Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Fruitvale Station and The Bling Ring

        I Saw a Film Today, Oh Boy

                  Review by Ken Burke            Fruitvale Station

A dramatization of the actual fatal shooting of young African American Oscar Grant III in Oakland, 2009; powerful and engaging without sanitizing a complex protagonist.

                                                                        The Bling Ring

Based on a group of real teenagers in the L.A. area who made a sport of stealing from celebrities' homes; a sad study of empty souls in the flow of media dependency.

[Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ brilliantly insightful reviews.  This is how we write, so as to explore what must be said as art transcends commerce (although if anyone wants to pay us for doing this ...); therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when ready to be transported to—well, wherever we end up.

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“Where’s Daddy?” asks very young Tatiana Grant (Ariana Neal), as she’s showering with her mother early in the day of January 1, 2009 at the very end of Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler).  That’s all this sweet young girl knows to ask when her father is not there, as he said he would be, when she greets New Year’s Day.  Relative to the films I’ll be reviewing here, if she were older, she should be also be asking “Where’s decency?” and “Where’s dignity?” because there’s little to be found of either in the offerings under review this week, not because of failings on the part of the very well-focused-filmmakers in both cases but because of the horrible happenings going on in the real stories that inspire both of these intense and/or disturbing cinematic explorations (both of these films make me angry because of what they depict; I offer this reaction as complimentary testimony to the filmmakers that they allow me to lose myself so fully into what they’re presenting on screen as their cinematic structures do such a compelling job of immersing us into the horrible/disgusting social failings that they show).  Regarding the first one to be analyzed here, Fruitvale Station, the situation is just tragic, as a very young Black man, Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan), is chronicled during the last day of his life before being killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) cop in the early morning hours as a new year begins.  Certainly, based on all of the evidence that we have, Oscar did nothing to deserve such a harsh termination, although the after-life jury (if there is such a thing; some of us see nothing but a once-around-the-biosphere-opportunity, no matter how delightfully full or tragically empty it may go while others have deep faith in another version [or more, if you accept reincarnation] of life after death) will have to determine if his assailant truly mistakenly shot him in the back while supposedly reaching for a Taser stun gun or if there were more heinous motives involved that must be answered with greater penalties than the less-than-2-years-served by former-BART-officer Johannes Mehserle as punishment for his involuntary manslaughter verdict.  That more metaphysical “sentence” for Mehserle (depending on levels of existence that are not an area I’ll claim any understanding about after having essentially checked out on any afterlife sense of certainly c. 1976—although it was getting hard for me to find justification from about 1972 on—but I’ll always respect anyone who feels they connect to something more tangible in this area than I do) is something I’ll leave to greater knowledge and context than I currently have, but as far as Coogler’s film is concerned I couldn’t be more satisfied that I have had a chance to understand just a little bit of what the life must be like of those that I rarely have interaction with, those that are in a very different class and social situation than me whose daily life is assumed—by those with the power to make such decisions—as  being marginal and expendable; I’m not saying that a young man such as Grant didn’t have many flaws (as are reasonably noted in this very low-key-but-fundamentally-disquieting film), but as we see in the flow of his last day on Earth (as mostly verified by transcriptions of his actions on New Year’s Eve 2008, despite some minor dramatic-license-events involving a terminally-injured dog [likely a foreshadowing of Oscar’s own unjustified fate], a random encounter with a clueless-fish-fryer-young-woman, Katie [Ahna O’Reilly], in a grocery story, and a New-Year’s-countdown-dance on the BART journey into San Francisco that fateful night), Oscar Grant, despite his previous personal and social failings (drug dealing which lands him in San Quentin a year before the end-of-2008 Fruitvale Station’s events; a sudden-and-unjustified-verbal-swipe at his devoted mother, Wanda [Octavia Spencer, establishing an argument here for another Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, but, admittedly, it’s very early in the awards-contention-year so don’t start counting anyone’s accomplishments before the full brood is hatched] while she’s making the effort to visit Oscar in one of the world’s-intentionally-worst-lockups; cheating on his baby-mamma-but-trying-desperately-to-be-permanent-girlfriend-and-more, Sophina [Melonie Diaz]; resorting to a violent threat to his former boss at Oakland’s Farmer Joe’s grocery store in a poorly-thought-out-but-desperate-attempt to get his job back after being fired for being too-late-too-often), was a decent guy who deserved a full run at life, not a horribly-truncated version of it, as was to be his now-lamented fate.

Essentially, Oscar’s just a man born into a difficult situation who knows that better options might wait for him, although his upbringing in a rough, demanding environment (despite all that his devoted mother tries to do on his behalf); his previously-limiting-decisions to traffic in drugs (as much as he seems to want to leave this trade behind as depicted in a couple of scenes in Fruitvale Station); his easy-to-emerge-volatile-temper (which allows him to lash out at those who try their best to give him support and encouragement, although he consistently shows empathy and love for little daughter Tatiana, despite not always being available or willing to address her perspective on her most-demanding needs), and his lack of clear direction in trying to move beyond his previous dead-end paths don’t lead to any overly-dramatic-change-of-life-moments as depicted here by director Coogler.  Oscar is an everyday guy, akin to the vast majority of us but in his case trying sincerely to navigate past the type of rocks that have crashed against him previously, even in the short span of a 22-year-old-life.  He provides no hesitation in the love for his daughter, generally shows immense respect for his mother and grandmother (Grandma Bonnie [Marjorie Shears], who helps him out with fish-frying-preparation tips for total-stranger Katie), and really wants to make the relationship with Sophina work (as does she, despite their easy frictions, which show her as equally well-drawn, not idealized, by Coogler, with a justifiable temper of her own), even while acknowledging that he brings little to it its success right now, including the non-admission that he’s been fired for awhile from his butcher’s counter job at Farmer Joe’s (a marvelous store—which has offered me no remuneration for this endorsement—for all sorts of consumables in Oakland, CA, with the location depicted in the film as the site I’ve visited the most, a bit up toward the hills from the infamous BART station on Fruitvale Avenue, but there’s also the original location, for anyone close enough to visit, a bit further east on MacArthur Blvd. with more details for both at http://www.farmerjoesmarketplace.com/location.htm).

With what we know about Oscar Grant, he seems to have been sincerely trying to make something more of himself than what society had to offer him at his cramped home in ordinary suburban Hayward, CA (my actual  address as well, although I often say Oakland simply because I worked there at Mills College for 26 years before my recent retirement—and my marvelously-tolerant wife, Nina Kindblad, can verify that I spent far more hours each week at my soul-draining job than I did at home until I was finally liberated last May [although I’ll continue to salute my decades of hard-working and insightful students]—and there’s better name-recognition for Oakland, despite the negative connotations that unfortunately accrue to it [Nina—a proud born-and-raised Oakland woman—has this great t-shirt with Oakland A’s superstar Rickey Henderson on it that says “All I Know about Stealing I Learned in Oakland”—a reference to his all-time base-swiping record that’s one of the reasons he’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame (which we journeyed to Cooperstown, NY in the summer of 2009 to celebrate, a better part of the year that began so sadly with Oscar’s death) but an ironic statement that plays to the outlaw reputation that haunts Oakland—and its Fruitvale neighborhood where Oscar Grant met his demise—back to the 1960s days of the Black Panthers]), but, despite any of his past failures or self-induced limitations (a common inhibition for far too many of us) he was trying to fashion a better future for himself when a situation of tragic coincidence overwhelmed him in the early hours of January 1, 2009 as he and his friends on a BART train back to Hayward from San Francisco (a trip which incorporates the only false note I heard in this film, when Oscar and Sophina referred to it as “Frisco,” rather than “The City” [although that alternative reference is made later in the story], a correction clarified to me when I moved out here in 1984 and which I’ve never heard since, although I can’t speak for how every subculture out here designates our primary Bay Area attraction) get into a documented altercation with a group of White guys headed by a Hayward San Quentin former convict who carries a grudge against Oscar for supposedly being a snitch.  After the confrontation results in the BART train being halted at the Fruitvale station, Oscar and his companions are oddly enough the only ones hauled off the vehicle by the BART police, with documented aggression by now-former-BART-cop-present-soldier-in-Afghanistan Anthony Pirone, fictionalized here as Officer Caruso (Kevin Durand)—the real-life guy now charged with unemployment fraud for continuing to collect his previous checks after beginning his Army service (more on him if you like at http://www.contra costatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_23160079/former-bart-officer-involved-grant-shooting-charged-fraud [a slow-loading link])—while his colleague, Officer Johannes Mehserle (fictionalized in Coogler’s film as Officer Ingram [Chad Michael Murray] because he couldn’t get a release statement from Mehserle), is the one who attempts to handcuff the struggling Grant, then shoots him in the back, supposedly as a result of grabbing his pistol rather than his intended Taser (that’s about all we see of him in Fruitvale Station, although you can begin your exploration about how the real guy was convicted of involuntary manslaughter at http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jul/08/local/ la-me-bart-verdict-20100709, then pursue a very-detailed, well-documented account of the whole Oscar Grant situation at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BART_Police_shooting_of_Oscar_Grant).

Director Coogler, who’s transformed his own background (among other relevant influences) in community-based work at San Francisco’s Juvenile Hall and his study at the famed University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts into this feature-film debut, made a great impact before Fruitvale Station ever opened commercially by winning both the 2013 Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic work, along with the Prize of the Future (Best First Film) accolade from this year’s Cannes Film Festival (when it was simply called Fruitvale) in their Un Certain Regard showcase (which also included Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring).  All of this recognition is well-deserved because Coogler, along with his powerfully-effective cast, has accomplished the commendable task of building not only sympathy for a far-too-young-victim of a violent crime but also connecting (without grandstanding) Oscar Grant’s situation to the vastly-larger circumstances of young, unknown, seemingly-disposable people (except to the family and friends who know firsthand the valuable lives being lost all too soon in our unforgiving urban deathtraps)—no matter what their ethnic background or social circumstances, but far too often low income/jobless, lower-class (even though we try to deny that such a designation exists in our society) young men, often of color (although there are plenty of destitute young Whites who fall by society’s wayside also).  Oscar Grant was, for those not living in the San Francisco Bay Area and attuned to both the demonstrations/riots that occurred after his death and the frustrated response to Mehserle’s involuntary manslaughter conviction (for which he was sentenced to 2 years, but served only 11 months combined with his incarceration awaiting trial), an almost obscure blip in the larger cultural awareness of continuing hostility within U.S. race relations (even the actors in this film admitted upon taking their roles that they’d never heard of the Oscar Grant situation but were moved by the script and wanted to be part of the ensuing film), but—with the related concerns/demonstrations (some of which have gone violent in Oakland, just as did some of the large group responses to Grant’s death and Mehserle’s relatively light sentence, although in defense of the angry-but-law-abiding-citizens of Oakland, there is evidence that much of the violence has come from self-described anarchists who enter the city, instigate havoc, then leave) coming out in current days about the not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in his killing of Treyvon Martin (officially recognized as self-defense, I guess), despite the conflicting evidence that could have led to a verdict of at least manslaughter (as happened with Meserle, but there both the numerous cell-phone videos of the Fruitvale incident—with actual footage used to begin Fruitvale Station so that we're constantly aware of Oscar's fate throughout the film, with the accompanying emotional resonance as it builds up to what we, but not the characters, know is inevitable—and the defendant’s own justification almost required some sort of homicide conviction, unlike the Zimmerman-Martin situation with contrasting interpretations of the events, leaving the final unraveling of the evidence tapestry to the 6-woman jury, who appear to have been swayed by Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law)—we can only appreciate all the more the effective exploration that we have of Oscar Grant’s last hours, a day that likely seemed predictably pedestrian in the context of his previous life but one that helps build empathy for him in his unjustified death even as we admire Coogler for not making Grant into some sort of noble martyr (although we understand that many young people of color are killed, almost as martyrs, either because their mere presence is so uncomfortable to some Americans with greater resources and power who somehow feel threatened by these “intruders” on their "traditional" culture—despite this increasing demographic simply “being here” rather than “coming to conquer”—or because they sadly eliminate each other in endless gang wars that substitute for any reasonable sense of achievement and progress in a materially-driven, accomplishment-based society).

When all is said and done, Oscar was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time without having done anything to merit his fate (just like Doughboy’s [Ice Cube] needlessly-terminated brother, Ricky [Morris Chestnut], in John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood [1991; another powerful feature-film-debut from a young Black director who got the opportunity to hone his skills in the well-respected USC film production program] where Doughboy notes after watching the morning TV news that they either “Don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s goin’ on in the hood,” concerning the horrible situation that has hit his family with seemingly no impact on even the local neighborhood, let alone the greater urban community or nation at large [clip at http://www.youtube. com/watch?v=BQdE0_Hy10M]), but while that’s a tragedy for anyone who ends up in a body bag such as Oscar does after the dedicated workers at Alameda County’s burdened Highland Hospital (the subject of the marvelous documentary, The Waiting Room [Peter Nick, 2012], reviewed in this blog in our October 24, 2012 posting) do everything they can to save him, his actual demise (and ones portrayed in a more fictional manner, such as in Boyz N the Hood and many others that followed, usually from Black directors trying to force attention on a too-long-neglected aspect of our social fabric) raises consciousness of a much larger, centuries-old context in our not-yet-post-racial society.  Fruitvale Station is essentially a simple, quiet, yet horrifying story of contemporary urban America where nothing is quite what it should be, yet no one seems fully to blame nor able to improve the situation.  There are no social histrionics here, just a well-crafted look at a tragic death that should impact all of us, even if we wish to think that this is just about “somebody else.”

The last thing that the teenage thieves in The Bling Ring want is to be dismissed as merely “somebody else,” when they can be respected for their transgressions (at least within their own small social circle, but, apparently for one of them, Nicki Moore [Emma Watson, who’s making us forget about her long-standing Harry Potter Hermione Granger role as quickly as possible with her self-centered schemer act in The Bling Ring and her fierce survivalist turn as a catastrophe-challenged version of herself in This Is the End [Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen; reviewed in this blog in our June 20, 2013 posting], in the culture at large also as her [their?] crimes are simply the first part of an ongoing manufactured-celebrity-career that should be attended to and respected by the “lesser beings” among us [essentially, with attention going to those who create followed activities on social media sites and larger-audience news media outlets with second-class status accruing to those of us who simply follow the antics of the initiators rather than taking command of the media world like they do]).  As with Fruitvale Station, this film is also based on real events, teenage thievery from Southern California celebrities' homes (roughly mid-2008 to mid-2009, so that Oscar Grant’s tragic end happens in roughly the center of their self-obsessed spree), which you can explore more in detail if you like at http://www.policymic.com/articles/44817/the-bling-ring-movie-where-is-the-real-life-bling-ring-today as well as in the second Bling Ring video clip recommended below in which actual Blinger Nick Prugo recounts some of their exploits.  His name is changed by Coppola to Marc Hall (Isreal Broussard), just as all of them have been somewhat fictionalized so that in the photo above we have (from left) Chloe no-surname (Claire Julien), Sam Moore (adopted sister of Nicki, played by Taissa Farmiga, actual sister to well-known star Vera Farmiga), Nicki, Rebecca Ahn (Katie Chang), and Marc, but if we went by real names and appearances Chloe and Sam would be brunettes with the names of Courtney Ames and Tess Taylor (both relatively minor players in the gang; Tess was never even charged with a crime), Nicki would be Alexis Neiers (who served a mere 30 of her assigned 180 days and distances herself from the film’s celebrity-in-training depiction of herself), Rebecca would be Rachel Lee (the as-depicted-ringleader, who served 2 of a 4-year sentence), and Marc would need to go blonde as Nick (and might could drop the sense of suffering when last we see him being bussed away in his new orange prison outfit given that Nick only served a few days due to good behavior and work credit—although those more pro-social qualities might be accurate, as in the film he’s shown as the one least comfortable during the robberies [yet he indulges actively in the loot, especially a pair of red high heels that may be a clue to some of his other interests]); Nicki/Alexis’ little sister Emily (Gabrielle Neiers, played by Georgia Rock) apparently went along on some of the heists but was never charged.

Actual celebrities whose homes were broken into by these vapid adolescent thrill-seekers also appear in The Bling Ring, either in quick cameos (Paris Hilton) or in archival footage (Lindsay Lohan, Audrina Patridge); other victims noted but not shown were Orlando Bloom and Megan Fox.  As I noted at the head of this review, these films stir a lot of anger in me because of what they depict:  a brutal killing of an unarmed young man in Fruitvale Station and the also-wasted lives of the Bling Ringers, although a waste fueled by self-indulgence and empty-headed celebrity worship rather than a socially-encouraged physical assault on their very existence as was the case with Grant.  I don’t have much good to say about the materially-obsessed media stars who inspired the Bling Ring either, based on the ridiculous amount of expensive stuff that literally litters their expansive homes, where these dummies don’t even bother to turn on their alarm systems or close/lock all of the entrances to their spiffy palaces—Prugo even verifies that the seemingly idiotic act of leaving a key under the front doormat was exactly what they found at Paris Hilton’s home, despite the enormous stash of high-priced clothes, jewelry, and other ostentatious displays of wealth that led these bold kids to repeatedly steal millions of dollars of swag from her, probably without her even noticing that any of it was missing because she’d be so distracted by all of the images of herself that fill her huge home; but I shouldn’t just dump on Paris because we see that the lesser-affluent can be just as mindless when Rebecca and Marc first go on their thieving excursions and find unlocked cars in upscale neighborhoods where the owners have left wallets full of credit cards for the kids to steal and abuse; insurance agents must make a fortune in Los Angeles county.

My next explosion of wrath is aimed at the parents of these thieves, with the understanding that I know this is a film “based on real events,” rather than any sort of a researched documentary, so I know that the specific characters in Coppola’s film are exaggerated versions of the actuals, just as others likely are composites at best if not complete fabrications needed for narrative compression and impact, but fictional or not they represent the realities that spawned the real Blingers (including their actual attendance at Indian Hills High School, an alternative attempt to deal with teens who had been in trouble with the law or expelled from other schools, especially in the affluent community of Calabasas, a bit west of L.A. proper but in easy proximity to the targeted celebrities whose addresses and out-of-town schedules were easy to locate on our infamous Internet).  Hopefully, Leslie Mann’s character as Laurie Moore—mother to Nicki, Sam, and Emily—is more of a creative-license fabrication than a modified depiction because her home-schooling methods of teaching positive role modeling with paste-up posters of Angelina Jolie and her pseudo-spiritual outlook on life just give me a good dose of nausea.  (Her mantra: “And so it is” [a sort of twist on Walter Cronkite’s decades-ago-nightly-newscast-ending “And that’s the way it is”], which Nicki channels in her post-arrest TV interviews as a means of craftily explaining how she was seduced by negative aspects of our culture, led astray by troubled friends, and put into challenging situations that will help her growth toward useful social leadership, a gush of bilge water that would be hilarious if it weren’t mouthed by so many actual “celebrities” in the vast media machine that haunts all of our lives—a soulless, brainless culture personified most recently [to my purposely-isolated-as-much-as-possible-for-someone-who-still-wants-to-explore-the-cinematic-aspects-of-contemporary-culture-attitude, so God knows what other idiocy has been perpetrated by a famous figure in the last few days] by Amanda Bynes' latest insanity, who tweeted that “Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are ugly!” supposedly because the President didn’t “fire the cop who arrested [her]” in 2012 for drunk driving and sideswiping a police car [see http://www.nydailynews. com/entertainment/gossip/amanda-bynes-barack-obama-michelle-obama-ugly-article-1.1393107]; she’s also tweeted her “ugly” evaluation about a long list of other celebrities—most of whom have much better claim to that title than her work has yet shown me, although I’ve managed to stay blissfully removed from a good bit of it [while admitting that she was quite effective as Tracy Turnblad’s friend, Penny Lou Pingleton, in the 2007 movie musical version of Hairspray (Adam Shankman; based on the 2002 Broadway musical, itself based on the 1988 John Waters original film which used music as a constant narrative presence but isn’t a full musical substituting sung numbers for standard dialogue as do the later adaptations—if any of that matters to you)]).

While watching The Bling Ring I had to constantly remind myself that Coppola is showcasing the worst aspects of a generation that she’s now a bit too old (at age 42) to truly be a part of but is still young enough to depict in a manner that “rings” ruefully true.  It was just a horrible waste of lives, ambitions, and purposefulness evaporating up on the screen as these intelligent, resourceful, and determined kids found nothing more useful to do with their time than become sycophants to a media-constructed, media-dictated culture of excess based on emptiness.  Worse yet, their parents apparently have no idea where they are most of the time, including being regulars at trendy clubs where their underage status prevents nothing in terms of easy entrance, substance consumption (to parallel the flashy consumption of clothes either stolen directly from their idols or bought with cash taken from those easily-accessible homes or acquired by selling some of their swag, sometimes on card tables at the beach), and plotting for their next heist.  I realize as I read this that I sound like I’m morphing into my mother (rest her soul) at her most autopilot level of damning diatribes, but, damn it, with all that’s still so wrong in our supposedly-advanced-world (beginning with the circumstances that could so easily result in the death of a not-much-older “kid” such as Oscar Grant) it just infuriates me to see so much emphasis on “bling” in our celebrity-addled culture, but then it becomes worse when all these actual-age kids want to do is rake off a good chunk of that booty for themselves (about $3 million worth in their year of living deliriously) without even doing the little that someone like Paris Hilton did to become famous enough to “earn” those excessive rewards.  I know that capitalism breeds contempt for those who haven’t somehow taken (validly or not) their piece of the pie—and certainly Nicki wants to enter the world of celebrity-presence so that the reward of glamorous presents will put her in league with Paris and Lindsay—but it just becomes disgusting when you’re forced to wallow in it for 90 min., even if the intent is to fuel such disgust, or at least try to achieve a level of sociological distancing from it.

My final stomach-grinding spate of disgust toward the contents of The Bling Ring comes in the latter portion of the film when a combination of surveillance cameras and some door-pounding police work finally lead to enough leads to start bringing in the Ring, especially as they turn on each other (and turn into bawling babies in the process, especially Nicki who alternately cries out for the comfort of her mother and her lawyer).  Not only do these little punks (Now I’m dangerously close—maybe one bridge game away [even though I purposely never learned to play] to that mother-morphing I was admitting earlier; is this an automatic side effect of being old enough to sign up for Medicare?) feel they’re entitled to reap the benefits of those they emulate so closely as to feel that they are somehow part of their idols’ entourages they also have the gall to deny their crimes, spouting faked innocence and indignation/grief that they would be so wrongfully accused.  (Full confession here:  this type of crap really pushes my buttons because of a situation in my family that I won’t detail because it’s too hideous, but let’s just say that I have a felonious relative safely locked away in prison for committing a grotesque crime yet claiming innocence to this day, even to the point of being included on websites of supposedly-wronged victims of the legal system thereby drawing sympathy from unsuspecting strangers who might even be tricked into contributing toward legal aid; in that this circumstance boils up more anger in me than all of what’s been previously discussed put together I’ll simply move on to other comments because I’m too unobjective on this point to even stay quiet about the actual situation so I’ll just say that I’m disgusted enough when someone commits a crime and somehow feels justified that their obsessions outweigh the needs of their victims but when the perp then tries to hide behind a cloak of false innocence—especially when later revelations make the deed too public to further deny so guilt is finally, begrudgingly admitted—I get mad enough to want to flip the switch on the electric chair even though I have little defense for the value of capital punishment.)  Fortunately for some avenues of justice in our current focused-upon films, these cries of innocence weren’t enough to gain reprieves for the Bling Ring, although most of them didn’t serve much jail time and, as depicted, only Marc seemed to even consider any remorse for his actions while the girls mixed denial with obliviousness during their trials and afterward.  Coppola finds the effective closing notes with these ending self-absolutions and Nicki’s absurd self-evaluation, making it clear that there’s nothing glamorous nor alluring about the ambitions (or lack thereof) and negative accomplishments of these high-society thrill seekers.  All we see are shallow lives filled up with consumable crap (as well as rationalization crap to justify it all), so maybe The Bling Ring will serve as an encouragement to aspirationally-challenged youth to set their sights on something higher than the top shelf in an overloaded shoe closet.  I can only hope so, but even that all just seems like a superficial moral exercise about superficiality when compared to the sociocultural horror that underlies the shocking death of Oscar Grant, not only a subtler moral lesson but also one with ultimately a lot more significance for us in the audience to internalize and act upon.

To end where we started I’ll just give you a link to the song that provides this review’s title, The Beatles’ haunting “A Day in the Life” presented as just an aural focus on its disturbing lyrics with no illustrative visuals at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-Q9D4dcYng.  The allusions that John and Paul wrote about in this elusive musical editorial are very different from the specifics you’ll encounter with Fruitvale Station and The Bling Ring, but in spirit it’s all part of the same continuum (as is everything if you want to really get metaphysical about it, but there’s only room for so much heaviosity in one review so let’s just fade out into contemplative silence with that final piano chord for now; in fact, I’m going to stay faded out for the next few weeks with my own extravagant indulgence, a retirement vacation in Hawaii—don’t worry about the costs; I've learned where Paris Hilton’s door key is so I just took a few inches of diamonds from her cookie jar—but I’ll be back in mid-August with more reviews, assuming I don’t get caught up in some monster vs. robot battle along the Pacific Rim.  If so, I should be properly pickled in Mai-Tais to be able to absorb it, so count on seeing me again after a few weeks in the wonderful land of aloha—stolen, of course, from the natives, just in case you think I’ve already forgotten everything I wrote about in the above review [in what may well sound like a strident, preachy tone, I admit] while yearning for the siren call of those tropical waves, a privilege I wish I could share better with the Oscar Grants of the world who can't even escape to San Francisco without wondering if they'll ever return home).

If you’d like to know more about Fruitvale Station here are some recommended links:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k88HlIeGywA (19:36 from Democracy Now! With some commentary on the film and an interview with director Ryan Coogler)

If you’d like to know more about The Bling Ring here are some suggested links:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3ZEoao7jvM (a trailer for the film embedded in a Clevver News featurette hosted by Katie Krause, ironically illustrating the superficiality that this film does a successful job of exploring)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psI4MTnTtoc (ABC Good Morning America news featurette from a few years ago on real Bling Ringer Nick Prugo about how and why they did it)

As noted above, we encourage you to look over our home page (ABOUT THE BLOG), found as the first one in our December 2011 postings, to get more information on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, including our formatting forewarning about inconsistencies among web browser software which we do our best to correct but may still cause some visual problems beyond our control, as well as difficulties we’ve encountered with the Google RSS Feed Alert when used in conjunction with iGoogle and Google Reader.

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at kenburke409@gmail.com.  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. Have a great vacation in Hawaii...

    The Fruitvale review was interesting on several levels, one being the event itself (of which I admit not knowing about even though I am a daily reader of newspapers and internet sources), with the the second being the insight brought by your more intimate knowledge of the event and locale.

    Hopefully Fruitvale will make it to the Central Texas cinemas, somehow I doubt it. It's pretty obvious that Bond's License to Kill has spread from the military to the police and now to the community watch folks depending on the State and locale. I wonder if the United States are not so united these days when gun laws and social mores are so divergent state to state. I am afraid Oscar Grant III might not have made the news in Florida or Texas these days and maybe there would have been an even more lenient outcome in California. Let's hope tomorrow's generation can do a better job rationalizing all this than our sixties "change the world" attitudes did.

  2. Hi rj, I just got back from my retirement celebration in yet another state with a very different state of mind, Hawaii, so am late in responding to your observant comments. Sadly, I agree that our "change the world" assumptions seem to have had little impact so far—or maybe we just want to see more active change in our own lifetimes so that we can rest a bit more peacefully at their conclusion—although it will likely take additional generations to bring about the sort of social transformations that I'd like to see. I do hope that Fruitvale Station makes it to Central Texas, but I understand that it's not too likely.

    Good to be in touch with you again; I'll start posting some new reviews soon. Ken

  3. Surprising the movie is here and playing widely. It was nicely done and is illuminating..