Sunday, May 3, 2015

Video review: "Selma"

“Selma” was a good but hardly great movie. The fact that it received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture seems more a nod to the weight of the historical subject it tackled -- the civil rights struggle that brought about the Voting Rights Act of 1965 -- rather than the actual aesthetic merits of how they depicted it.

I found David Oyelowo alternately mesmerizing and off-putting as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Director Ava DuVernay and her star have talked in interviews about their deliberate effort not to perform an impersonation of King. But the cadence of his speeches is such an important part of his legend -- so when Oyelowo purposefully avoids replicating that timbre, it subtracts from the power of those scenes.

(The filmmakers also weren’t helped by being denied permission to use the actual text of the speeches, so screenwriter Paul Webb had to whip up facsimiles.)

By far the most memorable part of the movie is the depiction of the brutal “Bloody Sunday” encounter between peaceful protestors and Alabama state troopers. Harrowing and vividly emotional, this sequence brings the dry history out of the textbook and into our eyes and hearts.

Other scenes, though, become a flat parade of supporting characters who struggle to erect any kind of identity.

In retrospect, the hurricane of controversy over the film “only” receiving two Academy Award nominations seems ridiculous. (It did win for best song.) The reason it didn’t fare better during the awards season is because it’s just not that great a movie.

Certainly worthy of our time, but not fawning admiration.

The film is being given a sumptuous video release with a host of extra features, though you’ll need to buy the Blu-ray version to get most of them. The DVD only comes with a couple of educational featurettes.

The Blu-ray adds several making-of featurettes, a music video of “Glory,” photo gallery, deleted and extended scenes, and two separate commentary tracks: one by DuVernay and Oyelowo -- I always love it when actors join their directors for these things -- and the other with DuVernay and her cinematographer and editor.




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