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Hammerle on ... 'Fruitvale Station' and 'The Conjuring'

Robert Hammerle
August 14, 2013
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bob hammerle movie reviewsFruitvale Station

“Fruitvale Station” tells a complex, conflicting and powerful story that most of us don’t want to hear, much less see. But in light of the recent verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, it will help to explain why the African-American community is so brutally appalled.

Here, writer/director Ryan Coogler brings to the big screen a true story that tells the tragic tale of the death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant at the hands of white Oakland security officers in 2009. Returning home on New Year’s Eve morning with friends, he is sucked into a confrontation with Hispanic gang members that results in his death at the hands of the police. In the process, his mother mourns, a fiancée collapses, and his 5-year old daughter is left with no father.

There were immediate mass protests in the Oakland area following Oscar’s death. Police officers were fired and one was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, eventually serving approximately 10 months in prison.

Mr. Coogler has brought us a gem of a film that bears a bit of resemblance to last year’s “The Beast of the Southern Wild.” Both films bring us an inside look at the underbelly of our modern society where young black men turn to drugs, booze and gangs when life continually leaves them on the outside looking in.

Newcomer Michael B. Jordan is wonderful as Oscar, a young man trying to outrun his pent-up rage. He loves both his daughter and mother, but he lives in a constant state of frustration and disappointment given that he lacks fundamental access to meaningful employment.

hammerleWhile Melonie Diaz is excellent as the caring mother of Oscar’s young child, Octavia Spencer is the queen of this film, here playing a mother who fights as hard as she can for a son caught in no-man’s land. Ms. Spencer won an Oscar for her tremendous role in “The Help” (2011), and she brings unashamed strength to a mother who will always love her son regardless of his weaknesses.

Let me be clear that Oscar Grant is certainly no hero. Nonetheless, “Fruitvale Station” is a reminder that we should all shed a tear when we read that a new black kid has been found dead in the street. Sure, we have a black president, but try to tell me that race is not playing a powerful role in opposing all of his proposals when Jackie Robinson only desegregated baseball in 1947; Brown v. Board of Education only ended government-sponsored segregation in 1954; interracial marriage was permitted only in 1967, and Rosa Parks was only able to gain African-Americans access to any seat on the bus at about the same time.

It’s time that we all join hands and dedicate ourselves to building a better future for our children.

The Conjuring

This is a disturbingly entertaining film that will cause many of you to feel that your blood has been frozen in place. Using strengths from such classic chilling films like “The Exorcist” (1973), “The Omen” (1976) and “Poltergeist” (1982), I feel that it ranks right with them.

Based on an outlandish true story where you see actual pictures of the participants at the end of the film, you follow the efforts of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren as they try to help a family and their four small daughters in a newly purchased farmhouse in Rhode Island. To use the title from the old 1983 Jason Robards’ nightmarish film adventure – “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”

First, the Perron family’s dog suddenly dies after their arrival, and then a hidden cellar is discovered during renovation. At 3:07 a.m. every morning, the children start to smell uncomfortable vapors, and then one suddenly feels like she is being pulled from her bed. Thereafter, Mrs. Perron starts to suffer large bruises on her body, after which she is mysteriously hurled down the steps into the cellar.

The Perron family is left to ask for the help of the Warrens, and they set up video observation posts in the stricken home that is very similar to what occurred in “Poltergeist.” But while the Warrens can see what is going on, they can’t prevent it. What occurs is as terrifying as what happened to Linda Blair in her room in director William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist.”

hammerleBut what proves to be strangely enchanting are the powerful performances of all of the actors. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play the Warrens, and their repeated travels into other’s private torments has taken a personal toll. Yet when asked to help people in need, they don’t turn away for any reason, and you end up both liking and admiring them.

The Perrons are played by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor, and their agony becomes yours. While they want to protect their young girls and leave, they are stuck financially. In the process, Ms. Taylor becomes an adult Linda Blair. The quest of the Warrens is to rescue her before the dark side claims her and her youngest daughter.

If you recall, the great Gregory Peck and Lee Remick suffered mightily in “The Omen” at the hands of Satan as they tried to save what they thought was their son. Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams danced on the edge of oblivion in “Poltergeist” as they tried to retrieve their daughter from inside that old jammed TV. The Warrens role here was exactly like Max VonSydow in “The Exorcist,” namely to bravely enter a possessed house in order to save the occupants.

So if you are one of those twisted souls who doesn’t mind being pinned to your seat by the functional equivalent of a cinematic black widow spider, buy a ticket. But if you wake up the next morning at 3:07 a.m., for God’s sake stay in bed!•

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Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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