Tag Archives: David Oyelowo

Five Nights in Maine

Sherwin is reeling with the sudden loss of his beloved wife, Fiona. Out of sorts and in excruciating pain, he somehow consents to visit his estranged mother-in-law in Maine. Lucinda is also grieving her daughter, but their estrangement layers loss with guilt – and suspicion.

MV5BMTA0NjI1NzI1MDFeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDc1NjY1NzYx._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,756_AL_Sherwin (David Oyelowo) and Lucinda (Dianne Wiest) knock about in her rural home with only her nurse Ann (Rosie Perez) between them. Lucinda is sick and in a lot of physical pain but she’s not too sick to still be kind of a bitch. The last time she saw her daughter they fought, as usual, and parted badly, both assuming for the last time, and of course it was, only it was daughter who died, and not the ailing mother.

Oyelowo and Wiest give great performances. Wiest is icily fantastic, full of venom and sharp edges. You kind of want to slap her across the face, even if she is a cancer-ridden old lady. But hiring a talented cast is about all this film gets right. I don’t mind some negative space but here the script is thin, the story plotless. It might have made an interesting character study if the dialogue wasn’t so sparse. We start out knowing very little but don’t attain a whole lot of clarity over the course of our Five Nights In Maine. I wish I had kinder words for a film that dares to tackle a dark subject, but this felt slow and sluggish and ultimately empty.

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Nina

Nina Simone, born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, was a tour de force. She was a classically trained pianist who studied at Julliard. She applied at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia but was rejected despite an excellent audition because of the colour of her skin. Never intending to sing, she was forced to in order to make a living being a musician of the non-classical variety, the only option open to a woman of colour. She played a blend of jazz and blues, folk and gospel, and probably more besides. She changed her name to avoid embarrassing her family now that she played “the devil’s music.” And she became an activist, an outspoken proponent of the Civil Rights movement. Her music had always spoken to her roots, but soon she incorporated political themes there as well. A beautifully angry song “Mississippi Goddam” written in response to the bombing of the Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama (that killed 4 little girls) particularly comes to mind, because how could it not? It’s spectacular and heart breaking. There was a great documentary made about her life not too long ago, but Nina is not a documentary, which means someone had to step into her shoes.

MV5BODk1NDY2MjcyN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzkzNzM2ODE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1502,1000_AL_Mary J Blige was originally cast but had to drop out. Nina herself had hoped that it would be Whoopi who’d portray her on screen. Instead director Cynthia Mort went with Zoe Saldana, and thus created a furor. With Dominican and Cuban ancestry, Saldana identifies as a black woman, but critics felt she was not black enough. Not black enough? The notion makes me queasy. But when Saldana said she was honoured to play Simone, the Nina Simone Foundation nastily replied “Dear Zoe, please keep Nina’s name out of your mouth for the rest of your life.”

Saldana’s talent is bigger than the criticism. She has a great voice, which you may have heard in The Book of Life, but no, she doesn’t sound like Simone. No one does. But she brings a lot of strength and dignity to the role, a mean feat considering the film focuses on the latter years of Simone’s life, which were turbulent to say the least. Mentally and financially unstable, Simone was committed to a psych ward, where she met a nurse she would later make her assistant, and then her manager. David Oyelowo plays the nurse. Biopics generally benefit from a narrow focus, but this one is perhaps unfair to her memory since Simone was so much more than just her struggles. See the documentary for a clearer picture of her life, but to see Saldana shine, this is one good role among many.

 

 

Two days before she died, the Curtis Institute of Music bestowed granted Simone an honorary degree.

A United Kingdom

In the late 1940s, Prince Seretse Khama of Bechuanaland is studying law in Britain to help prepare for his eventual ascension to the throne back home. As the fates would have it, while he’s there he meets and falls in love with a clerk, Ruth Williams, and they plan to marry. One slight hitch: she is a white woman. He is a black African prince. Hard screen_shot_20160825_at_4.36.44_pm_1.png.CROP.cq5dam_web_1280_1280_png.pngto say who their love most angers: her family, his constituents, or the status quo. Interracial marriage wasn’t exactly popular in 1940s England, and her whiteness isn’t even the whole problem: her social status is far beneath that of a prince. But they marry anyway, anticipating disapproval, unprepared for the reality of the diplomatic firestorm and political tumult their marriage would actually entail. His right to the throne is threatened, as is her life. He is threatened with exile, she with ostracism. Still, they persist in their love, not just of each other, but for the people of the new Republic of Botswana.

Director Amma Asante did the film Belle, which I truly loved. In this movie you can feel how earnestly she strove for realism: the real home of Ruth & Seretse was used. Their grandson makes a brief appearance. Botswanans were invited to be cast as extras, with 3000 showing up for the first day of filming! The real hospital where Ruth gave birth is used. And the singing  during a pivotal scene in which Ruth finally gains a measure of acceptable from the tribe’s women, that was spontaneous and beautiful.

 

head-2-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqLCkbV0Cud8CVjQLblQrpKnudqrdmUogVvFNupiOyznIDavid Oyelow and Rosamund Pike play the lead roles and you couldn’t ask for a better acted movie. Oyelow is dignified as this humble prince, Pike strong and heart-breaking. They help strike a balance between the passion of their love and the stark reality of apartheid. It would be easy for one of these plot lines to swallow the other, but Asante manages float above it, entangling both, as would have been the case in real life.

It’s an inspiring forgotten story, tastefully and thoughtfully made, but for me, it just failed to really engage. Such a soaring story should really stir you up in the watching, but I found it a bit boring, the story telling too conventional. It’s still a worthy watch for knowledge’s sake alone, but it lacked a true spark.

 

1976 in Film (Happy 40th Sean)

Sean and I are cruising around the Hawaiian islands to celebrate his milestone birthday, which is why you’ll find a common theme in the movie reviews here  for the next week and a half.

1976 was a noteworthy year in film. Rocky was the highest grossing movie, and it won the Oscar – for best picture AND best director (John G. Avildsen). It was p5214_p_v8_aaNetwork though that all but cleaned up in the acting categories – Peter Finch for best actor (he was the first actor to win posthumously); Faye Dunaway for best actress, and Beatrice Straight for best supporting actress. The fly in their soup was Jason Robards for All the President’s Men – poor Ned Beatty was shut out. In an upset, Barbra Streisand’s Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born) won best original song over Gonna Fly Now from the Rocky soundtrack but I don’t need to tell you which has had the more lasting impact culturally.

George Lucas began filming Star Wars in 1976, perhaps sensing that little Sean would definitely need to grow up playing light sabers. In a stroke of genius, Lucas waived the half-million-dollar director’s fee in order to maintain complete ownership on merchandising and sequels, which means that today he’s a mother fucking billionaire.

Carrie came out in 1976. So did Family Plot, Alfred Hitchcock’s final film taxi-driver-movie-1976starring Bruce Dern. And Freaky Friday with Jodie Foster. And Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. And To Fly!, a documentary about the history of flight produced by the National Air and Space Museum that was the second-highest grossing film the of the year and was the highest grossing documentary of all time until Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004.

Kelly Macdonald, voice of Merida, the heroine from Disney’s Brave, known for roles in Trainspotting, Gosford Park, No Country for Old Men, and Boardwalk Empire was born in 1976 (the bitch. She’s married to my favourite bassist ever, Dougie Payne). So was fellow redhead Isla Fisher.

Rashida Jones turned 40 this year too. She’s currently working on the script to Toy Story 4. Reese Witherspoon turned 40. David Oyelowo turned 40. Cillian 3t0kxqbttyjlMurphy. Benedict Cumberbatch. Audrey Tautou. Colin Farrell. Happy 40th to all.

Ryan Reynolds has been making 40 look good for nearly 2 months now, paving the way for the likes of Sean to do the same.

Albert Brooks made his film debut in 1976 in a little movie called Taxi Driver. Jessica Lange made hers in King Kong and Brooke Shields first appeared in Alice, Sweet Alice.

1976 was kind of cool outside of film too: the Steelers won the Super Bowl. The first commercial Concorde flight took off. Innsbruck, Austria hosted with Winter Olympics (and Montreal the Summer). The Toronto Blue Jays were ramones-ramones1born. Apple was founded by a couple of punks you might have heard of, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The Ramones released their first album and the Sex Pistols play their first shows, but it’s (Peter) Frampton Comes Alive! that tops the charts. The Boston Celtics defeated the Phoenix Suns in triple overtime in Game 5 of the NBA Finals – still considered the greatest game of the NBA’s first 50 years. The CN tower, then the world’s tallest free-standing structure on land, opened to the public. Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford. Megamouth sharks are discovered off Oahu, Hawaii 4c33c725f6feaf2ce254254f6f1201fc(nothing to be concerned about Sean, I’m sure it’s just coincidence you’re both turning 40 in the same place). Bob Marley survived an assassination attempt. California repealed their sodomy law. Peyton Manning was born. And Ronaldo. And Mark Duplass, just a day after Sean. And as much as I love me some Duplass, Sean is still my favourite thing from 1976, and I’m so glad I get to spend the day looking for megamouth sharks on a submarine ride on the ocean’s floor with him.

 

 

 

 

Queen of Katwe

I was leery of this movie – I was leery of a Disney version of Africa, which I didn’t have the heart to see. I was worried they would polish over the poverty and we’d get some “family friendly”, watered down version.

Luckily Mira Nair is sitting in the director’s seat, and I have great confidence in her ability to paint a portrait that is beautiful in its truth. And in fact, Queen of Katwe is beautiful, and it doesn’t shy away from the less desirable side of nullAfrica. The whole point of this film is rooted in poverty. A chess club is started in Katwe because of poverty – because mothers are too afraid of medical expenses should a child break a bone during soccer. So a board game is just more appealing. One of the big draws in getting the children to come in and learn the game is that the chess is served up with a free cup of porridge.

Phiona is poor even in comparison to these other Katwe kids in the chess club. She is being raised by a single mother (Lupita Nyong’o) and helps earn income by selling corn in the streets. But it turns out that Phiona might just be a prodigy – she’s certainly learning faster than anyone expected and quickly outpaces her other competitors, even her teacher. She lobbies for literacy just so she may read chess books in her spare time. Her mother sells possessions for a little extra lamp oil to burn at night so that Phiona may study.

The kids are enthusiastic about their first away tournament playing “city kids” until they get a look at them – poised, clean, well-dressed, book smart. The little Katwe kids are swiftly intimidated, many giving way to hives and hyperventilation. Their coach (David Oyelowo) knows how to steady them, and their superior chess skills carry the day. Phiona is particularly talented, good nullenough to represent Uganda internationally. As she begins to win, and to travel, she glimpses the life that could be hers if her chess game complies. But now that she’s playing not just to win, but to change her life, and support her family, it’s a lot of extra pressure any little girl’s shoulders.

Mira Nair does a wonderful job bringing Katwe to life. Even the slums are vividly rendered with colour and energy. Yes the story hits familiar beats but Nair bolster’s the film’s predictability with strong performances anchored to weighty characters.

Oyelowo as Coach Katende is as good as he always is, radiating a warmth with maybe a touch of twinkle in his eye, but he knows his role is to prop up the strong women in the cast. Lupita Nyong’o gives a heart-breakingly restrained performance as a young widow who knows her kids are sometimes going to bed hungry. She so carefully balances the fear of the unknown and a mother’s strong will to keep her kids safe with this siren call of a better life that she herself can’t comprehend. She refers to herself as an “uneducated woman” but that only serves to reinforce how fiercely smart she is, whether or not she can read. The film doesn’t talk down to or look down on anyone. Nyong’o is so sensitive in her portrayal it really elevates the whole film. Madina Nalwanga, though, is the revelation. She’s the unknown cast by Nair to star as Phiona. Despite having never acted, she clearly has the grace and poise to make this her career, and it has to help that though Madina escaped the slums with dance rather than chess, her story is eerily similar to Phiona’s.

Queen of Katwe would feel a lot like any other underdog tale, except for its setting. Nair makes sure that Africa comes alive. A small girl reduces chess to this: “a small one can become a big one.” Chess is still fairly boring to watch, on film and in person I’m sure, but when you give it such a strong parallel to their lives – where the small can become big, where the Queen is most powerful, it starts to strike a chord. Is it unabashedly feel-good? Yes, it is. But isn’t it nice to have such a positive story out of Africa for once?

Golden Globes – Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama

The Nominees are:

Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Steve Carrell, Foxcatcher

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game

David Oyelowo, Selma

Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler

What a year! So many strong performances. Nightcrawler is the best performance of Gyllenhaal’s career so far, but he’s not going to get an award for it. Neither is Carrell likely to, although I think he really pushed himself and we saw him at a whole new level. Sorry Steve, it’s not your year.

The next 3 are super, super tough to call and I wish we could just shake everyone’s hands, call a 3-way-tie, maybe watch Eddie Redmayne blush through his freckles and call it a day. But awards hardly ever work like that (although we did see a tie at the Oscars two years ago). There isn’t always going to be a clear winner, because there aren’t clear qualifications. Art is subjective. These 3 are all portraying real men (and so was Steve Carrell) so maybe in this case we do have a bit of a yardstick against which to measure. But other than that, all you can do is follow your gut reaction, and vote for what spoke to you the most.

For that reason, I’m eliminating Benedict Cumberbatch. I know he’s fairly heavily favoured  but  as I said before, I think he’s a really great and nuanced actor who did as good a job as I believe was possible with that role. I also believe that the writer did not provide as fleshed-out a character as possible, and that’s where Cumberbatch loses out to Redmayne. Redmayne became Hawking, and the writers allowed us to see both the good and the bad in the man. The audience got to see him grow and change as a man whereas the Turing character seemed much more static.

Eddie Redmayne was the first of these performances I saw, and I immediately declared it the one to beat. But last night I finally saw Selma and wasn’t prepared for just how much I would enjoy it, and enjoy Oyelowo’s portrayal of Dr. King. He’s able to show us this historical figure so revered, so hallowed that we forget he was a real man, and at the same time show us a flawed man who was barely holding it together. It’s got to be daunting to play Dr. King, especially in this kind of movie, but he never faltered. So I’m giving it Oyelowo.

Do I think the Globes will agree? I think they would if they all had the chance to see it, but this one’s been in very limited release until this weekend and apparently Paramount’s been having a hard time getting out screeners. I’d hate to see such a stupid reason lose Oyelowo the race, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Score two Selma

Selma

Ooof. I confess, I don’t really know how to review this movie. Why does it feel different from any other movie? Because it’s a piece of art? A piece of history? No, it’s because this is a piece of heart, of our collective hearts. This story is an act of remembrance, an act of grace.

Matt, Sean and I attended the screening of this film at Silver City last night and I’ve been sitting with it ever since, wondering how I can add my voice to what’s being said about this movie. This is not just a history lesson. The images of protest, of indignation, of police brutality, of black people being gunned down for no reason, these could just as easily be ripped from today’s headlines as from 50 years ago. That’s the part that will scrape raw at your conscience, as it did mine.

selma-movie-posterAnnie Lee Cooper is an older black woman registering to vote, as is her right as a supposed American citizen living in Selma, Alabama. The registrar is white, and resorts to dirty tricks in order to deny her once again. She leaves, slump-shouldered and dejected. Annie Cooper is played by Oprah Winfrey in the movie. I’m not normally a fan of stunt-casting, but in this case, using America’s sweetheart, a respected, powerful and highly successful personality who is also a black woman, to remind us just how far we’ve come in just 50 years, is pretty much the most perfect casting in the history of the world. Winfrey plays it winningly, with all the dignity the role deserves.

Insert Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr (David Oyelowo). He and his crew arrive in Selma to unite the people, to stir up activism, to attract the attention of the president (LBJ, played ably by Tom Wilkinson) and force him to do something about this supposed right to vote. Of course the president is reluctant, has his own agenda, and so King and company use their non-violent protest to force action in a genius and tragically necessary way.

The cinematography is a subtle tip of the hat toward realism. The costuming, particularly the suits worn by LBJ (those shoulders!), is pitch-perfect. The casting is strong. On paper it seems a bit weird to employ so much British talent to portray American icons, but it works. Oyelowo does a great job of shouldering the man and the spirit, the hero and the human being, without impersonating him.

It is hard to sit and watch this film. Director Ava DuVernay knows this and even uses it, with a stirring montage of Americans of all kinds watching horrified as the events unfold across their evening news, mirroring our own choking dismay.

DuVernay succeeds in stringing together a lot of different plot points in the course of the Selma events – the internal struggles of the organization, King’s problems at home, his grief and self-doubt, and government apathy or outright hostility on all levels. The film works so brilliantly because, while it stays humble in its scope, it becomes a representation for the movement as a whole, and for all the smaller victories along the way that led to real change. This flexibility in her story-telling is skillful and impressive and I can’t wait to hear her name announced as an Oscar nominee  (I won’t even say if), the first black female director ever to make the list.

Please see this movie. I can’t say that enough.