Monday, July 29, 2013

Fruitvale Station: A Young Man's Tragic Last Stop

It may have been four years, but people in the Bay Area still remember what happened to Oscar Grant at the BART Fruitvale Station, when 2009 was just two hours old.

A fight broke out in one of the trains, and Oscar and some of his friends were told by police to leave. This is what happened next, as shown by KTVU news:

This led to riots, controversy, and a major shakeup in the BART police force. The scars of that shooting still exist to this day, and may have been ripped open after the George Zimmerman trial

That footage is also the first scene of  Fruitvale Station, a dramatization of Oscar's final day.
He's not perfect, but he's trying to do right by his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), his daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) and his mom Wanda (Octavia Spenser). His girl reminds him how he cheated on her, and wonders if he'll do it again. He hasn't told them he lost his job at a local store, while he may consider drug dealing to make ends meet.

Yet Michael B. Jordan shows Oscar as a man who wants to do better, and hopefully be better. The
best example is a scene at the store where he used to work. He helps a woman who needs some advice on the best fish to fry for New Year's Eve, but later begs the store manager to re-hire him. This shows Oscar as caring, but also desperate,  and Jordan plays it beautifully.

If it was any other movie, it could have been about a young man trying to move forward, but could be likely to lose progress at any moment. However,  there are omens that predict his fate. While he ponders his next move, we see that he spent another New Years Eve in San Quentin. His mom visits her, and she notices the black eye. What happens there also winds up to be an omen. Octavia Spenser is also great as Wanda, a mom who knows her son should know better. She goes from being disappointed to having hope in him, then wishing to hold him just one more time after he's shot.

The movie also does a great job recreating the moments before and after the shooting. You see Oscar trying to hold it together, but when emotions between him, his friends and the police get out of hand, and that fatal shot is fired, you see the bloody face of a man whose future is slowly fading away. You also see the face of the cop who shot Oscar, stunned over what he had done. He claimed in his trial he had mistaken his gun for a taser, and seeing his response may have been proof.

It may be inevitable that someone will make a movie about George Zimmerman and Treyvon Martin. The producers may write a story that shows both sides of both men It would show that fateful meeting yet leave it ambiguous about what really happened. That way, the viewer would decide whether Zimmerman was really guilty, or if it was partially Martin's fault. Such a movie is likely to be made, but it won't measure up to this film.

Fruitvale Station is a compelling drama about a tragedy that shouldn't have happened. When you see Oscar draw his last breath, you wonder, as his family and friends wonder, what could have been. To this day, they still wonder.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Coming of Age On Film

Lost among the big robots and superheroes that are part of every movie summer season are small films that express more about life that wrecking stuff.

This year, two movies looked at how two teenagers spent their summer: a boy who would rather be somewhere else, and a girl who wants to know what sex is before heading off to college.

The Way Way Back started its run a couple of weeks back after some positive buzz from critics. It has a good cast, and the writers of The Descendants, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, directed and wrote this film about a 14 year old kid named Duncan (Liam James) who heads to a summer home with his mom (Toni Collette) and her new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell) who is a bit of a jerk. Located next door to the house are Betty, a brassy divorcee and her two kids. It's not long before Duncan feels like a fifth wheel while the adults have fun. Trent is trying to bond with Duncan, but it's not going well, especially when he calls Duncan a "three" on a scale of ten.

Duncan decides to head to a nearby water park run by Owen (Sam Rockwell). He's also a jerk but a lovable one who sees something in Duncan. The summer becomes more bareable, especially when he gets to know Susannah (Annasophia Robb), Betty's daughter. Things take a dark turn when Trent does something that lowers his grade way below three.

James may be familiar to those who watched The Killing, and he does very well as a kid who trying to deal with a potential stepfather, and a summer love. Carrell is also good in a role that's much different than his nice-guy roles in previous movies. Janney also keeps things lively in her role as a mom who should know better.

On the other end of the spectrum is The To-Do List, about Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza), a grade-A
student from Boise who decides her summer project will be losing her virginity. That was after her friends take her to a wild party, and she gets one look at Rusty (Scott Porter), a very handsome guy.
The best thing about this movie is Plaza as the nerd who decides, to quote Spike Lee, she's gotta have it. Sure she's 29 (which surprises me, actually), but she's very funny as a brainy girl who approaches the "first time" from a clinical approach. She lists all the sexual acts she has to approach before the ultimate goal of Rusty. It's not long before she finds out real feelings are also part of the process, since she uses her study pal Cameron (Johnny Simmons) to perform some of them. As she did in Safety Not Guaranteed, she proves she's much more than April on Parts and Recreation.

In the meantime, she works as a lifeguard (and can rock a red, one-piece Speedo) at a local pool...where Rusty works. I did like her relationship with Willy (Bill Hader), the manager, especially when she finds out a big secret that could threaten his job.

Her relationship with her pals Fiona (Alia Shawkat, who has changed a LOT since her first season on Arrested Development) and Wendy (Sarah Steele) is also funny. It's amazing how much they think they know about sex, mainly from Penthouse or Cosmo.. It's too bad the movie does haven more scenes with Brandy's family. Sure, we know big sis Amber (Rachel Bilson) and her first time, but there should have been a couple more scenes with Connie Britton and Clark Gregg as her parents. Britton does do well in her scenes to prove she's racier than most wives. Gregg does get in some good scenes towards the end.

The movie also brings back the 90s very well, from VCRs to ancient video games. Andy Samberg is also a riot as a faux Eddie Vedder who helps Brandy check off something in her list.

The movie hasn't pleased everyone, maybe because it's a sex comedy with no nudity, but Plaza is the best reason to see the movie. Considering the film was made for one point five million bucks, and it's a chance to show female-centered teen sex romps can work, it's a good film, and may inspire more teen sex films from s girl's viewpoint.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Rifftrax: La Cattiva Aldilà (The Bad Afterlife)

In 1960, Anita Ekberg seduced the world by dancing in a fountain during La Dolce Vita.
Nine years later, she tried to do the same thing in a very cheap and terrible Eurotrash horror movie where the curvy vampires out-seduced her. This was before botox.

Rifftrax got a hold of Fangs of the Living Dead, and tried to stake it in its tracks. As I said before, the gang at Incognito Cinema Warriors XP are more skilled towards these types of movies. Still, Rifftrax's take has plenty of fresh riffs plus a couple of callbacks.

Ekberg plays Sylvia, the most beautiful model in Italy (or at least the movie's version of Italy). After her mom dies, she finds out she's about to inherit a title and a castle in some fake country called Waldrick. When she comes to town, mainly a Hammer horror movie set that has seen better days, the town seems to be stunned to see her. She gets a ride to the castle (Bill Corbett: "And hiding in the grass, evil...shrubbery"), and is met by some creepy uncle, Count Hipster. While she changes hairstyles as much as she changes clothes, she insists she learn about her family's history, especially her mother. Their discussion is marked by a lot of overacting, while he spins some tale about Sylvia being the image of her grandmother, who tampered in God's domain and was burned by the ignorant townsfolk. The upside to all this is that she supposedly turned Uncle Creepy into a vampire.

She also has to deal with Blinka, who apparently is close to the uncle, and Berta, a barmaid who also joins the undead...or not undead. Uncle Creepy then tells Sylvia to cancel her wedding plans, and stay in the castle forever. He demands she drink his blood to seal the deal...and admit he looks like Peter O'Toole.
See, the uncle eventually admits it's all part of a plot to drive Sylvia insane so that he can keep the castle. Not telling her about the castle would have been easier. The uncle uses his sexy "vampires" and the worst shadow puppetry ever to scare away Sylvia's fiancé Pietro and his dumb friend Max.
This leads to a final twist that renders the whole movie as meaningless, although not as badly as the ending to The Bermuda Triangle.

Some examples:

Sylvia sees Blinka as a vampire, or least her teeth:

Blinka: "She never should have seen me this way. She'll always be afraid of me now."
Kevin Murphy: Together, we could have ruled Cinemax soft-core

Pietro, Sylvia's fiancé, reads a history of Waldrick:  "In the village of Waldrick, they talk nothing except vampires, about the dead leaving their graves."
Mike Nelson:  As long as the dead don't move to the Pacific Northwest and go to high school, I'm fine with that.

The old doctor warns of "an insatiable blood sucker"
Mike: Oh my God, Nancy Grace? Get the holy water!

The town is worried Berta has turned into a vampire:
Old Doc:  Something much more terrible than death happened to her
Kevin: She went to see AfterEarth.

There's also riffs on Zooey Deschanel, Jabba the Hutt, Game of Thrones, Ed Wood, Amway, The Wicker Man, Shia Lebouf, Hacksaw Jim Duggan...and a recent addition to the Rifftrax library.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Rifftrax: Why Didn't This Bermuda Triangle Movie Disappear?

This may be the biggest Rifftrax VOD bargain yet: a movie that's nearly two hours...and feels like it's six at least. The Bermuda Triangle has a well-respected director at the most embarrassing time of his career, evil dolls, a sexy girl to distract us from the lack of quality (which is what Piranha 3-D did from start to finish), and a tedious block that reminds one of the "rock climbing" in the Lost Continent episode from MST3K.

This blog includes the "roundtable" discussion of Bermuda Triangle, which still has enough clips that make you wonder about this film. The gist is that a boat with 13 passengers, which is a bad omen in itself, is headed to some runs that are supposedly from Atlantis. However, they have to go inside the Triangle, where boats and planes disappear without a trace. Sadly, it does not include this movie.

Take the first scene: a boat that looks like the Mayflower is about to sink due to a hurricane, and the only person left is a young girl (Mike Nelson: "Your daughter will love her 'My First Titanic Playset'"). We see her pout, facing her imminent death...
then cut to the Black Whale III, the "Ship of Fools" in this movie. It includes Peter and Sybil, a married couple whose love died long ago. Apparently he couldn't save a girl on the operating table, and holds a glass of scotch constantly. John Huston, who may have made this to raise money to direct Wise Blood, wanders around, and has a young wife that explains some kids calling him "dad."

Below deck is...Vadinho, Pumaman's shaman? Miguel Angel Fuentes, who has a nice voice if you saw that movie, is dubbed within an inch of his life. Actually, everyone is dubbed (not Huston, though) by two or three people. It's the worst dubbing since Braniac, especially how they treat the cook.

Anyway, Diane, Huston's daughter (!???!!), sees a doll floating in the water. They pick it up and give it to her, not noticing it looks like the girl who died in the first two minutes. Pretty soon, Diane holds the doll, predicting everyone will die. So, it's a demonic film, right?

Well, let's not forget the legend of the Triangle: let's have ships and a few planes suddenly disappear to emphasize that.

Then Diane's attacked by a bunch of birds (Mike: "Sudden on-set Birdemic" Kevin Murphy: "Death by Polly wanting a cracker"), and the doll apparently saved the kid by biting the birds. That's followed by the boat suddenly losing power, and the captain deciding he's going to ask the director of the African Queen why he's in this movie. Then one of the kids sees someone pop up from the ocean (maybe a pilot who died heroically in a certain sci-fi film?), but it was all a dream....right?

This is followed by a very tedious scuba scene, or as Bill Corbett calls it, "exploring a Brian Eno deep cut". It's mainly a lot of nothing broken up by occasional killing of sharks. However, when they approach the alleged ruins of Atlantis (Mike: "Wrath of the Giant Petrified Toilet Paper Rolls of the Titans"), the ruins collapse in some sea quake or something. Even that gets boring, though, except Michelle's legs are severely wounded. That only restores some type of suspense in the movie, because it gives drunk doc a chance at redemption that never comes. At one point, he thinks the only way to protect the ship from the unseen threat is throw away every painting that shows a big octopus or a fish with big teeth

Anyway, everyone tries to get help, leave the boat, or head to the nearest island to basically escape this movie. However, we find out it's futile, because.......
well, let's say it's something that M. Night Shyamalan would consider an embarrassing way to end this film.

The riffs range from the XFL, John Cougar Mellencamp, the Andrea Doria, Popeye, 127 Hours, The Ghost Whisperer, Lost and the Gong Show to a disturbing riff mash-up involving Spongebob Squarepants and the Snorks. There's even some implied violence among the riffers, and Mike says "Release the Kraken" three times--and it's not what you think.

Rifftrax is getting a handle on mocking foreign horror flicks whose quality and budget is just an inch above, say, The Galaxy Invader or Firehead. Still, Incognito Cinema Warriors XP has the edge, especially when you see what they do to Lady Frankenstein or Bloody Pit of Horror.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Move Over, Kings and Cats--Here Comes The Republic

After doing well in Triple A baseball and successfully keeping its spot in the NBA, Sacramento is ready for another pro sport, and it's one that is very popular now. It's pro soccer.

There's been pro indoor soccer with the Knights, and a few years with the American Soccer League (proof coming later), but now the River City is joining USA PRO, more or less the American version of a "second division" below the top flight in pro soccer. A few MLS teams came up from there, including Portland and Vancouver. Maybe it will be Sacramento's turn in a few years.

The name was supposed to be revealed just before the friendly between Premier League side Norwich City and Ascenso MX (second division) side Dorados de Sineloa. However, the wind had other ideas:

Hmm...what is that on the scoreboard?

The wind will ruin the surprise!

Wait, don't look...oh, well...

However, the new logo and team got a more proper introduction, thanks to these fans:

NOW, we unveil our logo

The new coach, Preki (also former MLS player and coach), says he promises to run a soccer franchise the city can be proud to call its own. In fact, the program included a possible design for a downtown pitch, maybe next to the Kings' new digs.

Preki, future coach for Republic FC

It was a sea of soccer jerseys everywhere, including this group of Norwich fans...

Norwich fans meet

and the notorious vuvuzela returned...

Uh, oh, it's back

It wasn't long before city pride in the team, that hasn't been created yet, emerged...

Bow Before the Republic...Shirt

Not only that, the team has its own video...and team chant...

Oh, wait, there was a game that fits into Sacramento coming to pro soccer. This time, Norwich is preparing for its return to the English Premier League by taking on Dorados. Here's some of the action I got...

No need for Kings or Cats

Whoa, not so fast

Make it two for Norwich

And, as a bonus, this mean is wearing a piece of very distant por soccer history: from the American Soccer League's Sacramento Spirits...

Man with oldest Sacramento Soccer Shirt

It's interesting Sacramento won the ASL title with another team. Anyone know where that championship trophy is?

Anyway, the rest of my pictures from Sacramento Soccer Day are right here.

So, Sacramento is about to enter pro soccer, and maybe the first division someday. This type of football (rather than the Gold Miners and Mountain Lions) may have a better chance of staying put.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

2013 Emmys: No Clones or Fake Americans Allowed, But Come In, Netflix

When Orphan Black was being considered as a possible Best Drama nomination at the Emmy Awards, I had my hopes it would happen.

Then I remembered: if the Emmys had no use for vampire slayers, Browncoats, people who run a mysterious warehouse, zombies or time travelers, how can an actress who plays several different clones in one episode get nominated?

Answer: she doesn't.
Tatiana Maslany never had a chance, but at least she'll have TV critics who are also upset about this. It's a cinch this will be discussed at Comic-Con, but I'm sure she's proud of her work, and how it's made Orphan Black a big hit among sci-fi fans.

Also, where are The Americans? Sure, Margo Martindale got a nomination as a guest actress, but no Keri Russell for Best Actress?

However, what some people have predicted did happen: Netflix was welcomed to the Big Boy table with House of Cards getting nine nominations, including Best Drama Series, Best Actor and Best Actress. It took years for cable TV shows to be considered Emmy-worthy, and Netflix did it in less than six months. Meanwhile, Arrested Development's return got a Best Actor in a Comedy nod for Jason Bateman. It should be interesting if Orange Is The New Black will make its mark next year. Also, FunnyOrDie got a nomination for Between Two Ferns, probably for its Oscar nominee interviews, while Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, from, got a nomination. Still, it would have been great if Husbands got noticed. It's mostly due to the Emmys wondering how to properly honor online shows. Maybe with the growth of this type of media, they'll figure out something. They have to, now that Netflix is the first online network to snag a major nomination.

Also, does it tell you something that three shows competing for Best Variety Series have more credibility than Meet the Press or most newspapers when it comes to the news? Yes, we mean The Daily Show, Colbert Report and Real Time With Bill Maher. The two Jimmys, Fallon and Kimmel, are also in the running, but this may be Stephen Colbert's year.

This year's event will also get the attention of Browncoats. Remember the clashes Inara and Saffron had on Firefly, sort of over Mal actually? Now, Christina Hendricks and Morena Baccarin are up for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama. However, they have to fend off two likely choices: Maggie Smith from Downton Abbey and Miss Dragon Mom herself, Emelia Clark from Game of Thrones. I'd choose Clarke only because of the Astapor Barbecue.

By the way, Kristen Wiig's SNL episode as host is coming this weekend. What a coincidence she's nominated for Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, but my money's on Melissa McCarthy for that honor. Her Bank Loan and Evil Basketball Coach sketches are the best arguments. As far as Guest Actor, Justin Timberlake is nominated again, but he'll have to bow to Louis C.K's portrayal of Lincoln.

Best Mini-Series/Movie could be one wild completion. The Emmys should have put Orphan Black in the running since it's 13 episodes, like American Horror Story: Asylum. Still, AHS collected 17 nominations. The big story is Behind the Candelabra, which should have been in the Oscar race if not for short-sided movie executives. It's up for the big award, and may win. However, putting both Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in Best Actor may create vote-splitting and could be better news for benedict Cumberbatch for Parade's End. I still say Douglas should get the award.

Well, this year's Emmys will be very interesting. We should see Best Drama go to a network without a channel, a Browncoat finally win an Emmy, and a news show get Best Variety Series.
It'll also have this sign: No Clones Welcome....Yet.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Of Weird Al and Twinkies

This used to be at Disney's California Adventure, but now it's in front of Cal Expo's Main Gate as it welcomes visitors to the State Fair.
About this time, I'd be getting ready for Comic-Con, listing all the panels I can't get to see because having a press pass doesn't give you an advantage. Sure, I'd wind up talking to some actors and not head for the panel because they fill up so fast. Still, I would have loved to get that swag, and maybe get lucky with an unexpected autograph or two.

That's why the fair would be my Comic-Con this year, and hope for better things next year. Besides, the fair had a dash of Comic-Con this year with a Hall of Heroes. Kids got to see very famous robots, like these guys...

Little Comic-Con

There was an Iron Man statue, and a replica Batmobile, and surprisingly half a TARDIS...

Hey, is that a whole TARDIS?

However, there was one sign that showed summer was officially here, more than corn dogs, ice cream or Chevrolet sunglasses:

Miss me?

This is before Twinkies would officially be back in stores. Somehow, this vendor got some. It's true because it has the new box:

We'reeeee Baaaaacccckk!

This will be a familiar sight at every other state fair this summer.

The main reason I wanted to go was Weird Al Yankovic. It had been a few years since he was last seen at the State Fair. This was basically a "Greatest Hits" concert. Last time, he added a couple of original songs about a Disneyland employee who used to have dreams a big movie career, and a really sleazy love song.
This time, very familiar sights, like these:

An oldie but a goodie

The traditional climax

and judging from this picture, he made the right choice:

Weird Al fans grooving

When he did Amish Paradise, people were waving their arms. More than 30 years mocking music, and he's got staying power Bieber could only dream of.

Of course, there is this new wrinkle, which either mocks NBC or Pacific Rim more than it does Lady Gaga:

No, Weird Al is not doing a tribute to Pacific Rim

Then,it all ended with the Weird Al seal of approval.....

Look for the Weird Al label

Until things moved towards the Happy Dark Side...with a Star Wars encore for the ages. Take that, Hall H!

My My This Here Aniken Guy

The accordion is strong with this one


The only thing missing was the swag. For me, that was Comic-Con 2013. I just hope Al has some new musical targets. He just can't let Rebecca Black is safe from his satiric ways. 30 Rock sure isn't.

One thing, though: he also showed his fake movie trailer called "Weird" with Olivia Wilde, Aaron Paul, and Patten Oswalt as Dr. Demento. It may have been a Funny of Die bit, but making it a real movie wouldn't be a bad idea. The more accurate account is kind of interesting, but they could do this one, and blow Walk Hard, the Dewey Cox Story away.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Despicable Weekend For Kaiju

Because I'm old, I decided to see Pacific Rim this weekend. I figured its story has got to be better than The Lone Ranger, and Guillermo Del Toro wouldn't steer me wrong.

Well, but this should tell the story of what happened when it went up against Despicable Me 2:

How come?
First off, kid's movies always have the edge over other movies because they're made for the entire family. While movie critics have pointed pointed out Gru and his minions aren't as evil as they tried to be last time (in fact, the plot for Gru to find a fellow super-villain is almost like Father Knows Best, except for the ray guns and volcano), it's still pulling in a lot of people who have been disappointed by The Lone Ranger and other blockbusters this summer.

The other reason is that a lot of people complained that the battles between kaiju and Jaegers in Pacific Rim have been at night, Thus, you don't get a good look at both, and it would be great if you did. There was one battle in daylight which was presented as a flashback, but that's it. It may explain why Pacific Rim not only missed hitting 40 million dollars in its first weekend, but lost to GrownUps 2.
It's really a shame because aside from the "it's too dark to see the cool Jaegers and kaiju" problem, Pacific Rim is an old-fashioned war picture. Idris Elba is commanding as Stacker Pentecost leading Earth against the super-sized lizards who what to take over our world. They're monsters with a purpose. Charlie Hannum and Rino Kikucho make a great fighting pair, and the movie was wise to not try to engineer a love story between the two until the very last second. No time for love, movie. These two have to deal with losing loved ones before they can get the super-Godzilla types.

I will say the Jaegers will use anything to push back on the kaiju. Seeing a ship as a weapon was a trip.

What was really a surprise was Charlie Day as Netwon, a technician who risks his brain to literally get into the head of a kaiju to find out its motives,. His scenes with Hannibal Chau, played by Ron Perlman, were classic.

So, once again, a super-blockbuster almost hits a home run, but at least it did much better than The Lone Ranger. Pacific Rim was shorter, and had a good story. If it was more well-lit, it would have beaten Gru and his minions, or get close.

As we head closer to August, what other blockbusters could save the summer? Well, there are possibilities have aren't as expensive. We have Red 2, with the return of Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren packing heat, RIPD, a Men In Black knockoff, The Wolverine with Hugh Jackman, Elysium, which could be another 1% vs 99% movie conservatives will condemn, and Kick-Ass 2 with Jim Carrey taking over Nicholas Cage's spot. The kids will be served with Dreamworks' Turbo and Disney's Planes.
For the grown-ups, though, they also have a great selection: The Way Way Back, from the guys who wrote The Descendants; Fruitvale Station, a look at the Oscar Grant tragedy that swept Sundance; and The To-Do List, about a nerd-ish Aubrey Plaza determined to have sex before college.

Despite our two-cents about why this movie works or that one didn't, we'll likely spend sometime in the dark to see cool special effects, or just stay cool at all