Fruitvale Station (2013)

Genre: Biography, Drama

Director: Ryan Coogler

Writer: Ryan Coogler

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer

Rating: ★★★★

Fruitvale Station made a lot of noise when it came out around summer time last year and is now set for a release in the UK, for some reason I never really looked out for it or into it, until now, and I can now say the praise this film got, and the noise that was made is totally justifiable. It is moving, and horrific in the sense that this is a true story and the events which occurred happened, and that they do happen in an every day manner.

‘Fruitvale Station is the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who wakes up on the morning of December 31, 2008 and feels something in the air. Not sure what it is, he takes it as a sign to get a head start on his resolutions: being a better son to his mother, whose birthday falls on New Year’s Eve, being a better partner to his girlfriend, who he hasn’t been completely honest with as of late, and being a better father to T, their beautiful 4 year old daughter. He starts out well, but as the day goes on, he realises that change is not going to come easy. He crosses paths with friends, family, and strangers, each exchange showing us that there is much more to Oscar than meets the eye. But it would be his final encounter of the day, with police officers at the Fruitvale BART station that would shake the Bay Area to its very core, and cause the entire nation to be witnesses to the story of Oscar Grant’

The ending to the story is irrelevant in some respect; many before watching would be familiar of such events and the name Oscar Grant, what is relevant is the manner in which this story has been told. It follows Oscar throughout his day, his last day, it allows us to know Oscar, connect and engage. He isn’t as first seen the stereotypical man from a rough part of town, he is caring, he tries. We see his interaction with his mother, something truly heart-warming; we see his interaction with his daughter, something equally as touching. Oscar is trying to turn his life around and make something for himself and everyone that he cares for. As the New Year slowly approaches we have seen the true Oscar, kind and loving, but as he gets the train back home with his girlfriend and a group of friends his past seems to hold him back. A group of police officers, racist and vile, unfairly treat and arrest Oscar and his friends, eventually leading to the unnecessary shooting and the unforgettable murder which was seen from all train members.

The moment is shocking and sad, something very moving and somewhat unexplainable. When watching you feel so much anger, and sorrow, for the whole film we have connected with Oscar and we know what he has to come back to, and look forward to, but in that one moment it is all gone. The writer Ryan Coogler has done amazingly to achieve such emotion, and so have the actors. Michael B. Jordan portrayal of Oscar is brilliant, he was realistic but at the same time moving as we saw his interaction with people throughout the day. The idea that these actors aren’t well-known adds to the realism of this story, or keeps the realism within the true story, and again this creates even more emotion. I usually find portrayals of true events hard to watch as I still believe that it never happened, but this is the complete opposite, and really deserves praise.

Fruitvale Station is an example of a film which thrives of its story, and that is so good because of it. There were flaws, the dialogue at times was hard to handle, and some scenes seemed too on the nose and Hollywood for the true story, whilst nothing equally jumped out as an amazing aspect of craft, but it is hard not to be touched by this film and Oscar’s story. This is a film I am glad I watched, it is excellently portrayed and handled, whilst the rawness adds to keep realism and creates so much emotion. Fruitvale Station is a film with so much emotion. It is not the easiest to watch, but it is powerful and really worthwhile. I strongly believe this film was majorly overlooked and forgotten from last year.

 

 

Dallas Buyers Club (2014)

Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Writers: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto

Rating: ★★★★½

Dallas Buyers Club is possibly one of the most touching films ever made that discus the topic of AIDS, with a powerful excellently-written story and a master-class in acting it makes for a fantastic watch and final end product. Visually appealing as well, it has racked up an impressive six Oscar Nominations and that’s not surprising as I’m sure this film will be regarded as one of the best come the ceremony and end of the year.

Dallas Buyers Club revolves around the life of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a “trash park” hustler and electrician. Addicted to sex, drugs and alcohol his life is anything but serious however it all soon changes when he is diagnosed as being HIV positive. Fighting for his life he is told he has only thirty days to live but Ron’s responds “Let me give y’all a little news flash. There ain’t nothin’ out there can kill fuckin’ Ron Woodroof in 30 days”.  Diving into research about various drugs and trials he eventually discovers a new and illegal form of life-saving medication.  Inventing the “Dallas buyers’ club” he medicates those with AIDS across the country working his way around the system. On his journey not only does his life change but his view of the world and people, meeting extraordinary characters and forming extraordinary bonds, especially with fellow sufferer Rayon (Jared Leto). His fight with AIDS soon becomes a fight with the government, but Ron doesn’t give up on anything.

The story of Ron Woodroof is emotionally powerful, his change of attitude throughout is touching and warming. Writer’s Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack deserve much praise alongside their nomination of best original screenplay. When Ron first gets diagnosed it comes from out the blue after doctors ran blood tests due to a simple work-related injury, in denial the typical “redneck” screams “you calling me a fucking faggot”. However by the end of the film he is no longer a homophobic racist, or ashamed of his disease but a lead campaigner for AIDS working alongside those once called “faggot” sufferers to overthrow the government. The story is much different to other films, as much as it is about AIDS as a killer disease and how it struck 80’s America, it’s about how people first viewed the outburst and how those views and attitudes had to change.

An amazing cast give a somewhat master-class in acting that portrays this story to its full potential and establishes some heart-felt memorable relationships. Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof is surely an award-winner, not only is his portrayal brilliant but the dedication to meet physical requirements is astonishing as he lost 47 pounds. Jared Leto an actor who knows a lot about changing physical condition for the big screen saw history repeat itself  as he lost 30 pounds alongside an amazing performance as Rayon a transsexual with AIDS, who soon becomes a business partner and good friend of Ron’s. The make-up department who have been nominated for an Oscar really does deserve a huge amount of credit for the transformation of the two main characters.

My only criticisms is the underdevelopment of certain characters especially Eve (Jennifer Garner), a doctor who treats both main characters in the film. I personally would have liked to see a more finalised ending instead of a list of facts and dates before the final credits too. Nevertheless Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club is an astonishing film, somewhat brilliant in many aspects this is a release that will win many awards, becoming a huge success for sure. Visually entertaining, remarkable acting and an excellent story make for a great film that is both touching, powerful and pleasant to watch. Dallas Buyers Club is a memorable release that should definitely be a must-see.

Lone Survivor (2014)

Genre: Action, Biography, Drama, War

Director: Peter Berg

Writers: Peter Berg, Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson (book)

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster

Rating:★★★★★

Lone Survivor is extremely entertaining and impacting bringing a much needed refreshing change to the genres taking up the new release spots in the cinemas at the moment. It came as a huge surprise to me that how this release can be so great and somewhat flawless even though the man behind the camera brought the shame of Battleship to Hollywood not so long ago. However it seems that Peter Berg has fully recovered and I hope that his newest film will get the credit it so deserves. Perfectly executed alongside great performances, The Lone survivor will most definitely be up there as one of the best films of the year, despite it still being early January.

The Lone Survivor is based and adapted from the real life failed mission “Operation Red Wings” which saw a team of four US Navy Seals attempt to kill notorious and dangerous Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd. Mark Wahlberg is Marcus Luttrell, the team’s leader and inspiration who we see alongside Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) racing back to the barracks attempting to break their record times in competition. Out of breathe and planning a forfeit Luttrell is soon interrupted and stopped, being told he must brief his team and set upon Operation Red Wing. Marcus Luttrell alongside Danny Dietz, Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson (Ben Foster) start their mission and set off to find and execute Ahmad Shahd.

In overlooking forests just outside a local village which Shahd and other Taliban members are operating in, perimeters are set and the team can only wait for further orders. Sleeping in the bushes at their posts the team are then intruded by a herd of goats accompanied by their farmers, Luttrell’s and his teams position and safety, along with the mission has been comprised, knowing that any option will eventually lead to combat they release the two farmers and scout back to higher ground. Desperately trying to reach their home base by radio for extraction their attempts fail leaving them off the grid and alone. It doesn’t take long until they are found and hunted down by firing Taliban members, Luttrell’s Navy Seals now have to put all their training into use as they are up against impossible odds but with skill, precision and pride the team won’t give up without a fight.

In simple terms and to the core Lone Survivor is just another American War film, however the impact and final product is very different and refreshing along with the way in which its been crafted. Peter Berg creates so many brutal and bloody scenes which have been crafted with excellence, the shot types and the quick pace cutting make for a tense and thrilling encounter whilst at times the long scenery shots are breath-taking. Each death is powerful as we see the full extent and gruesome consequence something many “action” films fail to achieve. The film has also been recently nominated for an Oscar due to its sound, which is truly amazing and definitely deserved, the mix between loud drones to soft melodies really reflect the scenes as well as the emotions.

The opening scenes of Lone Survivor establish the relationships between the team members in the typical “bro-mance” way, however as the film and story develops the relationships and bonds on show are really heart-felt and emotional. Many have claimed that Lone Survivor really does capture the true and realistic bonds that soldiers form with each-other resulting in a big family of brothers. The credit has to be given to the outstanding performances from Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and the way in which they portray such emotional heart-breaking bonds. The horror of Lone Survivor though that makes it most impacting is that it’s based on a real-life true event which when reflected on leaves you speechless and even teary, especially following the credits which host tribute to the fallen Seals of Operation Red Wing.

Lone Survivor is really one of the best “war” films I have seen in recent years maybe dating back until Saving Private Ryan. It’s typically brutal and violent but it’s the emotional and crafting aspect of Peter Berg’s newest film that is truly flawless. Mark Wahlberg again displays a fine performance whilst the supporting cast is outstanding. Lone Survivor is sure to be a big hit as it is easily watchable, entertaining and action-packed making it a must-see upon release.

Into The Wild (2007)

Genre: Adventure, Biography, Drama

Director: Sean Penn
Writers: Sean Penn (screenplay), Jon Krakauer (book)
Staring: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart
Rating: ★★★★½
Into The Wild is a film that’s based on a true story and an adaptation of a book, Sean Penn captures every bit of emotion possible creating an inspirational, beautiful, sad and influential film that you will always remember. Words won’t do justice to just how good a storyline this film has, the fact it’s based on a true story just adds to the emotion and wonder. It has a fantastic crew that shows when looking at the film from the technical point of view, it also features a cameo of all star actors and actresses from Vince Vaughn to Kristen Stewart.

Emile Hirsch plays the character of Chris McCandless a young man who has it all, youth, wealth, intelligence but it isn’t what he wants, he just wants to live to be out there. After graduating from Emory University with straight A’s he abandons his old life, his possessions, his car, he gives his complete $24,000 savings to charity and decides to hitchhike his way to Alaska to live in the wild as Alexander The Supertramp. He rebels against his demanding snobby parents (Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt) and leaves his bewildered sister (Jena Malone). On the way of his great adventure he meets some extraordinary and different characters that shape his new life.

The film skips between Chris in Alaska at the end of his adventure to how he got there and the lessons he learnt and the people he met, finally they meet and the film follows the present day. The characters he meets all vary giving not only Chris advice but you feel the audience life lessons. He meets the characters middle aged “hippy” couple Rainey and Jan (Brain H. Dierker, Catherine Keener) to the likes of an old man Ron (Hal Holbrook) not only is it inspirational and heart warming but the relationships and bonds formed are truly heart warming.

Sean Penn has adapted the book very well, staying close to the original source. He was helped along the way in creating this wonderful film by an excellent crew, credit should be given for a inspirational mood setting soundtrack by the sound department. The acting was outstanding, Emile Hirsch adapted very well not only mentally but physically to play the character of Chris McCandless, for me it’s one of my favourite performances in the last decade. All in all Into The Wild is a must watch film, not only is it a inspirational story but a serious one about a boy who was lost due to his desire to live. It deserves its status as the 165th best film of all time and its many wins and nominations, don’t miss out.