Now Playing: ‘Fruitvale Station’

Ariana Neal and Michael B. Jordan in 'Fruitvale Station'
Ariana Neal and Michael B. Jordan in ‘Fruitvale Station’

fruitvalestation-posterNearly every year there’s a scrappy indie flick that comes into the Sundance Film Festival and blows everyone away. All too often, though, once the film itself comes down from the high mountain air, it seems markedly less unique. Fortunately, with Ryan Coogler’s devastating Fruitvale Station, that is not the case. It plays just as well in a multiplex alongside The Wolverine as it does in the rarefied festival air.

My full review is at Film Racket; here’s part:

Nothing about the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant makes sense. For his keen, impassioned debut, writer/director Ryan Coogler avoids one of the most common mistakes seen in based-on-a-true-story movies, he doesn’t try to make it make sense. It shouldn’t, because one version of what actually happened is the first thing shown in the film. A grainy cellphone video taken from the open door of a BART train car paused at an Oakland station shows a few young black men being held down by a few white transit police; there’s a minor-looking scuffle and then a shot goes off. The momentum of those shaky images,  is stuttering and randomized. When the tragic moment happens, it doesn’t feel right to happen like that. Not yet…

You can watch the trailer here:

 

Screening Room: Dennis Farina (1944-2013)

Not sure where that knife is destined to go.
Not sure where that knife is destined to go.

All appreciators of the great and usually unsung character actors who make so many good movies great and so many lousy movies watchable took a hit last week when news came out of Dennis Farina’s passing.

crimestory1My piece on Chicago’s own Farina (Get ShortyCrime Story, Saving Private Ryan, and others) ran today at Short Ends & Leader:

Farina, who died on July 22 at the age of 69, was a detective in a Chicago Police Department burglary unit when he was introduced to Chicagoan Michael Mann, who was making his first feature, 1981’s Thief. Farina was hired as an advisor for the film and even got himself on screen for a few seconds; he gets shot rather unceremoniously at the film’s end along with some other anonymous henchmen. He worked some small roles for the next few years, mostly TV, but also polishing his craft on the Chicago stage with the likes of Steppenwolf vets like Terry Kinney. Supposedly, he even left the CPD a couple years before making his pension in order to pursue acting. It was a gutsy move, but one that paid off long before he ended up donning a trenchcoat and storming the streets of Manhattan on Law and Order

And now, Crime Story:

Readers’ Corner: The New Book House

bookhouse4Located in a rambling, 150-year-old Victorian just off Manchester Road in Rock Hill, a quiet old suburb not far from downtown St. Louis, The Book House is one of those rare bookstores that actually looks, feels, and is just like the great bookstore of your imagination. Smart staff, killer selection, drop-dead prices, and genially messy, it’s a bookworm’s paradise. Plus, like any good bookstore, over the years there’s always been a cat skulking around in a proprietary fashion.

There was some consternation recently in the area when word got out that the store was being served with eviction papers. Since no charm or history may be allowed to mar the modern American landscape, a developer has decided to get rid of the Book House (there is a possibility that the Victorian could be moved intact to a new location) and a couple other quaint houses tucked back there to make way for … a storage facility. Exactly what suburban St. Louis needs more of.

bookhouse8The good news is that the Book House folks have found a new space over in nearby Maplewood. The former department store likely won’t have much of the old charm at first (owner Michelle Barron told Publishers Weekly “It will be pretty barebones and bohemian for a while”) but will eventually have many times the capacity of the old location. Which means they’ll be able to carry even more of the great titles they’ve been known for. They should be open for business in October, make sure to stop by if you’re in the area.

 

New in Theaters: ‘Blue Jasmine’

Cate Blanchett teetering on the brink in 'Blue Jasmine'
Cate Blanchett teetering on the brink in ‘Blue Jasmine’

SONY-JUOS-01_Onesheet_Layout 1Woody Allen’s newest comedy of social status and anxiety, Blue Jasmine, had a quiet launch this week, almost as though the studio thought that it would sell itself. It might not be his funniest movie in some time but it does feature the best lead performance that he’s directed in years. That would be Cate Blanchett, stepping out of Galadriel’s diaphanous glow and tackling a real-world character with an almost frightening intensity.

My full review is at Film Racket; here’s part:

Woody Allen knows that sometimes it’s best just to throw characters into the deep end and see if audiences want to swim with them. By the time we meet his newest creation, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), she’s in full meltdown, barely holding it together with Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and enough self-delusion to power a third-party presidential campaign…

You can see the trailer here:

DVD Tuesday: ‘Ginger & Rosa’

Alice Englert and Elle Fanning in 'Ginger & Rosa'
Alice Englert and Elle Fanning in ‘Ginger & Rosa’

The newest film from Sally Potter (Orlando) is something of a departure for her. Straightforward stylistically, it’s a beautifully-shot story about two girls growing up in fractured families and learning how to navigate the stresses that the outside world and inexplicable, irresponsible adults put on their friendship.

gingerandrosa-dvdMy review ran at PopMatters:

In Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa, two girls are linked by disaster at birth and have a hard time dodging it during their lives. As the film begins, the 17-year-olds are wrapped around each other like young kittens looking for a warm place to sleep. But soon enough, even joyful experiences (political activism, young love) lead to frustration and rage.

The setting is 1962, London. It’s a grey place, barely rebuilt after the Second World War: people keep their coats on indoors because the heating is no good. Here Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) find solace in one another and in jazz records. These bohemians have been best friends since childhood. Their mothers gave birth in adjoining hospital beds just as an atomic bomb was blasting Hiroshima off the planet’s surface. As the film juxtaposes the mushroom cloud and its aftermath with the mothers screaming in childbirth, we get the idea that the girls are born into a world of destruction…

It’s available today on DVD and Blu-ray.

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Only God Forgives’

OnlyGodForgives1
Ryan Gosling, staring his way through ‘Only God Forgives’

OnlyGodForgives-poster1Two years ago, Nicolas Winding Refn blew some people away with Drive, his mannered homage to 1980s’ crime films. Starring Ryan Gosling as a stoic getaway car driver, it didn’t have much of a story, but the cool and moody style was something to behold. Refn and Gosling’s blood-soaked, Bangkok-set followup, Only God Forgives, takes the impulses of that earlier film and pursues them to the nth degree; it may as well be a silent for the lack of dialogue.

Only God Forgives opens tomorrow in limited release. My full review is at Film Racket:

Ryan Gosling doesn’t say much in his second collaboration with Drive filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn. He’s busy looking into the middle distance like a wounded child and occasionally erupting into violence. “Wanna fight?” is about the extent of his verbal skills. For all his cut-from-granite movements and dead-eyed staring, he may as well be Jean-Claude Van Damme. Of course, if played by the Muscles from Brussels, Gosling’s character might have gotten out of a few of the scrapes that leave him looking like a pit bull’s chew toy by the end of this slow-motion surrealist horrorshow dressed up like an arthouse crime story…

You can see the trailer here:

Readers’ Corner: J.K. Rowling and Pseudonyms

jprowling-popupThere’s a piece of mine that published at PopMatters today about the recent kerfuffle over J.K. Rowling being unmasked as the real author of the little-noticed mystery novel The Cuckoo’s Clock, previously credited to one “Robert Galbraith.”

It’s called “What’s in a Pseudonym?“:

It’s not as though Rowling hadn’t branched out from her Harry Potter success. Last year’s novel, The Casual Vacancy was set in real-world Britain, with nary a spell to be found. Why would she put that out under her own name and not The Cuckoo’s Calling? The easy answer probably goes back to the old literary / genre divide that one would have thought had disappeared in a time when people aren’t embarrassed to be seen reading Fifty Shades of Grey on the train and adults happily own up to reading YA fare like The Hunger Games

Previous to this news being broken, The Cuckoo’s Clock (well-reviewed, by the way) had sold 1,500 copies when attributed to Galbraith. The publisher just ordered a rush printing of 300,000 copies.