Sunday, January 26, 2014

Fruitville Station * * *


In the very early morning of January 1st, 2009, Oscar Grant III was fatally shot by transit cop Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitville Station in Oakland, California.  This followed a fight on the BART train after which the police tried to detain several suspects.  Oscar Grant was likely resisting arrest.  The scene at the BART station was chaotic, possibly bordering on a riot.  Johannes Mehserle claimed that he thought that he was reaching for his Tazer, but accidentally grabbed and fired his gun instead.

This incident lead to protests, riots, a conviction of Mehserle, and multiple lawsuits.

The movie Fruitville Station portrays the last 24 hours of the life of 22 year old Oscar Grant.  Oscar Grant is portrayed as a former convicted drug dealer, and a father, who was trying to get his life back on track.  He is shown in a loving relationship with his mother, his girlfriend, and his daughter.  He tries to get  his old grocery store job back, but fails.  Desperate, he sets up a drug deal, but then backs out.  He celebrates his mother's birthday on New Year's Eve 2008, and then travels with friends to see fireworks in San Francisco.  During the return trip on the BART train, he is attacked by a former prison adversary, and then is detained by police at the Fruitville station.  While resisting arrest, the unarmed Oscar Grant is fatally shot.    

The movie has a couple of weakness in that it portrays Oscar Grant only in a positive light, and any story about 24 hours in an individual's life is going to be light on plot and somewhat meandering.  What is great about the movie is that it gives a really good sense of what it must be like to be a young black man trying to survive under difficult circumstances.  The message of the movie can be considered a referendum on all people living under similar conditions.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cockneys Versus Zombies * * *


The story of Cockneys Versus Zombies is exactly what you would expect from the title.   In this respect, it is somewhat predictable.  It invites comparison to the slightly better Shaun of the Dead or the much better Attack the Block.    So why should you see it?   Because it is a dark comedy that will make you care about the characters for 90 minutes.   The humor is pretty low key, but combine that with the zombie story and it manages to entertain.

Zombie movies have become way too abundant.   Consider the following joke from the movie:  

“You have to shoot them in the head!”
“How do you know that?”
“Everybody knows that!”

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ender's Game * * * *


Ender's Game is a military science fiction movie based upon a wonderful novella of the same name.  Sometime in the future, the human race is attacked by an alien race called the Formics and the humans barely repel the attack.  In a desperate attempt to prevent another attack, the humans plan to take the battle to the Formic home world.   In the hope of developing new, brilliant leadership, the military begins training a few talented children chosen for space combat.  They go through a series of training simulations, i.e. "games" to prepare them for war.  Ender Wiggin is a particularly brilliant cadet who is taken under the wing of the fanatical Colonel Highland Graf, played by Harrison Ford.  I like Harrison Ford's portrayal of Graf as a man who has only one purpose in life:  Destroy the enemy.

Watching Ender's Game is a deeply visceral experience.  I had my doubts about whether this novella could be adapted to the big screen, but the movie felt intense to me.  I am wondering if the movie will have the same effect on a smaller screen, i.e. Home video?  Maybe one of the reasons the movie felt so intense to me is that I knew what the surprise ending was from having read the book.  The movie and the book raise a few moral questions about the possible genocide of an alien race. 

I highly enjoyed Ender's Game and felt that it was loyal to the book, which, by the way, is one of the best books I ever read.  The book has spawned many sequels, so maybe we will see more of Ender Wiggin on the big screen.

Some of the events in the book are abbreviated or omitted in the movie, including not telling us that Ender unintentionally kills one of the other cadets.

It took me at least an hour after I saw the movie to realize that Ender's sister is played by Abigail Breslin.  It bugs me that I missed this at first.  The pretty little girl from  The Ultimate Gift, Zombie Land, and Little Miss Sunshine has grown into a pretty teenager.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Midnight Cowboy * * 1/2.


Joe Buck (Jon Voight), a young man from Texas, moves to New York City, where he hopes wealthy women will pay him for his sexual favors. Instead, unable to find any such clients, he is repeatedly cheated and manipulated by various individuals he encounters. After his money has run out, and he has been evicted from the room in which he had been living, Buck is invited by a sickly street hustler named Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), who was among the persons who had earlier swindled him, to live in his own squalid flat in a condemned building. Despite their differences, the two men soon become emotionally attached to one another and together attempt to survive from day to day.

On the surface, Midnight Cowboy seems like one of the most depraved and depressing movies you will ever see.  The pace is slow and the movie is repetitive.  However, it was the best picture winner in 1969.  The movie has a social conscious as it explores the seedy underbelly of New York.  The performances by Hoffman and Voight are extremely good and almost redeem the movie.  The relationship between Buck and Rizzo hints at hidden homosexual feelings.

The film did not deserve its original "X" rating, which is probably mostly due to the multiple homosexual references, not to mention some very adult themes, so the movie was later re-rated at an "R.".  There are a great many nude scenes in the film, but most of them are very brief.  This is the first and probably the last "X" rated movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Impossible * * * *

The Impossible is an inspirational movie about the courage of a family struggling to survive the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Thailand.  What I liked about the film is that the family members faced a terrible ordeal with courage, and when possible, helped others.

Invictus * * * 1/2.


Invictus is a deeply inspirational film about Nelson Mandela, who is portrayed as an elder statesman of high ideals on par with Abraham Lincoln, and the rugby team that he helped promote.  The movie would have us believe that their victory in the 1995 World Cup helped mend a racially divided nation.

The truth about Nelson Mandela and South Africa is far less pleasant.  Nevertheless, I like the movie for its high ideals even if they don't match the reality of Nelson Mandela.

A Dolphin Tale * * *

I feel about A Dolphin Tale the same way I feel about Invictus.  The principle characters are so good-natured, so honorable in their intentions and kindhearted that it immediately made me think that the movie stretched the truth quite a bit.   The characters are inspirational for their goodness, kind of like The Ultimate Gift and although the movie is rated PG, it can easily been mistaken for a G rated kids film.

Despite the obvious corniness of A Dolphin Tale, it is a corniness that works extremely well.  These characters are so charming that we want to like them, and the dolphin Winter (playing herself) makes us want to root for her.