Tag Archives: Biography

Review: The Aviator

the aviator poster
via IMP Awards

The Aviator (2004)

PG-13 / 170 min

Biography / Drama

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale

Director: Martin Scorsese


Let’s talk about Howard Hughes, one of the most financially successful individuals in American History.  He was a business tycoon first, but his interests reached much farther than the business realm.  He was an aviation genius as well as a film aficionado.  He practically did everything from creating big Hollywood pictures to designing military-grade planes for the US.  He’s a fascinating figure that has been explored multiple times in pop culture.  Maybe the most prominent look into his life was Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, a biographical drama that takes a glimpse into Hughes’ younger years and his rise to prominence.

the aviator 1
via Film Reviews n’ Such

The film begins in the 1920s with Hughes’ filming of his big war epic Hell’s Angels.  The multi-faceted tycoon is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who does an amazing job at capturing the businessmen’s keen attention to detail, as well as his other peculiar quirks.  His accent might be a little grating at times, but it’s undeniable that DiCaprio takes the role by the throat and destroys it, in a good way of course.  Over the course of the movie, we discover the type of person Hughes is and how he does things.  The film spans twenty years and shows us his personal life as well as his dabbles in the film and aviation industries.  Some of the stuff might be dry, but it’s really captivating stuff.  I was constantly questioning whether the movie’s events were true, but Scorsese did a pretty good job at staying true to the story of Hughes.  He’s a really unique man whose instincts lead him to greatness, as well as some dark places as well.

Scorsese has assembled himself an ensemble cast that really complements DiCaprio’s performance.  Cate Blanchett and Kate Beckinsale play Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner respectively, Hughes’ two love interests.  They both give great performances, especially Blanchett who went on to win an Oscar for her performance.  There’s also Noah Dietrich and Juan Trippe, Hughes’ business associates, played by John C. Reilly and Alec Baldwin respectively.  These are the recurring characters that we see over the course of the movie’s story, but there’s a bunch of other important players that serve important roles as well.  I don’t think there was one bad performance in the movie.  Everyone was strong and really sold their characters.

the aviator 2
via Miramax

I’m always a big sucker for period pieces taking place in the 20s, and The Aviator did a bang-up job at recreating the period.  The movie looks great, with eye-popping visuals and rich colors.  The film just feels like an epic, in both scale and appearance.  It’s full of glitz, glamor, and spectacle, present around every turn in the movie.  I got to give some credit to Scorsese and the filmmaking that went into the look of this movie, because it sure was a treat to watch.

The only misstep The Aviator makes on its journey through Hughes’ life is in its pacing.  And when I say journey, I mean it’s a long one.  The movie almost cracks the three-hour mark, which is more of a detriment than an advantage.  Most of the film’s material is captivating and intriguing stuff but there are some lulls, especially during the film’s middle ground.  The first and third acts are really engaging, but the journey in between these acts is where the film slows down.  Trimming some of the fat would have kept the film a lot more compelling through and through.

the aviator 3

Despite some of its pacing issues, DiCaprio and the rest of his adjoining cast keep the movie going.  It’s a riveting, and at times sobering, tale of triumph and failure.  It’s no secret that Hughes, despite his massive successes, was a troubled man, especially during his later years.  Numerous flying accidents did a number on him and drove him deeper into a state of physical and mental instability.  Scorsese does a fantastic job at taking us through a vertical slice of Hughes’ life with The Aviator.  It not only captures his good side, but his more unfortunate side as well. It’s dynamic and engaging, and well worth your time, despite its intimidating runtime.

the aviator score

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Review: Lee Daniel’s The Butler

the butler poster
via Cinema Blend

Lee Daniel’s The Butler (2013)

PG-13 / 132 min

Biography / Drama

Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo

Director: Lee Daniels


We’re smack dab in the middle of another election season which means one thing, more change is coming to the White House.  No matter how this election turns out, a new president is going to be elected and people will be moving in and out of the White House.  It’s a change that’s relatively constant every four (or eight) years.  I’m willing to bet that the White House is probably the one house in America that has had the most tenants over the course of history.  I’m probably wrong but I’m 80% confident that this is the truth.

The Butler (2013)Forest Whitaker
(Screengrab)
via EW

Change doesn’t affect everything in the White House though.  It’s the behind the scenes crew, the group of individuals that keep America’s oldest and safest house running at tip-top shape, that are the one constant amidst the change.  Perhaps the most notable staff member that the White House has ever had on its team was Eugene Allen, a butler who served under a multitude of presidents over a 34-year span until he retired as head butler in 1986.  He is also the source and inspiration behind Lee Daniel’s The Butler, a historical drama that takes a look at the wildly intriguing life of Cecil Gaines, butler at the White House.

Yes, that’s right, the name of the butler in the movie, played by Forest Whitaker, is named Cecil Gaines.  I’m not sure why they decided to go with that name over Eugene’s actual name, but there’s probably some legitimate reason that makes sense.  I’m sure Eugene or his family probably had something to do with it.  Forest Whitaker was pretty much perfect for this role.  He was stoic and constricted in his mannerisms as he slid right into the body of Cecil.  The man goes through a lot over the tenure of his work and watching the way he acted and reacted to things was one of the best parts of the movie.  There’s few actors I could have seen doing better in this role than Whitaker.

the butler 2
via The Atlantic

The rest of Cecil’s family are also just as delightful, although they don’t reach the same caliber as Whitaker’s performance.  Oprah Winfrey plays Cecil’s loud-mouthed wife Gloria.  Cecil also has two sons, Louis and Charlie, played by David Oyelowo and Elijah Kelly respectively.  Louis is the rebel in the family while Charlie is the good two-shoes of the bunch.  One of the primary spotlights of the movie is centered on Louis as he becomes a big proponent for the black civil rights movement and joins the Black Panthers.  We film switches back and forth between Cecil’s life in the White House and Louis’ life on the streets.  One is working for the power while the other is working against it.  They both ultimately want the same goal, social freedom, but watching the contrast between the two is really cool.

The reality of making a movie about the life of Cecil Gaines, as well as the civil rights movement, is perhaps a little tougher than it seems.  You could create a multi-season TV show about the two, but when you try to cram 30+ years of history into one movie, things get a little crowded.  The film’s pacing is light on its feet and it flies through the years, only stopping here and there for important plot moments.  Lee Daniels had a lot of ground to cover in terms of material and it would have been nice if he honed it down to a more concentrated and smaller portion of history.  The focus of the story moves a little too fast between different time periods making it hard to catch a breath.

Lee Daniels' The Butler

Another way in which the movie faults is with its A-list cast.  It’s funny that I say that.  A-list cast?  Why would that be a bad thing.  Your right, having a top-notch cast is usually something you strive for with a movie but in The Butler’s case, the cast is actually a little distracting.  Over the course of the movie we are introduced to the eight presidents, who range from lesser known actors to the more popular.  The bottom line, they were all gimmicky in their own ways.  Casting the late Robin Williams as president Eisenhower was one example of the questionable casting decisions.  He looked the part but didn’t necessarily fit into the part personality wise.  Instead of saying, “oh look, it’s president Eisenhower!” I said, “oh look, it’s Robin Williams…that’s weird.”  There’s also appearances from the people like Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz that just felt out of place in the movie.

Despite its missteps, Lee Daniel’s The Butler is a well-made period piece.  It tells not only a fascinating story, but an important one that needs to be told.  It also finds ways to be relevant to this day.  (It even has a couple of scenes dedicated to the Obama election) The movie might be a quick and fast crash course on the topic of the civil rights movement, but that only acts as a backdrop for the story at hand, which is the story of Cecil Gaines, a black White House butler during a time of unparalleled change in American history.

THE BUTLER

Review: Steve Jobs

via Film-Book
via Film-Book

Steve Jobs (2015)

R / 122 min

Biography / Drama

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan

Director: Danny Boyle


Tech genius and Apple pioneer Steve Jobs lived a fascinating life.  His persona is a complex one full of ups and downs.  In fact, it’s so complicated that it makes recounting his story very difficult.  His story has had a good number of retellings over the years, but only one really stood out to me and its Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs.

via The Slanted
via The Slanted

Written by Aaron Sorkin and Walter Isaacson, author of the book the film is based on, Steve Jobs stars Michael Fassbender as the titular visionary.  Unlike your normal biopic, the movie chooses to focus on three key product launches; the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT Cube computer in 1988, and the iMac in 1998.  However, it’s the backstage action that takes place minutes before each launch that gets the screen time.  In these scenes, we see Jobs interacting (but mostly arguing) with five key people, his accounting assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), good friend and co-designer of the Apple II Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan), CEO of Apple Jeff Scully (Jeff Daniels), programmer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), and his ex Chrissan Brennan (Katherine Waterson).  We also receive some touching scenes with his daughter Lisa.

The dialogue and banter that is thrown around between the characters is what makes the movie so special.  These scenes are well orchestrated and hectic, capturing the ferocity and self-centered personality of Steve Jobs.  These conversations were tense, probably because of the looming start times that hung over each of the launches.  Whether it was debugging software code or talking with the nagging press, Jobs had a lot thrown at him seconds before hitting the bright lights of the stage, and he somehow managed to keep it all together.

via Brunch News
via Brunch News

The weight of most of the problems thrown Job’s way led me to believe that some of the events in the movie might have been a little over exaggerated.  I highly doubt that minutes before Jobs was to grace the stage, Chrissan walked into his dressing room to spill the news of her health and demand some money for doctors’ fees.  Although these moments made for tantalizing drama, I do not think these kinds of discussions took place in the backstage setting.  It’s hard to knock the movie for this though because it made for some great cinema.

Michael Fassbender did a fantastic job of playing the man himself.  He really captured the arrogance and egocentric nature of his persona.  Jobs was a man that wanted to be remembered for his products and almost nothing else.  The successful launch of a product was all that mattered to him and Fassbender brilliantly brought the character to life in Job’s most vulnerable moments backstage.  He wasn’t the only actor to give a clap-worthy performance.  Kate Winslet succeeded in playing Job’s polish assistant, seemingly the only person who could stand up to Jobs and knock some sense into him during his lowest moments.  Maybe the biggest surprise was Seth Rogan’s portrayal of Wozniak.  Gone was the goofy dumb-guy character that we are used to seeing from him.  Instead, we got a stripped down and genuine performance worthy of high-praise.  He gave the right amount of emotion and enthusiasm, propelling himself to the status of a dynamic actor.

via Mouth Shut
via Mouth Shut

The greatest scene comes right at the end with a touching moment between Jobs and his daughter Lisa.  The whole movie was building up to that peak and it knocked the ball right out of the park.  Steve Jobs is not your average account of Job’s life, but it might be my most favorite.  Although some of the tales told throughout the two hour duration might have been a little too tall, I still believe that it paints the most realistic picture of an imperfect man.

steve jobs score

Review: Jobs

via Moviefone News
via Moviefone News

Jobs (2013)

PG-13 / 128 mins

Biography / Drama

Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad

Director: Joshua Michael Stern


Steve Jobs was not your average guy in the business sphere.  He was a smart and quirky young entrepreneur that had his own way of doing things.  This often attributed to his brash and narcissistic personality.  But, that’s just how he was.  He had a knack for design and detail and he always had a grand vision, one step ahead of everybody else.  This led to some of his successes, as well as some of his failures.  Jobs was a dynamic visionary in the tech world, and his legacy is enormous.  There has been extensive looks at his life, but 2013’s Jobs is a lackluster affair that fails to capture that legacy that Jobs left behind.

via Digital Trends
via Digital Trends

There is a lot to Steve Jobs and the movie’s star, Ashton Kutcher, does a pretty good job of bringing the Silicon Valley genius to life.  He put a lot into the role, mimicking everything down to his voice and the way he walked around.  It was a convincing performance that is leaps and bounds above any other actor in the movie.  Kutcher could have been the only actor in the movie and I would have been totally okay with that, although it wouldn’t really be a movie then, would it?  Unfortunately, Kutcher’s performance is just about the only good thing about Jobs.

The movie carries itself at a breakneck pace, going all the way back to Job’s days at Reed College.  We start to see the kind of person that he is and how he started to get involved in technology.  From there, we are introduced to his good friend Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) who later goes on to helping Jobs with creating their first personal computer.  Jobs runs his little operation out of the comfort of his parent’s garage, until finally noticed by Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney), an entrepreneur and an investor that would provide the initial funding for Jobs’ Apple Computers.  The rest was history.

via apnatimepass.com
via apnatimepass.com

It was by this point that the movie was flying, right when it was in dire need of slowing down.  I soon started to realize that this movie wasn’t really about Steve Jobs and the person that he was, but instead, it was the history of Apple…but only at a surface level.  What about Jobs’ personal life?  What about his personality?  What caused him to be this way?  Why was his personal life so disjointed?  These were the kinds of questions that I was hoping the movie would cover in addition to his dealings in the corporate world.  I wanted to see who Jobs really was, but Jobs only swam as deep as the surface level, glorifying Apple’s successes and failures instead.

via apnatimepass.com
via apnatimepass.com

Perhaps the most glaring omission from the entire movie was the entrepreneur’s time with NeXT Computer.  After Jobs’ design philosophies didn’t bode well with Apple executives, he was turned away, forced to go out on his own.  During his brief stint away from Apple, he started NeXT Computer, a company that specialized in computers for the higher education and business class.  They were top notch computers that were in a market of their own.  What’s most important about this time however is the change in personality that Jobs went through.  He started to lose the narcissistic behavior and started to become a more influential leader.  What we don’t know is why this came to be.  What happened that caused him to be this way?  Was it his time he spent back with his family, fostering the relationships that he had with them?  Jobs almost completely glosses over this time in his life, giving his stint with NeXT Computer a measly minute…if that.  Instead, it raced right back to when Jobs came back to Apple.  This movie is all about Apple.  What about Steve Jobs?

I was left with a lot of answers by the time the movie’s credits rolled.  Perhaps I went in to the movie expecting the wrong thing.  I was looking for a mirror into the life of Jobs and why he was the way he was.  What was the motivation for the way he did things?  Instead, Jobs focuses on the history of Apple instead, which was the movie’s largest detriment.  There were some nice moments here and there, but the movie was largely uninventive and mundane.  Ashton Kutcher gave a wonderful performance as the unique and dynamic tech genius, but that was pretty much the movie’s only true glistening positive.  If you want a better story about the life of Steve Jobs, you might want to check out Walter Isaacson’s biography of the man or who knows, maybe 2015’s Steve Jobs will be a better representation of Jobs’ life, although it looks like a mess right now.

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Review: Straight Outta Compton

via The Bull 101.7
via The Bull 101.7

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

R / 147 mins.

Biography / Drama / Music

Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell

Director: F. Gary Gray


Hip-hop wouldn’t be where it is today without the heavy influence and trailblazing nature of the rap group N.W.A.  It’s a simple fact that’s hard to dispute, no matter how hard you try.  They gave a voice to the people, a voice that people from Compton (and all over the U.S.) could rally behind in the late 80’s.  The ragtag group, consisting of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, DJ Yella, and MC Ren, were just looking to make it big in the streets of Compton, but it was there unique message that propelled them into the country’s spotlight.

via Black FIlm
via Black FIlm

Straight Outta Compton is the story of N.W.A.’s rise to fame, directed by F. Gary Gray and produced by Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and widow Tomica Woods-Wright, wife to the late Eazy-E.  With that kind of pedigree off screen, the film already had a lot of things going for it.  This isn’t Gray’s first radio, having directed Friday with Ice Cube back in the day, and having Ice Cube and Dr. Dre producing the movie gave me full confidence that the story of the world’s most dangerous group was going to be handled with finesse and care.  The one big question when it comes to biopics is whether or not the story is worth telling.  It’s the story and the way that it’s told that can make or break a biopic.  N.W.A.’s story has been well documented and publicized up to this point, but Straight Outta Compton dives a little deeper and gives us a look not only at the group’s rise to fame, but their personal stories as well.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this movie is the top notch acting that came from a cast full of lesser-known actors.  Aside from Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays his father in the movie and Paul Giamatti’s part as the group’s manager Jerry Heller, the rest of the cast is relatively new to the scene.  Let me break it down: Dr. Dre is played by Corey Hawkins, Eazy-E by Jason Mitchell, DJ Yella by Neil Brown Jr., and MC Ren by Aldis Hodge.  The cast might not be as well known, but they all did a fantastic job at embodying the legends that they were acting as.  Obviously they had mentors in Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, but there was an incredible amount of practice and studying that went into their characters.  Their mannerisms, personalities, and musical styles were all matched pretty realistically.  Two other rappers that garner some screen time are Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac (Marcc Rose), who looks eerily similar to his real life counterpart.  It could have just been Tupac’s hologram, I don’t really know.  (I do know I am excited for Tupac’s standalone movie, where Marcc Rose will reprise his role as Tupac)

via New Pittsburgh Courier Online
via New Pittsburgh Courier Online

Another thing that was sort of surprising is that the movie really wasn’t entirely focused on N.W.A.  The first act detailed the creation of the group and its rise to prominence.  We got to see some of the situations that the guys were coming from and how much this group meant to them.  The movie then began to focus on what happened when a group of street rappers from Compton got a ton of money and a big spotlight.  Ice Cube was in disagreement with his contractual situation and decided to branch of on his own.  Dr. Dre’s vision also propelled him to leave the group and pursue his own musical genius at Death Row Records.  We also got to see Eazy-E’s relationship with the scumbag manager that was Jerry Heller.  The guy was manipulative and started cheating the group of their own money.  The scenes involving Eazy-E and Jerry were fun to watch, but also kind of depressing considering you knew that there close relationship wasn’t going to last forever.  Anybody who knows N.W.A. knew there was a lot of internal conflict between the group’s members and Straight Outta Compton manages to capture their stories with near perfect execution.

This movie couldn’t have been coming out at a better time.  The country has been experiencing a lot of turmoil when it comes to blacks living in America and police brutality.  The movie captures angst and the feelings that guys like Ice Cube and Eazy-E had towards the authorities that were looking to bring them down.  We also start to see the government’s involvement in the group’s message.  It was a scary time for the government.  They were scared that this message, reality rap, could spark a revolution in the country that they wouldn’t be able to handle.  N.W.A.’s influence on the masses was undeniable and pretty large.

via Black Film
via Black Film

I was pleasantly surprised that the movie, which has a pretty long run time, went as far as to cover Eazy-E’s struggle with HIV and his imminent death.  Those last moments with Eazy-E on his death bed and guys like Ice Cube and Dr. Dre coming in to say their goodbyes were heartfelt and, at times, hard to watch.  Straight Outta Compton is a fantastic movie that will most likely take the torch as my favorite movie of the year so far.  It’s a gritty story full of hardship and triumph.  Dr. Dre and Ice Cube have coming a long way from their gangbanging days and their stories, along with the rest of N.W.A, are unresistingly intriguing and fun to watch.  You will probably appreciate this movie more if you are a fan of rap, but don’t let that be your barrier to entry.  Straight Outta Compton is a movie worth watching no matter where your musical tastes lie.

Straight Outta Compton

Review: The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe

via Movie Newz
via Movie Newz

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (2015)

Lifetime / TVMA

Biography / Drama

Starring: Kelli Garner, Susan Sarandon, Emily Watson

Director: Laurie Collyer


At this point, the wild and tragic life of cultural and sexual icon Marilyn Monroe has been explored by everyone and their father.  Their almost a dime a dozen.  Books have been written and documentaries have been made, picking apart almost every aspect of her short and troubled life.  What makes it all fascinating is the amount of info that she was able to keep away from the media for the longest time.  It is what makes these documentaries riveting.  Lifetime’s The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe is yet another biopic about the dark secrets that Monroe managed to keep to herself.  It manages to keep itself fresh, albeit some problems.

The two-part made-for-TV movie tells the story of Monroe within the sometimes awkward frame of a psychotherapy session.  Monroe, played by Kelli Garner, talks through the many different aspects of her life that eventually lead to her tragic end.  Dr. DeShields (Jack Noseworthy) is earnest in learning about her life story, but at times this leads to some awkward writing which at times seemed clunky.  It was meant to drive the different parts of the documentary.

via Movie Newz
via Movie Newz

One of the things that provides the backbone for the biopic is Monroe’s mother and her mental issues.  Gladys, played by Susan Sarandon, is painted as a troubled woman with a dark story.  The movie sets this as the prime reason for Monroe’s troubled childhood.  She was an orphan for most of her childhood life and it is assumed that some of her own mental issues where a direct contribution from her mother.  In between bouts with her mom, her main caregiver was her aunt Grace McKee (Emily Watson) who raised her to be the model and actress that she slowly began to morph into, much to her real mother’s dismay.

kinopoisk.ru
via kinopoisk.ru

The first part of the biopic depicts Monroe’s childhood and the second part really starts to tell the tale of Monroe’s downward spiral thanks to her problems with men and drugs.  We see a lot of her relationship with retired Yankee Joe DiMaggio (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the problems that arose from the marriage.  We also see the relationship with playwright Arthur Miller (Stephan Bogaert) that also had its fair share of problems, including Monroe’s miscarriage.  Towards the end, we have a brief look at Monroe’s affair with President Kennedy, which I would have loved to seen explored more.  All of these things, along with her zealous use of prescription drugs, eventually leads to her death, which was a result of an overdose of barbiturates.  The movie ends in ambiguous fashion, showing Monroe take some pills before going to bed.  We are treated to one of the documentaries most touching scenes between Monroe and her mother on a beach, right around the time when Monroe was really starting to get noticed.  It’s what the young starlet always wanted, but the depressing scene makes us realize that you have to be careful about what you wish for.

via Mondo Moda
via Mondo Moda

In terms of Garner’s performance as the iconic figure, there are some things that could have been done better.  First off, she looked more like Kelli Garner than Marilyn Monroe herself.  I realize that finding an actress that matches the look of Monroe is quite a feat, but she did not always seem like the right fit.  With enough make up, she looked fine, but there were some points where I noticed she did not look quite right.  She also does an okay job at mimicking the actresses’ iconic voice, but at points Garner’s portrayal of the voice was almost overdone and exaggerated.  Monroe was always typecast as the “dumb blonde” (see her movies like Gentleman Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire) and Garner is bubbly and flirtatious, but to an extreme at different parts of the feature.

Although Garner’s performance could have been better, I really enjoyed the performances brought on by the supporting cast.  Emily Watson and Susan Sarandon did a wonderful job of playing Monroe’s closest family.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who played Joe DiMaggio, turned out to be one of my favorite characters from the feature.  The second part of the documentary really focuses on his dynamic character, a man jealous of Monroe’s fame.  He goes through a lot of emotions but ends up becoming the good guy by the end, one of the few people that was always there for the actress.

via Movie Newz
via Movie Newz

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe does not give us any new bits of information about Marilyn Monroe’s life, but it manages to keep things fresh with a story told through a different lenses.  I would not consider it a grade-a look at the troubled star’s life, marred by Garner’s portrayal of Monroe, but she does a serviceable job of telling one of the most intriguing, and maybe depressing, stories about the types of problems that come with living life in the lights of Hollywood.

secret life of monroe score

Review: Fruitvale Station

via Daily Inspiration
via Daily Inspiration

Fruitvale Station (2013)

R / 85 min

Biography / Drama / Romance

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

Director: Ryan Coogler


Fruitvale Station literally opens up with a literal bang…and no that is not a joke.  We are instantly introduced to the footage of Oscar Grant getting shot by a police officer in a San Francisco BART station on New Years Day back in 2009. It’s grainy cell phone footage probably taken by astounded onlookers…which makes it all the more real and disturbing.  This reminds me of Titanic, a movie where you know how it is going to end, but the stories of the ships passengers make the inevitable end all the more hard to swallow.  Fruitvale Station does the exact same thing, focusing on the day before the fatal shooting.

Oakland native Ryan Coogler is the director behind the film, which makes sense given his proximity to the events that took place.  The events hit him hard which eventually drove him to make the film based on the shooting.  It’s possible that he took some creative liberties and painted the picture in a light that portrayed the cops as the extreme bad guys and then made it seem like they were let off the hook pretty easily during the ending credit sequence recapping the events in words.

fruitvale station 1

Michael B. Jordan plays the role of Oscar Grant, a humble man who tries to stay positive and carefree amid the numerous problems that get thrown his way. He gets caught up in the drug trade, although he eventually weans himself clean.  He also has some trouble with work, eventually losing his job.  Things could be a lot better for Grant, a man who has a daughter to raise and a family to run, but he beams positivity through it all.  His favorite thing to say is “everything is going to be alright,” even up to the final moments of his life where he is being held by the police officers.  I do not know if Grant was actually that positive in real life, but it does not seem natural for a man in such a crappy situation.

Coogler does an amazing job at building up to the final moments of the movie in the BART station.  We get a “day in the life” view of Grant’s life, which involves his mother’s birthday, his relationship with his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), a trip to his work on his off day, taking his daughter to the learning center, and New Years Eve dinner with his family.  Just like Titanic, I started to grow a large attachment to Grant.  The final scenes, although I did not know how they were going to play out, were in the back of my head for the entirety of the movie.  The moment where Grants mom, played by Octavia Spencer, told him to take the BART going into town for New Years night was where the realization really kicked in.

via Movie Gos
via Movie Gos

What I started to notice as the film moved on is the gritty and low-budget nature of the film’s production.  I do not know the actual budget of the movie and how much Coogler and his team had to work with, but you could tell that there was a down to earth and low-budget feel to the movie.  In any other movie this might be a downside, but this kind of look really enhances the story of Fruitvale Station.  The beginning starts off with the grainy cell phone footage and then the rest of the movie follows suit with the low-budget looks.  It makes the events taking place on screen seem even more real, especially during the sequence in the BART station.

The final moments of the film, where we finally get to view what took place on that fateful night, was the ultimate climax.  The build-up never grew old and outstayed its welcome.  It was necessary in order to make the shooting hit home the hardest.  Like I mentioned before, the police were portrayed to be insanely evil, which might not have been the case in real life.  Whatever the case was, it still made the shooting even harder to watch once more.

via Daily Republic
via Daily Republic

Some creative decisions were probably made to bring out the emotions from viewers, but Fruitvale Station is a touching movie about the fatal death of Oscar Grant, a family man.  The supporting cast holds up pretty well, but its Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of Grant that takes home the awards.  The movie is all about him and his life that was cut short in what might be one of the worst ways possible.  It’s a movie that might be hard to watch for some, but it’s a movie that does its job of recreating the events that need to be seen.

fruitvale station score

Please Subscribe and the YouTube Phenomenon

Please Subscribe PosterPlease Subscribe (2012)

NR / 77 min

Documentary / Biography / Comedy

Starring: Craig Benzine, Dan Brown & Mitchell Davis

Director: Dan Dobi


 

Even to this day I still can’t fully wrap my head around the immense phenomenon that is YouTube.  When the website formed around nine years ago, it was hard to tell if it would grow wings and spring off.

Obviously this is not the case today.

YouTube has grown into one of the world most visited website.  Tons of people are uploading hundreds and hundreds of hours of content everyday.  It’s truly unfathomable.  Please Subscribe, a documentary by Dan Dobi is a documentary about YouTube, but it tells a different type of story.  It doesn’t talk about what YouTube is, or how it is run.  Instead, it takes a peek into some of the personal lives of some of the personalities that make the site run.  In my opinion, this provides for a better story.

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The documentary follows the story of eight YouTuber’s and the lives that they live.  These personalities include Daily Grace, Dan Brown, Hannah Hart, Mitchell Davis, Mystery Guitar Man, Seananners, The Will of DC, and Wheezy Waiter.  Each one of them has a different story to tell, and all of them are pretty intriguing.

The documentary focuses a lot on the daily lives that these internet celebrities live and how hectic they can sometimes be.  A lot of people might have the misconception that being a “YouTube Star” is cake walk and that these stars are living an easy life.  In reality,  their lives can be busy and borderline crazy.  A lot of these YouTubers’ days are packed to the brim with video work or planning for their video work.  Their work pays off in the end, because most of these people make six-figure salaries.  Although this a driving force for most, a lot of these personalities do it because they want to, not because of the dough.

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We also get to hear the more intimate stories that you otherwise wouldn’t hear publicly.  For instance, we get to hear the story of Mitchell Davis, and his battles with OCD.  It’s a thing that he has struggled with in the past, but his YouTube channel has helped him overtake this disorder and tame it.  It’s these kinds of stories that made the documentary riveting to watch.

The documentary primarily focuses on the success stories of these YouTuber’s channels, but we do get to see a channel that has gone through it’s fair share of failures as well.  We see the story of Dan Brown and his property entitled Dan 3.0.  This property that he created was basically a crowd-sourced project on YouTube that he started after his channel had gained some popularity.  This move didn’t really sit well with the fans and it actually ended up not going so well for Dan in the end.  We get to see how he coped and how he got through it all.  It ended with a good ending, but it was important that we got to see the failures that come with YouTube.  Not everybody that signs up for a YouTube account sees instant success.  It takes a lot of hard work, and sometimes the works pays off, while other times it may not.

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Please Subscribe offers a unique perspective and it sheds a light on the whole YouTube story.  To my knowledge, most people know about YouTube, but they don’t know the story behind it.  They don’t know the people behind it.  They don’t know the true story behind the personalities that they see and watch every day.

The documentary was well shot and it was fun to watch.  Dan Dobi hasn’t done too much up to this point, but I hope that I can see more of his work in the future.  Please Subscribe is an extremely recommendable documentary and I actually encourage a lot of people to watch it.  It’s a unique look at a website and the pioneers that are taking it into the future.

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