Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Movie: American Sniper

American Sniper:  the Iraq War as a Western.  Directed by Clint Eastwood, this film has all the elements that have made Eastwood one of the great story tellers and directors of American West sagas.  In telling the story of Chris Kyle, who completed 4 tours of duty in Iraq, we are presented with a 21st century version of the tale told by Eastwood in his 1992 movie The Unforgiven.  In this story, based on Kyle’s autobiography, Kyle is presented as someone with a strong sense of justice, a clear vision and the ability to separate the good guys from the bad.  Early on, his father ingrains in him that the world is divided into sheep, wolves and sheepdogs.  American Sniper has been criticized by some as offering an idealized view of its main character.  The film, however, clearly shows the psychological and emotional trauma that results directly from multiple tours in Iraq.  Bradley Cooper as Kyle does an amazing job of portraying a man under stress.  Cooper definitely earned his Oscar nomination and the film rightly deserves its Best Picture nomination.  As with David Oyelowo’s performance as Dr. King in Selma, you can only surmise the existence of a political dynamic whose consequence is Eastwood not receiving the Best Director nod.  At 84, Eastwood continues to work at an amazing skill level.  This is not just a “sand movie”; the cinematography is superb and the constant level of tension possesses a brutal honesty.  The counterpoints between Kyle and his wife Taya, played with honesty by Sienna Miller, further emphasize the inhuman consequences of the Iraq War.  This 134 minute film quickly grabs your attention and holds it firmly to the end.  I highly recommend this movie. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Movie: Selma

Selma:  a film deserving of its Oscar nomination for Best Movie.  Also deserving of an Oscar nomination is David Oyelowo for his remarkable portrayal of Dr. King.  This film focuses on the events which lead to the walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.  As depicted in the film, the march was a seminal event in the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  The film is not, however, simply a documented recitation of events.  The historic figures are presented as real people with real lives.  Selma opens with Dr. King commenting to his wife, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo), about his tie shortly before accepting the Nobel Peace Prize; and there are other scenes showing the dynamics of the King family.  The film presents with stark reality the issue of voting rights and its backstory.  There is a powerful scene in which Oprah Winfrey submits her application to vote but is denied because she is unable to name every single county in the State of Alabama.  We are given a face to connect with the factual reality that in Lowndes County, Alabama, where the majority of the population is African-American, not a single Black person had been allowed to register to vote in 60 years.  We are also provided with the backstory as to what led to the events in 1965 Selma as well as dramatic footage of the Selma marches.  The film includes many of the major civil rights individuals and does not limit its focus to Dr. King.  As such, it entertains and keeps you actively involved.  Films based on historical events can be boring but the director, Ava DuVernay, did a remarkable job, and this 127 minute movie deserves more than just Best Movie and Best Original Song nominations.  There is, however, a major problem with this film, especially if you know the history of the passage of the Voting Rights Bill:  the script writer confuses Lyndon Baines Johnson with John Kennedy.  The movie depicts the Selma campaign as pushing LBJ (played by Tom Wilkinson in an unusually weak performance) into supporting the voting rights legislation.  While Dr. King had to push President Kennedy to move on civil rights legislation, that was certainly not the case with LBJ.  Due to this significant factual misrepresentation, the scenes with Dr. King and LBJ were annoying.  But despite this historical error, Selma is a film you should see.  The essential act of voting has never been more dramatically shown.