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Selma

Selma film posterSynopsis

About Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) and the civil rights struggles in 1965 in Selma Alabama.  King organizes a march for the right to vote.  About the persecution of black people by southern whites led by George Wallace (Tim Roth).  Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom wilkinson) tries to put off civil rights to a later date.  FBI chief Hoover (Dylan Baker) tries to slander King.  Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch) is the scarier alternative to King’s non violence. Carmen Ejogo plays Coretta Scott King.

Review

Selma commendably avoids the sentimental trap of epiphanous moments on the self congratulatory road to liberal democratic heaven.  There is no ambushing of the film by a white film star (as there might have been until recently).  David Oyelowo avoids the sort of statuesque dignity which would turn King into a black Lincoln.  He has affairs and is humanly flawed yet is a powerful presence.  His funeral and political ovations are musical and stirring.  His decision to ‘retreat’ after the second march on the Edmond Pettus bridge is all the more impressive for its subtle selflessness.  The focal scene in Selma is the march on the bridge, its role as a symbol is obvious.  In numerous films bridges have been critical meeting points and the reality of that is bloodily illustrated in Selma.  Malcolm X is there to act as a reminder that radical opinion might view non violence as an Uncle Tom tactic, that martyrdom was a useless gesture in the face of white power, speaking of which, Lyndon Johnston does look as cynically self serving as any politician condescendingly acknowledging that civil rights is morally fine but not an immediate priority.  J Edgar Hoover looks like a well groomed rat and behaves like one.  Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King also avoids the stereotype of purse lipped dignity foisted on so many black actors in these sort of films.  The Kings have to deal with the simplified image of the good man of poetic rheetoric and the reality of a middle class couple caught up in the terrors of civil rights and the emotional torments of marital infidelity.  There is a memorable scene at the beginning of Selma in which Oprah Winfrey is asked to prove her eligibility in registering for the vote.  She’s undone by the simple malice of institutionalised injustice.  A triumphant film.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Belle

Belle film posterSynopsis

Amma Asante’s film is inspired by a painting showing a bi-racial girl with a white woman.  Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw ) is of mixed race and is raised with her half cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon).  She is the daughter of Captain John Lindsay and an African Maria Belle.  She is brought up in Kenwood House by Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) who was famous for hearing the “Zong” ship court case in which the human “cargo” of slaves was murdered by being thrown overboard.  Lady Mary Murray (Penelope Wilton) is disappointed in love.  John Davis plays a clergyman’s son and he is idealistic about ending the slave trade.  Dido and Davis struggle for human rights and Mansfield gives his ruling…

Review

This of course is a story about racial and gender identity, about slavery, class, love, and marriage.  It’s a thinking person’s costume drama for Jane Austen fans.  It’s about the buttoned-up snobberies barely contained.  We’ve seen the obscene face of slavery in 12 Years a Slave and now Belle takes us to the rococo drawing rooms where words and gestures are as if prized on an elegant tight rope woven with gilt. We wait for the arrogant characters to fall off and land on their backsides.  Belle does not avoid chocolate box sentimentality, as when Mansfield gives his judgement against the Zong slavers, it looks too much like ‘finding your dreams’ tearfulness, it’s epiphanic aspect emphasized by coinciding with Belle and Davis’ declaration of love.  I recall British TV’s Comic Strip which showed Rik Mayall as a judge tearfully throwing his hammer away at a happy ending and this is similar, though Tom Wilkinson does resist the public sob.  Wilkinson does a good job of consigning Mansfield’s past idealism to the self serving pragmatism that coincides with the requirements of influence and power. John Davis’ is on hand with the earnest anti-racist liberalism that we’re all familiar with now but looks anachronistic in the 18th century which boasted abolitionists of the slave trade, not of slavery.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw brings a feisty rebelliousness which is all the more effective for being well channelled into the elegant riposte, especially as she must negotiate the traps of proposed marriage to horrible suitors.  Absorbing.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger film posterSynopsis

Based on the TV cowboy series of The Lone Ranger and Tonto and how they start out in 1870 Texas.  Tonto rescues John Reid from bandits and they battle with corrupt army and railroad crooks and Comanches.  Helena Bonham Carter helps out with an ivory leg.  The film is a story that the ancient Tonto tells to a child in the San Francisco of 1933.

Review

It’s appropriate that this film starts in 1933 San Francisco since The Lone Ranger started out as a radio show in that decade.  Then it became a 50s TV show starring a masked cowboy in tights, his Comanche friend Tonto called him Kimo Sabe.  The masked cowboy rides a white stallion called Silver.  This western is a fantasy for children about the Wild West, as opposed to other western films which are fantasies for adults about the west.  This film succumbs to an over elaborate foundation myth for the TV series, Johnny Depp as Tonto delivers his narrative like Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man who also told quirky stories about the old days, happily mixing myth and history.  Depp tries on another comic performance, in Pirates of the Caribbean he is drunkenly flamboyant, whereas in  Lone Ranger he pokes fun at the stereotype of the stolid frowning Indian.  Depp’s got a dead crow stuck on his head and he also wears white face paint, a fashion which no other “Indian” feels inclined to follow.  How could you make even a slightly serious film about this subject.

Special effects are nicely blended with Monument Valley shots like at the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  This Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) starts out as a naive lawyer who wants to ‘tame’ the west (like Jimmy Stewart liked to play), and he ends up as an improbable hero on a white horse which is made to gallop on top of railway cars whilst being immune to all bullets.  The Lone Ranger is similar to the reluctant heroes of Shane and High Noon.  The mask and the hat are silly enough so there’s no attempt to put him into tights.  The villains led by Tom Wilkinson are like those of Heaven’s Gate, corrupt capitalist barons who use outlaws to destroy native Americans and rape the land of its minerals.  We get a sort of re-enactment of the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 (shown in the film Soldier Blue) so it can be a bit serious as it entertains.  We also get a fantasy encyclopaedia of oddities like a Barnum circus:  flesh eating rabbits and H Bonham Carter’s ivory leg which shoots bullets.  The classical Western backdrops make the film feel like a moving diorama of Charles Russell paintings.  Buffalo Bill’s wild west circus originated this vision of the west. The rail chases, gunfights, mining camps, and wild west towns all invite us to think of other western films we’ve seen.  The realistic ‘wild West’ was of course a radically different world, perhaps McCabe and Mrs Miller approximates to the real thing.  Lone Ranger is a child’s fantasy realized in CGI and it works as a good entertaining film.

 

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