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The final station

 Posted: 9:05 AM August 15, 2013

The opening scene of "Fruitvale Station" shows a group of black men seated on the concrete platform of Fruitvale Station, backs against a wall. The shaky, grainy footage is taken from a cell phone belonging to one of many witnesses to a tragic event as it unfolds.

But this is a film not about those fateful moments at the station, but about one day in the life of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), 22, a day that took him from an early morning argument with his girlfriend, Sophina (Melanie Diaz), about his infidelity, to an admission wherein he admits that he has lost his job at a local market because of chronic tardiness.

It also becomes clear, during those early hours, that he is a devoted and committed father who loves his small daughter, Tatiana (Adriana Neal).

Fruitvale Station

84 min

Rated R

Elysium

97 min

Rated R

"Fruitvale Station" is but a moment in Oscar's life, a brief character study, and to the film's credit he is not viewed through a rose-colored prism, nor is he sentimentalized; rather, the film shows him to be both a loving person, a caring father, a thoughtful son, and a man quick to anger, dependable and unreliable and recently incarcerated.

Embedded in the film, in every scene, is the reality that Oscar lived his life trapped in an intersection of intent: He wanted to change his life and yet was tempted by impulses he has not learned to manage. He was still selling dope to survive and wishing it were otherwise, and he undermines his one opportunity at employment when he blows off a good job that he now cannot get back.

In other words, "Fruitvale Station" could easily have idealized Oscar, turning him into a one-dimensional person, a political martyr of sorts, when in reality he was simply a man, conflicted and caring and often tormented by his own fallibility.

Because most in the audience will possess the foreknowledge of what took place on the fateful New Year's morning in 2009, each moment of the film, each conversation Oscar has, on his cellphone or in person — with his mother, Wanda (Octavia Spencer), with his sister, or at the market, where he is buying crabs for his mother's birthday party that evening — seems ominous, possessing an escalating dread.

The audience will bear witness to a life revealed, one that held both great promise and subtle betrayal.

His mother, wanting to get Oscar's attention, asks him a piercing question while seated across from him in the visitors' room at San Quentin: If you love your daughter so much, why are you in here? It's a question that Oscar cannot adequately answer, not while incarcerated and not when he's released.

What occurred at the Fruitvale Station was a tragedy. Did race and its dark history in America play a role in those events? In part. Were Oscar and his friends detained because they were young, black men? Likely. But what also came into play were a growing, hostile crowd and panic by the BART police officer who shot Oscar.

Perhaps it's impossible to separate Oscar and the events of that morning from America's intractable problem regarding race. But to not try is to lessen who Oscar Grant was in life. "Fruitvale Station," no matter its final scene, refuses to diminish him.

"Elysium"

Neil Blomkamp, who directed "District 9," has a gift for creating gritty, dystopian science fiction, and it's all but impossible not to cringe at his plausible vision of the future in the just-released "Elysium."

Earth in the year 2154 has been depleted to the point of being almost uninhabitable, overwhelmed by poverty, disease and a teeming, unsustainable population. The setting is L.A.

But circling in the sky above earth, faintly visible, is Elysium, a giant, chrome space station of sorts, lushly green, inhabited by the wealthy who possess all the comforts technology can afford. A place not dissimilar from those tiled-roofed, gated-communities found along the coast of So Cal.

It's the dream of the inhabitants of L.A. to reach the Elysium by unauthorized space shuttle, or die trying. So desperate are they. So bleak is the planet.

Matt Damon gives a raw, vivid, stripped-down, tattooed performance as Max, an ex-con, working in a factory assembling robots. Since boyhood, like so many on Earth, he has looked to the heavens and promised his childhood sweetheart, Frey (Alice Braga), that one day they would go there.

And so he does. But not in the manner he had wished for. Receiving a lethal dose of radiation at work, and given only five days to live, he makes a Faustian bargain with a rogue hacker, Spider (Wagner Moura), to download enough data to override Elysium's defenses. And that's when the serious action begins. And this is a graphic action film.

— Chris Honoré


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