Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Movies You May Have Missed 3

 Here's another quartet of good movies you may have missed when they were in theatrical release. My first recommendation comes as it's now Black History Month. The film marked the directorial debut of Ryan Coogler, an African American director, and boasts a predominantly Black cast. It's based on a true story, a story that I saw covered in TV newscasts. From 2013, the film is FRUITVALE STATION. The title is a mass transit train stop in the Bay Area of northern California. It's an Oakland/San Francisco stop. I was living in San Francisco when the movie opened. I had an urge to see it after reading a promotional poster for it in a cineplex lobby. The poster was filled with rave reviews from prestigious film critics. My first thought was, "Wow. Those are reviews that lead to Oscar nominations." FRUITVALE STATION was honored and the cast received a tremendous ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. However, when Oscar nominations were revealed, there was no mention of FRUITVALE STATION. Not a single nomination. This was an oversight that eventually led to the "Oscars So White" social media hashtag and controversy about the Oscars' lack of racial diversity in the top categories. FRUITVALE STATION stars the gifted Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer. She was a Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for 2011's THE HELP. FRUITVALE STATION should've brought Spencer her second nomination. Michael B. Jordan is excellent.

Jordan and Spencer play son and mother. Jordan plays Oscar Grant, a Black man in his early 20s, had done time in prison. Now out, he wants to be a responsible citizen, son and parent to his child. The essential thing we need to know about his character is translated in the opening scene. Notice how he treats a dog. In flashbacks, we see his life and his tragic death. An unarmed Oscar Grant was shot to death by a transit cop while Grant and his girlfriend, the mother of his child, were on their way to a New Year's Eve celebration. Director/screenwriter Ryan Coogler tells the story with grace and subtlety. His is an outstanding directorial debut. Here's a clip.


I saw FRUITVALE STATION one weekday afternoon in San Francisco. Shortly before the feature started, about five young White women entered and sat in the row right in front of me. They looked to be giggly 20-somethings and I considered moving to a different row to be away from their chattiness. Not only were they quiet and respectful during the movie, they and I were in tears at the end of it. Director Ryan Coogler went on to make 2018's BLACK PANTHER which was such an international box office blockbuster that the Academy could not ignore it. His Afro-centric action/fantasy hit was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture. FRUITVALE STATION, a 90-minute feature, is currently on Netflix.


 He may not be a major movie star like a Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep, but actor James Cromwell definitely has lots of fans. I love the tall, lean, versatile actor in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, THE GREEN MILE, THE ARTIST, THE QUEEN and, of course, BABE, the adorable pig story that brought him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. James Cromwell hit a major home-run in a good, little-seen indie drama of 2012. I saw this one with a Black buddy of mine, both of us middle-aged, and we were awed at how good Cromwell and co-star Genevieve Bujold were. Bujold was a Best Actress Oscar nominee for playing the doomed Anne Boleyn in the historical epic, 1969's ANNE OF A THOUSAND DAYS. Cromwell plays a farmer in STILL MINE who fights back when local corporate-minded authorities block his efforts to build a cottage for him and his longtime wife who's been diagnosed with oncoming dementia. Ultimately, STILL MINE is a love story. Here's a trailer.

STILL MINE is a must-see for James Cromwell fans. It's available to watch for free on IMDb TV.


Mike Sargent, co-president of the Black Film Critics Circle, had me on his film review TV show back in 2014 and we both raved about a new film from Great Britain. We were stunned that it was based on a true political story during the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher years that we never heard about here in the U.S. This was another very good but little-seen movie. PRIDE stars Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, Paddy Considine and Dominic West. The film focuses on a group of gay and lesbian activists that raises money to help the families hit hard financially by the British miners strike of 1984. This would become a major campaign. Heterosexual miners were forced to changed their attitudes towards gays and some gays had to change their attitudes about the tolerance of straight people. PRIDE is a good, surprising, entertaining film. Here''s a trailer.

PRIDE is available to stream on Amazon Pride video.

If you're in the mood for a somewhat naughty, socially impolite comedy, I've got a recommendation. This is another film Mike Sargent and I reviewed on his film review TV show. It's the first film directed by actor Jason Bateman. He stars in it, too, playing the kind of crusty character W.C. Fields would've played in a 1930s comedy. The movie is called BAD WORDS and Bateman plays a 40-year old, often insufferable, man who finds a loophole in the rules for a prestigious regional spelling bee. He becomes a grown-up contestant in the field of schoolkids. On a plane, he encounters the outwardly friendly kid who will be his fierce competitor. Mike and I went into the screening of BAD WORDS expecting it to be a loud, kind o' crude comedy full of frat boy humor. We were surprised. There's a reason why the 40-year old wants to enter the spelling bee. Underneath all the naughty humor is a story about the power of words, how we use them and the impact our words have on others. Here's a trailer.


BAD WORDS is available to stream on Amazon Prime video. Enjoy the movies!







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