Near the beginning of Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler's debut (as screenwriter and director), the audience sees some of the actual cell phone video of the last moments of Oscar Grant III's life in Fruitvale Station in the early morning of January 1, 2009. I was familiar with the story before this film, but this choice places an omen over the rest of the film, which then takes the viewer to get to know Oscar through the last day of his life. I was gripped with fear throughout the film. In each scene, I kept expecting something terrible to happen, even though I knew the terrible moment, when Oscar is shot in the back by a security guard while handcuffed on the ground, would come near the film's end. The tension is still palpable. Coogler paints a well-rounded portrait of Oscar. He isn't made a martyr--the viewer sees all of him, both the positives and the negatives. Some of these moments were more successful than others, but I think it was wise to show these ordinary moments as a glimpse at one man's life Even as I knew what was coming, the film's last twenty minutes are an emotional tour de force. I bawled as the events I already knew unfolded again before my eyes. Fruitvale Station is a haunting, difficult, important film. It's not easy to watch, but the reward is its brilliance. It's one of the best films of 2013, and how it managed to not earn a single Oscar nomination is a travesty.
Rating: 5 out of 5
The Call by Brad Anderson
Admittedly, I had somewhat low expectations for The Call. I was in the mood for a mystery or a thriller, and I often appreciate those when top tier actors like Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin star. The film is intense. There are few moments of relaxation, for the viewer or the characters. Halle Berry plays a 911 operator who makes a small mistake with devastating consequences early in the film. Six months later, Casey (Abigail Breslin) is abducted from a mall and desperately searches for clues while locked in the trunk and on the phone with Jordan (Halle Berry.) It's not the most inventive premise, but it was well-executed. As the film neared its climax, I expected it to continue on its predictable, yet enjoyable course. I won't spoil the film, but I will say it moves from the ordinary to the extraordinary beautifully.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Blue Jasmine by Woody Allen
I am far from a Woody Allen. I've never really liked any of his movies, even Midnight in Paris (my review), which was adored even by my like-minded Woody Allen friends. I opted to watch his latest film for Cate Blanchett's likely Oscar-winning performance. In short: it is the best Woody Allen film I've seen, but it's still not great cinema. The cast of this film is pretty amazing. Cate Blanchett's performance is nothing short of phenomenal. Told partially in flashbacks to her happy, rich, Park Avenue life, where she was married to Alec Baldwin, who plays rich, cooky Alec Baldwin as well as ever. In the present, she's in San Francisco, staying with her also-adopted sister, played by Sally Hawkins. The two are a delightfully unlikely duo. The premise of Blue Jasmine is interesting enough, and the cast is superb (who knew Max Casella was still around being charming and goofy?), but visually, the film is pretty boring. For most of it, I felt as though I was watching a play. There's little to no staging, and as enchanting as the acting is to watch, I hoped for something more dynamic. It's certainly worth seeing for Blanchett's performance alone, but it didn't turn me into a Woody Allen fan.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
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