The Morning After: Feb. 2, 2015

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Selma


Ava DuVernay’s glimpse at a brief period in the life and Civil Rights activity of Martin Luther King, Jr. is a potent history lesson exploring the deplorable conditions in which blacks in the South found themselves long after being granted the right to vote. Selma takes the audience to the small Alabama town from where King would lead a group of protestors on a cross-state march to protest the lack of voting liberties.

While the film paints a dark and controversial portrait of Lyndon Johnson, a champion of Civil Rights at the time of his presidency, artistic license turns him into a conflicted politician trying to remain realistic about the expectations he has of ramming through voting rights changes in congress. Apart from these historical inaccuracies, the film is a chilling portrait of hate, faith and perseverance.


David Oyelowo is enthralling as the legendary King. His impassioned speeches are electrifying, commanding a surprising amount of screen time, but never feeling unwelcome. The supporting cast is superb from Carmen Ejogo as King’s beleaguered wife Coretta to Tim Roth as the politically expedient governor of Alabama George Wallace to Lorraine Touissant as the undeterred Selma civil rights leader Amelia Boynton Robinson and to many others.

DuVernay showcases a level of directing fluidity that was only hinted at in her debut feature Middle of Nowhere, though it was clear then with her brilliant direction of Emayatzy Corinealdi in the lead role that she could easily handle actors and pull great performances from them. After Corinealdi and Oyelowo, I cannot wait to see who she emboldens next.

Boyhood


Richard Linklater is a fan of philosophical discussions. Boyhood is no different, exploiting an unexpected gimmick of filming the same actors over a span of 12 years, creating a compelling coming of age story about a young boy whose childhood is little different from those many of us experienced growing up.

Ellar Coltrane stars as the title boy, Mason. He’s the son of divorced parents played by Patricia Arquette, with whom he lives, and Ethan Hawke, who visits on occasion. His older sister is played by Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei. As Mason ages, his divorced mother marries again, he discovers the hazards of seemingly wonderful men who take to booze and become horrible people. The one constant male figure in his life is his father who spends less time with him than necessary, but whose mother does everything she can to provide for him.

The complexities of this two-hour forty-five-minute movie are varied and giving away too many of the beats would ruin the experience. As expected, young actors aren’t as good at the craft as their adult counterparts, but both Coltrane and Linklater grow into their teenage roles and become good actors in the process. Hawke’s role is underwritten, but he does well enough as an absent father who wants desperately to be accepted by his son. Arquette is terrific in most of her scenes, but several times I wondered to myself whether she could be better at faking anguish or sorrow. Overall, it’s a compelling performance, but one that perhaps needed a few more weeks of prep work here or there to become perfect.

The Tower


South Korean’s robust film community has recently generated some of cinema’s most invigorating films. The Tower may not be as refreshing as a film like Snowpiercer, but for fans of 1970’s American disaster cinema, it’s a thrilling treat.

The story surrounds a fictional pair of towers in downtown Seoul. Tower Sky seeks only the wealthiest of clientele and caters to their utter whims. However, shortcuts and design flaws have created a structure that, under the right impetus, could become a giant death trap. A sprinkler system that doesn’t work the entire length of the tower, powerful updrafts between the two towers and weakened concrete support structures combine to form the basis of destruction, mayhem and plenty of threats to human life.

Inspired by Irwin Allen’s disaster classic The Towering Inferno, director Kim Ji-hoon has tweaked the concept just enough to create a number of thrilling new adventures while adhering to the formula that made Allen’s films so darned exciting.

Mad Max


George Miller’s debut feature puts the audience in the near-future in a society where dangerous street gang roam the Australian outback and threaten the lives of quiet, unassuming citizens. When one particular gang seeks revenge for the death of one of their own in a high speed chase that opens the film, a number of incidents lead a young police officer to seek out the gang and stop them the only way they can be.

An incredibly young Mel Gibson stars as Max Rockatansky, the Main Force Patrol’s top pursuit officer whose wife and young son are in the cross-hairs of the motorcycle gang at the center of the story, The Acolytes, led by the morally reprehensible Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Gibson doesn’t have a lot of acting to do here since the film consists primarily of car chases and exceptionally brutal violence, but what he’s given fits perfectly with the persona he’s putting forward.

The film has a lot of stylistic similarities to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, though the cheap production values make the setting feel like late 1970’s Australia with a patina of quasi-futuristic outfits, slang and eye makeup. While there are certainly better dystopian dramas out there, this one sets itself apart in ways that aren’t always original, but are certainly engaging.

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