August 8, 2013

Movie Reviews: 20 Feet From Stardom, Fruitvale Station, Still Mine

It's not that I've seen all these movies this week, it's that I've seen them in the past month but haven't had time to review them. So why bother? you ask. I have no answer for that except that I love writing and I love movies...and there are one or two people who like to read my reviews. we go, let's play catch up.

20 Feet From Stardom ***** is a fabulous documentary about the unsung  heroes of music (such an obvious pun but I couldn't resist) - backup singers. In the 50s backup singers were white with a wholesome, plucky, Perry Como sound. In the 60s white bands started using black singers, often preachers' kids, for an edgier, soulful sound, and they transformed music. Some of those singers are spectacularly talented and deserve their own solo career, and once in a while that happens, but many of them go unnoticed through their whole career. Like any other creative endeavor it's not simply about talent - it's about luck and ambition and who you know.
Darlene Love is probably the most well-known backup singer and she was deservedly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in 2011). Are there others who should be there with her? Undoubtedly. But as a backup singer, that's what you are: backup. This is a fascinating film about those talented artists.

Fruitvale Station ***1/2
If it wasn't for the spectacular coincidence of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin trial being in the news at the same time as the release of this film I doubt it would have gotten as much attention. Not that it isn't a good film. It is. It's just not a great film, but it's being treated as one.
Fruitvale Station is based on a true story about Oscar Grant III, a young black man who was needlessly killed because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's a heart-wrenching story and even though I knew what was going to happen I kept hoping it wouldn't.
This film introduces us to Grant in the day before he was killed and we learn what kind of person he was. I felt that the filmmaker went overboard in showing us what a good guy he was. It wasn't necessary to be so heavy-handed. Did he love his daughter? Sure. Did he cheat on his girlfriend? Yes. He was a normal guy. Was he a saint? No. Did he deserve to die? No. Was it racial profiling? Pretty much.
It's a sad story. A story we hear about way too often in Chicago, about innocent people dying.

Still Mine ***1/2
I love James Cromwell so even if this were an awful movie I'd have to give it at least three stars just for having cast him in it. It's not an awful move; it's entertaining, it's sad, it's sweet, heart-warming and sentimental.
This is based on a true story of a couple in their late 80s (Genevieve Bujold plays the wife, although she's only 71 in real life) and it's the final chapter of their lives. She's falling into dementia, he's trying his best to take care of her by himself, and doesn't want any interference from their children or anyone else. He's still strong and capable, so he decides to build a smaller house, with his own two hands, which will make their lives easier.
Unfortunately, he has no knowledge or concern about building permits and plans and regulations so he blithely begins his project and then is indignant when told he must follow some rules. I wasn't able to work up any sympathy for him. I felt bad that he couldn't do it the way he wanted to but just because he's old doesn't mean he's exempt. Yes, I think bureaucracy can be debilitating but there are also safety issues, and just because someone says they know what they're doing doesn't mean they do.
Cromwell never disappoints me and his performance was wonderful. Bujold was fine but nothing more than that.
And even though I wanted him to just shut up and get the proper permits and file his damn paperwork, of course that would have been a boring movie. And I was happy in the end when he finally gets his house built his way because a judge takes pity on this old man. You know, that little-guy-fights-the-system-and-wins routine. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Rudi. Philadelphia. You get the idea. Yay! We love those kind of movies.
I just hope the house doesn't come crashing down around him and his demented wife.

1 comment:

The Capster said...

Thanks for the heads up, Samantha. I'm so in need of a good flick ... I, too, love Cromwell so if it ever comes to Hendersonville or Asheville, I will be there. Fruitville Station sounds doable too. I'm still reeling from the REAL trial and hurting for that boy's family.