Posts Tagged ‘David Oyelowo’

A Nigerian in Mexico

Gringo

Director: Nash Edgerton

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron, David Oyelowo, Thandie Newton, Amanda Seyfried, Harry Treadaway, Sharlto Copley, Alan Ruck

Joel Edgerton’s brother Nash Edgerton directs this colourful and crazy action comedy Gringo about drug running, kidnapping and evil American corporates. Set in Chicago and Mexico, Gringo plays on all the usual preconceptions about America versus Mexico.

Edgerton plays the obnoxious and self-obsessed American boss Richard Rusk who along with the fiesty blonde man eater Elaine Markinson played by South African Oscar winner Charlize Theron (Monster) who together with fellow employee and fall guy Harold Soyinka, an American Nigerian wonderfully played by David Oyelowo (A United Kingdom, The Paperboy) travel to Mexico to conclude a rather shady drug deal only for Soyinka to be left across the border.

Harold Soyinka ingenuously fakes his own kidnapping only to be really kidnapped not once but twice by a nefarious Mexican drug cartel and Rusk’s brother Mitch, a gung ho mercenary played by another South African star Sharlto Copley (Maleficent, District Nine).

What follows is a dangerous action adventure with enough plot twists to entertain audiences punctuated by some truly witty dialogue, all held together by an hilarious performance by David Oyelowo.

His character Harold Soyinka also crosses paths with a naïve Californian couple Miles and Sunny played by Harry Treadaway and Amanda Seyfried. The best scenes in Gringo are between Seyfried and Oyelowo as they both try and figure out what mess they have got themselves into.

Westworld star Thandie Newton (Jefferson in Paris) has a brief part as Bonnie Soyinka who is not only cheating on her husband but ruining him financially.

Gringo is by no means an excellent film but if audiences don’t take the story too seriously then they should enjoy it. Director Nash Edgerton blends equal part action with comedy creating a serious crime caper with a unique twist. Although he doesn’t necessarily paint Mexico in a flattering light. Think kidnapping, tequila and drug running.

For all its faults, Gringo is a fun film to watch and gets a rating of 7 out 10. The plot is convoluted and at times confusing but the action is sudden and unexpected.

 

 

 

The First Lady of Botswana

A United Kingdom

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Director: Amma Asante

Cast: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Laura Carmichael, Terry Pheto, Vusi Kunene, Theo Landey, Jack Lowden

Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) reunites with Jack Reacher co-star David Oyelowo (The Paperboy, Queen of Katwe) in the Amma Asante directed biographical drama A United Kingdom focusing on the interracial love story between a working class British girl Ruth Williams and Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana. The year was 1947.

Whilst Belle director Amma Asante does not possess a gift for providing a truly compelling biographical story, A United Kingdom is saved by solid performances by Pike and Oyelowo along with a host of supporting actors including Jack Davenport (The Talented Mr Ripley) as a stuffy British High Commissioner Alistair Canning and a nasty cameo by Tom Felton (Belle, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) as a colonial upstart Rufus Lancaster.

A United Kingdom begins just after World War II in the fog ridden streets of London, as Britain is recovering from one of the worst wars in human history while battling to maintain its grip on its colonial territories. Furthermore, geographically significant South Africa is about to be plunged into one of the darkest periods of its history, as the segregationist policies of Apartheid would be put into law in 1948.

Against this historical backdrop, Ruth Williams accompanies her sister Muriel played by Downton Abbey’s Laura Carmichael (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) to a dance organised by the London missionary society. There she meets the intelligent and charismatic law student Seretse Khama wonderfully played by the highly underrated British actor David Oyelowo.

After a brief romance Khama and Williams decide to marry causing a diplomatic row both in London and in Khama’s homeland of Bechuanaland which at the time was a British protectorate. The British authorities not wishing to upset their most powerful former colony on the tip of Africa, the mineral rich yet increasingly segregated South Africa, instruct Seretse Khama to go into exile.

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Khama on the other hand also has to face the suspicion of his own people, the Bamangwato People of Bechuanaland of which his uncle Tshekedi was regent, played by South African actor Vusi Kunene. Even as Seretse brings an English woman back to the hot and dry plains of Botswana, Williams is initially greeted with contempt by his own sister Naledi, wonderfully played by Terry Pheto (Tsotsi, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom).

As the narrative progresses, director Asante chooses to focus on the passionate love story between Khama and Williams instead of all the diplomatic intrigue so A United Kingdom is strong on images of reconciliation and fortitude but weak on a clear historic timeline. What saves A United Kingdom are brilliant performances by Oyelowo and Pike although the romance will not have a broader appeal beyond those that have a historical knowledge of Britain’s relationship with the former protectorate of Bechuanaland now known as Botswana.

Incidentally, Botswana due to the discovery of diamonds, is now one of the wealthiest and peaceful democracies in Africa despite its sparse population. Ruth Williams also eventually become the first Lady of Botswana when her husband Seretse whose political party the Bechuanaland Democratic Party won the 1965 Democratic elections as Botswana gained their independence from Britain on the 30th September 1966.

A United Kingdom is a fascinating and cleverly titled film. A well-acted and beautifully portrayed love story historically tying Britain with one of the lesser known regions of Southern Africa.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Williams_Khama

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seretse_Khama

 

The Pioneers of Uganda

Queen of Katwe

queen_of_katwe

Director: Mira Nair

Cast: David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, Madina Nalwanga, Martin Kabanza

Indian director Mira Nair has produced a sterling body of diverse films from the critically acclaimed Monsoon Wedding to The Reluctant Fundamentalist to the gorgeous period drama Vanity Fair featuring Reese Witherspoon as the social climbing Becky Sharp.

Now Nair teams up with the beautiful Mexican-Kenyan Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Non-Stop) and British actor David Oyelowo in the Ugandan chess drama, Queen of Katwe. With a distribution deal by Disney, Nair has secured the way for Queen of Katwe to get a prolific cinematic release and a much wider audience appeal.

Queen of Katwe is a vibrant story of a young poverty-stricken girl Phiona Mutesi who is desperate to escape the dire circumstances of her neighbourhood and soon with the assistance of Robert Katende wonderfully played by Oyelowo, discovers an aptitude for chess, a strategic game traditionally played by young boys and men. Phiona, superbly played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga, has to battle teasing from the boys as well as her domineering mother Harriet Nakku wonderfully played by Nyong’o who is desperate to try and lift her family out of poverty.

What Mira Nair does do is so perceptively is not dwell on the circumstances of poverty but on the hope that anyone can lift themselves out of a poverty stricken situation by applying their mind to their own talents and not let poverty trap them in a continuous cycle. This is exactly what the young and vivacious heroine Phiona does as she soon gains considerable recognition in the Ugandan and African chess world as she soon masters the strategic game and becomes a Ugandan chess champion, despite the odds.

As the narrative moves from the smart private schools of Kampala to the icy streets of a Russian city and back to the shores of Lake Victoria, Queen of Katwe is a heart-warming African story about what can be accomplished when one realizes ones talent and practices religiously to succeed.

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What makes Queen of Katwe so refreshing is that it’s a vibrant 21st century story of an African girl who becomes a champion in contemporary Uganda without any references to violence, dictatorial history or colonial repression, so different from such films as The Last King of Scotland. Mira Nair paints contemporary East Africa as a vibrant entrepreneurial area where the possibilities are endless.

British star David Oyelowo (Jack Reacher, The Paperboy) should get an Oscar nomination for his superb performance as Robert Katende who gives up a stable job in the Ugandan government to ensure that the pioneers succeed. The pioneers are his chess club which aims to alleviate poverty through social upliftment and sport, which is exactly what happens to the courageous and intelligent Phiona.

Queen of Katwe is based on an ESPN article by Tim Crothers and is highly recommended viewing. Intelligently acted by the three main leads and wonderfully directed by Mira Nair, this is an uplifting tale of human achievement.

An Honourable Man

A Most Violent Year

a most_violent_year

Director: J. C. Chandor

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks, Alessandro Nivola, Elizabeth Marvel, David Oyelowo, Christopher Abbott, Ben Rosenfeld, Elyes Gabel

Margin Call director J. C. Chandor directs Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) and Golden Globe nominee Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) in the atmospheric thriller A Most Violent Year about the corruption and double dealings in the trucking industry circa New York City 1981.

Chastain and Isaac play a hard core 80’s couple, Abel and Anna Morales who have mysteriously made a substantial sum of money through their transport business Standard Oil which Anna’s father helped set up. Abel is trying desperately to remain an honourable man in his business dealings despite the fact that his trucks seem to be constantly being hijacked on the New York freeways. At first Abel suspects a rival trucking billionaire who has links to the Mafia, Peter Forente beautifully played with a lithe sinister style by Alessandro Nivola (Coco Avant Chanel).

The title of the film refers to the statistics that 1981 was New York’s most violent year in the city’s history, with crime, corruption, hijacking as well as shootings and murders. Despite this, the film itself is not as violent as one would assume, but director J. C. Chandor maintains the pace and at times even leaves visual signifier that the film alludes to violence as opposed to showing actual violence.

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This is especially evident in the scene when the Morales, driving on the way back from a late night dinner hit a deer and Anna, wonderfully played with a hardness by Chastain promptly gets out the car and shoots the animal dead, when her husband hesitates.

Oscar Isaac also reunites with Drive co-star Albert Brooks who plays the couples shady attorney Andrew Walsh. With a running time of 125 minutes, the second half of A Most Violent Year could have picked up the pace, the 1980’s crime thriller is held together tightly by the performances of Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, especially the latter who is superb as the hard edged wife who continually persuades her husband to fight violence with violence. Naturally this eventually occurs when Julian, an immigrant truck driver, played by Elyes Gabel goes missing and also another truck belonging to Standard Oil is stolen.

Audiences that like a sophisticated thriller with a more contextual character study will enjoy A Most Violent Year, but those expecting an action film should give it a miss.

The cast also includes David Oyelowo (The Paper Boy and Jack Reacher) as assistant DA Lawrence who is constantly threatening the Morales livelihood. A Most Violent Year is a fascinating film, layered with each textured shot  paying homage to film noir aimed at viewers that enjoy a more intricate narrative despite its nefarious title.

The Lazarus Missions

Interstellar

interstellar_ver3

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Wes Bentley, Ellen Burstyn, David Oyelowo, Topher Grace, Timothee Chalamet

Memento meets Gravity in director Christopher Nolan’s epic space opera, Interstellar, a convoluted time travel astrophysical fantasy about a NASA astronaut who gets caught up in a mission to travel to an alternative Galaxy in a bid to save the remaining humanity on earth from a dwindling supply of oxygen.

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Assembling an all star cast is what director Nolan does best at insuring that his films have credibility as a blockbuster and with a range of stars, yet unlike Inception or The Prestige, his earlier films which dealt with dreams and magic, Interstellar tends to emulate the great director Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece: 2001: A Space Odyssey, yet falls short of its celestial aspirations, by not being a touch more sinister.

In parts, Interstellar is brilliant and ambitious, wonderfully scored with atmospheric music by Hans Zimmer and incredibly shot with those signature spiralling shots that Nolan is so fond of. However, Interstellar suffers from two shortcomings, taking the films weighty significance too seriously and secondly a serious lack of editing. The first and last sections of Interstellar weighs down the brilliance and absolute clarity of the middle section.

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With McConaughey fresh from his Oscar win on Dallas Buyers Club coupled with Hathaway fresh from her win in Les Miserables it seems like a perfect casting choice, but it’s flawed by its very contrivance. The part which does stand out so brilliantly is that of Murphy superbly played by the underrated Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain as Cooper’s grownup and embittered daughter who is hell bent in following in her father’s footsteps and traveling beyond the black hole to discover the reason for the earth’s imminent demise. Watch out for cameo appearances by Ellen Burstyn, Wes Bentley and David Oyelowo.

Fellow Oscar nominee Casey Affleck is also good as the stubborn yet stoical brother of Murphy in a part which is severely underwritten along with that of Oscar winner Michael Caine as Professor Brand who plays Hathaway’s enigmatic father, a scientist who masterminds the space exploration from the outset knowing that the intended consequences of such a doomed mission are dire and certainly revelatory at best.

Interstellar ‘s post-structural narrative gets more blurred, the further the astronauts travel through a celestial wormhole, around a vast system known as Gargantuan, soon realizing that their mission much like their own destiny is doomed to fail, resulting in a multitude of Lazarus missions.

The only subversive element is a rescued astronaut Mann, wonderfully played by Matt Damon, found on a frozen wasteland of a planet which seems to be the only alternative to the dust clad environment of a doomed earth, who is wily in his attempts to escape his icy predicament.

With a script by Jonathan Nolan, Interstellar suffers from too little said and not enough explained, while most of the narrative rests on some remarkably clever visual clues which only make sense in the last section of the film, which resembles a pastiche of Inception mixed with an unquantifiable mystical factor.

The cast with a threadbare script had little else to work on besides their own doomed destinies and the terrors of space. Thus there is loads of human anguish thrown in along with some stunning visuals, but at nearly three hours long Interstellar could have been expertly edited to make a more concise tale of 21st century doomed space exploration. Besides Anne Hathaway just doesn’t cut it as an astronaut and should stick to period dramas, where at least the claustrophobia is explained by historical context and not subliminal infinity.

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As an avid fan of Christopher Nolan films and trust me I loved The Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception, I personally found Interstellar fascinating yet an ultimately flawed and slightly contrived piece of cinema crippled by its unendurable length, without enough plot twists to generate sufficient audience excitement. Like Inception, Interstellar will certainly be open to discussion.

 

The Grand Floridian Tale

The Paperboy

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Director: Lee Daniels

Starring: Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, David Oyelowo, Matthew McConaughey, Macy Gray, John Cusack, Scott Glenn, Ned Beatty

Before controversial director Lee Daniels become famous for his film about the American civil rights movement in The Butler, he tackled the big screen adaptation of American writer Pete Dexter’s 1995 novel The Paperboy about journalism, ethics and sultry desire in the humidity soaked state of Florida in the mid-sixties.

Matthew McConaughey’s conscious decision as an actor to shed his Rom-Com image and star in more controversial films is evident in this edgy thriller as he bravely  takes on the part of Ward Jansen, a hard-drinking Miami reporter who returns home to Moat County, Florida to investigate the gruesome death of the town Sheriff and the consequent arrest and incarceration of the chief suspect Hillary van Wetter, a rural swamp dwelling redneck, dangerously played by John Cusack.

Add to the explosive story of murder, lust and betrayal is Ward’s younger brother Jack Jansen the scantily clad swimmer played by Zac Efron and van Wetter’s supposed prison fiancé the trashy yet resourceful Charlotte Bless, in a surprisingly different turn by Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours) making The Paperboy an intoxicating mix of pulpy journalism, sacrifice, mystery and tragedy, all atmospherically played out in the sweltering summer of 1965 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Paperboy is not for sensitive viewers and contains some controversial scenes in this unusual yet absorbing thriller including a scene where Kidman’s character Bliss urinates on the writhing jellyfish stung torso of Jack on a Florida beach, in a sequence which even shocked hardened Cannes Film Festival audiences at its 2012 premiere.

There are other equally gruesome and lurid scenes in The Paperboy, but the acting is topnotch especially from Kidman and McConaughey, the latter was clearly preparing for his groundbreaking Oscar winning performance in the recent Dallas Buyers Club. Whilst the narrative of The Paperboy is crude, shocking and ultimately tragic, what would audiences expect from the controversial director of Precious?

Unlike the superbly written and hugely stylish novel by Pete Dexter, the only criticism of Lee Daniels film version is that the ending is slightly altered. For those audiences that thought McConnaughey did a sudden transformation for Dallas Buyers Club, then its best to watch his more shocking performance in The Paperboy to see his ongoing evolution as an actor.

With a groovy retro soundtrack and a fabulous sixties, almost sultry Southern ambiance inspired by the more violent films like Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning set in the same period, The Paperboy is a gritty and brilliant thriller of one man’s desperate attempt to uncover the truth at all costs despite the damage it causes to himself and those around him for the sake of journalistic integrity. For in The Paperboy the Story becomes paramount despite the terrible cost of human sacrifice.

Pop star Macy Gray and David Oyelowo (also seen in The Butler) as the smooth talking Yardley Acheson round off the cast of The Paperboy which shows that teen heartthrob Zac Efron (Charlie St Cloud, Hairspray) can really hold his own onscreen against Oscar winners Kidman and McConnaughey. This Grand Floridian tale is recommended viewing but not for those easily offended.

Taking off the White Gloves

The Butler

The butler

 

Director: Lee Daniels

Starring: Forest Whitaker, David Oyelowo, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Robin Williams, Liev Schreiber, Alan Rickman, John Cusack, Alex Pettyfer, James Marsden, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr, Lenny Kravitz, Minka Kelly, Mariah Carey.

The Oscar nominated director of Precious, Lee Daniels assembles an all star cast in the elegant and brutal chronicle of the American Civil Rights Movement from the Georgia cotton picking days of 1926 to the historic election of Barack Obama as the first African American president of the United States in 2008.

With a screenplay by Danny Strong based on Wil Haygood’s article “A Butler Well Served by this ElectionThe Butler follows the life of Cecil Gaines, a loyal and trusted African American butler to seven American presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower (played by Robin Williams) in 1957 to Ronald Reagan (played by Alan Rickman) in 1986 at the White House and features a staggeringly Oscar worthy performance by Forest Whitaker, Oscar winner for the extraordinary film The Last King of Scotland, whose sturdy and nuanced performance makes this historical film a must see. Alongside Whitaker portrayal of Gaines, is another wonderful performance by Talk Show Queen Oprah Winfrey as his hard drinking wife Gloria Gaines who along with her husband has to live through the turbulent sixties and seventies watching helplessly as one son Louis Gaines brilliantly portrayed by David Oyelowo gets involved in the civil rights movement in the Deep South whilst their youngest son Charlie joins up to fight in Vietnam.

During the Butler’s time at the White House he serves a range of American Presidents from JFK (played by James Marsden) to Nixon during the Watergate scandal, from Lyndon B. Johnson (played by Liev Schreiber) during the Vietnam War through to Ronald Reagan and his vetoing of sanctions against Apartheid South Africa in the mid 1980’s.

Whilst Daniels film is a clear tribute to the huge impact made by the American civil rights movement, the viewer at times will feel like they are watching a History Channel documentary. Yet despite the racial politics, at the heart of The Butler is the equally tumultuous yet tender relationship between Cecil Gaines and his family. Gaines employed as a White House Butler cannot jeopardize his job employed in service at the iconic seat of American power where ironically there is no room for politics. He cannot participate himself in the increasingly active American civil rights movement of the sixties, whilst his son Louis gets politically involved as he attends Fisk University in Tennessee.

From Gandhi inspired sits ins at segregated restaurants in Alabama to Freedom Bus rides through Klu Klux Klan riddled Mississippi, Louis finds his own identity as a civil rights activist only stopping short of joining the increasingly militant Black Panther movement which plagued the Nixon Administration in the early 1970’s. Gloria Gaines, wonderfully played by Winfrey has to manage two sons, an absent husband and an increasingly reckless lifestyle whilst adjusting to the ever changing race relations in contemporary American society.

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The Butler takes off the white gloves in examining the contentious issue of America’s history of race relations. Director Daniels expertly splices scenes of a brutal attack by white students on members of the civil rights movement at a Tennessee diner with images of Cecil Gaines and his fellow butlers Carter Wilson played by Cuba Gooding Jr and James Holloway played by Lenny Kravitz laying an immaculate table for White House state dinners, reminiscent of Merchant Ivory’s superb period drama Remains of the Day about the crumbling of the British class system in the late 1930’s prior to the outbreak of World War II.

What really makes The Butler so utterly absorbing is Forest Whitaker’s powerful performance as Cecil Gaines who whilst in service humbly retains only one constant request of equal wages from his White House employers. The rest of the star studded cast including veteran actors Vanessa Redgrave (Howard’s End) and Jane Fonda (On Golden Pond) really only have very brief scenes. John Cusack stands out as a troubled hard drinking Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal in 1972.

For lovers of period dramas with an expansive historical context, The Butler is recommended viewing. Director Lee Daniels expertly manages a huge and contentious time span of American history along with an impressive ensemble cast while extracting superb performances by Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and David Oyelowo, making The Butler like his previously provocative film Precious a firm Oscar favourite.  A highly recommended and masterful piece of cinema.

 

Arsenal of Intrigue

Jack Reacher

Get Jack Reacher!

Get Jack Reacher!

Tom Cruise returns to the big screen as Jack Reacher in the title role, a less glamorous version of  Ethan Hunt in the Mission Impossible Franchise a untraceable drifter who gets called to Pittsburgh following a multiple sniper shooting incident leaving four people dead. Jack Reacher is directed by the screenwriter of Valkyrie Christopher McQuarrie and based upon the book by Lee Child who turns out an evenly paced suspense thriller with Reacher teaming up with the District Attorney’s daughter Helen Rodin played by Rosamund Pike to help solve a seemingly senseless crime leaving five innocent people dead expertly shot in broad daylight in Pittsburgh.

Jack Reacher uses military training and a quirky way to get to solve the crime and find out who really is behind the seemingly sense killings. Unlike the horrific real-life massacre at Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, there does appear to be a motive behind the senseless act of violence in downtown Pittsburgh which occurs in Jack Reacher as the film not only looks at the alleged perpetrator but also at the victims. Soon the real criminals are exposed along with a dodgy Georgian (ex-Soviet Union) corporation taking over the American construction industry.

Whilst Jack Reacher is a well-timed suspense thriller, one gets a feeling that Tom Cruise’s days playing an action hero are numbered. Although that said Bruce Willis is still churning out Die Hard sequels. Despite the random violence explored, there is underlying sense in the film that America is never going to allow its citizens to forfeit their right to bear arms, as outlined in the second amendment.

Jack Reacher is an engaging action film especially as a crime reconstruction thriller, with Cruise naturally holding his own as the unconventional recession-hit action hero, using other people’s cars and catching buses. Watch out for a brief appearance by German film director, actor and screenwriter Werner Herzog as the arch villain. Interesting casting to say the least and unfortunately the talented Richard Jenkins is underutilized in Jack Reacher, but remains necessary as does Robert Duvall to create a strong supporting cast.

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