Talking Movies

February 5, 2015

Selma

Selma brings to vivid life the struggle for civil rights in 1965 Alabama with a fiery performance from David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr.

SELMA

Four schoolgirls are murdered in a church bombing in Selma. Any prospect for justice is defeated by the refusal of Registrar (Clay Chappell) to allow people like Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) to register to vote (on ever shifting sands of spurious tests), thereby ensuring all-white juries. And so MLK (Oyelowo) rolls into town to whip up a mass demonstration to pressure LBJ (Tom Wilkinson) to put aside the Great Society and pass a Voting Rights Act instead. Little does he know that as well as facing the obvious threat of Alabama Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth), his henchman Col. Al Lingo (Stephen Root), and the vicious Selma Sheriff Jim Clark (Stanley Houston), he will face the shadowy threat of J Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker) attempting to turn King’s wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) against him. Can MLK stay the course?

Oyelowo oozes charisma as he delivers three set-piece speeches during this film. But he also shows us a vulnerable side to King; riven by guilt over the deaths of protestors drawn by his rhetoric, self-doubt about whether his leadership will achieve civil rights, and shame at his infidelities. The other black leaders Ralph Abernathy (Colman Domingo), James Orange (Omar J Dorsey), James Bevel (Common), Bayard Rustin (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), Andrew Young (Andre Holland), John Lewis (Stephan James), James Forman (Trai Byers), Rev. Williams (Wendell Pierce), and Rev. Vivian (Corey Reynolds), are, perhaps inevitably, less particularised; but the ensemble is equal to the challenge laid down by Oyelowo’s lead performance. Selma is especially interesting when it explores conflict between these men; with egoism and principle equally important in arguments over leadership and non-violence; and when Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch) arrives in town.

But Selma has heavy baggage. Director Ava DuVernay’s Oscar snub is not that outrageous. Even if she did rewrite Paul Webb’s script as much as claimed she’d deserve a nod only for writing. The ones hard done by are Oyelowo and cinematographer Bradford Young; who once again does extraordinary things with warm shadows in MLK’s intimate moments of doubt. But the depiction of LBJ, as uninterested in civil rights and conniving at J Edgar sending a sex-tape to Coretta, has been hauled over the coals by Maureen Dowd, and her central charge; “Filmmakers love to talk about their artistic license to distort the truth, even as they bank on the authenticity of their films to boost them at awards season”; rings uncomfortably true. Rather David O Russell’s ‘Some of this actually happened’ than claiming your fictions are truer than history.

Selma is an extremely moving, often upsetting, chronicle of an extraordinary event, powered by a magnificent lead performance, but it’s not history and must be taken with much salt.

3.5/5

January 20, 2012

Top 5 Bear Grylls Extractions

I’ve become hooked on Discovery UK’s midnight re-runs of Bear Grylls: Born Survivor so this is probably only the first in a series of lists celebrating his adventures.

(5) Jumping into a river in West Texas
One of the most visually arresting exits in the series has to be the moment Bear disappears from sight and is revealed to have jumped down a very sudden precipice into the Rio Grande. It’s the suddenness of the transition from scrambling over boulders to just running and leaping into space that makes this. And as rivers go it’s one guaranteed to alert people to your predicament merely by being in it.

(4) Hopping a truck in Alabama
The end of Southern Comfort comes to mind as Bear, covered in reddish mud as protection against a raging bushfire, comes back to winter forest that isn’t on fire, and suddenly hears a sound. It’s a honking logging truck as it slows down for making a turn around a bend, and Bear runs like hell and slides down a hillside to cut it off, and hits the road just in time to board it.

(3) Jumping onto a rope in Louisiana
Bear stands on the roof of a flooded house in Louisiana and the chopper comes in and dangles the rope-ladder as near him as it can. Which isn’t all that near. Bear takes a leap of faith and roars off the roof and out over the flooded water teeming with snakes, alligators and disease but manages to grab the oscillating rope-ladder with both hands and stay firmly on as the chopper pulls away.

(2) Chopper rescue off a temple in Guatemala
Never start a fire on an ancient monument unless it’s a survival situation is the rider Bear issues to viewers before setting one on a Mayan temple in Guatemala. He then dashes up the temple to get higher so that he can reach the rope-ladder dropped down for him and swings off after the chopper, barely missing the trees when the rainforest reasserts itself. And, oh joy, leaves the fire burning strongly…

(1) Hopping a train in Montana
Walking along train-tracks to get back to civilisation is a good idea, following them through a long tunnel to avoid having to schlepp over the hillside is not such a good idea. The sinking feeling that the tracks are suddenly vibrating leads Bear and his crew to run for all their worth to dramatically dive out of the narrow tunnel just before the train rampages out of it, and then they bloody hop it!

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