Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Selma (2015)


Last year’s “Pride” brilliantly demonstrated how far gay rights have come in the UK in 30 years.  Selma does an equally superb job in showing how far racial equality has come in the US in 50 years.  

The year is 1964 and racial tension is rife in the Southern states, with attacks and murders of black citizens going unpunished by the combination of a white-majority policing and legal system. Enter Martin Luthor King (English actor David Oyelowo) at the point of receiving his Nobel Peace prize.  King insists at a Presidential level (with Tom Wilkinson playing Lyndon Johnson) that black citizens be allowed unfettered rights to vote in elections, with the aim of securing a more just and balanced society.  Looking for a suitable location to mount a media-led stand, in an age before social networking and ‘Arab-Springs’, King centres his attention on the Alabama town of Selma, mounting a series of non-violent (at least on their side) protests and marches.  The local redneck police chief, Wilson Baker (David Dwyer), and the state governor, George Wallis (Tim Roth), are not going to stand for this and the tinder-box reaches ignition point during a march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery.  

A bridge too far for civil rights.
A bridge too far for civil rights.

Nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture (but only that in the major awards, so winning chances are probably near-zero), Selma is primarily an excellent example of an ensemble cast that works particularly well together.  There are a wealth of outstanding performances:  Tom Wilkinson’s Lyndon Johnson comes across as a surprisingly sympathetic character (jerking me out of my natural Vietnam-coloured perception of the politician); 

Johnson hoped that White would just bugger off, but he didn't seem to be taking the hint.
Johnson hoped that White would just bugger off, but he didn’t seem to be taking the hint.

Oprah Winfrey (also a co-producer) provides a text-book example of acting without acting, her expressions doing all of the work;

Selma's all-in wrestling competition was really getting into its swing.
Selma’s all-in wrestling competition was really getting into its swing.

Dylan Baker (so fantastic in “The Good Wife”) is chillingly sinister as J. Edgar Hoover; English-born Carmen Ejogo plays (extremely well) a similar role to Sienna Miller’s in “American Sniper” as the wife alienated by her husband’s calling; and Giovanni Ribisi (“Saving Private Ryan”, “Friends”), Cuba Gooding Jnr and (a bizarrely uncredited) Martin Sheen turn up in great cameo performances.     

But towering over all of this great acting is Oyelowo’s performance which is simply outstanding:  every death and injury is etched on his face. This is a Martin Luthor King that you can really believe in. I would have personally bounced Bradley Cooper in the nomination list for him, and it is astonishing (given his English background) that he was also overlooked at the BAFTAs.  He must be feeling pretty aggrieved right now.  Mr Oyelowo – if you are reading this – this critic thanks you for an outstanding performance.

David Oyelowo - not in Oxford any more
David Oyelowo – not in Oxford any more

As a relative newcomer to direction, at least for a movie of this scale, Ava Duvernay does a great job with some of the action scenes (with particularly the shocking opening to the film showing enormous style).  Paul Webb (apparently with this as a screenwriting debut – – how on earth did he get THIS job?) does a creditable job, with lots of memorable sound-bites that stick in the mind. Where the film ran into soft mud for me however was in the personal scenes between the married couple:  they don’t really provide enough insight into the stresses of King’s serial adultery, and the plotting becomes slow and dull…. I personally lost interest in most of these scenes and was desperate for the film to get back to the ‘action’ in Selma.     

Arch-enemies of the establishment.
Arch-enemies of the establishment.

Also of note is the end title song  – “Glory” by John Legend and Common (who also stars in the film) – which is also nominated for an Oscar and won the Golden Globe.

Both gay rights and racial equality undoubtedly still have much further to go, but this does make you proud that as US and UK societies we have come so far within my own lifetime.  A recommended watch, particularly for those with an interest in sociology and/or American history.

Fad Rating:  FFFF.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

Kingsman 1

Matthew Vaughn, who’s previous films in the director’s chair number just four – “Layer Cake”, “Stardust”, “Kick Ass” and “X-Men: First Class” – does not do subtle.  But he certainly does do stylish and entertaining.  Of this set of past works, Kingsman is probably most closely aligned to Kick Ass with its anarchic tone and comic-book violence.  This is not surprising given the film is based, as was Kick-Ass, on a new comic book series by Mark Millar (this time with Dave Gibbons).

Colin Firth plays Harry Hart (aka Galahad) a member of a secret spy network called Kingsman. Firth is quite outstanding playing a gentleman spy: a role he was born for. When one of their own gets terminated on a mission Harry proposes Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the son of an ex-colleague, to go forward to a lethal form of training to become the replacement Kingsman.

Eggsy's wet dreams of Swedish princesses had been getting worse and worse
Eggsy’s wet dreams of Swedish princesses had been getting worse and worse

While all this is going on, a dastardly plan (that will result in global mayhem) is being plotted by the billionaire Valentine (a completely over-the-top and lisping Samuel L Jackson), ably protected by his female bodyguard (and literally a Blade Runner) Gazelle, played by the strikingly beautiful Algerian actress Sofia Boutella.  Will the Kingsmen defeat the dastardly plot in time before the countdown runs out?  (You can probably guess, but you’ll have fun finding out).

"I want YOU to go get the furniture polish so I can get my handprint off this table before the missus gets home"
“You get me the furniture polish so I can get my hand print off this table before the missus gets home”

Whereas Bond has Universal Exports, Kingsman’s “cover” organisation is a Saville Row tailor’s called Kingsman, giving all of the spies an excuse to wear outrageously fashionable suits. 

Suits you sir
Suits you sir

The “M” in this network has the codename of Arthur, played with enormous style by Michael Caine, especially in one notable scene where he suddenly slips from his posh Etonian accent into pure East End gangster.  The “Q” equivalent is played by Vaughn-favourite Mark Strong, for once playing a good guy and playing it very well indeed.  

It’s also great to see, before his Star Wars return, Mark (Luke Skywalker) Hamill playing a global warming expert, who has more that one reason to get a bit hot under the collar.

"Tell me the Star Wars plot now Hamill...!"
“Tell me the Star Wars plot now Hamill…!”

During the heyday of the early Bond films in the 60’s a number of spoof films arose:  the gratingly erratic Casino Royale (with David Niven) being one, with James Coburn’s “Flint” movies being a better example.  Kingsman is a worthy example of this genre:  a film that has its tongue firmly in its cheek, and with a range of nice Bond-references, particularly in regard to the cliche about the villain telling the hero the details of his plot before putting him to an intricate and readily escapable death.   

I really liked this film from the off.  It oozes style from the opening titles onwards and when we move into the extended agent training section Vaughn turns the action knob to 10, showing off the style of newcomer Egerton, who has great charisma and carries the role well particularly when matched with the charming and likeable Roxy (a film debut for Sophie Cookson).

If only the Kingsman motorcycle stunt team could remember where they parked their bikes...
If only the Kingsman motorcycle stunt team could remember where they parked their bikes…

Unfortunately, in my view, Vaughan and co-screenwriter Jane Goldman can’t quite help themselves and turn the action knob to an unnecessary “11” for the second half of the film.  A scene of carnage in a church will be too extreme for older or more sensitive viewers, and a gruesome scene to the stirring notes of “Land of Hope and Glory”, whilst hysterically funny and done purely for laughs, doesn’t quite fit with the mood of the film: it channels more “Mars Attacks!” than the Bond-spoof that has gone to date.   Similarly a good gag with a Swedish princess is pushed a step too far in a final scene.  A case of “less is more” in this reviewer’s book.

When Vaughn yelled "Action" - he really meant it
When Vaughn yelled “Action” – he really meant it

In summary, well worth watching for a fun Saturday-night cinema trip.  My one request to Vaughn is that if there is a Kingsman 2 (which you could certainly see happening) then he maintains enough interest to direct it:  I’m not sure I could stand the disappointment of another Kick Ass 2.

Fad Rating:  FFFf.