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Weekend movie review roundup: 'Selma' and 'Inherent Vice'

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HOLLYWOOD — This weekend, movie theaters will be asking a lot from their audiences as two heavyweight titles hit the marquees.

In one theater is, “Selma,” the story of the courageous, Martin Luther King Jr. organized march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. And in theater two, “Inherent Vice,” the Paul Thomas Anderson drug-laced crime dramedy about a private investigator searching for his ex-girlfriend.

Neither film can be classified under the “fun time at the movies” folder, but both are also enjoying high praise from critics. This usually begs the question, are these films worth your time, or just pretentious award bait? And in both cases, there’s some good, some bad, and a final verdict.

Selma

The good

Making a movie about such a beloved historical figure is always risky. King is a hero not just to millions of Americans, but to nonviolent protesters around the world, so the temptation to make a Saint Martin piece must have lingered throughout the project.

But director Ava DuVernay’s depiction of King is a complicated one, sold beautifully by David Oyelowo's performance. And the willingness to show King as a vulnerable, fallible human elevates “Selma” from a white-noise Lifetime channel movie to a film that deserves to be experienced.

The bad

The “Selma” experience isn’t easily compartmentalized, because it’s a film that jumps from big moment to big moment. This was probably necessary, as the film is more about what was happening in Selma than it is a straightforward biopic. But at the same time, the approach generates scenes driving to tug your heartstrings long before they’ve earned the right. It also sometimes creates an uneven narrative where you can feel like you’re watching a music video in one scene, and really expensive community theater the next.

The verdict

Almost nobody will walk away from “Selma” thinking, “That was sure a great time at the movies!” But this is a movie that has something to say that needs to be said, and it presents it in a compelling and moving way. While true, not every moment in the movie works, the uneven scenes are the minority and “Selma’s” return is definitely worth the investment.

Inherent Vice

The good

P.T. Anderson’s latest movie relies heavily on its cast to sell its less-than-conventional missing person mystery — and what a cast it has.

While Joaquin Phoenix is tasked with carrying the film, it’s the colorful ensemble that keeps the movie from falling into a two-and-a-half hour drug-induced episode of Magnum, P.I. Josh Brolin will rightfully take most of the credit for leading the co-company, but Martin Short, Hong Chau, Katherine Waterston and Owen Wilson deserve a shared high-five as well.

Fans of P.T. Anderson and novelist Thomas Pynchon are definitely the target market for this movie, and very few of said group will walk away disappointed.

The bad

P.T. Anderson’s films practically dare critics to not like them. They are bobbing with allusions to higher meaning and often kick you in the teeth with some totally random, jolting moment that some people get and others raise an eyebrow at. There’s a lot of that going on here, and even though Anderson’s films have been long in the past, “Vice” feels unusually drawn-out in its delivery.

The verdict

Anderson’s established fans won’t be jumping ship with “Inherent Vice” and Pynchon’s loyal readers will be pretty happy with what “Vice” was able to translate visually.

But to the rest of the world, the painfully slow pacing and in-your-face language, sexual content and violence will feel unwarranted. You might occasionally smile at a few of the jokes, but there’s nothing to see here for the uninitiated.

Travis Poppleton has been covering movie news, film reviews and live events for Deseret News and KSL.com since 2010 and co-hosts the FlixJunkies podcast. You can contact him at tspoppleton@gmail.com.

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