“Fruitvale Station” — don’t miss this film!

I saw the movie “Fruitvale Station” tonight, about the tragic fate of Oscar Grant, shot down by a policeman for nothing at a BART Station in Oakland, California on New Year January 1, 2009.

The new film, a debut by 27-year-old Ryan Coogler, has been lauded by the critics after having won the big prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year. It’s easy to draw a parallel between Grant, played by Michael B. Jordan — “Wallace” to every fan of “The Wire” — and Trayvon Martin, both young black men, almost boys, and both killed for no reason by white men.

It’s a superb and sad drama that happens to be a true story about America. Don’t miss it!

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“Detropia” — a film about a city in tragic decline

“Capitalism is a great system, I love it, but it exploits the weak”, says one of the main characters in the stunning documentary “Detropia” currently playing at the premier documentary film festival “Silverdocs” in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside Washington, DC.

The film, about the impact on an entire city and its inhabitants of the brutal side of American capitalism, is the grim tale of the decline of Detroit, from a glamorous city with nearly 2 million inhabitants and a thriving automotive industry, to a city in tragic decline that has lost over half its population and with a higher percentage of poor people than any other American city.

Made by young documentary filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the film is currently shown in packed theaters at the festival on the premises of the American Film Institute. Their film creates the same heartbreaking impressions as the two young French photographers Yves Marchand’s and Romain Meffres’ book “The Ruins of Detroit”, which I wrote about last year.

And the conclusion is also the same: how could America let this happen?

Redford’s film on the Lincoln murder fails to convince

Today, on the 146th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Robert Redford’s new film “The Conspirator” about the trial of the widow, Mary Surratt, and the others conspiring to kill Lincoln, opened here in Washington.

Mary Surratt, convincingly played by Robin Wright, was sentenced to death by a military tribunal for having participated in the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln, and she was hanged as the first woman in U.S. history. But was she guilty?

The film provides no clear answer to that, but it sows doubts after a politically-driven military tribunal with obvious parallels to today’s America and the upcoming military trials of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo. The main issue in the film thus becomes: how does the rule of law function in time of war? Poor, is the film’s response to the year 1865, and the implied answer to what is happening today, after Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, the film is strangely silent on the four-year long Civil War and its causes. Not a word about slavery. So in some strange way, the North and those who fought for the Union, become the culprits, while the South and the conspirators against Lincoln are the martyrs, fighting and dying for a cause.

The film and its story are never convincing to me. It never grabs hold of me and shakes me. It is somehow unemotional where there should have been so much emotion and drama. With the exception of Robin Wright, the other roles are fairly uninteresting, James McAvoy as a defense lawyer, Kevin Kline as the Secretary of War, and Tom Wilkinson as a powerful attorney.

No, “The Conspirator” was unfortunately not a great movie experience.