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Ava DuVernay
David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Giovanni Ribisi, Oprah Winfrey, Martin Sheen
Writing Credits:
Paul Webb .

A chronicle of Martin Luther King's campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$11,307,394 on 2,179 Screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Audio Description
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 128 min.
Price: $39.99
Release Date: 5/5/15

• Audio Commentary with Director Ava DuVernay and Actor David Oyelowo
• Audio Commentary with Director Ava DuVernay, Editor Spencer Averick and Director of Photography Bradford Young
• “The Road to Selma” Featurette
• “Recreating Selma” Featurette
• Six Deleted and Extended Scenes
• Music Video
• Historical Elements
• “Selma Student Tickets: Donor Appreciation” Featurette
• “National Voting Rights Museum and Institute” Featurette
• Discussion Guide
• DVD Copy


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Selma (2014)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 26, 2015)

With 2014’s Selma, we get an examination of seminal civil rights events in the United States. The movie opens in 1963, as we see a bombing at an Alabama church that kills four young African-American girls.

This causes outrage, of course, but it’s not the only race-based concern in the area, as restrictive laws make it next to impossible for African-Americans to vote. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) urges President Lyndon Baines Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to fight these rules, but President Johnson demurs, as he wants to pursue other domains first.

Dr. King refuses to accept President Johnson’s preferences, though, and he goes to Alabama to lead protests. These culminate in a planned march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery, and we follow all the problems Dr. King and others encounter as they attempt to ensure the rights of African-Americans.

While Selma earned almost universal praise from critics, it also stirred up some controversy, largely due to its treatment of President Johnson. The film took some liberties with President Johnson’s actions and behavior as those elements related to the film’s events, and some who knew President Johnson raised a stink.

This created a broader discussion of the filmmakers’ responsibility toward history. How accurate do movies need to be? How much wiggle room can their creators enjoy before they do damage?

That’s not a cut and dried subject, and I won’t dig into it too much here other than to say that I’m on the side of those who think Selma paints President Johnson in a poor light. I feel it makes him look like an obstructionist at best and as a patronizing racist at worst.

Some may defend the decision to portray President Johnson as an antagonist because those scenes give the movie dramatic tension. While this becomes true – the sequences add confrontation – I don’t feel the film needs them.

The tale told in Selma comes with no shortage of potential villains. Selma already has a bunch of antagonists - Governor Wallace (Tim Roth), various law enforcement officials, the official who wouldn't let Cooper vote, and so on. The last thing it needs is another "bad guy", as it has more villains than a party at Blofeld's house.

Even if I ignore the historical issues, I think Selma falls short of greatness. I don't think there's a lot of depth to it, as it feels like a mini-series that got severely edited into a two-hour product. It opens threads that it leaves untouched, such as the introduction of Malcolm X. We see him chat briefly with Mrs. King (Carmen Ejogo) and that's it. What's the point?

Selma never seems to decide what it wants its focus to be. Is it about Dr. King? Is it about the civil rights movement in general? Is it about the Selma march? I don't know - it dabbles in all of these but doesn't embrace any to a substantial degree, so it tends to meander without adequate focus, and that leaves it with hanging threads.

We get lots of characters who receive too little exploration because the movie doesn't have time for them. Even Dr. King feels like a guest star much of the time. Selma tries so hard to cover so many topics that it gives the short shrift to all of them.

I already mentioned the Malcolm X scene, a segment that pops out of nowhere and seems to lack purpose beyond "hey, we gotta show Malcolm X at some point", but other loose ends occur. The movie feels so compelled to pack in so many domains that it feels superficial and abbreviated.

I could also live without the stunt casting, as Selma throws in a bunch of familiar faces in small parts. This becomes a particular problem when we see Oprah Winfrey. I know that any big actor in a small role can be a distraction, but with Winfrey, the effect gets magnified because she's not normally viewed as an actor. We don't really expect to see her in movies, so every time she pops on screen, it takes me out of the movie.

On the positive side, much of Selma displays solid acting. In particular, Oyelowo provides a stellar performance as Dr. King. He avoids the pull to make Dr. King nothing more than a noble figurehead. This means he turns Dr. King into a three-dimensional character via a lively, compassionate turn. When the film succeeds, it almost always does so due to Oyelowo’s excellent work.

Of course, I embrace the story told in Selma. At its core, it delivers an important narrative, one that remains depressingly timely given events of recent years. Whatever growth the US has made in civil rights/racial areas since the mid-1960s, Selma reminds us of the not-too-distant past - and how far we still need to go.

Unfortunately, Selma doesn’t become a good investigation of the tale, as the movie just seems safe and bland to me. There's little real drama, and even events that should have an emotional impact don't pack a notable punch.

A lot of this comes from director Ava DuVernay’s goopy telling of the story. With calculated images and emotion-tugging music, we find a manipulative take on the tale that embraces the heavy-handed side of filmmaking. The movie needs some grit and tension that it lacks. An approach with a more subdued, documentary-style feel would’ve made the movie more impactful.

I don't want to convey that I think Selma is a bad movie, as it's not. It's professional and entertaining and it gives us some insights into an important subject. Unfortunately, it comes with too many flaws and it lacks the depth it needs to become great.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

Selma appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a solid visual presentation.

Overall, I felt sharpness seemed positive. Occasional instances of softness appeared, especially during shots in the White House. Despite those moments, the movie usually displayed fine delineation. No signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and I witnessed no edge haloes. Print flaws remained absent in this clean presentation.

Like many period films, Selma went with a semi-sepia feel, though it also tended toward teal and orange at times, but not to an enormous degree. Within those choices, the colors seemed fine. Blacks were dark and tight, while shadows looked smooth. I felt mostly pleased with this transfer.

Given the movie’s character focus, I didn’t expect a lot from the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, but it offered occasional zing. Most of the livelier moments revolved around the protest sequences, as they gave us some dynamic moments.

Otherwise, one should anticipate fairly atmospheric material. Music spread across the speakers well, and environmental elements added a good sense of place. There wasn’t a lot here to dazzle, but the mix suited the story.

Audio quality came across as positive. Speech seemed natural and distinctive, without edginess or other problems, while music appeared full and rich. Effects rarely taxed my system, but they were accurate and showed good range. The movie brought us a solid “B” soundtrack.

The Blu-ray comes with an array of extras, including two separate audio commentaries. For the first, we hear from director Ava DuVernay and actor David Oyewolo. Both sit together for a running, screen-specific look at story/character subjects, cast and performances, sets and locations, historical elements, music, editing and cinematography, and related areas.

While the commentary includes occasional insights into the film’s production, those don’t appear with much frequency. Instead, the track tends toward a lot of praise for the film and all involved. DuVernay and Oyelowo still muster some decent notes, but the lovefest makes this a less than useful piece.

In the second commentary, we find director Ava DuVernay, editor Spencer Averick and director of photography Bradford Young. During this running, screen-specific discussion, we hear about the same subject as the first chat. However, this track follows a logical emphasis on technical areas, especially editing and photography.

Despite the inclusion of two new participants, this commentary feels an awful lot like the first one. That means a lot more happy talk, as we often hear excited pleasantries connected to the film. Again, we do learn a bit about the movie, but there’s not enough substance to turn this into a consistent and valuable discussion.

Two featurettes follow. The Road to Selma run 13 minutes, 16 seconds and offers info from Oyewolo, DuVernay, producers Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner, producer/actor Oprah Winfrey, screenwriter Paul Webb, and actor Carmen Ojogo. We learn about the project’s development, DuVernay’s approach to the material, and story/character/performance areas. “Road” lacks a lot of substance but it gives us a few decent notes.

Next comes the 26-minute, 29-second Recreating Selma. It provides notes from DuVernay, Oyelowo, Webb, Ejogo, Winfrey, Gardner, Kleiner, Congressman John Lewis, former Congressman/ambassador Andrew Young, production designer Mark Friedberg, costume designer Ruth E. Carter, and actors Wendell Pierce, Colman Domingo, Omar Dorsey, Common, Stephan Lewis, Andre Holland, Tessa Thompson, Lorraine Toussaint, Giovanni Ribisi, Tom Wilkinson, and Tim Roth.

This one looks at history and characters, locations, production design and costumes, and period details. I like the fact we learn a little more about the movie’s supporting characters, and it’s great to hear from the real Young and Lewis. “Recreating” can be a little scattershot but it comes with a reasonable array of good information.

Six Deleted and Extended Scenes occupy a total of 29 minutes, 43 seconds. Much of that running time shows improvisation in a courtroom scene, as we see supporting characters testify; that collection fills more than half of this compilation’s length. The others scenes tend to expand existing material and also add to our understanding of those secondary roles. Most of these are good but I’m not sure any would’ve worked in the final film.

Next we find a Music Video for “Glory” by John Legend featuring Common. I like the Oscar-winning song itself, but the video lacks inspiration, as it just mixes simple lip-synch shots with clips from the movie.

Under Historical Elements, we split into two areas. “Newsreels” (5:16) shows two clips connected to the Selma march, while “Images” presents 10 photos from that same area. Both are good but they seem insubstantial; surely the disc’s producers could find a lot more material in this vein.

A few more short pieces ensue. Selma Student Tickets: Donor Appreciation goes for two minutes, 57 seconds and thanks those who donated tickets for students to see Selma. This feels like a self-congratulatory piece.

With the seven-minute, 50-second National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, we hear from historian Sam Walker. He talks about the museum and lets us know about its displays. This could’ve been nothing more than an ad, but the combination of Walker’s comments and images of the exhibits makes it informative.

Finally, we get a Discussion Guide. This offers teachers ways to use the film to educate students. Like “Donor”, it comes across as a bit self-serving; good teachers shouldn’t need a Blu-ray to tell them how to instruct kids.

A second disc provides a DVD copy of Selma. It includes “Donor Appreciation”, “National Voting Rights” and previews but lacks all the other extras.

Despite a compelling story and some strong acting, Selma falls short of its goals. The movie feels too loose and scattershot to investigate its subject in more than a superficial manner, and it feels more manipulative than it needs to be. The Blu-ray offers mostly good picture and audio along with a moderately informative set of supplements. Selma brings us an often entertaining but ultimately disappoints.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6666 Stars Number of Votes: 12
3 3:
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