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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

01/07/2015

Selma
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Arriving on screens almost precisely 50 years after the events it portrays unfolded, director Ava DuVernay fact-based drama Selma (Paramount) compellingly recreates a crucial battle in the long struggle for African-American equality.

Adult subject matter, potentially disturbing images and intermittent lapses into vulgar language would normally suggest endorsement of DuVernay’s film for grownups only. Yet, when assessed in a holistic way, the movie’s historical value may nonetheless make it acceptable for mature adolescents.

The summer of 1964 saw one of the signal achievements of President Lyndon Johnson’s (Tom Wilkinson) tenure in office: the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Still, as the following year opened, the president was — at least as depicted here — anxious to concentrate on other matters, particularly the economic measures of his Great Society program.

For Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo), on the other hand, nothing was more urgent than the drafting of federal legislation that would finally secure access to the ballot box for minority voters in the South.

As a scene featuring activist Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) illustrates, although black citizens had the theoretical right to vote, local authorities had long used absurdly burdensome registration requirements to block them from exercising their suffrage. Nowhere were such underhanded stratagems more effective than in Cooper’s hometown of Selma, Alabama.

With that state’s implacably segregationist governor, George Wallace (Tim Roth), committed to resisting all reform, King agreed to lead a long protest march from Selma to Alabama’s capital city, Montgomery. It would prove to be a portentous decision.

Screenwriter Paul Webb effectively showcases the inspiring rhetoric of the time. But he also provides behind-the-scenes insights into the heated debates over tactics among King and his associates, the toll taken on them by the constant threat of violence under which they were forced to live as well as the emotional burden placed on King’s wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) by her spouse’s numerous infidelities.

Despite its apparently narrow focus, the picture presents a richly packed tableau of the era’s characters, organizations and conflicting ideologies. Thus, for younger viewers especially, it can serve as a vibrant and informative look at an epochal period whose effects are still being felt — and assessed — half a century later.

The film contains some harsh violence, an adultery theme, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, a couple of rough terms and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Though far friendlier than the 2012 movie to which it serves as a sequel, The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (Relativity) makes for a dull horror outing.

Director Tom Harper tones down the original’s troubling theme of children lured to suicide, and Jon Croker’s screenplay excludes all objectionable language. Yet, while their mostly decorous followup provides the occasional start, it fails to excite much interest.

Roughly four decades forward in time from the Edwardian-era disturbances of the last go-round, the Nazi Blitz is forcing the evacuation of London’s children into the countryside. One group of youthful refugees is shepherded — in tense tandem — by easygoing Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox) and her starchy colleague Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory).

Unfortunately for this ill-matched duo and their charges, the temporary dwelling to which they’ve all been assigned is a lonely, decrepit mansion known as Eel Marsh House. On the upside, though, their journey to this unpleasant abode — the primary setting of this film’s predecessor and of the best-selling 1983 novel by Susan Hill on which it was based — finds Eve crossing paths with dashing RAF pilot Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine) whose base is located nearby.

No sooner have the displaced kids and their guardians settled in than strange events begin to unfold. A barely glimpsed supernatural presence seems to be focusing its attention on orphaned tot Edward (Oaklee Pendergast) whose trauma in witnessing the death of his parents in an air raid has left him mute.

With Harry’s help, Eve researches the estate’s past for clues about the otherworldly persona currently haunting it. The results of their investigation, however, are not especially clear or coherent for viewers who may have missed the franchise’s kickoff.

This murky backstory involves mothers bearing children in trying circumstances. Together with a few images unsuitable for small fry, this aspect of the plot bars recommendation for all. Moviegoers of most ages, however, will probably find their visit — or return — to Eel Marsh House more doze-inducing than disagreeable.

The film contains fleeting gore, imperiled children, some potentially disturbing images and references to out-of-wedlock pregnancy. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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