On DVD & Blu-Ray: May 5, 2015

First things first: if you get your history from movies you get the history you deserve. Amid the controversy of historical inaccuracies that feel more like a play to dismantle Selma's legacy it must be remembered that director Ava DuVernay's is an interpretation of many historical narratives boiled down into a comprehensive two hours. Things must be compacted and slightly compromised, but never does it feel like any one character is given the shaft more than the others. The flurry of controversy here is dealing with the portrayal of the thirty-sixth President, Lyndon B. Johnson, who is historically regarded as completely behind not only Dr. King, but the civil rights movement in general and the passing of the voting-rights act in 1965. The movie doesn't portray a President resistant to the passing of this legislation, but more a man who has a set of priorities not in line with our protagonists. The extent to which this is true or not certainly matters, but more to the point of the films major goals is that this is not a movie about the relationship between Johnson and King, but rather larger issues at hand to the point I'd say Selma isn't about Dr. King either. More, it is about a movement, a moment in time that is compelling and inspiring enough to make for a good story and serve as a nice reminder and a bit of perspective especially considering the relevancy of the message it's preaching. Despite all of this controversy swirling around it, the actual content of the film is what matters and that is where the dispute between telling history as accurately as possible and telling a good story comes into play. There is no one clearly defined version of history despite what we are taught to believe in grade school and so it's completely open and fair for DuVernay (working from a script by first-time screenwriter Paul Webb) to tell this story from her own perspective, influenced by her own ideologies. It may be slightly unfortunate that her interpretation isn't completely fair to Johnson, but I doubt this will tarnish his legacy in the grand scheme of things. The film itself and what is actually the subject of this review is a rousing, expertly paced film that truly has the ability to inspire despite its structural conventions. The film itself is a solid four-star historical drama that is elevated to perfection by David Oyelowo's exceptional performance. Full review here. A

Based on the stage musical written by Jason Robert Brown and adapted for the screen by Richard LaGravenese (PS, I Love You) The Last Five Years is a story of love and falling in and out of it. It is a simple premise with intricate emotions and lyrics to describe them as such. It's quite an achievement Brown has accomplished by so seamlessly weaving together interesting and compelling words that often rhyme to create these two distinct personalities taking part in the documented relationship. I'd never heard of the off-Broadway production until recently when the trailer for this film premiered. In that it is simply "about" a relationship between a hip New York couple told through musical stylings we automatically assume that all is not as clear as it appears and that the film and the story itself is more a deconstruction of this relationship at the heart of things and how the two sexes, these two competing personalities come to contribute to something that we know from the beginning ultimately doesn't work out. Like any film with a standard premise that might fall into at least one tired genre it is up to the creators to innovate and execute their story to a different, fresh level in a fashion that still conveys the small emotions and moments they wish to describe in a way that will not feel as clich├ęd and banal as every other piece of art that wants to say the same thing. The biggest obstacle with going after a goal such as this is the risk of your final product coming off boring and worst of all, obvious. The good news is that, despite not reading any reviews of the stage play, I doubt The Last Five Years has ever been criticized with either as it is clear from the beginning the skill and precision that has been labored over to correctly elicit the feelings and moments that come to light in the relationship of our leads, Jamie and Cathy, as most in attendance will have experienced their own versions of what they're seeing. Brown's hook, his innovative push that LaGravenese projects with seemingly little effort though is the structure and inner-dialogue the songs bring to life in a way that rings truer to the emotions we're feeling in such moments than our talking voice could ever relay. Full review here. B

I don't think anyone would be surprised to find I had little to no knowledge of British painter J.M.W. Turner's life before seeing this film. I approached the latest from director Mike Leigh with something of a curiosity given both Leigh's ability to craft a gorgeous film and more importantly an involving one through his characters personalities. I wondered what might have drawn the director as well as character actor Timothy Spall to the life of this painter more than their frequent collaborations and the opportunity to give Spall a leading role. It seems both the director and his star had little interest or motivation for making the film outside of the fact they simply found the man fascinating and his story worth telling. That said, the fascination doesn't always translate so well to the screen despite the fact it is easy to see why they thought this way. Leigh's film decidedly covers the last quarter century of the great painters life and is more an exploration of the character than anything resembling a plot-driven narrative. For not knowing the man or what to expect from him it was something of a surprise to find the titular character a bit of an asshole. What has earned Turner a place in the history books speak for themselves and are in no need of a feature film so why bother documenting an unpleasant man? Admittedly, the mad artist is endlessly interesting and so, again, it is easy to see why this was seemingly worth exploring. At nearly two and a half hours, Mr. Turner can be indulgent to the point it somewhat takes on the characteristics of its subject yet it consistently feels as if it's trying to prove why the man and his stories are truly worth your time. This understanding didn't come until after finishing the film because while you're in it you have to believe there is a bigger goal to what you're seeing. As the credits began to roll though it became clear Leigh had no interest in keeping his audience strictly entertained, but moreso offering them an insight they may not otherwise receive and thus the subversive sense a case is being made for Turner's relevance. Maybe this is just my singular view given I had no frame of reference going in, but I can't help but feel in making this case for Turner I took away less than I might have had the film narrowed in and given me a specific story from the subjects life that could make a greater impression for who the overall man actually was. Full review here. C+

In his feature directorial debut Ryan Gosling shows us first and foremost just how stylish he can be. Very much concerned with the framing and cinematography of his piece, Lost River relies on both of these camera elements accompanied by the Johnny Jewel soundtrack to set the very specific tone that Gosling wants to elicit. Specific is the key word here because without this preference to create a distinct style that evokes a certain time period (or more specifically the photography of that time period) then Gosling's directorial debut would be almost void of anything else. And yet, the way in which everything has been composed and the way the subtle and sly story is brought to the surface is strangely fascinating. Not necessarily good, but certainly fascinating. We never really feel (or at least I didn't) that there is a solid grasp on anything that is happening. It is understood that there seems to be a super natural element to all that is going on, but compared to something like American Horror Story which tends to finely balance its style with its content while fully embracing its genre, Lost River is unable to give us a compelling story while delivering some rather interesting visual choices. Even in the climax of the film where our assumed protagonist fights to end a curse that has been put on his town and Ben Mendelsohn dances his little heart out the cinematography delves into dark shades so that we can hardly tell what is going on. It's as if Gosling has something very specific (there's that word again) that he wants to say, but is afraid to state it too explicitly. What is it exactly that Gosling's film is trying to accomplish? I don't know that I could tell you. It's too easy to say that it's all style and no substance because while the style of the piece is front and center there is clearly something attempting to be said here; a statement trying to be made-I'm just not completely clear on what that is. Full review here. C-

I didn't have the opportunity to catch Mike Bender's (Reign Over Me) latest, Black or White, starring Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer when it was released in theaters this past January, but I look forward to being able to see it soon. I really enjoyed Costner's February release in McFarland, USA and this film where he plays a grieving widower drawn into a custody battle over his granddaughter, whom he helped raise her entire life looks equally heartfelt and received solid to mixed reviews to the point I hope it's worth my time.

I was rather disappointed when Black Sea failed to open in my neck of the woods earlier this year. It looked to be a fun enough action/drama led by Jude Law and taking place wholly in a claustrophobic submarine. While I won't get the chance to see it on the big screen, it is one I definitely want to give a look at some point soon. I may even rent it tonight and see if it's all my expectations hoped it might be.

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