Fruitvale Station: A Fantastic Movie That You’ll Never Watch Twice








[Editor’s Note: In my ongoing attempt at bringing my readers something other than sports blogs, here is my third movie review of the summer. It’s incredible how at-home you can feel on a Tuesday afternoon in an empty movie theater. Like I’m just watching a show in my living room, hand down my pants and all. If you didn’t read my other movie reviews from earlier in the summer, check them out HERE and HERE. Enjoy]

If you haven’t heard much buzz over Fruitvale Station, that’ll probably be changing soon. Though it came out on July 4th, it only got released nationwide about a week ago. And come award season, you’ll be hearing all about this film and its lead actor, Michael B. Jordan.

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The film is based on a true story about the last day of Oscar Grant’s life leading up to his savage murder by a Bay Area Transit Police Officer on New Year’s Day 2009.

The murder and the subsequent trial of BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle became a national topic not unlike the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case.

I’m not one to traditionally seek out politically-charged movies where race is at the center of a tragedy, but this all happened in my backyard as I was living in San Francisco at the time. I’ve gotten off the BART train at the exact station where Grant was shot (Fruitvale) a handful of times. It also turns out that a friend of a friend edited this entire movie, and I heard some Oscar buzz rumblings before the movie was even released. All of that plus my appreciation for all things Michael B. Jordan made it a must-see.

Jordan has been on a nice career path over the past 12 years (I say if he wins an Oscar he gets to drop the “B” and just go by Michael Jordan): He played Wallace on The Wire, a small but impactful role; then came the hotshot high school quarterback role of Vince Howard onFriday Night Lights; he followed that up with his first major movie role as a teenager with superpowers in Chronicle (I hated it, but plenty of people enjoyed it); and finally the lead role in Fruitvale Station. There’s also a rumor out there that he’ll play the lead role of Apollo Creed’s grandson in a Sylvester Stallone-produced spin-off of Rocky.

Needless to say, the guy can act. I can’t see his career not taking off on an even grander trajectory after his turn as Oscar Grant.

It’s a tough movie to get excited for because you know the ending ahead of time, and it’s a terrible, gut-wrenching ending. This innocent man is going to die. And that’s why I said it’s a fantastic movie that you’ll never watch twice. It’s not a comedy where you can pick up more humor the more you watch it, or an action movie where you want to see a crazy chase scene a second time.

You’re literally watching the final 24 hours of a young man’s life, hoping that somehow the ending is different than what you saw on the news in January 2009.

When I say innocent, certainly I don’t mean that Oscar Grant was a saint. He had spent time in prison, he was trying to quit dealing drugs to make sure he’d be around for his daughter and girlfriend, but early on in the movie we see that he just got fired from his grocery store job for constantly being late. 

And that’s pretty much what we get to see Grant go through on the final day of 2008: he knows what’s important to him now, and he’s trying to get his life on track to provide for his family, but he keeps getting in his own way.

It’s a simple story all the way up until the fateful BART ride home to the East Bay after Grant and friends watch fireworks in San Francisco. That’s when things get complicated, inexplicable and tragic. 

If you saw the movie Argo, you remember that final 10 minutes when they were going to the airport to make their great escape. You were probably sweating from the suspense even though you knew the outcome ahead of time.

It’s the same way in this movie once the cops show up to Fruitvale station and all hell breaks loose. You want to jump through the movie screen and tell the cops they’re overreacting, and that the guys they’re holding aren’t the ones who started the fight.

But it’s a pointless struggle as we watch the inevitable happen.

You should see this movie if: You enjoy movies based on true stories, even if it’s a sad story. You enjoy thought-provoking, authentic-feeling movies. You know of the Oscar Grant shooting vaguely, and you want more details. You want to knock one of the Academy Awards contenders off your must-watch list before the January/February scramble where you try to cram all the nominees into your viewing schedule. You’re a fan of brevity…this movie clocked in at 85 minutes long (I waste more time nightly watching Kardashians, Houswives or one of the 35 wedding shows that my girlfriend watches on an endless loop).

You should not see this movie if: Either by being a blatant racist or just an old person, you assume young black men are up to no good and you were OK with seeing the BART Police Officer get off with only involuntary manslaughter. You support George Zimmerman. Hearing someone call San Francisco “Frisco” will make you want to strangle that person (Oscar’s girlfriend keeps referring to the city as “Frisco,” which no one really says, right?). You only enjoy movies that take place in fairy tale worlds where everyone eventually gets what they want. You don’t enjoy heavy content in your movies. You want to walk out of the theater smiling and feeling good. You’re a mother who won’t be able to hold it together as you watch another mother lose her son.

On the Ross Watchability Scale, I give it a 8.5 out of 10. 

Like I already said, I can’t imagine Fruitvale Station is a movie you’re going to want to watch over and over, but everyone should see it once…for the story itself and the brilliance of Michael B. Jordan.

Screw Camp, Summer’s All About Getting Drunk & Ending Up In Jail (Reviewing 5 Summer TV Shows)

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For a TV addict like myself, there has been one date circled on the calendar since the all the good shows ended in late May: August 11th. If that date means nothing to you, you’re probably not a Breaking Bad fan. To that I say, “Shame on you and what the hell are you waiting for?”

Walter White’s eight-episode swan song to finish off one of the best TV series of all time is the only legitimate entertainment on the small screen we could truly count on going into the summer months. Summer is usually the only time when I get sucked into shows that are really bad but seem acceptable because of the lack of legitimately entertaining TV.

Right now my DVR is littered with reality (American Ninja Warrior, MasterChef, What Would You Do?) and the least realistic show I’ve ever seen (Newsroom). If any of these programs were on in the fall, they wouldn’t make the cut for me.

The best thing I could probably do to get over this TV-related depression is to stay far away from the actual television. Spend my summer downtime reading books, going on scenic hikes, taking vacations or reconnecting with friends who I never see because you don’t see your friends in LA if they don’t live within a one-mile radius of your apartment.

But apparently I love TV too much and/or I have more free time than I know what to do with. So for the past four weeks I’ve been searching for new shows that would prove the summertime doesn’t have to be a TV-free zone.

Here’s my take on five shows that premiered over the past month (ranked worst to first).

[Side Note: Before you read my reviews, it’s probably a good idea to know what kind of tastes I have in television shows. I’m much more of a comedy/sitcom person than I am a drama person. For a one-hour drama to stick with me, it has to show early on that it might someday reach the level of shows like The Wire, Breaking Bad, Weeds or Lost. I’m not screwing around with hour-long TV shows. Either you’ve got potential to be an all-timer, or I’m not staying tuned. With sitcoms I’m more forgiving because the time and emotional investment is so much less than the dramas. I’m a self-admitted sitcom snob, which means I love shows like Arrested Development, Parks & Recreation and Veep, and I hate shows with a laugh track (the one exception is Big Bang Theory, a show that I was late to come around on, but now I’ll fight you over if you lump it in with “all those other bad CBS sitcoms”).]

#5. Camp

TV schedule: Wednesdays on NBC at 10 p.m.

Where you can catch up:

There’s a decent chance I was never the intended audience for this show. After all, it’s based around a group of teenage campers and counselors at a lakeside summer camp. But it airs at 10 p.m. so you’d think it was made for adults. And I’m willing to give a chance to any show that has hints of the movie Wet Hot American Summer in it. But after a strong opening scene in the pilot where an unsuspecting camper gets a fish hook to the nose, Camp quickly devolved into an after school special. It’s being described as a dramedy, and unfortunately it’s the drama part that makes it intolerable. On the surface level it feels like a comedy, and there are certainly funny parts, but then we quickly learn about one camper’s battle with leukemia, and one counselor’s dilemma between leaving for Stanford law school or sticking around to help his gambling addict mother get her life together.

If it was a pure sitcom, I’d give it more time. But it’s the dramatic cliches that made it the summer show I permanently deleted from my DVR the quickest.

#4. Under The Dome

TV schedule: Mondays on CBS at 10 p.m.

Where you can catch up: All episodes are on Amazon Prime Instant Video, and has the two most recent episodes

I’m out on this show. I gave it four episodes because I really wanted to like it. The pilot was impressive enough that I was telling people it might be the closest thing to Lost since Lost. Initially it seemed to have the elements that made the ABC island drama such an addicting show: a mysterious “something” forcing a group of people together (the island/the dome), characters presenting themselves as different people than their backstories suggested, everyone trying to figure out what logical reason there is for them to be in the situation they’re now in.

But then a few episodes passed, and it was like the entire town of Chester’s Mill no longer cared about the dome. Everyone was so wrapped up in the soap opera-like dramas of their fellow townspeople that the real main character, the dome, became just a background image. What pulled us in during the first season of Lost was not just that these were interesting characters with checkered pasts, but that they desperately needed to get off the island, and they were always in search of answers about the mystery surrounding them.

How am I supposed to be invested in these characters escaping the dome when they don’t seem invested in it? A typical episode has the town’s leaders (police, city council member, priest) running around trying to stop something bad from happening inside the dome (police officer going AWOL, outbreak of meningitis), but never do we see anyone spending time trying to get out of the dome or make contact with the outside world.

Rather than capture the magic of Lost’s season one, Under The Dome seems to have fast forwarded to Lost’s season three. And anyone who was a fan of that show knows this is bad news for the longterm prospects of the Dome.

#3. The Bridge

TV schedule: Wednesdays on FX at 10 p.m.

Where you can catch up:

After a disappointing pilot (not nearly as bad as it was described by one of my friends on twitter: “about as awful of a pilot as I’ve seen”), the second episode was much better. Really this show is no different than any other crime show where the authorities are chasing a serial killer. The big gimmick that was supposed to create some buzz is the fact that the first body was found right on the border between El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico. This means the “by the books” American detective must team up with the “shoot from the hip” Mexican detective. Classic odd couple police procedural.

If you are into the CSI’s, Law & Orders and the other typical police shows, you’ll probably enjoy The Bridge. If you usually aren’t entertained by that format, don’t waste your time. There’s nothing so special about this show that you should give it a chance if it’s just not your style.

#2. Drunk History

TV schedule: Tuesdays on Comedy Central at 10 p.m.

Where you can catch up:

Here’s how I would describe Drunk History in as few words as possible: Each episode contains three seven-minute skits where well-known comedians and actors try to act out a historic event as told by a ridiculously drunk person.

I shouldn’t have to say anything more for you to run over to your DVR right now and set up a season pass. It’s fulfilling my always-lofty expectations for a comedy, and even the less interesting skits will still cause you to laugh.

Maybe it’s not a great thing to be glorifying the act of getting so drunk that you can hardly form complete sentences, but that’s something for concerned parents to worry about, not me.

Do yourself a favor and start watching this show ASAP. It’s about the only comedic effort worth watching this summer.

#1. Orange Is The New Black

TV schedule: Netflix Instant, all 13 episodes available

Where you can catch up: Netflix, dummy

OK, Netflix, I’m in. You got me.

Between the Arrested Development reboot, early returns on Orange Is The New Black and what I hear about House of Cards, it seems like Netflix is taking over the TV world.

In what has become a staple of shows produced for Netflix, all 13 episodes of Orange were released on July 11th. Even though I’ve only seen the first two, it’s a matter of days before I plow through the other 11. This show is that good.

I guess you’d call it a drama, since the subject matter revolves around a woman sent to prison for being part of a drug ring and the people she comes into contact with at the prison. But similar to a show like Weeds, Orange gets a ton of humorous mileage out of the fact that this middle class woman is suddenly thrust into an unknown and dangerous world. And it makes perfect sense that Orange would share many traits with Weeds since both shows were created by the same woman, Jenji Kohan.

Other than the Weeds similarities, Orange should also play well with fans of the Lost format. Just like we slowly learned about Jack, Kate, Sawyer and the rest of the island gang through flashbacks, we’re getting the background on the Orange main characters through that same device.

At least through the first two episodes, both the dramatic plot lines and the lighter comedic moments play very well together.

It’s doubtful you’ll see another blog from me until I devour the rest of this terrific new show.

So there you have it. Skip the cheesy summer camp and dome experiences, get on board with buddy cop experience only if you like seeing the same crime show format over and over again, and make a date with Drunk History and Orange Is The New Black.

At least until August 11th, that’s about all we’ve got.