry”

Total Score:

5/5

Reviews 2015

[29 December 2015] In The Heart Of The Sea (2015)

[17 December 2015] Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

[14 December 2015] Room (2015)

[11 December 2015] The Ridiculous 6 (2015)

[24 November 2015] Bridge Of Spies (2015)

[19 November 2015] The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part II (2015)

[12 November 2015] Steve Jobs (2015)

[26 October 2015] Spectre (2015)

[17 October 2015] Hotel Transylvania 2 (2015)

[16 October 2015] Crimson Peak (2015)

[30 September 2015] The Martian (2015)

[27 September 2015] Macbeth (2015)

[17 September 2015] Bill (2015)

[09 September 2015] Legend (2015)

[28 August 2015] Straight Outta Compton (2015)

[24 August 2015] Me And Earl And The Dying Girl (2015)

[06 August 2015] Fantastic Four (2015)

[04 August 2015] Trainwreck (2015)

[29 July 2015] Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)

[24 July 2015] Inside Out (2015)

[23 July 2015] Southpaw (2015)

[17 July 2015] Ant-Man (2015)

[16 July 2015] Self/Less (2015)

[02 July 2015] Terminator Genisys (2015)

[25 June 2015] Slow West (2015)

[11 June 2015] Jurassic World (2015)

[14 May 2015] Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

[24 April 2015] Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015)

[31 March 2015] John Wick (2015)

[05 February 2015] Jupiter Ascending (2015)

[19 January 2015] Selma (2014)

[06 January 2015] Foxcatcher (2014)

[02 January 2015] Birdman (2014)