Based on true events, this film chronicles the day leading up to 22-year-old Oscar Grant III being shot on a train platform. The event happened on New Year’s Eve in 2008 Oakland, Calif. Writer/director Ryan Coogler is a native of the same area, and you feel his urgency in the filmmaking. There is some heavy-handed and amateurish acting from some of the supporting cast, but that’s not the case with the principal actors. Michael B. Jordan handles the lead role with a nice balance, and really slam dunks a few scenes. Melonie Diaz does an admirable job as Sophina, Grant’s girlfriend and the mother of his child. And Octavia Spencer shows why she won an Oscar back in 2012. This is an extremely sad story that may have been a forgotten headline if it wasn’t for this film. It never dives too deep into stereotypes. It has a lot of heart, and it never shies away from character complexities – worth a watch.
“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”
Casey Affleck has made quite the career making crime-noir from different time periods. He’s done cowboy noir with “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” private dick noir with “Gone Baby Gone” and 1950s noir with “The Killer Inside Me.” Here, he brings some good old-fashioned Texas outlaw noir. Some people just excel in dark places, and he’s joined by three other actors who share his taste in shadowy plots – Rooney Mara, Ben Foster and Keith Carradine. All three power through these scenes as willfully and as skillfully as Affleck. The whole film feels dirty. The script moves like it’s on the run from the coppers. It’s one of those films that won’t get too much attention and usually flies under the radar. But anyone who enjoys crime-noir should discover this one – worth a watch.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his directorial debut in this story of love and porn (whichever comes first). But he not only directs, he does triple-duty – writing, directing and acting like a Jersey meathead who has a hard time balancing Catholic devoutness, one-night stands and his love of Internet porn. The synopsis may seem a little flat, but the script displays a decent character arc as the meathead yearns for something real in a world of preconceived notions. As a writer/director, he does a nice job of triangulating conflict by scrubbing Jon’s convoluted player-philosophy against the polar world-philosophies of Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore. He plays the character types against each other, and uses a father/son dynamic to manage a tidy plot. And bonus, the father is played by a curse-spewing Tony Danza. Gordon-Levitt didn’t reinvent the film reel, but he made a pretty entertaining film – worth a watch.
Derrick Bracey, for Weekly Surge