Thursday, July 25, 2013



Written and Directed by Ryan Coogler
Actors: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray.

It didn't have to go down like this. How many times has this been thought of lately and how sick does it make you? With all the gun violence in Chicago and our kids, even babies, getting gunned down how may times do we have to think this? The unflinching, powerful and explosive "Fruitvale Station" brings us just one in a plethora of sad stories of lives lost because of prejudice and carelessness. It is perfect, emotional film making at it's finest and it gives us a heartbreaking story of one young man whose life was cut short when it didn't have to be that way.

"Fruitvale Station" is based on the true life story of Oscar Grant who was gunned down in the back by a transit cop in Oakland. The movie starts out with I think is the real cell phone recording of this shooting and how it happened. We then follow the victim on his last day, the last day of 2008. Oscar is a troubled kid who was in prison and now is raising a young daughter with his girlfriend Sophina. We follow Oscar on his last day on earth before he was fatally shot because of stupidity.

The movie is straightforward in it's storytelling but it effectively makes us get to know Oscar, his girlfriend and his frustrated but loving mother. We follow Oscar on this day as he tries to set up a birthday party for his mother Wanda, struggles with problems with his girlfriend and tries to get his job back before he goes back into drug dealing. We do get one flashback scene that is powerful and very well done and much needed. It shows us when Wanda visits her son Oscar in prison.

The acting here is unforgettable and powerful starting with the star making performance of Michael B. Jordan as Oscar. Jordan has been in a lot of movies and you will remember him as the struggling QB Vincent Howard in the TV series "Friday Night Lights". His performance here feels real, is subtle, quiet and very moving. This is a star in the making and an actor to look out for. Octavia Spencer plays Wanda and her performance here is even better than her Oscar winning turn in "The Help". It is quietly powerful and more subtle than her work in "The Help". It is a heartbreaking performance full of life. Melonie Diaz as Sophina is very pretty, glowing and sweet, she also gives a real and stellar performance.

First time writer and director Ryan Coogler does a wonderful job and never makes a wrong move here. There is not a wasted shot and in the writing he doesn't give us to much overbearing detail about Oscar's life. That is wise and why the movie becomes more powerful. It simply sets up the relationships and the bonds between the characters without too much needless exposition like lesser movies would have done. So when we get to that final, shocking scene we are affected more deeply.

Coogler has made a very impressive debut and I love seeing new talent arrive on the scene like this. I also love seeing an actor like Jordan emerge, showing us his maturity and wise acting choices. I hate comparing but this reminds me of a young Denzel Washington. This is wise, smart, economical, powerful and gut wrenching work. The final scenes are brutal, explosive and heartbreaking and I cried for a very long time. I challenge you not to cry by the time this is over.

The movie made me cry but also made me angry because the movie effectively makes us confront the police brutality, violence and prejudice that goes on everyday, the stories we don't know about. There are many Oscars out there and much prejudice and senseless violence. "Fruitvale Station" is important film making, as powerful and as relevant to today as "Do The Right Thing" was to the 80's.



Written by Chad and Carey Hayes
Directed by James Wan
Actors: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Joey King.

If it wasn't based on a true story and if the actors and director of "The Conjuring" didn't do their job so well I would not believe any of the story of this haunted house movie. I would have just thrown it in the pile of other possession, haunted house movies that look so phony these days. "The Conjuring" is an effective and surprisingly deep haunted house/possession movie, brilliantly acted, shot and directed. It scares you while making you care about the characters.

Ed and Lorraine were real life experts on demonic possession and they studied many real cases including the one based on the "Amityville Horror". In 1979 a movie was made out of that real life case but it didn't show the Warrens. It is a laughable thriller, one of the worst horror movies of it's kind. In "The Conjuring" Ed and Lorraine are set up very well by writers Chad and Carey Hayes. They are called on by a family who have moved into a new house and feel that it is being haunted. This family is also set up very well by the writers. We will get to know these people very well before the scares and jumps will start.

This will be why we will become so invested in this story while other demonic possession crap like "The Last Exorcist" will be exposed for the shallow crud they are. That is also due to the wonderful, lived in performances by it's four leads, one with Oscar caliber work. The movie is set in 1971 and it feels like it and that goes towards the characters also.

Ed and Lorraine are wonderfully played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. Farmiga is one of my favorite actresses right now, she is putting in consistently great work for years now. It is a strong performance and it is a strong female lead role. Wilson plays an everyman type character so well as he has done in other films including other horror movies. Ron Livingston as the father of the Perron family is also, like Wilson, an effective and under rated actor who plays everyman characters so well beginning with his great deadpan turn in "Office Space".

The movie is raised to a whole new level by the performance of Lili Taylor as the mother, Carolyn Perron. Taylor has been such an under rated force in acting ever since she sang about the detested Joe in "Say Anything". Hollywood did not know how to handle an unconventional beauty and great actress like Lili Taylor. I am very happy to see her get such a pivotal role here. She plays a loving, frustrated mother with such grace and natural, effortless ease. It is a powerful performance for a very difficult role and she is what this movie needs, she should be remembered at Oscar time!

Director James Wan has grown a lot since he directed "Saw" which I hated and which he directed very shoddily. Here he knows how to movie the camera, get great performances and make this movie as believable as it can be. Being an agnostic I am also not that much a believer in demonic possession but this movie does an effective job, better than the plethora of cheap, bad possession movies in the past few years. The period detail and camera work are impressive, there are great tracking shots and we can follow everything cleanly. Wan has grown as a film maker and here he has made a scary, believable, effective and finally very touching horror movie. This is the best horror movie of the year so far and one of the best movies of the year.

Monday, July 8, 2013


'THE WAY, WAY BACK' (PG-13)(3 1/2 STARS)

Written and Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Actors: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Liam James, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, Jim Rash, Nat Faxon, Maya Rudolph.

I remember those summers when I was a kid where school was out and freedom could be explored for only a few months but it could seem like a lifetime. The summer for Duncan, our hero in the charming new "Way, Way Back", will start off in a negative way. It is because Duncan's parents are separated, his father is away and his mother, Pam, has found a new boyfriend and he is a big jerk. His name is Trent and we first see Duncan, Trent, his daughter and Pam in a car about to go to Trent's summer home. Trent asks what Duncan would rate himself on a scale from 1-10 and when Duncan finally answers a 6, Trent says Duncan is a 3, what an ass!

Duncan's mother thinks she has found that special someone to spend time with but Duncan can see through this jerk's veneer. Duncan is a character we have seen before and "The Way, Way Back" is that coming of age summer drama we have seen before. We know where the story is going but we don't know what will happen to this wonderful cast of characters through the process. I identify with Duncan because I was shy, withdrawn and awkward when I was a teenager but that is not why I loved this movie. I love this movie because it is truthful, real, touching, funny and charming as hell. It is one of the best times I have had at a movie recently and it will cheer audiences up and keep them highly entertained.

"The Way, Way Back" also is set at a water park called "Water Whizz", based on a real Eastern water park, where Duncan will find a new adult friend. He is Owen and he is played by the most under rated, little known actor on screen today, Sam Rockwell. Yes his character will remind you of Bill Murray's camp counselor in "Meatballs" but a lot of the audience seeing this movie will not have seen that 70's cult classic. Also Rockwell makes the character all his own giving an original performance that is my favorite performance by an actor in 2013 so far. This is probably the best young character actor in this business with his energy, charm, sense of humor and comic perfection that rivals any comic actor today period.

Duncan will start working at the water park and Owen will take him under his wings leading to a touching friendship and a scene between the two that made me cry. Trent also has neighbors in three, real and original characters, a family led by a boozing woman played brilliantly by Allison Janney. The son and daughter of this woman are charming and real kids and the daughter, Susanna, is someone Duncan will have a crush on and she is played by the very capable and beautiful AnnaSophia Robb. The scenes in the water park remind me of my favorite movie of 2009, "Adventureland", and I love that movie! Though they are both very different and would make one of my favorite double features of all time!

"The Way, Way Back" was written by the brilliant team of Jim Rash and Nat Faxon who wrote the Oscar winning screenplay for "The Descendants". I liked this movie a lot more and it shows that these two writers, who are also great comedy actors, are real smart writers and I can't wait for their next movie! Steve Carell plays against type as the jerky Trent and it shows Carell can do drama or comedy or romance equally great. Liam James is likable and very good as Duncan and Toni Collette as Pam shows us that like Rockwell she is a great, undervalued actress. Robb, Janney, Corddry and Peet are also amazing. This is Sam Rockwell's movie in my opinion, his character is the catalyst for Duncan's growth and Rockwell has to get award recognition right away!. He is our best actor today who movie goers don't know and they should!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013



Written by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossario
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Actors: Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Ruth Wilson, James Badge Dale.

I don't think Hollywood knows what to do with the old radio serial and television show "The Lone Ranger". Writers Justin Haythe, Terry Elliott and Rosario and director Gore Verbinski don't get it because their "Lone Ranger" has multiple personalities. I didn't hate it as much as the critics did, I just shook my head a lot and felt kind of weird throughout. This almost hit the "White House Down" so bad it is good zenith but this movie is too dull in a lot of spots and it's hero is too much of a wimp and a dullard. This is a sometimes too violent (for what is supposed to be a light, fun western) and a lot of times an unintentionally funny and goofy slapstick cartoon.

Armie Hammer plays the titular character John Reid aka "The Lone Ranger" and I think he is either miscast or just not very good at playing a hero. This is a good actor that is called on to play a wimpering and shy simpleton who doesn't even want to be The Lone Ranger. The movie is over taken by Johnny Depp as the sidekick Tonto and Depp of course is good in the role but the character isn't really that deep. Shouldn't a modern "Lone Ranger" movie reinvent Tonto into someone more than just a cartoon character like he comes off here. Depp is good but this is in the good but weird category of Barnabas Collins and Willy Wonka then in the far superior Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands category of Depp characters. So what you have here is a shallow Ranger and a cartoon character Tonto.

The other problem with "The Lone Ranger" is the uneasy blend of offbeat black comedy mixed with extreme violence (nasty violence) and slapstick chases in the tradition of Buster Keaton. I did laugh at the weird use of the Ranger's horse Silver showing up at strange times to save the day. I couldn't figure out though if the horse was supposed to be supernatural or having the horse showing up was just a weird ploy by the filmmakers to be too cute.
This movie does not know what it wants to be and is to many things except for rousing, good and entertaining. Who is this movie for? It's not for little kids because of the violence but it has eccentric humor, slapstick and that strange use of Silver. It is also not for western loving adults because the chases are Road Runner like and too silly.

"The Lone Ranger" should have been fun and freewheeling and thrilling shouldn't it be? It should not be overly violent, very long and full of so many dark and boring moments. It has a weird Johnny Depp playing a weird Tonto and upstaging a very boring Armie Hammer and Ranger. It has a bad guy in Butch Cavendish who here looks scary, dark and way out of place for this movie (this will scare little kids). It has slapstick scenes and chases that are more "Pirates of the Caribbean" than scenes and chases suitable for a western and where is the shootout or final duel? This is a sometimes fun but mostly boring, dull and very violent movie that should have been much more. There are too many long spots in the movie that will bore it's audience, this is not a very fun time at the movies.