Selma: Movie Man Jackson

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“The decision is with your side, sir. Not ours.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. accomplished a lot and brought attention to many civil rights matters during his very brief life, but one moment known as the “I Have a Dream” speech sometimes overshadows everything else he had done. In Selma, attention is given to the events in 1965, events that would further shape history.

A bombing that kills four young African-American girls at a church in Birmingham, Alabama serves as a major incendiary moment that ups the ante in the Civil Rights Movement. Though there has been some very minor headway in voting for the minority group, not enough has been made, and not being able to vote means no representation as it pertains to the court and juror system. After failed attempts to convince President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to sign a voting rights bill into law, Rev. MLK (David Oyelowo), knows that he and others in the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) must take matters into their own hands. By marching from Selma to Montgomery, AL, a statement will be made, and change will be obtained.

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It could just be yours truly, but does it seem like the past calendar year has included more movies based upon historical figures than usual? Whatever the case, some, like The Theory of Everything and Get On Up, attempt to take a wide look at the famous person’s life. Others, like The Imitation Game, Big Eyes, and now Selma, focus upon a specific period in the subject’s life. No one approach is definitively better than the other,  but centering in on a specific period does appear to give a biography piece more focus, and at the very least not shock or disappoint people when certain events are not mentioned. I don’t think I would call Selma particularly riveting and I am sure it will not be watched again by my eyes, but it is a definite must watch during this moviegoing period.

In a way, watching Selma unfold is like being exposed to the events for first time. Part of that is due to the way somewhat unknown director Ava DuVernay handles the material, less like a history book or lecture and more of just a natural story. The audience knows of its importance, and so do the characters involved in it. But these characters are living and breathing, meaning that they clash and experience friction just like in real life, and all don’t necessarily share the same way to achieve the end goal. Some don’t even share the same end goal. It is a nice look at the inner-workings of a group, and just because they are unified in public doesn’t mean that the group is in lockstep behind closed doors.

The other part of this that may end up being underlooked is how the movie looks. As this progresses on, DuVernay fully realizes the horrors and the savagery that came about with these marches with impressive cinematography. As impressive is frequently utilizing the right depth and angles in the various speech and behind closed doors conversation scenes, as their correct usage gives more dramatic tension and heft to these moments. It is really minute, and yours truly probably could have described this better, but know that it all adds up to a very tight-looking production.

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Much of the attention and accolades given to Selma will be towards the man who portrays one of the best orators in America’s history. David Oyelowo is a name that has been picking up steam for a few years now, but this performance probably marks his arrival into the mainstream. From appearance to diction, the portrayal is spot-on. And it isn’t overly showy; in most scenes he is humble and understated like MLK likely was. Even when there isn’t a whole lot going on as the movie gets a little dull at times, he keeps it relatively on course by his presence alone. When those crowd-addressing speeches come to light though, Oyelowo delivers charisma and a real intensity with every spoken word.

His performance isn’t the only one worth mentioning. Just about everyone who appears here does an extremely great job, like Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth as Confederate state governor George Wallace in supporting roles. Underneath these supporting characters are smaller roles that are comprised by fairly younger actors and actresses, but without their good work, the emotional moments would lack a little in potency. It isn’t hard to imagine some of these people going on to obtain more work and larger roles within them.

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Selma is definitely a historical film, but for all of the recent racial events in the recent news, it does feel awfully current and maybe needed now. The film is strong in most areas, but perhaps it is strongest in how it connects to our present day, a fact it doesn’t shy away from as heard by its end credits song by John Legend and Common. Undoubtedly race relations have come a long way in 50 years, but there is still much work to be done.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to theguardian.com, bellanaija.com, and insidemovies.ew.com.

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A Million Ways to Die in the West: Movie Man Jackson

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“Look around you. Everything out here that is not you wants to kill you.”

In real life, Seth MacFarlane is seemingly a man of a million talents, but in A Million Ways to Die in the West, he is just a man…a man devoid of a backbone by 1882 American Old West standards. MacFarlane stars as Albert Stark, an aforementioned individual making a below average living in the frontier, which is an absolute drag of a place to live in. The only thing that makes his situation bearable is the company of his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried).

As these things go, Louise tires of Albert and decides to end things with the poor sap after he shows cowardice before a quick draw. Luckily, Albert’s long depressive stupor is ended when a beautiful mystery woman named Anna (Charlize Theron) comes into town. Out of character during a ruckus, Albert saves Anna’s life, and the two strike a liking to each other. Unbeknownst to him, Anna is actually married, and not just to some nobody. No, this guy is Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), the best and most dangerous shot in the whole Wild West.

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A Million Ways to Die in the West should really be prefaced by Seth MacFarlane Presents. . . If you don’t know by now, the man credited with Family Guy’s success and bringing Ted to life not only stars here, but also produces, writes, and directs. What does this all result in? A movie with no true cohesion, and one in which too much responsibility was bestowed upon one man.

A comedy’s first and sometimes only goal is to be consistently funny. This is not easy, seeing that what tickles one man’s funny bone may fail to leave a mark on another’s. With A Million Ways though, I cannot remember the last time I was hoping, waiting, and wishing for jokes and gags to genuinely make me laugh. Speaking for most of those in my theater, it appeared my sentiment was shared. As it stands, only one scene in my opinion occurring in the middle was a legit funny moment, which is a shame. Because on paper, this is a solid cast, which is something I’ll come back to later.

The problem essentially comes down to lazy writing and a dependence on overused gross out gags, fart, and Indian jokes. There isn’t much of a story really, just comedy sketches draped in Old West garb barely tied together. Early on, it becomes apparent that the people with the most creative power in this (read: Seth MacFarlane) maybe believed that the setting of the Old West would “sell” itself from a humor standpoint, and all that was needed as a supplement to this backdrop is a few random scenes interspersed with strong language and revolting moments.

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Yes, this is an R rated comedy film, so a high level of raunch is expected, including the common fare just described. These jokes are fine in doses, but when it becomes what the well consists of, well, the film gets old very quickly, which in turn makes the film feel a lot longer than it should be.

Not necessarily featuring big stalwarts in comedy aside from Seth, still A Million Ways is comprised of well known actors who do their best to make it better than what is presented to them. Charlize Theron shines brightest as Anna, who generally looks she she is having fun and is easily the most likable and appealing character throughout.

Sadly, this is a major issue being that Seth’s Albert is the character we are supposed to pull for and like. At length, I am unsure of whether his grating role is a result of the lazy writing, or if it is just he himself who cannot carry the weight. It is probably the latter with a bit of the former mixed in. The film is undoubtedly a comedy, but there are instances of Western drama sprinkled across, and when Seth actually has to act, it isn’t believable. He appears to be in over his head when these times come up. Additionally, the whining act becomes played out, to the point where (Spoiler) I actually wanted Liam’s character to shoot and kill him in the end climax. Not exactly what I should be rooting for.

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Played by Neeson, Clinch is a good antagonist, but one that is also forgotten for a large chunk of the movie, so his presence is sort of nonexistent. Giovanni Ribisi plays off of Sarah Silverman in a side story that wears out its welcome immediately. Amanda Seyfried and Neil Patrick Harris fill the secondary villain roles, and aren’t particularly memorable in doing so, but NPH may be the funniest character as a whole. Similar to Family Guy, there are random occurrences and bit players unrelated to the main tale that are supposed to inject laughs. Just know it works better in animation than in a live feature.

The biggest positive ends up being the setting, from a visual sense. It appears that tons of research and hard work was done to make this look like the old frontier, from rinky-dink saloons to clothing worn, so kudos to that.

However, a successful setting does not solely make a successful film, especially a comedy. There may be a million ways to die in the West, but side splitting laughter isn’t one of them.

Grade: D-

Photo credits go to collider.com, whysoblu.com, & http://www.evoke.ie.

Reader’s/Followers note: Hey all, I will be on vacation starting late Thursday-June 15th, and I will most likely be without Internet, so new postings are not likely. If I somehow do post a review, expect something older. When I do return, I will be a bit behind, but I do plan on checking out and reviewing Edge of Tomorrow, How to Train Your Dragon 2, 22 Jump Street, The Signal, and maybe The Fault in Our Stars. Thanks all for reading and supporting my blog!

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